Curtis on King and Johnson and Collins, 'Warriors of the 106th: The Last Infantry Division of World War II'

Author: 
Martin King, Ken Johnson, Michael Collins
Reviewer: 
Bearington Curtis

Martin King, Ken Johnson, Michael Collins. Warriors of the 106th: The Last Infantry Division of World War II. Philadelphia: Casemate Publishing, 2017. 336 pp. $32.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-61200-458-7.

Reviewed by Bearington Curtis (Southern Mississippi) Published on H-War (September, 2022) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=57241

The Battle of the Bulge is one of the most well-known military battles in the US Army’s history. Much attention has been given to the 101st Airborne Division’s defense of Bastogne, to the detriment of our understanding of a perhaps even more important German objective, the town of St. Vith. The 106th Infantry Division, the Golden Lions, which defended the sector near St. Vith, has often fallen under criticism for its performance in the initial phases of the German onslaught. Even the postwar official history of the division paints a picture of fear and panic. Warriors of the 106th, by Marin King, Ken Johnson, and Michael Collins, provides more balance through a new take on the performance of the division. With support from the 106th Infantry Division Association, the authors provide an apologetic examination of the unit in a semi-official capacity. The authors argue that the performance of the unit was not in fact simply poor; to the contrary, they argue that the men of the 106th ID stood their ground and defied the Germans as best as possible, in the face of insurmountable odds.
The book is laid out in fourteen chapters that chronicle the story of the division from its creation until the end of the war. The authors use a unique approach to retell the story of the 106th in that each chapter contains long recollections from the soldiers themselves. This approach allows the authors to tell their narrative of the division as a whole, but the vignettes maintain a human element that reminds the reader that the 106th ID represents the story of many individuals and it was not just a chess piece on the map of Europe. The first two chapters provide the story of how the division was stood up, trained, and moved to France.
The focus of the book, the 106th ID defense against the German’s Ardennes offensive, begins in chapter 3. By December 12, four days before the commencement of the German assault, the 106th ID completely replaced the 2nd ID on the front line. The timing and stationing of the 106th ID were critical factors in the ultimate destruction of the division. The division was overstretched by covering a twenty-six-mile front, five times the recommended front for a division. As a new division, the 106th ID was armed according to the standard equipment tables but lacked the extra firepower that the 2nd ID had scrounged to support the wider front. The division did not have enough time to establish proper radio communication and relied instead on field telephones. The division’s commander, Major General Alan Jones, did not yet have proper communication and had not had time to establish a rapport with his corps commander, Major General Troy Middleton. The authors argue that these problems, which resulted in the catastrophe, were not entirely the fault of the 106th and that, given time, could have been solved. Beyond these institutional problems created by simple lack of time to create unit cohesion, the greatest issue that faced the 106th was its being badly overstretched--a perhaps critical mistake that must be placed squarely on Omar Bradley’s shoulders.
The narrative that the 106th broke and fled is flatly refuted by the authors. The porous nature of its defensive line and the scale of the German attack resulted in the Germans outflanking two of the division’s regiments. Instead of breaking, the unit’s supporting elements, including engineers and reserve components, rushed to check the attack. The division was doing its job by fiercely resisting the attack and hindering the German timetable, reducing the German’s dwindling resources. MG Jones greatly erred when he did not provide clear orders to his subordinate regiments, the 422nd and 423rd, to withdraw. Ultimately, these units were completely surrounded and forced to surrender after casualties mounted and supplies dwindled. The 424th continued its fight and defense of St. Vith, eventually joined by reinforcements from the 7th Armored Division and the 82nd Airborne Division. The surrender of the two regiments is often where the story of the 106th ends, but the authors continue with the further defense of the area and the soldiers’ time as POWs. Attention is also paid to the home front as the families of the 106th created a network to support one another in the depths of uncertainty over what had become of their loved ones.
The book is well researched. The primary research includes after-action reports and recollections from the soldiers. The soldier experience is the driving force behind the reexamination of the 106th performance. As the authors blend the soldiers’ vignettes with the larger accounts of the division, a unique examination of the unit’s performance is offered.
The authors provide a unique reexamination of the performance of the 106th Infantry Division. The firsthand accounts are central to understanding what happened in the Ardennes. The authors continually defend the reputation of the 106th, while acknowledging that those in command made mistakes. Ultimately, the book’s scope is a triumph that combines the stories of individual soldiers, the home front, and captivity. Perhaps, the negative reputation of the Golden Lions is not entirely accurate, and we should view the 106th not as an infamous division, but one comprised of hard-fighting men who gave it their all in the face of insurmountable odds.

Citation: Bearington Curtis. Review of King, Martin; Johnson, Ken; Collins, Michael, Warriors of the 106th: The Last Infantry Division of World War II. H-War, H-Net Reviews. September, 2022. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=57241

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