THE LONGEST DAY
SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 – 1945; World/WWII;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Courage in War;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness.
AGE; 10+; No MPAA Rating;
Drama/Documentary; 1962; 179 minutes; B & W. Available from Amazon.com.
This movie is a fairly accurate description of D-Day. It shows the landings from the point of view of the American, French, British, and German participants. The film is based on the book by Cornelius Ryan.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: 1962 Academy Awards: Best Black & White Cinematography, Best Special Effects; 1963 Golden Globe Awards: Best Black & White Cinematography; 1962 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year; 1962 Academy Awards Nominations: Best Picture, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (B&W), Best Film Editing.
Featured Actors: John Wayne, Richard Burton, Red Buttons, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, Robert Ryan, Paul Anka, Mel Ferrer, Edmond O’Brien, Fabian, Sean Connery, Roddy McDowall, Arletty, Curt Jurgens, Rod Steiger, Jean-Louis Barrault, Peter Lawford, Robert Wagner, Sal Mineo, Leo Genn, Richard Beymer, Jeffrey Hunter.
Director: Ken Annakin.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Students will more thoroughly comprehend the important strategic, military and moral victory known as D-Day. Research and writing assignments at the film’s end will assist teachers in meeting curricular goals associated with WWII.
MINOR. This is a war movie with lots of death. There is no gore and, in fact, the full horror of war is not shown. The movie was made in 1962 at the height of the Cold War when the U.S. valued its West German ally. It gives a very sympathetic view of the German army, ignoring its complicity in many of the atrocities of the Nazi regime and the murder by SS Troops of Allied soldiers taken prisoner during the Normandy invasion. These failings should be explained to students who are shown in this film.
Note on The Longest Day vs. Saving Private Ryan and other exceedingly violent films:
Although the Longest Day omits much of the pain, mutilation, and death involved in war, TWM recommends it rather than films such as Saving Private Ryan. which are so realistic in their portrayal of the violence and gore of war that causes a risk of emotional harm to some students below the ages of 18. There is no harm in having children wait to see such scenes until they are older .
In 1942, General Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, had warned Germany to: “Beware the fury of an aroused democracy.” On D-Day, June 6, 1944, the Allies mounted the largest amphibious assault in history and made good on Eisenhower’s warning. The invasion force consisted of more than 5,000 ships, 1,200 warships and 13,000 airplanes. Some 90,000 U.S., British, Canadian, and Free French troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, while about 20,000 more came by parachute or glider. The invasion had been in preparation for a year.
Casualties turned out to be less than expected except at Omaha Beach, where strong German resistance and difficult seas resulted in about 2,000 U.S. casualties. By June 11, 1944, the Allied forces had linked up and made a solid front, ensuring that they would not be thrown back into the sea.
The success of the Normandy invasion was crucial to the Allies. By the same token, defeating the invasion was vitally important to the Axis. Hitler is reported to have said: “The destruction of the enemy’s landing is the sole decisive factor in the whole conduct of the war and hence in its final results.” But the Germans couldn’t stop the invasion. In 1943, they were fighting the Americans and British in Italy and the Mediterranean as well as the Russians in the East. The Atlantic Coastline from Holland to France was 6,000 kilometers. It could not be watched in all places. In short, the Germans were overextended.
The Allies, backed by the tremendous productive power of the U.S. and the men of the American and British armies, were not to be denied. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote:
Three weeks after D-day, one million men had been put ashore, along with an astonishing supply of 171,532 vehicles and 566,000 tons of supplies. “As far as you could see in every direction the ocean was infested with ships,” Ernie Pyle [the great WWII war correspondent] observed, but when you walked along the beach, a grimmer picture emerged. “The wreckage was vast and startling.” Men were floating in the water, lying on the beach; nearly nine thousand were dead. “There were trucks tipped half over and swamped … tanks that had only just made the beach before being knocked out … jeeps that had burned to a dull gray … boats stacked on top of each other. On the beach lay expended sufficient men and mechanism for a small war. They were gone forever now.” No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin, 1994, Simon & Schuster, New York, page 511, quoting from Pyle, Brave Men pp. 358, & 367 – 69.
Mr. Pyle was amazed that the Allies could afford these losses, but he realized that behind the men, the vehicles and the ships, were still more in preparation to overwhelm Germany.
Overall, the movie is quite accurate. The German High Command was extremely confused during the early hours of the invasion. Hitler indeed refused to commit Panzer reserves to the battle until the beachhead was already established. There are, however, some scenes in which poetic license takes the day. For example, in reality, the landings were more difficult than shown in the movie. Soldiers were dropped off in water over their heads and had to use life jackets to keep afloat until they reached the shore, where they collapsed with exhaustion. The Pegasus bridge had not been rigged for demolition. The German defenses on Omaha beach were not blown up and frontally assaulted as shown in the film. This was the original plan but the bulldozers and tanks which were to carry out the assault didn’t make it to the beach. Junior officers and NCOs took charge of the situation, infiltrated their men behind the enemy fortifications, and took them from the rear.
1. If the invasion of Normandy had failed what new weapon would probably have been used on Germany?
The U.S. would probably have used the atomic bomb, which was originally intended for use on Germany. It was used in Japan because Germany collapsed and surrendered several months before the first atomic bombs were ready. See Learning Guide to “Fat Man and Little Boy”.
2. The film makes clear the problem with communication in WWII. How might things have been different in the D-Day invasion had soldiers been able to use modern tools for communication?
Answers will vary and all well-reasoned ideas are acceptable. The use of cell phones alone may have changed the outcome of the battle for either Allies or Axis powers.
3. For what reasons do you suspect the Germans were slow to respond to the invasion?
Answers will vary. Some may point out that the Germans were over-confident and could not imagine the Allies pulling off such a massive invasion. Some may suggest that the German higher command had not adequately planned for an assault on the coast that they should have known was inevitable. It has been said that the Allied victory in World War II was due to their superior ability to manage complex organizations. The success of D-Day is an example of that. Hitler’s interference with the German military is another cause. Hitler refused to commit Panzer units held in reserve until after the beachhead had already been established.
4. What was Russia’s interest in the Normandy invasion and why had it been lobbying hard for the invasion to start as soon as possible?
Russia repeatedly pressured England and the U.S. to mount the invasion so that the Germans would have to divert men, supplies and equipment from the Eastern Front.
5. If the invasion of Normandy had failed, and if the Germans had been able to halt the Allied offensives on the Eastern Front (Russia) and in the South (Italy), what weapon would have been used on Germany?
The U.S. would probably have used the atomic bomb, which was originally intended to be dropped on Germany. During the Second World War, the U.S. judged that Germany was a greater threat than Japan. For that reason, the U.S. threw most of its resources and manpower into the war in Europe. As a result, Germany collapsed and was conquered before Japan, several months before the atomic bomb was ready. This fact saved Germany from being the first country to suffer from an attack in which nuclear weapons were used. See Learning Guide to “Fat Man and Little Boy“.
6. Why was it important for the Allies to win World War II?
7. What was Joseph Stalin’s position with respect to the Normandy invasion? Did he want it to go forward or did he want it delayed?
Stalin repeatedly pressured England and the U.S. to mount the invasion so that the Germans would have to divert men, supplies, and equipment from the Eastern Front.
8. Evaluate the film from the point of view of casting, performances, directing, and cinematography. Did anything bother you about the way in which the events in the film were presented? Would you have done it differently? Why? Similarly, what works best in the film? Explain why.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)
1. Where would we be without the sacrifices of the men who served in the armed forces during World War II?
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
1. Research the London Control Section, the British program for strategic deception and prepare a presentation for the class on the kinds of deceptions practiced by the nine members of this vital team that threw the enemy off guard in many situations. Pay special attention to deceptions at play in trying to make the Germans prepare for an invasion further north on the coast of France than in Normandy.
2. Research and write an expository essay on the build-up to the invasion at Normandy. Address even the mundane issues such as planned diversionary tactics, supplies, seasickness, weather conditions, wave height, etc, that were each fundamental to the success of the action.
3. Write an essay in which you postulate what may have happened had the Allies been repelled at Normandy. Consider what the next move by the Allies may have been had the invasion failed. Be sure to research the plan to use the atomic bomb, under development at the time of the invasion, against Germany should the Allies be in danger of losing the war using conventional arms.
See additional Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction.
BRIDGES TO READING
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS
Multimedia: Anchor Standard #7 for Reading (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). (The three Anchor Standards read: “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media, including visually and quantitatively as well as in words.”) CCSS pp. 35 & 60. See also Anchor Standard # 2 for ELA Speaking and Listening, CCSS pg. 48.
Writing: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 5 and 7- 10 for Writing and related standards (for both ELA classes and for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Classes). CCSS pp. 41 & 63.
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards #s 1 – 3 (for ELA classes). CCSS pg. 48.
Not all assignments reach all Anchor Standards. Teachers are encouraged to review the specific standards to make sure that over the term all standards are met.
In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:
- Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995. and Guts & Glory: Great American War Movies, Lawrence H. Suid, 1978, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.