Joachim Peiper was a SS officer most associated with the Malmedy Massacre during the Battle of the Bulge fought during the winter of 1944-1945. The Malmedy Massacre is considered to be one of the worst atrocities committed against American soldiers in the western European sector of fighting in World War Two– and Peiper’s involvement in it cast a very dark cloud over what had been a successful military career.
During the war in Russia, Peiper’s men got the nickname the ‘Blowtorch Battalion’. Some say this was because of their reputation for brutality against the civilian population while others believe it was because they used blowtorches to defrost their tank engines in the morning. Before the first attack on December 16th in the Ardennes, men fighting for the Germans were ordered to show the ‘utmost brutality’ against the Allies and to take no prisoners as they would hold up the Germans advance. Joachim Peiper was born in January 1915. When he finished college, Peiper was recruited into the Waffen SS. He was considered to be an outstanding prospect and was admitted into the ‘Liebstandarte-SS Adolf Hitler’ – considered to be one of the elite units in the Waffen SS. In the pre-war years this unit was Hitler’s honour guard but when war was declared in 1939, it was re-designated as a military unit. In warfare, Peiper was considered by his superiors to be an inspirational leader and at 29 he was a full colonel who already held the Knight’s Cross with Swords. Peiper took part in numerous armoured battles during the war.
However, Peiper’s name will always be associated with the Malmedy Massacre. On December 16th 1944, the Battle of the Bulge started. On December 17th, 125 Americans were captured in the swift forward advance of the Germans. They were captured near Malmedy. An official report stated that they were made to stand in a field and were machined gunned by Peiper’s SS unit. Thirty nine feigned death or were wounded but eighty six prisoners were killed. This atrocity was formally blamed on Peiper’s men. Earlier on the same day, post-war prosecutors claimed that the same unit murdered nineteen unarmed and captured Americans at Honsfeld and later shot 50 Americans at Büllingen.
After the war, Peiper, with others, was put on trial for complicity in the murders at Malmedy and sentenced to death. This was later commuted to life imprisonment which itself was later reduced. Peiper actually served just over 11 years in prison and was released on parole in December 1956.
Ironically for a man who had been involved in an army that had waged war on France, Peiper went to live in France after his release. He worked as a translator but was killed in a fire bomb attack on his home in July 1976. His killers were never caught but many believed that his death was a direct result of his war record.