Introduction – The Island
It is October 2nd, 1944, the 101st Airborne has completed its tasks on Hells Highway around Veghel and Eindhoven and has been moved by truck to the Island.
This is the area between the Waal river (near Nijmegen) and the Rhine River (near Arnhem), it is cut off on all sides by rivers and canals, hence the name.
The Island is low-lying polder land, crisscrossed by drainage ditches and bordered by high dikes at the rivers.
On the North bank of the Rhine is high ground overlooking the Island, after the 1st Airborne Division withdrew from the Oosterbeek area this is now firmly in German hands.
The Germans have a lot of Artillery and mortars with a good supply of ammo hidden in the woods on the heights.
They can see every move the allies make and are keeping them under near constant shellfire.
With the aid of an aerial photograph taken on September 6th, before Market Garden started, we are going to follow Easy company in the battle at the Crossroads.
This battle was famously depicted in episode 6 of Band of Brothers, “Crossroads.”
Setting the Stage
As the 101st Airborne settled in on the Island, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment was assigned the left side of the Island defenses. They relieved the British 43rd Wessex Division.
By then the 506th had already lost 40 officers and 293 enlisted men in the fighting along Hells Highway. There were now 119 officers and 1800 men left in the Regiment, the 2nd Battalion was positioned in the area around Randwijk.
Dick Winters set up his Easy Company Command Post (CP) at Randwijk near the houses at Blue 1.
Having too much ground to cover with too few men he was forced to outpost the lines, they maintained contact with patrols, runners, and radio.
This left plenty of unguarded territories and it gave the Germans opportunities to infiltrate, which is exactly what they did.
On October 5th the Germans prepared a massive counter attack with the aim to retake the Island and the bridge at Nijmegen.
Their main assault would be focussed on the town of Opheusden which is on the left of Randwijk, not on this aerial photograph.
There they planned to break through and push the Americans all the way off the island.
Part of this plan was a diversionary attack by SS troops on the American flank.
They crossed the Rhine River on the night of October 4th/5th at the Ferry Crossing at Red 1 and assembled in the fields around Red 2.
They would move behind the American lines from there and cause as much chaos as they could.
This is where Easy company was to run into them, and the crossroads battle took place.
The Sgt. Youman Patrol
At 03:30, October 5th, 1944 Winters sent out a patrol to occupy a building on the South bank of the Rhine (marked blue 2).
Sergeant Youman took four men with him on patrol, Privates Alley, Lesniewski, Liebgott, and Strohl.
They were to keep an eye on the South bank and report back any enemy movement.
They made their way along the dike on the South side (I assume), when the got near the crossroads (red 1) Sgt Youman ordered Lesniewski to climb to the top of the dike.
He carefully made it to the top where he noticed the outline of a German machine gun with a German Soldier standing behind it ready to throw a hand grenade.
Lesniewski scrambled down the dike warning the others as more grenades were thrown at them.
All were hit by shrapnel with Alley taking the most damage, he received 32 wounds on his left face, neck, and arm.
Shrapnel disabled the radio on Strohls back too so they could not radio in but had to move back to the Easy Company CP.
There they reported back at 04:20h and Winters immediately organized a patrol to investigate this German penetration of their lines.
Dick Winters goes looking for Germans
Winters takes Sergeant Boyle of Company HQ, with a radio, and one squad from 1st Platoon with him. Starting off at Blue 1 they moved as quickly as they could to the German position (Red 1) while the Germans fired intermittently to the South.
This puzzled Winters as there was nobody there, the nearest Americans was the 2nd Battalion HQ, three-quarters of a mile away in the village of Hemmen.
They got to point Blue 2, Winters halts the patrol and tries to call in artillery support.
Not being able to raise the Forward Observer on the radio Winters decides to take a look himself to see how they could get closer to the crossroads without being seen.
He climbs onto and over the dike spotting a ditch (orange line) that ran parallel to the dike; this would provide some cover.
He then leaves two men at Blue 2 to guard the rear and right flank and takes the rest of the patrol over the dike and into the ditch.
They moved along the ditch towards the crossroads at Red 1.
Winters halted the patrol again and crawled alone the last 250 yards to the culvert going under the road (at the end of the orange line).
He counted 7 Germans at the machine gun and crawled back to the patrol and informed them of what he just saw.
Elimination of the German machine gun
With daylight fast approaching it there was no time to lose, Winters ordered the patrol forward as quietly as they could, keep low but hurry.
They moved forward to a point near Blue 2 where Winters instructed Sergeant Dukeman and Corporal Christenson to setup their machine gun.
Then he went to each man and assigned him a target and to hold fire until he gave the command. He stepped back and said almost whispering “Ready, Aim, Fire!”.
All fired at the same time, and 4 Germans went down immediately, three others tried to make it towards the other side of the dike, and everybody fired on them, killing them.
In the book ‘Band of Brothers’ it is said that a 60mm mortar, manned by Muck and Penkala, is set up behind the American machine gun and it fires on the German machine gun scoring a direct hit.
However, in Dick Winters’ memories ‘Beyond Band of Brothers,’ he does not mention this.
Retreat to the start line and death of Dukeman
The patrol starts to receive small arms fire from the road and pulls back behind the yellow line in a ditch that ran from the dike towards the river.
They take cover, and Winters calls back to his Company CP and orders Lieutenant Welsh to send the rest of 1st Platoon and a section of light machine guns from HQ Company.
The Germans were at least in company strength while Winters’ patrol was only a rifle squad, the reinforcements were needed.
As they were waiting for the reinforcements to move up (Blue 5) Sergeant Dukeman stood up (at Blue 3) to organize his men as they were bunched too close together.
A rifle grenade was fired from the culvert (at Yellow 4) which killed Sergeant Dukeman, he gave a sigh and slumped forward.
Everybody opened up, and they killed the Germans who fired the fatal shot.
Winters then moved about 25 yards out into the open field to contemplate the situation they were in.
Four things were apparent:
- The Germans were behind a good solid embankment
- They were in a shallow ditch, soon to be broad daylight, with no safe route to withdraw
- The Germans would be able to outflank them by moving unseen along the South side of the dike and catch them in the open.
- There was nothing between the Germans and the 2nd Battalion HQ at Hemmen
Winters decided he had no other option than to attack and keep the initiative with Easy company, rather than wait and let the Germans come up with a plan.
Assault on the Germans
With the arrival of the 1st platoon Winters organized the men in 3 assault columns that would be supported by light machine guns that would fire in between the groups.
Blue 1, 1st Squad commanded by Lt Peacock
Blue 2, 2nd Squad commanded by Capt Winters
Blue 3, 3rd Squad commanded by Staff Sergeant Talbert
Then the during World War II seldom heard order: “Fix Bayonets” was given by Winters.
On a smoke signal, the base of (machine gun) fire commenced, and the three columns started to move across the open field towards the Germans.
As fast as they could, they ran the 200-300 yards to the slightly elevated road, sometimes tripping over hidden low barbed wire fences.
Winters ran faster than the others and arrived at the road first.
At this point, the Band of Brothers episode is deviating from the written version.
There was no delayed smoke signal causing the rest of the assault groups to wait.
Overwhelming the Germans
As said above, Winters arrived at the road. First, he almost jumped straight over it and found himself face to face with a German sentry.
Then when he was turning his head, he saw around 100 German troops.
They were taking cover to avoid the Americans supporting machine gun fire.
Winters dove for cover and threw a hand grenade, as did the German.
However, Winters forgot to take off the safety tape he put on to avoid accidents so the grenade could not explode and for some reason, the German’s grenade did not explode either.
Winters, realizing this, quickly got up and shot the sentry at point blank range from the hip with his M1 Garand.
He then turned right and started firing into the solid mass of Germans.
They were being hampered in their movement by their heavy overcoats and reacted very slowly.
Winters, still alone, fired two clips of M1 ammo before diving back to cover.
He looked around and still the three groups had not reached the road.
Winters put in the third clip and popped up, fired 2 or 3 shots and got back into cover.
The Germans started to run away from Winters along the foot of the dike (Red 2) when Talbert and his group arrived at the road Winters ordered them to open fire.
It was a duck shoot straight into the backs of the Germans that were still hampered in their movements by their thick long overcoats.
Lt. Peacock and his group then arrived having had trouble to pass a wire fence in their field.
The machine guns had moved forward to the road when another German Company crossed the dike no more than 100 yards away.
They were engaged, and soon they joined the first group being routed as well and fired upon all the way back to the river.
Winters called in artillery support, and they maintained a steady fire during the German retreat.
Some Germans were cut off from the rest and hiding in tall weeds; Webster called to them to surrender.
One by one 11 Germans came out of the weeds and surrendered.
Webster then returned to the road to “get in on the shooting” when he was hit in the leg by a German bullet.
Push to the River
Winters wanted to push on to the river and called in additional reinforcements.
Going after half a battalion of Germans with only two platoons was too big a risk, and a platoon from Fox company was sent their way.
Winters began reorganizing his troops, so far they had suffered one man killed and 11 wounded.
The prisoners were escorted back to Battalion HQ by Liebgott, who was ordered to empty his M1 Garand of all but one bullet.
He was known to be rough on prisoners and Winters wanted these to arrive safely. This he checked later with Captain Nixon.
The platoon from Fox Company arrived and after distributing ammunition Winters explained his plans; they would assault across the open ground by fire and movement.
They jumped off, and half of the men were to advance towards the river while the rest set up a base of fire.
After 100 yards they would halt, set up a base of fire and the rest would leapfrog another 100 yards.
This way they covered the 600 yards distance to the factory buildings a the river.
To fight another day
When they arrived at the factory they came under fire from the right rear (Red 2) by some 75 Germans.
Winters decided it was better to call it a day and fight again another day.
Using the same tactic, they leapfrogged back toward the crossroads (Blue 2).
As the last group was moving over the dike, they were hit by a tremendous mortar barrage on the crossroads. The Germans had zeroed in perfectly.
Before they could move away, they suffered 18 casualties, all wounded, among them was Sergeant Boyle the right-hand man of Winters that day.
They had received too many casualties to continue the engagement.
The wounded were evacuated by ambulance and Winters setup a couple of strong points to guard the crossroads.
So ended this battle, Easy Company was extremely lucky with the poor performance of the Germans but had done virtually everything right themselves.
The Crossroads today
An overview of the battle area, Easy company came from the left, the Germans were on the right. The picture was taken from the approximate location of the German machine gun position.
The picture was taken from the approximate location of the German machine gun position.
A monument has been placed at the location of the crossroads battle, behind the monument is the open field that Easy Company crossed.
This is the culvert from where the shot was fired that killed Dukeman and from where Winters did the first recon of the machine gun position, located on the right.
The field that Easy company crossed to get to the raised road. The culvert is on the left, the ditch from where the attack started can be seen in the middle.
The approximate location where Dick Winters stood firing at the Germans in the field in front of him. The surrendering Germans were hidden at the extreme right of the image.
The elevated road that leads to the river, the culvert is located at the red and white road sign.
The attack came from the left; the Germans were on the right.
The outside of the Schoonderlogt farm has not changed since the war.
Countless persons have stood at the same location as Dick Winters and re-created the famous picture.
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