HISTORY OF THE 106th INFANTRY DIVISION
Activation and Training
The 106th Infantry Division was activated in a formal ceremony on 15 March 1943 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The cadre for the Division was supplied by the 80th Infantry Division.
In January 1944 the Division moved to Tennessee for extensive maneuvers before being posted at Camp Atterbury, Indiana on 30 March 1944 for advanced training. It was during the Tennessee Maneuvers that the Gi's of the Division nicknamed the 106th as 'The Bag Lunch Division'.
NCO's of the newly formed 106th Division present the company guidons during the activation ceremony at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (Signal Corps)
Major General Alan Jones explains his tactics to Tennessee Governor Prentice Cooper and Lieutenant General Lloyd Fredendall during 2nd Army maneuvers in Tennessee. 8 March 1944 (Signal Corps)
The European Theater of Operations
Vehicles of the 106th Infantry Division close in on St. Vith, Belgium in December 1944. Note the snow on the ground. Photo by George Hayslip of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion.
The Division crossed the Atlantic on troop carriers such as the Queen Elisabeth and the USS Wakefield. Upon arrival in England, the soldiers of the 106th Division were billeted in small English villages in the Cotswolds. A brief period of training was held and the 106th crossed the English Channel to enter the European Theatre of Operations at Le Havre in early December 1944.
After wading through the surf and setting foot on France, a cold rainy night in a muddy field nd an exhausting truck ride through France and Belgium brought the men to the area of St. Vith, Belgium on 9 December 1944.
Attached to the US First Army, VIII Corps under General Troy Middleton, the Golden Lion Division was ordered to relieve the 2nd Infantry Division in the Schnee Eifel sector, just across the border in Germany. This area, a symbolic breech of the Siegfried Line, had been captured in September 1944 and was considered to be a quiet sector. The terrain consisted of densely wooded hills and open rolling terrain, intercut with steep valleys.
The GI's of the 106th Division had been ordered to take over the positions on a 'man for man, gun for gun' basis, and in many cases this order was carried out to the letter. Old German bunkers were now command posts and storage areas while the infantrymen were in log shelters and outposts. Reserve units had the luxury of staying in dry farmhouses in Belgium and Germany. The veterans of the 2nd Division reassured them that this was the 'Ghost Front', and that they would have an easy life in the Eifel.
The strength of the 106th consisted of three Regimental Combat Teams - the 422nd, 423rd and 424th. Attached to the Division was the 14th Cavalry Group, holding the Losheim Gap with one Mechanized Reconnaissance Squadron, a Battalion of towed Tank Destroyers spread out along the Division sector and three VIII Corps heavy artillery Battalions providing fire support. To the south, the 106th made contact with the 28th Infantry Division.
The 422nd RCT - consisting of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, the 589th Field Artillery Battalion, Company "A" of the 81st Engineer Battalion and Collecting Company "A" of the 331st Medical Battalion, was responsible for the sector around the villages of Auw bei Prüm and Schlausebach. Regimental commander Colonel George L. Descheneaux Jr. headed his Regiment from a command post in Schlausenbach. The 423rd RCT, commanded by Colonel Charles C. Cavender, was located in the area of Oberlascheid, Bleialf and Winterscheid. This RCT consisted of the 423rd Infantry Regiment, the 590th Field Artillery Battalion, Company "B" of the 81st Engineer Battalion, Collecting Company "B"of the 331st Medical Battalion and Troop "B"of the 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron. The 424th Regimental Combat Team, headed by Colonel Alexander D. Reid, formed the right flank of the Division, holding a sector from Grosslangenfeld to Lützkampen. The unit consisted of the 424th Infantry Regiment, the 591st Field Artillery Battalion, Company "C"of the 81st Engineers and Collecting Company "C"of the 331st Medical Battalion.
The 592nd Field Artillery Battalion, armed with 155mm Howitzers, also provided general fire support in the Schnee Eifel. The Division Headquarters was set up at St. Vith, some twelve miles to the rear. VIII Corps Headquarters was situated in Bastogne.
All things considered, the 106th Division was responsible for a front of 27 miles. Army doctrine at the time envisioned that a Division could only adequately hold a front of 5 miles. The Schnee Eifel sector was therefore a considerable risk, made even more so by the salient position of the 422nd and 423rd RCT's.
The Battle of the Bulge
The German Fifth Panzer Army launched its assault against the 'Ghost Front' on the morning of 16 December 1944. The costly battle that ensued would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.
In the week prior to the German breakthrough, the men of the 106th had observed enemy troop movements and sounds of tanks, trucks and heavy equipment being assembled behind the German lines. This information was sent up to higher echelon but it was discarded as they believed that the Germans were tricking the newly arrived Americans.
German troops and vehicles negotiate the difficult terrain in the Eifel. The capture of paved roads and bridges were vital for the success of their offensive (Bundesarchiv)
The troops were told that the Germans were playing phonograph records to give the impression that activity was going on in their sector. This sense of complacency ultimately led to the largest loss of materiel and manpower ever experienced on the Western Front.
On the morning of the 16th, thousands of German artillery pieces and rocket launchers opened up and heavily shelled the US lines. Communications were severed but initial losses were light. Soon thereafter German troops of the 18th and 62nd Volksgrenadier Divisions began their assault on the positions of the 106th Division. The 14th Cavalry Group in the Losheim Gap was quickly overrun by German armored and paratroop units. Their withdrawal to the Belgian border exposed the left flank of the 422nd Infantry. Another German breakthrough in Bleialf on the morning of the 17th allowed for a German pincer movement which trapped the two Regimental Combat Teams on the Schnee Eifel. To the south, the 424th suffered heavy losses in the Battle for Winterspelt but was able to regroup on the opposite bank of the Our River and escape encirclement.
A promised counterattack by the 7th Armored Division and an air drop with supplies to the besieged 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments on the Schnee Eifel never happened and by 18 December 1944 the two units - still holding their original positions despite being surrounded - reversed their battle lines and were ordered to attack and capture the Belgian village of Schönberg and its vital bridge across the Our River. A cross-country march brought the 423rd Infantry to the outskirts of Schönberg, where a final attack on the morning of 19 December 1944 led to many casualties. Out of ammunition, water, food and medical supplies, the remnants of the Regiment were surrendered by Colonel Charles C. Cavender. An hour later, some five miles north of them Colonel George L. Descheneaux Jr. of the 422nd Infantry Regiment reached the same conclusion. Some 500 men of various units held out in a perimeter defense near Laudesfeld until noon of 21 December 1944. This was the last organized American defense to fall in the Eifel sector. In total approximately 8,000 men became prisoners of war.
A 1944 Illinois newspaper reports of the fate of the encircled troops.. Approximately 8,000 troops were forced to surrender after four days of vicious fighting and after running out of ammunition, food, water and medical supplies. (Author's Collection)
That same day the town of St. Vith was captured by the Germans, after a valiant fight by members of the 81st and 168th Engineer Battalions on the Prümerberg Ridge. They were assisted in their defense by units of the 7th Armored Division, which began arriving in St. Vith on 17 December 1944.
The destroyed café Laurent-Jacquet on Baraque de Fraiture after the battle. A destroyed Sherman tank of the 3rd Armored Division stands nearby. (Photo Francis Aspinwall)
The units that were able to escape the Schnee Eifel pocket also fought back.
Small groups of men were able to make their way out of the encirclement in the Schnee Eifel and infiltrate back to their own lines. Lieutenant Ivan Long was succesfull in bringing back his entire I&R Platoon of the 423rd Infantry Regiment. They were eventually the last unit to leave St. Vith on 21 December 1944 after defending the An der Linden crossroads. The defenders of St. Vith filtered back across the Salm River bridges at Rencheux and Salmchâteau.
Under the command of Major Arthur C. Parker III, three remaining 105mm howitzers and the remnants of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion put up a perimeter defense on the crossroads of Baraque de Fraiture, neat Werbomont, Belgium. Assisted by units of the 3rd and 7th Armored and a company of Glider Infantry of the 82nd Airborne Division they held the vital crossroads from 19 till 23 December 1944. The 2nd SS Panzer Division was successful in capturing the crossroads but the delaying action of Major Parker allowed the 82nd Airborne to deploy its units in the sector, which eventually stopped the German advance towards the Meuse River.
The 424th Infantry Regiment participated in the fighting for the St. Vith pocket, known as the "Battle of the Fortified Goose Egg". On Christmas Day 1944 they were ordered to attack the Belgian villages of Manhay and Grandmenil to stop the German 2nd SS Panzer Division. Units of the 7th Armored and 82nd Airborne joined the fight. During two consecutive days of attacking many men of the 424th Infantry were killed. The Battles for Manhay and Baraque de Fraiture proved to be turning points in the Battle of the Bulge.
Troops of Company "A", 424th Infantry Regiment clean their weapons after the assault on La Vaux, 13 January 1945. (Signal Corps)
Division commander Alan W. Jones Sr. suffered from a heart attack on 20 December 1944 and we was succeeded by Brigadier-General Herbert T. Perrin. Perrin led the Division through the brunt of the Allied Counteroffensive in January and February. Moving east from Stavelot, the 424th Infantry recaptured the key villages of Wanne, Spineux and Ennal. General Perrin personally led the charge into Ennal, after Regimental commander Alexander Reid had been wounded. On 25 January 1945 the 7th Armored Division recaptured St. Vith and just to the north the 424th Infantry took the key strongholds of Medell and Meyerode.
In February 1945, General Donald Stroh took command of the division. After breaching the Siegfried Line the 106th drove onto the Simmer River and handled a series of mopping up operations there. In late March, they were withdrawn to the St. Quentin area in France, where the 3rd and 159th Infantry Regiments reconstituted the 422nd and 423rd Regiments along with the 589th and 590th Field Artillery Battalions. A reconstitution ceremony was held in April at the St. Jacques Airfield near Rennes. There, surviving members of the original units lost in the early stages of the Ardennes Offensive presented their colors to the new members of the 422nd and 423rd. A similar ceremony was held by the 424th regiment in Germany with their Regimental colors which had been lost in the Ardennes and retrieved on a German prisoner in Czechoslovakia.
The end of the war
Men of the 422nd Infantry Regiment parade at Langenbrücken, Germany on 8 April 1945 after being awarded the Combat Infantry streamer for their participation in the Battle of the Bulge. (Signal Corps)
In April and May the advancing Allied Armies liberated many POW camps in Germany and Poland, releasing the men of the 106th who had been captured during the German drive in the Ardennes.
Ironically the 106th Division was given the task to guard and process many thousands of German prisoners of war. An estimated 1,100,000 German Prisoners passed through the 106th enclosures. Some units of the Division participated in the siege of the port cities of Lorient and Saint Nazaire in France, where the Germans were still resisting. Meanwhile the reconstituted units of the division moved to a training area near Mayen, Germany, named Camp Jones in honor of their former Commanding General. There they completed field training and were ready for action when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.
The 106th saw no further combat action. But they could be proud of their efforts during the Battle of the Bulge, they had held out against all odds and stalled some of the fiercest German units. In October 1945 the Division was officially deactivated at Camp Shanks, New York.
The men who had fought with the 106th could wear their "Golden Lion" with pride.
Last update 18 July 2016