Introduction – The Island
An overview of the Island, on October 5th the 101st Airborne was responsible for three quarters of the Island but were supported by Brittish units. The British 50th Division was responsible for the area on the right. The crossroads battle took place in the red circled area. (Bing Maps)
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 before Market Garden started on September 6th, we are going to follow Easy company in the battle at the Crossroads.
This battle was famously depicted in episode 5 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 with its regimental HQ in the now famous Schoonderlogt farm.
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.