Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Speirs

an “officer with a reputation”

In a military career spanning 22 years, Speirs has been lauded as a hero, embroiled in controversy and celebrated in both print and TV. This website looks at the real man behind the reputation.

Lieutenant Colonel RONALD C. SPEIRS

Controversies

World War II

Normandy, France

Speirs is associated with two controversial actions which are alleged to have happened during the Normandy Campaign. The story varies according to the source and it remains unclear to this day which tale is the closest to the truth. Here, we have tried to represent a variety of accounts and clearly label our sources.

 1. The controversy surrounding the Prisoners of War

Ronald Speirs was said to have shot German Prisoners of War on D Day, after the initial landings 1, 2, 3, 4 An interview with Private Art DiMarzio, published on YouTube in 2012, describes how he, Speirs and a sergeant from his Dog Company platoon became lost and disorientated as a result of being landed away from their intended drop zone – before encountering three German soldiers. With no means of managing the prisoners and needing to reach their military objective, Speirs gave the order to shoot them. According to fellow Dog Company member, Art DiMarzio, each man shot a prisoner.5 A few hours later four more German soldiers were encountered and this time Speirs shot all of them himself.6

Many paratroopers in the early morning hours of 6th June were also alleged to have shot German prisoners of war. Herman Oyler – a member of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne – recollects in the book “D-Day battle for Normandy” by Anthony Beevor that a sergeant in the 101st, having been prevented from killing one group of prisoners, turned to his men and said, ‘Let’s go and find some Krauts to kill!’7 In some cases paratroopers shot prisoners captured by others.8

In the Eisenhower Centre Archive of The National World War II Museum in New Orleans, there are accounts of troopers receiving speeches from their commanders designed to induce incitement and strengthen morale, prior to leaving England. Parker A Alford of the 26th Field Artillery, 9th Infantry Division, who was attached to the 501st PIR says, ‘There was a great feeling in the air; the excitement of battle’ One commander, Colonel ‘Jump’ Johnson of 501st PIR gathered his men around him and gave a short speech to arouse their fighting spirit. After which, he bent down and pulled a large commando knife from his boot and brandishing it above his head he said, ‘before I see the dawn of another day, I want to stick this knife into the heart of the meanest, dirtiest, filthiest Nazi in all of Europe.9 This reportedly elicited the required reaction from the assembled paratroopers.

General Maxwell Taylor, commander of the 101st Airborne instructed his paratroopers to ‘take no prisoners’ during the Normandy Invasion.10 One paratrooper – Don Malarkey, E Company, 506th PIR – said General Taylor told them that ‘if you were to take prisoners, they’d handicap our ability to perform our mission. We were going to have to dispose of prisoners as best we saw fit’.11

One 82nd Airborne trooper remembers being told ‘Take no prisoners because they will slow you down’.12

Historian Peter Lieb has found that many US units were ordered to not take enemy prisoners during the D-Day landings in Normandy.13

Paratroopers boarded their planes – riled by their commanders with fighting talk and directives of ‘take no prisoners’ fresh in their minds – and began their journey to the Carentan peninsula. The journey started uneventfully but quickly turned nightmarish. The National Archives in Maryland records that the landings in Normandy were confused and disordered – initially due to pilots encountering an unexpected low cloud bank which panicked them. This caused them to break formation but aircraft targeted by ack-ack fire and tracers meant the pilots were forced to make sudden violent manoeuvres. Paratroopers who were standing were forcefully thrown back and struggled to regain their balance. Tracer bullets made popping noises as they pierced the skin of the aircraft creating holes in the fuselage.14 These actions resulted in many paratroopers missing their drop zones.15 Sergeant Gordon Carson, a paratrooper in the 101st Airbourne recalls that most paratroopers just wanted to jump out of the plane as quickly as possible.16

As the paratroopers landed, some less fortunate found themselves caught in trees but as they struggled to free themselves, they were swiftly shot by the Germans. Hilter had issued a standing order – Kommandobefehl – which demanded that all special forces, such as paratroopers, be shot.17 As more paratroopers landed and began to make contact with other troopers, stories of dead American paratroopers whose bodies had been grossly mutilated by Germans soldiers spread. Coming upon such a scene, one 101st Captain – William Oatman – turned to his soldiers and said ‘don’t you guys dare take any prisoners! Shoot the bastards!’18

These actions were at odds to the Third Geneva Convention which, in 1929, decreed that Prisoners of War were due special protection. The United States of America was one of forty-four countries which signed this document – which also included Germany. Provisions in treaties and other international agreements are given effect as law in domestic courts of the United States.19

An article published in the Boston Globe dated 7th February, 1946 states Lt Ronald Speirs was “awarded the Bronze Star for singlehandedly killing 13 Nazis after parachuting into Normandy on D-Day.”20

2. The controversy around the Shooting of a Sergeant

The second controversy is recalled by Art DiMarzio, who witnessed it, and is also referenced in the book “Beyond Band of Brothers”. This tale involves the shooting dead of a platoon sergeant. PFC DiMarzio was an eyewitness to the event in which he says a sergeant disobeyed a direct order while in a combat situation – thereby risking the lives of the other soldiers in the company.21, 22

According to DiMarzio, Speirs – commanding 2nd platoon, Dog Company – was given orders to halt their attack on Ste. Come-du-Mont and hold position while regimental headquarters co-ordinated a rolling barrage shelling fifteen targets in the vicinity of Ste. Come-du-Mont.23 DiMarzio, who was lying in a prone position next to the sergeant, says he remembers the sergeant being drunk. As the order to hold position was given and relayed down the line the sergeant refused to obey, wanting to rush forward and engage the Germans. Once again, Speirs gave him the order to hold his position.24, 25 Speirs told the man that he was too drunk to perform his duties and that he should remove himself to the rear. The sergeant refused and began to reach for his rifle. Speirs again warned the sergeant – who now levelled his rifle at Speirs. Art DiMarzio says he then saw Speirs shoot the sergeant in self- defence.26

Lieutenant Speirs immediately reported the incident to his commanding officer, Captain Jerre S Gross.27 Eyewitness DiMarzio says that Captain Gross went to the scene of the shooting and after receiving all the information, deemed it justifiable self-defence.28 Captain Gross was killed in battle the next day, and the incident was never pursued.29

  1. Band of Brothers  – page 685
  2. Beyond Band of Brothers – 453
  3. TV serial Band of Brothers
  4. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  6. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  7. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1270
  8. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1256
  9. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1270
  10. http://www.scrapbookpages.com/DachauScrapbook/DachauTrials/MalmedyMassacre03.html
  11. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 551
  12. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1249
  13. The Horror of D-Day: A New Openness to Discussing Allied War Crimes in WWII, Spiegel Online
  14. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1157
  15. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1151 – 1164
  16. Band of Brothers, Stephen Ambrose – ibooks page 144
  17. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1247
  18. D-day battle for Normandy, Antony Beevor  – kindle edition loc 1247
  19. http://www.asil.org/insigh10.cfm
  20. Boston Globe, 7th February, 1946 page 5
  21. Beyond Band of Brothers, Winters and Kingseed – ibooks page 295
  22. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  23. Beyond Band of Brothers, Winters and Kingseed – ibooks page 295
  24. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  25. Beyond Band of Brothers, Winters and Kingseed – ibooks page 295
  26. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  27. Beyond Band of Brothers, Winters and Kingseed – ibooks page 296
  28. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BqORdaSo1g
  29. Beyond Band of Brothers, Winters and Kingseed – ibooks page 296