Malmedy- Once Again

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Grigorij Kastrioti
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Malmedy- Once Again

Post by Grigorij Kastrioti » 11 Nov 2003 20:53

Hello,

I am a new user of this forum and surfed here by accident, when searching information for my oncoming essay. My present studies includes courses of international law. Because I have always been interested in history and especially military history, I decided to write an essay about war crimes. When searching this topic from the Internet I came across Malmedy incident. My first impression after briefing myself into details of it, was that there is something really wrong with the information; far, far too many discrepancy between hard facts, different sources and stories available around the case. So I continued and red several books. From literature I learned that there are two main avenues of stories and descriptions to explain what happened in 17th Dec 1944: one created by Americans and one by Germans. Also, I realised that it is extremely strange if an incident, witnessed, involved and participated by hundreds of people, could not have been solved after almost 60 years of investigations.

I surely understand that because the great majority of those involved has passed away, now it is almost too late, and as Jochen Peiper once said , according to one author, no one will ever find it out and who really cares, what happened there at Baugnez. That is why all the theories are in my opinion equal and everybody can believe what he wants. But what interest me – as from the pointview of international law and human behaviour – why this kind of incidents pops up in every war. What are the reasons which makes soldiers to commit war crimes? Certainly, there is not only one reason but a whole bunch of the reasons and co - incidents. I also believe that all men are the child of their time and they do not have a future. This is difficult to explain in a foreign language but what I mean is that we can not be sure what will happen tomorrow and all our actions are based only to our previous experience. So, for us it is easy to be wise when judging the behaviour of the people of the past. And if we want to understand, please note that I said understand not accept, we must put our judgements and laws of morale aside. My interest in this case is purely historical.

So, during next months I will try to rise some details of the incident into discussion in this forum and hope that anybody who has interest to share his information would do that.

My first – rather and I hope not too detailed - question is:

According to some stories, especially survivors of the US 285th regiment stated in Dachau trial, after the initial shooting of the POW´s by MG´s from the tanks , some of the SS-men entered the field and stated to shoot at the fallen and wounded POW´s. One of them was sturmman Gustav Sperenger whose behaviour during the shooting was –according to some stories- quite bizzare, I would say, but also I understand that he did the shooting willingly. ( He was sentenced to death at Dachau trial.) As I have not seen the files of Dachau trial documents, I would be interested about information of Sprengers unit. Was he an engineer ( pioneer, sapper) and did he belong to 9. (pi)/SS-Panzer Regiment 1 and was he an replacement soldier enrolled in November 1944? This interest me because I found from the Patrick Agate´s books “Jochen Peiper” an interesting detail. There was a note that just 9th company witnessed an cruel incident near Munster in November 1944, only a month before Malmedy. According to Agte at this incident a trainfull of civilians was killed in a allied airraid. Agte mentions that the raid was done by US attacker planes which shoot at the civilians from the low altitude and it was in fact a “war crime” committed by Americans. If connection I just described, would be real, it would partly explain or at least motivate the actions or the fury of the young SS-men which had no previous battle experience and the POW´s of the 285th were in fact the first enemies they met from eye to eye. Also, replacements called in arms in 1944 had seen the destroy of the area bombardment and they had also been connected 10 years to the education of III Reich regime as they volunteered themselves to ss.
So, if anybody have any further information about this Gustav Sprenger, I would be happy to hear.
Again, I would like to say that this detailed minor piece of the whole picture does not explain everything. But also as I said, every incident is consist of minor details.
And finally, I would like to excuse my English, which is not quite perfect as you can read. Hopefully, my message is comprehensible.

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Post by David Thompson » 11 Nov 2003 20:57

Grigorij -- My notes show Gustav Sprenger as an assault vehicle [SPW] driver, in the 2nd section of the 3rd Panzer Engineer Company, 1st Panzer Engineer Battalion, 1st SS Panzer Division "Liebstandarte Adolf Hitler."

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Not only two IV´s?

Post by Grigorij Kastrioti » 11 Nov 2003 21:12

Many thanks Dave,

so this means that there was a SPW present, during the first shooting. This is reasonable and I have suspect that, because the troops ( a platoon?) left at the crossroads needed a protective vehicle. This also means that the stories of two Pkzw IV´s on the road lead by Hans Siptrott, was only a part of the thruth.

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Post by KalaVelka » 12 Nov 2003 07:10

No, the 2 PZ IVs were the first vechiles to enter the view of baugnez crosroads. They started to fire trucks which were heading south along the n-23 road. I will post more soon, but now i must go to school.

Regards
Kasper

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Fleps role?

Post by Grigorij Kastrioti » 12 Nov 2003 09:14

Kasper:

I have understand that the first armoured German vehicles on the scene were two IV´s lead by Sternebeck and they started the assault and shelling at the 285th convoy. This unit continued with two V´s to the south and engineers of 9th coy were assigned to the guard duty.

One of the peculiar things between the different stories is in my mind the question : which were the armoured vehicles, which were placed on the road after the POW´s had gathered to the field. Until to 1980´s all version of the "pro american" stories mentions that there were two IV tanks led by Hans Siptrott which were placed as a guard of prisoners. Also, usually in the same stories it is heavily stressed that it was Sturmman George Fleps, the loader of Siptrott´s tank, who fired the first shots with his pistol before the shooting to the field started. At the same time there is stories available that the armoured vehicles on the guard were SPV´s. Now, in Agtes books ( mentioned earlier and obviously from the viewpoint of "pro German" ) is a version that Siptrotts vehicles were in fact 300 meters away on the field taking a shortcut because the intersection of the cross roads was heavily jammed by the German column. According to this story Fleps fired, but as I said from the distance of 300 meters.
In my opinion, the SPV´s at the guard sounds more realistic, because

-all available battle tanks were needed at the next village of Engelsdorf
engineers of the 9th coy were deployed for guard of POW´s. In military point of view the greatest danger to Peiper come from the direction of Malmedy, because of unknown amount of US troops and this is because there was a possibility that the German column can be cut if the intersection could have been taken and blocked by Americans, I am sure that at least two platoons of 9th were deployed to defend the road from Malmedy direction. As far as I understand, 9th coy consists of three platoons ( in KG Peiper), so there was enough job for the whole company. Correct me if I am wrong, but as far as I understand the main role of SPW´s in KG Peiper was to provide protection to the German convoy. They were not primary assault vehicles and each coy had only a few of them, like one for a platoon. So, if 9th coy stayed at the intersection, it is reasonable to think that their protective vehicles also stayed there and were deployed to the guard duty of POW´s because of the armament ( mounted MG´s). .

It this theory is true, a question will arise: what is the role of Siptrott and Fleps? Why some sources mention that according to US survivors IV´s opened the fire after an order of unidentified SS officer?

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Post by Grigorij Kastrioti » 12 Nov 2003 09:31

Dave:

What you mentioned about Gustav Sprenger´s unit sounds realistic. According to Agte 3rd coy of 1 Battailon lead by Sievers was indeed attached to the KG Peiper. So, it seems to be that Peiper needed more engineers for this mission than usually.

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Post by KalaVelka » 12 Nov 2003 14:45

OK. In Michael Reynolds book "Devils Adjutant Jochen Peiper, Panzer Leader", Reynolds mention tank crewmember named Fleps and his tank commander Hans Siptrott even today confirms that Fleps saw three americans make a break from the main body and started shooting.

Kasper

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Post by Grigorij Kastrioti » 12 Nov 2003 16:32

Kasper: thanks for your comment.

As I said this part of different stories of Malmedy is a mystery to me. It seems to be clear that Fleps had fired with his pistol. But from the distance of several hundred meters? No way! Everyone familiar with shooting knows that even in perfect conditions it is really hard to hit the man size target beyond 100 meter. So, in a battle tank, snowy and muddy terrain, destroyed burning and smoking vehicles between tank and the field, poor lighting conditions and observations thru the hatch of the tank? No way. In my opinion it could have been impossible even to see any escape attempts of US POW´s. This means that Agte´s version of the incident ( the pro German one) was not true, or at least it was not the whole truth. Also, in Dachau trial Fleps was identified by one of the US survivors. It means, that if the identification was real, Siptrott´s IV´s must have been much closer than 300 meters as he says ( Agte page 483). If Fleps did not fire or the identification was not real, again a question will arise: Why Spitrott and Fleps did not tell the truth? Who are they covering? And why?

In previous discussions of these pages abot Malmedy there was a reference to the page

http://www.historynet.com/wwii/blmassac ... index.html

In my opinion, this is the best theory I have red so far. It explains most of the faults of the previous theories and writings however it does not give the answers to the reasons for allegations of cover-ups in many levels and parts of the pervious stories.

At this point I believe that the initial shooting starts by the order. Why? At least one officer (SS-Stubaf. Poetchke CO of 1st regiment) was present, maybe more ( At least SS-Ostuf. Rumpf, CO of 9th coy and maybe also SS-Ostuf. Sievers CO of 3rd coy (Engineers)). I believe that it was Poetchke who gave the order. Why? He was the highest rank present. About same time, when the initial shooting at POW´s started there was also ongoing fire fight between Peipers troops and US Sherman tank in Engelsdorf down in a valley. Sherman destroyed at least one SPW and Peiper urgently ( in my opinion) needed all available help there. Also, according to descriptions available considering Poethcke´s personality and skills, it is very likely that this kind of extremely hard order could have been easily issued by him. As far as I have understood, Poetchke was really a “steel hard” leader in a battle with a true ability to make decisions. So, in short: the first plan was to take POW´s to the back. Fighting down in a valley changed the situation. Poetchke made a decision by himself and order to shoot POW´s as a emergency action. His main purpose was to relieve all available armoured vehicles and/or tanks and send them as a reinforcement to Peiper. For these reasons I do not buy those stories of attempt of escape or intentional, prepared decision of mass execution.

Again, I would like to stress that these are only my own theories and opinions based only on available published written material and my life experience.

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Post by KalaVelka » 12 Nov 2003 17:04

In Reynolds book there is mentioned that there was truly atleast somekind of escape.

"In october 1945, one of the american survivors in part of a sworn statement, counter-signed by one of the chief prosecuting officers, Lieutenant Raphael Schumacker, and witnessed by a sergeant named Frank Holtham said:

'...I decided to ty to get away and walked slowly northwardly, but upon reaching a little dirt road or lane decided not to cross the lane or go around it. Sergeant Stabulis, Flack and I were together on this proposition. We turned around, slowly retraced our steps...The group of soldiers in front of me were standing still and i slowly walked southwardly towards the fence at the south end of the field, more or less using the men in front as concealement. I know that Sergeant Stabulis and Pfc Flack were behind me. About two-thirds of way towards the fence there were no more men to provide concealment so when I reached this point I ran towards the fence as hard as I could, crawled trough it and then turned to my right and headed for the woods, west of the field as fast as I could. Machine gun fire opened up at me but I was lucky enough to make it to the woods without getting hit and was picked up by a 30th Division couple of days later....I would like to add taht as I came out from begind the crowd into the clear and headed for the south fence, two single shots were fired, which were either pistol or rifle in my opinion.'

Pfc Flack's body was found in the field with a bullet hole in the head; Sergeant Stabuli's body was found 15th April 1945, a kilometre south of the field."

p.96

Kasper

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Post by Grigorij Kastrioti » 13 Nov 2003 18:46

Kasper: you are right, this statement you pasted really exists. Assuming that it is right, it tells us that

a) the situation in the field where POW´s of 285th were standing, was not in total control of Germans, or at least POW´s were not surrounded from the flanks

b) there was several US POW´s or groups of POW´s moving behind the rows or group of about 120-140 US POW´s

c) first shots ( by pistol) were fired when Germans noticed movement behind the ranks

This leads to couple of new questions and conclusions:

a) Why this kind of poor tactics? One of the first rule with POW´s is to get them under continuos control. The risk of unexpected confrontation and useless casualties is too high. And as a experienced leader Peiper knew- I am sure about that – that every “useless” sacrifice would diminish his chances to reach his objectives. Location of SS-men can be explained only by free field of fire. They were prepared to shoot and wanted to avoid “friendly” crossfire. I would see the location of POW´s as human shields, a practise which was not unknown to Peiper. The POW´s were between the only possible direction of US attack and the German column.

b) Why some POW´s decided to escape? What were the facts which lead to this decision? One obvious answer is that because there was a chance. Only few guards and lot of obstructing things between Germans and POW´s in the back.

c) To start an mass execution with pistol? Sounds highly unlikely bearing in mind that there were more than 100 men to be shoot. You does not need to be a rocket scientist to understand that this kind of action starts mass escape and even two or three machine gun will have great difficulties to kill them all ( as in fact happened, a significant amount of the 285th men survived.

So, for me it seems logical that there has happened many things at the same time. As I said before, I am sure that the machine guns started firing by an order. Pistol shots were fired a moment before to stop escape attempts. I believe to theory of Poethckes order because continuous firing which lasted so long, several minutes, can not be just a random shooting of inexperienced or overreacting SS men. Ordinary privates can shoot a POW or a couple but disciplined combat troop, like 1st SS was, can not do that. Or if they do, they will do it by an order.

The final and also the most interesting question in the light of this theory is: was the shooting after all an order of Peiper or even Dietrich?

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