Someone should be running “The Longest Day” today; the movie that until “Saving Private Ryan” came along was arguably the premiere movies about WW II. I still prefer, “The Longest Day”, but that’s merely an age-and-time thing. I only have it on tape so will record it although I should just go ahead and buy the DVD. Anyway, by telling the story from both the Allied and German perspectives, there are intriguing points made (many historically accurate) and marvelous moments encapsulate the extraordinary day that shifted the war. Yes, it was almost another year (May 1945) before the war was over and thousands died in the battles following June 6th; yet that day was the “beginning of the end”.
The cast of the movie included virtually every major American male actor, a number of British ones, some German, and a few in minor roles who would later become iconic such as Sean Connery. For those who need a quick history lesson, the planned invasion (Operation Overload) was indeed the largest force assembled in modern history and there was always the issue of crossing the channel at the narrowest point – the logical approach – or taking a greater risk of selecting another path. The German defenses were formidable and in deciding on the riskier Normandy option, a major deception campaign with multiple pieces was developed and launched; all designed to reinforce the belief that the invasion would occur near Pas de Clais. In the movie, as events begin, that continues to be the core issue. When paratroopers make their mostly successful drops (despite the horrific cost at Saint Mare d’Eglise) and members of the French Resistance play their parts, a few German officers draw the correct conclusion. In one of the memorable lines, a highly placed German commander says, “No, no; Normandy is a diversion. The invasion will come where it has always been expected.” He does plan to shift the reserves German tank battalions (Panzers) as a precaution. This is denied by Berlin. Would the outcome have been different had the Panzers been added into the fray? Perhaps; perhaps other factors would have offset that.
In any case, there is another scene I can watch endlessly. The order is given to launch the Allied forces and there is a shot of the armada moving through the pre-dawn hours. On board one of the Navy ships, the Captain stands with one of his officers, looking at the blips on the radar screen. He says something like, “The biggest armada the world has ever seen. You remember this; you remember every bit of this. The world is going to talk about this day long after we are dead and gone.”