Page 260


of steep and rocky walls. A line on the map tracing the course of the Ambleve River and its initial tributaries will pass from northeast to southwest through three important bridgeheads and road centers, Malmedy, Stavelot, and Trois Ponts. From the first two, roads led north to Spa, Verviers, and Liege. Although both Malmedy and Stavelot were administrative centers of importance (Stavelot contained the First Army map depot with some 2,500,000 maps), the most important item hereabouts was the great store of gasoline, over two million gallons, in dumps just north of the two towns.


The 1st SS Panzer Division (SS Oberfuehrer Wilhelm Mohnke) was the strongest fighting unit in the Sixth Panzer Army. Undiluted by any large influx of untrained Luftwaffe or Navy replacements, possessed of most of its T/O&E equipment, it had an available armored strength on 16 December of about a hundred tanks, equally divided between the Mark IV and the Panther, plus forty-two Tiger tanks belonging to the 501st SS Panzer Detachment. The road net in the Sixth Panzer Army would not permit the commitment of the 1st SS Panzer as a division, even if two of the five roads allocated the army were employed. The division was therefore divided into four columns or march groups: the first, commanded by Colonel Peiper, contained the bulk of the 1st Panzer Regiment and thus represented the armored spearhead of the division; the second was made up from the division's Reconnaissance Battalion; the third and fourth each comprised armored infantry and attached heavy weapons; the heavy Tiger detachment was left to be fed into the advance as occasion warranted.


Kampfgruppe Peiper on the Move


On the morning of 16 December Colonel Peiper journeyed to the advance command post of the 12th Volks Grenadier Division, whose troops were supposed to make the gap in the lines of the American 99th Infantry Division north of the Schnee Eifel through which his armor would be committed. [1] To Peiper's disgust the infantry failed in their assigned task and the day wore on with Peiper's column still waiting on the roads to the rear. The blown bridge northwest of Losheim increased the delay; for some reason the engineers failed to start repair work here until noon or later. This was not the end. In midafternoon the horse-drawn artillery regiment of the 12th Volks Grenadier Division was ordered up to support the infantry, hopelessly clogging the approaches to the bridge. Peiper himself took over the job of trying to straighten out this traffic Jam but more time was lost. It was not until 1930 that the armored advance guard was able to reach Losheim, the village which gave its name to the gap at the northern terminus of the Schnee Eifel. At this time Peiper received a radio message saying that the next railroad overpass was out, that the engineers would not get up in time to make repairs, and that he must turn west to Lanzerath


[1] The records of Peiper's unit were destroyed just before his capture. In 1945, however, Peiper was interviewed by members of the ETO Historical Section. (See Ferriss, Rpt Based on Intervs in January 1945, passim.) Much of the tactical detail used herein comes from the 3,268page trial transcript of the so-called Malmedy Case tried before the U.S. General Military Government Court in 1946. A good summary of the latter is found in a manuscript by Royce L. Thompson entitled The ETO Ardennes Campaign: Operations of the Combat Group Peiper, 16 26 December 1944 (1952), in OCMH files.