Source Document: Forced March Major John P. Mohn, HQ Co, 1st Battalion, 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division

Forced March, from Schoenberg – St Vith (Battle of the Bulge, Belgium) to Berchtesgaden in Germany, is the Prisoner of War memoir of the 1200-mile forced march done by Maj John J. Mohn, Hq Co, 1st Battalion, 442nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division, Golden Lion and has been extracted from a book published in Canton, Ohio, USA and printed by PPi Graphics, also in Canton Ohio, (ISBN-13:978-08-9863465-5-2).

Being a friend of Mandy Altimus Pond, Maj John J. Mohn’s granddaughter, we talked about the publishing of this book on the EUCMH Website and agreed that this work would be a great way to render honor to Maj John J. Mohn and the terrible period he experienced while being one American Prisoner of War in Nazi Germany during the last year of WW-2. Before starting with the text, I would like the reader to notice that combat photos from a surrendered unit in the combat zone don’t exist, especially with the 422 and the 423-IRs of the 106-ID. On the morning of Dec 16, 1944, these two infantry regiments, were trapped between two German main axes of penetration; on their front, elements of the 5.Panzer-Army (Manteufeul) coming from Blieaf in Germany and heading to St Vith and on their rear, elements of the 6.Panzer-Army (Dietrich) coming from Lanzerath and Manderfeld heading to Liège via St Vith, didn’t give a one of a chance to these two Regimental Combat Teams (422 and 423) which once cut off, without supply, couldn’t withdraw in any direction. These men combated up to the last cartridge, then destroyed all their guns, machine guns, and rifles, and finally surrendered.


To my wonderful wife, Cheri, and loving daughter, Debora Mohn Altimus; without whose prodding and encouragement this book would never have been written. And to my son-in-law Richard Altimus who assisted in the computer editing of this book. Editor’s Note: Additional thanks to my granddaughter, Mandy Altimus Pond, who helped me with the publishing of her grandpa’s book.

Maj John J. Mohn, 1/442-IR, 106-ID


When WW II’s Battle of the Bulge began with a surprise German attack on Dec 16, 1944, troops of the US 106th Infantry Division occupied the most exposed American positions. They had been in the European continent for less than two weeks and cut off from reinforcements, were left to face the German onslaught alone. They fought back, standing their ground, but as their ammunition; food and medical supplies dwindled and the enemy noose drew tighter, over 7000 were ordered by their commanding officers to surrender to the surrounding German forces. Except for the Bataan Death March, this was the largest surrender of American troops during WW II.

Maj Mohn, of Akron, Ohio, the author of this book, was the Operations Officer of the 1/422-IR. He was a citizen-soldier who had volunteered to join the Army as a private in 1941. This is the story of his 1200-mile odyssey as a prisoner of war to the far reaches of the Nazi empire during which he and his fellow soldiers were starved, frozen, bombed, and shot. Because the Germans were unprepared to absorb a massive influx of American POWs and had little space to house them, Maj Mohn’s imprisonment became an almost continuous five-month march through the collapsing and chaotic Third Reich. Initially, he was sent to a camp for American officers over 500 miles away from Poland. He arrived there only to be marched out of the camp a few days later when the Russian forces broke through the German lines around Warsaw.

Seeing the prisoners as a potential bargaining chip and intent on keeping them out of Russian hands, the Germans forced the Americans to make a harrowing march westward across rural Poland and Germany in the dead of winter just ahead of pursuing Soviet forces. After this month-and-a-half ordeal, the prisoners finally arrived at the Hammelburg POW Camp in northern Bavaria, only about 100 miles away from where they started. Two weeks later this camp was attacked and briefly captured by a Task Force of Patton’s 3-A. The Germans, however, soon recaptured the camp and immediately sent Maj Mohn and the other prisoners on another dangerous march which ended at the Austrian border five weeks later they were liberated by American troops.

Through it all, Maj Mohn preserved and returned to the USA where he underwent treatment and rehabilitation for injuries he had suffered as a prisoner of war. he returned to civilian life and developed a highly successful career as a psychologist. But his remarkable experiences in the military never quite left him. Eventually, he put words to paper and the result is the archive you are about to read – one of the very few accounts of this type ever to have been published. More than just a narrative of his experiences as a POW in Nazi Germany, it is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the US soldiers and a reminder to all of us of the sacrifices they made to preserve our freedom.

Before the Battle of the Bulge – Mandy Altimus Pond

About 1937, while attending Akron University, John Mohn took Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. John had no desire to become an officer, but by the end of his training, he had reached the rank of 2nd Lieutenant. In preparation for what appeared to be an inevitable world conflict, Congress passed the Selective Service Act in 1940. This was the first peacetime conscription in US history. Enacted in September 1940, this act required men between 21 and 35 years of age to register with local draft boards. Men were drafted by a lottery system and were required to serve for twelve months. After that year was completed, John was told he would be draft-free and not required to sign up, should a war arise.

On Feb 4, 1941, John decided to enlist for this program and join the Navy. He drove to Cleveland, entered the Armory, and began the process. He took the written test, passed the physical, and was about to be sworn in when the commanding officer at the Armory said that John’s teeth protruded too much and they would not accept him. John stated in an interview that ‘this is stupid’ and went to the other end of the Armory and enlisted in the Army. At this moment he could have enlisted as a 2nd Lieutenant because of his ROTC training. It slipped his mind and he enlisted as a Private.

John was assigned to the 37-ID at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. He volunteered for the Signal Company (Teletype) and the day after he signed up, the teletype was discontinued, so he was reassigned to supply in the Signal Company and was sent to Indiantown Gap Pa. On Dec 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the next day upon request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Congress declared war on Japan and their ally Germany. This canceled the draft-free status that John had signed up for, as he had not completed his twelve months of training.

His division was scheduled to board a ship headed to the Pacific Theater of the war, but the boat blew up before they could head out.

John was then sent to Fort Benning, Georgia, for officer training from February through April 1942. In late 1942, he was sent to Camp Forest and assigned to the 80-ID for a year. He became CO Fox Co, 1/319-IR, 80-ID. His division was in charge of clearing trees in the mountains in preparation for war games, training men in firing artillery, and surviving in realistic battle situations. John was in charge of the logistics and planning for the war games.

The 80-ID was then incorporated into the 106-ID. John was reassigned as Bn OP Officer and sent to Camp Atterbury, Indiana, and assigned to Hq Co, 1/422-IR, 106-ID. John reached the rank of Captain and was told that he was the youngest Captain in the Division. As Operations Officer, he was in charge of logistics for troop movements. He staged a large 3000-troop parade in Indianapolis in 1944. After our advance movement order was in, we received new equipment, turned in motor vehicles, and did what training we could at odd intervals.
Finally, in September we moved by rail to Camp Myles Standish at Taunton, Mass. This place was known as a staging area where life reached the maximum of not letting anyone know anything at all. We existed on a monotonous routine of rumors until the day we redoubled our tracks, returned to New York, boarded the RMS Aquitania, and departed for Gourock, Scotland, on Oct 21, 1944. The 423-IR with various attached units arrived Oct 27, and the 422 and 424-IRs arrived Oct 28 with the artillery and some special units. We moved then to England where we were deployed in one of the most interesting and certainly the most beautiful parts of this country, the Cotswold section of the midlands. The 422-IR was stationed some 12 miles west and northwest of Oxford, the 424-IR near Banbury of Banbury Cross fame, and the 423-IR, and the Division Artillery near Cheltenham and Gloucester respectively. Division headquarters and special units were located centrally in this 200-square-mile area.

We remained in England preparing for an expected early crossing of the Channel. Between Nov 30 and Dec 1, the Golden Lions embarked on the long slow fifty-mile trip from Southampton to cross the Channel. We disembarked at Le Havre and at Rouen, a town about one-third of the way up the Seine toward Paris, and went into a bivouac in deep mud in the open fields in a cold drizzling rain, between the Dec 1/8.

During these days liaison officers from the 1-A headquarters arrived at odd intervals with conflicting and inconsistent sets of orders, so that during 48 hours we were assigned to three different corps in as many separate locations. Fortunately, troops and staff were arriving in unrelated groups as the weather and the Navy allowed them ashore so that no damage was done except to my disposition. The final messenger appeared on Dec 6 with instructions for us to leave for the St Vith area in Belgium. The first combat team to move, left the area on Dec 8, followed by the others as rapidly as possible. Upon arrival, we were to relieve the 2-ID, then in a defensive position, as part of the VIII Corps whose headquarters was then at Bastogne.

Troops being in the throes of landing after a rough winter crossing, staffs only partly present and maps few and far between, our move to the battlefield was a rather remarkable one and highly successful despite its discomfort. The route carried us nearly 300 miles through Amiens, Cambrai, and Maubeuge in France to Philippeville in Belgium. After an overnight bivouac in extra deep mud near the latter town, we passed through Marche and the villages of eastern Belgium to the vicinity of St Vith, arriving during the period Dec 9/15. The relief of the 2-ID’s weary troops stationed along the quiet German border in the Belgian Ardennes Forest commenced on Dec 11, and was completed on Dec 13, responsibility for the defense of the sector passing to me on Dec 12. The troops of the Indian head Division assured the men of the Golden Lion Division that there would be little action on this hilly terrain in the middle of winter.

Edward P. McHugh

Preface – Maj John J. Mohn

It was Dec 16, 1944, somewhere along the Siegfried Line near St Vith, Belgium. The German counter-attack that would later be referred to as the Battle of the Bulge had begun. The gray, foggy dawn made a perfect umbrella for the German launching of an onslaught that nearly cost the Allies World War Two. What happened at the Battle of the Bulge may be a well-known story but none of the stories make any reference to the group of American Soldiers taken prisoner at that time and marched for 140 continuous days covering over 1200 long, cold, starvation-ridden, nightmare miles, terminated only by the end of the war in Europe.
Adversity is a mild term to describe the unbearable hardships endured by the ever-changing, ever-diminishing column of men. Temperatures dropped to ten degrees below zero (22°F). There were periods of fifteen days without a single bite of food. All suffered a phenomenal loss of weight (I weighed 65 pounds by the time of the liberation). We had inadequate clothing; many were without hats or gloves and at times no shoes. It was especially brutal for the poor Army Air Corpsmen who were only wearing thermal boots with no soles for walking when they were shot down and captured.

The journey was marked by frozen feet, legs, arms, faces, and even blood trails. Treachery, deceit, and fear are just feeble attempts to put into words the anger, horror, anguish, and despair felt by these military men.

One day into a Battle

The ordeal that the approximately 7000 US soldiers endured between Dec 16/44 and May 2/45 can only be epitomized by saying that a scant thirty of the original group even reached liberation as a unit. Losses of men beyond belief resulted from attempts at escape, exposure, starvation, the sadism of the German Guards, and being strafed daily by our own and Allied planes.

My book is not intended as a condemnation of the German People or Army but does make reference to differing attitudes and treatment by the Wehrmacht, to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for being alive, and the Elite SS Troops, who were constantly threatening our lives with attempts to exterminate us with machine guns and failed to provide even the most basic of necessities for our daily maintenance.

The German High Command seemed at a loss as to what to do with so many prisoners and lacked a plan regarding the disposition of us. The result was a wandering march covering three countries with no apparent purpose, with a final goal of holding us as hostages in Berchtesgaden at the end of the war. The consequences for us, as Prisoners of War, were painfully clear. The facts and sequences of events I know first-hand because I was there from the beginning to the end.

I saw dramatic changes in attitudes, values, behavior, and beliefs. Hidden strengths and weaknesses in the struggle for survival were surprising and at times frightening, but the salient factor through it all was that survival is ‘All-Important’ and that the ‘Veneer of Civilization’ is extremely thin.

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