Saving Private Ryan question

Oh, yeah, they had walkie-talkies. Limited range, for sure, but they still might have been able to contact someone who could at least pass the message on. A field radio would, I think, have been able to reach the beachhead, if they transmitted from a height.

I would imagine that artillery units set up as soon as they left the beach, to supply fire support for the troops moving inland. There were also armored units on the ground by then, and naval gunfire that could reach miles inland was probably still available. As for Allied aircraft, the skies over Normandy were full of them, with more flying in from England (and soon operating from forward air bases) all the time. Air strikes were what the Germans hated most, since it made large-scale daylight operations nearly impossible.

Yes. In fact, we see Sgt. Horvath gathering Normany soil for his collection of battlefield ground (never made much sense to me that he’d want to be lugging it all around with him).

Just occurred to me - without GPS, how easy is it to call in an artillery or air strike on a small area like a machine gun nest? Especially if all they could do was pass the word on, not stick around to call the fall of shot. Sure, the squad had maps, but I doubt they were tracking their position that precisely.

From reading Band of Brothers and Dick Winter’s own book, having REMFs steal the stuff you left at a permanent base while you were off getting shot at was a depressingly common occurrence.

Nitpick- they were blooded in all 3. Note Sgt. Horvath’s gathering of Normandy dirt to go with the collection of dirt he had from the other places he’d fought- Italy and Africa were two I recall.

The thing I never understood is why they didn’t do something a little more sketchy like have Barry Pepper’s sniper character set up in such a way that he could see the entire gun position, and then have the rest of the guys distract the MG team, and have Pepper start popping the gunners while they’re trying to hit the other guys (who presumably would be back under cover)?

Seems like assaulting it more or less frontally was a recipe for getting someone wounded or killed.

Again, I’d go with experience. The MG-42’s 1200 rounds per minute was an extremely high rate of fire at that time. Especially for a single air-cooled barrel weapon. Rangers on their 4th campaign against German infantry would know that with that high of a rate of fire, they’re going to have to stop to reload more often then something with a slower rate of fire. And that they’re going to have to stop shooting to change barrels more often.

Yeah, in a perfect world, a good man with a mortar would be the perfect weapon in that situation. And in that same perfect world, volunteers would be fighting for the opportunity to carry the mortar baseplate and a half case of mortar rounds into combat along with their other gear.

You have to forget that Jody chat “I wanna be an Airborne Ranger”. During WWII, Airborne and Rangers were different units. Nowadays, having earned jump wings might be a prerequisite for Ranger school, but not then.

Miller had a specific mission, and he had a reasonably appropriate number of men for it. He should leave the other troops (especially from another unit) to take on other missions, as their officers, who know the situation better, determine.
Now, at the bridge, things change because fighting off the German attack is clearly a higher immediate priority than his original mission, so he does that. And as the senior (and most experienced) officer, it makes sense for him to temporarily command.

This wasn’t 2003, or 1970 or even late 1945. It would not have been a simple matter at all, even if they had a walkie-talkie or field radio. In June 1944 there simply weren’t the communications, technical expertise, and procedures in place for Joe Schmoe Ranger to call in out of the blue an artillery strike (from some other division) on a random patch of ground. Air strikes even less possible to call in

Wasn’t the nest, as was militarily sound, on top of a hill (so no single spot to cover the whole thing)? And, single sniper vs machine gun isn’t necessarily a win or even great odds for the sniper.

Agree that it’s not absolutely clear that attacking it was the right decision, militarily, but I think the movie shows Miller having to think about it and make a tough call. Which is fair; it is a tough call in that situation: just walk around, and hope the next friendly unit doesn’t get surprised in the open; or sidetrack from your mission and assault it ; or, delay your mission significantly by going way back to get help that may or may not be available?

A Ranger would have known orienteering, and been as good at it as the quality of the maps allowed.

To call in an artillery strike, you’d give the map coordinates and request that they fire for effect. Once you see where the initial rounds land, you transmit corrections until they hit the target. Or, they could just saturate the area with incoming fire and hope they hit something. (A common tactic in the Korean War, when the Chinese were coming on faster than they could be machine-gunned.)

An air strike could also be guided in, or just given the map coordinates and allowed to hunt on their own. (How hard can a radar installation, even a camouflaged one, be to spot by low-flying aircraft?) Saturation aerial bombing was another tactic used in the Normandy campaign. You don’t know exactly where the installation is? Fine, just bomb the shit out that particular grid and you’re bound to hit it!

The year 1944 wasn’t the Stone Age. The Allies in Normandy had more than enough resources to find and hit targets at will (or to find and go around them, if that would be more expedient).

The troops that landed in Normandy, especially the Rangers, were some of the best trained and equipped troops in history. If the report needs to be kicked up the chain of command and assigned a priority while all other kinds of shit are going on, that’s one thing. But find a radar station in the path of your advance, someone somewhere is going to order its destruction eventually.

Didn’t Ryan’s group have a walkie-talkie?

“Is Ryan still alive?”


“Well tell him his mom wants him to come home for dinner.”

cue stirring John Williams score

Yes, but remember this mission took place just days after the landings. Communications were NOT set up very well yet. Tanks rolling off the LCTs were constantly tearing up the freshly laid field telephone lines. Field artillery might not have been set up yet, and naval artillery wasn’t all that accurate for over the horizon ground support fire missions. Remember, they managed to miss most of the German defenses on Omaha Beach.

Miller and his squad were NOT on an artillery spotting or forward air control mission. Even if they were humping a radio powerful enough to get back to a network (walkie talkies would NOT do), they’d have to work their way back from whoever first received their message to an artillery or aviation unit and at each step he’d have to identify himself and explain just what the heck they were doing where they were in the first place and what they had seen and where it was before they’d get their call transferred to the next communications nexus where he’d get to do that all over again. And they didn’t have radios that could talk to aircraft, so after a Thunderbolt shot up the radar site, the pilot would probably shoot them up also.

The entire Normandy beachhead, and the area just inland from it, were thoroughly mapped, modeled, and assigned coordinates for the troops to call in artillery and airstrikes.

American forces were especially organized and trained for a flexibility in calling for, and delivering, fire missions. This was a major distinction from most other militaries of the day.

Not arguing that the moveis “wrong” – many things, from the fog of war to sheer inertia to strict rules of engagement, etc., might have prevented calling in firepower. But it’s not unreasonable for someone familiar with the US military of the era to wonder why that firepower wasn’t applied in this case. In real life it was, so frequently that German intelligence greatly overestimated the amount of American artillery. They couldn’t believe that such a volume of fire could be so liberally employed through organization and training.

It was a single machine-gun nest, and it wasn’t on any of the planned inland routes (that I recall, anyway). Miller’s team only came across it because they were moving cross-country, further ahead of the main invasion force.

There were thousands of paratroopers scattered throughout the area, and command-and-control was well and truly fubar’ed for a few days – very few units were where they were supposed to be. I don’t know specifics of the artillery support available after D-Day, but I’d think they would be very hesitant to just blast away, even with precise coordinates, for fear of inflicting casualties on friendly troops.

You could fanwank the scenario by pointing out that Hanks and company were on (as they called it at one point) largely a “PR mission.” They may not have been adequately take out the nest, but Miller couldn’t in good conscience go back to notify the uppers. Rather than leave other troops to potentially get ambushed, he made the difficult call to try to take it out himself.[sup]*[/sup]

There’s also the Geneva Convention[sup]** that included a provision about medical officers. I think the rule was that if a medic shoots at someone, he’s considered a combatant and thus fair game.[sup]***[/sup]

[sup]*let me concede that I have absolutely no military experience, so I may be totally off on this

**I’ve never understood why people at war with each other agree to things like this. Why would you agree to not kill the healers of people who want to kill you. What happens if you do it anyway?

***for the record, I think Giovani Ribisi sold that scene very well. Very underrated actor.[/sup]

Handie Talkie -
The SCR-536 was a hand-held radio transceiver used by the US Army Signal Corps in World War II. It is popularly referred to as a walkie talkie, although it was originally designated a “handie talkie”.

Walkie Talkie -
The SCR-300 was a portable radio transceiver used by US Signal Corps in World War II. This backpack-mounted unit was the first two way radio to be nicknamed a “walkie talkie”.

The 1st problem with calling in artillery and air strikes would have been the availability of an artillery unit or air unit that wasn’t spoken for. Especially on D-Day +1, +2, +3, +4, etc.

The 2nd problem would have been range. The SCR-536 only had a range of about 1 mile.

They will target your medics. Who you’re kind of going to need to be alive if you want your soldiers to be able to keep fighting. And that’s why most militaries have agreed that non-combatant medical personnel can’t be legally targeted.

They will also likely not accept surrender if you do that. Shooting the other side’s medics is a complicated way of saying you want to die.

As far as calling in an airstrike goes, they addressed that. “The Air Force isn’t going to waste its time on one machine gun nest!” is what Capt. Miller said while they were debating the issue.

When done right, a solitary machine gun nest could be taken with light casualties, which is what happened. In WWII, taking an objective like that with the loss of only one man would have been considered just fine. No need to waste valuable airpower on that. The purpose of airpower when air superiority is contested like it was at that point is to a) keep the enemy from bombing your guys, and b) take out or soften up defenses that can’t be taken without heavy casualties. Asking for an airstrike for a machine gun nest would have gotten Capt. Miller relieved of command. While you’re sending planes to go after that machine gun nest, they are probably being shot at from the ground, possibly harassed in the air, and not protecting Allied soldiers from real threats.

Oh, but, please. Any officer could gather any unit in the uncertain, inevitable, chaos of DDay. You were dropped at 2am, June 6th, 1944. After you land, you have no contact with anyone. If a U.S. Army Captain arrives and orders you, are you not going to comply with his (presumably lawful) orders? Especially if it gives you consortium.

This here is what make it one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. You can see Miller agonizing over the decision, but having to decide quickly. Then taking the larger view and deciding over the objections of his own guys. Then when one of his own ends up killed he breaks down but has to rapidly recompose himself. As if doing what needs to be done isn’t hard enough, you have to live with the decisions you make when the “right” choice is nowhere to be found.