Directed by: Robert Lihani
Hosted by: Gerald McRaney
- Biography Episode: “Eisenhower: Commander in Chief”
- “The True Story of the Screaming Eagles: The 101st Airborne”
- “Dear Home: Letters from World War II”
- “Battle Stations: Sherman Assault”
Released by: History Channel.
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: WWII buffs should own it, otherwise Rent It.
We all learned about D-Day in History class. We learned the names: Eisenhower, Rommel, Patton, and Montgomery. We learned the places: Omaha Beach, Caen, and the Falaise Gap. But what do we really know? D-Day: The Total Story lets the men and women who were there tell their own story. They tell about the horrors of war, the camaraderie of these bands of brothers, and what it was like to actually be there. These remembrances take D-Day out of the textbook and make it real.
[ad#longpost]Once you get past the bombastic hosting of McRaney, this is one of the best and well-rounded documentaries about the D-Day invasion. There is plenty of footage shot about the preparations and the battle itself to help immerse you in the battle. But it is the personal recollections of those who were witnesses and participants in this conflict that truly make you feel what it was really like. Not only did they get American soldiers to tell their stories, they have British and Canadians soldiers, France resistance fighters, and even several German soldiers on the other side. It gives the viewer the sense that it wasn’t just the U.S., but many nations that were involved–which is what gets lost in the Hollywood versions ten times out of nine.
There is also commentary from the noted historian Stephan Ambrose to add context and details not available to the grunt on the front lines. Such as how this wasn’t an easy alliance. Some English resented the over-paid and over-sexed Yanks while some Americans resented the snobbish and dismissive Limeys. The top British commander Montgomery and “Old Blood and Guts” General Patton were constantly at odds so Eisenhower was constantly acting as peacemaker between the two. But this isn’t really their story. It’s the story of the paratrooper, the infantryman, the bombardier, the tank driver and all those who fought and all those who died on the longest day.
The other material on the discs focuses on specific elements of the D-Day invasion. The Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, Dwight Eisenhower, is featured in a Biography episode. As with most Biography episodes, it only scratches the surface of the man. However it does feature his faults as well as his successes to give a balanced portrayal of his life in the Army and the Presidency.
“The True Story of the Screaming Eagles: The 101st Airborne” tells of this division’s illustrious history from surviving the disastrous jump during D-Day to using helicopters in both Vietnam and Desert Storm. The emphasis of this documentary is how no matter bad the odds, the 101st always did their duty with honor and distinction.
The Battle Stations episode, featuring the Sherman tank, talks about its speed and robust design, but its weaknesses in the lack of power in its main gun and its light armor compared to the German Panzer. It’s more to the power of American production that the Sherman succeeded than its battle prowess.
The last feature, “Dear Home: Letters from World War II,” returns to the soldiers. The letters to and from the front were becoming so colossal that they were put on microfilm, and then reprinted to lighten the load. Again we hear the voices of soldiers and the families they left behind: their complaints, their fears, and their hope of returning home. Some never made it, but their words and thoughts live on. Like D-Day: The Total Story, it’s really about the common G.I. and not the great men and machines that won the war. And because of their sacrifice and bravery, we shall be eternally grateful.