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Old 01-28-2020, 02:12 AM
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Is 1917 one giant plot hole? [spoilers]


The basic plot of 1917 is as follows: In World War I, in northern France, the German and British armies occupy trenches separated by a narrow strip of no man's land. The Germans make a tactical withdrawal, setting a trap for the British. Unaware of the trap, one British battalion pursues the Germans, planning to attack the next morning. The British who remain behind in the trenches become aware of the trap through aerial reconnaissance, but are unable to immediately warn their battalion because the Germans have cut the telegraph lines. So two British soldiers (and these two alone) are dispatched to hand-deliver a message to the battalion calling off the attack. On the way they are attacked by isolated German forces, including a fighter pilot, a sniper, and soldiers occupying a ruined town.

This plot has been criticized online for being nonsensical. These critics say that there was no need for the message to be precariously delivered overland, as it was a common practice for messages to be carried by air in relative safety (and simply dropped from the sky if landing was too dangerous). And indeed, we do see at least two British planes in the film.

Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:20 AM
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I liked the film a lot but yeah I wondered exactly the same thing. It would seem quite easy to send a message by air. I guess I am willing to suspend disbelief on this because the film as a whole worked.

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Old 01-28-2020, 02:24 AM
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So they could have just given it to the eagles and had them fly over and drop it where it needed to go?
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:37 AM
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So they could have just given it to the eagles and had them fly over and drop it where it needed to go?
Exactly. But at least this particular plot hole was debunked by Tolkien himself (not in the books, but in his letters), and has moreover attracted zillions of fanwanked explanations of varying degrees of plausibility. Are there any similar debunkings/explanations for 1917's apparent plot hole?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:02 AM
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I've not seen the movie so don't know the scene. I have however read a few books on how they communicated between the trenches and such. There are two books by Dispatch Riders, one called Adventures of a Dispatch Rider, the other Commando Dispatch Rider. I think the Commando Dispatch Rider he later worked on the line communications and talked about how hard it was to keep them up and running.

Both books talked about how hard it was to get good information from the front to the back and back to the front again. I can see there being no good way to get information from the front line, to a plane, and then to have that plane drop the needed information to the other lines.

In reading both books I don't recall at any time them talking about having planes deliver messages. Both books can be downloaded for free so I'm sure that they could be searched to make sure. Having not see the film, I'm can't say for sure, but it sounds plausible to me.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:08 AM
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Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
I don't see why it needs to be any more complicated than "men are cheap; planes are not," the relative safety of air drops notwithstanding.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:27 AM
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I don't see why it needs to be any more complicated than "men are cheap; planes are not," the relative safety of air drops notwithstanding.
Maybe, but how many men is a plane worth? The message in question was intended to prevent the wholesale slaughter of an entire battalion, which I suppose could be up to a thousand soldiers.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:34 AM
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Maybe, but how many men is a plane worth? The message in question was intended to prevent the wholesale slaughter of an entire battalion, which I suppose could be up to a thousand soldiers.
I've not seen the movie, but is it possible they did send a message by air drop, but also sent messengers by foot to increase the odds of the message being delivered, and we're only seeing the second part?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:42 AM
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I've not seen the movie, but is it possible they did send a message by air drop, but also sent messengers by foot to increase the odds of the message being delivered, and we're only seeing the second part?
No, the commanding officer in the trench makes it very clear that the two soldiers are the only ones tasked with relaying the orders to the battalion. The soldiers ask about this point specifically. I suppose the commander could have been lying to them (and thereby to the audience), but to what end?
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:01 AM
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Maybe, but how many men is a plane worth? The message in question was intended to prevent the wholesale slaughter of an entire battalion, which I suppose could be up to a thousand soldiers.
I have seen the movie, and as I recall it the number was 1600 men.

Sending a couple of lance corporals with a message to a battalion several km away is entirely the sort of thing that did happen all the time in WW1. Specifically, the director's grandfather spent a couple of days wandering around no man's land looking for three missing companies to deliver orders.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:53 AM
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Sending a couple of lance corporals with a message to a battalion several km away is entirely the sort of thing that did happen all the time in WW1. Specifically, the director's grandfather spent a couple of days wandering around no man's land looking for three missing companies to deliver orders.
Yes, but getting a message to a small, wandering company is different than getting a message to a stationary battalion of 1600 whose precise location is known with certainty. Sending the message by air makes a lot more sense in the latter case.
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Old 02-01-2020, 02:52 PM
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I have seen the movie, and as I recall it the number was 1600 men. ....
The real plot holes would be that the British High command would give a rats ass about 1600 men or even 16000 men.


Douglas Haig kept sending in waves of men "over the top' to gain a couple of years. His nickname was "Butcher Haig" for the two million British casualties the happened under his disastrous command.

Mind you I still want to watch the film.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:34 AM
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I haven't seen the movie, but what about signal flags? Especially for a simple message like "don't attack."
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:43 AM
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I haven't seen the movie, but what about signal flags? Especially for a simple message like "don't attack."
The soldiers in the trenches don't have a direct line of sight to the battalion, which is several kilometres away, down a river and through some woods.
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Old 01-28-2020, 02:25 PM
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The soldiers in the trenches don't have a direct line of sight to the battalion, which is several kilometres away, down a river and through some woods.
So they're at grandmother's house?
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Old 01-29-2020, 02:13 AM
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The soldiers in the trenches don't have a direct line of sight to the battalion, which is several kilometres away, down a river and through some woods.
Well, maybe they could leave a message at grandma's house.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:48 AM
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Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin? Did you also notice in Casablanca that the "letters of transit" weren't used for exiting Morocco? (Apologies to anyone who has not seen that movie.)
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:54 AM
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Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin?
No. This is the whole point of this thread—to find out whether sending the soldiers overland is just a contrivance for the film, or if there is a plausible real-life reason why it might actually have been necessary.
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:53 AM
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Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin? Did you also notice in Casablanca that the "letters of transit" weren't used for exiting Morocco? (Apologies to anyone who has not seen that movie.)
A McGuffin is not the same thing as 1917's message. A McGuffin is something the movie characters are chasing, but it isn't important to the plot what it is. In 1917, the delivery of the message, and by extension the message itself, IS the plot. Sending two guys on food for a disaster-averting critical mission when a plane could (maybe!) do it in practically no time, could be a plot hole, and is the question of the thread.

Despite the fact no such unquestionable letters of transit could exist in Nazi Germany, Ilsa and Laszlo did use the letters to leave. It wasn't obvious because Louie was being forced by Rick, but in the context of the movie they were needed to leave. Rick was going to use them to get on the plane, but he gave his to Victor. Strassar was going to stop them despite the letters (as he would if it were real life. But the letters are not a McGuffin, despite what Fake News Wikipedia has to say, because they were needed and did get used.)
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:00 PM
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Are you unfamiliar with the concept of a MacGuffin? Did you also notice in Casablanca that the "letters of transit" weren't used for exiting Morocco? (Apologies to anyone who has not seen that movie.)
I haven't seen the film, so grain of salt and all, but how does it being a MacGuffin factor in here? The idea of a MacGuffin is an object that drives the plot, but whose nature is immaterial to the plot. In this film, the plot is getting the MacGuffin across No Man's Land to an allied general. How they convey the object to its destination is the important part of the movie - if part of how they convey the object doesn't make logical sense, that's a legitimate flaw, regardless of what the object is.

That said, wars are big, messy, and chaotic. There's any number of plausible reasons why they wouldn't have access to an airplane to deliver the message in time. Ideally, these reasons would be mentioned in the film, but also, the general who sends the two soldiers on this mission isn't going to bother explaining them to the grunts.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:48 AM
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Ah. I haven't seen the movie in years, but isn't this pretty much the plot of Gallipoli?
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:53 AM
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Ah. I haven't seen the movie in years, but isn't this pretty much the plot of Gallipoli?
I had the same thought.
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Old 01-30-2020, 02:24 PM
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Ah. I haven't seen the movie in years, but isn't this pretty much the plot of Gallipoli?
Gallipoli, from Wikipedia "Frank sprints back to convey this news, but the phone lines are repaired and Colonel Robinson orders the attack to continue."

There was continuous difficulty maintaining the telephone lines and courier services along the western front, but yes, '1917' is one giant plot hole.

The Gallipoli film example, where the phone lines were just fortuitously down as a plot device, is a-historical, but isn't central to the idea of the film. It adds tension, but it's contrary to fact because the soldiers would not have been withdrawn with better information. British soldiers were dying in larger numbers down the coast by attacking entrenched positions: then and later soldiers were dying on the western front by attacking entrenched positions.

In '1817' the loss of communications isn't just a plot device to add tension: it is the plot. In that respect, this is the 'U-571' of WWI films.
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Old 01-30-2020, 02:36 PM
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Ah. I haven't seen the movie in years, but isn't this pretty much the plot of Gallipoli?
Gallipoli, from Wikipedia "Frank sprints back to convey this news, but the phone lines are repaired and Colonel Robinson orders the attack to continue."

There was continuous difficulty maintaining the telephone lines and courier services along the western front, but yes, '1917' is one giant plot hole.

The Gallipoli film example, where the phone lines were just fortuitously down as a plot device, is a-historical, but isn't central to the idea of the film. It adds tension, but it's contrary to fact because the soldiers would not have been withdrawn with better information. British soldiers were dying in larger numbers down the coast by attacking entrenched positions: then and later soldiers were dying on the western front by attacking entrenched positions.

In '1817' the loss of communications isn't just a plot device to add tension: it is the plot. In that respect, this is the 'U-571' of WWI films.
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Old 01-30-2020, 11:43 PM
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In '1817' the loss of communications isn't just a plot device to add tension: it is the plot. In that respect, this is the 'U-571' of WWI films.
Nah, if 1917 were really the U-571 of WWI films, all the British characters would have been inexplicably replaced with American ones.
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Old 01-28-2020, 07:58 AM
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If you do a Google search, you can find interviews in which the director describes the mission given to his grandfather during the war that inspired this film. It's vaguely, sort of, similar. A single man or two men are given a message that has to get there.
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Old 01-28-2020, 08:56 AM
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So is "Fake News Wikipedia" the new "Failing New York Times"?
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:22 AM
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It’s a plot hole, but covering it would have really disrupted the story the director wanted to tell. You could use bad weather to ground the RAF but then you’d have to lose the dogfight and the crash, not to mention screwing with the overall atmosphere and light. You could have the general’s assumption of a trap rejected by a higher up with authority over the planes, but like everything in the film that would have to be contrived to be witnessed by the hero.

You really have to look at this as a soldier’s story. He doesn’t know 90% of what’s going on in the big picture and most of the remaining 10% makes no sense, especially after he has retold and embellished the story countless times by the time a future filmmaker hears it
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:53 AM
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I haven't seen the movie yet, but I read newspapers from 100 years ago today most mornings (from the Library of Congress Chronicling America website). I pretty much followed the war in real-time from the beginning and have read many war accounts. I say that just from the description, the plot sounds plausible from a historical perspective. Messengers, anywhere from individuals to small squads, were commonly used all over the front to deliver messages.

Also, flying over the front was by no means safe, and I don't recall reading about air-dropping messages very much at all. Remember that aviation was still in it's infancy, and commanders didn't really have a good idea of what to do with it. Aircraft were primarily used for reconnaissance, and the fighter plane's priority were recon planes, both attacking the enemy's and protecting your own.
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Old 02-01-2020, 08:00 PM
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Also, flying over the front was by no means safe, and I don't recall reading about air-dropping messages very much at all. Remember that aviation was still in it's infancy, and commanders didn't really have a good idea of what to do with it. Aircraft were primarily used for reconnaissance, and the fighter plane's priority were recon planes, both attacking the enemy's and protecting your own.
During the battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, there was close coordination between the RFC and the Canadian Corps to relay information back from the front to let headquarters know how well the attack was progressing. Colour signals were used.

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Old 01-28-2020, 10:48 AM
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You could use bad weather to ground the RAF but then you’d have to lose the dogfight and the crash, not to mention screwing with the overall atmosphere and light.
The Royal Flying Corps, back then.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:54 AM
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Is this really a gaping plot hole, or is there some plausible explanation (even if it isn't given explicitly in the film) as to why the message couldn't have been delivered by air?
I believe this is covered by what I call "the John Ford Rule".

One of Ford's first big successes was the movie Stagecoach (WARNING: Spoilers for a 90+ year old movie!). Towards the end of the picture, there is a desperate chase of the stagecoach across the plains by Indians. When William S. Hart was asked his opinion of the movie, he pointed out that the Indians could have simply shot the horses and then picked off the passengers at their leisure. When the reporters took this critique to Ford, he had a simple reply as to why the Indians didn't use this tactic: "it would have been the end of the picture".

In any (sufficiently entertaining) motion picture, if this is the answer to a question that begins "Why didn't they just...", then it is covered by the John Ford Rule and exempt from penalty.
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Old 02-01-2020, 02:59 PM
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I believe this is covered by what I call "the John Ford Rule".

One of Ford's first big successes was the movie Stagecoach (WARNING: Spoilers for a 90+ year old movie!). Towards the end of the picture, there is a desperate chase of the stagecoach across the plains by Indians. When William S. Hart was asked his opinion of the movie, he pointed out that the Indians could have simply shot the horses and then picked off the passengers at their leisure. When the reporters took this critique to Ford, he had a simple reply as to why the Indians didn't use this tactic: "it would have been the end of the picture".

In any (sufficiently entertaining) motion picture, if this is the answer to a question that begins "Why didn't they just...", then it is covered by the John Ford Rule and exempt from penalty.
Well, you see, I have a better answer- the indians wanted the horses!
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Old 01-28-2020, 11:05 AM
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They could have sent Speckled Bob.
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Old 01-28-2020, 11:50 AM
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If this was a realistic movie about WWI, they could have relayed the message to the battalion by shouting it. Even after a major advance, they would only be about fifty yards away.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:06 PM
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I don't see it as a major plot hole. This was 1917 and who knows what means they had at their disposal for an objective like this.
How close was the nearest airfield? How do you communicate to a pilot where they have to go? Do you have a spare map of a country you're not even from? Is the map cockpit size cause the ones the generals used seemed to be table size. Do you have time to draw a new better map that won't blow out of an open cockpit? Can a pilot read a detailed map while flying? Powered airplanes had only been around 14 years. How developed was flight navigation at the time? What type of container is he going to make the drop in? How accurate of a drop can he make without hitting tall grass, trees, water? What if no one on the ground even sees the drop?
I think there's plenty of reasons an airdrop message in a foreign country during war may not be the most feasible plan.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:19 PM
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I think there's plenty of reasons an airdrop message in a foreign country during war may not be the most feasible plan.
I agree, but the script kind of undermines that by having the general refer to aerial photographs when he explains the situation to the corporals.
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Old 01-28-2020, 12:26 PM
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"Our last functioning recon plane took these photos before being jumped by a German air patrol. They were barely able to make it back behind our lines before they crashed. I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"The fuel convoy was supposed to be here yesterday, but it hasn't shown up, so all our planes are grounded. I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"The pilots shared a tainted pot of stew last night, and now they're all shitting themselves to death. I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"We didn't have these new-fangled aero-planed in the Boer War, and I don't trust them! I need you to deliver the message by hand!"

"We need you to deliver the message by hand! Pershing and I have a bet that you won't make it!"
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Old 01-28-2020, 03:00 PM
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If this was a realistic movie about WWI, they could have relayed the message to the battalion by shouting it. Even after a major advance, they would only be about fifty yards away.
No, in the real WWI, the Germans really did withdraw to a better-defended line many kilometres behind the one they had been holding. At least this part of the movie was inspired by historical events.
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Old 02-05-2020, 12:50 AM
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If this was a realistic movie about WWI, they could have relayed the message to the battalion by shouting it. Even after a major advance, they would only be about fifty yards away.
When the 2 soldiers are getting ready to leave for the mission, one says that they have to travel 9 miles.
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:23 PM
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When the 2 soldiers are getting ready to leave for the mission, one says that they have to travel 9 miles.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s true (either that they say that, that they could cover that in 2 hours with the help of a convoy, or both), but what it comes back to is the contrivance of—in trench warfare—1600 soldiers somehow being completely detached from the rest of the trench line. Who was on their left? Their right? This story would have us believe that they were all on their own, when the reality of trench warfare is that they couldn’t possibly have been. I might be tempted to assume that they had already advanced some miles after the retreating Germans, but then why did they bother to dig in again just prior to their last push?

It’s a contrivance essential to the plot, which in a lesser film might have made it the point of departure for a long-winded critique of the film. But as it stands, the rest of it is good enough in my view to give it a pass.

FWIW, the story that this is supposed to have been based on seems much more plausible: a few companies sent forward to scout out recently vacated German positions, and needing a runner to carry information between them and HQ, to keep HQ abreast of their progress and make sure they hadn’t gotten surrounded and wiped out by a surprise German turnaround.

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Old 02-05-2020, 02:45 PM
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I might be tempted to assume that they had already advanced some miles after the retreating Germans, but then why did they bother to dig in again just prior to their last push?
Why assume they dug in as opposed to using an existing trench? Could be that the front line used to be there some months or years ago. Or maybe the Germans had dug the trench in anticipation of using it to defend against a future invasion over the river.
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Old 02-05-2020, 02:58 PM
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Expanding previous message


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... that they could cover (9 miles) in 2 hours with the help of a convoy...
Let me expand on my previous message.

Their instructions were for the 2 soldiers to travel by foot by themselves. The officer said something like, “he travels best who travels alone.” If that doesn’t make sense, many decisions in WW1 didn’t make much sense.

After receiving their orders and before leaving the base, they said it was about 9 miles and they should be able to get there in 6 hours. Obvious spoiler: it took longer.
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Old 02-05-2020, 01:29 PM
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A similar problem exists in Saving Private Ryan. After seeing that movie, my dad, ETO combat veteran, said, “We had radios.”
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Old 02-06-2020, 02:45 AM
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A similar problem exists in Saving Private Ryan. After seeing that movie, my dad, ETO combat veteran, said, “We had radios.”
That didn't really help the thousands of paratroopers who got completely lost all over Normandy the night before ; and that's even without getting shot down and having a (relatively) orderly drop.
A ton of small scale actions were undertaken by ad hoc groups of guys from like seven different units who'd bumbled into each other in the middle of the night and kind of made a go of it while trying to figure out where the hell everyone else had landed. Quoth wiki :

Quote:
At the end of D-Day, Gen. Taylor and his assistant division commander (ADC) Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe returned from their foray at Pouppeville. Taylor had control of approximately 2,500 of his 6,600 men, most of whom were in the vicinity of the 506th CP at Culoville, with the thin defense line west of Saint Germain-du-Varreville, or the division reserve at Blosville.
(Gen. Taylor was the guy in charge of the 101st AD ; Ryan's division). Meaning 4,000 odd dudes were still out there, unaccounted for. Plenty simply dead of course, but mostly just... "certainly somewhere, sir".

So a small group of random paras stuck in the middle of The Suck without one working radio among them doesn't really ping my "well ain't that awfully convenient" radar.
  #46  
Old 01-28-2020, 01:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Gatopescado View Post
They could have sent Speckled Bob.
Speckled Jim.
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Old 01-28-2020, 09:14 PM
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They could have sent Speckled Bob.
Given Speckled Jim's unfortunate demise at the hands of the Flanders Pigeon Murderer, this would likely have been Plan B.
  #48  
Old 01-28-2020, 12:22 PM
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BTW, another common way of sending a message like that in WWI was by pigeon.
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  #49  
Old 01-29-2020, 02:30 AM
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BTW, another common way of sending a message like that in WWI was by pigeon.
Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think carrier pigeons work like that. The pigeons can find their home over long distances, but they can't be instructed to send a message anywhere else. It's just vaguely possible that the British were breeding homing pigeons in the trenches, and if the advancing battalion took a pigeon with them, it would be able to send a message back to the trenches. But a pigeon released from the trenches wouldn't be able to fly orders to the battalion at its new position.
  #50  
Old 02-01-2020, 07:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elmer J. Fudd View Post
BTW, another common way of sending a message like that in WWI was by pigeon.
Sure, but that was by releasing the pigeon from the front to go back to its home. That wouldn't work to send a message forward to troops in newly captured terrain.
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