The Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944
Pete House, A Battery, 590 Field Artillery Battalion
The 106th Infantry Division moved up to St. Vith, Belgium to replace the 2nd Infantry Division around December 11, 1944. Five days later, at 5:30 AM Adolph began his desperate attempt to capture Antwerp and thus divide the British and Americans. He said it would take a mere week to capture Antwerp! With this action he hoped to sign a separate peace treaty with the British. You have to remember that England was being blasted by the German V-2 Rockets, had been bombed since 1940, and the British Commander General Bernard Montgomery was feuding with the Supreme Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower. With a separate peace with the British the Americans would loose the use of the British Isles and could not continue the war.
This 60 mile sector was under the control of 8 Corps, Major Gen. Troy Middleton, commanding. 8 Corps was part of Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges 1st Army. Individual units on line north to south (left to right) were: 102 Cavalry Group, 99 Infantry Division, 14 Cavalry Group, 106 Infantry Division, and 28 Infantry Division. This whole lightly defended 60 mile sector was considered a holding or rest area by the Allied High Command. Remember this!
The 102 and 14 Cavalry Groups were never intended to hold ground like the infantry. They were not equipped nor trained for this work. They were to find the enemy, hit, and run. It is ironic that 14 Cavalry Group was assigned to guard the area known as the Losheim Gap. Two Squadrons, around 800 men, for 5 miles of front. This has been the historic route for armies to move from Germany into Belgium and France. The Kaiserís army crossed here in 1914 to start the First World War. Again in 1940 German General Rommel led his German forces in a lightning attack through here to capture France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This was one of the main and most successful routes of the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge. The Losheim Gap was on the immediate left flank of the 106 Division, next to 422 Infantry Regiment.
All three Infantry Regiments were on the line. Normally one regiment is held in reserve to be moved up as needed. Each infantry regiment has one battalion in reserve for emergency use. By the end of the first day all 3 Infantry Battalions in reserve had to be committed. Major Gen. Jonesí 106 Infantry Division had no reserve forces left. 8 Corps did not have any divisions in reserve. This is what led to the isolation, loss, and capture of 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments.
When the 106th Division replaced the 2nd Division around December 11, 1944, the orders directly from Gen. Courtney Hodges (CG 2nd Army) were fox hole for fox hole and gun position for gun position. When Gen. Alan Jones (106 Div. Commander) requested permission to developed a better defensive line, Gen. Courtney Hodges refused. Many of the officers, from Gen. Jones on down, considered the divisionís position indefensible.
Because this was considered a passive area, ammunition was severely rationed. One of the reasons was the Allies still did not have enough ports to unload supplies. The other was they were stockpiling materials for the spring assault on the West Wall (the common name for the prewar western German border.) On the days immediately proceeding the Bulge my battery (105 how.) usually used up our entire ration of 105 mm ammunition by midnight. And we could not be re-supplied in daylight because the one road was under direct German artillery fire. All ammo, food, gas, and medical supplies were in short supply when the Germans launched their attack on Dec. 16, 1944.
We had not been issued winter gear. Still wearing field jackets and overcoats with no hoods. We were issued a third blanket just before we relieved the 2nd Division on December 11. Of course we didnít have sleeping bags and were using the open ended pup tents..
By the end of the first day, the Germans had forced 14 Cavalry Group past the left flank of 106 division and were attacking Andler. Andler was the northern gate for the road net to the rear (west) of 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments and on the rear left flank of 422 Infantry Regiment. It is only 11,4 miles north of Schoenberg. They had also penetrated between 423 and 424 Infantry Regiments to the town of Bleialf. I St Army sent both 7 and 9 Armored Divisions to aid General Jonesí 106th Division. He assigned 7 Armored Division to move east through St. Vith and Schoenberg to relieve the German pressure on Andler and Bleialf while 9 Armored Division was to help 424 Infantry Regiment to the south. However 7 Armored Division was 60 miles away in the Netherlands and as proved later could not make the march in time to meet its objective. In fact they never moved east of St. Vith.
422 and 423 Infantry Regiments along with their artillery, 589 and 590 Field Artillery Battalions were ordered to remain in the Schnee Eifel, their original location. This meant there were no large defensive forces between these two regiments and Division Headquarters in St. Vith.
There were a number of tank destroyer units, both self propelled and towed, attached to the American units, but no tanks. In addition to infantry the Germans sent 6 Panzer Army against the Losheim Gap and 5 Panzer Army against 106 and 28 Infantry Divisions An army could contain 9 or more divisions. Not counting armor the German forces had an advantage of anything between 10 to I to 20 to I in men.. There were many instances of Americans having to use machine guns against German tanks!
At dawn on the second day the Germans were able to overwhelm the defenders at Bleialf, between 423 and 424 Infantry Regiments. They now had free access to the Bleialf-Schoenberg road. Around 8:30 AM Germans were able to break the defenses at Andler on the north with the aid of their new huge King tanks. Shortly they crossed the Our River in Schoenberg. Now both 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments and 589 and
590 Field Artillery Battalions were completely cut off from the rest of the American Army. 106 Division Headquarters was a scant 6 miles west of Schoenberg, at St. Vith.
28 Infantry Division on the right of 106 Infantry Division was ordered to withdraw to new positions to the rear (west.) Also 106 Infantry Divisionís 424 Infantry Regiment, on their right flank, was ordered to withdraw towards the southwest because of the German pressure on their front and the loss of Bleialf. Now the Germans had a large wedge splitting 423 and 424 Infantry Regiments.
This left Gen. Jones with only part of the 81 Engineer Battalion, HO people, and stragglers to defend the 106th Division Headquarters at the strategic crossroads town of St. He still hoped the 7th Armored Division would move east through St. Vith to save his 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments, 589 and 590 Field Artillery Battalions. With the capture of Schoenberg that morning, the Germans were putting tremendous pressure on St. Vith from both the east and north.
On December 18, 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments were ordered to turn around and fight west to Schoenberg to join up with the 7th Armored Division. These two units had been completely cut off since yesterday morning and fighting for their lives on all four sides. They did attack towards Schoenberg but do to lack of roads and ammo, did not make it. They were still fighting towards Schoenberg when daylight came on the 19th.
Gen. Jones requested air drops of critical supplies several times. The first request got locked up in I St Army bureaucracy. When it finally was straightened out on the 18th the C-47 cargo planes were denied landing at an Army Air Force Field in Belgium and were diverted to another field that lacked any knowledge of the target sites. Both the 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments had displayed panels at the proposed drop sites, all in vain! The supply planes were grounded due to bad weather for several days. Now it was too late for the cut off regiments.
By the morning of December 19, 422 and 423 Infantry Regiments, 589 and 590 Field Artillery Battalions were out of ammunition, gas, medical supplies and food. My battery started the morning with just three shells. The only things in plentiful supply were wounded and dead. They were completely cut off. The Germans had them surrounded and were shelling the hapless Americans from all sides. It was now just a slaughter! Both 422 Infantry Regiment Commander Col. George L. Descheneaux and 423 Infantry Regiment Commander Col. Charles C. Cavender felt that the only thing to do was to save their troops by surrendering. With them were most of 589 and 590 Field Artillery Battalions (105 mm howitzers), some engineers from the 81 Engineer Battalion and other assorted members of the division. Also captured were a number of men from the 333 Field Artillery Group. The 28 Infantry Division lost their 110 Infantry Regiment as well as Engineers, and Artillery.
The final result of all this bumbling by 1st Army had three results. First, the Allies lost one of the few fully equipped Infantry Divisions in Europe, second the 106th Infantry Division lost over 8,000 men in the first four days of the Battle of the Bulge -- a 64% loss! Third, the German plans called for them to be in St. Vith within two days. Instead it took over eight days. Remember, Hitler said it would take a mere week to reach Antwerp, yet it took him eight days just to move a short ten miles to capture St. Vith.
This is where the Germans actually lost the Battle of the Bulge. This is where Major Gen. Alan Jonesí 106th Infantry Division held their ground! No honors, no medals!
The 106th Infantry Division became the scape goat of the Battle of the Bulge although the German 5 Panzer Army Commander, Gen. Hasso von Manteuffel, said after the war that the 106th Division, through its stubborn defense of the Schoenberg-St. Vith road net, held up his advance long enough to prevent the Germans from getting to their final target, Antwerp.
It is interesting to note that many reports of increased enemy activity just prior to December 16 were collected and sent to 1st Army and Supreme Allied Headquarters but apparently were ignored. The Allies had broken the German Code with their secret Ultra machine. Many hints were received about the movement of German troops and were provided to Allied High Command. A Belgium women, Elise Delť, crossed the Our River on December 14 to the 28 Divisionís 109 Infantry Regiment. She said she was captured by the Germans December 10 and taken 10 mile behind the lines to Bitburg. She escaped and reported much armor and troops including SS. Near the Our River she saw many boats in the woods (for river crossings.) From December 11 through December 15 requests for artillery fire missions increased daily. Some of the Infantry units also reported increased patrol activity just prior to December 16. (See Charles B. MacDonaldís A Time For Trumpets, pages 29-79.) Some feel that this was a deliberate sacrifice of a division to get the Germans to commit. Others, including myself, believe it was just a callous lack of leadership on the part of a few at SHAEF, 1 Army, and perhaps 8 Corps.
After withdrawing from St. Vith the Division was recommitted with 424 Infantry Regiment, 591 and 592 Field Artillery, 330 Medical Battalion, and what was left of the 81 Engineers and other miscellaneous troops. Other units were added to replace the missing ones.
On March 14, 1945 the division was moved out of the battle line to St. Quentin, Fr., for reorganization, rehabilitation, and training. The units lost during the Bulge were to be reconstructed. By this time the German military were surrendering or being captured by the thousands. The division was ordered to the Rhineland to guard these Germans. They arrived by April 15. They were to guard administer, actually build the enclosures, screen, segregate, transfer, evacuate, process, discharge and transport German prisoners all over Europe. When they arrived in the Rhine River Valley there were already thousands of prisoners, no facilities nor food and medical help. During this period of eleven weeks they would process more than a million and a quarter Germans! And the division had just received the new replacements and not had time to reorganize when this took place.
|Page last revised 11/23/2006|