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Band Of Brothers: The Island

Artillery Bombardment

Converted for the Web from "Band Of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest" by Stephen E. Ambrose

The ferry crossing the Germans had used to get over, and now would need to get back, was at the end of the road Easy Company was on. Winters wanted to get there before they did. When the platoon from Fox Company arrived, bringing more ammunition, Winters redistributed the ammo and then gave his orders. He set up a base of fire with half the sixty or so men under his command, then had the other half move forward 100 meters, stop and set up its own base of fire, and leapfrog the first group down the road. He intended to repeat this maneuver the full 600 or so meters to the river.

About 200 meters short of the river, Winters' unit reached some factory buildings. German artillery had started to work. The SS troops, desperate to get to the ferry, mounted a seventy-five-man attack on the right rear flank of the Americans. Winters realized he had overreached. It was time to withdraw to be able to fight another day. The unit leapfrogged in reverse back to the dike.

Just as the last men got over the dike, the Germans cut loose with a terrific concentration of artillery fire on the point where the road crossed the dike. They had it zeroed in perfectly. The airborne men scattered right and left, but not before suffering many casualties.

Winters grabbed the radio and called battalion HQ to ask for medics and ambulances. Doc Neavles came on and wanted to know how many casualties.

"Two baseball teams," Winters replied.

Neavles knew nothing about sports. He asked Winters to put it in clear language.

"Get the hell off the radio so I can get some more artillery support," Winters shouted back, "or we'll need enough for three baseball teams."

Just at that moment, Boyle "heard some mortars coming. You could tell they were gonna be close." Boyle wasn't moving too fast, as he was exhausted, a result of a less than complete recovery from his wound received in Normandy. "I pitched forward on the dike. A shell hit just behind me on the left and tore into my left leg from the hip to the knee and that was it. A terrible blow but no pain." Just before he lost consciousness, Winters tapped him on the shoulder and told him he would be taken care of.

Guarnere and Christianson cut his pants leg off and spinkled sulfa powder on the horrible wound (most of the flesh on Boyle's left thigh had been torn away). They gave him morphine and got stretcher bearers to carry him rearward.

* * *

Webster, alone, was trying to cross an open field to get to an aid station. He was crawling along a cow path, lower than he had ever gotten in training, crawling through mud and cow dung. He ripped his pants on barbed-wire fence. On the far side, he risked getting up and limping the last 100 yards to safety. A German observer saw him and called down some 88s. Three explosions, one on each side, one behind, made Webster feel "terrified and self-conscious." He managed to get out of the field before the 88 completed the bracket.

Some F Company men helped him to a road junction. Two medics with a jeep, coming back from the dike, picked him up, laid him across the engine hood, "and told me to relax. They said we would be going fast, because the man on the rear stretcher, Sergeant Boyle, was badly wounded and in need of immediate medical attention."

Altogether, the two platoons from Easy and Fox Companies took eighteen casualties from that artillery bombardment. None killed.

Winters set up strong points to cover the place where the road crossed the dike. Captain Nixon came up. "How's everything going?" he asked.

For the first time since the action began, Winters sat down. "Give me a drink of water," he said. As he reached for Nixon's canteen, he noticed that his hand was shaking. He was exhausted.

So was Christenson. He couldn't understand it, until he counted up. He realized that he had fired a total of fifty-seven clips of M-1 ammunition, 456 rounds. That night while trying to stay awake on outpost duty and trying to calm down after being so keyed up, Christenson pissed thirty-six times.

Copyright © 1992 by Stephen E. Ambrose. All rights reserved. Converted for the Web with the permission of Simon & Schuster.

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