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US Airborne

From Toccoa to Normandy
with Chris Potter

If you are a fan of the HBO Mini-Series Band of Brothers, based on the book Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose, you will know of the many exploits of a particular company – Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), 101st Airborne. This TV Series, the book that inspired it, my own research into the wartime exploits of Major Richard D Winters, have all fascinated me for as long as I can remember.

I had always wanted to paint up a Flames of War US Paratrooper Army. However, something else always came along project-wise or I caught up on other armies with my infamous magpie distractions of shiny models. Further, my painting skill was never where it needed to be in order to give the veterans who fought from Normandy to the Rhine, justice. I didn’t want to just throw paint on models and play some games.

US Airborne

US Airborne

The Hobby League Battlefront ran back in 2019 changed all this. When I first leafed through the pack for organising games, it was clear that this was an inclusive community building process. So what if my painting wasn’t where it needed to be, then the guys in the office would help me with sage words of advice and I would improve. So, with this promise of support and discussion, I looked into the 101st Airborne, and Easy Company 506 PIR in more detail than I have before and was surprised by what I found out as I built a 100 point army.

Raised in South Georgia as an experimental formation as part of the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, the Screaming Eagles, the 506th PIR was drawn from volunteers from the Regular Army who were attracted for a variety of reasons; from avoiding the impending compulsory draft, a sense of patriotism to the higher pay that Parachute Training offered (a dangerous-pay risk that meant extra money each month to send home!).

The 506th PIR and Easy Company in particular were no different. Specifically all of the units raised were volunteers -  the officers were all drawn fresh from their West Point training, and learnt alongside the men they would lead into battle. This included everything from packing parachutes, to actually jumping out of the C47 Dakota Skytrains. They learnt new infantry tactics that the Paratroops would need in their highly specialised warfare of being behind enemy lines and being surrounded for most of their fighting time.

The failure rate was high and led to the reputation of the Paratroops being the best of the best. It was whilst training at Camp Toccoa, South Georgia, that the regiment’s motto of “Currahee” (Indian Cherokee for Stand Alone) was adopted. NAmed for the long steep hill winding up the mountain that long distance timed runs were completed on (The famous, “3 miles up, 3 miles down” from the TV show) the extreme physical endurance was designed to build stamina, teamwork and peak fitness levels.

On formation, Easy Company included three rifle platoons and a headquarters section. Each platoon contained three, twelve-man rifle squads and a six-man mortar team squad. Easy also had one machine gun attached to each of its rifle squads, and a 60mm mortar in each mortar team which made for an effective and versatile fighting unit.

After initial training and earning their wings, the 506th as a whole was posted for further training to England, including advanced infantry tactics, demolitions and Art of War (enemy recognition) and were molded into the fighting unit they would become. By the time that the Normandy Invasion (Operation Overlord) was confirmed for 6th June 1944, the 506th PIR were the best unit in the Airborne, and thanks to their first Commanding Officer, Herbert Sobel, Easy were the fittest they had ever been and ready to test their mettle in battle.

US Airborne

Over 95% of the 101st missed their landing zones on their night-time jump into Normandy during Mission Albany, which occurred in the early hours of 6th June 1944. In the days following the landings on the coast found most units and nearly 13,000 paratroopers, and 3,500 glider infantrymen scattered and fighting breakout actions to get to rally points and continue the fight. 

Most units throughout the night did manage to link up, and attack both dedicated targets and targets of opportunity as they made their way to pre-determined rally points. A famous small unit action by 1st Lt. Winters and 12 Paratroopers at Brecourt Manor, near the village of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, managed to knock out four 10.5cm artillery pieces without losing a single man from their unit, an attached trooper from Abel being the only casualty. This stopped the German shelling of Utah Beach and allowed the infantry and tanks there to advance easier. It is this sort of action that inspired me to recreate my Paratrooper force as Easy Company, 506th PIR and play Flames Of War!

On the 10th June, the entire 101st Airborne attacked Caretan on the Cotentin Peninsula, defended by the German 6th Fallschirmjager Regiment. A hard fought battle over several days attacking directly into the town and pushing through, resulted in a stalemate in the bocage opposite the causeways on the East side of the Peninsula, when the 17th Panzer Grenadier Regiment counter-attacked, supported by armoured half-tracks and Stug IV assault guns. 

If it hadn’t been for the timely arrival of the US 2nd Armored Division’s Sherman tanks, at the Battle of the Bloody Gulch, the battle might have raged for days afterward. The narrative of battles such as this, and further actions into Belgium later in the year during the Ardennes Offensive set me up for nearly 3 years of gaming with my Paratroops, even during the Covid Lockdowns. The Bulge: American book simply added more options for my Normandy veterans - although the colours on their jumpsuits require me to paint up some more in period correct colours.

The D-Day compilation gives me a fantastic excuse to get my troops back out onto the table top and look over my old lists again for the Battle of France. The Paratroops keep on fighting when other armies would have broken off, they have access to some awesome kit in the form of 57mm guns and allied black box formations such as M10 Tank Destroyers. And I have the vague plan forming to use my Hellcats as a support formation to take the fight back to the Axis

~ Chris

Last Updated On Thursday, July 4, 2024 by Kevin