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 HBO miniseries adaptation of the book, Captain Sobel was portrayed by actor David Schwimmer.
Sobel was a clothing salesman after attending military school at the highly-regarded Culver Military Academy. Claims that he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York are incorrect. Sobel volunteered for the paratroopers soon after the outbreak of World War II and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. According to Richard Winters's autobiographical book, mainly from recollections of Winters's conversations with Sobel, Sobel was stated to "have grown up a tough life in Chicago," which was a main reason behind Sobel's erratic behavior when commanding Easy Company.
World War II
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.
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.
After World War II
Sobel returned to the United States after the war, and became an accountant before being recalled to active duty during the Korean War. It is unknown if he was stationed in Korea or remained in the United States. He remained in the Illinois National Guard, eventually retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Sobel returned to his job as an accountant for an appliance company in Chicago. He married, although he was later divorced, and had two sons. After the television series portrayed Sobel as a petty tyrant, his son Michael, unhappy with the public opinion of his father, attended the 2002 reunion of Easy Company and spoke of his memories of Herbert Sobel as a good father, which was well-received by the audience.
- Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest, Stephen Ambrose, Simon & Schuster, 1992. ISBN 0-7434-6411-7