William H. Borst
106th Cavalry Recon Troop / 106th Infantry Division
One Soldier’s Story – William H Borst
November 1944 – April 1945
Bill Borst died in November 1988 and except in the most general of terms, he never spoke of his experiences in The War, as is true with many other veterans. Nonetheless, with the recent finding of a German Map in his basement upon which a hand written diary is maintained of the 106th Recon’s experience before, during and after their deployment in Grosslangenfeld during the Battle of the Bulge, his life as soldier and POW becomes understood and vivid. The following is an attempt to relate these circumstances and details to those who knew him best – his still living wife and two adult daughters.
June 2015 ems
“The Map” was discovered in the basement of William (Bill) Borst in Midland Park, New Jersey, after his death in1988 by his grandson, Jamie Vermilyea. Bill Borst never spoke of the map nor ever shared many experiences of his time as a POW. Because of The Map we now know that he was a member of the 106th Infantry Division, 106th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized).
Footnote: The reconnaissance troop is the mobile reconnaissance agency available to the division commander and is employed by him to communicate details of hostile organization, strength, and dispositions, the characteristics of terrain, and other information upon which to base a plan of action.
At 29 years of age Bill Borst was a relatively old man when deployed to the Ardennes on December 11th 1944 ; the German offensive began just five days later on December 16th, and within three days after that he found himself, along with nearly 7,000 other members of the 106th Infantry Division, a POW. Nothing was heard from him or about him for months. He was listed as “Missing in Action” until May 8, 1945 (which was coincidentally VE Day) when his wife, Henrietta Borst, received word that Bill Borst was alive and was in a Brussels hospital.
Bill Borst didn’t speak much about his POW experiences and since most of his military records were burned in a 1973 fire in St Louis, little could be learned from his military records either. However, with “The Map” and the information it contained, his life as a POW becomes much more vivid and clear.
Based on notations on the map, the chronicle was prepared by at least four survivors of the 106th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop around the time of their liberation in mid-April 1945.
The map notations are faded and hard to read in some cases but are listed herein as accurately as possible in bold lettering and centered. Family memories are shared also in bold lettering and centered to help establish the time and place of Bill Borst’s experiences.
The map upon which the writings are made was published in Berlin in 1938 and is of German Nazi origin for the Luftwaffe (LUFT-NAVIGATIONSKARTE). Cities and towns are in the German language. Notations are all in English and hand written. The Map measures 23 inches tall and 25 ½ inches wide.
FULL MAP VIEW
At the bottom of the map and centrally placed the notation reads:
Footnote: within the 106th Infantry Division were several component units including the 422, 423 and 424 Infantry Regiments, 81 Engineers Combat Battalion (which received a Distinguished Unit Citation for action in the Ardennes), 106 Signal Company, three Batteries (Battalions) of artillery and so forth. Within the 106th Infantry Division was also the 106th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized) of which Bill Borst was a member and the contingent for which “The Map” was prepared. Thus, the abbreviation above “106th RCN.TR” stands for 106th Cavalry Reconnaissance Troop (Mechanized)
FROM TIME CAPTURED TILL
LIBERTATED THE MEN WALKED
APPROX. 800 MILES
LOST APPROX 45 LBS.
Actually, in following The Map, travel from the Ardennes to Stalag IVB and then to Stalag VIII A was mostly by train and approximately 500 miles. The Forced March afterwards, which consisted of all walking, was approximately another 400 miles. The Map’s purpose is to highlight the route traveled by the POWs – accurately emphasized above is that each soldier lost significant weight due to lack of food. POW’s were first moved by train east to captivity in the Stalags and later they were marched back west to stay ahead of the Soviet advances.
“The Map” was made at Hildesheim, Germany, which is 23 miles south of Hanover and in the area of liberation on April 13th, 1945.
To the left of
this notation are two names with a star ( )
beside each name. They are:
John Ulicni Ill (from Illinois) and
Carl Petrone N.J. (from New
To the right of
this notation are two other names. They are:
Edward Fleming Ill (from Illinois) and
Roy Mechling PA (from Pennsylvania).
The chronology begins along the left hand side of the map and then moves east (right) to the Ardennes.
Left States Nov 10, 44
Historical note: Starting on 7 October and continuing through 10 November, the 106th Infantry Division was moved out of camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Massachusetts in four movements to the Oxford-Cheltenham vicinity in the south midlands of England. – (As they left November 10th, The 106th Recon would have been the last unit to leave camp Myles Standish. Departure was on the USS Wakefield.)
Hit High Seas Nov 11, 44
Landed in Liverpool Eng. Nov 17, 44
For the rest of November the 106th Recon obtained equipment and underwent training in England before shipping out.
Hit Eng. Chan
Dec 1. Sighted France
Returned to Eng – then
Returned & Landed at LeHarve, France
LeHarve – winter 1944-1945
Hit front lines Dec 12, 44
To be exact, they were deployed a few hours earlier on the evening of December 11th. The assigned area for the 106th Recon Troop was the German town of Grosslangenfeld and they were deployed between the 424th Infantry Regiment to their south and Troop B of the 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron to their north.
their renowned book, “THE WAR-An Intimate History” Geoffrey Ward and
Ken Burns speak of this moment in the Ardennes by saying: “The
28th and 4th divisions were in the line
still recovering from combat. The 106th and the 99th,
above the 28th, were newcomers to combat being gently
introduced to what one former GI called “the milder elements
of infantry warfare”: observing, patrolling supplying.
In the early morning of 16 December 1944 at about 0530, soldiers of the 106th Division on the Schnee Eifel (Snow Mountain) Plateau received their baptism of fire. The Germans opened fire with over 2000 guns, ranging from 3-inch mortars to giant
16-inch railway guns and hit the entire length of the American front in the Ardennes region. The bombardment caught the Americans both in the line and back at headquarters by complete surprise.
Notation from The Map:
5 men wounded
Plat (platoon) CP hit by arty (artillery)
(This would be the 2nd platoon command post of Lt Joseph Haines that was hit by artillery).
Many American units were cut off from each other and from headquarters because the shelling had ripped to pieces the phone lines that were hardly buried, if at all. This had the effect of causing much confusion among the units on the line and regimental and divisional headquarters. Fighting continued unit by unit usually led by junior officers but by 19 December the situation for the entire 106th Infantry Division had become desperate.
Continuing the writings on The Map:
DECEMBER 19, 1944
This is an interesting note as it is circled and directly on the town of Malmedy – famous for the the massacre of 84 American soldiers two days earlier on 17 December.
WITH 49 rcn
This notation suggests half the Recon Troop were captured together and the others individually.
Footnote: This would be T/5 Edward Fleming and Sgt. Roy Mechling (both authors of “The Map). There are several researched references to marched and barracked POW’s partnering with two or three other POW’s for companionship. They would walk together, talk together, eat together and if necessary to stay warm, they would sleep together. They would share everything and usually be lifelong friends after the war.
Then there are three messages together:
CAPT. TURNED YELLOW
(STAYED IN BOX
Footnote: The POWs captured in the Bulge suffered enormously. They were in bad shape when captured, hungry and suffering from frostbite. Many died on the way to the camps. Stuck in boxcars for days, they were bombed by the Allies as they sat in rail sidings. It took a month for the POWs to be processed and placed in stalags. Conditions at the camps had only gotten worse as the war went on. They were overcrowded and the lack of food was becoming a crisis. Best estimates say that around 180 men of the 106th ID died in captivity. Noted author Kurt Vonnegut, a member of the 422nd, vividly described his experiences during the Bulge and as a POW in his classic work, Slaughterhouse Five.
The next four notions are near the town of Koblenz, Germany, after traveling140 miles to the East by train:
BOMBED 2 DAYS
1 MAN KILLED
Monday, December 25th. Christmas 1944 came and went without any food for Bill Borst and the other prisoners while traveling on the prison train.
OFFICER AND GUARD
OUT OF ___?___
The train continues east toward Poland. No indication of travel time but two more notations just north of Frankfurt:
BY TRAIN TO 4-B
4-B can only be one thing – Stalag IV-B located 290 miles further east of Frankfurt near Dresden. The notations at this site read:
ARRIVED DEC 29
Ten days after capture and over 450 miles to the west, men of the 106th Cavalry Recon arrive at their first POW camp – Stalag IV-B. It is estimated that the 106th Cavalry was in Stalag IV-B only about two weeks – from 29 December to about 13 January before moving to Stalag VIII A.
Then the map notation:
There are four notations on “The Map” for Stalag VIII A and clearly Bill Borst and the rest of the men were suffering. Arriving by train in mid-January, Bill Borst and the men of the 106th Cavalry must have been some of the very last POW’s to be placed in this camp. The Russians were coming, and conditions were deteriorating.
Stalag VIII A
Left Feb 14
Footnote: Once at their permanent Stalags, the P.O.W.s' diet largely consisted of potatoes and moldy bread at least partially made from sawdust. Watery soup made with carrots or turnips was another staple
Footnote: The winter of 1944/45 was extremely cold, the ground frozen and covered with snow. By mid-January, heavy gunfire and bombs could distinctly be heard. The general expectation among the VIII A prisoners was that soon they would be liberated by the Russian army, a prospect not relished by many POWs, as the Russian soldier was an unknown quantity when it came to identifying POWs against German combatants.
Footnote: On the 22nd January 1945, on the orders of Adolf Hitler, all POW camps situated in eastern regions of Germany and occupied territories were ordered to evacuate their Stalags and march westwards away from the advancing Russian army.
The Hitler decree caused the remaining men of the 106th Cavalry to be ordered to move again. There are dots marked on The Map which may indicate the places reached on a daily basis. There are no notations on The Map for nearly 200 miles. But how the prisoners of the 106th were moved and lived is no historic secret.
The Map notations continue again near the town of Weimer, Germany.
SHOT MEN FOR STEALING
WALKED 642 KM
At this point The Map shows the march turned sharply north and was heading directly toward Hanover. The next notation is five dots (days?) later.
STAYED AT BRICK FACTORY
POW’s arrived at an old brick factory outside of Duderstadt. This was a large building, four floors, very cold and referred to as “a hell-hole”. There were over 4,000 prisoners held in this building. There was one water pump outside, no toilet facilities. The floors were wood and the waste form those above seeped down to those below. The service diary of prisoner Robert Kline reported that two Americans and nine Russians were killed for lighting matches during a bombing raid at this location.
Continuing with map notations:
4 MEN SHOT
And after an additional five dots (days) the march arrives in Braunschweig (Brunswick in English) and is near its final destination.
STAYED HERE AS
SLAVE LABOR BUT
TO WEAK TO WORK
RECEIVED RED CROSS
POW’s from Stalag VIII-A begin arriving in Braunschweig (Brunswick) on March 24, 1945, with members of 106th Recon arriving March 29th. Braunschweig is a Kommando (work camp). They would be working on a roads and railroads that had been bombed. Most were sick and too weak to work. One POW described how things were, “I still have the diarrhea. I don’t know of anyone that does not have it. It is making us all so weak we can hardly walk.”
Now the Americans are closing in and the German guards move the prisoners again. Beginning April 9th the POW’s left Braunschweig walking in an eastward direction to keep ahead of the American drive. The adjacent towns of Helmstedt and Horsingen were the final destination with all prisoners arriving by April 12th. Ending the 422 mile march from Stalag VIII-A in Gorlitz to Horsingen.
Then these notations on The Map:
SGT SOULIA JOE
DIED FROM STARVATION
(Sgt Joseph W Soulia 106th Recon Troop)
PVT TICKFER DIED ON ROAD MARCH
(T/5 Morris G Tickfer 106th Recon Troop)
T/4 Charles Copenhaver
DIED ON ROAD MARCH
FROM STARVATION DYSENTARY
And finally, the long waited day.
12:50 FRI 13
APRIL 82nd RANGERS
The ordeal as a Prisoner of War is over. Liberated in Horsingen, Germany at 12:50PM, Friday, 13 April 1945.
The POW’s in Helstedt were liberated that same day but a few hours earlier at 10:00 am.
SENT 1ST MSG
HOME FRI 13
The Map has a last notation off to the side and not along the line of march at the City of Magdeburg.
3400 civilians killed
JAN 16, 45
Footnote: On that day, there was an Allied air attack on the German city of Magdeburg by the Royal Air Force. The RAF bombing raid on the night of 16 January 1945 destroyed much of the city. The official death toll was 16,000 people burned or suffocated from lack of oxygen or were poisoned by fumes in this attack.
For the remainder of its stay in Europe, the 106th Infantry Division handled POW enclosures and engaged in occupational duties. (An ironic duty assignment after the POW experiences of the 106th Recon). The Division was deactivated 2 October 1945.
But for the 106th Cavalry, as of Friday, April 13th, 1945 their war was over. Friday the 13th was not likely held as an unlucky day for men of the 106th from that day forward.
Footnote: The 106th Recon was liberated one day after the death of FDR.
A liberated prisoner of the 106th Infantry Division
Pvt James Watkins – 423rd Infantry Regiment
|courtesy of the family of William Borst, specifically his wife and widow, Mrs. Henrietta Borst. Compiled by their Nephew, Mr. Edward Strand. 06/2015|
Page last revised
James D. West