Major Dick Winters, who died on January 2 aged 92, was one of the US Army’s most revered servicemen of the Second World War; his exploits were later chronicled in the book and television series Band of Brothers.
As commander of E Company of the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, Winters and his company proved instrumental on D-Day in ensuring the successful American landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. He would later lead his paratroopers through the forests of France, Belgium and Holland before ending his war in Hitler’s alpine retreat.
The 2nd Battalion’s specific remit for the invasion of Normandy in June 1944 was to secure “Causeway 2”, which linked Utah Beach to the hinterland. The Germans had flooded the fields in between and the planned night-time capture of the causeways was vital in ensuring the eventual success of the amphibious landings.
The operation did not get under way smoothly, as Allied aircraft were faced by withering flak which forced troops to be dropped far away from the target area. Furthermore, the aircraft containing E Company’s Commanding Officer and First Sergeant was shot down, making Winters effective commander.
To make matters worse, Winters had lost his weapon during the drop, and 90 per cent of his men were unaccounted for. But he and 13 other members of “Easy” Company did manage to set up headquarters in a farmhouse, where at daybreak they received intelligence that four German 105mm Howitzers, manned by a full platoon, were firing on Utah Beach; they were ordered to destroy the guns.
In the ensuing attack, Winters ordered half of his squad to unleash an enveloping hail of machine gun fire, while another section of his men took the left flank and hurled hand grenades at the first gun. With this Howitzer duly disabled, the remainder of Easy Company (with the aid of “Dog” Company) made a full assault on the German trenches, spiking the other guns with TNT.
In the process Winters discovered a detailed map of all the German defence positions on Utah Beach.
The base-of-fire technique he deployed in the attack is still taught today at West Point as a textbook case for an assault on a fixed position. For his actions he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Richard D Winters was born into an industrious, teetotal, churchgoing family at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on January 21 1918. He was a reliable, reserved and hard-working youth who studied Economics at Franklin and Marshall College before enlisting in the US Army in August 1941. He was selected to attend the Army Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Georgia, and was thereafter assigned to the 101st as a second lieutenant.
Volunteering for paratrooper training, he was assigned to E Company, where he was promoted first lieutenant and then made executive officer. In September 1943 E Company was shipped to England and posted to Wiltshire.
In the autumn and winter of 1944 Winters and 20 of his men held off a force of 200 German soldiers in the Bastogne area until relief came from George Patton’s Third Army.
For the men of Easy Company war did not end, as they had hoped, in Berlin, but in Obersalzburg, where Hitler had his Berghof retreat. In November 1945, Major Winters (as he had become) returned home.
He was recalled to the regular army in 1951 for the Korean War, serving as a training officer at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He later worked in a nitration works plant in New Jersey before returning to Pennsylvania, where he founded his own company selling farming products.
Dick Winters led a quiet life until an encounter in his twilight years. He and the historian Stephen Ambrose both attended a 101st Airborne reunion in New Orleans in the autumn of 1988, which resulted in a meeting between the two in February 1990. Two years later Band of Brothers was published.
A courageous soldier who had been held in much affection by his men, Winters suddenly found himself something of a celebrity. In 2001 the book was adapted for television in a miniseries of the same name, directed by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. It starred the English actor Damian Lewis as Winters and brought his tale of heroism and fortitude to a global audience.
Winters was thereafter inundated with requests for public interviews and speeches, and was a regular guest lecturer at West Point. In 2006, he published his memoirs, Beyond Band of Brothers.
He is survived by his wife Ethel and two children.