Part 2: “Day of Days”
*Please note that this write-up contains spoilers*
The second episode of Band of Brothers was screened by HBO and BBC immediately following the previous episode. They showed them back to back to satisfy the viewing public’s desire to see the well-executed battle scenes the series promised. They were not to be disappointed.
Part two takes place on D-Day, 6th June, 1944 – the “day of days”. The episode begins with a stunning scene of hundreds of C-47 planes transporting the paratroops to Normandy. The views of the planes flying in formation are spectacular, but the episode really kicks off to an amazing start when the planes come under fire from German flak. The planes dodging and weaving among the exploding shells is a feat of CGI. The scenes are very intense and seeing the men thrown about inside their planes adds to the experience, providing a more personal view. The drama increases as planes and men start getting hit by the flak. The panic in the planes to get out of them as soon as possible added great excitement and tension.
This episode follows the exploits of Lieutenant Richard D. Winters. Winters becomes the central character for much of the series. The scene of Winters jumping out his plane is fantastic. The contrast between the chaos of being in the C-47 and the flak and tracer fire all around, and the strange peacefulness of floating to Earth in a parachute is captured very well. The producers used a camera rig which made the camera appear as if it were floating around in mid air near Winters, thus giving the viewer a pretty dramatic feeling of floating. The contrast in sound level works well too. There is a great use of sound throughout the series – particularly striking when watching the DVD on a good home cinema surround sound system.
When Winters lands he finds himself without his weapon – the shock from the deployment of his parachute had ripped off his equipment leg bag. He runs into another paratrooper from a different company (Able Company) and they set out to find others and complete their objectives. They soon run into some other Easy Company men, and two men from the 82nd Airborne Division. After some time walking in the dark, the men run into a group of Germans with a horse-drawn supply cart. They lay an ambush, during which Sergeant William “Wild Bill” Guarnere gets carried away and massacres the Germans with considerable overkill. This was because he wanted revenge for his brother’s death at Monte Cassino, Italy, of which he found out about the day before D-Day.
Soon enough, the men find other paratroops collected in a captured town. There are several reunions, but there are still many men missing, most noticeably, Easy Company commanding officer, Lieutenant Thomas Meehan. This means that Lieutenant Winters is acting CO. (It turns out in the end that Meehan’s plane was shot down, killing all on board.)
It is at this town that the character of Lieutenant Ronald Spiers (currently with Dog Company, but he becomes commander of Easy in part seven) is introduced. He is immediately presented for the tough and controversial character that he was. The massacre of a group of German prisoners is alluded to here. Submachine gun fire is heard off camera after the scene where Sergeant Donald Malarkey talks to the prisoners. Spiers and his Thompson submachine gun are associated with this event, but since the viewer does not actually see anything it presents the controversy that actually existed over whether Spiers did massacre German troops on D-Day.
Winters is given orders for Easy to destroy a German artillery battery that is causing problems on Utah Beach. Easy only has a handful of men collected together, but they go anyway. The battle scene in which the men take and destroy the four guns is highly charged, and well executed. It is here that we first see Winters’ great ability as a soldier and combat commander. Winters personally leads a textbook assault and captures and destroys the guns. He is awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, and his chance capture of a map showing all the German gun positions in Normandy. The wounding of Private Robert “Popeye” Wynn is shown (he is shot in the behind) and provides a slight hint of comedy in the midst of the battle.
This first real battle scene of the series is outstanding and is one of the best of the series as a whole.
From this point on, the episode winds down, showing the men recuperating after battle. Winters does not celebrate as he is downtrodden for losing a man. The episode ends on a fairly poignant piece of narration from Winters where he is thankful for surviving, and promises that when the war is over he will find a quite place to live his life in peace.
The true events and characters’ actions were altered in some respects for dramatic effect throughout the series. There were also some plain errors. None of these detract from the episode or series, but it is important to point out where reality differs from fiction.
- The flak and anti-aircraft fire that the planes received at the beginning of the episode was not representative of the amount of fire received by the 101st Airborne Division as a whole. Although the group Lieutenant Winters was flying with did receive such heavy fire, it is, I think, important to note that this was the extreme rather than the norm. Most planes just came under small arms and machinegun fire, with occasional 20mm guns fired. Winters just happened to be flying near to the German Luftwaffe battery of 88mm cannon sited in St. Mere Eglise.
- It was not made clear that the plane that was seen being shot down in great detail was the plane carrying Easy Company commander Lieutenant Thomas Meehan. Although Meehan was seen inside his plane en route to France, and not seen again afterwards, it should have been made clearer what happened. It was not even mentioned until episode 10 that Meehan’s plane went down!
- There is a potential error regarding Winter’s jump. He is not wearing a reserve parachute on his chest. As a man jumped from his plane, the static line attached to his main chute on his back would rip open his chute pack and the blast from the plane’s propeller would open the canopy. However, parachuting was not as reliable in those days as it is now and very occasionally the main chute could fail to deploy or open. In this event, the smaller reserve chute worn on the chest could be activated to save the trooper’s life. The main chute was supposed to open after about three seconds, but at low altitude drops it was often too late for the reserve chute to be opened in time to save the man’s life. The Normandy drop was intended to be low altitude to avoid flak – around six or eight hundred feet. A few men did decide that the wearing of a reserve chute at such a low altitude drop was pointless and chose not to wear one. Unless Winters was one of those few, then this is a mistake.
- Another point regarding Winters’ jump is concerned with the infamous “leg bags”. Leg bags were a very recent British invention that would allow a trooper to place all his heavy and cumbersome equipment inside. The bag was then strapped to the leg, which made walking nearly impossible, but the trooper would have less strapped to his body making life easier when he landed. After the trooper jumped and his chute was deployed, he would release the leg bag and it would hang down below him as he fell. These leg bags were poorly designed and were not strong enough to survive the shock of the chute deploying. As a consequence, many men lost their leg bag, and their equipment, when they jumped. Winters was just such an unlucky individual. However, in the programme, we see his leg bag getting ripped away just after he jumps, not upon the deployment of his chute. It is possible that the speed at which he jumped (around 150mph) was enough to blow away the bag, but it is far more likely that it was lost as his chute deployed.
- As Winters landed, his landing was too soft – almost like he was doing a parade ground jump in perfect conditions. Winters’ landing was much harder than shown.
- There was some footage that looked distinctly like it was recycled from episode one. This footage was that of Captain Herbert Sobel’s training jump where we view from his point of view and see his feet jerk in front of his face as the chute deploys. In episode two, we see a trooper jump out of his plane from the same perspective, and see the same motion of his feet. It looks exactly the same, except that it was changed to be at night rather than in broad daylight.
- The trooper who landed by Winters just after Winters himself lands doesn’t appear to remove his parachute. I looked, and I can’t see that he actually has one. It seems as if he was just dropped into the scene.
- This above trooper in the episode was a Private John Hall. He said he was from Able Company, but in reality, he was not – he was from Service Company. He is named as an A Co. man even in Stephen Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” book. In fact, the first friendly trooper that Winters encountered was the supply sergeant of Fox Company, not Private Hall.
- The two men also talk rather loudly – a rather stupid thing to do when trying to stay hidden at night.
- The two men comment that as Winters was from E Company and Hall from “A Company” that either one or both of them must have landed in the wrong drop zone – or “DZ”. This is an inaccurate statement (even if Hall was from A Co. and landed next to Winters) as Companies A and E were supposed to share a drop zone (DZ C, near St. Marie du Mont), along with B, C, D, and F Companies (i.e., the 1st and 2nd battalions of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment).
- After landing on D-Day, Sergeant Denver “Bull” Randleman was involved in a bayonet duel with a German soldier. This, despite being a very dramatic event, was not shown. This was probably because the episode was following Winters, and jumping between characters would have been confusing and spoilt the theme of the episode. Furthermore, Randleman was involved in a second bayonet duel in episode four in perhaps more dramatic circumstances, so seeing the same man duel twice in the series may not have been desirable to the producers. There is the possibility that they did not know about the event. It is not mentioned in Stephen E. Ambrose’s “Band of Brothers” book.
- There were significant differences with respect to the men Winters linked up with. In the episode, there were only two 82nd Airborne men, but there were more than this, including a Major J. W. Vaughan. By the time that the men had run into the group of German soldiers and their horses, there were over 160 paratroops with Winters.
- And the railroad the men walk along in the series that was leading east out of St. Mere Eglise was, and is, non-existent.
- The encounter with the German soldiers and their horses actually took place at a T-junction surrounded by the typical Normandy hedgerows, not a walled bridge/tunnel like structure as was shown in the series.
- After the ambush in the episode, one of the men hands Winters a German Karabiner 98 rifle. But Winters is not given any ammunition, nor does he pick any up. The rifle only had a five round clip, so Winters must not have been planning on doing much shooting!
- In the ambush, there is a bit too much overkill from Sergeant Guarnere in the series. Although he did fire out of angry revenge for his brother’s death before Winters gave the order, he did not fire as many shots as was shown in the series. Only five Germans were actually killed in the ambush, which is much less than died in the series. There were also four wagons, more than was shown in the series, and two got away. The men took some prisoners who later tried to jump the paratroops when a German machinegun fired at them. They failed and Guarnere shot them.
- In the scene where the men hear the massive eight inch and fourteen inch shells of the naval bombardment sailing over their heads, these shells are not heard to explode afterwards. This would have been heard. Interestingly, these shells travelled slowly enough to be seen moving through the air. The sounds seem fairly accurate, but the camera shaking is probably a bit of an exaggeration.
- Sergeant Malarkey did meet a German prisoner who was of American origin. However, the POW was not from Eugene, Oregon, where Malarkey went to school, but was instead from Portland. This POW is among the group that Lieutenant Spiers apparently machinegunned, but the real man in question was not involved in any such execution incident.
- At the battle for the guns at Brécourt Manor, Private Gerald Lorraine (who was Colonel Robert F. Sink’s jeep driver) won the Silver Star for his actions, among which included throwing back some German grenades before they exploded. He was not seen to do this in the episode. In fact, I seem to recall Lieutenant Lynn "Buck" Compton do this, but not Lorraine.
- In the episode, Lorraine is seen firing at some retreating Germans with some E Company men, but he misses his man. Guarnere then calls Lorraine a “fucking jeep jockey” and guns down Lorraine’s man. In fact Lorraine hit his target while it was Guarnere who missed his man as three Germans retreated. Winters, who had shot the other German right in the back of the head, then finished the job for Guarnere with his M1 Garand rifle. Guarnere was angry at his poor shooting and poured several shots into the German as he lay on the ground. The poor man cried out for help and Winters told Private Malarkey to put a bullet through his head.
- Lorraine actually carried a Thompson submachinegun whereas in the series he is shown with an M1.
- At the Brécourt Manor battle Easy took twelve prisoners, but this was not shown. In the episode, the men just retreated once the guns were destroyed.
- Donald Malarkey helped the producers greatly with this battle scene, but he has reported that the action was more intense in the series than he recalled it.
- There is a minor point to be raised over the use of cursing by the men. Although there was considerable cursing, veterans generally agree that it was generally of a less strong nature than that heard in the series.
- The last scene of the show, Winters is in St. Marie du Mont. In actual fact, he was two or three miles away at Colonel Sink’s HQ in Culloville. In neither of these places was there a river or lake as seen in the show.
- Another point about the last scene is Winters is seen walking around without his rifle. A good soldier is never without his weapon.
The spectacular scenes of the aircraft flying over France under heavy flak and the men jumping out.
The battle to take out the guns at Brécourt Manor is intense and brilliantly executed.
Pvt. Hall: What if they’re all lost like we are?
Lt. Winters: We’re not lost, Private. We’re in Normandy.
Sgt. Guarnere: How are you, Cowboy?
Pvt. Hall: Shut your fucking guinea trap, Gonorrhoea.
Lt. Compton: Where you hit, Pop?
Pvt. Wynn: I can't believe, I fucked up. My ass, sir.
Lt. Compton: Your ass?
[Lt. Compton checks his wound]
Lt. Compton: Holy shit.
“He was a good man. “Man” – he wasn’t even old enough to buy a beer.” -- Lt. Winters.
“That night, I thanked God for seeing me through that day of days and prayed I would make it through D plus one. I also promised that if some way I could get home again, I would find a quiet piece of land and spend the rest of my life in peace.” -- Lt. Winters (Narration)
Episode Rating: 9.5/10
"Band of Brothers" - HBO/BBC
Stephen E. Ambrose, “Band of Brothers”
David Kenyon Webster, “Parachute Infantry: An American Paratrooper’s Memoir of D-Day and the Fall of the Third Reich”
Donald R. Burgett, “Currahee! A Screaming Eagle in Normandy”