Sometimes in TV and movies, it's the little things that make the biggest difference. That's especially true when you're trying to make a true-to-life historical series like Band of Brothers. Naturally, you'll have the big dramatic moments and heart-rending dialogue and all that, but it's important that everything feel right. The uniforms should look correct; the soldiers should be carrying the right gear; the lingo should be authentic.
The producers of Band of Brothers were famously fanatical about getting everything right, going well beyond the source book in their research. Producer/writer Erik Jendresen said he did so much research that by the end of the process he felt "I could close my eyes on any given day in 1944 and I knew what was happening 360 degrees around me if I had been in [Easy Company]."
Here are some of the little details that put Band of Brothers a couple of notches above the usual WWII TV and movie fare.
Sulfa Powder Was One Of The Only Effective Antibiotics Before Penicillin
From time to time in Band of Brothers, we see medics splash white powder on a wounded soldier’s injury before bandaging it. What is that stuff?
It’s called "sulfa powder" - short for sulfanilamide. One of the first antibiotic therapies, sulfanilamide works by inhibiting certain chemical reactions in bacteria. It was developed in the 1920s and 1930s by German pathologist Gerhard Domagk, who received the Nobel Prize in 1939 for his work. Sulfanilamide could not be patented, and was used liberally by militaries in WWII.
Sulfa powder was a standard part of the kits that American medics took with them into combat. Penicillin, meanwhile, was being concurrently developed, and would be ready in time to help numerous GIs avoid amputation or death from wounds sustained on D-Day.
Ironically, while Domagk was developing sulfanilamide, he was working for Bayer, then a part of the German pharmaceutical conglomerate I.G. Farben. One of I.G. Farben’s other subsidiary companies notoriously supplied Zyklon B for the Nazi gas chambers.Telling detail?
The Spades And Clovers Painted On Helmets Were Part Of A System To Identify Units By Card Symbols
Watching Band of Brothers, one might wonder why so many characters have card symbols stenciled on their helmets - most commonly spades. In fact, there were many different symbols used on the helmets of paratroopers who dropped into Normandy the night before D-Day.
The symbols were meant to designate a soldier’s unit, so they would be able to regroup more easily. Spades are common on the Band of Brothers helmets because the spade was the symbol of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, of which Easy Company was a part. The symbol for the 501st was a diamond, while soldiers of the 502nd were identified by a clover.
There were other symbols, too - circles to denote artillery, and squares for members of Divisional HQ. Further subdivisions could be identified by reading little "ticks" (like clock hands) positioned in the 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock, 6 o’clock, and 9 o’clock positions around the central symbols.
In all, it was a rather bewildering array of iconography - but a soldier was well advised to be able to make sense of it, particularly given the chaotic and disorganized reality of the parachute drops on the night of June 5-6.Telling detail?
The Infamous ‘Leg Bag’ Was A British Innovation That Performed Disastrously On D-Day
Many American paratroopers jumping before D-Day opted to stow some of their gear in a British-made "leg bag" that would be attached by a 15-foot rope and could dangle below the trooper once the parachute had deployed. The bag would, in theory, hit the ground before the paratrooper did, allowing him to quickly gather his gear. As Stephen Ambrose explains:
It seemed sensible, but no one in the American airborne had ever jumped with a leg bag. The Yanks liked the idea of the thing, and stuffed everything they could into those leg bags - mines, ammunition, broken-down Tommy guns, and more.
Unfortunately, it didn't work out so well in practice. Because of the intense anti-aircraft fire encountered by allied aircraft, the pilots didn't slow down to the recommended airspeed for a jump. Most of the paratroopers exited planes that were flying much too fast, which meant the men encountered large amounts of turbulence as they came out. Ambrose writes:
As they left the plane, the leg bags tore loose and hurtled to the ground, in nearly every case never to be seen again. Simultaneously, the prop blast tossed them this way and that. With all the extra weight and all the extra speed, when the chutes opened, the shock was more than they had ever experienced.
Indeed, the 101st Airborne's paratroop deployment on the night before D-Day was almost a textbook example of Murphy's Law. It's remarkable that the paratroopers were able to regroup as well as they did and accomplish their mission.Telling detail?
Lt. Jones’s West Point Ring Was A Ticket To Success In The Army
Season 1, Episode 8, "The Patrol," introduces Lt. Hank Jones, a fresh-faced new officer who is eager to see some action before the war ends. He identifies himself as a member of the West Point class of 1944 - having graduated in the same class as General Eisenhower’s son, John, on June 6 (coincidentally the day of the Normandy Invasion).
Close-ups of Lt. Jones’s hand call attention to his West Point class ring, which, the book implies, was a ticket to bigger and better things in the Army - or at least was perceived as such by rank-and-file soldiers:
Within a week, Jones was gone, having been promoted to 1st Lieutenant. “After one patrol!” Lieutenant Foley commented. “Jones was a West Pointer, a member of the WPPA, the West Point Protective Association, known by the ring they all wore. ‘It don’t mean a thing if you don’t have that ring!’”Telling detail?