The Trap that Doomed Kampfgruppe Peiper

The Trap that Doomed Kampfgruppe Peiper

Or Communications & Liaison Activities around

Stoumont, La Gleize, Trois-Ponts.

CWO Albert J. PALFEY

 

When units are separated from the division, as the 33rd Armored Regiment and Task Force Lovelady was in the Bulge, communications are often lacking. This was the case of our initial action there, therefore I decided to put all the loose ends together with this story.

The tale is more of a summary and omits many interesting events, for example:

1. Near the end of the engagement, Major George Stallings like Col. Joachim Peiper of the 1st S.S., was running short of supplies. At one time he considered surrounding.

2. Doctor (Captain) A. Eaton Roberts was changing his radio from his peep to the aid station, when Stallings was attempting to alert him of the German infiltration.

3. Doc Roberts commandeered a light tank and first reported his dilemma to me at Grand-Coo. It wasn't until our reunion at Omaha in 1992, when discussing the battle with Aurio J. Pierro that the mystery of a tank missing from his platoon was solved.

4. A German soldier in a make-shift U.S. Army uniform was killed near our radio relay station at Grand-Coo. While searching him a billfold of our missing reconnaissance officer Lt. George E. Gray, was found. (Gray had been captured). We assumed he was dead. You can imagine my surprise when I met Lt. Gray at the '91 reunion at St. Louis (dividend for attending reunions).

5. We devised a unique system to keep Lt. Col. William B. Lovelady informed on the battle at Petit-Coo. We laid a telephone line to the outskirts of town and improvised a telephone system using to radio handsets in series with a six volt dry cell battery.

6. The action at Petit-Coo was so intense that a light tank crew member could not operate his machine gun with wounded and dangling fingers - so he chewed them off!

7. Had Peiper decided to retreat on the highway to Trois-Ponts, rather than crossing the Ambleve at La Gleize, my position at Grand-Coo was the first obstacle in his path - and this story probably would not be in our files.

The Trap

While browsing through the 3rd Armored (SPEARHEAD) Division files, I found the attached memo written by Colonel William B. Lovelady, my Task Force Commander. The event occurred on our initial thrust into the Belgium Bugle, when Combat Command "B" (CCB) was attached to the 30th Infantry division. The Colonel's item is an incident in what may have been on of the most significant battles of the Belgium Bugle. With reference to the attached map, here is the rest of the story.

The decisive role of the German Ardennes offensive was to be executed by the 1st S.S. Panzer Division. This division was known as Hitler's own, having its origins to Hitler's first bodyguard. More specifically, the offensive was to be spearheaded by the beefed-up (5800 men) Kampfgruppe commanded by S.S. Lt. Col. Joachim Peiper, an experienced hero of the Russian Front. After the initial breakthrough, Peiper's objective was to cross the Meuse River at Huy, Belgium, between Liege and Namur. A clause in the Kampfgruppe's order expressly stated that prisoners of war were to be shot, where the conditions of combat should so require it. This decree was first demonstrated at Baugnez, site of the Malmedy Massacre.

Shortly after breakthrough, the 1111st Engineer Combat Group was ordered to cover the area south of the Ambleve River, to provide a screening force for the 1st Army Headquarter at Spa. On December 18, Peiper's leading elements had reached Stavelot and Trois-Ponts on the north side of the Ambleve. Moments before their arrival, the 291st Engineers had blown three bridges - one over the Ambleve at Trois-Ponts and two on the Salm River south of Trois-Ponts. Peiper was now forced to turn north to La Gleize, rather than to follow his planned crossing of the Ambleve for the most direct route to his objective. To further complicate matters, the river on his left and the high wooded hills on the right limited his route to the valley road to La Gleize. Combat Command "B", now attached to the 30th Infantry Division, was ordered to clear the north bank of the Ambleve River between La Gleize and Stavelot.

General Boudinot formed three Task Forces. Task Force Jordan was to move south to Stoumont, Task Force McGeorge south to La Gleize, and Lovelady's Task Force, the largest of the group, was to clear the highway between La Gleize and Stavelot. The attack started on the morning of December 20, from an area south of Spa. At this time Peiper's leading elements had passed through La Gleize and reached Stoumont where they were halted by units of the 30th Infantry Division. Both Task Force Jordan and Task Force McGeorge ran head-on Peiper's strength, and were stopped about one-quarter mile short of their objective.

However, this action changed thoughts Peiper had of turning north to Liege. With his dangerously low fuel supply, his efforts may have been more intense had he known of the vast fuel depot located between the two TF's. Task Force Lovelady turned left at Grand-Coo. Approaching Trois-Ponts they met a column of German guns, infantry, and supply vehicles which were quickly riddled to pieces. The first of many attempts to reinforce Peiper had failed. The noose was tightening on Peiper. Although he had found a bridge over the Ambleve intact at Cheneux, his advance in that sector was halted by the 82nd Airborne Division. The 82nd 's front on the south side of the Ambleve extended east to the Salm River. "D" Company of Task Force Lovelady advanced to the outer fringe of Stavelot at Parfondruy. Here they witnessed atrocities committed upon Belgium men, women and children by Peiper's S.S. Troops. At Trois-Ponts, "E" Company was engaged in clashes with the 2nd S.S. Panzer Regiment in their effort to breakthrough to Peiper's advanced units.

The "E" Company Commander Lt Hope, was killed and Major Stallings assumed command. Captain "Doc" Robert's medics, guarded by Lt. Pierro's Platoon of "B" Company light tanks, were stationed at Petit-Coo. Chief Warrant Officer Palfey moved to the railway station at Grand-Coo to relay radio messages to Stallings. The high hills in the area blocked radio communications with Lovelady's CP at Roanne. It was during this interval when the young Lt. from the 82nd Airborne Division made contact with Colonel Lovelady, as written in the attached memo. He informed the Colonel that CCB and the 30th Infantry Division were now attached to the XVIII Airborne Corps, commanded by General Ridgeway. Some elements of the 2nd S.S Panzer Regiment infiltrated across the Ambleve over a foot-bridge east of Trois-Ponts at Petit-Spai and by-passed Stallings tanks.

On the afternoon of December 22 they attacked Captain Roberts aid station at Petit-Coo. Fierce fighting raged on into the night. Both "D" and "E" Companies were now separated from the Task Force, however, they continued to resist efforts to reinforce Peiper from the east. The following morning units of the 30th Infantry Division began clearing the S.S. from the aid station at Petit-Coo. Later in the day Petit-Coo was cleared and contact was made with "D" and "E" Companies. Another attempt to breakthrough to Peiper had failed. Several efforts by Peiper to breakout at Stoumont, Cheneux and in T.F. Jordan and McGeorge's sector were unsuccessful. Supplies of gasoline, munitions, food and medications were virtually exhausted. Requests to retreat were denied, having been assured that reinforcements were forthcoming.

Finally, on the night of December 23, after destroying their equipment at La Gleize, Peiper led the remnants, 800 men, of the Kampfgruppe on a foot retreat. They crossed the Ambleve on a wooden bridge south of La Gleize into the 82nd Airborne Division area. Moving only in darkness, they finally rejoined their division south of Trois-Ponts, after wading the cold and rapid Salm River. Thus ended the exploits of the once mighty Kampfgruppe Peiper. Starting with about 5800 men, 60 tanks (some Tigers), 3 Flak tanks, 75 HT's, 14 20mm Flak Wagons, 27 75mm assault guns, plus 105 and 150mm SP Howitzers, the group was now trimmed down to 800 scraggly S.S. troopers. Obviously, this situation relieved the pressure on Combat Command "B". They then rejoined the division and went on to win other battles. Peiper was sentenced to death at the war crimes trial. In 1954 his sentence was reduced to thirty-five years. He was paroled in 1956 after serving eleven years. In the summer of 1976 fire bombs destroyed Peiper's house and killed the former commander of Kampfgruppe Peiper.

 
 

On December 22, 1944, about 9:30 PM, a young lieutenant from the 82nd Airborne was brought to my command post. He was wet, cold and his face was all blackened. He had swam, waded or whatever across the Ambleve River to contact one of our outposts. He told them he had information for the Commanding Officer and asked to be taken there. You can imagine my surprise and gratitude to see him, since we had not been in contact with friendly forces for three days and to learn that the paratroopers were just across the river cheered us. His message was that we were now to the XVIII Airborne Corps. He give me a sketch of the disposition of forces just across the river, and asked me for a similar sketch or diagram of our forces. (Generally, just strung out across the road with the Ambleve River on the right, and a steep wooded hill on our left.) Just Before he left, he asked if we needed anything. We told him that the Germans were dug in on the hill to our left and we needed artillery or mortars. He offered help. He said he would shoot a line across the river at dawn and we could call for and direct the fire from their Howitzers. This was done and we soon neutralized the enemy on the hill. This experience was one of the greatest in our five campaigns. We have no record of this incident in our book, Regimental or Combat Command "B" logs and most if not all of the individuals that knew of this have either passed on, or are out of contact. Perhaps there is a mention of this incident in the Airborne or Regimentals Journals.

 
 

William B. Lovelady, Col. AUS Ret., June 1, 1989.