Table of contents

Band of Brothers I.6-8

The requirements of tactical success

Necessity prevailed: Again the Airborne was deployed as infantry, in early winter. Major Winters & Easy Company were again forced into trench warfare, fighting defense, encircled & fighting in all directions. Few of the first men were left & they no longer learnt the names of the replacements, who would soon die, being unprepared, by turns enthusiastic & terrified. The close bonds connecting three or four veterans at most were now most necessary, because recruits were badly trained & untrustworthy. But Easy Company was led by sergeants selected from the first men & their battalion was filled with officers who had first served in Easy.

The Battle of the Bulge started with a great show of German daring. The winter counter-offensive completely surprised the arrogant, unprepared Americans. Eisenhower answered Hitler with an awesome logistical move, transporting 60000 men in a day, 250000 in all, to fill the gap created by the German offensive. Such massive & quick troop movement had never before been seen.

The American troops were encircled & made their stand. They lacked ammunition, winter clothes, & food & medical supplies. The winter weather prohibited air supplies most of the time, not to mention air power. The Americans were outmanned, outgunned, outmaneuvered. They refused to surrender.

Major engagements were followed by daily skirmishes between patrols moving along & between lines of defense spread so thin that penetration was inevitable. German artillery & targeting were so good that starting a fire was suicide. The freezing dulled speed & genius, so discipline & craft took over. Discipline quickly disappeared, because the threat of punishment lost its meaning in the intermittent, impending hell of the front lines. The judgment of serious officers replaced it. They did not push soldiers past their breaking point, they did not punish those who had broken down, & they tried to maintain morale by visits to foxholes, talks with the troops, & limiting the insane orders to a bare minimum.

The Easy men kept fighting back because they knew they only had each other. The training they endured saved them. The harsher it had been, the more endurance to pain they had gained by it. Indeed, injured Easy men would run from hospitals before being healed in order to fight with Easy, for they knew that the alternative was fighting with regular infantry.

Defense required buying time, when the Airborne divisions first took position. Two necessary days were bought by a battalion making a stand in face of a massive German combined arms attack. A third of the battalion was wiped out. Eventually, the Germans themselves sustained such losses that they could continue such attacks. The Americans could not attack, but they defended themselves successfully.