300 Escaped From 2 Regiments
With the 106th Division in
Belgium, January 21, 1945
The quiet ended in a shattering eruption of fire and steel five days later; in another two days two regiments and supporting artillery and armor of the Golden Lion Division were wiped out.
In those two days the men of the two regiments were engulfed by the overwhelming weight of Field Marshal von Rundstedt's breakthrough spearhead. They went down fighting.
Fewer Than 300 Came Back
Only a handful came back from the 422d Regiment and the 423d. This little group - less than 300 - pitched in and helped the remaining regiment, the 424th, to make gallant delaying stands before and behind St. Vith.
Up to now, censorship has forbidden transmission of these details.
(Secretary Stimson announced Thursday that the 106th suffered 8,663 casualties in the German offensive, including 416 killed and 1,246 wounded. He said most of the division's 7.001 missing men are presumed to be prisoners.)
Held 28-Mile Front
The story of the 106th's disaster started in the foggy dawn on December 16 as they occupied positions in and around the Schnee Eifel, a rocky wooded ridge 10 miles long and 2 miles wide astride the Siegfried Line.
The division was spread pitifully thin along a 27-mile front.
The attack started at 5:30 A. M. on the 16th with a tremendous artillery barrage against the 106th line, which curved northward from the center of the Schnee Eifel in a sector held by the 14th Cavalry group, an armored outfit attached to the infantry. The the barrage moved across a field artillery battalion, also attached. By 6:20 A. M. more than 100 rounds had hit squarely among the artillerymen.
The Germans meanwhile switched on dozens of searchlights to introduce a ghostly and fantastic note. Their scheme was for the lights to bounce off the low hanging clouds and light up the American positions while the Germans advanced unseen through the shadows. It failed to work, however.
Civilians Told of Shelling
Five minutes after the shelling of our lines started the Germans opened up against St. Vith itself. The civilians, most of whom had pretended to be friendly, but actually were pro-nazi, all were in their cellars when the firing started. They popped out again promptly after the last shell fell at 8 P. M.. The Americans later captured a radio receiver by which the Germans had notified the civilians of the impending shelling.
The Germans turned their guns then on the 422d and the 423d regiments and followed with infantry and tank assaults. By daybreak of December 17 the Germans had thrown two divisions into this part of the front and by midmorning enemy columns were swarming around the Schnee Eifel. They swamped the 422d and 423d regiments and the 424th was forced to withdraw.
All the time, until radio contact was lost, the two regiments continued to send back reports of the fighting. They were routine in nature, but they all added up to disaster. There was no sign, however that the men realized this or were overly concerned.
At 3:35 P. M., on December 13, the radio sputtered that all units of the two regiments were in need of ammunition, food and water. Parachuting of supplies was out of the question because of the fog.
The last message came from the 422d at 4 P. M. that day and from the 423d at 6 P. M. They were addressed to Lieut. Col. Earle B. Williams, Louisville, Ky., division signals officer, and were signed by sergeants who were in charge of the regimental radio teams.
Both messages were in code and were identical - "we now are destroying our equipment". That was all. Presumably most of the two regiments were taken prisoners.
Engineers Held For While
The Germans then headed for St. Vith and were stopped temporarily by the 81st and 168th Engineer Battalions who fought heroically under Lieut. Colonel Thomas Riggs, of Huntington, W. Va. They were outgunned many times over and it was mainly by guts that they held the Germans off all night with three tank destroyer guns and 57-millimenter guns.
Early on the morning of December 18 division headquarters began moving west out of St. Vith. Some units were halted by MP's who had on American uniforms and talked with a mid-Western accent. The MP's turned out to be Germans. One of them fired a rocket which signaled the opening of a terrific barrage against the halted vehicles." That was my first artillery ambush and I hope my last," said Major Matthew R. J. Giuffre, New York City.
Only One Day To Reorganize
After a stiff fight by the 424th, one combat command from the 9th Armored Division which had moved up on December 19, Rigg's fighting engineers and the 112th Regiment form the 26th Infantry Division, the Germans occupied St. Vith at 11 P. M., on December 21.
Sorely exhausted and badly depleted, the 106th pulled back to reorganize December 23, but the next day they were thrown into the line and helped halt the Germans finally on the north side of the salient between Stavelot and Manhay. When Maj. Gen. Alan W. Jones activated the 106th at Jackson, S. C., in March, 1943, he told the division, "you're brand new; you have no past history to live up to, and no past sins to live down."
They still have nothing to live down and much to be proud of, those men who got caught in one of the war's major battles before they had done more than night patrols.
Courtesy of John Schaffner
Page last revised 12/01/2005