Malmedy Massacre - Massacre At Baugnez

Massacre At Baugnez

Between noon and 1 p.m., the German spearhead approached the crossroads. An American convoy of about thirty vehicles, mainly elements of the American 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion (FAOB), was negotiating the crossroads and turning right toward Ligneuville, in order to reach St. Vith, where it had been ordered to join the 7th Armored Division, to reinforce the city's defense. The spearhead of Peiper’s group spotted the American convoy and opened fire, immobilizing the first and last vehicles of the column and forcing it to halt. Armed with only rifles and other small arms, the Americans surrendered to the Nazi tank force.

While the German column led by Peiper continued on the road toward Ligneuville, the American prisoners were taken to a field, joined with others captured by the SS earlier in the day. Most of the testimonies provided by the survivors state that about 120 men were gathered in the field. For reasons that remain unclear today, the SS troops suddenly fired on their prisoners with machine guns. Several SS prisoners later testified that a few of the prisoners had tried to escape. Others claimed that a few of the prisoners had recovered their previously discarded weapons and fired on the German troops as they continued their progress toward Ligneuville. Of the 84 bodies recovered a month later, most showed wounds to the head, seemingly much more consistent with a deliberate massacre than with self-defense or even to prevent escape.

As soon as the SS machine gunners opened fire, the American POWs panicked. Some tried to flee, but most were shot where they stood. A few sought shelter in a café at the crossroads. The SS soldiers set fire to the building, and shot all who tried to escape the flames. Some in the field had dropped to the ground and pretended to be dead when the shooting began. However, SS troops walked among the bodies and shot any who appeared to be alive.

Later, a few survivors emerged from hiding and returned through the lines to nearby Malmedy, where American troops held the town. Eventually, 43 survivors found refuge, some with the help of Belgian civilians. Testimony from the survivors was taken hours after the massacre. All the accounts were similar and corroborated each other, though the men had no opportunity to discuss the events. An account of one survivor is recorded in Medicine Under Canvas, on page 141 of the second edition, which also offers details of 77th Evacuation Hospital's role in notifying Army Intelligence and their questioning of the wounded man.

The first survivors of the massacre were found by a patrol from the 291st Combat Engineer Battalion at about 2:30 p.m. the same day. The inspector general of the First Army learned of the shootings some three or four hours later. By late evening of the 17th, rumors that the enemy was killing prisoners had reached the forward American divisions. One U.S. unit promptly issued orders that "No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoner but will be shot on sight." There are claims that some of the American forces killed German prisoners in retaliation—e.g. in the Chenogne massacre, on January 1, 1945.

Because the Baugnez crossroads had been in no-man's-land until the Allied counter-offensive, it was not until January 14, 1945, that U.S. forces reached the massacre site and conducted an investigation. The frozen, snow-covered bodies were photographed where they lay, then removed from the scene for identification and detailed post mortem examinations. The aim was gathering evidence to be used as part of the prosecution of the apparent war crime. Seventy-two bodies were found in the field on January 14 and 15, 1945. Twelve more, lying farther from the pasture, were found between February 7 and April 15, 1945.

The autopsies revealed that at least twenty of the victims had suffered fatal gunshot wounds to the head, inflicted at very close range. These were in addition to wounds made by automatic weapons. Another 20 showed evidence of small-calibre gunshot wounds to the head without powder-burn residue; 10 had fatal crushing or blunt-trauma injuries, most likely from rifle butts. Some bodies showed only one wound, in the temple or behind the ear. Most of the bodies were found in a very small area, suggesting the victims had been gathered together just before they were killed.iii

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