“Band of Brothers: E. Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne From Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle Nest” by Stephen E. Ambrose
Band Of Brothers is the history of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, from basic training to D-Day. It follows the jump into Holland, the Battle of the Bulge, and finally the occupation of Berchtesgaden and Austria. This is a rarity among military histories, told from the viewpoint of the front line soldier, the privates, non-commissioned officers and officers who carry out the grand strategy of generals. Many books discuss the inner working of commands at Division and Army levels, but few detail the day to day life of the soldier. Stephen Ambrose’s book does that and more. It explores the how draftee citizen soldiers of elite outfits like the 101st Airborne did, in World War II, defeat an enemy like the well trained German Wehrmacht and S.S. In 1942 the Second Battalion of the 506th was formed and started basic training. The recruits volunteered for the thrill, the honor, the extra money, but above all the desire to be better than the ordinary draftee.
A description of the physical effort required in basic training explains why a majority of the volunteers never made it as far as the door of the airplane. When the Company finally made it to Fort Benning for jump school, they were in such great physical shape that they outdid the school’s physical fitness cadre. After five jumps in December of 1942, the company qualified as Parachutists, and nine-months later they were on a ship to England to train for the invasion of Hitler’s Fortress Europa. Ambrose also details the nine months of training that the company endured in England in preparation for the invasion. He tells it from the viewpoint of both officers and men and explains the final shift in Easy Company hierarchy just prior to D-Day. His description of the night jump of the 101st in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, with men and officers scattered about the countryside, and the confusion, heroism and chaos that surrounded the successful landings at Utah Beach, is masterful. He explains how the few outer roads from the beach are zeroed in by German artillery, and that the job of the airborne was to nullify the artillery and its defending troops. The efforts of Lt.
Richard Winters to fulfill that mission are one of the high points of the book. As the book reports “By this time, about 0700, E Company consisted of two light machine-guns, one bazooka (no ammunition), one 60mm mortar, nine rifleman, and two officers.” Lt. Winters was in charge. With less than 100 men assembled in the battalion, the commander could only afford to send Easy Company to attack and overrun a four gun German battery defended by a fifty-man platoon. As the book puts it, quoting one of the men, “Here the training paid off. `We fought as a team without standout stars,’ Lipton said. `We were like a machine. We didn’t have anyone who leaped up and charged a machine-gun. We knocked it out or made it withdraw by maneuver and teamwork or mortar fire. We were smart; there weren’t many flashy heroics. We had learned that heroics was the way to get killed without getting the job done, and getting the job done was more important.” Three hours after the attack commenced, it was completed successfully. Easy Company went on to fight through Normandy until June 29th when it was pulled out of line and sent to a field camp near Utah Beach. They had jumped into Normandy with an effective strength of 139 men and officers and ended up with 79.
Ambrose’s description of those few days from the night jump to their last fight at Carentan is magnificent. The book next describes the company’s jump into Holland, near the Rhine River, where they fought through November of 1944, and then on to Bastogne, to again become front line troops in the historic Battle of the Bulge. Easy Company was the first Allied troops to occupy Hitler’s mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. After occupation duty in Austria, the company and battalion were sent back to a small town near Paris, and on November 30, 1945, the 101st was deactivated. As Ambrose puts it, “The Company had been born in July 1942 at Toccoa. Its existence essentially came to an end almost exactly three years later. In those three years the men had seen more, endured more and contributed more than most men can see, endure or contribute in a lifetime.” Band Of Brothers describes those eventful three years in such a way as to make the reader experience them too. I think Ambrose did very well telling the story of Easy Company because, as stated above, I felt that I was able to experience the three years very well. I am not much of a reader, but enjoyed reading the book very much. I love American history and I have an interest in the military.
Having participated in JROTC in high school for 4 years and doing ROTC my first year in college, I was able to understand the roles and concepts presented in the book. One theme I saw a lot in the book was the feeling and thought of brotherhood. The title of the book is Band of Brothers and Ambrose did a very good job of conveying the soldiers’ brotherhood through out the book. Starting at the beginning, when they are training, the soldiers’ trained together, worked together, and suffered together. As a team, working together is key, and the soldiers of the 101st Airborne identified that concept early on and kept it strong. One phrase I saw quite a few times was “follow me”. I think Ambrose included that phrase so much because it shows the leadership and brotherhood. They helped each other and led each other to success and improvement. From the American history perspective, I loved this book! I have been learning about World War 2 for several years now, including this year in this American History class with the great Keith Maljean, but this is the first time I learned from the soldiers’ perspectives. Ambrose did a phenomenal job of interviewing the members of the 101st Airborne and recounting their stories. Reading the book, I felt like I was right there with them on their first jump, landing in France, and at the first mention of the Airborne division.
Volunteering for something new, not knowing what was going to happen. Literally jumping into an unknown, new division of the Army. I embarked with them on the fight to defeat Germany and bring an end to the Nazis. I feel that I gained a better understanding of the American soldier in the World War 2 era, and it is nothing like the American soldier nowadays. Today, our armed forces are facing things that we have seen before, for the most part. Back in the World War 2 era, the soldiers were facing new ships, vehicles, aircrafts, artillery, rocketry, small arms, and biological, chemical, and atomic weapons. It was a very scary time for the soldiers not knowing what was coming or how bad it is. Through the stories in Band of Brothers, I was able to understand what the life of the soldier was like and how they adapted to the new weaponry. When I first heard that I was going to have to do a book report for this class, I was completely dreading it due to my lack of joy for reading and writing, but I am glad that I stumbled across this book because I don’t know if I would have been able to find a book as good as this. Stephen Ambrose is a brilliant writer and recounted the stories of the men from the 101st Airborne with great detail. It was entertaining, informative, and all around life changing. This book reinforced the concept of brotherhood and gave me a great perspective of World War 2 from a soldier’s point of view. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in American History or just looking for a good read.
Courtney from Study Moose
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