Band of Brothers – Easy Company in Normandy
The hit television mini series Band of Brothers, followed soldiers from Easy Company from their initial training to the end of World War 2 in Germany. These men and many thousands more from the 82nd and 101st Airborne, would drop into Normandy before the allied beach invasion on June 6th 1944.
These men were tasked with destroying key strategic locations and disrupting German lines of communication. They were also required to shield Utah and Omaha landing beaches from an enemy counter attack from Cherbourg.
Cherbourg, located at the northern tip of the Cotentin Peninsula, was occupied by German troops from the 709th Infantry Division. Formed in 1941, this division was made up of many foreign nationals; many of whom decided to join the German Wehrmacht rather than face persecution from their own countries. The average age of this division was considered old compared to the thousands of young Americans who would land on the beaches on D-day. In certain areas within the Cotentin Peninsula, the German resistance was considered weaker than other parts of Normandy. Speculation suggests that this may have been a result of the less than fanatic foreigners within the 709th. It may also have been due to lack of combat experience for most of the soldiers involved.
After the parachute drop on the morning of June 6th, many of the soldiers from both the 82nd and 101st landed way off their drop zone targets. As a result, it took sometime to regroup and form scratch units to start the Normandy invasion. Many men were killed before landing or drowned in the many areas flooded by the Germans.
Later that morning, the beach invasion started. Utah Beach, the westernmost point for Operation Overlord, was captured very quickly by the allies with less than 200 men killed. This operation was considered an almost perfect success.
The push in land from Utah to Carentan was being held up by the shelling from a German Battery position at Brecourt Manor. Easy Company was ordered to disable this position to assist the landing of men and supplies on the beach.
As depicted in Band of Brothers, the assault at Brecourt Manor was a textbook display of tactics. The four Howitzers were disabled and many of the Germans manning the battery were killed. For his leadership in this attack, Lieutenant Richard Winters was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross Medal. This would be the start of his rise through the ranks; ending the war as a Major.
Carentan was the next location shown in the series and Lieutenant Winters and his men would witness fierce fighting in capturing this strategic town. This town was of great importance to both sides as it was the link between Utah and Omaha beaches. Standing between the Americans and Carentan were elite German paratroopers. They would be formidable opposition to the allies and many men were lost in the house to house fighting.
All these years after the invasion, Normandy pays homage to those brave men who liberated her. There are numerous war monuments in La Manche and the Calvados departments of France. In 2008, a monument was erected at Brecourt Manor in memory of the men from Easy Company who were killed in Operation Overlord. Thanks to Band of Brothers and the many documentaries made about the Normandy invasion, this part of France continues to attract thousands of tourists each year. Many come to follow in the footsteps of those brave American Airborne troops.