Ten years ago today I tried my hand at alternate history with a post whose title was taken from the words General Eisenhower prepared for use in the event that the Longest Day had ended in defeat: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold.”.
Here is an earlier effort in the same genre – a German newsreel made, I would guess in late June 1944. It mentions stiff fighting around Caen, but since Caen did not fall to the Allies until late July, that does not narrow the date down much.
The claim made at 2:07 that infantry assault troops were “airlifted in for the first night of the engagements” is false. The Allies owned the skies. Nor do I believe that the “German wartime fleet” ever gave the “signal for resistance” (as claimed at 2:46), or any other signal at that time and place.
It would have been a remarkable stroke of journalistic good fortune to have happened to be filming when the first news of the invasion came and to have captured the moment when soldiers grabbed their rifles, so I guess what we saw one minute in was a drill. The numerous shots of explosions and guns firing could have been filmed at any time during the war, although they may show real combat. Film of men looking through binoculars and speaking into microphones in a resolute manner is best obtained on days when little else is being done.
Since reality did not grant German soldiers an opportunity to stroll around abandoned Allied landing-craft on the beaches of Normandy, I think the shots shown at 5:16 (just after the picture at 5:13 of an SS soldier who looks oddly like Barack Obama) must be of the aftermath of the Dieppe Raid of August 1942. Given the great losses the Canadians suffered that day I initially thought the film at 8:25 of Canadian prisoners from the North Nova Scotia Highlanders was also taken after that operation, but Wikipedia makes no particular mention of soldiers from Nova Scotia taking part in the Dieppe Raid, whereas the North Nova Scotia Highlanders are listed as having taken part in the Canadian D-Day landing at Juno Beach. I now think that last part of the film is mostly true.
The panning shot at 3:16 of the invasion fleet itself – impossible not to admire the steady nerves of the German cameraman who took that – looks as if it really does depict that vast armada coming “straight for me”, as Major Pluskat famously told his superiors, and I cannot see how the pictures of downed gliders could show anything but the real price paid by the D-Day vanguard.
I see no particular reason other than the general mendacity of the Nazis to disbelieve the section showing the fighting around Caen. There was plenty of time for film really taken then to have reached Berlin and be made into a newsreel. The announcement at 7:09 that the men shown surrendering “are all surprised that the invasion is over so quickly” turned out to contain a wrong assumption, but one that might have been believed at the time.
Many Samizdata readers know much more than I about military history – including the Samizdata reader to whom I am married – and I expect some of them will make better informed judgements than mine as to the actual origin of some of the scenes in the newsreel. Let us be glad that we can look back at these images with the tranquility of the historian in a society that, unlike the Nazis, still cares, if diminishingly, for objective truth.
For a view of D-Day from the German side that strove a little harder to be honest, see Von Rundstedt’s report for distribution to commanders.
And remember those Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen who died. Their comrades who survived are mostly entering their nineties now and vanishingly few will live to assemble on the beaches for any big anniversary after this.