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ON THIS DAY

ON THIS DAY

17 December 1944: Germany counter-attacks in Ardennes. The Germans have mounted a series of counter-attacks on the Western front allowing them to re-cross the borders of Luxembourg and Belgium. On the second day of what now appears to be a full-scale counter-offensive, the Germans are attacking with tanks and aircraft along a 70-mile front guarded by American forces in the Ardennes region. The main thrust has been launched from the northern Ardennes near the town of Monschau. Two further attacks have taken place further south. German paratroops have been dropped behind Allied lines. Allied army reports say some of them have been “mopped up”, others are still at large. Reports from the US 9th Army, attacking a line to the north of the Ardennes region, say the German Luftwaffe also launched a concerted bombing campaign in support of its ground forces. The United States Army Air Forces claim to have shot down 97 Luftwaffe planes overnight, and 31 of their own aircraft were lost. According to the reports, the Luftwaffe put up “what was probably its greatest tactical air effort since D-Day”. German aircraft appeared in force over the western front. More than 300 German planes were deployed in the Bonn and Cologne areas last night and a similar number have been active again during the day. During today’s action, the USAAF has strafed infantry and tanks from Monschau to Prum, 24 miles to the south-east. Initial reports say 62 armoured vehicles, tanks and horse-drawn wagons were put out of action. They say the recent failure of German fighters to interfere with heavy bombing attacks on the Reich in daylight now makes it clear they have been saving their resources for this concerted attack. One US officer told The Times newspaper: “The German pilots showed more aggressiveness than at any time in the last three months.” The German Commander-in-Chief in the west, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, has ordered his troops to “give their all in one last effort”. The message was broadcast on Friday (15 December) the day before this latest offensive began. He said: “Soldiers of the western front, your great hour has struck. Strong attacking armies are advancing today against the Anglo-Americans. I do not need to say any more to you, you all feel it strongly. Everything is at stake.” It emerged later a number of American prisoners of war were shot dead by German troops in what has become known as the Malmedy massacre on 17 December 1944. Up to 86 were killed – a number of others escaped by playing dead or running for their lives. The soldiers who escaped passed on the details of the massacre and when the news reached General Eisenhower he is said to have released it to the American press. However, there does not appear to be any record of the massacre in the British press. The bodies were left where they fell and were preserved in the snow. When the Americans recaptured Malmedy on 13 January their first task was to identify and bury the dead. Many had fatal gunshot wounds to the head confirming they had not died in combat. Several German officers were convicted at the so-called Dachau trials in May 1946 for the atrocities committed at Malmedy. Some, including the officer in charge SS Standartenf├╝hrer Jochen Peiper of the 1st SS Panzer Division were sentenced to death but their sentences were later commuted. (Source: BBC)

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