Page 171

sage radioed out of the pocket had been dispatched at 1535 on 18 December, simply saying that the regiments had started to comply with the orders for an attack to the northwest; it was received at St. Vith on the morning of the 19th. By the night of the 20th the division must have given up hope, what with the German reinforcements from the east congregating in front of St. Vith, but one last attempt to reach the 423d Infantry by radio was made two days later.

The Question of Air Resupply

One question mark still dangles over the fate of the two regiments captured in the Schnee Eifel. Why were they not resupplied by airdrop? General Jones and the two regimental commanders made their wants known as early as the 17th and evidently had some reason to believe that ammunition, medical supplies, and other necessities would be delivered to the encircled regiments before they essayed the final attempt at escape. Although most of the processing involved in handling the 106th Division requests was by telephone and without record, two facts are certain: General Jones did all in his power to secure air resupply; the weather did permit planes to fly on 18 December when resupply was most needed. [12]

At 1051 on 17 December the commander of the 423d Infantry radioed a request for an airdrop. Relayed through the division artillery net, this request was logged in at the 106th Division headquarters at 1500. In the meantime Jones apparently decided to act on his own and asked the VIII Corps air officer to arrange a resupply mission. The time of this conversation cannot be fixed, but by 1345 a message was en route from St. Vith to the 423d Infantry promising a drop in the vicinity of Buchet "tonight." Within a quarter of an hour a second message was on the air for the 422d. The VIII Corps air officer (Lt. Col. Josiah T. Towne) meanwhile had relayed Jones's request through the IX Fighter Command to the IX Tactical Air Command. [13] At this point the chain of events and the chain of responsibility both become unclear.

The IX Tactical Air Command normally would have referred the request to First Army for clearance. The report of the G-4 at the latter headquarters simply says that on the afternoon of 17 December the plight of the two regiments was made known by telephone calls and that preparations for supply by air "were promptly set in motion." [14] Since carrier planes would have to come from the United Kingdom it was necessary at some stage to bring CATOR (Combined Air Transport Operations Room) at SHAEF into the picture. How many telephone calls were made before the First Army request reached CATOR

[12] Much effort has been made to trace this story through the numerous headquarters which were involved but there are great gaps in the journal files. Interviews with officers concerned have only compounded confusion, yielding bits and pieces of information which, lacking in written record, cannot be put together in sequence. Royce L. Thompson made an exhaustive search of the records and conducted a number of personal interviews with officers involved in staffing the 106th requests. See his Air Supply to Isolated Units; Ardennes Campaign. OCMH, 1951.

[13] Dupuy (St. Vith: Lion in the Way, page 134f.), goes no further than the First Army headquarters to find a culprit, following in this the combat interview with Colonel Towne, 16 January 1945.

[14] First United States Army, Report of Operations, an. 2, G-4 Sec, p. 120f.