50 Images That Show The Journey of WWII's Band of Brothers
The journey of WWIIs' Band of Brothers begins when Easy Company - a part of the 101st Airborne Division - was deployed during WWII. Easy Co. was formed to directly support allied European war fronts. It was one of the only regiments to endure some of the most significant soldier casualties during the war. The real history of WWII's Band of Brothers is a tale of bravery, courage, and a group of men who risked everything to save their country and the rest of the world. Join us on this journey of WWII's Band of Brothers.
Paratrooper Training, Georgia - 1942
Training for the troops began in 1942 in Toccoa, Georgia, when a desperate group of young men volunteered to become members of America's latest military regiments - the 101st Airborne Division paratroopers.
While many of the troops had some combat experience, several soldiers were still kids themselves, having never seen conflict, let alone a war. Yet, these young men were about to change the world when they went from green civilians to some of the Army's most elite soldiers.
The Harsh Leadership of Lt. Sobel
This group of young soldiers was led under the harsh leadership of Lt. Sobel, and no amount of training had prepared the men to deal with such a... difficult commander. Along with his strict leadership, the training regiment proved to be more than many could handle.
During the training, more than 5,000 men learned to jump from aircraft down into battle. While not everyone would make the elite squad, 1,600 men passed the training to become one of the Brothers. As the training progressed, a rivalry flared between Sobel - the commander the men despised - and Lt. Winters, a junior soldier who had earned the admiration and respect of the company.
The Training Glider
Extensive training was conducted in preparation for the 1944 invasion of Europe, and Easy Co., in particular, practiced jumping out of planes (like the one pictured below) in preparation for war.
This photo shows the Horsa glider in Welford, Berkshire, U.K. Members of Easy Co. were familiar with the Horsa glider used in nearly every practice jump training session. This glider can carry about 16 men, and this photo was taken during training on May 12th, 1944.
Eisenhower Speaks to the Trainees
Easy Co. (pictured below) was honored to meet with General Dwight D. Eisenhower on June 5, 1944. Eisenhower wanted to speak to the troops to boost morale and ensure that the regiments were ready for war.
In this photo, Eisenhower talks to his First Lieutenant, Wallace C. Strobel, to discuss his unit's mission before storming the beaches of Normandy in France with the rest of his Band of Brothers.
Devastation in the Air
As you can see in the picture below, one of the training missions was a failure when a glider wrecked in September 1944. Accidents like this were all too common in the 101st Airborne Division. Easy Co. soldiers were trained to investigate the situation and its cause when such crises arose.
Easy Co. had the highest casualty rate of soldiers due to the fact that aviation technology was not as advanced as it is today. The Band of Brothers were trained not only physically but also mentally to be able to solve problems in high-stress situations.
The Band of Brothers was constantly inspected by senior officers and authorities, including Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Eisenhower. It also included the American and British Brigadier Generals (pictured below) during the March 25, 1944 inspection.
The Chancellor and General Eisenhower inspected high-level corporations such as Company E. They wanted to ascertain their mission and combat readiness before planning an attack, such as the D-Day Invasion.
101st Airborne Division
The U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division was established many years prior to the war. However, it was in WWII that the paratrooper division was moved to Georgia for training for the new war. The rigorous training was meant to prepare the men for European battlefields.
Paratrooper training in the U.S. Army is still an elite training program that only the best of the best pass. Today, the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division paratroopers are stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, when they are not on a mission or deployed during times of war.
Day of Days
While the men prepared for the battle of a lifetime, the looming D-Day was rapidly approaching. On June 6, 1944 (D-Day), planes containing thousands of paratroopers crossed the English Channel to France.
Years after the war, when the men were interviewed about their experiences, many of them admitted to being more scared than they had ever been. While on those flights, the young soldiers reached out to their commanders for solace - something that never came during the war.
Losing Equipment in the Drop
The men didn't have to wait long to see their first throws of battle. While on the planes to France, Easy Co. took heavy fire. That meant a sudden drop, and none of the men landed where they were expected to land.
Many lost their weapons and supplies, and some were injured from the drop. The inexperienced men wandered the area, trying to catch their barrings and waiting for help to arrive. Luckily for them, Lt. Winters was prepared.
Searching for Their Unit
Winters began to link up with the solitary soldiers as they all set off to find their units. During this time, Winters assesses the skills of the men as he watches them.
The men always respected Winters, but as the days forged on during their deployment, they grew closer to him, gleaning insights and trying to learn from his experience and expertise.
An Attack on the German Artillery
Once the units reunited, Winters was picked to lead an invasion on a fortified German artillery position. While the mission was considered successful, it was the event that led to the death of one of the men.
As the acting company commander, Winters took the loss hard. It was the first time he had lost a soldier under his command, but he didn't want to let the men see his struggle.
The Fight in France
The Band of Brothers are best known for their service during the Normandy invasion when they stormed the beaches. They are also well-known for their role in Operation Overlord.
Sadly, during each battle, Easy Co. lost a significant number of its servicemen during this mission in France. In addition to parachuting into Normandy, Easy Co. fought on land to break through German trenches at nearby Utah Beach that day, preventing several casualties.
A Successful Failure
Two days after D-Day, Easy Co. was dispatched to take the city of Carentan and engage in a multi-casualty battle. It was one of the worst battles up to that point, and many soldiers were deeply traumatized by what they saw.
During interviews taken when author Stephen E. Ambrose was preparing to write his book Band of Brothers, the men said that this was a turning point for them in the war. It was at that moment that they realized that most of them weren't expected to make it home.
On June 8, 1944, Easy Co. won its most notable victory of the war (see photo below). This photo shows the Band of Brothers of the 101st Airborne Division capturing a Nazi flag belonging to the Axis powers after successfully surviving the Normandy landings.
Band of Brothers acquired this Nazi flag two days after his arrival in Normandy, one of the key events leading to the end of World War II. Notably, the flag they received was a Nazi aircraft registration number.
A Battle Too Many
Some soldiers, like the one pictured here, had trouble adjusting to the war. You can see the anguish and exhaustion on his face, and the Band of Brothers had only just begun their battle.
Winters worried that the men would burn out before the mission was complete. He knew that he had to do something to ease what the men were going through. It was then that he received the news that Easy Co. would return to England.
Returning to England
After 36 days in Normandy and some bitter fighting, Easy Co. returned to England, but their celebration was short-lived. Winters received news that the company would soon be moving out again onto another mission.
It was then that Winters encouraged his men to let off a little steam (responsibly) and spend time away from the foxholes. While in England, the news about moving out spread to the rest of the company as Winters tried to keep up morale.
A Brief Intermission
Before the men were scheduled to ship out, they took some much-needed time to relax and engage in some debauchery, also known as smoking cigarettes.
The men took the opportunity to write to their families and handle other personal matters. After their brief intermission, Easy Co. packed up and prepared for their next deployment.
Honoring the Brave
One way they were able to keep up morale was to celebrate the victories that had occurred. At the end of June 1944, an award ceremony was held in Carentan, Normandy, France.
The ceremony was held in honor of the entire 101st Airborne Division. It was meant to recognize the Band of Brothers and their significance to Operation Overlord, and the paratroopers were honored in front of all of the troops stationed in France.
Hearts of Gold
The Easy Co. servicemen were known for being brave and loving whenever they went ashore and saw the casualties of war. If possible, they gave treats to the children, like chewing gum or a piece of chocolate. At the very least, the soldiers would try to give them a smile and offer them protection.
These men truly had hearts of gold because they had the courage not only to fulfill their wartime duties as an Airborne Troop but also to care for those on land who were suffering from the effects of the war.
Last-Minute Instructions Before Moving Out
Anthony C. McAuliffe was the 101st Airborne Division's Brigadier General, and on September 18, 1944, he rallied the division and gave last-minute direction as it prepared for battle in Britain. In the background of this photo are the C-47s the men used to jump out of during the war.
These last-minute instructions were essential for these pilots and soldiers as they reaffirmed everything the service members may have forgotten due to the stressful situation they were in. General McAuliffe was a highly respected artillery commander of the 101st Airborne, and the paratroopers were eager to hear what he had to say.
With such heavy casualties, a group of a new unit of paratrooper reinforcements joined Easy Co. for Operation Market Garden in time for the mass descent into German-occupied Holland. The new set of paratroopers was welcomed by the soldiers as it seemed they were ready for some fresh faces.
It was obvious that the men were growing weary as the days carried on, and having a new group of paratroopers brought some new energy as they headed to Eindhoven.
While they were met with no resistance in Eindhoven, Easy Co. needed a new round of supplies dropped to them. The planes that dropped supplies for the soldiers were called C-47s, seen here flying high above the drop zones.
The 101st Airbourne Division paratroopers looked forward to these airdrops, especially since they required so much sustenance. I mean, just imagine how many calories these young men burned every day! That's to be expected after carrying around over 100 pounds of equipment every day.
Easy Co. and a group of British tanks were repelled by superior German forces from nearby towns, suffering heavy casualties during the retreat. The Allied troops planned to invade Germany via Holland so that they could end the war before Christmas was over.
As the soldiers moved out, the dropped tanks, supplies, and other equipment turned out to be the life-saving equipment they needed for additional victories on the battlefields.
Heading Towards Holland
The paratroopers were on their way to Holland and, as you can see in this picture, looked almost jovial, like they were getting on a plane to go on a vacation overseas. During Stephen E. Ambrose's interviews of the troops many decades later, a few of the soldiers admitted that they were usually excited about heading out to a new place.
It wasn't until they got to their destination that the reality of war kicked in again. One common consensus between the soldiers Ambrose interviewed was that when they weren't fighting, they were trying to imagine being anywhere else.
Leading into Christmas
As Christmas was rapidly approaching and it was clear that the war in Europe would not end before the holiday. Much to the dismay of the troops, word that the conflict in Japan was getting worse circulated among the paratroopers, which would mean a trip to the South Pacific after their time in Germany was over.
Christmas supplies began getting dropped, and the paratroopers realized that they would be spending the holidays away from family. The harsh winter only got worse, and the Brothers were losing hope of a resolution any time soon.
Winters led a risky mission on a Dutch dike that ended in victory and brought Winters a lot of notoriety among the troops and to the higher-ranking officers. His hard work and respect from his troops did not go unnoticed by Winters' commanders.
His ability to train and motivate the men was admired by those who served with him. It was clear that he cared about each troop as though they were, in fact, his Brother.
Winters didn't only care about his troops. He cared about the Axis soldiers that, in many cases, were only teenagers. Winters instructed his men to take special care not to engage in overly vicious acts against these young men.
Sadly, Winters wasn't able to follow his own orders. In a report, he wrote about the challenges of unexpected resistance during a German attack. He went on to report that his conscience was haunting him after shooting a teenage German SS soldier.
Commanders and Comrades
After Winters led the Dutch dike mission, he was promoted to Battalion Executive Officer. Yet, he was completely unsatisfied with his new job. Mostly because it was largely administrative, and he didn't sign up for the U.S. Army to become the Band of Brothers' secretary.
Winters was also quite concerned about the leadership of the three companies he commanded. Were they commanders or comrades? He needed his commanders to prepare the men for their next mission.
A Weekend in Paris
After a weekend trip to Paris, news arrived of a major Axis attack in the Ardennes Forest that threatened to break through Allied lines. While the men were looking forward to some much-needed rest and relaxation, duty called, and they had to go hold the line.
This was just another perfect example of how taxed the men were during their mission to Normandy. It was amazing that any of them survived with how little they were able to take care of their most basic needs.
Holding the Line
When the news broke about the Axis attack in the Ardennes Forest, Easy Co. wasted no time moving in and holding the line, keeping the Axis troops back. However, the bitter cold left them ill-equipped with an entrenched battle ahead.
The men literally had to bunker down in the trenches to stay warm enough. They were also desperate to keep themselves dry, as the risks of hypothermia grew as the temperatures dropped.
The Dead of the Belgium Winter
The winters in Europe were harsh, especially during some of the most significant battles of the war. The U.S. forces dropped in supplies for their soldiers, including the Band of Brothers.
On a typical day, while the men prepared for another day of the war, they would've been seen lugging their supplies to safety. The very supplies that ended up saving many of their lives during the war. The average haul would be anywhere from 120 to 150 pounds of supplies and equipment.
In the middle of winter in the woods outside Bastogne, Belgium, while fending off frostbite and starvation, the men of Easy Co. struggled to hold the line of battle alone. They had arrived with very little winter clothing, supplies, or ammunition.
Even with the drops, there never seemed to be enough resources for the paratroopers. The company wondered if they would have enough supplies to survive through Christmas.
The Significance of Equipment
The paratroopers had a lot of traditional warfare equipment and parachute gear when they landed, which made it a heavy burden to carry. This would explain why the Band of Brothers were the most physically fit unit of the entire U.S. military.
The men knew how important it was to be ready and how significant each piece of equipment was to their mission. Pictured here is a young paratrooper carrying what looks like enough rifles for his entire squad.
Christmas in the Trenches
The Band of Brothers were unable to spend Christmas 1944 at home as they participated in the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, Belgium, in December 1944. Generals of the 101st Airborne Division understood the sacrifice of both soldiers and their families and sent tokens of appreciation for their time.
Easy Co. received a letter from General McAuliffe on December 25, 1944, thanking them and wishing good luck to all those who risked their lives. He wrote of his appreciation for each paratrooper making the sacrifice, especially during the holidays, as they would have usually been with their families.
The Breaking Point
Having been able to thwart the Germans in Bastogne, an exhausted Easy Co. was sent to take the nearby town of Foy. With so much death and destruction around them, the men feared they had no more fight left in them.
In the picture, we see members of Easy Co. sitting in the rubble of what's left of one of the towns near where they were stationed. As the men moved out to take the town of Foy, nearly all had reached their breaking points.
Taking the Town of Foy
The men moved out and, after a deadly battle, took the town of Foy. They captured German soldiers willing to surrender, and the Band of Brothers extended care and kindness to them as they shared their dwindling resources with their POWs.
During interviews years later, many of the Brothers, who had been young soldiers at the time of the invasion, said it was emphasized that the German soldiers willing to surrender were to be treated fairly and justly.
Some men admitted that being kind to the German soldiers was a bit of a struggle at times, but Winters (and the other commanders) reminded the soldiers that many on the Axis side wanted nothing to do with being at war either.
The Costs of The Battle of Foy
After claiming victory over the Germans at Bastogne, the exhausted Easy Co. had no time to recover after taking the town of Foy from the enemy. Several servicemen were killed or seriously wounded during fierce shelling.
As the war raged on, Germany - and other parts of Europe - were becoming unrecognizable to those from the area. Of course, the men only saw it as the war-torn region that it was at the time, but the devastation to the towns and their people was gut-wrenching.
The Incompetent Commander
The devastation in Foy was compounded by the incompetence of their commander, Lt. Dike. The men reached out to Winters, but sadly, his hands were tied even though Dike was costing men their lives. Easy took Foy, but at an enormous cost.
Pictured below are some of the most distinguished leaders of Easy Co. and the Band of Brothers, including Winters, who sat with other commanders to discuss the leadership on the battlefields and the concerns of his men. Winters was a Major at this point but remained commander of Easy Co. and 2nd Battalion, a position he would not relinquish until after the war.
As the new year approached, the men not only grew more physically exhausted, but the mental anguish they endured was getting to them, especially because the war seemed never-ending for the troops.
This was only compounded by the fact that the troops feared that once they were done in Germany, they would have to go fight Axis forces in Japan. The men saw no reprieve in sight, and the thought of yet another mission had proved to be too much.
The Last Patrol
After moving out of Foy, Easy Co. arrived near the German border in the Alsacian town of Haguenau. The men were then ordered to send a patrol across the river to take enemy prisoners.
The men, exhausted, followed orders and moved out for yet another mission that was sure to cost more lives. As the men walked in formation, many wondered if any of them would return home, according to interview notes written by Stephen E Ambrose.
The West Point Graduate
As Easy Co. moved through the town of Haguenau, Lt. Jones, fresh from West Point, was all too eager for combat experience. He volunteered to lead the mission even though he lacked battle experience.
In this side-by-side image, we see Colin Hank, the actor who portrayed Jones in HBO's miniseries Band of Brothers. We also get a glimpse of the real-life soldier depicted in the miniseries. While the image on your right is a bit grainy, you cannot miss how young these men really were.
Another Lost Troop
While the raid was successful, the mission cost yet another paratrooper his life. Death and destruction were everywhere, and the morale of the men was at an all-time low, and for good reason. These young men, who had never seen such devastation before entering the war, were beginning to fear they would never go home.
This image of the gravesites of the fallen soldiers in Europe is a stark reminder that both the Axis and the Allied forces experienced great loss during the world's second most significant war at that time.
Since the raid the night before had cost another man his life, this prompted Winters to ignore the order to send a second patrol the next night. He was tired of losing men on missions that didn't make sense to him, so he told his men to hold back and wait for his next set of orders. So, while the men kept an eye on their positions, they held back until receiving further instruction.
In the military, soldiers are trained to never question orders. Winters spoke in an interview that he constantly questioned the orders of the Generals who outranked him. He knew their lack of battle experience was costing the troops their lives.
Long Awaited R&R
After refusing one patrol, the troops prepared to move out to follow Winters' next set of orders. The troops got back into Germany, where they experienced surprisingly little resistance.
That gave the men a chance for some much-needed time to relax for the first time in a very long time. The men took some time to refuel, eating what they could before heading out.
Why We Fight
A patrol in a nearby forest discovers an abandoned Nazi concentration camp, still filled with emaciated prisoners. We cannot show you those images here because they are truly devastating.
We can show you how barren the land was for Axis prisoners who had little to no resources, left to die by German troops. Unbelievably, the local citizenry disavowed any knowledge of the camp's existence. However, the local Germans were forced to clean it up as the news arrived that Hitler had died.
As the War Winds Down
After news of Hitler's death, Easy Co. began to tally their points to see who would be able to go home and who would have to move on to Japan to fight Axis forces there. Points earned during combat were used to categorize the soldiers based on four separate categories.
The soldiers needed only 85 points to be moved into Category IV, which earned them a ride home, deactivation of service, and an honorable discharge. Those who wouldn't have enough points would have to go on to Japan. However, before anyone was deployed, victory was declared. They were all going home!
Honoring the Fallen
The Band of Brothers endured some of the highest causality rates of the 101st Airborne Division, and it often meant that the U.S. Army had only days to retrain and replace its paratroopers. To monumentalize those who lost their lives in Easy Co., a memorial was erected to commemorate the lives of the troops.
These troops were dedicated to the liberation of lands taken over by the Axis Powers. This plaque represents only a small fraction of those who died in combat.
Celebrating the Screaming Eagles
Just over a decade after the war, the Band of Brothers, also known as the Screaming Eagles, appeared in several different forms of media, such as this lobby card shown below. Over the years, the Screaming Eagles have been represented in a variety of art forms.
Manufactured and distributed in the U.S. in 1956, this lobby card is considered a historical token celebrating the Easy Co. paratroopers who risked their lives for freedom. Today, we continue to honor these Brothers in series such as Stephen E Ambrose's best-selling book and HBO's Band of Brother miniseries.
Honoring the Band of Brothers
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019, Operation Overlord was celebrated by bringing together both active duty and veteran service members. Fortunately, in 2019, some members of Easy Co. were still alive to commemorate the event.
Vincent Speranza, pictured on the right, was a part of the Band of Brothers. Here we see Speranza singing along with the Airborne Division, celebrating his triumphant victory 75 years ago.