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D-Day & battle of Normandy movies

The Longest Day

 

About the movie

The movie The Longest Day directed by Darryl F. Zanuck, Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton, Bernhard Wicki et Gerd Oswald is

the first film about the Normandy Landing. The title was inspired by a sentence pronounced by General Rommel, commander of Army Group B in the north-west of France during the Normandy Landing. Many people believe that it is a film very close to reality..

It is time to say things how they are: no, the film The Longest Day is not an exact historical movie of D-Day. But then why did it so successful, despite many historical mistakes, how had it transformed the Normandy Landing into a legend?

All scenes are of course not wrong in comparison with history. It is necessary to admit that this movie is the only one presenting the Nor

mandy Landing in its quasi-totality. Anyone interested in the D-Day must have seen at least once this film. But I would like to criticize some liberties taken by the directors of this film. We need to take care of a future where veterans will not be there to tell. This film tells of the Normandy Landing, but it sometimes does it irrespectively of history.

In my research on the Normandy Landing, I met veteran Maurice Chauvet, belonging to the First Marine Fusilers Battalion which landed on June 6, 1944 on Sword Beach, and we discussed the theme of films on D-Day. His role was to learn directors and actors about the historical progress of operation Overlord. But, believing that History wasn't respected enough by the directors, he'd decided to leave the film crew.

The errors of the film

Being the creator of a website seeking historical truth, I decided to tell about these mistakes on these pages. Here are some of the mistakes of the film The Longest Day.

The history of French troops reinvented

Maurice Chauvet, being a military adviser, was asked if the scenes were accurate compared to the history of the Normandy Landings. But the filmmakers and especially the producers wanted their film to attract a very large audience. To do so, they have changed the history of D-Day.

Tuesday, June 6, 1944, at dawn, the Free French troops led by Commandant Kieffer and belonging to the 1st Commando BFM N°4, have to liberate the town of Ouistreham, Sword Beach sector. Maurice Chauvet, then corporal, took part in the assault. In the film, French soldiers, who landed at the same time as the piper Bill Millin, reach the coast using an American landing craft of the 1960s. In fact, French soldiers landed in Normandy from landing craft infantry (LCI) with two retractable ramps thrown in front of the ship.

Once on the beach, the French 1st BFM Commando had to capture a casino, formerly a large luxury building, but the Germans had destroyed it before D-Day to install there a bunker. The casino has never been an eight-storey building as shown in the film: it was a concrete bunker protecting machine guns and an antitank gun, three to four meters high.

In the film, during the attack on the casino (which, however, was filmed in Port-en-Bessin and therefore has no common point with the town of Ouistreham), nuns approach the fighting and begin treating the commando troops in the heat of battle. But this never occurred, there has never been nuns at this point of the attack!

Maurice Chauvet says: "The casino was in fact a bunker from where the Germans could shot. there has never been a 80 meters high house or nuns during the attack. The Germans had destroyed the casino and they had built the bunker that was destroyed after the war."

Click here to see the photo of the bunker of the casino which was attacked on 6 June 1944 by the French in Ouistreham.

 

Sainte-Mère-Eglise

In the early hours of Tuesday June 6, 1944, when the airborne troops of the 82nd and 101st American divisions were parachuted over Normandy, many units are dropped sometimes more than 40 miles from their objective (for example, U.S. paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne division were dropped near the Pointe du Hoc). Some units were parachuted over Sainte-Mère-Eglise, and everybody knows the fam

ous story of John Steel who stayed at the top of the tower of the church for nearly four hours.

In the "The Longest Day", a dozen of paratroopers fall on the village square and are immediately killed. But in reality, the paratroop

ers dropped on the village square were less than ten: most airborne soldiers arrived in gardens or in the streets around the church square. The movie is a kind of dramatization of the D-Day history..

The scramble

The landings are very unrealistic. Particularly on Omaha Beach, men seem to be stopped by a concrete wall (very enlarged in comparison with its actual size) and not by enemy fire: during the first minutes after the landing of the first American assault wave on Omaha, almost 95% of these soldiers have been killed or wounded because of the ferocity of the battle.

When two aircrafts of the Luftwaffe attack Gold and Juno beaches,

the Allied troops advance toward inland without being stopped by anything. In fact, the Anglo-Canadian troops were greeted by extremely intense gunfires that have delayed the Allies and caused many losses, in particular on Juno Beach.

The landing crafts used in the film are from the U.S. Army and were created in the 1960s, modern crafts at the time of the shooting and very different from the 1944 models.

What lessons?

What lessons can we learn from this film? We must certainly see in The Longest Day a work influenced by its time: 1962. In the midst of a crisis in Cuba, a symbol of the Cold War, America seeked to regain confidence and called the memory of a just war, won with the assistance of its allies. Richard Burton, John Wayne, Henry Fonda and Robert Mitchum were charismatic symbols of a victorious America, when it had the greatest need. Fidelity towards history is not the major effort: there must be victories, the help of allies, and if there are obstacles (such as Omaha Beach), it is important to show the courage of men who, facing adversity, are still winning.

At this periode also, war films had not as a priority to describe with great accuracy the fighting and the events. This phenomenon, whose two main examples are Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, appeared at the end of the twentieth century. Now history comes first, immediately followed by the realism of the fightings, what was not the case at the time of the shooting of The Longest Day. But it has been necessary to wait more than 50 years after the events to take a realistic look at the Second World War.

 
 
 
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