Boston Daily Globe
Monday, January 22, 1945
Belmont Colonel Headed
(The battle of the 106th Division described by Globe correspondent Iris Carpenter took place at the opening of the German counteroffensive on Dec., 16 and in the days immediately thereafter. Secretary Stimson revealed 106th casualties on Jan. 18, but today, for the first time, censorship permitted a detailed story of the heroic stand of this American division.)
First Shots 106th Division Heard Fired in Anger Opened German Avalanche
WITH THE 106TH DIVISION IN BELGIUM, Dec. 24 (Delayed by Censor)—I have spent today with remnants of one division which was completely surrounded and cut off. Two regiments were lost—whether they were wiped out or are prisoners of war no one knows because all radio contact was lost with them after the first few days. Presumably most of the two regiments were taken prisoner. A third regiment made its way out and fought hard around Manay.
These men came into line as fresh troops five days before having to stand up against one of the most tremendous offensives in military history. The way they acquitted themselves in action, however, does credit to the finest traditions of history.
The first shot that most of them had ever heard fired in anger was on the morning of Dec. 17, when the Germans began shelling just prior to sending the tanks rolling through.
Two regiments at that time were holding a ragged, rocked and densely wooded ridge near St. Vith.
How they fought—these men who only a few months ago were clerks, salesmen, etc., and whose most realistic approach to warfare until then had been military exercises—can best be judged by last messages by radio.
The last message from one regiment read "Will hold perimeter. Drop ammunition, food and medical supplies until route open."
From the other regiment, the last message told of the number of enemy vehicles and men in the vicinity and the position of enemy tanks with coordinating positions for our artillery.
Radio messages were sent out until Dec. 19. The last battle order to the besieged men was to display a panel at horseshoe-shaped bend in Schonberg road so that airplanes could drop supplies. In spite of weather which made flying almost suicidal, planes went to the spot and supplies were dropped. although it was impossible to say if they were received by our troops.
The two regiments who were trapped were the 422d and the 423d of this division. The 424th Regiment was forced to withdraw.
The colonel of the 422nd Regiment, Col George L. Descheneaux of Belmont, Mass., acknowledged his last message from headquarters on Dec. 17. All day out of the ether, matter of fact messages came from the 422d such as these: "Send ambulances soonest possible as we now have about 40 casualties.
"We are now on top of hill which colonel will occupy. He is here and will hold. "Put enemy fire on road to St. Vith going down to where road crosses little stream and makes right turn. Thanks. Three tanks located there."
Messages went through to the 423d Regiment until nightfall of Dec. 18. The colonel of that regiment tried to relay them to the colonel of the 422d, whose last message came on the morning of Dec. 17, ending with five sad words—"We have no more artillery."
(Ed. note: Col George L. Descheneaux of Belmont is commanding officer of the 422nd Regiment. His wife, the former Elizabeth Bowles, and their 8-year-old daughter, Joey, now reside with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. George Bowles, in Port-land, Me.)
Nazis in United States Uniforms
Every two minutes after that last message, radio contact was attempt-ed with the regiment. Hours after 4:22 am, time of the last message, the regiments communications were silent. Headquarters was able to contact the 423d so final orders were sent to them to relay on that both regiments were to withdraw to a line on the river Ourthe.
Meanwhile Lt Col Leonard Umanoff of New York and the 2d Battalion of the 424th Regiment were holding ground between the two cut-off regiments. Col Umanoff received his orders to withdraw and organized his men to so quietly and effectively that the enemy shelled his position the next morning under the impression that the troops were still holding there.
The withdrawal was a march ofover 30 miles with soldiers becoming so exhausted that they threw away rubber overshoes because they were too weary to carry them. One, with a flat, tired voice, said, "It was more than you can expect of anyone who had so much in so short a while." And, as he said, "None of it gives a fellow an ounce of satisfaction except perhaps the way the men reacted in the situation."
Their retreat was very tricky but a soul-sickening operation because they withdrew through a country overrun with patrols wearing United States uniforms and using United States armor, although the patrols were Germans using captured equip-ment. The enemy had the nerve to stop six trucks from divisional head-quarters. Nazis wearing captured United States M. P. uniforms stopped a convoy on the road and said that it was reserved for armor. They asked that word be passed down the line. The word was passed and when a nice, long column of trucks was halted, the Germans plastered the roads with 88's.
By forming an ever-narrowing defensive circle and passing troops through the bottleneck from St. Vith. remnants of the division finally got through to take up positions.
Save Christmas Turkeys
Lt Col Umanoff said that the hardest order to give was on Christmas Day, when the troops were so exhausted they could barely keep
awake. He ordered them to attack on high ground around Manhay. They took their objective, though.
Individual stories of gallantry during the ten days' nightmare are legion. They range from cooks who carried two field kitchens with rations and frozen turkeys for Christmas dinner out on their backs under fire to the tale of a signal officer and sergeant who kept division headquarters posted as to the enemy's advance.
The latter episode happened when the signal officer and sergeant were moving down the St. Vith-Schonberg road to repair communications. A patrol came up and informed them that the Germans were just around the next' bend of the road. The officer and sergeant promptly climbed to a telephone post and made contact with the division, informing them of the Nazis' position. Just as the Germans rounded the bend and began shooting, they made their car. From then on, they repeated the shinnying up the pole procedure, leaving each time as the enemy hove into sight. They kept this up to such good effect that troops, who had no previous warn-ing of the fast-moving enemy, were warned in time to set up a defense.
Messages Got Through
Then there was the story of Lt John Ford Riley, Sgt Ned Ford and T5 Harrold Farrell of Providence, who found enemy shellfire had cut the phone line 100 yards away from their post. Under heavy fire, they crawled out and repaired it. Again shellfire cut out the line—this time a mile away. Distance was nothing to them. They crawled out and fixed it again. They were no sooner back' from this perilous cross-country crawl than shellfire again cut the line. Once again it was mended by them.
T5's Zomb Sayjour and James Leonard with Pfc Donald Allen and Pvt Archie King did a swell job, too. They were running the advance telephone in Schonberg when the enemy began plastering their post. The first shell—and a big one, at that—hit the right side of the building and sheared it off. The next hit was on the front and bore it down. The third stripped off the roof. After that things were a bit too hot for tabulating when the nearest shell hit less than 10 yards from the switchboard.
But the vital messages kept coming and going through that switch board to the regiments who were cut off. The cut-off regiments were more important than shells, the men said.