Veterans Day seems to be a good day to consider war movies. We saw the movie Fury last night and it was technically pretty good. A couple of folks on veteran sites complained about the haircuts but I don’t know if they would have been different in April 1945 in guys who had been fighting all the way from the Normandy beaches. I objected a bit to the tank they used as it looked like the Sherman Firefly that the British used. However, the movie web site says it was an M4 A2E8 which does look like the Firefly.
The combat scenes were intense and looked authentic to me. They even had a Tiger I from a museum in Britain. Most tanks that I see in Movies, including Patton, are not authentic Shermans.
The tactics looked pretty good as they showed that Shermans had to get around the Tiger Tank to attack the rear where the armor was thinner. The Russians used the same tactics with their T 34 which was the best tank of the war.
The story was about the same plot as Saving Private Ryan although some of the objectionable lines, like saving Ryan was “the only good thing that will come out of this war,” as if Hitler was not a good reason. The plot device is basically the same with the new guy as an innocent who survives and the experienced guys all get killed.
My list of war movies is pretty old. One of the first that was not just war propaganda was “They Were Expendable,” the story of the PT boats in the early days of the war. The Director was John Ford, who was a reserve Captain with experience shooting film at Midway during the battle. He was also one of the great directors of all time. One of the stars was Robert Montgomery who had commanded a PT boat in the war.
The next notable war movie was 12 O’Clock High, which starred Gregory Peck as General Frank Savage. The character was based on a composite of Colonel Frank Armstrong who did take over a failing group and got it back into fighting trim.
As a “trouble-shooter” for Eaker, on July 31, 1942, Armstrong relieved Colonel Cornelius W. “Connie” Cousland of command of the inadequately-trained 97th Bomb Group, the first group of B-17 Flying Fortress bombers sent to England, and put it through an intensive training period at RAF Polebrook. He then led it in combat on six of its first 10 missions from August 17 to September 2, 1942. Armstrong led the first daylight heavy bomber raid made by the USAAF over Occupied Europe, receiving the Silver Star and an oak leaf cluster to the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was also awarded the British Distinguished Flying Cross for the initial mission, the first U.S. officer to be so honored.
The other person in the composite was Paul Tibbets who actually flew the plane on the first mission into Europe and who also dropped the atomic bomb on Japan.
He flew the lead plane in the first American daylight heavy bomber mission against Occupied Europe on August 17, 1942, and the first American raid of more than 100 bombers in Europe on October 9, 1942. Tibbets was chosen to fly Major General Mark W. Clark and Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gibraltar. After flying 43 combat missions, he became the assistant for bomber operations on the staff of the Twelfth Air Force.
The staff position was held by the fictional Frank Savage before taking over the group, actually modeled on the 306th Group. The movie called it the 918th, three times the 306. The group that Armstrong retrained was the 97th Bomb Group, now renamed with a new mission but in 1942:
The group was established early in 1942 and initially trained B-17 crews in Florida and flew antisubmarine patrols. It deployed to England as part of Operation Bolero and became the first operationally-ready Eighth Air Force B-17 Flying Fortress group.
Combat operations by the group began on 17 August 1942, when the 97th Bomb Group flew the first Eighth Air Force heavy-bomber mission of the war, attacking the Rouen-Sotteville marshalling yards in France. The mission included 18 bombers – 12 to attack the yards and six to fly a diversion along the coast.
The lead aircraft of the group, Butcher Shop, was piloted by the Group Commander, Colonel Frank A. Armstrong, and Squadron Commander, Major Paul W. Tibbets, who later flew the Enola Gay to Hiroshima, Japan on the first atomic bomb mission.
The movie was based on a novel written by two men who had served with a bomb group and who knew what they were writing about.
Screenwriters Bartlett and Lay drew on their own wartime experiences with Eighth Air Force bomber units. At the Eighth Air Force headquarters, Bartlett had worked closely with Colonel Armstrong, who was the primary model for the character General Savage. The film’s 918th Bomber Group was modeled primarily on the 306th because that group remained a significant part of the Eighth Air Force throughout the war in Europe.
Veterans of the heavy bomber campaign frequently cite Twelve O’Clock High as the only Hollywood film that accurately captured their combat experiences.
The next notable war movie in my own experience was Battleground, another 1949 film and one that has always struck me as authentic.
The film is notable for portraying American soldiers as vulnerable and human, as opposed to just inspirational and gung-ho. While there is no question about their courage and steadfastness, each soldier has at least one moment in the film when he seriously considers running away, schemes to get sent away from the front line, slacks off, or complains about the situation he is in. Battleground is considered to be the first significant film about World War II to be made and released after the end of the war.
It introduces the theme of the newcomer to a combat unit.
The stars include John Hodiak, who did a good job although he had no war experience. He died suddenly at the age of 41 a few years later. Other notable characters were played by Van Johnson, and James Whitmore, in what I consider the best role in the film, plus a nice cast of an ensemble movie.
The next one that I consider authentic and historically very accurate was The Longest Day, and which was based on Cornelius Ryan’s bestseller which I have read several times. The cast was huge, even including a young Sean Connery, and I have visited many of the locations.
Looking at the bluffs at Omaha Beach, it is easy to see how the troops were in deep trouble.
Utah Beach was not the same geography and here the casualties were far fewer. The movie has been criticized mainly, and mainly since “Saving Private Ryan,” for not emphasizing the intense fire on the beach at Omaha. However, in my opinion, the accuracy of the history is still a major feature. I have driven all over Normandy and seen many of the sites of real battle.
For the rest, I have consulted a web site listing other war movies.
Sands of Iwo Jima is another 1949 war film with John Wayne in what I thought was a well acted role. Critical reception was good and Wayne was even nominated for an Oscar.
Compared to most combat films of its time, Sands of Iwo Jima was fairly nuanced in its view of war and military people. Ironically, many references to it in mass media and popular culture depict it as the quintessential “flag-waving” World War II film. This may have less to do with the movie’s actual contents than with star John Wayne’s later identification with conservative politics.
The subject of Patton is a favorite of mine as I have read a number of biographies of George S Patton Jr. The film is marred by the influence of Omar Bradley who hated Patton and appears as an avuncular uncle to the brash teenager, Patton. Bradley’s military reputation has been in decline the past few years and deservedly so, in my opinion. I’m not the only one.
Omar Bradley served as a consultant for the film, though the extent of his influence and input into the final script is largely unknown. While Bradley knew Patton personally, it was also well known that the two men were polar opposites in personality, and there is evidence to conclude that Bradley despised Patton both personally and professionally. As the film was made without access to General Patton’s diaries, it largely relied upon observations by Bradley and other military contemporaries when attempting to reconstruct Patton’s thoughts and motives. In a review of the film, S.L.A. Marshall, who knew both Patton and Bradley, stated that “The Bradley name gets heavy billing on a picture of comrade that, while not caricature, is the likeness of a victorious, glory-seeking buffoon. … Patton in the flesh was an enigma. He so stays in the film.
Patton’s widow had just died when the screenwriters asked for access to his dairies. The family refused access. Some of that might be due to his relationship with his adoring niece, Jean Gordon, who was very close to him and managed to get to England by volunteering for the Red Cross. There are rumors of a sexual relationship and something might have been in the diaries. He was a very interesting character and the movie is a classic although badly flawed through Bradley’s influence.
The next on my list is The Bridge on the River Kwai. I read this book when I was in high school and the movie was very well done. It is, of course based on the story of the Burma Siam Railroad, where over 40,000 prisoners died.
“The notorious Burma-Siam railway, built by Commonwealth, Dutch and American prisoners of war, was a Japanese project driven by the need for improved communications to support the large Japanese army in Burma. During its construction, approximately 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along the railway. An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 civilians also died in the course of the project, chiefly forced labour brought from Malaya and the Dutch East Indies, or conscripted in Siam (Thailand) and Burma. Two labour forces, one based in Siam and the other in Burma, worked from opposite ends of the line towards the centre.”
The movie is considered by some to be a parody of the British commander of the POWs.
The real senior Allied officer at the bridge was British Lieutenant Colonel Philip Toosey. Some consider the film to be an insulting parody of Toosey. On a BBC Timewatch programme, a former prisoner at the camp states that it is unlikely that a man like the fictional Nicholson could have risen to the rank of lieutenant colonel; and if he had, due to his collaboration he would have been “quietly eliminated” by the other prisoners. Julie Summers, in her book The Colonel of Tamarkan, writes that Pierre Boulle, who had been a prisoner of war in Thailand, created the fictional Nicholson character as an amalgam of his memories of collaborating French officers.
The best movie about the Korean War is The Steel Helmet, which has a theme a bit like Battleground.
When an American infantry unit surrenders to the North Koreans, the prisoners of war have their hands bound behind their backs and are then executed. Only Sergeant Zack (Gene Evans) survives the massacre, saved when the bullet meant for him is deflected by his helmet. He is freed by South Korean orphan (William Chun), nicknamed “Short Round” by Zack, who tags along despite the sergeant’s annoyance.
Gene Evans does a good job in a role very much like James Whitmore in “Battleground.” The movie was controversial but in a way that seems fine to me.
In October 1950, Fuller made his film in ten days with twenty-five extras who were UCLA students and a plywood tank, in a studio using mist, and exteriors shot in Griffith Park for $104,000. According to Ben Mankiewicz of Turner Classic Movies, Fuller wrote the script in a week. The Steel Helmet grossed more than $6 million.
The Steel Helmet confronts American racism when a North Korean Communist prisoner baits a black soldier in conversation with accounts of American society’s Jim Crow rules. Moreover, the Korean soldier makes the first-ever mention, in a Hollywood film, of the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II. The film infuriated the military who had provided assistance in the form of military stock footage. Army personnel summoned Fuller for a conference on the film. The U.S Army was upset over Sgt. Zack’s shooting of a prisoner of war. Fuller replied that in his World War II service it frequently happened, and had his former commanding officer, Brigadier General George A. Taylor, telephone the Pentagon to confirm it. In contrast, the Communist newspaper, The Daily Worker condemned The Steel Helmet as a right-wing fantasy.
MASH was not really a war movie and I have told people, usually to their shock, that I consider it one of the best medical movies I’ve seen. It is set in Korea but it is really a Vietnam movie.
There are other excellent war movies but these are the ones I like and would see again. In fact, I have a number of them on DVD and watch them occasionally.
42 thoughts on “War Movies”
MK, have you seen Command Decision? An excellent movie.
Since you like Twelve O’Clock High, you must also see Command Decision.
Clark Gable has the central role, and he was a gunner on a B-17 and did several combat missions in Europe.
As to the Korean War, I had a post over ten years ago about Pork Chop Hill and The Bridges at Toko Ri.
I saw it a long time ago. There are other good ones. Pork Chop Hill I saw when I was in high school, I think. Bridges was good too. One thing I don’t do is spend time watching the anti-war propaganda. Even Saving Private Ryan annoys me with its anti-war message that ignores history.
I still think Steel Helmet is the best Korean war movie although Bridges was excellent. I think the story of making The Steel Helmet is just amazing. It’s sort of like the story of making Rocky.
I found an early John Ford gem on youtube titled the “Seas Beneath” a few recognizable character actors in it, from 1931. I recommend it if your a naval film buff. I also found the “Battle of The River Plate” (a story that always intrigued me)which I had never seen before, and features Ian Hunter, an actor I admired from his roles in The Long Voyage Home and Strange Cargo.
Anoher one I like and forgot to include is The Enemy Below, which, if not as authentic as some others, is enjoyable. Again, the production is interesting. There would never be a ship’s doctor on a DE but poetic license is light.
Many of the Whitehurst’s crewmen acted in the film: The phone talkers, the gun and depth charge crews, the sailor fishing, and all of the men seen abandoning ship, were Whitehurst sailors. The ship’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Walter Smith, played the engineering officer. He is the man seen reading comics (Little Orphan Annie) during the lull before the action.
Saw an interesting movie last year – the Railway Man – about a man who endured the Japanese on the Burma Railway and tried to come to terms with his past in contemporary times.
I liked Fury although I think the last scene was a bit over the top. And facing a Tiger in a Sherman – knowing you would almost certainly die – that took courage.
They just had a brief scene with children/soldiers with a panzerfaust – but I read that they were very effective in the closing months of WW2 – and they were among the most fanatical – children who grew up in the Hitler Youth and knew nothing else.
It was kill or be killed.
BTW I think this is the movie I enjoyed some years ago – Robert Taylor in Above & Beyond – about his time in Wendover training with his crew and the secrecy of the Manhattan Project ]
I found Fury to be highly engaging when it was concentrating on the lives and struggles of the crew and I think the film would have been better for it if they had further developed the characters and portrayed the strain of repeated battle against an enemy who was known to hold every technical advantage.
The sole, brief tank v tank encounter was dangerous to the crew only because they said it was, not because the audience was given any understanding of it through example. The tank combat and tactics were ludicrous and bore no relation to how the vehicles would have been fought by experienced crews. I was looking forward to seeing old war stories come to life on the screen, what I actually got was a Michael Bay style action and explosions escapade but with a grim Private Ryan style visual to set it in the period.
The final, stupid battle was embarrassing. Did veteran SS units really run around like frightened children while they were being machine-gunned for hour after hour? I imagine that had that scenario actually taken place, the M4 would have been holed by a dozen Panzerfausts within a minute. Attacking tanks with infantry was not a suicide mission by 1945, everyone knew quite well how to disable and destroy them at close range, especially the experienced German infantry.
The scripting was simply lazy, throwing in waves of “helpless” veteran infantry so that our heros could slaughter them all while making wise-cracks. There is no tension in a battle when one hero can machine gun one hundred enemy troops and be in no danger what so ever, as the enemy always seem to miss their mark. And honestly, a PaK40 missing from a range of about 5 feet in a perfect ambush? The Germans may as well have been given pies to throw, they were THAT ineffective as soldiers.
2 Stars. Entertaining popcorn flick with all the realism of a Rambo movie.
Any time you have a movie with a realistic Tiger in it, that’s exciting. Dan and I have visited a few tank museums and I will put up a post on it someday.
“They just had a brief scene with children/soldiers with a panzerfaust”
One realistic feature, to me at least, was the presence of many panzerfausts in the marching army and I agree that they would have used them sooner in the final battle. Still, there was a lot that was not discussed that looked realistic to me. Of course, I have never driven a tank or fought a battle.
What surprise will do to a good army is illustrated in “Once an Eagle,” which was written by an author with a lot of combat experience and which is highly regarded by the Army which has made it required reading for the War College.
Here is a bit of FURY irony from the G104 Sherman tank collector’s newsgroup on Yahoo —
“Ironically, not an M4A3 in the set, which is what would have most likely been serving at that time in the US Army.”
Adrian Barrell, whose M4A4 was used in the movie, posted the following on Missing-Lynx a few days ago:
“Fury is an M4A2(76)HVSS
Matador is an M4(105)HVSS with a 76mm turret and gun and re-engined with a Mercedes diesel. It also has part M4 engine decks and doubled as Fury when the Tank Museums Sherman died on set.
Old Phyllis is an M4A1(76)
Lucy Sue is an M4A2
Murder Inc is my M4A4 (Adrian’s)
There were also two more M4A4s, a Grizzly and an M4(105)HVSS for various scenes.”
Sherman Technical notes:
There were six different models of US-built Sherman tank with gas and diesel engines (and one Canadian-built model):
M4 — Continental R-975 radial gas engine
M4A1 — Continental R-975 radial gas engine
M4A2 — GM 6046 diesel engine (joined 6-72 engines)
M4A3 — Ford GAA V8 gas engine
M4A4 — Chrysler A57 Multibank gas engine (3 straight six engines joined)
M4A5 — No US production; 188 built in Canada as Grizzly I with Continental R-975 radial gas engine
M4A6 — Caterpillar RD1820A radial diesel
The M4 and M4A1 were the primary US Army Sherman through the summer of 1944. The M4 had welded hull with cast front armor on late production models (The Flame tanks of Okinawa were all of this variant) and the M4A1 had an all casting hull.
The M4A2 had a pair of diesel engine on a common drive shaft with a welded hull. They were used by the USMC and the Russians via lend lease.
The M4A3 was another welded hull Sherman and was a early production lend lease tank to the British. Later this model became the primary US Army Sherman after the Summer of 1944. This was both after the Ford engine proved its superiority over the radial…and the higher industrial priorities for training aircraft production made the Sherman’s radial engine hard to come by in any case.
The M4A4 was a welded hull Sherman that was a Lend lease only tank and the British were its primary users.
All Sherman tanks used cast turrets, one for the 75mm gun, a second design for the 76mm gun, and s specialized extra armor variant of the 76mm turret for the 254 ea. M4A3E2 “Jumbo” assault tank.
A notation like this:
Would be for a late production M4 radial engine powered Sherman armed with a 76mm gun, having “horizontal volute suspension” with 24 inch wide tracks, and 76 mm gun ammunition stored in anti-freeze and water filled (”W” for “wet”) jackets.
The notation “E8” usually means HVSS, but for some reason most post-WW2 most writing seems to apply that notation only to the M4A3.
When I click that link, I get the Mail program opening.
At least they used Shermans for the movie. Patton used more modern tanks, probably because Shermans were scarce. The movie was made in Britain because they have more Shermans available.
I didn’t mention it in the post but one big question still discussed is why the M 26 was not developed for Normandy. One version is that McNair was against it. Another was that Devers, who was enthusiastic, was assigned to lead ANVIL, later renamed Dragoon.
Devers, the primary mover and proponent of ANVIL, got his long-awaited opportunity to lead troops in combat. On July 16, with the concurrence of General Marshall and General Eisenhower, General Wilson named him Commander of a newly activated Sixth Army Group made up of Seventh Army and French Army “B”.
Sadly, McNair won and Devers was “kicked upstairs” and we had no tank to fight the Panther and Tiger.
Lieutenant General Jacob Devers knew quite a bit about tanks. He had led the Armored Force after the premature death of the “Father of the American Armored Force,” General Adna Chaffee Jr. He had fought countless battles against the “evil” McNair on the size and equipment of armored divisions, on the need for a medium tank capable of dealing with enemy tanks, for proper radio equipment and training. He also had fought battles against Ordnance’s engineers and their idea of tanks bristling with unusable machine guns, sporting crammed turrets, and lacking sufficient engine power.
There has always been an argument about why the M 26 was not used for Normandy. One was that it was too heavy, similar to the argument in Korea. This book about Devers has an interesting theory, which if true, means a lot.
In December Devers’ successor, General Dwight Eisenhower, weighed in against the T26, arguing that the only improvement of the T26 over the M4 was the additional armor and that it was not necessary. Eisenhower’s intervention rested on the assurance made by Ordnance’s people that the 76mm gun of the newest Shermans was more than adequate to deal with Tiger and Panthers.
They were wrong.
Others disagree, YMMV.
The blogger Chieftain over at the World of Tanks gaming site disagrees for good reasons, IMO.
….The Chieftain’s Observations
Thus ends the overview, from Ordnance’s perspective, of the development and implementation of the T26/M26 General Pershing. This is where I get to climb on my soapboax and give my opinion.
Much is made as to why Pershing was not introduced into service sooner, with various claims going around that McNair personally held up development, or that the M26 could have been available in numbers for the Normandy landings, if not the standard US tank. We’ll ignore the ‘Patton didn’t like it’ silliness as not worthy of commentary.
Bear in mind that Ordnance’s relating of history is not particularly generous to AGF or McNair. The section entitled “Relations with Army Ground Forces and AGF Components” starts with “Relations between the Ordnance Department and Army Ground Forces were often strained. Differences of opinion as to the development of ordnance arose almost daily and occasionally gave rise to considerable rancor, especially in connection with heavy tanks. Most of these differences could be traced to a fundamental divergence of opinion between AGF and the Ordnance Department as to the role of the Ordnance Department with respect to the development of materiel.”
As a result, any conclusions drawn from Ordnance’s perspective are likely to place the best possible view of Ordnance and their heroic crusade to give US soldiers the most capable tank the US can come up with against the evil forces of AGF inertia and closed-minded thinking. Yet, even at that, it doesn’t really seem to paint AGF’s position as being particularly poor or a significant factor in delay.
Firstly, and most importantly, there’s the question of how quickly the vehicle could be brought into service through the development process. Many of the questions of delay refer to whether or not the vehicle should be accepted for mass production, or actually mass produced. Bear in mind that the reason that the Zebra mission got shipped out in January 1945 was that was when they could get the first 20 vehicles off the production line, and the approval for producing the first 250 was made unofficially in early December 1943 and officially in early January 1944. This seems to make the delay in approving the Zebra mission to Europe fairly irrelevant: Even if AGF had immediately acceded to the request, they would still have had to build the tanks.
This approval for mass production seems to be the only significant delay which can be ascribed to AGF: The initial request for mass production of 500 was in early October 1943, which was denied. If we were to assume that the creation of the first 20 production tanks (as opposed to the ten evaluation vehicles) were to be the same two months sooner as the change in approval date, then it would apparently not have been possible to get even those twenty tanks into combat before late December 1944, and subsequent deliveries may not have had huge effect given the nature of fighting which followed from that date. Given that the request to approve 500 tanks was made some four months before the first actual T26 was delivered for testing in February of 1944 (itself approved for production June 1943), it is perhaps not particularly surprising that AGF and ASF might look a little askance at approving such a large production request for an untried vehicle: Basically a Paper Panzer, it hadn’t even been built yet! One also has the issue that the vehicles produced in December would have been made without the benefit of some observations from the extra two months of testing which, you will recall from earlier articles in this series, indicated that the tank still needed some work.
The repeated denials of combat testing of T26E1 in the NATO also seems justifiable. Deserts are not the most forgiving environments to begin with, and as testing in slightly less hostile Aberdeen and Ft Knox showed, the mechanical state of the vehicle was such that the vehicle was simply not combat ready. Had the T26E1 platoon actually shown up in theatre, it could very well have proven utterly unreliable and scuppered the program, plus been an unreliable drain on resources which the local commanders would have had to take into account, possibly a risk to life. It was a risk which probably wouldn’t have had much benefit, AGF’s position on not making combat theatres early test and evaluation facilities has strong merit. Plus one also has the issue of the very small number of vehicles which would have been sent out. A couple of tanks, vs the 20 of the Zebra Mission. The first T26 to see action in Zebra (“Fireball”) was knocked out on Day 1 by a Tiger, leaving another 19, can one imagine what would have happened had one of a T26 platoon in North Africa or Italy suffered the same fate?
These various timelines, to my mind, do not seem unreasonable when one compares the timelines of the 76mm M4. Recall that full scale production of the vehicle was still approved in early September 1943, after testing, and few tanks made it to Europe before the June D-Day even though the vehicle was merely a derivative of something already in full production. Arguing that an entirely new vehicle which had not even started testing until February 1944 could have been in theatre in any appreciable numbers merely four months later would, I think, indicate a detachment from the realities of procurement and logistics.
So what really –was- McNair’s influence? Arguably, from the timeline shown by Ordnance’s history, it seems it wasn’t so much that he scuppered Ordnance’s plans because he didn’t like the tank (even if he didn’t), but it was mainly due to the more pragmatic philosophy of not wanting to send untested vehicles into combat, a philosophy which he appears to have ingrained into AGF for it remained their position even after his death in July 1944. There may well be further precedent to be found in the 76mm M4: Ordnance and AGF approved the early 76mm M4 with the original turret with an eye to having it partake in the North Africa landings, only to have the end user (Armored Force) test it in time to prevent the vehicle from being deployed once they realized that it was unacceptable. Once bitten, twice shy, perhaps.
So, in my opinion, Pershing seems to have gotten into theatre as soon as practicable, regardless of AGF’s interference, and with barely 230 made by March 1945, still less than the originally production order of 250 making subsequent machinations effectively irrelevant, there would have been relatively little battlefield effect even if AGF hadn’t interfered.
” a fundamental divergence of opinion between AGF and the Ordnance Department as to the role of the Ordnance Department with respect to the development of materiel.”
The other problem was that Ordnance did not have a good record in prior tank models. The US was expert at mass production, not tank design. The transmission for the T 34 was American designed by Christie. There are number of other mistakes by Army Ordnance like the Maxim machine gun.
The M1904 was deployed in operations in the Philippines, Hawaii, Mexico, and Central and South America, but never saw much combat use. During World War I, it remained in the U.S. for training
The Germans used it with great effectiveness in WWI.
The German Army’s Maschinengewehr 08 and the Russian Pulemyot Maxim were both more or less direct copies of the Maxim.
I don;t have to relate the story of the M 16 rifle to make the point that the Ordnance Corps was not exactly a model of efficiency.
The first issues of the rifle generated considerable controversy because the gun suffered from a jamming flaw known as “failure to extract”, which meant that a spent cartridge case remained lodged in the chamber after a bullet was fired. According to a congressional report, the jamming was caused primarily by a change in gunpowder that was done without adequate testing and reflected a decision for which the safety of soldiers was a secondary consideration, away from what the designer specified, as well as telling troops the rifle was ‘self cleaning’ and at times failing to issue cleaning kits.
This was absolutely a notorious example of ineptitude.
The T 26 was only one of the stories. The Tiger tank was also unreliable but, when they were running, they were deadly. I’ve got Belton Cooper’s book “Death Traps.”
In my view (as an armor office having lead at the platoon, company and battalion levels) “Fury” was intended to convey a recurring progressive vision of our military history that we had no legitimate purpose to our wars other than empire, power and power elite self-interest, that our military was mostly comprised of confused, duped, ill-led, ignorant and vicious animals (who for example would frequently shoot prisoners in the back and transport dead bodies haphazardly thrown in the back of an open cargo truck) and whose barbarism was more than a match to that of our enemies (including the Nazi SS). I’m not saying such incidents as portrayed in “Fury” and the like didn’t on rare occasion happen, but they were not a matter of usual practice and were not tolerated. I have this on pretty good authority from my father who was an infantry lieutenant in the 101th Airborne throughout WW II. Of the five officers in G Company, only two survived the war. My Dad being one, twice wounded, once captured and then escaped. That’s why I am here.
The tactics and combat in the first major scene (assault of German AT guns and dug in infantry across an open field) were abominable and unrealistic. Since when did 88 gunners become unable to hit slowly moving tanks at close range? When did WW II tank crews put an unprotected crewman on the back deck when it would have left no one to load the main gun (which miraculously continued to engage at a high rate of fire)? Where was the artillery, close air or at least mortars? Why attack across an open field when flanking approaches were shown on the map used by the commander to brief the mission? The Shermans were very inaccurate firing on the move, but this they did. No base of fire to support the maneuver element.
The practice of putting a tank crewman on the back deck (but sand bagged in) manning a .50 caliber was a technique used in Viet Nam on M-48 tanks. The chief threat was dismounted ambush with RPG’s and IED’s, not armor. The M48 could be well fought without a gunner since the tank commander had hydraulic turret controls and optics at his station and the primary anti-personnel main gun round was canister. High explosive and white phosphorous were used for bunkers and other point or hard targets. The WW II european theater and the Sherman were totally unsuited for such a technique.
A tank commander jumps off his tank and un-horses a German officer and stabs him repeatedly with a knife. Really? The best summary I’ve heard about Fury was the conclusion my airborne infantry buddy gave to his grandson as they left the theater, “The only thing you need to remember from this move is that stupid commanders get their men killed.”
On your list of memorable war movies I would add “We Were Soldiers.”
“On your list of memorable war movies I would add “We Were Soldiers.”
I should have included that. My only disappointment was that the Rick Rescorla character was omitted.
On tanks and tank tactics, I bow to the expert. I still liked the movie and it was more realistic than Patton, for example, both in the tanks and the portrayal of the man which was biased by Bradley.
I agree the stabbing incident was unrealistic. I don’t know about Artillery in that particular setting. It has been described as the most effective weapon the US had in Europe.
On the topic of shooting prisoners and other misbehavior, I was just reading “The War Between The Generals, by Irving and Chapter 16. There were over 400 executions of US soldiers in France, most for rape and other crimes. There was even (page 208) a suggestion that a public hanging be held for members of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions because of numerous examples of crime, including rape and looting.
The French public, at least in the Normandy area, were said to believe the Germans behaved better. The enthusiasm of the French for liberation seems to have been exaggerated.
On the late development and deployment of the M26: If you take a a longer view, I think you have to put some blame on FDR (who was a Navy man, and not much interested in the Army). According to Atkinson in “Dawn”: “Only six medium tanks had been built in 1939.”
If you look at the men he chose to head the War Department before WW II began, you’ll see that he didn’t pick top military men, or even top executives.
IMHO, our encounters with the Tiger in North Africa should have been a wake-up call for our political leadership, as well as our military bureaucracies.
Best books I’ve read on war:
Citizen Soldiers by Stephen Ambrose.
From Amazon – This sequel to D-DAY opens at 00:01 hours, June 7, 1944 on the Normandy Beaches and ends at 02:45 hours, May 7, 1945. In between comes the battles in the hedgerows of Normandy, the breakout of Saint-Lo, the Falaise gap, Patton tearing through France, the liberation of Paris, the attempt to leap the Rhine in operation Market-Garden, the near-miraculous German recovery, the battles around Metz and in the Huertgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge, the capture of the bridge at Remagen and, finally, the overunning of Germany. From the enlisted men and junior officers, Ambrose draws on hundreds of interviews and oral histories from those on both sides of the war.
About Face by Colonel David Hackworth.
From Amazon – From age fifteen to forty David Hackworth devoted himself to the US Army and fast became a living legend. In 1971, however, he appeared on television to decry the doomed war effort in Vietnam. With About Face, he has written what many Vietnam veterans have called the most important book of their generation.
From Korea to Berlin, from the Cuban missile crisis to Vietnam, Hackworth’s story is that of an exemplary patriot, played out against the backdrop of the changing fortunes of America and the American military. It is also a stunning indictment of the Pentagon’s fundamental misunderstanding of the Vietnam conflict and of the bureaucracy of self-interest that fueled the war.
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.
From Amazon – “My favorite historical novel . . . a superb re-creation of the Battle of Gettysburg, but its real importance is its insight into what the war was about, and what it meant.” —James M. McPherson
In the four most bloody and courageous days of our nation’s history, two armies fought for two conflicting dreams. One dreamed of freedom, the other of a way of life. Far more than rifles and bullets were carried into battle. There were memories. There were promises. There was love. And far more than men fell on those Pennsylvania fields. Bright futures, untested innocence, and pristine beauty were also the casualties of war. Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece is unique, sweeping, unforgettable—the dramatic story of the battleground for America’s destiny.
An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson
From Amazon -WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE AND NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
“A splendid book… The emphasis throughout is on the human drama of men at war.”—The Washington Post Book World
The liberation of Europe and the destruction of the Third Reich is an epic story of courage and calamity, of miscalculation and enduring triumph. In this first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shows why no modern reader can understand the ultimate victory of the Allied powers without a grasp of the great drama that unfolded in North Africa in 1942 and 1943.
Opening with the daring amphibious invasion in November 1942, An Army at Dawn follows the American and British armies as they fight the French in Morocco and Algiers, and then take on the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. Battle by battle, an inexperienced and sometimes poorly led army gradually becomes a superb fighting force. At the center of the tale are the extraordinary but flawed commanders who come to dominate the battlefield: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel.
Brilliantly researched, rich with new material and vivid insights, Atkinson’s vivid narrative tells the deeply human story of a monumental battle for the future of civilization.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
From Amazon – Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS after its initial publication, The Making of the Atomic Bomb remains the seminal and complete story of how the bomb was developed, from the turn-of-the-century discovery of the vast energy locked inside the atom to the dropping of the first bombs on Japan.
Few great discoveries have evolved so swiftly—or have been so misunderstood. From the theoretical discussions of nuclear energy to the bright glare of Trinity, there was a span of hardly more than twenty-five years. What began as merely an interesting speculative problem in physics grew into the Manhattan Project, and then into the bomb, with frightening rapidity, while scientists known only to their peers—Szilard, Teller, Oppenheimer, Bohr, Meitner, Fermi, Lawrence, and von Neumann—stepped from their ivory towers into the limelight.
Richard Rhodes gives the definitive story of man’s most awesome discovery and invention. Told in rich human, political, and scientific detail, The Making of the Atomic Bomb is a narrative tour de force and a document with literary power commensurate with its subject.
My favorite war movies:
Band of Brothers (also written by Stephen Ambrose) (HBO)
Dances with Wolves
Rome Season One (HBO)
I’d also like to add that The Killer Angels and The Making of the Atomic Bomb I count among the best books I’ve ever read, on any subject.
[Jonathan adds: This comment was originally submitted last night but got caught in the spam filter. Apologies.]
Many years ago I read what I thought at the time was a pretty good novel that followed a German (non-com?) from success in North Africa and into seemingly perpetual retreat up Italy and back into the fatherland. Can someone recall what the title of this was or who the author is? It’s been bothering me for some time…just can’t recall it.
All three of the Rick Atkinson books are great. The middle one, “The Day of Battle” is a bit depressing but that is because the Italian campaign was depressing. Repeated errors and failed campaigns like Anzio make tough reading.
The British did offer us some of their 17 pounder Shermans, but we did not like to take advice from them. Towards the end of the war, it was quite obvious that anti-tank technology had progressed more than that of protective armor with the introduction of cheap infantry HEAT rockets and early forms of high velocity rounds -HVDS. Wider tracks would have made a huge difference in the wet Autumn conditions – especially when quick flanking moves meant life or death.
Kelly’s Heroes is still one of my favorite war movies. It wasn’t made to realistically portray war, yet got a lot of the little details right.
If any ‘Boyz’ readers have not yet heard or read of ‘Alternative History’ novcels, might I suggest a slow and steady read through the trilogy by John Birmingham which begins with ‘Weapons of choice’. As with all fiction, the reader must suspend belief just a little, but once the paradigm of ‘time travel’ even involuntary, is accepted, Mr. Birmingham has produced a first-class ‘what-if’ series of how the 21st Century technologies impacted the War of the 1940’s. In the second, but mainly the third book, a good tank engineering upgrade discussion is laid out, but the stories are mainly all about how 1940’s men adapted and fought with 21st Century technology; but on both sides of the chasm of war.
I would also highlight my own small salute to the men and boys who flew in the B-17’s from English bases against the Germans, either by visiting the free Wattpad site, or by visiting the Smashwords site to find American Cemetery.
I found this amazing page, written by a former Boeing B-17 tail gunner named Wally Hoffman, and had two conversations with this man, but when I attempted a third e-mail, a relative messaged back that her grandfather had finally died.
Another interesting alternate history book is Rising Sun Victorious” which provides a series of chapters written by military historians about what might have happened if certain battles had ended differently.
One really interesting chapter is about the invasion of the Home Islands since there was a huge typhoon that occurred at the time of the planned invasion.
The atomic bomb ended that particular possibility but what if it had not worked ?
I can’t begin to tell you how awful “Rising Sun Victorious” is in terms of doing violence to the term “history.”
“Hitler with the sweet disposition of Lassie” pretty much covers it regards the Invasion of Japan.
It is “alternate history” and that seems to be it. Examples ? It’s been years since I read it.
I bought my copy at the Pearl Harbor Memorial shop.
What fuel did Japan have to invade and conquer India?
What fuel did Japan have to invade and conquer Australia?
What fuel did Japan have to invade, conquer, and hold both Midway plus Hawaii -and- attack the West coast?
And America failing to successfully conquer Japan without the A-bomb? That’s pure “Hitler with the sweet disposition of Lassie.”
Hell man, 8th and 20th Air Force B-29’s were going to drop 9,000 tons of bombs on the Kyushu invasion beaches alone, the three days before the main assault on Kyushu.
The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima was 15 kilotons in yield.
I don’t recall some of those scenarios. It’s been years since I read it. I do recall the alternate history of Midway if McCluskey had turned the other way. I was impressed that the typhoon could have been a major factor. The one that Halsey blundered the fleet into killed as many men as the Kamikazis did. I think that scenario was that the Japanese were playing for a stalemate.
It was interesting but not all chapters were equal.
A better theoretical exercise would be if they and bypassed Hawaii and gone for the oil in Java.
Losing at Midway was a definite possibility.
Losing Hawaii after that was not.
As for invading Japan, the US Navy was coming prepared for the kamikaze with the Cadillac airborne early warning airborne radar planes.
According to the US Navy files I have copies of from the national archives, the Cadillac Airborne Early Warning (AEW) production plans as of 25 Jul 1945 were as follows —
Cadillac I — 27 TBM-3W AEW with three weighted pilot trainers, MIT Radiation Research Laboratory Crash Program — completed
Cadillac IA — 157 TBM-3W AEW, USN Production Program thru 1946 — 13 built and 144 cancelled
Cadillac II — 1 PB-17W prototype plus 19 PB-17W, RRL Crash Program — Completed at slow rate after WW2
Cadillac III — 50 PB-17B, USN production program with additional height finding radar — cancelled
Cadillac IV(+)– 50 PB-17W USN production program with moving target indicator circuitry (MTI) — cancelled
Cadillac AEW technology transitioned to a low rate development production post war with a predominant ASW hunter-killer role versus advanced technology German subs in Soviet service.
That works out to 30 AEW planes by Olympic (Nov 1945) and a order of magnitude more — 304 AEW planes — by May 1946, AKA one year after the surrender of Germany.
Two issues that I have never seen addressed to my satisfaction are the October 5 typhoon and the issue of the point system and the difficulties of transferring the army from Europe to the Pacific.
The Army transfer problem was one.
After Germany’s surrender in May the United States embarked upon a huge logistical effort to redeploy more than a million troops from Europe, the United States, and other inactive theaters to the Pacific. The aim was to complete the redeployment in time to launch an invasion of Japan on November I, and the task had to be undertaken in the face of competing shipping demands for demobilization of long-service troops, British redeployment, and civil relief in Europe. By the time the war ended, some 150,000 men had moved directly from Europe to the Pacific, but a larger transfer from the United States across the Pacific had scarcely begun. In the Pacific, MacArthur and Nimitz had been sparing no effort to expand ports and ready bases to receive the expected influx and to mount invasion forces. The two commanders were also completing plans
The point system would complicate the organization of a Japan invasion army.
Army and Army Air Force units in Europe were classified into four categories for the purpose of occupation, redeployment, or demobilization.
Category I consisted of units to remain in Europe. The occupying force for Germany would consist of eight divisions and a total occupying force of 337,000 personnel to be reduced further in June 1946.
Category II consisted units to be re-deployed to the Pacific. About one million soldiers were slated to be sent to the Pacific, including 13 infantry and 2 armored divisions. 400,000 soldiers were to go directly from Europe to the Pacific to arrive between September 1945 and January 1946; another 400,000 were to be undergo eight weeks of retraining in the United States and continue to the Pacific to arrive by April 1946. About 200,000 air force personnel were to go to the Pacific, either from Europe or the United States.
Category III units were to be reorganized and retrained before being reclassified into Category I or II
Category IV units were to be returned to the U.S. to be inactivated and personnel discharged. Category IV units consisted of soldiers who qualified for discharge under the point system. The total number of soldiers in Europe to be discharged was planned to be 2.25 million between the end of the war in Europe and December 1946.
As departures of soldiers from Europe was to be by units, a massive reshuffling of personnel took place to get soldiers eligible for demobilization into units designated for return to the U.S. and deactivation. Turnover of personnel in one typical unit, the 28th Infantry Division, was 20 percent for enlisted men in one week and 46 percent for officers in 40 days. This impacted efficiency and unit cohesion.
This would have been a nightmare as high points soldiers were separated from their units and replaced with less experienced leaders.
Trent – Japan had fuel. They lacked transport ships. India could have easily switched sides after a major British defeat. It is quite amazing how close things became at the end of 1942 and first half of 1943.
MacArthur gave the War Department, and Assistant Secretary of War Patterson in particular, an ultimatum in July 1945 that he would cancel Operation Olympic if he was forced to release men of between 80 and 85 points.
MacArthur won that point because he had the unified support of the Senior Army brass to include Marshall and Ike. All of whom saw the points based disaster that befell the ETO Combat Divisions.
This of course meant Coronet was suspect, but the War Department was already making alternate invasion plans to replace it as the war ended.
In Pogue’s biography of Marshall, he spends some time discussing the problems with the public and Congress in 1944-45 which did not want to send any more “boys” into the Army. They thought the war was won. This might have become a serious problem if the atomic bomb had not worked. Japan by 1945 was going for a stalemate.
Is there a site that has translations of Japanese documents, letters, and diaries that can be easily accessed? I’m trying to go through the Guadalcanal campaign with rudimentary translations and it is a pain. As per the article, American forces seemed to like the light tanks with the most ventilation due to climate and lack of enemy tanks. The 105mm Sherman did good work.
As to the invasion of Japan, we were all ready to use a defoliant on the Japanese rice and barley harvest starting in September 1945. The starvation caused by this would have lead to revolution with the Soviets more than ready to fill the void. Our invasion would never have occurred. The almost certainty of desertion of men who had already done more than their share of fighting in Europe would have ensured this. I’ve talked to plenty of veterans who had no intention of hopping on transports to Japan after their service in Germany.
Frank’s book on Guadalcanal has quite a bit about the Japanese side. I read a book about the Japanese story of Midway called Shattered Sword that is excellent. Beyond that, I don’t know. Maybe others do.
>>Trent – Japan had fuel. They lacked transport ships.
The Japanese Navy lacked both the fuel, and the oil tankers to move it, to use its Yamato class battleships in the Guadalcanal campaign.
An Indian invasion was an order of magnitude more fuel to be delivered and used at the same sorts of support distance from Japan’s fuel sources.
That’s a “Hitler with the sweet disposition of Lassie” scenario.
Regards the Point system and the ETO to PTO move of the US Army in 1945, Ryan Criere sent me the following e-mail on his research into the subject —
Planning for redeploying everyone from ETO to PTO began on 8 July 1944; only 33 days after Normandy.
In a letter on 19 April 1945; Ike stated bluntly that he did not want any combat soldier who had seen duty in North Africa and Europe to be sent to the Pacific.
The actual date of R-Day (Redeployment Day) was 12 May 1945; 96 hours after V-E Day.
The ETO Basic Plan for Redeployment and Readjusted was published on 15 May 1945.
This plan was rescinded by HQ USFET’s Basic Directive for Redeployment and Readjustment on 1 August 1945.
Units were divided into four categories:
ETO Occupation Troops
Transferred to active theater through the US or placed in US strategic reserve in CONUS.
Units to be reorganized, upon which they would be in Category I/II
Units to be demobilized/deactivated.
Manpower wise, out of 3+ million men in the ETO on V-E day, only 400k were to be left behind in Europe; all the other 2.6 million men would have been moved out in a 12 month period; meaning an average of 216,000+ men would have to be moved a month to get it done by June 1946.
The Points System was (for enlisted men only!):
Each Month of Army Service: 1 Point
Each Month of Overseas Service: 1 Pt
Combat Credits: 5 pts
Parenthood credits for each child under 18: 12 pts (max of 3 children claimed)
The critical score for men was 85; while for WACs it was 44.
Due to Ike’s orders; if you fought in MTO and ETO; even if your critical score was below 85; you would be transferred to a Category I unit in the Army of Occupation.
If you were a WAC whose husband had been discharged, you could use that as proof for an immediate discharge from the service.
For Officers, a Theatre Eligibility Score was set up, similar to the points system.
Officers of the Army of the United States (AUS) who had TES of 85 or higher and weren’t essential to theatre requirements were eligible for return to the US and Discharge.
Officers/Warrants of the Regular Army, and permanent members of the Army Nurse Corps were considered essential -no matter what their TES score was.
The high point man in the entire ETO was a 2nd LT in the AAF who had 291 points.
After him were three AAF enlisted men who had tied for 206 points.
In third place the high point AGF/ASF enlisted man had 170 points.
A little know fact was that the theater with the highest percentage of WAC’s was MacArthur’s SWPA theater.
IKE and the ETO/MTO crowd didn’t want WAC’s or WAVE’s and they had English civilians and English military women for the jobs.
MacArthur took what he could get.
The end result was that MacArthur’s WAC support in administrative positions was set to evaporate for both Operation Downfall invasions.
OTOH, MacArthur had the entire Filipino people to draw upon to do much of the 44 point or higher WAC’s work.
Had the Invasions of Japan happened, IKE’s holding back of low point dual MTO/ETO vets would have been a huge mar on his professional and political reputation that MacArthur for one would have gone ballistic over, considering what was set to happen for Coronet.
It is something that would have been used against IKE in his run for the Presidency.
Trent – I realize that Japan’s ability to refine oil was greatly diminished and there are many instances of engine problems in naval vessels operated by Japan due to low quality fuel. (The British and Dutch destruction of oil facilities was quite extensive.) The Soviets were giving supplies to Japan up until they declared war. As we were giving the Russians vast quantities of equipment and chemicals to refine crude oil, I wonder if any of it made its way to Japan?
One of the greatest aerial combat films ever made (1948), “Fighter Squadron” with Rock Hudson, in his first acting role,also starring Robert Stack, and Edmond O’Brien. The film can’t be bought in the U.S. for some reason, but it does show actual P-47 attacks in spectacular color on German targets. The movie targets the demand for extra fuel tanks on Thunderbolts in order to escort B-17s to their long range targets without the fighters having to turn back leaving the bomb groups unprotected from German fighters. It has been rumored that this film was used extensively by the Air Force as a training film in the early days of the Korean conflict.
I saw Fighter Squadron when it came out. I was ten and it was the last movie my father saw, at least with the family. I didn’t know who Rock Hudson was and haven’t seen it since.
It wasn’t just oil refining — although the Dutch did such a good job of sabotage in Borneo and Java that the Imperial Japanese Army executed the Dutch oil men that did it out of frustration — it was the ability of the Japanese to place that oil where it needed to go in order to invade India, Australia or Midway/Hawaii that mattered.
The Japanese didn’t have the merchant hulls for the operations they did do, let alone do more.
That is a large reason why their garrisons in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands starved to death.
The Japanese could not build up their forward airpower to protect what they seized, let alone expand farther.
Once the Western Allies could get their airpower established in Burma, the Solomon Islands and at Port Morsbey, New Guinea, the Japanese lacked the fuel to really push farther.
It was then a war of attrition at the far end of either side’s logistical net…and attrition favored the bigger economies of the Western Allies.
On memorable and enlightening books on war, I nominate The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer. The autobiography of a German soldier who served on the Eastern Front right up to the fall of Berlin. I believe it accurately portrays the experiences of the transportation and infantry grunt during this campaign. It accurately shows the price paid at the lower level in modern mobile warfare. It greatly shaped my perspective on the duty and respect leaders owe their men and my regard for the fighting spirit and flexibility of the German army in WW II. Sajers homecoming at the conclusion of the book is poignant.
I found that cohesion, flexibility and fighting skills still alive in the Panzer company I trained with in the early 70’s.
“The Japanese didn’t have the merchant hulls for the operations they did do, let alone do more.”
That is the most difficult factor in trying to understand why they went to war, especially with us. Had they attacked French and British and Dutch colonies, they might have gotten away with it as we were not eager to go to war.
Yamamoto was not the genius that so many credit him with being. He lost the war for them.
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