Malmedy – for World War II enthusiasts, this word conjures up the largest criminal act against American forces by German forces during the war. More broadly, the massacre at Malmedy was one of countless examples of the SS murdering combatants and non-combatants. Danny S. Parker revisits this event in his book entitled Fatal Crossroads: The Untold Story of the Malmedy Massacre at the Battle of the Bulge.
In short, the massacre occurred on December 17, 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge. A convoy of Battery B of the U.S. Army’s 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion was attacked by an SS tank column led by Jochen Peiper near Malmedy, Belgium. The Americans quickly surrendered due to the overwhelming firepower advantage the tanks had over the artillery observers. Soon after the surrender, the SS machine-gunned the men – killing more than 80 prisoners.
The book describes the events of that fateful down to the minutest details. Parker’s descriptions are based on interviews of eyewitnesses from both sides and from Belgian civilians. In addition, Parker cites facts from the autopsies performed by the U.S. Army on the victims – this was done about a month after the massacre once the U.S. took repossession of the area in which the massacre occurred.
Parker attempts to answer many of the questions that were raised during the 1946 trials of the SS soldiers that took part in the massacre and other atrocities. For instance, were the executions deliberate, or were the first shots in response to the attempt of several Americans to escape? Who gave the order to shoot the prisoners?
Based on the evidence available, Parker does a fine job of answering these questions. For instance, he analyzes the various accounts of the first minutes of the massacre. This analysis includes looking at the accounts of the Americans who survived the massacre and those of the SS who were interviewed either after the war (some by the author himself) or during the 1946 trial. Based on this analysis, he comes to the logical conclusion that the massacre was not triggered by an attempted escape.
Parker writes in a clear and concise manner that keeps you engaged throughout the book. The book is 378 pages with several pages of photographs of the participants in the massacre and the battlefield. One other note, the book includes many maps that are helpful for the reader to understand the events that are being described. For instance, Parker provides a drawing with the positions of the Americans marked on it relative to when the SS first attacked it.
The book is an excellent example of a great book that can be written on a subject that has been studied and written about earlier.