CHARLOTTE, NC: What better day than June 6th to write a trivia column? Today we pay tribute to the 74th anniversary of the greatest amphibious military operation in history known as “D-Day” and the heroic assault on Normandy. So much has been written and filmed about the massive operation that discovering little-known facts is tricky but we will attempt to look at some of the more interesting aspects of the actual invasion as well as the 1962 movie about those events, “The Longest Day.”
One of the more intriguing episodes leading up to D-Day was a photo competition held by the BBC under the guise of finding the best holiday beaches in France. In reality, it was a tactic to gather intelligence about the most suitable places in France for an invasion.
Though D-Day was postponed once due to heavy rain, the planners had a specific list of criteria for the operation to take place such as a full moon with a spring tide and landing at dawn on a flood tide when it was halfway in.
In the end, the rain was so heavy on June 6, that Erwin Rommel, the German commander in Normandy, was at home celebrating his wife’s birthday when the attacks began.
Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler took a sleeping pill the night before and was sound asleep when the invasion erupted. His subordinates were afraid to awaken him.
Pictures of Omaha Beach
Hungarian photographer, Robert Capa took the first photos of the landings on Omaha Beach, but his darkroom assistant became overly excited during processing in London and ruined most of the pictures. Life Magazine printed the only 11 surviving pictures with the disclaimer that they were blurred because Capa was shaking at the time.
Nearly 7,000 ships participated in what remains the largest seaborne invasion in history. Meanwhile, only 15% of the paratroopers landed in their designated target zones.
Since Germany’s Luftwaffe was outnumbered 30 to 1, it failed to shoot down a single enemy plane in the air to air combat.
Though the landings were successful, the goals of D-Day proved to be overly ambitious. The British wanted to capture Caen on the first day, but it ultimately took more than a month.
Normandy – Day circa 1962
As for the 1962 film, the crew uncovered a tank while clearing the beach at Pointe du Hoc. Mechanics dug it up, repaired it and used it in the movie as part of the British tank regiment.
Private Joseph Lowe was 22-years old when his Second Ranger Battalion scaled the 100-foot cliffs at Point du Hoc. With cameras rolling 17 years later, he did it again for the film at the age of 39.
When it came time for the military extras to jump off the landing crafts, many balked because they were afraid the water would be too cold.
At that point, Robert Mitchum, acting as Gen. Norm Cota, became so frustrated at their hesitation, he jumped first, leaving the men with no other choice but to follow his lead.
Though Sean Connery was relatively unknown in 1962, he requested that his scenes be filmed quickly so he could get to Jamaica for another project. The movie was “Dr No” in which James Bond was introduced as one of the most popular movie franchises in history.
The 007 series proved profitable for two other German actors in “The Longest Day.” Gert Fröbe and Curt Jürgens later battled Sean Connery as two of James Bond’s arch-enemies.
Ironically, in real life, Jürgens, who played General Blumentritt, was imprisoned by the Nazis during the war.
Two other “Longest Day” actors were also involved with “Cleopatra” that was being shot concurrently in Italy. Because of production delays in that project, Richard Burton and Roddy McDowall stayed busy by appearing in small roles in the World War II D-Day epic.
Actor Richard Todd who actually participated in the June 6th assault at Pegasus Bridge was asked to portray himself in the movie. To which he replied, “I don’t think at this stage of my acting career I could accept a part ‘that’ small.” Todd accepted another role instead.
In the movie, Todd donned the actual beret he wore on D-Day.
The Longest Day: A film in Black and White
Until “Schindler’s List” in 1993, “The Longest Day” was the most expensive black and white film in history with a budget of ten million dollars.
One reason it was shot in black and white was to allow archive footage to be edited into the picture to give it a documentary feel.
Another reason was to make some of the older stars appear to be younger.
Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who did land at Utah Beach with his troops, died of a heart attack in France just a few weeks after the invasion.
Producer Darryl F. Zanuck had more than his own share of logistical problems during shooting. To demonstrate the scale of the project, Zanuck actually supervised more “troops” during the filming than any real-life general commanded in the actual campaign.
And finally, despite the fact that many of the military consultants from both sides actually participated in D-Day themselves, former Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the allied forces, actually walked out of the theater only a few minutes into the film because he was frustrated by its inaccuracies.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com
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