When Gaming Meets History #7: The Inspiration of the Eagles

By Scott Parrino 20 Jun 2004 0

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

It has been far too long since I last posted an article for my small corner on The Wargamer. Hopefully that is about to change. For my column on this occasion, I want to focus on an American unit that has received quite a bit of attention recently. That is due to the issuance of the miniseries ?Band of Brothers? as well as the celebration of the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces on June 6th, 1944.

As to the relation of this theme to history, one only has to peruse the titles out there to know that there is an abundance of good games about these ?Eagles,? from first-person shooters to operational-sized challenges. This piece will perhaps add a little flavor and deeper understanding to what the 101st did during World War II.

THE EAGLE CRY - THE STORY OF THE 101st AIRBORNE DIVISION IN WORLD WAR II

The piercing, shrill scream that shatters the still of the darkness is the attack cry of the screaming eagle. It strikes fear into those creatures that may fall prey to its slashing talons. No finer icon could have been chosen to represent the American Airborne of the 101st. Whether they were to the enemy, ?screaming eagles? or ?devils in baggy pants?, they struck like the Allied fist from above that pounded their foes again and again across the battlefields of Western Europe.

Though not the first US Airborne unit to see action in the Second World War, the 101st would nevertheless become perhaps best known for its actions not only in that war, but also in conflicts across the world in the remaining years of the 20th century. The first commanding general of the Screaming Eagles, General W. C.  Lee, stated in one of his initial divisional orders, ?The 101st Airborne Division has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.?

The Eagles Are Born

The division was formed from a core of paratroopers taken from the first airborne division, the 82nd ?All Americans? on August 16, 1942. Beginning at Fort Bragg, the core units were rapidly expanded until the 101st became a full-fledged airborne division. As with most infantry divisions in World War II, it was structured with the triangle concept. That means that within the division were three regiments, each with three battalions. Each battalion was parent to three companies, which in turn were comprised of three platoons. Each platoon boasted three squads of twelve men each.

In addition, of course, an airborne division had many other attached units that form an integral part of the divisional structure, such as artillery, medics, military police, quartermasters, signal units and many others. The difference for the airborne division was the addition of a glider regiment, making them more heavily armed and equipped. They would be used to come in after the initial drops of parachutists to strengthen newly taken positions.

The treatment of glider troops as inferior to those who jumped from the transports would prove to be a problem. Paratroopers received an extra $50 a month for hazardous duty. And any glider trooper will tell you quickly that nothing is more hazardous than riding a glider through flak and darkness and landing in a unknown area, only to perhaps end up as a shattered wreck against a house or a tree. Even worse, they were not allowed, till late in the war, the status symbols of ?jump boots? and the ?wings? that the parachutists enjoyed. Fortunately, this policy was changed and members of glider units received their just recognition (and pay!).

Initial training of the regiments was done in the mountains of northeast Georgia around a tiny town named Toccoa and a nearby mountain named Currahee. An Indian name meaning ?Stand Alone,? it became a watchword for the young troopers and their brutal physical training, including runs up and down the three-mile peak.

After completing this phase of training, the units were moved to Fort Benning. The preparation of these soldiers both physically and mentally, entailed some of the most demanding tasks for any man. Some could not cut it. The ones that endured became an elite, proud group, strongly united and protective of one another.

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