“The Longest Day,” Darryl F. Zanuck, D-Day, And Us


Today is June 6, the anniversary of the Allies’ invasion of Normandy, the audacious military strike that changed the course of history. I’ll be interested in seeing how it’s commemorated this year, 71 years later, especially by the news media. A lot of Americans under the age of 40 know almost nothing about it, or worse, the values it represents to the United States.

Fortunately, there is an easy and entertaining way to teach a young American about what happened on this day 71 years ago. That is to have him or her watch “The Longest Day,” producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s epic film based closely on historian (and sole credited screenwriter) Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book. (You can get it at Amazon, here.)I usually find understanding military battles nearly impossible; written accounts completely confound me, and few movies about any battle make a serious effort to explain the tactics and strategy without reducing the facts to pablum. (I remember how much my father, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, detested the big budget movie of the same name, which he found outrageously sloppy, and which he summarized as “Henry Fonda won the war.”)

Not “The Longest Day,” however. Since seeing the movie with my father as a kid, I have learned a lot about what was left out, but the movie is remarkably clear and accurate about what happened and why without being either too detailed or too simplistic. It’s also just a great, inspiring movie.

That we have “The Longest Day” is entirely due to the courage of one of Hollywood’s most dynamic, flamboyant and successful studio moguls, Darryl F. Zanuck. The original producer of the adaptation of Ryan’s book (which is terrific ) gave up on the project when 20th Century Fox refused to allow him an adequate budget. Zanuck, who was still producing films but no longer ran the studio he had built,  bought the rights, and was determined to do the story, the event, and the men who fought the battle justice by mounting a production almost as ambitious as the invasion itself.

Zanuck signed up an amazing cast of not only American movie stars but English, French and German stars as well.  Almost all of them, in their respect for the project, agreed to a flat $25,000 fee.  The sole exception was John Wayne, who was the archetypal Hollywood war hero of the era—and still, in fact—knew he was indispensable to the project. Zanuck had mocked Wayne for losing his own fortune in his film about a famous battle—“The Alamo”—and the irony did not escape the star. He insisted that Zanuck pay him ten times what the other stars got, pointing out that “poor John Wayne,” as Zanuck had called him, needed the money after his patriotic film’s box office flop. Zanuck paid him, and gave Wayne the only special billing in the movie.

As usual, the Duke was worth it.

“The Longest Day” was shot in France, including at some of the actual locations, like the Pegasus Bridge, Sainte-Mère-Église and Pointe du Hoc. Producer Frank McCarthy used his contacts with the United States Department of War to arrange full military cooperation from the US and the governments of France, West Germany, and the United Kingdom.  To handle the many large battle scenes, Zanuck employed four directors, Germans Gerd Oswald and Bernhard Wicki,  British director Ken Annakin, and Hollywood’s Andrew Marton. Zanuck also directed some sequences himself.

When the film was almost complete, Fox again showed little faith in its box office potential even with the all-star cast. The studio wanted it cut from its over three hour length, and would not give it a prestige release,  even planning to place it on the back end of double features.  Zanuck, who was already betting his personal fortune on the movie, bought back Fox and took over the studio. It was not a purely business decision. He was determined to make certain that the invasion of Normandy received a proper Hollywood memorial. His patriotic gamble paid off, for the film was a huge success. (Ironically, Zanuck lost control of Fox  for good when he made a similar bet on “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” an ambitious, big budget movie about Pearl Harbor, and neither the movie, nor its reception, was what he had hoped.)

Yet today and for many years “The Longest Day” has been deemed old fashioned and politically incorrect because it glorifies and celebrates America’s participation in World War II. This is especially wrong because the film is remarkably unjingoistic or pro-U.S. in its account and character portrayals. The Allies are the heroes, with the French and British Commonwealth contributions prominently featured. Even the Germans are portrayed simply as competent and formidable adversaries without any villainous trappings. Indeed, many of the most memorable scenes in the film involve non-Americans. Unlike all British and American World War II films up until then, the French and German characters speak in their own languages, with subtitles in English.

The film is also often dismissed today because it is a pro-war rather than an anti-war film, even though World War II was a war that the United States had to fight, and that the nation has every reason to take pride in its sacrifice and role in winning it. The attitude is well-represented by the obnoxious and misleading essay on the film at the TCM site by film reviewer Paul Tatara. He writes in part,

Sometimes a great filmmaker’s best intentions can be swamped by the dictates of the marketplace. 20th-Century-Fox producer Darryl F. Zanuck hoped that The Longest Day (1962), a blow-by-blow account of the Allied invasion on D-Day, would be an anti-Hollywood war movie, a picture that would, once and for all, show audiences what war is really like. But Zanuck, who may well have been viewing the picture as his swan song, knew that an undertaking of this size was a risky business proposition to say the least. So he hedged his bets by casting as many name stars as he could get his hands on, thus nixing any opportunity he may have had to fully immerse viewers in a realistic, documentary portrayal of the events and the ultimate price of victory…The final product, though often memorable, seems more like an exposition-laced military maneuver than an actual narrative. Regardless of what’s going on – and there’s always something going on — it’s not hard to imagine Zanuck standing beside the camera, heatedly chomping his cigar while he writes his Oscar acceptance speech. Well, he didn’t win the Best Picture Oscar though the film garnered five nominations, winning two (one for Best Cinematography and one for Best Special Effects). But Zanuck did produce one of the more insanely ambitious films in movie history, even if it doesn’t always succeed. Viewers who are looking for moments as visceral as Saving Private Ryan‘s (1998) Omaha Beach sequence will be disappointed. Despite Zanuck’s goal of showing us the real blood and guts of battle, the violence is as stylized and predictable as in any Hollywood war movie.

Ah, yes, “Saving Private Ryan,” the next big-budget Hollywood film about D-Day…sort of.  That film, not “The Longest Day,”  is what “war is really like,” and it’s the “cost of war,” not the world-saving results of that war, that should be emphasized. This is what the critic calls real. Zanuck’s dignified, documentary-style, impressively fair and accurate telling of the story—if Tatara is really as confused as he suggests, he’s an idiot—is Hollywood, not the contrived “Private Ryan,” with its antiwar spin.

This is approximately the opposite of the facts. Could you tell from that essay that almost every event, episode and figure portrayed in Zanuck’s movie is true? Or that the film had dozens of advisors, including some of the real people, American, English and German, who were prominently portrayed, checking the film for accuracy? The effect of the star-laden cast was to make the point that this was a big, world-shattering deal, that the Hollywood and world film community participation in the project mirrored the all-encompassing war effort itself. Most unfair of all is the critic’s characterization of Zanuck’s motives: later Tatara says that what mattered most to him was that the film made a profit. That’s despicable. Zanuck knew how to make money on films without gambling everything and taking risks that everyone around him said were insane. Whatever anyone wants to say about Zanuck, and like all of the Golden Age movie moguls, he was not a saint, he made this film for good reasons, and did it right.

I admire “Saving Private Ryan”, but it has little to do with D-Day. You can’t learn a thing about D-Day from the film, nor about the war, nor why we were fighting it. It contains only one real historical figure, General George Marshall, and portrays him as a sentimental fool, which he most certainly was not. Spielberg ladles on the gore and horror without giving any perspective on why the troops endured it, because, it seems, he either doesn’t know, doesn’t believe it was worth the sacrifice, or thinks it would interfere with the drama. The film is about an absurd imaginary mission in which the feelings of one mother are deemed more important that whatever it is the invasion is about—“Saving Private Ryan” doesn’t seem to think that’s very important, and barely touches on it.

My father, who fought longer in the war than most, having volunteered to fight the Nazis in Africa before Pearl Harbor, hated most war movies, but was offended by “Saving Private Ryan.” He would watch the film shouting at the screen and the characters. My dad wrote a 20 page brief against the film and its myriad inaccuracies that he sent to Spielberg and the film’s military advisors. One of the latter wrote back and said, in essence, “Don’t blame me, Major. I tried.”

“Saving Private Ryan” is great drama, and the direction, as usual, is excellent. Since the film is not about D-Day, and does not pretend to be history, it shouldn’t be judged on that basis. My father, however, as a wounded, decorated war hero who hated war but regarded his participation in World War II as the greatest achievement of his life, detested the film as an ignorant insult to veterans and the nation. “Private Ryan” is also, I think, the vision of war the current President has, a belief that war’s “true costs” necessarily make the enterprise itself unjustifiable. In the case of that war, certainly, and undoubtedly others to come, the position is as ignorant as it is dangerous. “Saving Private Ryan,” I think intentionally, promotes that belief.

In fact, my father argued persuasively, “The Longest Day” taught a more nuanced and important lesson about war, one which my father, whose foot was half blown off by a mentally challenged soldier using the pin of a live hand grenade to clean mud off his shoe–this injury kept Dad out of the invasion, so I may owe my existence to a moron—explained to me. “You can plan all you want, ” he said, “But battles are just chaos. Crazy, unpredictable things happen, everything, literally everything, gets screwed up, and the victors are the ones who improvise, adapt, keep going, and most of all, get lucky. And being right also helps.”

Those chaotic incidents were what Ryan’s book was about, as it is almost entirely made up of the personal accounts of soldiers on both sides. The movie makes the same case, just more vividly. There is a funny scene in which German and US troops march right by each other at night on opposite sides of a stone wall. I assumed that was made up. “It happened,” my father said. “And not just once. Sometimes the troops were so exhausted they just didn’t notice each other, and sometimes they just kept marching, hoping against hope that they wouldn’t have to fight any more that day. That’s war.”

Spielberg’s film slanders Marshall by portraying him as a leader who would make his highest priority in the midst of a literally world-altering, life and death battle for freedom the rescue of a single soldier—at the sacrifice of several others—so one family didn’t have to deal with the grief of having all of its sons killed. Zanuck’s film, in contrast, records for posterity the heroism of real life ordinary combatants—the French resistance, the incredible British glider pilots who launched the invasion, the paratroopers who dropped at night, in enemy territory, in high winds, some of whose horrible fates are shown (a U.S. paratrooper blowing up as he lands in a burning church is plenty visceral for me, thanks), the Rangers who scaled the cliffs at Omaha Beach—and many of the individual heroes, like General Norman Cota, who rallied his men on that beach when all seemed lost, Gen. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr, whom I wrote about here, and the man played by Wayne, Lt. Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, Commander, 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, who broke his ankle when he landed in France and continued to lead his men, sometimes walking on it using his rifle as a cane, for the next month. Yes, I thought this was Hollywood nonsense too, when the Duke said, “Strap it up.” No, like almost everything else in the movie, it really happened.

As dramatic and entertaining as Spielberg’s anti-war fiction is at times, nothing in the film comes close to the best moments–again, all factual—of “The Longest Day.” The most memorable, particularly the first time I saw the film on a wide screen in a movie theater, is the moment when Maj. Werner Pluskat, peering out from a bunker with binoculars, scanning the sea at Normandy, has just told his superior on the phone that there is nothing amiss…and the entire Allied armada comes over the horizon through the mist, filling his view and the length of the screen, as the sound track booms the four note theme from Beethovan’s Fifth–da-da-da-DUM, or dot dot dot dash, V, for Victory, in Morse Code, at the exact moment the ships come into view. Another is the touching scene, also true, when the mayor of Colleville, tears of joy streaming down his face, greets the British forces trying to free his country, offering them champagne, thanking and welcoming them, and generally acting like a madman in his ecstatic gratitude.

There are many more wonderful moments. One regret I have about the film is that it didn’t take former Allied Supreme Commander and recently retired President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower up on his offer to play himself in the pivotal scene where Ike has to give the go ahead for the invasion under the worst conditions imaginable. I also am sorry that it didn’t include a scene showing Ike writing the now-famous letter he prepared in case the invasion failed, in which he took full responsibility for the defeat. In this Eisenhower was consciously emulating Robert E. Lee, like him a West Point grad, who greeted his beaten troops returning from the catastrophic Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg (where Eisenhower was living in 1962), telling them, “It is all my fault.” Ike’s letter was every bit as noble, courageous and ethical as Lee’s act; the only difference is moral luck.

Moral luck—that’s what often distinguishes heroes from scapegoats, defeat from victory, and triumph from disaster. That’s what “what war is really like,” and no war film makes that clearer than “The Longest Day,” all while making sure that we admire and honor the many heroes of many nationalities who rescued civilization at its darkest hour.

When that challenge comes again, will the heroes be there? I wonder. I know this: I’ll be more optimistic knowing that Americans have seen “The Longest Day,’ and understand its message, which, like the events it portrays, is noble and true.

97 thoughts on ““The Longest Day,” Darryl F. Zanuck, D-Day, And Us

  1. I recently noted that, among the star studded cast of “The Longest Day” that one actor had a direct insight into the role he was playing. Richard Todd played the commander of the British glider force (the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry- the “Ox & Bucks”) who seized the vital Pegasus Bridge on the first day and held it against all comers until relieved. Todd was a soldier in the unit that eventually DID relieve those troops.

      • I have long suspected that Todd had the humility to know that his age made him less suited for his own role by the time of the film.

        As I recall, the very first element going in was frogmen clearing obstacles; but my memory may be at fault.

        For what it’s worth, I have just received an email blog announcement that a certain blogger intends to blog about D-day as supporting U.S. exceptionalism; you have a much firmer grip on what was involved.

        • You are right about the frogmen. There are so many fascinating aspects of the run up to the invasion and the invasion itself that the movie could have been, justifiably, a trilogy, like “Lord of the Rings.” And since the film, a lot of declassified stuff from Great Britain and the US just add to the miraculous story. Those inflatable tanks! Those amazing landing machines designed to explode the mines on the beach! A good movie could be made about the Pegasus Bridge assault by itself.

          Or Winston, the beachmaster’s bull dog…

          My father, who fought with the British forces before WWII (he said in his memoirs that their officers were far superior, on balance, to US officers), note that while it is true that the Omaha defenses were heavier, the British forces had a much better system for landing, including the beachmaster position, which kept their casualties low. Essentially officers like Cota had to assume the role of beachmaster, which our English allies had already provided. (Kenneth More, in that beard and kilt, is a hoot.) My Dad also maintained that the first wave of glider pilots were the bravest combatants in the whole assault.

          • … our English allies had already provided. (Kenneth More, in that beard and kilt, is a hoot.)

            Bad blogger, bad. You’re doing that same conflating of us Celts with the English. (I noticed that you omitted any mention of fine Scottish actors like More and Connery in the piece, but you didn’t outright conflate them so I forebore to remark on it earlier.) I think one of your niggardly principles applies.

            My mother was a sort of ship’s mascot for H.M.S. Boadicea, on which her then boyfriend served and which was sunk with great loss of life while supporting the landings; later, she regularly attended memorial services for Boadicea. If you may owe your life to a moron (and what a straight line therein lies), I may owe mine to a German torpedo bomber.

            • Yes, quite correct. I should have referred to the Commonwealth or the UK, and that is sloppy and I do apologize. Just careless. I know the difference.

              Except with Sean. He used that same accent to play a Russian sub captain and an Irish farmer in “Darby O’Gill”…I have no idea what he is any more.

              • Sean Connery’s accent is a sort of washed out Scottish accent, which can sometimes sound almost Welsh. It is much the same accent as that of my late uncle, who served in the R.C.N.C. from 1939 (much of it in the Italian theatre, supporting small boat work), when he was in his early twenties, but who lived in Dundee from early childhood until then (he was actually born in British Guiana, which complicated accrediting him as a British Naval Attache of some sort in Washington). My father, on the other hand, was a native Dundonian caught young by the war who went on to various specialist education as an Arabic and Turkish interpreter, taught in England (he had already learned French), starting before the age of fifteen which seems to be the cut off for accents to change naturally; my mother remembered that he still had a slight Scottish accent when they met in Algiers shortly after the war, but I only recall him having received pronunciation apart from rolling the “R” in our surname (which I too picked up) and in some other words (which I mostly did not).

            • Here’s a selection related to the run-up to D-Day:

              The paratroops settled into their wait for D-Day. For the battalion of the 101st Division this was to be their first combat jump, while those of the 82nd had seen combat. The dynamics between combat tested and untested troops differs markedly. ’New’ units reek of confidence. Experienced troops are a bit somber, quieter – confident yet wary. Colonel Melendez commanding the battalion of the 101st Division was a West Pointer, and one of the first Mexican-Americans to graduate from the Academy. He was very interested in my Commando experiences in Africa. He asked how men performed in combat. I told him most men do well. Some, who were marginal in training, turn out to be among the best under fire. By the same token, those who were the most ’gung-ho’ in training tone down.

              As countdown days passed, the paratroopers went on two night jumps, and the Colonel let me go along for the ride. The C-47s flew tight formations so as to drop units close together. Only small blue lights marking wing tips was all to be seen of the planes It was as if a wavy string of Christmas tree lights moved across the sky. Hitting the drop zone men did not pause at the plane door. The plane emptied in a matter of seconds. It was eerie.

              Some non-combatants, high ranking staff officers, chaplains, journalists, and other like personnel were allowed on some Air Force missions. As D-Day neared the number of such volunteers multiplied. Colonel Melendez agreed I could be an observer on his plane, and should it crash land, he would keep me on his staff. That idea washed away with an order from Eisenhower that no observers would be on the D-Day flights without written authorization from his HQ.

              As planes took off in early morning dark, June 6, 1944, all non-flying personnel cheered each plane as it lumbered down the runway and took off. Four perhaps five hours later the first planes returned flying in formation. Others straggled in with varying damage. Many did not return.

              Before D-Day Eisenhower issued ‘freeze’ orders: No personnel could leave a base. Exceptions (such as medical emergency) required an M.P. escort. Lt. Braun came to me saying the control tower approved him to be on a flight to Ireland, and as this was a base-to-base flight, my permission was all he needed.

              I grossly underestimated his capacity to lie. When he did not return after D-Day, I checked with the Control Tower, and found there had been no flight to Ireland. Braun was AWOL….

  2. I think you’ll find that there are many currently fighting or KIA would fit your criteria for hero. I consider my nephew a hero. When he was killed, he was ought in the field searching for other soldiers who had been kidnapped. He didn’t have to go to Iraq. The Army was quite happy to keep him stateside as the very successful recruiter that he was. But he finally decided that he couldn’t continue to sign up 19-year-olds to serve in the battle zones when he had never personally faced battle. So, he went. And was gone in less than a year. But I imagine that there are many such soldiers who risk their lives continually under really adverse conditions and environments, probably saving lives too. We just don’t value this current conflict as we do/did WWII, and so the heroes of today seem dwarfed by those from a war that most people held/hold up as noble. You know my opinion of the current conflict. That opinion doesn’t lessen my nephew’s bravery. He did receive the Bronze Star posthumously. The heroes will always arise.

    • The Bronze Star with the “V” for valor. You’re quite right, Patrice. Sometimes, I’m a little awed by the commitment of these modern soldiers. I don’t know how many of my buddies in the 1970’s would have deliberately volunteered for a tour of duty in a war zone. Yet, I’ve seen modern cases of men who’ve gone back for more after getting their lower leg blown off. Incredible! Your nephew WAS a hero. I’m sure there’s a special place in Heaven for all good soldiers who went the extra mile.

  3. Thank you for this post. I’ve never watched this movie, but I plan on it now. A wonderful friend of our family, a WW2 veteran, told us that he thought the most realistic movie about the day-to-day life of a WW2 soldier was “A Place in the Sun” (still have to watch that one, too). He was a machine gunner, was wounded in battle, and received a purple heart. We loved to listen to his stories! He passed away just a few months ago. Still miss him.

  4. And let’s here it for Steven Spielberg, Where would he have been if the absurdly named “concentration camps” aka “industrial murder factories” hadn’t been belatedly liberated and shut down? Being anti-war is good for business if your parents haven’t been gassed before you were conceived.

    • Then again, he did help produce “Band of Brothers”, which I don’t think could be called “anti-war” except in the sense of “why’d you have to start it, Hitler?”.

  5. My father-in-law, whom I considered one of my best friends before he passed away, lied about his age and joined the infantry. He also fought across North Africa and I have a picture of him and his squad standing in front of the Sphinx, with a pyramid in the background. He then went “up the boot” in Italy, before transferring to the Air Corps. My guess, he got tired of the mud. He was also in Korea, where he won another bronze star.

    • Was he, an American from context, seconded to British Commonwealth forces at some point? I can’t make sense of that pattern otherwise, since U.S. forces as such only ever fought in Tunisia rather than across North Africa, and as those forces were based further west I don’t see how he would have had either leave or transit in Egypt if he had been with the main body.

      • Actually, Operation Torch had American troops landing in Casablanca and Fedala, Morocco (under Patton) and at Algiers and Oran, Algeria under (I believe) Fredendall. From there, they eventually pushed their way east into Tunisia as the British 8th Army broke the Mareth Line in southern Tunisia and drove north. The Axis army surrendered at Bizerte in the north. So both armies covered a lot of territory from converging directions. If his father got a little leave to see the pyramids, it was probably because he was a smooth operator!

        • I knew that, but I also knew that U.S. forces didn’t do any material fighting in any of those places as the Vichy forces there had been squared (ironically, the first U.S. casualties on land in the western theatre were at the hands of the Vichy forces in Tunisia – ironically, because one war aim was to liberate them). So, no, I don’t see any way that the main part of the U.S. forces could be described as fighting their way across North Africa; they were ready and willing to (though perhaps not yet able to), but the need didn’t arise. Fighting his way across North Africa, and his presence in Egypt, suggests some sort of detached role.

          • Could be. He might have been an orderly to some high ranking officer, in the Air Corps or some other outfit that “got around”. I believe that the first clash between Americans and the Vichy French forces took place at Casablanca, when the battleship Richilieu opened fire on the American task force. The ship got pounded, then was sent to America for a free refit!

            • I was careful to limit my description to events on land. I suspect that French naval activities also stopped more because of Admiral Darlan’s orders than because of any “pounding”; it turned out (much later, during nuclear tests) that ships of older designs could take a lot more than the most modern ones (which had made a larger trade off for speed, manoeuvrability and perhaps endurance).

              • They definitely silenced her. Richelieu was brand new, too; mounting 8 16 inch guns in two forward quadruple turrets. I think USS Washington did most of the gunnery on her. Also in the area was the old, far ranging team of USS Texas, Nevada and Arkansas. They must have bombarded just about every contested shoreline there was during the war.

                • My point just there was that being “brand new” would have worked against a ship carrying out such actions. Even so, I still suspect that Darlan’s orders to cease fire played a greater part than duress, if the ship was in any condition to be repaired.

                • If I’m not mistaken, “Big Mamie” USS Massachusetts did most of the heavy shooting in Operation Torch, although USS Washington did later handily dispatch the Japanese battlecruiser Kirishima.

                  • You’re right. It wasn’t Washington. She was with the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow for a while. She later became famous for her one-on-one shootout with Kirishima. I’ve seen pictures of Kirishima’s wreck, lying bottom up in the mud. Sad!

                    • Japanese warships tended to be top heavy with those towering “pagoda” superstructures. Kirishima, as I recall, was of a class of four battlecruisers that were converted to fast battleships prior to the war. Of them, only Nagato survived. She went down during the A-bomb tests at Bikini, along with the famous German heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen.

                    • It’s just a little sad to see such magnificent ships reduced to rusting junk like that. Those pictures of HMS Hood on the bottom of the Denmark Straits were incredible. Torn literally to pieces.

                    • Agreed. Start a war, and you’ve brought whatever happens to you down on your own head. The Kirishima lying bottom-up is infinitely preferable to the Washington lying bottom-up.

                    • I never suggested otherwise, guys! I just happened to watch Robert Ballard’s documentary on his expedition to locate the wrecks of warships that had gone down fighting in the Pacific War. There was USS Quincy (the Sullivan brothers’ ship) sitting upright on the bottom with her guns still elevated for firing. There was USS Yorktown; 2 1/2 miles down and still looking like she could sail again. Then poor old HIJMS Kirishima, looking like a dead steel whale with nothing showing but her belly. Kind of pathetic.

                    • I get you, Steve. You love the ships, and it hurts to see them so abused. I have to keep reminding myself that they are WAR ships. They were designed and built for the purpose of going in harm’s way. And, when you do that often enough, harm bites you. Doesn’t make it any more palatable, though.

                    • Odd you should mention “Hood”. An ‘older’ ship sunk by ‘Bismark’, a newer ship, which far out-gunned the ‘Hood’.

                    • It wasn’t the gunnery that Hood lacked. She was a battlecruiser, not a battleship. Battlecruisers had the armament of a battleship and the size, but sacrificed armor for greater speed and range. British BC’s tended to sacrifice too much. Hood had long been scheduled for a complete overall, but the prewar political policies never allowed that. Her consort, the battleship Prince of Wales, was so new that she’d never had a shakedown cruise and civilian workers were still aboard mending her already noted flaws… like the propensity for the big turrets to jump off their tracks when the guns fired! Both were rushed into battle out of desperation. Prince of Wales survived the encounter, only to fall victim to Japanese aircraft in another ill-omened venture while in consort with another old battlecruiser, HMS Repulse. Oddly enough, Repulse’s sister ship, HMS Renown, HAD gotten that needed refit and served with distinction throughout the war.

                    • Seems to me that I saw, in some museum or other, that ‘Bismark’ had 18-inch guns, giving her a range advantage even over the Mighty Mo. But you are right about the ‘Hood’. Guess what I should have said is that she was outclassed.

                    • Both Hood and Bismarck had eight 15 inch guns in four turrets; two fore and two aft. The only warships that carried 18 inch guns into battle were the Japanese super-battleships Yamato and Musashi. Both were sunk by air attack. As with three British battlecruisers in the World War I Battle of Jutland, Hood was lost by a magazine detonation. Her deck armor was too thin to defeat a high caliber, armor piercing shell. Only three men survived out of a crew of about 1,500 men.

                    • Kenneth Moore and Dana Wynter. Outstanding film. Think of the fantastic courage it took to mount an attack on a modern battleship in one of those doddering old Swordfish torpedo planes. Yet, that one torpedo hit on Bismarck’s rudder doomed her.

                    • I’m going to guess, then, that the museum in question was the Nimitz museum in Fredericksburg, and the battlewagon in question was the Yamamoto.

                    • YAMATO! Japanese battlewagons were named for Japanese provinces. Yamato is a central province that’s sometimes used as a synonym for all of Japan… like Anahuac for Mexico or Avalon/Albion for England.

                    • Yeah, got carried away with the “AM’s”. Both named for the icon Yamato (got it right, this time) Musashi, possibly the best swordsman with a katana who ever lived.

            • I, too, was careful to phrase my query so as not to snark. I don’t doubt that it happened, I just didn’t see how unless it involved detached duty with British Commonwealth forces since that was the only fighting the way across North Africa there was (that is not to diminish the U.S. commitment to doing that if needed; it was actually U.S. work that avoided needing to do that). On further thought, he may have been based in pacified Libya later, when U.S. air raids on Romania and Italy etc. were based there; that could explain him having leave in Egypt, but it doesn’t mean him fighting his way across North Africa, so there’s still an open question.

  6. It was an amazing movie! For me the most amazing, and dumbfounding scene was the one where the German patrol on one side of the fence pass an American patrol on the other side of the fence and nether was aware of the other until after they had passed and the last American looked back with the an expression of shocked confusion on his face The other scene was of the unhurt paratrooper hanging from the church steeple for 12 to fourteen hours, playing dead, and watching the Germans, until the Americans advanced into the town square got him down.

    For inspiring down right shock and fear, however, I have never seen anything like the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. The troops being killed by machine gun fire before they could leave the landing craft, the blood in the water, and the bodies at the channel edge were frighteningly real on the large screen.

    Thanks for bring up The Longest Day as a reminder of D-Day.

    • The level of fire portrayed in SPR is over the top, as the troops would have never made the beeches at all if it was that heavy. It was heavy, though, until a couple of Rangers already behind the German defenses took out two machine gun nests early on. But I agree: that’s the biggest contribution to D-Day understanding in the film, and terrifying is the word.

        • Red is one of the flaws in the movie, actually. His character’s real story, that of the paratrooper stick in the steeple, is a highlight of the film, but his performance is, as usual for Red, hammy. His “Loud and clear, sir!” to Wayne makes me wince every time, and he had to deliver one of Ryan’s most inexcusably pretentious lines—there are a few of them—at the end: “The old man sure has changed since yesterday. But then maybe we all have—-since yesterday.”

          My wife hates Red Buttons.

  7. I have fond memories of “The Longest Day”. I didn’t know anything about General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. and the part he played in organizing the troops on Utah Beach prior to seeing the film. The use of the airborne troops in using a metal cricket toy to help them find each was a part that I remember. On the other hand “Saving Private Ryan” was largely fiction although with the deaths of the five Sullivan brothers when their ship was torpedoed off Guadacanal makes the mission to save “Private Ryan” somewhat plausible.

    • It makes the situation that triggered the mission plausible, but not the mission itself. No competent commander would focus on one mother’s torment to the detriment of the mission. In WWII, we treated civilians, women and children as unfortunate collateral damage; if they got in the way, too bad, but there was a war to win. My father said that no officer would ever order a mission like that during an invasion, and I have never encountered any military professional who disagrees. I don’t think there are any. It’s a war-hater’s fantasy.

      • You pre-empted me, Jack. Indeed, the situation was plausible owing to the tragic death of the Sullivans aboard USS Quincy in the disastrous Battle of Savo Island. But no one would have ordered a mission like that. It would have gone through administrative channels. I have mixed feelings about “Saving Private Ryan”, but I have to admit the ending was excellent. That’s a question that we will all probably ask our loved ones in our senior years and in a less dramatic setting than the Normandy cemetery. “Have I been a good man?”

        • The ending is excellent. But it’s subversive. The ending is meant to suggest that Ryan’s life ended up being more important than the soldiers who perished defending civilization.

          It wasn’t.

          • I took the ending as meaning that he had doubts about whether or not he was worth the sacrifice. That other men had died so that he might live appears to have left him with doubts because of those facts. He was trying without much success to overcome the guilt that he had lived with for most of his life.

            Talk about moral luck the fighter coming over the bridge and taking out the German tank, at the last minute, has got to take the cake. If I remember right it was just in the normal course of business and not to “Save Private Ryan” that it was there.

            As to the implausibility of a general ordering such a mission there is this: Gen. George Patton sent a force of 300 men and 57 vehicles 50 miles behind German lines to liberate POWs from the camp where his son-in-law was believed to have been held. The effort was a complete failure. The mission is still controversial because of who was at the camp. (I found this under “Task Force Baum” on Wikipedia but I had also read about this in several biographies of Gen. Patton.

              • Didn’t Patton also send a detachment to “rescue” the Spanish stallions? And I am not about to try to spell their place-name.

            • To be clear, that’s how I took the meaning initially too, and from the character’s perspective, that’s the only way it can be taken. The whole movie is a military, ethics mess. You know what bothered mu father the most? Tom Hanks having the bars visible on his helmet. Drove him nuts.

                  • And if the Captain being knocked off mid-skirmish leads to a 30 second to 1 minute delay or confusion as the chain of command realigns, leading to more deaths and possible mission failure, then by utilitarian terms it is unethical to display your rank in a combat zone.

                    Just quibble fun!

              • Your Dad was right. Makes a really good target for a sniper. Same reason saluting is not done in a combat theater.

            • Yes, Patton was heavily criticized for that mission and it wouldn’t have mattered if it had succeeded.

              While an army has to take losses to succeed in battle, Patton sent those troops on a mission that had no military value to speak of, and was bound to take significant losses. You don’t read of other attempts to send detachments into enemy territory to liberate POW camps or concentration camps. They were liberated as the Allies advanced.

              As somewhat of an aside, since we are talking about the value in WW II of a single soldier, there were undoubtedly hundreds to thousands of deaths incurred just during training and training missions in the U.S. and UK. The military accepted that as an unavoidable cost of war. It still happens today, although at a much lower rate and we are less accepting of it.

    • Ugh. I hate that article—talk about double talking the issue away. “What about the film’s premise that the War Department would send a soldier home after his siblings had died in battle?”

      That was NOT the premise! Send him home? Sure, I can see that. Find him in the middle of D-Day, sacrifice a whole squad to that purpose while allied Forces are fighting for their lives and the free world? Never. This guy wasn’t the “real Private Ryan,” and his story doesn’t make the movie more plausible, justify the slur on Marshall’s sanity, or serve as anything but confusion for those who aren’t paying attention.

      • Ooops.

        I didn’t mean to defend the movie. I merely meant to indicate that there was a real event upon which the movie is loosely based-

        That the real event, far less sensational, is actually how the military would go about handling such a situation.

        It happened to be one the top couple of Google hits. I’ll be more discriminating next time.

  8. Here’s more from Dad, this time in a section commenting on various books about the war:

    “Re: Ambrose, Stephen E: “Citizen Soldiers” (Simon & Schuster) The title has a nice ring, and it stands as one of the better books of WWII. Yet this memoir prefers to call U.S. soldier s“civilians in uniform”. Moreover, Ambrose errs curiously on such subjects as ’trench foot’,(ref. p. 260) which in advanced stages led to gangrene and amputation. Movement and frequent massage were the prevention. “Lacing” shoes tightly invited trench foot. Nice as it might have been to “take shoes off” tucking them in the sleeping bag at night, men of the 317th had no sleeping bags in the Ardennes. This soldier never heard of a man Courts Martialed for trench foot, though for a time it was officially ruled as “not in the line of duty” (i.e. loss of post-war medical benefit). Political fall-out soon voided that policy. Ambrose tells of replacements using flashlights and talking loudly to find foxholes. Happily, I neither got a replacement that stupid nor saw any flashlights.”..

    • When I was in basic training, we were repeatedly warned to follow the prescribed health procedures or face trouble for “damaging government property”… we being the property!! During our final bivouac, some guys in the platoon actually hauled out their flashlights to find their positions in the woods. The drill sergeants went berserk!

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