For it was exactly in the last days of 1944 that more suffering had come upon them than any they had experienced in four years of war.Unknown Dead: Civilians in the Battle of the Bulge by Peter Schrijvers (2005)
During my Trois-Ponts & Cheneux Hike post, I followed in the footsteps of Belgian refugees attempting to flee the horror of war, facing peril from both the German and American sides. The Battle of Trois-Ponts was raging and SS-Standartenführer Joachim Peiper and his Kampfgruppe Peiper had reached Trois-Ponts to find that the Americans had blown up all three of its bridges across the Ambleve and Salm rivers. Peiper then made the fateful decision to go north and find another bridge. Small towns like Cheneux were suddenly caught in the inferno. But this wasn’t quite yet the end of the story. The fiercest battles were yet to come.
The Battle of Trois-Ponts was a subject Peiper didn’t much want to talk about in his interview… (American interrogation in September 1944)Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose (1997)
Along N633 just west of the village of Targnon and Stoumont is a modest stone marker. There are 26 of these around the Ardennes1. This particular stone is placed at the farthest point that Kampfgruppe Peiper had achieved. It is here where lack of fuel and a massive casualty rate forced Peiper to finally retreat. It is an appropriate place to start this hike and work our way back thru the final days of Peiper’s campaign.
|Starting/Ending Point||Parking area west of marker|
|My Moving Time||4h 7m|
It’s Not Just a Beer, It’s a Journey
If you search for Peiper on Google Maps, you will come up with an odd hit called “Peiper’s High Watermark” indicated as a museum but showing only trees in the photos. This is just west on N633 from the Stoumont Battlefield Marker. There is actually nothing here but a forest road turnoff which is actually a good place to park my car. There are no signs or any indication of historical significance. In addition, my map on Komoot showed a path leading parallel to N633 thru the forest in the direction of the marker. However, this path does not exist. So the first stretch of the hike from my parking spot was along N633, which doesn’t have a nice clear shoulder for walking. If you decide to take this route, please be careful. Perhaps as a companion to taking this unscenic route, I suggest imagining December 1944 when the Americans were set up all around this road hellbent on not letting the Germans make it any further. They stood ready to take out any Panzer tanks roaring this way. Which is exactly what they did. Three of them2.
Not far from the Stoumont Battlefield Marker, there is a trail which heads up into the forest.
When you come out at a higher elevation into a clearing, the views are amazing.
Arriving in the village of Targnon, I began looking for a war memorial to the 3oth Infantry Division who were the main force that turned back Kampfgruppe Peiper along this road. It was not as obvious to locate, but it is a small plaque on the church.
Targnon Memorial to the 30th Infantry Division
From Targnon, Stoumont comes into view up on the hill. The hike follows a path up the hill with some nice views.
Stoumont was the site of a bloody back and forth battle where the American and German tanks took turns blasting the village to pieces. Meanwhile, about 260 of the townsfolk were hiding out in the local sanitarium at the mercy of their SS occupiers3.
Stoumont Memorial to the Civilian Victims
Also visible on this pedestal are bullet scars from the battle.
Next to the memorial is a 50th anniversary plaque celebrating the liberation.
When the smoke cleared after this ferocious battle, the Americans discovered that Peiper had retreated to La Gleize, a village just a few kilometers to the east. The hike also continues on to La Gleize and passes by the beautiful Chateau de Froidcour, a privately-owned castle which rents out its cottage and a room installed in the top of one of its towers.
La Gleize sits on a perch overlooking the Ambleve River valley. The centerpiece is the La Gleize church which was used as a first aid station and hiding place for refugees who suddenly found themselves caught in the crossfire again. Meanwhile, a German tank pummeled away at it’s walls again and again. The rest of the village was being bombed by the Americans and catching on fire. The Germans would call La Gleize “The Cauldron”. This would be Peiper’s final stand, and he would manage to escape into a full retreat back to Germany in the middle of the night3.
December 44 Museum
This is the prime Battle of the Bulge site in La Gleize. It is an informative museum with all of the artifacts and staged mannikens that you would expect for a war museum like this. There are also several memorials around the museum.
Memorial to the 505th Parachute Regiment
WWI Memorial and Memorial to Soldiers and Civilians
Unlike my hike to Celles, Belgium, this time I did not miss the Panzer tank.
Memorial to the Victims of WWII
After the sobering visit to the December 44 Museum and nearby memorials, it was time for a late lunch and a couple of local beers. Unfortunately, the brewery I was hoping to visit is permanently closed, perhaps a victim of Covid. But a couple local brewers collaborated with the Grain d’Orge Brewery to come up with two tasty ginger-infused beers. These can be tasted at Le Doux Ragouts.
The two La Gleize “city beers” called Glezia are named for the original name of the village.
After lunch, it was back into the forest for the return hike to the car. The way back stays entirely in the forest.
I have never been able to understand why the Panzer Commander upon reaching the Salm did not bring up all his infantry and make a night assault, establishing a bridgehead during darkness and getting armor across before daylight.Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose (1997)
– Quote from General Gavin, Peiper’s counterpart in the Battle of Trois-Ponts
According to the above book, General Gavin found Peiper’s decision to veer north towards Stoumont to be “inexcusable”4. Out of roughly 5800 men under his command, he had about 800 left when he retreated. Peiper was later tried for war crimes for the Malmedy Massacre and sentenced to death in 1946. This was changed to imprisonment, and in 1956, Peiper was inexplicably released on parole. Other war crimes would come to light in the years following, but Peiper avoided further prosecution, and he somehow managed to scrape together a life, until he was discovered living under a pseudonym in Traves, France in 1976 where he was recognized by members of the French Resistance. They burned his house down with Peiper inside5.
While Stoumont and La Gleize marked the end of Peiper’s campaign in the Battle of the Bulge, it certainly does not end this series of hikes. I look forward to continuing theses hikes working backward thru Peiper’s route all the way to the border of Belgium and also start following the pursuits of the 5th Panzer Division thru St. Vith.