The Golden Lions Move In

 The 106th Infantry Division, named the “Golden Lion” division because of the gold lion head on the division’s insignia, was activated on 15 March 1943 at Fort Jackson, South Carolina and was assigned to XII Corps of the Second United States Army. Brigadier General William C. McMahon was originally designated to be the commanding general of the 106th• However, prior to activation, General McMahon was named commanding general of the 8th Infantry Division. To replace McMahon, Brigadier General Alan W. Jones was named commanding general of the 106th, and Colonel Herbert T. Perrin was designated assistant division commander. 

The 80th Infantry Division provided many of the officers from company S commanders up as well as the enlisted cadre for the new division. The new recruits were from almost every state in the union and their average age was lower than previous recruits. Of the entire enlisted personnel of the l06hI~, three-quarters of the men were 25 years and under, and two-thirds of the infantry were 22 years of age or younger. 

From 29 March to 10 July 1943, the division went through basic training at Fort Jackson. Unit training followed this from 12 July to 2 October and combined training from 3 October to 8 January, also held at Fort Jackson. The division then spent the next three months amid persistent rain in the Cumberland Valley in middle Tennessee for maneuvers with the rest of the XII Corps which also included the 26th and 78th Infantry divisions and the  Airborne Division. There were eight operations, involving attack, defense, and river crossing problems. In the seventh operation, the 106th opposed the other three divisions and held a defensive position so well that the operation had to be terminated arbitrarily on the fifth day. 

Between the time of the Tennessee maneuvers and the final training period at Camp Atterbury, developments occurred that would later prove to hamper the effectiveness of the 106th. During this period, some of the trained men from the division were pulled out and sent overseas to act as replacements for divisions which had lost troop strength during their push across Europe. The division was replenished with soldiers transferred from the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) schools. The ASTP was like the ROTC program, bur was to train enlisted men in specialized military fields. However, these men were seriously lacking basic tactical skills, and when the rest of the division were receiving advance training, the former ASTP men were receiving their basic training. 

Starting on 7 October and continuing through 10 November, the 106d~ was moved out of Camp Myles Standish, in Taunton, Massachusetts in four movements to the Oxford-Cheltenham vicinity in the south midlands of England. Once there, the division continued its training and was issued the necessary equipment before their cross-channel movement. This movement began on 26 November and the final units S closed its concentration area in the vicinity of Limesey, France on 6 December. The division immediately began moving to the Schnee Eifel area by truck, and finished its movement on 10 December. As per Vifi Corps orders, the 106th began immediate preparations for relieving of the 2~ Infantry Division that needed a rest after fighting a tough battle in the Hurtgen Forest. The 106t1z assumed responsibility for the defense of the sector at 1900 on ii December.

The Fifth Panzer Army Prepares

From the first time General der Panzertruppen Manteuffel heard about Hitler’s planned offensive, he did not believe that his army, let alone the entire army group, could reach the objective of Antwerp. He believed that the German armies would need more armored and infantry forces than Hitler had allotted for the task. Also, these forces needed to be better trained since many of the divisions were new and many of the replacement men in the other attached divisions were not battle-tested.~’ With the lack of good infantry divisions, the crucial early objective of seizing the important road nets was made that much more difficult. The control of the road nets was crucial for Manteuffel and the other field generals, because of the need to move armor quickly. 

Tanks had become much wider and heavier since the Germans’ successful blitzkrieg of 1940. The new Panzer V and VI tanks had many advantages over the early predecessor, but they also had some disadvantages that made the control of the road nets vital. First, these new tanks, some of which weighed over 70 tons, needed hard roads or ground on which to operate. They no longer could cross the soft ground nor use the narrow forest trails that their 1940 predecessors used. Second, if one of these wide, heavy tanks broke down on the road, it effectively blocked all other vehicles, for the snow, slush and mud, which lay on the side of the road, kept the vehicles from driving off the road for fear of getting trapped.45 Therefore it was crucial that the few good roads be seized as soon as possible and that the four major road networks controlling the cities be captured and held. These were Malmédy, Houffalize, Bastogne and St. Vith. 

Manteuffel had planned to take St. Vith by the second day. To do this, he planned to start his part of the offensive early on the morning of the 16th by sending specially trained “shock companies” to infiltrate the American line like “rain-drops.”4’ Later, at about 5:30 a.m., the German artillery would bombard the American positions followed by the main German assault aided by artificial moonlight created by bouncing searchlights off the clouds. It was hoped that many of the American soldiers would scramble to their positions only to find that the Germans were not only in front of them, but also to their rear. 

For the attack toward St. Vith, Manteuffel plahned to encircle the untested 106th Division with his LXVI Armee Korps under the command of General der Artillerie Wakher Lucht. The LXVI Arinee Korps, unfortunately for Manteuffel, was a weak one even by 1944 standards. It was composed of two partially experienced units, the 18. Volksgrenadierdivision47 and the 62. Volksgrenadierdivision, each about 20,000 men in size; a meager allotment of corps artillery, and 42 assault guns.The 18~I~ VG Division was somewhat seasoned. The unit was formed in September in Denmark on the ruins of the 18”' Air Force Field Division, earlier destroyed in the Mons Pocket. Commanded by Generalmajor Hoffmann-Schönborn, the 18th VG Division was reconstructed from Luftwaffe and Navy units as well as Volksdeutsche and workers drawn in by the new draft laws. When the unit formed, there was a serious lack of trained non-commissioned officers and officers. However, the 18th VG Division was located in a quiet sector of the west wall, along the northern reaches of the Schnee Eifel. Locating the unit in a quiet sector had allowed time for the unit to train for battle while protecting them from battle losses. 

The 62nd VG Division, commanded by Generalmajor Frederich Kittel, bore the number of an infantry division that had been destroyed on the Eastern Front. Although the 62nd VG Division was fully manned and its equipment was new and complete, this green unit had never seen action since its formation in October.5° Even the quality of the men filling the ranks showed the toll that five years for war had taken. The US Weekly Intelligence Summary for the week ending 23 December made the following report; the unit “was composed of poor physical specimens — men with a glass eye or crippled arm being not uncommon — recruited from all age groups and all types of units.” The unit even contained many Czech and Polish conscripts who spoke  no German. 

General Lucht’s LXVI Armee Korps was to form the right wing of Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzerarmee. The LXVI Armee Korps was split in two, in order to bypass the Schnee Eifel on either side, seize the road net at St. Vith and move in column formation to and across the Meuse River. The 1gd~ VG Division, having already been stationed in the area since late October, and having better knowledge of the terrain was made the main assault unit. Their role was to split in two, with the right wing of this attack to be made by the 294th and 295th regiments of the 18th VG Division circling around the Schnee Eifel, with the main objective being the Schonberg bridge. The left book of the planned encirclement was to be carried out by the 293”~ regiment of the 18th VG Division, converging with the other two regiments at St. Vith.52 The 62°’~ VG Division was to create a break-through on the lefrof the 18th VG Division in the Gross-Langenfeld-Heckhuscheid sector. 62”” VG Division was to advance on a broad front, clearing the Pronsfeld-St.Vith road, and seize the Our River crossing at Steinebrück. General7najor Kittel was ordered to concentrate on the objective of the Our River crossing and leave the capture of St. Vithto the 18th VG Division while providing a block for attempted western and southern exits.” 

Headquarters Twelfth Army Group, “Weekly Intelligence Smnni2ry No.20 For Week Ending. 232400 Decenther 1944, National Archives, Washington D.C.

 With U.S. observation posts on the Schnee Eifel overlooking the German positions, Manteuffel ordered that everything possible be done to avoid raising excitement in the American lines. This included all patrolling, which was banned from 10 December onward. However, when the 106th Division arrived, and the Germans sensed how new and inexperienced this division was, the order banning patrols was relaxed. This relaxation of the ban would prove to be a very beneficial move for the German command, for patrols on the night of 12-13 December, in the Losheim Gap, discovered that the two thousand yards separating Roth and Weckerath was unoccupied and the two villages were weakly held.~ With this new information Manteuffel and Lucht made quick changes in the plans to exploit this newly discovered weak spot in the allied lines. 

As the days drew closer to 0-Tag, final preparations were made for the attack. Men, tanks, and equipment were moved into place. Artillery units moved their guns up into positions, aimed them at the American artillery positions, which had been located by a German observation team earlier, and made final calibrations. For the majority of the German soldiers in the west, morale was very high, and they were ready to, in the words of von Rundstedt, “Give everything to achieve things beyond human possibilities for the Fatherland and the Führer.” Everything was ready for the assault, and at midnight on 15 December, at Rundstedt’s headquarters in Ziegenberg Castle, that final entry for the day was made in the OB WEST War Diary, which said: 5 “Tomorrow brings the beginning of a new chapter in the campaign in the west.”5’

Page last revised 12/01/2005