Military strategists in the 1920s thought that soldiers could surprise their opponents by jumping out of planes flying over enemy territory. Germany, Britain and the U. S. formed their own airborne divisions in the early 1940s. E Company known as Easy was one of four companies within the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army. All of the members in this company volunteered to be trained in parachuting, a risky operation. Paratroopers were paid bonus and had greater honors than other soldiers.
The “Band of Brothers” is the name acquired by these members and they played a vital role during World War II. They came together in the summer of 1942 and they suffered together in hunger, cold, and foreign lands. This brought about a special camaraderie that lead to the name “Band of Brothers”. The major exploits of the Band of Brothers include the story of how they routed two full companies of Germans and their night rescue of British paratroopers. They were known for their bravery in parachuting into France early on D-Day morning, fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and capturing Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at Berchtesgaden.
They were also a unit that suffered enormous casualties, and whose lives became legend. The leading authorities of the 101st Airborne Division were Major General Maxwell D. Taylor (101st Airborne Division CO), and Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe (101st Airborne Division XO). Herbert Sobel was the first man assigned to Easy Company (Time, 2001). At approximately 1:30 a. m. on June 6, 1944, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division landed heavily in a French pasture near the village of Ste. Marie-du-Mont in Normandy.
Major General Maxwell Taylor had no time to reflect on the fact that he was the first United States general ever to parachute into combat, as well as the first American general on enemy soil in Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of France. The 101st was one of three Allied airborne divisions supporting the amphibious assault on Normandy. It was planned that the 101st was to secure the exits of four causeways behind Utah Beach, Exits 1, 2, 3, and 4; destroy bridges over the Douve northwest of Carentan; and capture two bridges northeast of the town.
These objectives were quite ambitious especially in the light of the fact that the plans for air attacks were made at the last minute. The main airborne advocates were Generals Matthew B. Ridgway, James M. Gavin, and Taylor. Sixty-six hundred men in three regiments had to paratroop to land in darkness and secure the four causeways leading inland from Utah Beach. The 101st Airborne Division was one of them. It was a vital assignment, for the Germans had occupied most of the low lying areas along the coastline. Overlord would be primarily a parachute operation for the 101st.
In this context, it must be remembered that Army airborne divisions were elite units, and paratroopers were volunteers. Most officers were in their twenties, and many enlisted men were no more than seventeen or eighteen. The 101st Division was fresh and inexperienced. During the first hours of D-Day, many paratroopers were dropped wherever it seemed most convenient. American paratroopers were directed that if a unit did not reach its drop zone, it should carry out those missions assigned to the area where it found itself. The men of the 101st had had little time to get to know their commanding general.
Forty-three years old and a graduate of West Point, Taylor was given command of the division in March. He had told his men: “All paratroopers are hell-raisers. During the first 24 hours after you jump, raise all the hell you can” (Taylor, 2006). The initial German reaction to the airborne landings was confusion and uncertainty. By quickly securing the invasion causeways, the 101st had made a major contribution to the success of Overlord. Moreover, they helped the 82nd force to capture Ste. Mre-Eglise shortly after dawn on D-Day.
The 101st’s role in Operation Overlord was over and then, on June 29 the division was withdrawn from Carentan and moved north for occupation duty near Cherbourg. Since D-Day the division had suffered more than forty-six hundred casualties, over one-third of its strength. Bradley, who had told Eisenhower that he could not order landings at Utah Beach without the airborne operation, was elated. As for Eisenhower, asked many years later what had been his most satisfying moment in the war, he replied that it was when he heard that his two airborne divisions had reached Normandy (Taylor, 2006).
Thus we find that the most visible benefit had been the 101st’s contribution to the almost bloodless landing at Utah Beach. D-Day showcased the courage of the brave young soldiers who brought with them the innocent belief that all things were possible. After being in France for 33 days, they returned to Aldbourne, England where their replacements came in. After 3 months, they paratrooped into Holland by Operation Market Garden. It was a successful jump with no casualties, but after coming out of Eindhoven they came into the town of Nuenen which was full of Germans and their armor.
They ended up retreating with many casualties. Then they came to Bastogne in Belgium where they went into the woods with inadequate ammunitions, food and warm clothes. They were attacked by German artillery and there were some casualties. Later General Patton’s men broke through behind them and they got their necessary resources. As the Battle of the Bulge continued, Army press releases described the great bravery of the 101st Airborne soldiers and the press named them the “Battered Bastards of the Bastion of Bastogne” (Time, 2001).
Easy Company then moved into the woods near the town of Foy where they eventually made their assault on Foy. Easy Company moved back into France and then pushed the Germans into Germany where they came across a concentration camp. Later, they reached Hitler’s Eagle Nest which had been previously captured with little resistance. Finally, they moved into Austria where the war in Europe and against Japan ended. Easy Company was said to be one of the best units in the history of the US Armed Forces.
Like all units in the American airborne divisions, they had been trained as a light infantry assault outfit. Hence the men in Easy Company were trained to move quickly, maneuver fast and fire small arms. During the World War II, from the beginning of October until almost the end of November 1944, however, there were involved in static, trench warfare. The achievements of the Band of Brothers of Easy Company stands out in history mainly because they achieved success in military actions that they were not trained in.
They relied upon their courage and strength.
Taylor, M. John (2006). World War II: 101st Airborne Division Participate in Operation Overlord. http://www. historynet. com/air_sea/airborne_operations/3036676. html.
The Battle of Bastogne. http://www. army. mil/cmh-pg/books/wwii/7-8/7-8_19. htm#p473.
Parachute Infantry Regiment in Normandy Drop. Regimental Unit Study: Number 3. http://www. army. mil/cmh-pg/documents/WWII/506-Nor/506-nor. htm.
Time (2001). Band of Brothers. http://www. time. com/time/teach/brothers/pdfs/magazine. pdf.