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Was Band of Brothers fair to Captain Herbert Sobel Login/Join 
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No reason to ask, except for the description on the youtube video below:

Herbert M. Sobel (January 26, 1912 - September 30, 1987) was an officer in the United States Army during World War II. He was initially the commanding officer of Company "E" in the 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, the unit that is the subject of the book Band of Brothers by author Stephen Ambrose. In the BBC/HBO miniseries adaptation of the book, Captain Sobel was portrayed by actor David Schwimmer.

Promoted to first lieutenant, Sobel commanded Company E for all of their basic training at Camp Toccoa, Georgia, and was credited with having the finest company in the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was promoted to the rank of captain in recognition of his ability as a trainer. According to the book Band of Brothers, Sobel was disliked by the soldiers of Company E for his extreme strictness at Camp Toccoa, and though he was mentally strong, Sobel often had difficulties with physical activities, including combat training. His proficiency in skills critical for combat officers was somewhat lacking - for example, Sobel had difficulties in map reading (as depicted in the Band of Brothers miniseries episode "Currahee") and his grasp of military tactics was apparently poor.

After a period of training in the United Kingdom before the Normandy invasion, Captain Sobel was removed from command of Easy Company after several of the unit's non-commissioned officers refused to fight under him, believing him to be an incompetent combat commander who would get many of his own soldiers killed. He was then transferred to command the Chilton Foliat jump school. First Lieutenant Thomas Meehan replaced Sobel, and was one of several officers (including Richard Winters) to succeed him in that post before the war was over.

After the invasion of Normandy, Sobel was again moved to a combat assignment, where he was wounded by enemy machine gun fire.

Shortly before Easy Company took part in Operation Market Garden, Sobel was assigned to the 506th once again, this time as the regimental S-4 (logistics) officer.

Though Sobel was not qualified to be a combat leader, many veterans of Easy Company have stated that they believe they would not have survived the war without Sobel's hard training regimen at Camp Toccoa. There is no evidence in the public record regarding Sobel's performance as the jump school commander or as the regimental S-4. His duties in those positions would have relied on skills quite different from those needed to command an infantry company.


The miniseries shows Sobel as a complete ass and shows him as something of a coward. More subtle things, such as the way he chokes a bit on the scotch given him in this scene, and running around on maneuvers looking foolish, dressed like George Patton. It seems that Sobel was left with little dignity by the miniseries and, I suppose, in Stephen Ambrose's book.

Can anyone here offer some perspective?

 
Posts: 94833 | Registered: January 20, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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The book was no kinder to him. Those men hated him. There’s one training exercise incident talked about in the book that didn't make it into the series, likely due to time constraints, where Sobel was randomly designated as a casualty. They anesthetized him, then made an incision in his torso and stitched it back up. He was understandably pissed, but couldn’t do anything about it since he was knocked out and nobody would fess up to who did it.

Later in the book, there’s mention that not even his wife and child went to his funeral. It’s possible that he was accurately portrayed, or at least, it wasn’t so far off as tone unfair.

It's been over a decade since I read the book (which the series is based on), but those are two things that stood out. The bit with him shouting "hi-yo, Silver!" was straight out of the book as something he used to do that really pissed the men off.

There's this bit I found repeated on several websites:

quote:
After the World War II, Herbert Sobel married an American woman who was nine years younger to him. She worked as a nurse in a hospital in Italy during the war and later she worked at Hines VA Hospital in Chicago. The couple had three sons. They also had a daughter who died after a few days of birth.
He doted on his wife and was very much in love with her. He was very loving and attentive. According to his son Michael, Sobel never used obscene language or lost his temper. He spent a lot of time playing with his sons, especially baseball.
He always addressed them by the nicknames he had given them—Michael was called Inky, his older brother was Footsie, and his younger brother was Skookie. He was conservative in his savings, and saved for his sons’ education.
He was a staunch Republican. He was disciplined, and was never absent from work. He liked living in comfort and luxury, and drove a four-cylinder Metropolitan car to the Chicago L station to ride the train to work after he retired from the Army. Every day he wore a suit and a clean, starched white-collared shirt.
Sobel’s idyllic family life deteriorated in the 1960s. His wife divorced him and his sons too distanced themselves from him. In 1970, Sobel attempted suicide when he shot himself in the head with a small caliber pistol, but survived. The bullet entered his head from the left, passed through his eyes, and came out from the other side of his head. The bullet damaged his optic nerves and left him blind.
For the next 17 years that he lived, he stayed in a facility in Waukegan, Illinois, assisted by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). He eventually died on September 30, 1987 due to malnutrition as the facility had poor state of affairs. No services were held for him after his death.
In the HBO series ‘Band of Brothers’, Herbert Sobel was portrayed as a petty and capricious soldier who demanded complete obedience from his subordinates. Historian Stephen Ambrose, who wrote the book ‘Band of Brothers’, gives many examples of this in his book. According to Michael, the HBO series did not portray him fairly.
Although his fellow soldiers did not remember him with fondness, some Easy Company veterans have acknowledged that his role played a part in the company's later successes. Some of his fellow soldiers wrote about him in their autobiographies, suggesting that he lacked proper understanding of common infantry field crafts like land navigation and basic infantry combat tactics. They also wrote that he refused to listen to any advice of fellow officers or non-commissioned officers.


https://www.thefamouspeople.co...bert-sobel-35177.php

How his son, born after the war, would have any idea what his father was like during the war is up for debate. I think it's likely that he was a decent enough guy, but horribly suited for command.


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Posts: 13478 | Location: Seattle-ish | Registered: February 10, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I've heard the portrayal of Private Blithe was less than accurate. But the Easy company veterans that were still alive for the BoB interviews 20 years ago were pretty united in their opinion of Sobel.
 
Posts: 3219 | Location: Indiana | Registered: December 28, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by Lefty Sig:
I've heard the portrayal of Private Blithe was less than accurate.


It was. I forget what really happened, but I remember thinking that whole episode with him was mostly made up.


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Posts: 13478 | Location: Seattle-ish | Registered: February 10, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Blithe- that was the kid who had a spell of hysterical blindness, right? In what way was he portrayed inaccurately?
 
Posts: 94833 | Registered: January 20, 2000Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by parabellum:
Blithe- that was the kid who had a spell of hysterical blindness, right? In what way was he portrayed inaccurately?


Here’s some information on Blithe and more…

https://wikiofbrothers.fandom....torical_Inaccuracies
quote:
The end of episode three states that Albert Blithe never recovered from the wounds he received in Normandy, and that he died in 1948. Fellow Easy Company Currahee veterans interviewed while writing the mini-series Band of Brothers had thought that Blithe did not recover from his wounds, which they mistakenly recalled as a neck wound (in actuality he was shot in the right shoulder), and had died in Philadelphia in 1948. Albert Blithe remained on active duty, was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in combat, served in the Korean War and achieved the rank of Master Sergeant, married with two children. He died in December 1967 of complications of surgery for a perforated ulcer after attending a memorial ceremony in Bastogne and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
 
Posts: 524 | Registered: November 18, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I don't think the portrayal was necessarily inaccurate. But the book and the series reported that he died of his wounds shortly after he got shot in the neck, but in reality he did recover, though he was sent home in October 1944, and served in Korea with a different airborne unit. He died in 1967 still in service.
 
Posts: 1064 | Location: Orange County, CA | Registered: October 11, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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He did suffer from hysterical blindness at Carentan, and was shot in the neck by a sniper a few days later. But at the end of the episode, it says he died of his wound in 1949. This is not correct. He lived to 1967, when he died of a perforated ulcer while on active duty in Germany.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Blithe

In the book, I don't remember any real discussion of Blythe, other than a passing mention of one trooper suffering from a bout of hysterical blindness. He may have spoken with Winters and Nixon, but I think that was largely made up for the benefit of telling a story in the episode. I could be incorrect, however. Speculation on my part.

A personal anecdote: In the book, it's said that Joe Toye shot up one of Hitler's staff cars at Berchtesgaden. He wanted to see if the glass was really bulletproof, and found that Thompson .45 slugs didn't penetrate the glass, but AP M2 ball would. I've seen this car in person, and had a look at the windows. The car is in the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa. It's got to weigh a ton or so, the steel front fender is about an inch thick.






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Posts: 13478 | Location: Seattle-ish | Registered: February 10, 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I thought there was a bit in the show, or possibly in the interviews, where they do credit Sobel for his intense training.



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Posts: 9679 | Location: Marietta, GA | Registered: February 10, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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FWIW, he made a combat jump into Normandy with the RHQ. Recalled to service during Korea, and finally retired a light Colonel with a Bronze Star & CIB. Whatever his failings, he 'saw the elephant' and dying of neglect in a Nursing Home is a shitty way to go.
 
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Incredible….

My wife was away this weekend and I binged BoB again…all 10 episodes and came away with the same question about Sobel.

Without him being a dick, would Easy have turned out the same?


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Posts: 6307 | Location: South East, Pa | Registered: July 04, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Shared suffering against a tyrant or fool is a very uniting force. Collective suffering has a way of being a group of people together quite effectively. You definitely could make the argument that he did have at least some part in their success.
 
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quote:
Originally posted by stickman428:
Shared suffering against a tyrant or fool is a very uniting force. Collective suffering has a way of being a group of people together quite effectively. You definitely could make the argument that he did have at least some part in their success.


I wondered the same thing. It's possible the excessive hardships Sobel imposed on Easy Co (mental as well as physical) increased their chances of making it through combat alive. I think Patton stated "Sweat in training saves blood in combat." Or something like that.

I was hesitant to take at face value how Sobel was portrayed in the show. After watching "The Right Stuff" (where they treat Gus Grissom like some bumbling buffoon and blamed him for the loss of his capsule) and "Apollo 13" (where they blamed Swigert for the tank explosion) (BOTH of which are blatant LIES, and both men are dead and couldn't defend themselves) I don't trust hollywood to treat history or historical figures fairly.

Then, I read Ambrose's book. Sobel (according to the book) was a giant douchebag. He was worse than the show portrayed. His First Sergeant was also a douche. I believe the First Sergeant remained with Easy and was to make the jump into Normandy. Before they reached the drop point, his plane was hit by AA fire with a loss of all on board. I can't help but thinking that this may have saved the lives of Easy Company soldiers later in the war.

I think several veterans said that if Sobel and the First Sergeant had been in command, they all would have died in the attack on the guns right after D-Day. They were both militarily incompetent.

One funny story that didn't make it into the show - one night, on training maneuvers, Sobel and the First Sergeant went around and stole rifles from sleeping soldiers. Next morning, they had a pile of rifles and were ready to punish the soldiers for 'negligence' in leaving their weapons 'unsecured.' Well, EVERY Easy Co guy had their rifle. Soon, another Company showed up, PO'd beyond belief - Sobel got lost (again) and stole rifles from another Company. This kind of petty crap would make any soldier hate him. One can be harsh, demanding, and require high standards without being a total douchebag about it. . .

So, based on my limited research, Sobel was a horrible leader, and likely would have gotten a LOT of soldiers killed had he not been removed. The fact the company NCOs practically mutinied should be proof enough. I am really surprised nobody fragged him.

He may have been a nice guy after the war, or with his family. However, he was a horrible leader and Easy Co was MUCH better off without him.



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Posts: 21338 | Location: Hobbiton, The Shire, Middle Earth | Registered: September 27, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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They did give him some credit for the being a dick part but if that's the only tool in your tool box, that doesn't make you a good leader.
Sounds like he was like that for most of his life. His son didn't go to his funeral because there was no funeral. He even attempted suicide and screwed that up too. Shot himself in the temple in 1970 but ended up blinded and still alive.
Lived out his life in a government nursing home pretty much alone in every way.
Just a really sad life in every respect.


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Posts: 7129 | Location: NE GA | Registered: August 22, 2002Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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""The miniseries shows Sobel as a complete ass and shows him as something of a coward. More subtle things, such as the way he chokes a bit on the scotch given him in this scene, and running around on maneuvers looking foolish, dressed like George Patton. It seems that Sobel was left with little dignity by the miniseries and, I suppose, in Stephen Ambrose's book."

You can be an asshole and an incompetent combat leader, but still be an asset to the organization. In addition to watching the series and reading Ambrose's book, I've read other accounts from members of the 506th that were under Sobel's command. I clearly recall some of those NCOs and officers giving Sobel some degree of credit for instilling in them a degree of training that contributed to their survival. Yes, even a bad example can provide valuable lessons to those being taught and regardless of Sobel's personal shortcomings, he does at least deserve credit for volunteering to become a member of an elite unit, that required a great deal of effort to serve with and worked hard to meet his duties as an officer. I doubt many of us would have liked the man or admired his abilities as a leader, but he did earn at least a certain degree of respect.


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Posts: 9600 | Location: The Free State of Arizona | Registered: June 13, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Very good point pulicords.

I once had the great misfortune of working under a tyrant who never had my back. Believe it or not it made me a MUCH stronger employee and her belligerency actually played a big part the success I and our team found whilst working for one of the biggest banks in the US. (The one who asks you what’s in your wallet...or they used to)

We once were called into a meeting when she was on vacation where we were allowed by her superior to be candid about our boss. My colleagues all roasted her mightily (and this was well earned) and I believe I was the only person who had something positive to say about my boss (who never afforded me such generosity). Our boss was demoted less than a month later then left the company abruptly. She did however demand perfection to the point that her old team went on to become one of the most successful teams ever once new leadership was installed. It’s something I think about the often...especially the part she played directly or indirectly in laying the foundation for our later success.
 
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I'm in the camp that he was in fact portrayed accurately and I love how he was forced to salute the man he once tortured for the fun of it in training but now was outranked by him later in the war.

One Soldier I'm certain was portrayed VERY accurately, maybe even actually toned down a little from the real life version was "Wild Bill" Guarnere. He passed away in 2014 but in the years prior to his death he would often call in and stop by this conservative radio station in Philly (1210 WPHT) and he was a real character. I don't doubt for a minute that he was like the version portrayed in the series by Frank John Hughes



 
Posts: 28301 | Location: Pennsylvania | Registered: November 12, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sobel was a good trainer in all but one area, he never turned it off. He was always pushing the troops to go better so HE would look better. A good trainer IF he had someone above him putting on the brakes, letting the troops know they have done a good job, rewarding instead of always punishing them. The the fact that he ends up an S4 logistics officer bears this out......logistics was usually where Staff Officer's went when their career was died or they were lousy combat leaders. S1 Admin is another semi career dead end job. The real leaders wanted time in the S2 Intelligence and S3 Operations positions to help the unit and advance their careers. Major Powers from Heartbreak Ridge and Captain Broward (the officer who pissed in bottles so he never had to leave the Command Post) from The Outpost were the same way. This stereotype exists because officers and senior enlisted like them exist in all branches of the military. Some even raise up to the ranks of the Joint Chiefs Of Staff.

If Sobel had been "leading" during the attack on the German artillery position (assuming a NCO didn't kill him with a German rifle/machine gun right after hitting the ground), it would have been 90% or more casualties with job not finished.
 
Posts: 3337 | Location: St.Louis County MO | Registered: October 13, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I don't know if the book is fair to Sobel. I didn't read it. And it goes without saying that probably none of us knew him or did any personal, source material research that would allow us to assess whether the book was fair and fully accurate.

I have watched the series, and Sobel certainly doesn't come off well there. However, even though the depiction there is generally that he was a tyrant lacking many of the skills needed of a combat infantry officer at the company level, he did seem to be a competent, if disliked trainer of soldiers. One could be a good trainer but not a good combat commander. That doesn't make him a failure as an officer. To my mind, the series made that point - not an option for a combat officer, but not a total loss. I think it is hard to say if that treatment is fair to the historical record, though, because we simply don't know enough about the actual man.

Another thought is that by the time it is an HBO series, the series is less a historical record than a drama. Dramas need good guys and bad guys, and the writers will write the story to suit the needs of an HBO series, and historical accuracy is not the primary goal, at least at some level. It may have been an inaccurate, and, therefore unfair, portrait of Sobel, but it is also somewhat unfair to apply a rigorous historical scholarship standard to an HBO script.




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Posts: 50310 | Location: Texas | Registered: February 10, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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quote:
Originally posted by PASig:
I'm in the camp that he was in fact portrayed accurately and I love how he was forced to salute the man he once tortured for the fun of it in training but now was outranked by him later in the war.

One Soldier I'm certain was portrayed VERY accurately, maybe even actually toned down a little from the real life version was "Wild Bill" Guarnere. He passed away in 2014 but in the years prior to his death he would often call in and stop by this conservative radio station in Philly (1210 WPHT) and he was a real character. I don't doubt for a minute that he was like the version portrayed in the series by Frank John Hughes

I met up with wild bill years ago, he was quite the character. he commented to me about the big red one on my cap, said we were waiting for you guys. actually he was waiting for my uncle, who also served with the big red one, and lost both legs on the beach June 6
Barry
 
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