A different world.
Tag: WW II
D-Day – 2021
One of the most memorable scenes in the television series “Band of Brothers is the last scene in the episode where the paratroopers are flying across the English Channel at night. Thinking about those men and comparing them to what the state of this country is today it seems almost inconceivable that they are related in any way.
But there are still some real men left.
Battle of the Bulge (1965) – A Movie Review
This movie purports to be a dramatic portrayal of the pivotal WW II battle of the same name. But the liberties that have been taken with respect to plot and characters make it almost unrecognizable when compared with the historical event.
(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)
The beginning of the movie interweaves scenes from the American perspective and the German view. We start out meeting Lt. Col. Daniel Kiley, played by Henry Fonda. He is an American Army intelligence officer stationed on the supposedly quiet section of the front line near the Ardennes Forest. But he suspects that the Germans are planning an offensive in the area. He makes a surveillance flight in a small aircraft over the forest and manages to get photos of hidden German tanks and also a high-ranking German officer arriving at the German headquarters in the area. He passes this intelligence to his superiors, Gen. Grey, played by Robert Ryan and Col. Pritchard, played by Dana Andrews at their headquarters in the town of Ambleve. Pritchard rejects Kiley’s suspicions about a German offensive while General Grey demands more proof.
Next, we meet the German officer that Kiley photographed. It is Col. Martin Hessler, played by Robert Shaw with an outrageously over the top German accent, who is being given command of a large force of Tiger II tanks with the goal of breaking through the American lines and capturing Antwerp thus crippling the Allied offensive in Europe. The Germans are sending out a party of their soldiers who have lived in the United States dressed as American GI’s. They will sabotage communication lines and road signs and try to hold the bridge over the Our river to allow the Tiger Tanks to advance.
Kiley manages to get some intelligence on the tank attack back to HQ just as the attack begins. We see the Tiger tanks destroy the American tanks while sustaining almost no damage from direct hits. And we are shown the Germans machine gunning large numbers of American prisoners. But one other thing that Kiley learns during his surveillance of the German advance is that they are gravely short of fuel for their tanks. They have only enough fuel to reach a large American fuel depot that is along the route to Antwerp. Even taking a few extra hours to destroy the town of Ambleve where the American HQ is located is sorely argued against by Hessler’s commanding officer General Kohler.
When General Grey receives this intelligence about the fuel, he decides on a plan to attack the tank force with his tanks before the Germans can reach the fuel depot. He wants to use the attack to delay the tanks long enough for them to run out of fuel. When Hessler realizes the delay tactic he heads for the depot with a force of his tanks to obtain the fuel. But the Americans at the depot spill thousands of gallons of fuel and set fire to it just as Hessler’s tanks arrive. Hessler’s tanks are engulfed in flames and he dies when his tank explodes. Without fuel the rest of Hessler’s force have to abandon their tanks and the last scene shows a long line of men walking back to Germany.
I’ve left out a lot of details. This movie is three hours long! Charles Bronson plays an American major who fights a rearguard action against the Germans until he is captured at Ambleve. Telly Savalas is an American sergeant tank crewman who also runs a black-market store in booze, stockings and chicken eggs out of his girl friend’s apartment. Savalas ends up finally saving the day when he machine-guns the disguised Germans who have taken control of the fuel depot at the end of the movie.
My thoughts on this movie are mixed. Some of the action is interesting to watch. Shaw as Hessler gives a compelling performance. I enjoy his style. Other than Shaw a lot of the acting is competent but not memorable. The tank footage looks pretty good. But the thing that I hold against this movie is that it misrepresents the events of a very important battle for which the details are very well known. There was no race to get to a fuel depot in the actual battle. The movie doesn’t show the fact that the battle took place during an horrendous frigid snow storm where the weather was as awful as the fighting. The real battle was fought hand to hand in towns, forests and trenches. If you are interested in what it really was like watch the episodes in “Band of Brothers” that chronicles the Battle of Bastogne. So, my recommendation is unless you really like war movies and don’t care about accuracy don’t watch this movie.
Guest Contributor – TomD – 23FEB2022 – Thoughts on the Battle of Midway
I’ve spent a great deal of time throughout my life reading about WWII in general. I was born a few years after the end of the war and grew up in a society in which virtually everyone’s father took part in one way or another. My father was a 1943 West Point grad who was a company commander with the 101st Airborne when the Germans shot him up very badly at the Battle of the Bulge, crippling him physically for life, but not mentally as he later got a MS Degree in Chemical Engineering.
But for some reason, I’ve always been most fascinated with the Pacific war, and especially with Midway. I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve read on the battle and can specifically recommend Shattered Sword, a history taken from the Japanese viewpoint.
Midway, the battle turned on the purest of luck and very easily could have gone the other way had 3 or 4 isolated throws of the dice gone otherwise. The US would have eventually won the war anyway but it would have been a longer and harder version of the already desperate and bloody struggle that it was.
Below, a photo of interest, it is the last actual aircraft still in existence to have taken part in the battle. This SBD Dauntless was based on Midway Island and wasn’t one of the 3 squadrons of SBDs from Enterprise (I think) that luckily found the Japanese fleet as all their fighter defenses were down at wave top height finishing off a squadron of torpedo bombers. The next 5 minutes proved decisive as those SBDs sank 3 of the 4 Japanese carriers.
The plane in the photo made it’s attack earlier but none of the Midway Island aircraft made any hits. After the battle, this plane was flown to the point of decrepitude and sent back to the US for use in training new pilots. Some US Navy Ensign pilot candidate managed to put this aircraft in the drink while trying to land on a training carrier in one of the great lakes where it remained until salvaged 50 years later. The wreck was taken to NAS Pensacola where it was restored and is currently on display at the US Naval Air Museum.
Midway (2019) – A Movie Review
This 2019 film attempts to provide an accurate modern version of the story of the pivotal WW II naval battle at Midway. The only actors whose names I recognized were Woody Harrelson as Admiral Nimitz, Dennis Quaid as Admiral Halsey and Mandy Moore as Ann Best, the wife of the hero of the movie Dick Best. Since this is an historical drama, I won’t add a spoiler warning but if you actually don’t know what happened at Midway then go to the last paragraph for my recommendation.
The movie begins with a scene in pre-war Japan where Edwin Layton is an American naval attaché and intelligence officer. His Japanese counterpart Isoroku Yamamoto warns him that Japan will eventually attack America as part of its plan to dominate East Asia.
In December 1941 we meet Lieutenant Dick Best a naval aviator on the aircraft carrier, USS Enterprise. He is a hotshot dive bomber and he is being sent on leave to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But when his plane nears Pearl Harbor, he comes under attack from the Japanese aircraft that have just destroyed the US naval fleet. Best’s plane is shot down but he escapes alive.
This devastating attack leaves Japan with an enormous advantage over the American fleet. Specifically, the Japanese have six aircraft carriers to America’s two. The War Department assigns Admiral Nimitz to do whatever is necessary to prosecute the war against the Japanese until replacement aircraft carriers can be built. The plan they fix on is to surprise the Japanese at Midway and destroy as many of their aircraft carriers as possible.
Layton is put in charge of the effort to decode Japanese messages and use them to locate the Japanese fleet and lay the trap. On the day of the battle the Enterprise sends out its planes along with bombers from Midway but they have trouble locating the fleet. And they lose a number of planes to the Japanese aircraft. But eventually they find the fleet and attack. Most of the American flyers are shot down but the Japanese fleet is only damaged but not destroyed. Best and his squadron return to the Enterprise and head out again for a last desperate attempt to finish off the carriers. And they succeed. Best sinks two of the carriers himself. By the end of the day all four of the Japanese carriers have been sunk and Admiral Yamamoto orders the rest of his fleet to retreat. The defeat gives the Americans the time they need to rebuild their fleet.
The makers of this movie made an effort to make it historically accurate. The names of the protagonists are real. Obviously, some license was taken for dramatic purposes but the story has not been made politically correct or overly propagandistic. I enjoyed watching it. The acting was decent, the special effects are very good and it maintains a pro-American viewpoint throughout. One touch I especially liked was the quote by Admiral Yamamoto after hearing Roosevelt’s speech after Pearl Harbor, “”I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” I recommend this movie to patriotic Americans. Everybody else can fend for himself.
The Dirty Dozen (1967) – A Movie Review
The Dirty Dozen is a fictional story about a clandestine American military mission during WW II. Disgraced Army Major John Reisman, played by Lee Marvin, is ordered by Gen. Sam Worden (Ernest Borgnine) to select twelve court martialed Americans whose sentences vary from 20 years at hard labor up to hanging and train them up for a mission behind enemy lines in Nazi occupied France. If they survive and complete the mission honorably their sentences may be commuted. If not, they will be returned to serve their sentences.
The beginning of the movie is our introduction to the prisoners. Each man has an aversion to authority, several are hardened killers and one man (Archer Maggott played by Telly Savalas) is a delusional psychotic. The most sympathetic characters are played by Charles Bronson, Jim Brown and Clint Walker. Each has been convicted of murder but in each case, extenuating circumstances have been ignored by the military court that decided the case. Probably the least sympathetic convict (other than Maggott) is V. R. Franko played by John Cassavetes. He is a Chicago gangster who murdered a British civilian for less than ten dollars-worth of money. But he is also the everyman of the outfit whose defiance of authority becomes the rallying point for the prisoners to gel into a functional team.
The movie progresses from the team being trained by Reisman, then to a confrontation with a hostile base commander, Col. Everett Dasher Breed, played by Robert Ryan, then to a test of their competence in a War Game against Breed’s elite troop and finally to their mission.
This mission is a night time parachute drop into occupied France where the team will infiltrate a château where the German High Command are assembled and kill as many of the high-ranking officers as possible in the hope that it will disrupt the command and control of the Nazi military response to D-Day which is scheduled the morning after the raid.
The action goes according to their very detailed plan until Maggott finds himself in a room with a young German woman and proceeds to sadistically murder her before running amok with his machine gun thus prematurely alerting the Germans to their peril. The climax of the attack is James Brown tossing a series of grenades into the gasoline soaked and explosives filled ventilation lines for the bomb shelter where the Germans have taken cover. The whole château goes up in pyrotechnic splendor and only Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson and one supporting cast member live to return home from the mission.
The full list of the actors who played the twelve prisoners is John Cassavetes, Tom Busby, Jim Brown, Donald Sutherland, Ben Carruthers, Clint Walker, Charles Bronson, Colin Maitland, Stuart Cooper, Al Mancini, Trini Lopez and Telly Savalas.
As absurd as this whole mission sounds, and it is absurd, the movie, especially the mission in France, is exciting, interesting and very well done. Telly Savalas is a little over the top in his psycho characterization but he sells it well and it isn’t hard to see it coming.
Bronson and Marvin impersonating German officers in the château is fun to watch and the amount of gun play and other diverting activities is sure to keep a male audience’s attention. I highly recommend this movie for its entertainment value. It isn’t an actual war movie. It’s more of a caper movie but a very exciting one.
Above and Beyond (1952) – A Movie Review
“Above and Beyond” is a dramatic portrayal of the Air Force’s project to deliver the first atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan (Hiroshima). Col. Paul Tibbets, played by Robert Taylor, is selected for the mission because of his combat record and also for his knowledge of the capabilities of the B-29 bomber. The movie has two aspects. It documents the difficulty of the mission to combine the scientific, military and logistical requirements while maintaining absolute secrecy. The second aspect is the toll that this secrecy takes on the marriage and family life of Colonel Tibbets, his wife Lucey and their two young boys. I watched this movie along with Camera Girl and I made sure I emphasized how truly annoying wives are when husbands are trying to get something really important done. Like when I have a really important horror movie that I need to watch and she bothers me with unimportant stuff right in the middle of a very important scene. Very annoying. But I digress.
Since mission security is one of the crucial aspects of the story they gave the part of security chief, Major Uanna, to James Whitmore whose other credential for atomic energy related movies was his turn as a police officer in “Them,” the story of giant ants created by the original Manhattan Project blast in New Mexico. And the Air Force general overseeing the project was Major General Curtis E. LeMay who is played by Jim Backus, better known to television audiences as Gilligan’s Island’s very own millionaire, Thurston Howell III.
The melodrama of Col Tibbet’s disrupted family life is reasonably well done. But the payoff is the bombing mission. And it is compelling. The men in the plane other than Tibbets didn’t know about the atomic bomb. Tibbets reveals this during the flight to Japan. And he reveals to them that for all anyone knows their plane will be destroyed by the radiation or the subsequent shock wave. Actual footage of the Hiroshima blast is run during this sequence of the film and the devastating nature of the detonation is conveyed in Tibbets’ reaction to the blast. Even all these years later and in context of our familiarity with the much more powerful hydrogen bombs that were to follow, the sight of the Hiroshima explosion is still a sobering sight.
I recommend this movie based on its temporal proximity to the events. It gives us a chance to see the transition from the almost naïve mindset of the WW II Americans to the almost overwhelmed perspective of inhabitants of the new atomic age. And it gave me new-found admiration for the courage and determination of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations who combined intelligence and hard work to produce the horrible miracle that became the basis for our modern world. If we still had their clarity, I wonder whether we’d be in the mess we’re in now.
Run Silent, Run Deep (1958) – A Movie Review
This is a WWII submarine story. A submarine commander P.J. Richardson, played by Clark Gable, survives the destruction of his submarine during operations against the Japanese in the Bungo Straits. The Japanese destroyer responsible, called the Akikaze, had previously destroyed at least four submarines and Richardson is determined to have his revenge. Richardson thinks he has figured out how to defeat the Akikaze and he convinces the navy to give him command of another submarine, the Nerka. The Nerka’s executive officer, Lieutenant Jim Bledsoe, played by Burt Lancaster, has been disappointed in not being given the command, but he cooperates with Richardson and acts to convince the crew that the unorthodox and frustrating tactics that the commander puts them through are legitimate.
The commander brings the Nerka into the Bungo Straits and using his knowledge of the Japanese tactics he successfully engages a Japanese destroyer and destroys it. But when he goes after the Akikaze the Japanese seem to know in advance of his presence and the Nerka is nearly destroyed, several men are killed and Richardson is badly injured.
But when Richardson orders Bledsoe to prepare for another attempt to destroy the Akikaze, he relieves Richardson of command based on medical disability and says that he will return the Nerka to base. But Bledsoe changes his mind and attacks and destroys the Akikaze. But during the attack Richardson realizes that the Akikaze was working with a Japanese submarine to destroy American submarines. He alerts Bledsoe and the danger is averted and the Japanese sub is destroyed. But Richardson dies of his injuries and the Nerka buries him at sea.
This is a fairly straight forward war movie. But the principal actors Gable and Lancaster make it a very memorable film. Some of the other actors do a good job. Jack Warden is a veteran actor and is probably the standout among the supporting characters. There is one amusing detail in the ship life. The crew has a pin-up picture of a girl which they each pat on the butt before they go into battle. This amusing and lifelike touch adds obvious interest for the natural audience of this movie. Highly recommended.
The Films of Alfred Hitchcock – Part 14 – Saboteur (1942) – An OCF Classic Movie Review
Saboteur is one of Hitchcock’s earlier Hollywood era productions. It’s the story of Barry Kane, played by Robert Cummings, a wartime factory worker who is mistakenly accused of being a Nazi saboteur. The story starts out at an airplane manufacturing plant where Barry and his friend Ken Mason are employed. At lunch they bump into another employee named Frank Fry who acts very suspiciously. Barry sees an envelope that Fry is sending to a man in another town and finds a large amount of money that Fry drops on the ground. When he gives the money back to Fry, he becomes very angry. Suddenly a large fire breaks out and Barry, Ken and Fry head toward it. Fry gives Ken a fire extinguisher but when Ken directs it at the fire, he becomes engulfed by the inferno and dies.
During the investigation it turns out that there is no employee named Fry and Barry’s story about the whole event is doubted when it turns out the extinguisher was filled with gasoline. He is blamed for the fire and is being hunted as a Nazi saboteur. He runs away and hitches a ride with a truck driver heading for the town that Fry’s letter was addressed to.
When he reaches the address, the man living there, Charles Tobin, denies knowing anyone named Fry but Barry accidentally finds a telegram from Fry to Tobin. Realizing that Tobin is one of the saboteurs and has called the police to arrest him, Barry flees but is quickly captured by the police. Later he escapes from them by leaping off a bridge into a river. Eventually he reaches the cabin of a blind man who suspects that he is a fugitive from the law because he can hear Barry’s handcuffs clinking against each other. The blind man prefers to believe Barry is innocent and agrees to help him get out of his handcuffs. But the man’s niece, Patricia “Pat” Martin, arrives and wants to turn him into the police because of the news reports branding him as a dangerous saboteur.
Now follows a confusing and slightly ridiculous chain of events that involves circus freaks and an eventual change of heart by Pat toward Barry. Eventually Barry convinces part of the sabotage gang that he is working for Tobin and is driven to New York City where the next big action is planned. Pat is captured and also ends up in New York. The new target is a battleship that has been completed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The saboteurs manage to sink it and capture both Barry and Pat. But by a clever ruse she is able to signal the police and all the saboteurs except Fry are captured by the police. Fry escapes to the Statue of Liberty and there is a climactic fight on the torch of the statue where Fry falls onto the torch arm and is hanging by his fingernails. Barry manages to grab hold of Fry’s jacket sleeve and is waiting for the police to bring a rope to allow for a rescue. But before they can arrive the sleeve rips free and Fry falls to his death. Barry kisses Pat and the movie ends.
Well, you can’t say Hitchcock doesn’t throw everything including the kitchen sink into the plot. Bearded women, Siamese twins, midgets, trusting blind men, a pretty girl who models for billboards, sunken battleships, the Statue of Liberty, the Hoover Dam, leaps off bridges, Rockefeller Center, Nazi spies, shoot outs in movie theaters, you name it. And this movie is noticeably a Hollywood product. There is all of the wartime patriotism there and the tropes that the studios had built up at this point. The production values are high but the dialog and acting are a bit mediocre.
It’s a pretty good effort but hardly one of Hitchcock’s finest productions. I’d called it recommended but not highly recommended. Let’s say it is moderately entertaining but it wouldn’t be something I’d re-watch often.
Guest Contributor – War Pig – Comments on General George Patton the Elder
Question – Was the motion picture Patton, well done?
I only knew his son, personally. But from people who knew Patton Sr that I have known, it was pretty good but played too much on the prima donna aspects. Patton senior had a rather high-pitched voice and he cursed so much to make up for it. His son was just as liable to break out in profanity. Patton was anything but a prima donna. He wanted to hurl headlong into battle and wrest it from the enemy. It is true he had a distaste for Montgomery as he found Monty far too cautious and a man who took too much counsel of his fears. One of Patton’s mantras was from Julius Caesar (Gallic Wars I believe) who said to not take counsel of your fears. A lot of the dirty aspersions attributed to him were Hollywood gunk. Yes he did pray and did curse like a stable boy. But he was a tactical genius and had great concern for supply and logistics., Without his careful planning and logistical mastery, he never could have made that sharp turn and relieved Bastogne. Patton’s theory was to grab the enemy by the throat and kick him in the balls. Fix the enemy in place then maneuver against him and hit him where he was weakest, then fold him up like a geisha girl’s fan.
If he had gotten those 400,000 gallons of fuel he requested before the German counteroffensive he could have spoiled the Bulge attack and cut the war short by several months. But Patton had shown himself a logistical master as early as the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916. Without his logistical mastery the war in Europe may have been over after the war in the Pacific, and we may have seen a mushroom cloud over Berlin as a result.
Hollywood did as Hollywood does. As one director said in answer to fictional embellishments of a factual story; “We ain’t making a PBS documentary, here”. While they did show Patton’s tactical genius, they tried too hard to make him a frail man, which he definitely was not. You could say that Patton and his men saved the European war for the allies.
Our greatest generals in WWII, Patton and MacArthur were both masters of logistics. MacArthur was the better strategic general and Patton the tactical. If MacArthur had been in charge in Europe, he would have let Patton run wild through Germany and been in Berlin about the time that Hitler started the Bulge offensive. With Patton charging at Berlin Hitler would have been too busy to think about Antwerp and splitting the allies in two.