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Saturday, May 28, 2011

T'was the Night Before D-Day...

The D-Day Anniversary will be here before we know it. With both that and Memorial Day coming up, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit some cinematic recreations of a momentous point in history.

Here, from the Band of Brothers miniseries, is a dramatization of the jump into Normandy the night before D-Day. And a nice piece of film making IMO.

By the time I myself became a paratrooper, the Actions On Aircraft routine had only changed a little bit from what is shown here in this WWII jump.

As a side note, it was my personal studies of WWII--particularly of the 101st Screaming Eagles' defense of Bastogne--that greatly influenced my decision to go Airborne. Unfortunately the 101st was no longer truly Airborne by the time I came of age (actually, the "Airborne" tab above their division patch had been rendered meaningless long before), and the only Airborne Division left was the that's where I wanted to go.

Concerning this series, this is rather ironic because the Bastogne episode was maybe the most lackluster in Band of Brothers IMO, capturing none of the desperation...or, dare I say: heroism...of that battle. Nevertheless, this drop into Normandy sequence is a gut-wrencher, I think, capturing the nerves, danger, and havoc of that night pretty well.

For the non-historians/military buffs out there, one classic purpose for airborne troops was a tactic called "vertical envelopment"--paratroopers are dropped behind the lines to catch an enemy in the rear while conventional forces meet them head-on. In recent history, the Rangers were thus employed in Grenada; the 504th PIR (82nd) in Panama; and the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Iraq during the opening stage of OIF. Granted, the missions in Grenada and Panama had plural purposes, but this is just a simplified explanation.

Specifically, in France the Airborne was supposed to capture key bridgeheads inland from the invasion beaches and either hold them until Allied armor could break out, or blow them before German armor could blast the Allies back into the English Channel. In theory, paratroopers are supposed to be dropped in undefended, or lightly defended, drop zones within a reasonably short march to their objectives. But American and British air forces had been bombing the living crap out of Germany and Hitler's "Fortress Europe" was bristling with anti-aircraft guns, ready to open up on anything coming from a westerly direction. Ike and his staff actually expected 60% casualties--an unheard-of risk acceptance for American planners.

Well, I could go on about this, but hats off to producer Spielberg and the film makers for telling Easy Company's story, and hats off to the men who put it all on the line in the fight against Nazi Germany.


  1. I get nervous as hell watching that scene from Band of Brothers. No other film has managed to effect me like that.

  2. Yeah, they really captured pre-jump and pre-combat jitters pretty well. And then they show you why that nervousness is justified. That C-47 blown in two gives me a sick, sinking feeling every time I see it.


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