SURPLUS ORDNANCE Episode 33: The Longest Day

Micah Neidorfler
B.A. in History, Minor in German Language
Infantry Captain in the US Army
Graduate of the Command and General Staff College’s distance learning “Army Field/Unit Historian

The film actually does a good job of explaining the scenes, what’s happening in them, and why they are
important, so I probably won’t be explaining as much as usual.
Additionally, most all the scenes in the film are pulled form Cornelius Ryan’s book “The Longest Day”,
and are derived from interviews with participants, so are fairly accurate.

Note: D-Day is a military term that refers to the day on which an operation will start. It does not actually
mean the Normandy Invasions. June 6 th was known as D-Day because it was the day that Operation
Overlord (the actual named Operation that was the invasion of Normandy) began.

Brief Background:

Planning for the invasion began in 1943. The Soviets had been pushing for an Allied invasion of
Central Europe since ’41, but Churchill refused because he did not feel that Britain and American had
not massed enough combat power to conduct a successful invasion.

The British initially wanted the main invasion of Central Europe to be made via the
Mediterranean, but the Americans and French pushed for an invasion via the English Channel into
France. Dwight Eisenhower was named Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force,
and our old friend Bernard Montgomery was named commander of all Allied Ground Forces for the

Allied planners narrowed down the invasion location to Pas de Calais and Normandy. It was
decided that Pas de Calais would be too well defended because it was home to a major port. Normandy
did not have a major port, which would be necessary to sustain the invasion, but it was located close
enough to ports that they could be secured in the subsequent days after the initial landings.

The Allies used the experience they had gained from conducting the African and Mediterranean
landings, and raids on the French coast to plan the invasion. The initial draft plan called for the invasion
to begin on May 1 st , 1944, but Montgomery and Eisenhower insisted the plan be expanded to include
more Allied troops, which required the invasion to be postponed until June to allow the production and
acquirement of more landing craft.

The final plan called for a multiple phase operation. The major phases included: an extensive
bombing campaign prior to the invasion, to degrade German supply capability and destroy equipment.
An airborne landing the night prior to the beach landings. American and British paratrooper and glider
infantry units would land at key locations to secure bridges, towns, and destroy enemy artillery units, all
with the intent of degrading the German ability to resupply their frontline units and affect the Allied
landings with reinforcements and artillery fire. And finally, the beach landings themselves. There would
be five main beaches: Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno, and Sword, split between the American and
Commonwealth forces. The beach landings would be simultaneously supported by massed naval
bombardment and close air support.


Opening titles with radio: This is supposed to be the BBC World Service. The opening phrase: “This is
London calling” was used during WWII, frequently when broadcasting in Axis occupied countries.

1:21- This is a great place to make the point that the popular culture image of the WWII German army
as a highly mobile, mechanized force is mostly a myth. About 70% of the German army was not
motorized or mechanized (motorized meaning they used trucks for mobility, mechanized meaning they
used halftracks and armored vehicles in combination with trucks). Throughout the war the German
military used over 2.5 million horses for logistical purposes.

23:40- The piano song playing throughout this scene is likely a reference to the film(s) “The Dawn
Patrol” about British fighter pilots during WWI. It is the melody of a song the pilots sing in those films:
“Hurrah for the next man who dies”.

38:16- The real-life Ruperts were made of burlap sacks and weighed down with sand. A far sight from
the detailed models shown here in the film.

Pegasus Bridge Opening Scene (Glider Landing)- Funnily enough we were shown this clip from the film in
a class during the Maneuver Captain’s Career Course. The lesson was on giving Commander’s Intent
during mission planning, and the clip was used to illustrate how a Commander’s Intent should include
the Purpose of the mission and the End State desired, so that if the operation doesn’t go according to
plan, the subordinate leader on the ground can improvise but know what needs to be achieved in the

59:37- Even in today’s army, if someone see a soldier wearing their helmet without their chinstrap
buckled, they’ll pejoratively call them John Wayne.

1:33:25- It needs to be remembered that prior to deciding upon Normandy as the landing locations, the
Allies had been considering either Pas de Calais or Normandy. Additionally, after deciding upon
Normandy, the Allies conducted a month’s long deception operation titled Operation Bodyguard, one
aim of which was to convince the Germans that the landing would be at Pas de Calais. The German
general staff also believed that the main Allied invasion would be preceded by a diversionary invasion,
to draw German reserves away from the main invasion. Furthermore, Normandy did not have any major
ports where large ships could dock to disembark supplies. Pas de Calais did have such ports. Such ports
would be necessary for the Allies to sustain their invasion forces and to keep up the invasion’s tempo.
So, the belief that many of the higher-ranking German officers in the film hold, that the Normandy
invasion is not the primary invasion, is not unfounded or ridiculous.

What the German’s didn’t count on, is that the British invented and produced prefabricated
harbors, known as “Mulberry harbors”. After the beaches were secured, the two Mulberry harbors were
brought across the English Channel and assembled, one on Omaha beach and one on Gold beach.

1:35:16- The eldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Jr. had held a reserve commission
prior to WWI and served in the war as a Major and then Lieutenant Colonel. He spent most of the First
World War as a battalion commander. After the war he continued to serve in the Army Reserve. In 1940
he was promoted to Colonel and returned to Active Duty. In 1941 he was promoted to Brigadier General
and led troops in North Africa. He clashed with his superiors Patton and Bradley, stemming from the
way he treated his regiment. Patton thought him too informal, and Bradley felt he was too personally
attached to his men, leading him to make decisions based on what was best for his men, not what was
best for the overall campaign.

He served in various high level staff positions during the campaigns in Sicily and Italy and worked
closely with Eisenhower. He was eventually made the deputy commander of the 4 th infantry division. He
was the only general officer to land with the first wave of troops during the invasion. He would die just
over a month after the invasion of a heart attack.

1:39:00 (and all the other scenes about Hitler sleeping)- This is one of the few points where the film
missteps historically. It is true that Hitler did go to sleep late the night prior, and slept late, until around
10am on 6 June. It is also true that his staff decided not to wake him prior to 10am because they were
afraid that the information that was filtering its way from Normandy to Germany was scanty and
possibly misleading. It’s not the case that they knew the Normandy landings were the main invasion,
and that they simply were too afraid to wake him.

Additionally, the situation wasn’t as simple as the film makes out. The Germans’ held 9 Panzer
and 1 Panzergrenadier divisions in strategic reserve. Rommel wanted the reserves located close to the
coast, where they could be committed quickly. However, other German generals felt they should be
held closer to Paris, where they would be hidden from Allied reconnaissance flights. The latter line of
thought won out, the reserves were located far from the coast.
Furthermore, the 10 total reserve divisions were spilt up into three distinct reserve forces.
Rommel was given direct control of 3, 3 were assigned to Southern France, and Hitler retained direct
control of 4. Of the 3 divisions Rommel controlled directly, only 1 was within quick reach of the
Normandy beaches. So, the film’s premise of all reserves being held by Hitler is not true.

After deciding that the Normandy landings were indeed the main Allied invasion, Rommel
committed his 3 reserve divisions, but they arrived separately and thus didn’t have the mass to push the
Allies back to the sea. The next day Hitler did release the rest of the strategic reserves, but again, they
arrived separately, and many did not arrive for days.

The film puts far too much emphasis on Hitler being asleep as the cause of the German loss.
Given the amount of combat power the Allies brought to bear on the Normandy beaches, and the fact
that most of the German reserves were too far away to reach the beaches on day 1, it is unlikely that
even if approval to commit all the German reserves on the first day was given, that they would have
been able to defeat the Allied landings completely.

2:15:45- “Bitte” means “please”. Not relevant to this scene, but it is interesting how the director chose
to subtitle the Germans. They leave lots of dialogue out that helps develop some of the German
characters and provides nuance. The subtitles do a good job of conveying the bottom line meaning but
do a poor job of conveying tone and personality. (I speak German, and though the actors are speaking
very fast, and I wasn’t always able to catch everything that was said, I think it would have been more
interesting to the viewer if more thorough subtitles had been used.)

20:30:45- We see here an example of one of Hobart’s Funnies. Hobart’s Funnies were a variety of
specialized tanks produced by Britain in preparation for the invasion of Europe. “Hobart” was Major
Genera Percy Hobart, who was the commander of the British 79 th Armored Division, who championed
the projects. The tank we see in this scene is a “DD” (Duplex Drive) tank. It was a tank fitted with a large
waterproof canvas around the hull which allowed the tank to float in the sea and had the ability to
propel itself through the water for miles from offshore. These allowed allied troops to have tank support
immediately after landing without the need for landing craft to carry them all the way to the beach.

A few notable examples of the Funnies are:

  • The Crocodile: Churchill tanks fitted with a flamethrower with a range of 120 yards.

  • ARK: A tank with the turret removed and replaced with an extending bridge.

  • “Crab” Mine clearer: Tank with a rotating metal tube fitted on the front to which
    several metal chain “flails” were attached. The tube would rotate, causing the flails to
    whip the ground in front of the tank and detonate mines before the tank drove over

The Funnies were used mainly by Commonwealth troops, as American commanders were either
skeptical of their effectiveness, or were worried about adding non-standard foreign vehicles to their
supply chains, as they didn’t have a ready supply of replacement parts. It is thought that the reticence of
many American commanders to take advantage of these vehicles led to unnecessary deaths.

Bangalore Torpedoes (as seen on the beaches)- The Bangalore torpedo was essentially a large,
professionally made pipe-bomb. It was a metal tube which was packed with explosives, intended to
destroy wire obstacles. It was first developed by the British Army in 1912. It saw use by the British in the
First World War and was used by the British and adopted by the Americans during WWII.
It is still in use by the military today, although the tube is now made from a pvc type material
instead of metal. (Without going on too much of an unrelated tangent, several places online state that
the Bangalore torpedo is being phased out of the Army and being replaced by the APOBS, but that is not
true. The Bangalore is still being produced and used in conjunction with the APOBS, as the APOBS is not
suitable for all environments.)

Comparison of Beaches: I thought I’d do a brief comparison of the Allied Beaches on D-Day.

There were 5 beaches divided as such (from West to East):

  • Utah Beach: American
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~900

  • Omaha Beach: American
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~5,000

  • Gold Beach: British
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~1,100

  • Juno Beach: Canadian/British
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~900

  • Sword Beach: British
    Casualties during 1 st day: ~700

I personally find The Longest Day to be a lot more accurate to the Normandy Landings than Saving
Private Ryan. While Ryan might give a more realistic portrayal of the combat itself (thanks to it being
made in the ‘90s and not ’62), Day gives the viewer a more accurate portrayal of what the beaches
looked like in time and space. (Ryan has US troops off Omaha beach in about 10 minutes, Day gives us
the actual time span, which was in the range of multiple hours). Of course, Ryan is only concerned with
telling the story of a small squad on a specific mission, and Day is about explaining the entirety of the
first day of the Normandy Landings.

“The Longest Day” by Cornelius Ryan
“Hitler” by Ian Kershaw
“Normandy ‘44” by James Holland
“The German Response to D-Day” article by The Imperial War Museum:

Additional research, maps, etc:

American Cinematographer behind the scenes:

Moviepedia organized list of the cast, characters, and plot:

D-Day Overlord historical website filmography:

Vox - The story of D-Day, in five maps: