The 104th Infantry Division during World War II
As Allied troops moved across Europe in a series of offensives against Nazi Germany, they found tens of thousands of concentration camp prisoners in deplorable conditions. Malnutrition and disease were rampant, and corpses lay unburied. The soldiers reacted in shock and disbelief to the evidence of Nazi atrocities. In addition to burying the dead, the Allied forces attempted to help and comfort the survivors with food, clothing, and medical assistance.
104th Infantry Division Campaigns during World War II
Activated in 1942, the 104th Infantry Division landed in France in September 1944, a few months after the Allied invasion of western Europe on D-Day (June 6, 1944). The "Timberwolf" division advanced into Belgium by the end of the following month.
In November, the unit was already approaching the German city of Aachen. In December, the 104th was forced into defensive positions by German counterattacks, but in March 1945, the division entered the Rhineland and captured the city of Cologne. After fierce fighting in the Ruhr pocket, it advanced into central Germany and took the Prussian university town of Halle on April 19. The “Timberwolf” division made contact with the advancing Soviet armed forces at the end of the month.
The 104th Infantry Division and the Liberation of Dora-Mittelbau
As the 104th advanced into Thuringia, the unit overran Nordhausen and the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp on April 11, 1945. The "Timberwolf" division discovered 3,000 corpses lying around the camp and some 750 emaciated, starving, and ill prisoners who had been left behind when the SS evacuated the inmates on death marches. Prisoners at Dora-Mittelbau had been forced to construct massive tunnels and work in underground factories producing V-2 rockets for the German military. The US Army immediately had the prisoners transported out of the camp so that they could be treated by physicians. US authorities also ordered the local townspeople to bury the dead.
Recognition as a Liberating Unit
The 104th Infantry Division was recognized as a liberating unit by the US Army's Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1988.
104th Infantry Casualty Figures
Casualty figures for the 104th Infantry Division, European theater of operations:
- Total battle casualties: 4,961
- Total deaths in battle: 1,119
104th Infantry Division Nickname
The nickname of the 104th Infantry Division, "Timberwolf," originated from the division's insignia, a gray timberwolf. The timberwolf, native to the Pacific Northwest, was chosen as representative of the area where the division was formed in 1942.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What challenges did Allied forces face when they encountered the camps and sites of other atrocities?
- What challenges faced survivors of the Holocaust upon liberation?