Band of Brothers Summary

Stephen E. Ambrose

Band of Brothers

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Band of Brothers Summary

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Band of Brothers is a non-fiction historical account of the U.S. Army’s Easy Company during World War II. Historian Stephen E. Ambrose explores the deep psychological bond that formed between the men as they went from basic training to their inevitable meeting with history at the Normandy D-Day invasion. Band of Brothers is unique among military histories in that it focuses not on the men behind the scenes making the plans, but on the front line soldiers, from the privates to the non-commissioned officers, carrying out the grand strategies of the generals.

A group of draftee civilian soldiers who volunteered for hazardous duty in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the majority had no military experience and had never traveled outside the United States. As their training began at Camp Taccoa in Georgia, the men found themselves under the command of the mercurial Captain Herbert Sobel. Petty and unlikable, Sobel ran a harsh, demanding regime, and the men began to bond in their mutual dislike of him.

The Regiment found a far more compelling leader in 2nd Lieutenant Richard “Dick” Winters, a fair and effective officer who never saw himself as above the men in rank below him. Although the Regiment completed basic training in excellent physical shape, they were held back by Captain Sobel’s leadership. Full of bluster and anger, Sobel could not back it up on the battlefield and struggled at basic tasks such as reading a map. After attempting to frame Winters due to his resentment over his rival’s growing success, causing a threatened mutiny by non-commissioned officers at the base, Sobel was removed from command as the Regiment prepared to be deployed into Europe.

Easy Company’s first campaign in Europe was participating in the Allied invasion of Normandy, better known as D-Day. Their current leader, 1st Lieutenant Thomas Meehan, was killed in the jump, leading to Winters taking command of the Unit. Under Richard Winters’ leadership, the company flourished and participated in some of the war’s most iconic moments of heroism. A band of only twelve men led by Winters waged a successful attack against a German battery of four machine guns. Later, their push into the town of Carentan while under enemy fire allowed them to take the town back from the occupying German troops. These heroics quickly led the Military Brass to promote Richard Winters to Captain.

The next test for Easy Company was Operation Market-Garden, an attempt to take back Holland from the Nazi occupiers and take advantage of the German Army’s weakness after D-Day. Although the Allies were successful, Easy Company suffered many casualties as they continued to fight in Holland and later in their return to France. The Siege of Bastogne, one of the most iconic battles of the war, was Easy Company’s greatest challenges. Pinned down by German soldiers for twelve days, Easy Company hid in foxholes in the cold of winter while under attack by German artillery. Although the US army did eventually break through enemy lines to rescue them, Easy Company insisted that no rescue was necessary. These heroics led to Easy Company becoming icons back home, as their deeds were reported on extensively in the media.

The bulk of Easy Company’s fighting took place on the front lines in France. By the time they entered Germany, the war was coming to a close and they primarily encountered surrendering German soldiers. Compared to the intense combat they faced in France and Holland, they only dealt with minor skirmishes in the home of their enemy. Easy Company wound up being the first company at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and participated in looting at Hitler’s hideout and the nearby homes of Nazi officials. After the conclusion of the war, Easy Company was stationed in Austria for the post-war occupation period, as the men anxiously awaited their return home. It was over three years after its founding when Easy Company was officially dissolved and the soldiers returned home to a hero’s welcome.

Although the primary focus of the book is Richard Winters’ heroism and leadership, and Herbert Sobel serves as the primary antagonist, several other members of Easy Company featured prominently in the book as well. Captain Lewis Nixon was Winters’ best friend and confidant, although a recurring problem with alcoholism hampered his military career. Captain Ronald Speirs, who transferred to Easy from Dog Company and led them during the Battle of the Bulge, was one of the few members of Easy to stay in the Army after the conclusion and went on to heroics in the Korean War as well.

Band of Brothers is considered one of the most vivid, detailed descriptions of the ground-level horrors of World War II, told through the eyes of the men who was there. Although certain military historians and the family of Captain Herbert Sobel have called into question its historical accuracy, it received near-unanimous critical acclaim from book reviewers. The book is perhaps best known to most people for spawning the wildly successful HBO miniseries of the same name produced by Steven Spielberg, a ten-episode epic which was nominated for twenty Emmy Awards and won seven including Outstanding Miniseries. It also won the 2001 Peabody Award. Although many histories have been written about the European theater, Band of Brothers’ mix of thrilling wartime heroics and deeply human, recognizable soldiers fighting to come home make it one of the most popular and lasting of the genre.