First published on Warfare History Network, the article “Captain Dick Winters: The Island” by our historian Kevin M. Hymel, recounts how Captain Dick Winters provided an example of airborne capabilities when he led Easy Company’s charge over the Island dike in Holland. Kevin’s article is followed by an account of “The Island” written by Dick Winters himself.
Captain Dick Winters: The Island
Airborne divisions were designed as light troops, relying on the shock value of landing to the enemy’s rear, and giving the Allies a third dimension of attack. Airborne troops were armed with light weapons, such as folding stock rifles and light artillery; they had no tanks, and their heaviest vehicles were a few jeeps. Paratroopers ate and fought with whatever they could carry, relying on cargo planes or a breakthrough by ground forces for resupply.
Once on the Ground, Paratroopers Worked as Ground Troops
Despite their reputation as shock troops, they were often quite stationary. It is true that they could cover hundreds of miles while flying to their drop zones across North Africa, Sicily, France, Holland, and Germany, but once on the ground, paratroopers had to count on their feet for movement.
Leaders like Winters made up for the stationary nature of airborne troops with aggressive tactics. Unlike a regular ground soldier who might be tempted to rely on heavy artillery or tanks to precede maneuver, Winters relied on shock and speed to overwhelm the enemy. Although outnumbered two-to-one at the dike, his men crashed into the Germans’ flank and poured on the fire. It wasn’t until the main threat was neutralized that he called in artillery to stop the remaining Germans from retreating.
It was that aggressive nature and the ability to fight long past the three-day doctrine limit that would serve Winters and his men well when the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive and surrounded the 101st at a little, nondescript town called Bastogne.
Major Dick Winters: The Island In His Own Words
Facing more than two companies of Hitler’s Elite SS at the “Island,” Dick Winters’ Easy company demonstrated unparalleled courage under fire.
By Dick Winters
Now that Uden was secured, Easy Company and the remainder of the 101st Airborne Division received orders to move to the “Island,” a long narrow area north of Nijmegen between the Lower Rhine and the Waal Rivers. The ground between the dikes of the two rivers was flat farm land, spotted with small villages and towns. The dikes along the rivers were twenty feet high and the fields were criss-crossed with drainage ditches that were covered with heavy vegetation. There were roads on the top of the dikes and narrow roadways through the adjoining farm land. The farming was concentrated and lush with fields of carrots, beets, and cabbages, interspersed with fruit orchards.
For the upcoming operation the 101st Airborne Division was attached to the British XII Corps. On October 2, the 506th PIR moved by trucks over the bridge at Nijmegen and was the first unit of the 101st to move to the Island. Intelligence reported that the German 363d Volksgrenadier Division was in the vicinity and received orders to clear the Island. The 363d Volksgrenadier Division had been cut up in Normandy, but now had been reinforced and was anxious to return to battle.
We Establish Our Positions
The following day our regiment relieved the frontline positions held by the British 43d Wessex Infantry Division, which was covering a line of approximately six miles in length. The 43d Division had suffered heavy casualties in their attempt to seize the crossings of the Lower Rhine and to evacuate the British 1st Airborne Division that had jumped at Arnhem. As we approached the forward positions…
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Travel on our Band of Brothers Tours!
“This tour is special. There is nothing else like it.”
– Major Dick Winters, The Commander of Easy Company
The original Band of Brothers Tour is an experience unparalleled in its accuracy. It is based on the first-hand and personal recollections of the paratroopers and the extensive research of Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the best-selling book, Band of Brothers, upon which the miniseries was based, as well as the research of his colleagues and our Band of Brothers historians, Captain Ron Drez and Chris Anderson.