Tomorrow marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day – what many refer to as the beginning of the end of war in Europe.
Over 156,000 Allied soldiers landed on 5 beaches along Normandy’s coastline in what was one of the largest amphibious military operations in history.
By late August the whole of northern France had been liberated and, just a few months later, in the spring of 1945, the Allies had defeated the Nazis.
Commemorative events will be taking place in both England and Normandy. On 5th June, a national commemorative event will take place in Portsmouth, where much of the invasion force sailed from.
26 RAF aircraft will fly over the city to salute up to 300 veterans before they set sail for Normandy on a ship specially chartered for the occasion by the Royal British Legion.
And in Arromanches at 7.26am on the 6th June a lone piper from the British Army will herald the moment the very first British soldier landed on Gold Beach.
If you’re not able to attend these commemorative events, you could mark this significant anniversary by watching one of the many films based on the event. Here are our top 5 to inspire you:
Saving Private Ryan
This 1998 Spielberg epic is still a favourite of many film buffs and even won the director an Oscar.
Starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, the film is set during the invasion of Normandy and is notable for its graphic portrayal of war.
In particular, the film’s intense opening 27 minutes are harrowing, as the audience is shown a depiction of the Omaha Beach assault. The sequence was intended to give the audience a better idea of what it would have been like to have been a soldier involved in that action, bringing the realities of war to life.
The film follows the rescue of the only surviving brother of four servicemen – Private Ryan.
There are some historical inaccuracies and poetic licence to watch out for – for example, the whole mission would have been significantly easier had they launched it from Utah Beach, but the landing here was largely uncontested and didn’t offer the dramatic impact of that on Omaha Beach.
The Longest Day
This 1962 epic is based on Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 book of the same name. The film features a large ensemble cast, many of whom were WW2 veterans themselves, including Richard Todd, who actually took part in D-Day as a British soldier and was one of the first British soldiers to land in Normandy as part of Operation Overlord.
Several Allied and Axis military consultants who had been participants in D-Day were hired to help ensure historical accuracy.
The film is shot in the style of a docudrama and begins in the days leading up to D-Day, covering events either side of the Channel. In fact, the film covers many of the most important events surrounding the Normandy invasion, including sabotage work carried out by the French resistance and the reaction of the German army to the surprise invasion, and so it offers a fascinating overview of the operation.
This 1975 black-and-white film was written and directed by Stuart Cooper, who had originally intended to make a documentary on the Overlord Embroidery tapestry. However, once he started researching events at the Imperial War Museum, he instead chose to make a film about one soldier’s personal journey, from the moment he is called up to his death.
The film is notable for its heavy use of archival footage from British training missions and the invasion itself. In order to make the contemporary footage filmed match this archival footage, the filmmakers used old Kodak film stock and WW2 era original German 1930s military camera lenses.
Overlord was entered into the 25th Berlin International Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear – Special Jury Prize.
The Dirty Dozen
In 2001 the American Film Institute placed this 1967 film at number 65 on their 100 Years…100 Thrills list. Inspired by the exploits of a real-life group known as the ‘Filthy Thirteen’, the film is based on E.M. Nathanson’s novel The Dirty Dozen.
The film follows an American Major tasked with heading up what amounts to a suicide mission – entering a fortified chateau to kill as many Nazi officers as possible, limiting the Nazis’ ability to respond to the D-Day invasion.
His team is made up of convicted GIs, all who are serving lengthy sentences or who are awaiting execution.
The film’s cast included a number of American WW2 veterans, including the film’s star, Lee Marvin. Marvin provided some technical assistance on the film with regards to uniforms and weapons but is said to have been quite upset by the lack of realism in some of the combat scenes.
Of course, the film was released during the height of the Vietnam War and director Robert Aldrich intended the film to be an anti-war allegory.
Eye of the Needle
This 1981 British spy film was directed by Richard Marquand (who went on to direct Return of the Jedi) and starred Donald Sutherland, who also appeared in the Dirty Dozen.
Rather than focusing on the action on the beaches of Normandy, this film shines a light on the large-scale counter-espionage activities (Operation Fortitude) conducted by the Allies in order to hide the location of the landings from the Nazis.
The film follows a German spy who, having learnt some valuable information about the D-Day invasion attempts to return to Germany to inform his superiors. However, he ends up stranded on an island off the coast of Scotland, where he ends up getting involved with a local married woman. Of course, things get very complicated when she and her family discover the truth about him.
Want to transport your students back in time to D-Day?
A school trip to Normandy offers a wealth of visits and activities that will do just that. Contact us now for further information, or to request your tailor-made quote.