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Lt. Winters and Easy Company Did Everything Right

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

With thirty-five men, a platoon of Easy Company had routed two German companies of about 300 men. American casualties (including those from Fox Company) were one dead, twenty-two wounded. German casualties were fifty killed, eleven captured, about 100 wounded.

Later, Winters realized that he and his men had been "very, very lucky." In an analysis, he said the main reason for success was the poor quality of German leadership. The Germans had let the 1st squad get away with sitting in the field waiting for reinforcements. They had bunched up in one big mass, inexcusable in Winters' view. They had allowed two machine-guns to pin them down while the three columns of Easy ran 200 yards across the field in the bayonet charge. They had reacted much too slowly when Winters fired on them from the road. They failed to put together an organized base of fire when the shooting started.

Easy, by contrast, did almost everything right. Winters called this "the highlight of all E Company actions for the entire war, even better than D-Day, because it demonstrated Easy's overall superiority in every phase of infantry tactics: patrol, defense, attack under a base of fire, withdrawal, and, above all, superior marksmanship with rifles, machine gun, and mortar fire."

More can be said. For example, the physical fitness of the Easy men was a sine qua non. They put out more energy than a heavyweight boxer in a fifteen-round title match, way more; they put out more energy than a man would playing sixty minutes in three consecutive football games. Also notable was the company's communication system, with radio messages, runners, and hand signals being used effectively. The leapfrog advances and retreats put into play the training they had undergone at Toccoa and were carried out in textbook fashion. The evacuation of the wounded was likewise carried out with calm efficiency. The coordination with British artillery was outstanding.

So was Winters. He made one right decision after another, sometimes instinctively, sometimes after careful deliberation. The best was his decision that to attack was his only option. He provided not only brains but personal leadership. "Follow me" was his code. He personally killed more Germans and took more risks than anyone else.

But good as Easy Company of the 506th was, and there was no better light infantry company in the Army, there was nothing it could do about that terror of the battlefield, modern artillery. Easy had to cross the dike to get home. it could not stay in the open field and get pounded. But in crossing the dike, the company exposed itself to zeroed-in German artillery. A few minutes of total terror, and the company had taken more casualties than it had in its encounters with German riflemen by the hundreds earlier in the day.

"Artillery is a terrible thing," Webster said. "God, I hate it."

* * *

The Public Relations Office of the 101st Airborne Division gave the action extensive publicity, in typical wartime jargon: "Winters' order had to be, and was, for a bayonet attack. As a result of that brave order two companies of SS were heavily battered and forced to withdraw without getting an opportunity to start their attack which was scheduled to start at almost that very instant."

Insofar as the German 363d Volksgrenadier Division launched a major attack at Opheusden at dawn that day, against the left flank of the 506th, the small action at the dike may have been crucial. Had the German SS companies proceeded unmolested south of the dike, they would have hit regimental HQ at exactly the moment Colonel Sink had to concentrate his attention on Opheusden.

Sink was appreciative. He issued a General Order citing 1st platoon of Easy for gallantry in action. After describing the bayonet charge, he wrote: "By this daring act and skillful maneuver against a numerically superior force" the platoon "inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy" and turned back the enemy's attempt to attack battalion HQ from the rear.

A couple of days after the bayonet attack, Colonel Sink paid Winters a visit. "Do you think you can handle the battalion?" he asked, indicating that he was considering making Winters the X.O. of 2d Battalion. (Maj. Oliver Horton had been killed in battle of Opheusden on October 5.)

Winters, twenty-six and a half years old, a captain and company commander for only three months, gulped and replied, "Yes, sir. I know I can handle our battalion in the field. Combat doesn't worry me. It's the administration. I've never had administration."

"Don't worry," Sink assured him. "I'll take care of that part." On October 9, he made Winters the X.O. of 2d Battalion.

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

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