» wreathlaying ceremony 2005

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» The 106th Infantry Intro
» 'Ambush' The story of John M. (Jack) Roberts "C" Battery, 592nd FAB
» 'Robert L. Geist' re-discover of some personal belongings of Robert L. Geist, member of "H" Coy 423 Rgt. (this page is not yet ready)
» Action at Schnee Eifel, written by John Kline (part of his personall wardiary).
» Guerilla fight in the deep misty woods of the Schnee Eiffel, Action of Eric Fisher Wood.
» Account of Jack Sulser, squad leader in the 106th Infantry Division's Company, F, 423rd Inf.
» Back to the introduction page
From the Eifel plateau protrude three distinct ridges or ranges, the central being called the Schnee Eifel. This middle ridge, so important in the action that developed in the 106th Division sector, inclines northeast-southwest. At the western foot of the Schnee Eifel there runs a long narrow valley incised in the high plain, the so-called Losheim Gap. On the western side of the gap the Our River meanders along, and beyond the river to the west the plateau appears once more in heavily wooded form. The Losheim Gap is no pleasant, pastoral valley but is cluttered by abrupt hills, some bare, others covered by fir trees and thick undergrowth. Most of the little villages here are found in the draws and potholes which further scoop out the main valley. The Losheim Gap was occupied on 16 December by a reinforced squadron of the 14th Cavalry Group.

The fate of the 106th Infantry Division and the 14th Cavalry Group was bound together on that day by official orders attaching the cavalry to the infantry, by circumstances of terrain, and by the German plan of attack. To the left of the cavalry group ran the boundary between the VIII Corps and V Corps, its northern neighbor being the 99th Infantry Division. To the right of the 106th lay the 28th Division, constituting the center of General Middleton's corps. The 106th itself occupied the central and southern sections of the heavily forested Schnee Eifel.

American successes some weeks earlier had driven the enemy from a part of the West Wall positions along the Schnee Eifel, creating a salient which jutted deep into the German lines. Although such a salient was exposed, the possession of at least a wedge in the West Wall seemed to compensate for the risk involved. It should be noticed that the Schnee Eifel range is terminated in the south by a cross corridor, running against the usual north to south grain of the Eifel plateau. This is the valley of the Alf, a small creek which makes a long horse-shoe bend around the Schnee Eifel east to the village of Pronsfeld.

Three main roads run through this area. From the crossroads village of Hallschlag the northernmost descends into the Our valley, crossing and recrossing the river until it reaches St. Vith. The center road, secondary in construction, traverses the Losheim Gap from Roth southwestward. The southernmost road follows the valley of the Alf from Prüm, but eventually turns through Winterspelt toward the northwest and St. Vith. Thus two main roads, of macadam construction and some twenty-two feet wide, ran through the American positions directly to St. Vith. These roads were characteristic of the eastern Ardennes, winding, with many blind turns, squeezing through narrow village streets, dipping abruptly, and rising suddenly across the ravines. But each of the roads to St. Vith circles around the Schnee Eifel at one of its termini.

The width of the sector held by the 106th Infantry Division and the attached 14th Cavalry Group was approximately eighteen airline miles. When traced on the ground, the line these forces were responsible for defending was actually more than twenty-one miles in length. The 14th Cavalry Group (Col. Mark Devine) was charged with a 9,000-yard front in the 106th Division sector along the line Lanzerath-Krewinkel-Roth-Kobscheid. This disposition placed the cavalry to the north of the Schnee Eifel and across the northeastern entrance to the Losheim Gap. The section of the West Wall which barred egress from the gap lay beyond the cavalry positions.
The dispositions of the 106th Infantry Division (Maj. Gen. Alan W. Jones) followed an irregular line which in general trended from northeast to southwest. The 422d Infantry (Col. George L. Descheneaux, Jr.) occupied the forward positions of the West Wall on the crest and western slopes of the midsection of the Schnee Eifel. This regiment and the cavalry, therefore, combined as defenders of a salient protruding beyond the neighbors to the north and south. The line occupied by the 423d Infantry (Col. Charles C. Cavender) continued briefly on the Schnee Eifel, then as this range dropped away swung back into the western portion of the Alf valley. Thence followed a gap screened by the division reconnaissance troop. The 424th Infantry (Col. Alexander D. Reid) continued the bend to the west at Grosslangenfeld and joined the 28th Infantry Division, at least by periodic patrols, north of Lützkampen.

On 19 October the 18th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron had taken over the positions in the Losheim Gap from another cavalry squadron attached to the 2d Infantry Division with instructions to occupy the infantry positions then existing. The 14th Cavalry Group took over the sector on 11 December, using the 18th and a company of 3-inch towed tank destroyers much as they had been deployed earlier. The ground occupied by the cavalry was relatively flat here at the mouth of the gap, although broken by streams and knotted by hills as is common on the Ardennes plateau. In contrast to the ridge lines the floor of the gap had a few trees. The infantry positions inherited by the cavalry were in the little villages, most of which had been built in depressions offering some protection against the raw winds which sweep the Ardennes. There were eight garrison points; a homogeneous defense line, of course, was out of the question. In addition, there existed substantial gaps on both flanks of the cavalry. In the north the gap between the 14th Cavalry Group and the 99th Infantry Division was approximately two miles across. A small party from the attached tank destroyer outfit (Company A, 820th Tank Destroyer Battalion) patrolled this opening at two-hour intervals in conjunction with an I and R Platoon from the 99th Division. There was an unoccupied strip between the right of the cavalry and the left of the 422d Infantry about one and a half miles across; the responsibility for patrolling here was given to the infantry.

At best the cavalry positions could only be described as small islands of resistance, manned usually in platoon strength and depending on automatic weapons dismounted from the cavalry vehicles or on the towed 3-inch guns of the tank destroyer company. Some barbed wire had been strung around the garrison villages. Mine fields, both German and American, were known to be in the area, but neither the 14th Cavalry Group nor the 2d Infantry Division before it could chart their location. On 14 December Colonel Devine had asked corps for engineers and more mines.

Contrary to the doctrine and training of mechanized cavalry, the 14th Cavalry Group was committed to a positional defense. Since the cavalry squadron does not have the staying power for defense in depth, and since the width of this front made an interlocking linear defense impossible, the 14th---if hit hard---was at best capable only of delaying action. Lacking the freedom of maneuver usually accorded cavalry, the 14th Cavalry Group would have little hope of winning time by counterattack. The 32d Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, refitting near Vielsalm, Belgium, was available on short notice to reinforce the rest of the cavalry group; its officers had reconnoitered forward positions and telephone wire had been laid in at a few points. There seems to have been no specific plan for the employment of the 32d Squadron. Colonel Devine and his staff, during the few days available, had worked out a general defensive plan giving specific routes of withdrawal and successive defense lines. Apparently this plan was finished on the night of 15 December but was never circulated.

The staff of the cavalry group was evidently familiar with the defensive plan worked out earlier by the 2d Division which, in the Losheim area, called for an initial withdrawal to the Manderfeld ridge and an American counterattack by forces taken from the Schnee Eifel. During the brief attachment of the 14th Cavalry Group to the 106th Division no comparable plan to support the forces on the low ground in the gap by withdrawing troops from the more readily defended line on the Schnee Eifel was ever issued, although Colonel Devine had made several trips to the 106th on this matter. The 2d Division also had an artillery plan which provided for approximately 200 prearranged concentrations to be fired on call in the gap. There is no evidence that this plan was taken over by the 106th Division artillery (which would have had to shift its battalions), but the cavalry did have one battalion of 105-mm. howitzers, the 275th Armored (Lt. Col. Roy Udell Clay), in support about two and a half miles west of Manderfeld.

When the 106th Division relieved the 2d Division on 11--12 December, freeing the latter for use in the proposed V Corps attack to seize the Roer River dams, it moved into well-prepared positions and a fairly quiet front. The veteran 2d Division had protected its front-line units against the bitter Ardennes weather with log dugouts for the rifle and weapon squads. Stoves were in the squad huts and the kitchen ranges were up front in covered dugouts. Heavy weapons were exchanged, the 106th taking over the .50-caliber machine guns, mortars, and other weapons where they had been emplaced in order to conceal the relief from the enemy. The extensive communications net prepared by the 2d Division, with wire to almost every squad and outpost, was left to the 106th, but unlike its predecessor the 106th had few sound powered telephones.

Before his departure the 2d Division commander handed over his defensive scheme and briefed the incoming commander and staff. Because General Robertson had looked upon the Losheim Gap as particularly sensitive, the 2d Division defensive and counterattack plans laid special emphasis on support for troops in that sector. In brief, the 2d Division planned to pull the forces in the gap back to the Manderfeld ridge while the two regimental combat teams on the Schnee Eifel would withdraw west to a shortened line along the Auw-Bleialf ridge road, thus freeing one combat team for counterattack in the north. Local counterattack plans prepared by regiments and battalions likewise were handed over. From 12 through 15 December the 106th Division commander and staff reconnoitered the new area; then, after a conference with the VIII Corps commander, they began study on detailed recommendations for a more adequate defense. These were never completed or submitted although General Jones did make oral requests to alter his deployment.

In the circumstances then existing, adequate measures to cope with the problem of such an extended front would have required one of two things: substantial reinforcement or withdrawal to a shorter line. Some five weeks earlier General Middleton had acted to reduce the Schnee Eifel salient by withdrawing the 23d Infantry (2d Division) from its forward positions in the West Wall. It was into this new westward sector on the right flank of the salient that the 424th Infantry moved---even so, the regiment took over a front of nearly six miles. Middleton was under compulsion from higher headquarters to retain the Schnee Eifel salient and the existing dispositions of the two regiments therein. There were plans afoot for an attack toward Bonn, as part of the forthcoming Allied offensive, and the gap in the West Wall represented by this salient would be extremely useful in any sortie against Bonn.
The road net within the division area and to its front was limited and in poor condition, but this was an endemic condition in the Ardennes, particularly during winter months. The macadam stretches required constant mending and the dirt roads quickly sank away where not shored up with logs and stone. But though transit by heavy vehicular columns was difficult it was by no means impossible---as the event proved. Four avenues of penetration were open to a road-bound enemy. All four would be used. Following from north to south, they were: (1) Hallschlag, southwest through Manderfeld (the 14th Cavalry Group command post) and Schönberg (at this point crossing the Our River) thence to St. Vith; (2) a secondary road from Roth, west through Auw, then to Schönberg or Bleialf; (3) Prüm (a large German communications center) northwest to Bleialf and on to Schönberg; (4) Pronsfeld, directly northwest through Habscheid and Winterspelt to the Our River bridges at Steinebrück, then on to St. Vith. These roads, following the natural channels around and west of the Schnee Eifel, extend across the Our River by way of bridges at Andler, Schönberg, and Steinebrück. St Vith is the funnel through which the roads coming from the Our pass to the west.

The degree to which the green 106th Division had been acclimatized to its new surroundings by the morning of 16 December is impossible to determine. The arduous truck journey across France and Belgium, through bitter cold and clinging damp, must have been dispiriting to untried troops. The front-line shelters in which the veterans of the 2d Infantry Division had made themselves relatively comfortable probably did little more than take the raw edge off the miserable weather prevalent when the 106th marched to the bunkers, foxholes, and dugouts. By 15 December a number of trench foot cases already had occurred, particularly in the 422d Infantry, which had been the last regiment to draw overshoes.

The extent to which the division was armed to defend itself is also a matter of debate. All units had the normal basic load of ammunition on hand, although there seems to have been a shortage of carbine and bazooka rounds. The nearest ammunition supply point was at Noville, over forty miles southwest of St. Vith, making resupply slow and difficult. Jones had requested antitank mines but these were not delivered in time. A thin, linear defense such as that inherited in the Schnee Eifel required an extraordinary number of automatic weapons. Although by this time the veteran ETO divisions were carrying BAR's and light machine guns far in excess of authorized allowances, the 106th Division possessed only the regulation number and type of issue weapons---fewer than were needed to organize a twenty-one mile front. On the whole, however, the 106th seems to have entered the line with a high state of morale; had it not exchanged the tedium of training and "show-down" inspections for the excitement of an active theater of operations where victory was always the American portion?