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Posts tagged “Battle of the Bulge

German infiltrators lined up for execution by firing squad after conviction by a military court for wearing U.S. uniforms during the Battle of the Bulge; ca. 1944

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These men were part of Operation Greif (Griffin). From left to right are Schmidt, Billing, and Pernass.

“Perhaps the largest panic was created when a German commando team was captured near Aywaille on 17 December. Comprising Unteroffizier Manfred Pernass, Oberfähnrich Günther Billing, and Gefreiter Wilhelm Schmidt, they were captured when they failed to give the correct password. It was Schmidt who gave credence to a rumor that Skorzeny intended to capture General Dwight Eisenhower and his staff….Pernass, Billing, and Schmidt were given a military trial at Henri-Chapelle on 21 December and were sentenced to death and executed by a firing squad on 23 December.”


The soldiers in the picture were executed after a military trial pursuant to the Hague Convention of 1907. The commander of the operation, Otto Skorzeny, was actually tried after the war – along with a significant number of concentration camp officials and guards, in the Dachau tribunals. Interestingly, Skorzeny and the other surviving officers involved in Operation Greif were acquitted based on the argument that the German soldiers in American uniforms were not technically ordered to fight (just to spread deception). However, it has generally been accepted that wearing an enemy’s uniform and infiltrating his lines is a great way to get yourself shot as a spy.

Plenty of concentration camp guards and officials were executed. There was also an extrajudicial massacre of concentration camp guards at Dachau, carried out by the troops who liberated the camp.


Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge executed; December 23, 1944

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After the Malmedy Massacre (which took place just 5 days before this execution), there wasn’t much quarter given to SS infiltrators who were caught wearing stolen U.S. uniforms.  Any captured SS soldier was shot, not just spies.

Knowledge of the massacre “led to considerable retaliation against German prisoners of war during and after that battle.” Few Waffen-SS soldiers came to be taken prisoner by units such as the 3rd Armored Division. An example of the aftermath of the massacre is the written order from the HQ of the 328th US Army Infantry Regiment, dated December 21, 1944: “No SS troops or paratroopers will be taken prisoner but will be shot on sight.” A possible example of a related large massacre against Germans is the Chenogne massacre.

At the Saar river the 90th Infantry Division “executed Waffen-SS prisoners in such a systematic manner late in December 1944 that headquarters had to issue express orders to take Waffen-SS soldiers alive so as to be able to obtain information from them.”

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The prisoners refused the ministrations of a U.S. chaplain. They kept their nerve by singing patriotic German songs. Prisoners are blinfolded and a large white paper target is pinned over their heart. After they were officially pronounced dead, the spies were cut down by MP’s, carried away and buried.  (Source)

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