The Real Band of Brothers (US: Brothers in Arms: True Stories of the 101st Airborne)
Directed by Edward Feuerherd.
"It's fifteen minutes past midnight on June 6th 1944. A C-47 Dakota is humming over the skies of Nazi-occupied France. Perched at the aircraft's open door is Captain Frank Lillyman. He gives the signal and jumps into blackness over Normandy, followed by the six thousand other paratroopers on the first combat mission of the 101st Airborne Division soon to be forever known as 'The Screaming Eagles'."
Regular visitors to this site may have realised that I’m a bit of a WWII buff, and if you’ve read my Desert Island Collection then you’ll also know that the classic British documentary series The World at War and the Steven Spielberg / Tom Hanks-produced Band of Brothers are my two favourite television series of all-time. So with that in mind I was immediately drawn to The Real Band of Brothers, a three-part documentary recounting the history of the 101st Airborne, the US Army division that included Band of Brothers’ Easy Company, and although it bears no official relation to the HBO miniseries or Stephen Ambrose’s 1992 book, it certainly provides a nice companion piece with first-hand accounts reminiscent of the series’ introductory segments.
The Real Band of Brothers is actually a collected version of a US TV documentary entitled Brothers in Arms: True Stories of the 101st Airborne, and is split across three episodes. The first two follow a similar path to Band of Brothers, beginning with the formation of the 101st and recounting their heroic exploits across Europe, parachuting into Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion and taking in Operation Market Garden and the Siege of Bastogne en route to their final port of call at Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat. Meanwhile the third episode skips forward a generation to detail the 101st’s exploits in Vietnam, where the Division were quick to discover that the tactical knowledge and experience gained during WWII were of little use against an unconventional and fanatical guerrilla enemy.
If you’ve ever caught a WWII documentary on The History Channel or one of its many competitors then you’ll already have a pretty good idea of what to expect, with fascinating and often harrowing interview segments accompanied by footage taken directly from the Division’s own archives. It really is difficult to understand how ‘matter-of-fact’ these men can be as they recount their horrific experiences and at times it makes for uncomfortable viewing, particularly when the anguish of such memories is all too clear to see, and of course it serves as a strong reminder of the sacrifices made in the name of freedom.
Although I thought it strange to have the Vietnam War included in a DVD set promoted as the true story behind Band of Brothers, I actually found this episode to be the most insightful and for me it was the highlight of the set. Of course most people will purchase this for its rather tenuous Band of Brothers connotations and while there are much better WWII documentaries out there, if you want to find out more about the Eagles’ march across Nazi-occupied Europe then The Real Band of Brothers is a decent effort and worth checking out.
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