Stephen E. Ambrose Jr. - Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest
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Band of Brothers: The Story of Company E, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne.
Mar 29, 2010
Review by James Zaworski
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Oustanding historical narrative of Company E, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division in World War II.
The Bottom Line: If you haven't read "Band of Brothers" by Stephen Ambrose, you should, and you are in for a treat!
Band of Brothers: The Story of Company E, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne.
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James P. Zaworski
I am a historian, and have been fascinated with American military history since I could walk. My late father served in World War II, and I remember the stories that he would tell of his experiences in France, Germany, and later as occupation force in Korea and the Philippines.
My father and I were also fans of documentary TV shows, and we would often watch together programs aired on PBS, many of which were aired in the years leading up to and including the 50th anniversary of World War II. Indeed, my father revisted Normandy in 1994, a year before his death.
Inspired by my father’s telling of personal history within the context of the overall historical picture brought that history alive for me. History was not something that was abstract, facts and figures and dates, it was personal and real.
The late Stephen Ambrose has brought to us personal and real history in his book “Band of Brothers”. Ambrose, a historian of American history who has written some excellent narratives, took to interviewing the surviving members of E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, an elite group fighting in a novel way in World War II.
The book is an easy read, and is full of facts and details about the real people who participated in the events from D-Day to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. The book is divided into 19 chapters in total, and chronicles the events from the formation of “Easy Company” from its inception at Fort Taccoa, to the final days of World War II, when E Company captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in the Bavarian Alps.
The book begins with an introduction to the context not only of E Company, but of the historical situation of the world, and World War II. Ambrose details the command structure, personalities, leadership capabilities, and the bond of comradery that is forged among those entities that make up squad, platoon, company, etc.
E Company was a unit that was composed of some 150 men and officers, initially commanded by a Lieutenant named Herbert Sobel, who drove the men without mercy, to the limits of their endurance. Though universally disliked, and very hardly, by the men of E Company, his training helped to forge them into a unit. Richard Winters, Sobel’s successor, became the true leader of E Company, as well as the NCO’s, sergeants who all came up from the ranks.
From training at Fort Taccoa, where they would run up and down Mount Currahee (which became their battle cry), to being shipped out to England for further training, took nearly two years, from the spring of 1942 to early summer 1944.
The 101st Airborne Division, along with the 82nd Airborne Division, were dropped behind German lines in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944, to harass the enemy, cause confusion, and secure strategic towns and causeways and corridors for the huge invasion force that would be landing at dawn. Though the landings were all over the place, and confusion reigned, E company’s men performed well, taking out a battery of 88 mm artillery that was pounding the landing force on the American landing sectors.
E Company’s job was not limited to the actions on D-Day, they fought with distinction in Normandy for more than another month, on the Carentan Peninsula.
The company was shipped back to England where they could rest and heal their wounds, and remained there until the “Market Garden” operation came to fruition. British General Montgomery had the idea that he could end the war early by a massive airborne drop behind enemy lines in Holland, securing bridges across the Rhine River, and bringing Germany to its knees. E Company was part of this ultimately unsuccessful operation, and served with distinction.
Two months later, in December, 1944, the 101st was called upon to defend Bastogne, during Hitler’s last gamble, the Battle of the Bulge. Fighting and holding their perimeter against German Panzer Divisions, without proper boots, clothing, nor equipment, was an incredible feat of endurance and bravery that is detailed in the narrative quite vividly and movingly.
Going on the offensive to push back the Germans, after being on the defensive, in bitterly cold weather, was even more incredible.
Finally, as the Americans pushed into the heart of Germany, E Company was given the honor of capturing Hitler’s private retreat in Bavaria, The “Eagle’s Nest”, and the army was contemplating shipping them out to the Pacific Theater to fight the Japanese.
That didn’t come to be, and the book concludes with the postwar narrative of the many of the important individuals from E Company.
Ambrose does a fantastic job in telling the story of E Company. His writing is pithy, interesting, at times tongue in cheek, but always fascinating, and right on the money. He writes as if he were there, no doubt as a result of the hours and hours of interviews, phone conversations, and corroborations to fix errors as was needed in the final editing process.
The introduction is really excellent, and I especially love the chapters describing the operations on D-Day and the Carentan Operation, as well as the chapter on Bastogne.
The HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers” was based on this book. This book is an essential read for those interested in World War II, the 101st Airborne, military history, and specifically of E Company in particular. I have read the book three times, my first reading was in 2001. It’s great to go back to refer to the book while watching the mini-series, but the book has far more detail than even a 10 hour miniseries could ever have.
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