(506th PIR, Easy Company)

In episode 5, of the TV series ‘Band of Brothers’, with the title ’Crossroads’, we witness two action against German SS troops, which took place on October 5, 1944. To reconstruct these actions, some segments had to be dropped from the story, call it freedom of writing or Hollywood. But director of this episode, Tom Hanks, made one of the best parts of the series. ‘Crossroads’ is halfway the series, and a crucial cross over for Captain Dick Winters (who would be placed in the staff of 2nd Battalion of 506th PIR).

On this page I will take you with me in the fields where the actions took place on October 1944. To illustrate the action, I use, beside my own pictures and drawings, some stills from the HBO TV series 'Band of Brothers' #5 (Crossroads).

'The Island'

The monument for the 101st AD on the Drielse Rhine dyke, east of Heteren
(under the viaduct of the A 50)

On October 2, 1944, Easy Companyof the 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division entered their positions on ‘The Island’ (Dutch: ‘Het Eiland’), just north of Zettem. The paratroopers took up their positions, between Heteren to Opheusden, and replaced the British 43rd Division, who stayed there after the loss off Arnhem-Oosterbeek.

October 5, 1944, 'Crossroads'

In the night of October 5, around 03.30 hours, a patrol set off for a mill, which stood on the dyke towards the ferry to Renkum. The patrol, which consisted of Sgt. Art Youman, Pvt's James Alley, Joe Lesniewski, Joe Liebgott en Rod Strohl, reached the high dyke, which is called Randwijkse Rhine dyke. Lesniewski crawled to the top, a noticed a group of Germans around a machinegun. But Lesniewski was also noticed by a German, who reached for a hand grenade (a ‘potato masher’). The others in the patrol became aware of German voices to the north of the dyke,… It was time to leave the scene. But hand grenades were already on its way towards the paratroopers. Explosions wounded Alley, who was hit by 32 pieces of shrapnel into his body. Liebgot and Lesniewski were also hit, but only minor wounds. Strohl, the man with the radio, was also slightly wounded, but his radio was made useless by the explosion.

A kilometer west of Heteren,... 'Crossroads'

The patrol had ran into a company of SS troops, who were planning a deception for the main attack by the 363 Volksgrenadiers Division, on the left flank of the 506th at Opheusden. And it was not just a pinprick action, it was a serious attack, with the purpose to clear ‘The Island’ of Allied troops.

After a kilometer of fast running, the patrol was back at the Command Post at 04.20 hours. Captain Winters organized at once a larger patrol of fifteen men, and he himself would be in charge.

When the new patrol reach the dyke, they could hear the German machinegun, a MG 42, open fire. Bullets were flying to the south, into no-man’s-land. Winters wondered about this, there were no targets to shoot at. This was part of the deception which was in progress. After a check on the situation, Winters ordered the patrol to cross the dyke to the north side, and to go into a ditch where they could move more or less freely.

The first action to take the MG 42 out

At 20 meters before the low dyke which runs towards the Neder-Rhine, Winters moved on his own to the culvert in that dyke. Against the nightly sky he could make out the silhouettes of the Germans at the machinegun. On the other side of the low dyke, he could hear German voices. Winters returned to his men, and ordered to take up positions at the low road, where he pointed out their targets. Christenson was given the task to use his .30 machinegun on the German MG 42. Sgt. Muck and Pvt. Penkala placed their 60mm mortar just behind Christenson.

The men aim their rifles on the MG 42 position

When Winters counted; ‘ready, aim, fire’,.. 12 rifles fired as one, and seven Germans fell around the MG 42. Christenson his machinegun cracked, but his aim was too high, but Muck and Penkala their mortar was already on its way, and before Christenson could adjust his line of fire, the mortar smashed atop the MG 42. Within seconds the action ended, and the small group retrieved into their jump off position, into the ditch. From the low dyke, some rifle fire was coming towards the paratroopers, but far from accurate. After the 200 meters through the ditch, the troopers came at another ditch, which ran parallel on the low dyke, and here the troopers consolidated.

The culvert underneath the low dyke, from where the rifle grenade was fired
which became fatal for Sgt William Dukeman

Out of reach for German fire, Winters used the radio to order the rest of the first platoon, and the attached light machineguns, to joint hem in the ditch. Waiting on the others, daylight was coming and Sergant William Dukeman rose up from the ditch to order the men to spread out. At that moment, a couple of Germans, hiding in the culvert, shot a rifle grenade. The explosion drove a piece of shrapnel through the shoulder and into the heart of Dukeman. The paratroopers fired their M1 Garand rifles empty on the culvert, and killed three Germans.

Situation how Sgt W. Dukeman got killed,...

William Heiter Dukeman Jr (2 Sept. 1921 – 5 Okt. 1944)
(Left; Father William Dukeman Sr and right, Mother Gertrude)

Winters asked himself, what the Germans were up to. His men were in a ditch, and the Germans behind a heavy dyke. To pull back was now out of the question, because daylight came in fast, and his men would be sitting ducks if they moved away. And then there was the danger of the Germans on the south side of the dyke would move end encircle the troopers. The only thing Winters could think of was a straight forward attack, once again towards the low dyke that led to the Renkum ferry. Meanwhile, the reinforces had arrived and moved into position. The unit consisted of 30 men.

The second action of October 5, 1944

Winters split the Group in three parts. 1st squad on the left flank, under command of Lt. Thomas Peacock. Sgt. Floyd Talbert would lead 3rd squad on the right flank, with 2nd squad in the middle, led by Winters himself. Between these groups was Lt. Frank Reese, after consultant with Winters, busy with placing .30 machineguns. Peacock would give the signal for the attack, by lighting a smoke grenade, Winters would give Peacock with a hand signal the go ahead. Bayonets were fixed, and the tension was in everyone their bodies. Winters gave his first sign, and stood up, en began running towards the low dyke. Peacock threw the smoke grenade and the men started also to run through the wet grass.

In a few moment the shooting gallery will be opened

The .30 machineguns opened fire towards the low dyke, to hold peaking Germans at bay. Winters was the first to reach the low dyke, and saw a lone German flat on his belly. In the corner of his eyes, Winters noticed at the same moment at least a 100 Germans curled up in the corner of the dyke. Winters jumped back behind the low dyke, and pulled the pin from a hand grenade (a scene not in Band of Brothers episode), and threw it over the top of the dyke towards the lone German. This German threw a grenade as well towards Winters. But before this one exploded, Winters was already on top of the dyke, because he knew, his grenade would not go off, because Winters taped his grenade for safety reasons (a scene which is in the episode of BoB), and now he had forgotten to remove the tape. The German waited for the explosion in a bent position, and because of that, he noticed too late that Winters was back on the dyke, just a few meters away. The German rose, but Winters fired from the hip, and shot him. This shot, brought the whole bunch of Germans in movement, something Winters would later describe as in ‘slow motion’. Every German to his right glanced towards Winters, and they started to rise to their feet. And still the other men were not yet at the low dyke, so Winters began shooting towards the confused Germans.

Winters his Garand used clip after clip,…
(Damian Lewis in the role of Dick Winters)

Winters jumped again behind the west side of the dyke, and shot another clip empty in the German Group. It was chaotic overthere. Some Germans tried to fire their weapon, others tried to retrieve towards the east. Germans that were aiming their guns, were run over by fleeing Germans. When Winters put a third clip into his Garand, the first troopers reached also the low dyke. The machineguns had stopped shooting and the gunners were now also running towards the low dyke. It was a shooting gallery for Easy Company. A group of eleven Germans were enclosed, and David Webster shouted to them to surrender. The Germans told Webster they were Polish. Webster motioned them to move to the rear of him. Webster was just going back to the low dyke, when he was hit by a bullet. It was a clean wound through his calf, a so called ‘million dollar wound’, wounded, but not seriously. The medic Eugene Roe put a bandage on Webster and sent him to the rear.

An M1919a6 .30 machinegun cracks in 'Crossroads'

Meanwhile, some hundred meters to the east, 150 Germans of a SS company started to come over the dyke. These were waiting on the south side for their attack, but were now interrupted by a firefight to the north of the large dyke. The.30 machineguns were also now at the low dyke and fired into the large group of fleeing Germans. A great part of them reached a group of trees, and Winters realized that they were heading for the ferry crossing to Renkum, the road the had taken to come here in the first place.

Right: Captain Dick Winters

Winters asked at once by radio for artillery. British guns were letting lose their shells on the fleeing Germans. Winters was planning to reach the ferry, before the Germans could reach it, but a group of 35 men, against at least 150 pissed Germans, that was a little to much. Winters asked for reinforcements and the 2nd Battalion promised to provide Fox Company as fast as possible. When they arrived, Winters started to discuss how they could move fast the 600 meters to the ferry crossing. A basis was made with 30 men, another 30 would move up, under cover of the base. Every hundred meter they would make such a jump forward.

But the waiting for the reinforcements had taken a lot of time, and at least 75 Germans had regrouped. Two hundred meters in front of the crossing, were a couple of factory buildings, from where from the right Winters his men were exposed. To make matters worse, German artillery was coming down on them. It was time to retread and pul Easy back from the mayhem. Winters his plan had been a bit too enthusiastic. The troopers moved back the same way, as they started the attack, with jumps of hundred meters. When the last man crossed the dyke, the German artillery was shot in, and shells came down on that point. The troopers ran left and right, but there were many wounded.

Left: David Kenyon Webster

David Webster, who struggeled wounded throug a field, was shot at. A 8,8cm gun opened up on him. On both sides of him, shells were exploding, and a third one behind him. Before a fourth one good finish him of, Webster managed to get out of that field. Men from Fox Company found Webster, stopped a Jeep to put Webster in it,… So Webster may have thought, but Sgt. Boyle, lay in the back, wounded from German shelling, so Webster was laid on the hood of the Jeep.

Right: Joseph 'Joe' Liebgott

Because of the German artillery, 18 paratroopers from Easy- and Fox Company were wounded by the German shelling. A total of 22 troopers were wounded that day, October 5, and one man killed, William Dukeman. On the German part, at least 50 killed and 100 wounded, and eleven were taken prisoner.

The eleven prisoners were by order of Winters taken to the rear by Joe Liebgott. He chose for Liebgott because he was wounded and could after dropping of the prisoners be treated by a doctor at the command post of the battalion. Winters remembered suddenly that Liebgot was rough with prisoners, and when he heard Liebgott say; ‘Oh boy, I’ll take care of them’, vhe told Liebgott that eleven prisoners were to be counted for at the command post, and not one less. Liebgott protested. Under the eyes of the POW, Winters ordered Liebgott his Garand to be emptied of bullets and to leave extra ammo behind. Pissed off, Liebgott removed the clip from his rifle. One shot stayed in the chamber of his rifle. (In the episode of BoB, Winters takes the weapon of Liebgott, removed the ammo, and places one in the chamber). Winters told Liebgott that if he shot one German, the other ten would jump him. From the corner of his eye, he noticed that a German officer relaxed after this little show. When Winters later checked, it was confirmed that Liebgott had delivered eleven prisoners at the CP.

Ross McCall in the role of Joe Liebgott
(A publicity still from 'Band of Brothers')

After the battle at the crossroads, Winters concluded that the Germans were badly led. After the nightly attack on the MG 42 machinegun the Germans had not spread out, and had neglected to place observation posts. After consolation, after the first action, Winters and his troopers were for an hour waiting in a ditch. During this period, the Germans could have surrounded them and could have attacked them from the flank and rear. If this had happen, Winters and his men would have been sitting ducks. But the Germans were hesitating, and were on the run when the first shots rang out.

Covered in fog, the trees where once Germans on the run were hiding
and escaped to the ferry of Renkum and back over the Neder-Rijn

In the rapport Winters made, the ‘I’ sentence was not used. He came to the conclusion that every trooper in his outfit had shown a professional attitude, and so, the rapport was written in the ‘we’ sentence. With this, he did himself far too short. In eyes of many, the action at Brécourt Manor, on June 6, 1944, under Winters his leadership, to eliminate four German guns, was a textbook action. But Winters himself thought that the action, now known as ‘Crossroads’, was his best operational action, a highlight of his leadership. During operations, Winters was always the first to go. His own safety, was never above that of his men. An attitude which had made him a candidate for the highest award known in America, the Congressional Medal of Honor, but it was not to be, also because of the modesty of the man.

Col. Sink (Dale Dye) asks Capt. Winters to lead 2nd Battalion

Around the same time as Winters and his men were fighting around the crossroads, the headquarters of 2nd Battalion at Opheusden was attacked, which caused a lot of casualties. One of the casualties was Major Ollie Horton de X.O. of 2nd Battalion. Shortly after the action at the crossroads, Colonel Sink asked Captain Winters to replace the spot of Horton.

The monument under the dyke near the 'Crossroads'
(in the back, the ditch used in the first action)
(CLICK on the picture for enlargement)

For the attack by the 363 Volksgrenadiers on the 506th battalion HQ at Opheusden on October 5, 1944, I recommend the book ‘The Road to Arnhem’ by Donald R. Burgett (from page 141).