Hitler ordered the battle to be carried out with a brutality more common on the Eastern Front, in order to frighten the enemy. Sepp Dietrich confirmed this during the trial for the massacre. According to some sources, during the briefings before the operation, Peiper stated that no quarter was to be granted, no prisoners taken, and no pity shown towards Belgian civilians.
Peiper's First Massacres
German military operations on the northern front were troubled by unexpectedly obstinate resistance from American troops. Peiper had hoped to exploit an opening as early as the morning of December 16, the offensive's first day, but he had been delayed by massive traffic jams behind the front, with the infantry which was to breach the U.S. lines waiting for him to arrive. At daybreak on December 17, after moving his Kampfgruppe into the front line, Peiper broke out toward Honsfeld, where elements of his force would kill several dozen American POWs. After capturing Honsfeld, Peiper made his own mission to travel several kilometres to stop at a fuel depot (or gasoline depot) in Bullingen, where another massacre would take place. 59 American Prisoners of war and 1 Civilian was killed. Peipers position was now behind enemy lines. He continued to follow orders and continued on his original path.
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.
The American POW's were taken into a field with others captured by the SS earlier that 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 88 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 others, though the men had no opportunity to discuss the events.
The first group of survivors of the massacre at Baugnez came across an Allied 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.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.
Peiper Moves Position
Peiper moves through enemy lines still killing American POW's and more Civilians, members of his units killed another 8 Americans.
New massacres of POWs were reported in Stavelot, Cheneux, La Gleiza, and Stoumont, on December 18, 19, and 20. Finally, on December 19, 1944, between Stavelot and Trois Ponts, German forces tried to regain control of the bridge over the Ambleve river in Stavelot, which was crucial for receiving reinforcements, fuel, and ammunition. Peiper’s men murdered about 100 Belgian civilians.
American Engineers blocked Peipers advance by blowing up the local bridges. American reinforcements surrounded Peiper and his men. Peiper and 800 men finally escaped the surrounding Americans running to nearby woods, and abandoning their heavy equipment, like Tiger tanks.
On December 21st 1944, during the battle around Gleize, the men of Kampfgruppe Peiper captured an American officer, Major Harold D. McCown, who was leading one of the battalions of the 119th Infantry Regiment. Having heard about the Malmedy massacre, McCown personally asked Peiper about his fate and that of his men. McCown testified that Peiper told him neither he nor his men were at any risk and that he (Peiper) was not accustomed to killing his prisoners. McCown noted that neither he nor his men were threatened in any manner, and he testified in Peiper's defense during the 1946 trial in Dachau.
Once re-equipped, Kampfgruppe Peiper rejoined the battle, and other killings of POWs were reported on December 31, 1944, in Lutrebois, and between January 10 and 13, 1945, in Petit Thier. The precise number of prisoners of war and civilians massacred attributable to Kampfgruppe Peiper is still not clear. According to certain sources, 538 to 749 POWs had been the victims of war crimes perpetrated by Peiper's men. These figures are, however, not corroborated by the report of the United States Senate subcommittee that later inquired into the subsequent trial; according to the Committee, the number of dead would be 362 prisoners of war and 111 civilians. According to this report, the count of POWs or civilians killed at different places is as follows:
Also a 1 POW's death in Petit Thier
Which leads to a total of 362 American POW's killed, and 111 Civilian deaths