Read the previous part in this series, here.
The events depicted in this episode take place during the bloody Battle of the Bulge, a last-ditch German offensive in the Ardennes forest which caught Allied forces by surprise and proved to be the deadliest battle of the war for the United States Army. For me, this is one of the most powerful and striking episodes of the entire series. In Bastogne, we find Easy Company facing some truly terrible conditions and struggling against the odds to hold their position. At the outset, the real Easy veterans remind us that they were lacking in equipment and ammo, couldn’t get resupplied and the German forces had them zeroed in
Upon entering Bastogne, Easy Company had no winter clothes, next to no food, and were desperately low on ammo. Crucially they were also extremely short on medical supplies. This episode is told through the eyes of the Company’s medical officer Eugene ‘Doc’ Roe as he scrounges supplies and tries his best to help out the rest of the men.
The conditions in Bastogne were truly atrocious as the men faced freezing temperatures and frequent German shelling attacks which soon began to drain the men and understandably affect morale. This was a battle riddled with confusion and chaos with Allied and German lines often becoming blurred, as shown by the scene involving one German soldier inadvertently walking into Easy’s camp. The terror that must have followed each shell burst was underlined brilliantly in this episode, with director David Leland capturing every blast and every moment of panic impeccably. The extensive set constructed for these scenes was a masterpiece in itself. The realistically exploding trees really add some authenticity to the shelling sequences and the sterling performances from the men, who truly look dishevelled and frozen throughout, really add to the atmospheric and haunting quality of the episode.
Doc Roe is forced to work incredibly hard in this episode at great risk to himself. The frequent cries of ‘medic’ pepper the cold Bastogne air and he has to treat countless wounds and injuries in these dreadful conditions. He regularly travels back behind the lines to a local church in order to deliver wounded men into the care of local nurses and to try and scrounge supplies while he’s there. The rapidly increasing rows of dead bodies outside the church as well as the beds filled with badly wounded men inside it, serves to demonstrate the desperate state of affairs these soldiers found themselves in. To add to the general sense of desperation, the injured men cannot even be evacuated as the Germans have Easy and 101st Airborne surrounded.
The conditions begin to take their toll on the men and they begin to face increasingly distressing incidents such as the one where the young replacement who shares Babe Heffron’s foxhole gets hit and lies their bleeding in the snow just out of reach and unable to be saved. For Doc Roe in particular, the sight of so much suffering both on the front lines and back in the church, begins to affect him noticeably.
By the end of the episode, the remainder of Easy Company is bedraggled but resolutely standing their ground. The closing onscreen notes point out that while the popular perception of this conflict holds that General Patton and his Third Army arrived to break through the German lines and save the 101st, no member of the 101st ever admitted they needed saving. Bastogne and the next episode The Breaking Point emphasise more than any other the unthinkable hardships these men faced and go some way to explaining the profound effect this time in Bastogne had on their mindset.
Come back tomorrow for Rob’s look-back at the next episode, The Breaking Point.
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