Page 264

the First Army learned of the shootings three or four hours later. Yet by the late evening of the 17th the rumor that the enemy was killing prisoners had reached as far as the forward American divisions. There were American commanders who orally expressed the opinion that all SS troops should be killed on sight and there is some indication that in isolated cases express orders for this were given. [5] It is probable that Germans who attempted to surrender in the days immediately after the 17th ran a greater risk than would have been the case during the autumn campaign. There is no evidence, however, that American troops took advantage of orders, implicit or explicit, to kill their SS prisoners.

The point of Peiper's column reached Ligneuville sometime before 1300, in time to eat the lunch which had been prepared for an American detachment stationed in the village. Here the road divided, the north fork going to Malmedy, the western leading on to Stavelot. Although it was agreed that the armored columns should have considerable leeway in choosing the exact routes they would follow, a general boundary line gave the 1st SS Panzer Division the southern part of the zone assigned the I SS Panzer, while the 12th SS Panzer Division advanced in the northern sector. The 12th SS Panzer Division, of course, was still back at the line of scrimmage, nor would it break into the clear for many hours to come, but all this was unknown to Peiper. He did know that the Americans thus far had shown no disposition to throw punches at his north flank. Furthermore, the 3d Parachute Division had a clear field to follow up and protect his line of communications, while the 2d Panzer Division-so Peiper understood-was moving fast in the south and roughly abreast of his own advance.

Peiper had a precisely defined mission: his kampfgruppe was to seize the Meuse River crossings at Huy, making full use of the element of surprise and driving west without regard to any flank protection. The importance of this mission had been underlined during the initial briefing at the command post of the 1st SS Panzer Division on 14 December when Peiper had been assured that his command would play the decisive role in the coming counteroffensive. There seems to have been some hope expressed among the higher German staffs that the advance guard elements of both the 1st SS Panzer Division and the Fifth Panzer Army's 2d Panzer Division would reach the Meuse within twenty-four hours of the time of commitment. The distance by road, on the 1st SS Panzer Division axis, was between 125 and 150 kilometers (about 75 to 95 miles). Peiper himself had made a test run on 11 December to prove that it was possible for single tanks to travel 80 kilometers (50 miles) in one night. Whether an entire tank column could maintain this rate of progress for a day and a night in enemy country and on the sharp turns and grades of the Ardennes road net was a matter of guesswork. [6]

Whatever schedule Peiper was using,

[5] Thus Fragmentary Order 27. issued by Headquarters, 328th Infantry, on 21 December for the attack scheduled the following day says: "No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoners but will be shot on sight."

[6] Peiper later said that if the German infantry had made a penetration by 0700 on 16 December he could have reached the Meuse the same day.