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Warriors of The 106th. The Last US Infantry Division of World War II.

Martin King, Ken Johnson, & Michael Collins.
The 106th Infantry Division “The Golden Lions“ were the last American Infantry Division formed in the Second World War. The three authors chart the history of the Division from its activation to the end of its involvement in Operation Watch on the Rhine (the Battle of the Bulge) and its conclusion.

The book includes an overall history of the action as it developes, and is interspersed with personal accounts from members of the Division. I found the accounts of how the Division was built and trained from the ground up fascinating. They were trained using the hard lessons learned in combat both in Europe, Italy, and North Africa. That this Division of green and unblooded troops performed so well against the German forces that greatly outnumbered them in men, tanks, and artillery speaks volumes about how efficient this training was and the often maligned (in some quarters) professionalism of the US Army.

It was fashionable in some quarters to pour scorn on the reaction of these troops in the battle, with many accounts alluding that they broke and ran allowing the Germans to carve through the front in armoured columns supported by elite parachute troops and aided by Otto Skorzeny's special forces dressed as American troops. Most modern studies agree that the reality of the battle is somewhat different.

The propaganda photographs showed King Tiger tanks with German paratroopers sitting on them driving past burning American vehicles and columns of American prisoners of war. The truth is that, whilst strong in numbers, the quality of the German units was far below that of the equivalent units early in the war. Most German units consisted of Navy, or Luftwaffe personnel with a leavening of experienced officers and NCOs. This gave the Generals charged by Hitler with carrying out the offensive no small loss of sleep in the lead up to the attack. Most advanced on foot and their supplies were carried by horse drawn transport. Nevertheless the element of surprise was complete, the 106th having only recently taken over the thinly spread and exposed positions in what they were assured was a “quiet sector“. The rest is history.

When interviewed following the unconditional surrender of Germany, General der Panzertruppe Hasso Von Manteuffel, credited the tough fight put up by the 106th outnumbered, outflanked, overwhelmed, and encircled by powerful German forces with throwing the complete operation behind schedule, allowing counterattacking forces to be gathered and unleashed in sufficient strength to destroy the German forces in detail.

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The book covers these confused actions fought by handfuls of American troops forming improvised units of mixed elements resisting to the last, in some cases perhaps let down by their officers and ordered to surrender. I highly recommend this book to anyone with even a slight interest in the Bulge offensive. It gives a unique perspective often missed by histories trying to give a more broad brush picture.
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