D-Day on Film

 

There have been surprisingly few movies on D-Day, as indicated by the fact that three out of the five videos looked at below are from television miniseries.  Here are the five best from  a scarce lot:

5. Ike: The War Years (1978)

Robert Duvall as Eisenhower gives his usual riveting performance.  The late Lee Remick  gives a good performance as Captain Kay Summersby, the British driver/secretary assigned to Eisenhower.  Unfortunately the miniseries centers around the relationship of Eisenhower and Summersby, a relationship which is subject to historical dispute.

4.  Ike: Countdown to D-Day (1995)

Tom Selleck gives a very good portrayal of Eisenhower in the days leading up to D-Day.  The video does a first rate job of portraying the problems that Eisenhower confronted:  getting prima donnas like Montgomery and Patton to work as a part of a team, concerns about the weather, the deception campaign to convince the Nazis that Calais would be the invasion site, etc.  The video also shines a light on the weight of responsibility which Eisenhower bore, especially when we see him write out a note just before the invasion taking full responsibility on his shoulders if it failed.

3.  Band of Brothers (2001)

The epic miniseries covering the exploits of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne, captures well the chaos of the parachute and glider operations behind German lines that were so critical a part of the Allied victory on D-Day. (more…)

Published in: on June 7, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on D-Day on Film  
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D-Day Factoids

 

Random observations on D-Day.

  1. Churchill and the King– Churchill had begun his career in the days of Queen Victoria in the British Army, and had fought in India, the Sudan and in the Boer War.   In World War I he had served briefly as the commander of a battalion in the trenches of the Western Front.  He was determined to land with the British troops on D-Day.  His generals were appalled.  King George VI remedied the problem when he told Churchill at an audience that he, the King, had determined that he should land on D-Day with his troops.   Churchill, aghast, said this was impossible since the King might be killed.  The King responded that since that was the case he didn’t want his Prime Minister risking his life on D-Day.  No more was heard of the idea of Churchill landing with the troops.
  2. German Build Up-There was little doubt that troops would successfully fight themselves ashore on D-Day.  The question was whether the Allies could build up successfully the beachhead and expand it in the face of the German buildup after the invasion.  This concern led to the initial assault force being increased from three to six divisions, not counting the Allied airborne forces dropping behind enemy lines.  The limiting factor was the number of landing craft the Allies had, with a six division assault force requiring bringing landing craft from the Mediterranean theater and delaying until July Operation Dragoon, the amphibious invasion of southern France.
  3. Oil-Modern armies move on fuel and getting enough gas into the D-Day beachhead was a major concern until the solution of laying pipelines, Operation Pluto. under the English channel was hit upon.  Disappointing initially in the amount of fuel transported via this means, by the end of the War 4000 tons was transported daily by these pipelines, providing the absolutely critical margin by which the mechanized Allied armies swept into Germany.
  4. Of Icebergs and Mulberries-Churchill was the quintessential idea man.   The problem was separating his good ideas from his bad ones.  Throughout the War he had the bizarre idea of using an iceberg as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.  His generals and admirals strove successfully throughout the War against his demand that this lunatic proposal be implemented. However he was also the main proponent of mulberries, the construction of prefabricated artificial harbors to be set up in France following D-Day.  These artificial harbors proved critical in the buildup in Normandy following D-Day.
  5. Patton-In the doghouse after slapping a soldier in Sicily, General George Patton still had an important role to play in D-Day.  Patton in the months of 1944 leading up to the invasion of Normandy found himself at the head of an impressive force: the First US Army Group, consisting of the US 14th Army and the British 4th Army.  It was entirely fictitious.  Codenamed Operation Quicksilver, the First US Army Group produced lots of radio chatter and paper reports, along with endless dummy tanks and fake troop bases.  It worked along with the other allied deceptions that made up Operation Fortitude South.  The Germans were convinced that the First US Army Group was a real formation and that the Allies were going to invade with it at Calais.  Patton made speeches and appearances throughout England at this time that received maximum publicity to enhance his assumed position as head of the Allied invasion.  At the same time he was secretly training Third Army for its role after the invasion.
  6. Rommel-The Desert Fox was not an infallible commander, but he did have an eerie ability to often guess the intentions of his foes.  So it was when he requested that the 12th SS Panzer Division, the fanatical Hitler Jugend, be moved to Carentan, which lay between the beaches that would become known as Utah and Omaha.  His request was refused.  Additionally, in early May Rommel ordered the commander of the 352nd Division to withdraw most of his men from reserve and have them concentrated on the beach that would be Omaha.  Fortunately for the Americans who landed there, the commander of the 352nd Division ignored Rommel’s order.
  7. Daily Telegraph-In May of 1944 crucial code-words for Operation Overlord began showing up in crossword puzzles of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.  An intensive investigation by MI5 failed to uncover any security breach.
  8. Mississippi-The flat bottomed landing craft had originally been designed to rescue Mississippi River flooding victims.
  9. Wonder Drug-The assault troops went ashore equipped with the new wonder drug Penicillin which saved thousands of lives.
  10. Casualties-The Allied casualties were much lighter than anticipated, some 10,000 of whom 4500 were killed.  Churchill had feared a second first day of the Somme with some 20,000 Allied KIAs.
Published in: on June 6, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on D-Day Factoids  
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Reagan on D-Day

Reagan gave the above speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, a third of a century ago.  Tomorrow is the 73rd anniversary of the longest day, and there are only a precious few of those men who stormed the beaches who still remain with us.  Time to remember them tomorrow and every day:

We’re here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty.  For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow.  Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation.  Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue.  here in Normandy the rescue began.  Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.

We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but forty years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.

The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers on the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up.  When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting only ninety could still bear arms. (more…)

Published in: on June 5, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Reagan on D-Day  
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June 1, 1917: Hank Gowdy Enlists

Hank Gowdy was a great ball player and a great patriot.   The high point of his ball career was in the 1914 World Series where he was the most valuable player for winning the World Series for the Boston Braves.  In 1917 he was 28 years old and at his peak as a ball player.  On June 1, he turned his back on fame and fortune, enlisting in the Army, the first major leaguer to do so .  He served in the 166th regiment of the Rainbow Division in France, going through some of the worst trench fighting that American troops experience in the War.  Coming home from the War in one piece, he resumed his career with the Braves.  In 1923 he was traded to the Giants.  After he retired from ball played, he served as a coach with the Braves, the Giants and the Reds.

When the US entered World War II, Gowdy enlisted in the Army again, despite being 53.  Among other duties he served as chief athletic officer at Fort Benning.  He was the only major leaguer to serve in both world wars.  After the War he served as coach and manager for the Reds, retiring from baseball in 1948.  He passed away in 1966 at age 76. (more…)

Published in: on June 1, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on June 1, 1917: Hank Gowdy Enlists  
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Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood

Ernst Janning: Judge Haywood… the reason I asked you to come: Those people, those millions of people… I never knew it would come to that. You must believe it, You must believe it!

Judge Dan Haywood: Herr Janning, it “came to that” the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.

Judgment at Nuremberg, (1961)

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), loosely based on the trial of German jurists after World War II, is a powerful film.  Burt Lancaster, an actor of the first calibre, gives the performance of his career as Ernst Janning.  The early portion of the movie makes clear that Ernst Janning is in many ways a good man.  Before the Nazis came to power Janning was a world respected German jurist.  After the Nazis came to power evidence is brought forward by his defense counsel that Janning attempted to help people persecuted by the Nazis, and that he even personally insulted Hitler on one occasion.  Janning obviously despises the Nazis and the other judges who are on trial with him.  At his trial he refuses to say a word in his defense.  He only testifies after being appalled by the tactics of his defense counsel.  His magnificent and unsparing testimony convicts him and all the other Germans who were good men and women, who knew better, and who failed to speak out or to act against the Nazis.  Janning’s testimony tells us that sins of omission can be as damning as sins of commission.  When he reveals that he sentenced a man to death he knew to be innocent because of pressure from the Nazi government, we can only agree with his bleak assessment that he reduced his life to excrement.  Yet we have to respect Janning.  It is a rare man who can so publicly take responsibility for his own evil acts.

Yet even this  respect is taken away from Janning in the final scene of the film where he attempts to justify himself to Judge Haywood, superbly portrayed by Spencer Tracy, by saying that he never believed that it would all come to the millions of  dead in the concentration camps.  Judge Haywood delivers his verdict on this attempt by Janning to save some shred of self-respect:  “Herr Janning, it came to that the first time you sentenced a man to death you knew to be innocent.” (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Quotes Suitable for Framing: Judge Dan Haywood  
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Resisting Enemy Interrogation

 

From 1944 an Army Air Corps training film regarding resisting enemy interrogation.

Published in: on May 12, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Resisting Enemy Interrogation  
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Interrogation of Enemy Air Men

An Army Air Corps film from 1943 regarding the interrogation of enemy air men.  Attorneys in the service were often used as interrogation officers, as they were used to asking questions and ferreting out the truth from reluctant individuals.

Published in: on May 11, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Interrogation of Enemy Air Men  
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May 8, 1942: Victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea

 

Seventy-five years ago, although they did not realize it, the American and Australian forces had won the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The battle which ultimately saved Australia from Japanese invasion has been largely forgotten in the US.  That is a pity.  Just six months from the Pearl Harbor debacle, the US Navy won a strategic victory that largely shaped the outcome of the battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific War.

Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Navy, launched an invasion force to take Port Moresby on the south side of the huge island of New Guinea.  Once New Guinea was taken Australia was next. Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue, in command of the Japanese of the Fourth Fleet would command this venture.

Allied intelligence learned of this plan, and Admiral Nimitz, Naval Supreme Commander in the Pacific, sent all four of his fleet carriers to intercept the Japanese force. (more…)

Published in: on May 8, 2017 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on May 8, 1942: Victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea  
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April 18, 1942: The Doolittle Raid

Seventy-five years ago 80 very brave Americans, led by Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, brought the nation a badly needed morale boost.  The War in the Pacific was going badly as defeat followed defeat.  Navy Captain Francis Low hit upon a plan to send a message, not only to the American public, but also to Japan, that the United States was not beaten and that it would strike back and prevail.

16 Mitchell B-25B bombers were placed on the carrier USS Hornet.  In great secrecy the Hornet and its escorts steamed to within 650 nautical miles of Japan when the force was discovered by a Japanese picket boat which was sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville.  Fearing discovery the Doolittle force launched immediately, some 10 hours earlier than planned, and 170 nautical miles further from Japan.

The raiders reached the Japanese Home Islands at around noon.  They had split up into groups ranging from two to four planes and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.  The raiders then planned to fly their planes into Nationalist controlled China and make their way back to the US.  Miraculously 69 of the raiders did just that.  Three of the raiders died and eight were captured.

Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following a show trial.

 

 

The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War.  Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel. (more…)

Published in: on April 18, 2017 at 5:02 pm  Comments Off on April 18, 1942: The Doolittle Raid  
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A Century of Vera Lynn

 

 

The singing voice of Great Britain during World War II, Dame Vera Lynn is one hundred years old.  The Sweetheart of the Forces, she was tireless in her performances for the troops during World War II, and the veterans of that conflict have always held her in high esteem.  Contrary to the usual dismal history of the entertainment industry, she enjoyed a life long love affair with her one and only husband until he died in 1998.  Throughout her long life she has  championed disabled servicemen and disabled kids.   She is a living refutation of the falsehood that the good die young.