Saving Private Ryan - Accuracy?

I’m not talking about actually going out and saving some poor Iowan named Ryan who’s brothers had been killed etc…

I was watching it last night and it occured to me that one could have really busted ass to be accurate.

Things like the password ‘Thunder!’…‘Flash!’

Or the rain in Normandy on D-Day+3 or +4.

Or the rallying points and the misdropped stick locations for the paratroopers.

Or the location of that final scene. Was that really a strategic point?

Anyone know to what length the fact-checkers went in SPR?

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the code words etc. so I’ll just add my (unasked for) two cents on the movie as a whole. While I liked the movie immensely I had two major problems with it:

  1. When they capture and then release the German and are then surprised/angry that he comes back and fights against him. What exactly was he supposed to do? As soon as he ran into his fellow Germans they would have put a gun into his hand and told him to go fight. I didn’t like this aspect/plotline of the movie at all as it painted the German out to be a bad guy when it was circumstances that dictated his actions.

  2. The American shouting at the German POW’s and telling them that he was Jewish. I am not sure how many GI’s knew what was going on in the concentration camps (at least around the time of D-Day) nor do I imagine that the army was so progressive that there wasn’t some lingering anti-semitism in the US army at the time. I may be entirely wrong but I am guessing that many Jewish GI’s kept their religion mostly to themselves.

The Flash-Thunder challenge/response was only used for the first 24 hours of D-Day.

From D1 to D3 it was Thirsty-Victory
From D4 to D6 it was Weapon-Throat
From D7 to D9 it was Wool-Rabbit

I’m pretty sure that both Band of Brothers and SPR got this wrong and used Flash-Thunder for too long. Also in SPR during the village scene, they double-screwed up and swapped the challenge/response (someone shouted “Thunder” and they responded “flash”).

Did Lincoln really write the letter that was quoted?

It was a different German. “Steamboat Willie” was not the same guy who iced Pvt Mellish in the final battle.

My memory is fuzzy but what about the German who was subsequently shot by the kid who was in ET?

Lincoln did actually write such a letter (or, at least, signed it- it’s quite possible that his secretary John Hay actually wrote it). However, Lincoln was misinformed: only two of Bixby’s five sons were killed in battle; one son was discharged, and the other two deserted. But that’s not a reflection on SPR.

msmith- Steamboat Willie does come back- he’s the one who shoots Captain Miller, and is shot by the translator.

Lochdale- while details of the concentration camps- their extent and the pure annihilation they were devoted to- were not widely known, certainly Nazi oppression of the Jews was very well known and widely reported, especially followin Krystalnacht in 1938. And the New Yotk Times was reporting rumors (later proved true) of German extermination camps and death squads executing Jews as early as 1941.

Jonathan Chance- IIRC, D-Day was chosen specifically because it was the one break in a huge storm pattern that lasted for most of late-May to early-June. Shortly after D-Day, the storm broke again. (This is one of the many reasons that the Allies could take Normandy by surprise- because European weather patterns are mostly west-to-east, they could get a much more accurate weather prediction that the Germans could, and the Germans weren’t expecting the break in the storm.)
Huh. Googled to get answers as to whether the Airborne General trying to be glided down in his jeep was true, and found the following site:

The Saving Private Ryan On-Line Encyclopedia

which seems to try to document the realities vs. the fictions.

Interesting. This site:
appears to collaborate your story. I had always assumed that the Waffen SS solider was the same one firing across the bridge at Ramelle. Apparently that was Steamboat Willie and the Waffen SS soldier was just some other Nazi.

I don’t think that it was an issue of being “mad” at Willie for fighting them. I think it was the realization that there is no room for mercy or chivalry in war since such acts are likely to bite you in the ass down the road. As you say, it is the circumstances. Neither soldier probably really wanted to kill the other but it was not their choice. Letting an enemy go would just put him back in circulation and maybe next time he might kill you.
That and Apom had been running around all day and hadn’t killed anyone yet!

They may not have known about the concentration camps, but they certainly knew of Nazi anti-semitism, which had been amply demonstrated (i.e. Kristallnacht, waves of emigration, ghettos) by the time D-Day took place.

:smack: just read John Corrado’s post. Well, once more for emphasis.

I can’t vouch for every small detail, but it seems to me likely that Spielberg used Stephen Ambrose’s 1994 book D-Day as a basic shooting script for the film. The incidents and fight scenes on the beach are laid out in almost identical ways.

As for antisemitism in the U.S. military, obviously the guys in Mellish’s unit didn’t care he was Jewish, and those are the only people he cared about.

Henry Thomas wasn’t in Saving Private Ryan. Jeremy Davies was the translator who shot Steamboat Willie at the end of the film.

Generally speaking the movie was phenomenally accurate, by the usual standard of war movies. There were a few minor errors I noticed:

  1. The thunder-flash bit.

  2. The German soldiers in the movie all have shaved 'dos. WWII German soldiers usually didn’t shave their heads like that.

  3. There would not have been Tiger tanks in that general area.

  4. The happenings at Omaha Beach were, for obvious reasons, heavily compressed for time. It actually took most of the day to break out, and they needed naval gunfire in some spots to do so. That would make a pretty lousy movie, though.

  5. There would have been vehicles and tanks landing with the troops.

  6. The soldiers in the movie - and in ALL WWII movies - didn’t button the straps mon their helmets. In a combat situation they all did the straps up. This has been a Hollywood myth since the days of John Wayne. Understandable, though, because there’s a lot of wartime photos of soldiers with the straps undone… but only when posing for photos and such. If you left the strap undone in combat the helmet would fall off the moment you hit the deck.

  7. It is unlikely that Rangers in WWII would have been the whiny crybabies portrayed in the film. Soldiers gripe, but not that badly, and not without an officer telling them to shut up. Capt. Miller’s unwillingness to tell Ryan to pack up his shit and leave posthaste when Ryan refused to leave Rummelle is also hard to swallow.

  8. It is extremely unlikely that a German tank in Normandy would be destroyed by a P-51 Mustang. Mustangs were generally not used in that role in that theatre and would not have carried appropriate weapons. The tank would likely have been destroyed by a Typhoon.

IIRC, most if not all of the tanks assigned to Omaha were launched too far out and foundered before reaching shore.

Or a Thunderbolt…

Also an IIRC - the first waves of landings didn’t involve vehicles, because the beach needed to be secured first.

It corroborate’s it as well.

That bugged me, too, until I saw the movie again and thought about Captain Miller’s emotional breakdown at the radar site. Before then, he was considered so heartless and unemotional by his men that one of them joked that he was built from the spare body parts of dead GI’s. Remember his reaction to Caparzo’s death? “That’s why we can’t take children.”

Had the scene after the battle at the radar site not happened, this would have been the Captain Miller faced by Private Ryan at the end of the story… And Ryan would have left that bridge one way or another.

But Miller’s attitude changed after Wade was killed and the squad splintered over whether or not to kill the German POW. He remembered he was an English teacher from Pennsylvania who coached softball, a normal guy who wouldn’t even be able to explain to his wife what he had become after two years of war. All of that came rushing back to him in that one scene. He didn’t whisk Ryan away from the bridge for the same reason he was going to let Reiben go after staging his one-man mutiny, IMHO. His humanity got the best of him.