Band of Brothers

Episode 5

The true story of the men of Easy Company, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne

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Episode: 05/10

Title: Crossroads

Director: Tom Hanks

October 4th, 1944

This episode takes place near Randwijk – about 11 km south-west of Arnhem – in Holland and in October 1944.

The episode – which was directed by Tom Hanks – is presented by successive flashbacks to Richard D. Winters, who became a captain. The latter must write the report of a fight that he led on 5 October with elements of the Easy against the Germans.

On the night of 4 to 5 October, during an American patrol in the Randwijk area, one of the men of the E-Company was wounded by the explosion of a German grenade. He is quickly repatriated to the place where the rest of the elements of the Easy spend the night and, immediately, a mission of small counter-attack is organized. Winters leads to his men and spotted a German machine gun, posted on top of a hillock. He sets out alone as a scout, climbs the mound on the side of the machine gun and approaches it. On his way he meets two German soldiers; There is an exchange of hand grenades and everyone gets to the ground to protect themselves from the explosions. Winters realizes that he did not unpin his grenade; he immediately took refuge on the other side of the road at the top of the hill and killed the two German soldiers with his M-1 Garand rifle.

Winters reconnects his men he had left behind the mound and then they all go to the other side, towards the German MG-42 machine gun. Richard D. Winters very effectively attacks the machine gun with the Easy elements and then retreats – having one killed – into a cup-shaped space framed by earthen ramparts after killing the Germans around the MG -42.

October 5th, 1944

The next day, on the morning of October 5, 1944, Winters realized, while he had remained in that bowl all night with his men, that they were all easy targets there, and as soon as the Germans went Account, they will attack in force.

He then decides to attack the first, in the direction of the machine-gun, stormed the day before. The orders are as follows: all the men start when the smoke launched by Winters comes on, while the mortar team – with Donald G. Malarkey and Skip Much in particular – opens fire on the other side of the Where the supposed German positions would be found.

After launching the smoke, Richard Winters rushes forward but the grenade takes a long time to snap, the few Easy soldiers follow their leader with a ten second delay.

Winters arrives at the top of the mound and discovers an entire company of SS soldiers camping. He does not hesitate for a second: he opens the fire. The German soldiers, unsuspecting and taken by surprise, do not have time to understand what happens to them when the rest of the Easy joins their captain. A real “dropped poultry” for the Americans who see before them a hundred targets. A second company of SS arrives to help the first but they are immediately stopped by the firings of the platoon, especially since Winters makes ask by radio the support of an artillery fire which kills still other Germans and makes flee the survivors. They try to respond and open fire with their 88 mm [/ postpermalink]: some US soldiers are wounded.

The victory is without appeal. The Germans fled by leaving dozens of their comrades killed or seriously wounded. Eleven of them are captured. The Americans on their side count one dead and 22 wounded.

After the fight, Winters was raised by Colonel Sink to the rank of battalion commander. The latter informed Captain Winters and Nixon that Major Oliver Horton, the commander of the third battalion – and not of the second as shown in the film – was killed by the enemy. His CP (near the Opheusden railway station) was taken under German fire while he was organizing the defense of his command post and he was fatally wounded. The command of the Easy then went to Lieutenant Frederick T. Heyliger.

Rescue mission

The British lost nearly 8,000 men during the Battle of Arnhem and some of them had been isolated from the other side of the Rhine since September.

On October 17, 1944, the Easy was charged with repatriating 120 English soldiers across the Rhine, who were hiding a few kilometers to the west of Arnhem. These fugitives lived for a single month with the constant fear of being captured by the Germans. Their leader, Colonel Dobey, swam across the Rhine without being noticed by the Germans and called to the rescue of the 101st American Airborne.

The plan that it organized was very complex and required signaling lamps, support from divisional artillery as well as support from several Artillery Sections like that of the 321st GFA that secured the flank of the G / 506 PIR. The American contact troops were the elements of the Easy of the 506, backed by soldiers of the Canadian genius.

This operation is one of the most successful in “rescue missions” category of the Second World War. It allowed nearly 120 Allied soldiers to escape death. There was not a single shot fired. The Easy elements that participated in the operation received a “Battlefield Citation” and here are the names:

Lt Frederick T. Heyliger (operation commander), 1st Lt Harry Welsh, 2nd Lt Edward D. Shames, Sgt Robert F. Mann, T/4 John McGrath, T/4 Charles E. Rhinehardt, Cpl. Walter S. Gordon, Cpl Francis J. Mellett, T/5 Ralph Stafford, Pfc Bradford C. Freeman, Pfc Walter L. Hendrix, Pfc Gerald L. Flurrie, Pfc Edward A. Mauser, Pfc James A. McMahon, Pfc Wayne A. Sisk, Pfc Robert E. Wynn, Pfc Siles E. Harrellson, Pvt Lester Hashey, Pvt John C. Lynch and Pvt David R. Pierce.

The quote was ended by a sentence from Colonel Sink, which read: “This evacuation was well organized and well executed, the enemy never learned that it had taken place.”

Lieutenant Frederick T. Heyliger, shortly after the rescue mission, was seriously wounded by a freshly arrived American sentry who fired at his superior. He had confused him with a German soldier.

Towards Bastogne

Captain Winters was then sent to Paris on leave. After this permission, the Easy Company was sent to reinforce on 17 December 1944 in Bastogne in the Ardennes from their base at Mourmelon, as the Germans of the 1st and 6th Panzer SS divisions had attacked and broken the American line of defense of the sector composed of 4th and 28th infantry divisions, as part of their Nordwind operation.

Upon their arrival at the entrance to the Bastogne forest, E-Company soldiers met with American wounded who were returning from the front. The Easy men lacked ammunition, lacked winter clothes, and ran out of food. The support artillery of the 506th PIR was also missing ammunition until December 23 after supplies by aircraft that brought him the 75 mm Howitzer ammunition needed.

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