The 106th Infantry Division was activated on March 15th, 1943 at Fort Jackson, SC. After getting field experience in combat -alike- conditions during the Tennessee manoeuvres in January 1944, the division was transferred to Camp Atterbury, IN on March 30th, 1944 for advanced training.
Men of the 422nd Infantry Regiment at Camp Atterbury's rifle range. (Webmaster's Collection)
The 106th was the last of 66 US Infantry Divisions to be activated during WWII. Being one of the more unfortunate higher numbered divisions, the 106th were repeatedly stripped of manpower that was needed elsewere. A total of 7000 men and 600 officers were lost to other divisions and replacement depots, such as Fort Meade, MD.
For the duration of it's stay in the US, men from other training programmes, such as the Air Corps, were transferred to Infantry duties and were attached to the 106th. This resulted in, that when the Division departed from Boston harbor on November 10th, 1944, most of it's men were only partially trained.
After a brief period of consecutive training in Great Britain, the 106th Division crossed the English Channel and entered the European Theatre of Operations at Le Havre.
After a devestating truckride the men entered the area of St. Vith, Belgium on December 11th, 1944. The 106th was ordered to relieve and take over the positions of the 2nd Infantry Division stationed on the "Schnee Eifel" AKA "Snowy Mountains". This was an area of rugged, pine covered hills on the border between Belgium and Germany. The men of the "Golden Lion" division took over the positions one by one, mostly old German Bunkers of the West Wall that were now reinstated as "US Army Property". There was one drawback. When the men of the 2nd Division pulled out, they were smart enough to take all the stoves with them. So, it would be a cold winter for the men of the 106th.
Vehicles of the 589th FAB near St.Vith on December 9th, 1944 (Hayslip)
The 106th consisted of 3 Infantry Regiments, the 422th, 423th and 424th. The 422nd Regiment, commanded by Colonel George Descheneaux Jr was stationed around the towns of Auw and Schlausenbach, just over the German border. The 423rd regiment, under Colonel Charles Cavender lay near the town of Bleialf. The 424th was futher south and closed the gap with the 28th Infantry Division. The 106th had four Artillery Battalions, the 589th, the 590th, 591st and the 592nd. One 155mm Corps Battalion, the 333rd was in support and lay at the banks of the Our River. The 589th lay in front of the 422nd regiment at Herzfenn, the 590th in front of the 423rd at Radscheid and the 591st in front of the 424th regiment at Heckhalenfeld. Divisional HQ was set up in St Vith at the old St Josef's Convent.
The courtyard of St. Josef's Convent, the 106th Division HQ at St.Vith (Webmaster's Collection)
The building was used as a school, a convent, as HQ for the German Forces and as a German Field Hospital. Now it was the residence for the US Army brass.
The 331st Medical Battalion also had her first aid station at St Vith and the 81st Combat Engineer Battalion had her HQ in the town of Heuem, 3km west of the town of Schönberg, home of the divisional switchboard.
The frontline to be covered by the 106th extended for 21 miles and bulked some 8 miles into Germany. This was a lot of ground to cover, about three times the normal distance. Fact was that the division was spread to thinly.
Prior to the 16th, movement could be heard by men on the frontlines. Sounds of tanks, trucks and heavy equipment assembling on the German side. GI's of the 422nd regiment reported the movement promptly to their commanding officers, who did the same thing to divisional HQ. Little response followed, the men were told that the Germans were playing phonograph records to scare the young, green Lions. The warning was dismissed. The testimony of a Russian deserting Volksgrenadier also ended up discarded in the bin of the higher echelons. But there was action on the "Ghost front".
The 2nd section of 591/B at Roanne, Belgium. (Photo by Raymond Kurth)
On December 16th, 1944 at 5: 30 AM over 8000 German artillery pieces opened up on the Ardennes sector. What would follow in the next few days would become known as the largest defeat of the US Army in WWII. Over the next three days, the 422nd and 423rd Regiments became completely cut off from the rest of the division. Reinforcements from the 7th Armored Division weren't able to break trough and an ammo drop failed to arrive. On the 19th of December the ammunition reserves for the two Regiments were exhausted and the commanders, Col. Descheneaux and Col. Cavender decided that further fighting would do more harm than good. To save what was left of their men, they gave up the remainders of their Regiments.
Over 7000 men of the 106th went into German captivity and would spend the duration of the war in a series of POW camps. The 106th Division had been on the line for only five days.
Click "PLAY" to watch German Newsreel footage of men of the 106th surrendering.
Although the two Regiments surrendered, they had a great -perhaps even the greatest- influence in upsetting the Nazi time table. The German advance around St.Vith, one of the vital German goals, was stalled succesfully so their schedule was a mess from day one. Small groups of men, unwilling to the surrender, attempted a breakout from the German pocket. Some made it, some didn't. The I&R platoon of the 423rd Infantry led by Lieutenant Ivan "IKE" Long succeeded in reaching St. Vith after they had held a roadblock and had been surrounded. They continued fighting, as did the 81st CEB, the 331st Medical, the 106th MP's and many others. The 424th Infantry Regiment, which lay further south of the "Schnee Eifel" had escaped encirclement and was assigned the defence of St Vith, together with elements of the 7th Armored Division. When St.Vith was forced to be given up, these troops pulled back to the Salm River and by Christmas began an offensive near Manhay. Meanwhile, General Alan Jones suffered a haert attack and was evacuated to Liège. The Assistent Commander, Brigadier General Herbert T. Perrin assumed command. The battle for Manhay was one of the turning points of the Battle of the Bulge.
The battle for Manhay was very fierce and inflicted many casualties. (NARA)
So was the heroic defense of the crossroads at Baraque Fraiture. Here an important holding action against the German forces, who were drinving on Antwerp, was succesfully held out by elements of the 589th Field Artillery Battalion. Men of the 589th, under command of Major Arthur C. Parker had been able to escape the encirclement in the early stages of the Battle. On December 19th, they had their three remaining 105 mm Howitzers set up at the vital crossroads. Together with elemnets of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment,509th PFAB, 3th and 7th Armored Division, the men of the 589th were succesfull in stalling the German advance long enough for units of the 82nd Airborne Division to come trough. The crossroads of Baraque Fraiture derived it's nickname from the 589th group commander, Major Parker. He became injured during the defence as he was hit by a schrappnel fragment while being in his CP. On the 23rd of December the crossroads was finally taken by German Armored forces. But thanks to the defence, the 82nd Airborne could take it from there. The battle continued for the 589th...
In January 1945 the 424th Regiment was assigned to the 7th Armored Division as they recaptured the town of St.Vith. It was also briefly attached to the 99th Infantry Division during the fight for Meyrode in February.
The 106th was now back on the line where they started their war. Now in February 1945, General Donald Stroh was in command of the division. After breaching the Siegfried Line the 106th drove onto the Summer 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 Regt's along with the 589th, and 590th, FA Bn's. A reconstitution ceremony was held in April at the St. Jacques Airfield near Rennes. There, surviving members of the original 106th regiments lost in the early stages of the Bulge offensive presented their colors to the new members of the 422nd and 423rd. A similar ceremony was held by the 424th regiment in Germany as they represented their Regimental colors which had been lost in the Ardennes and retrieved in Czechoslowakia.
The 422nd and 423rd Regts reconstitution ceremony at Rennes. (NARA)
As the former-POW Lionmen returned from the Stalags in Germany the 106th's job new job became processing German POW's. An estimated 1,100,000 German Prisoners passed through the 106th cages. Meanwhile the reconstituted units of the division moved to a training area near Mayen, Germany, named Camp Jones after their former Commanding General. There they completed field training and were ready for action when Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. From then on, the 106th saw no further action. But they could be proud of their efforts, they had held out against all odds and stalled some of the fiercest German units.
They could wear the "Golden Lion" with pride.