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Posted on Aug 19, 2009 in Books and Movies

The Americans on D-Day – DVD Review

Gerald D. Swick

The Americans on D-Day. Produced by WW2 Reflections.
Running time approximately 45 minutes. US $23.99.

Ste. Mere Eglise is shown in a night scene with the clock at 1:15 a.m. while von Seibold talks about paratroopers taking fire as they descended on the town.

The Americans on D-Day DVD from WW2 Reflections takes viewers through modern-day Normandy to show where Americans fought on "the longest day," from Omaha and Utah beaches to the streets of Ste. Mere Eglise, the battery at Longues Sur Mer, and the fields around Brecourt Manor and La Fiere Bridge.

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This production might be called a docu-tour, part documentary, part battlefield tour. Supplementing the scenes shot at historic sites in the present day are maps, film footage and still photographs from World War II, a smidgen of animation, and best of all, interviews with D-Day participants. The latter include men from the 82nd and 101st Airborne, 2nd Ranger Battalion, 29th Infantry Division, 9th Air Force, Navy Combat Demolitions, the pilot of a naval landing craft, and a member of the Fallschirmjager (paratrooper) 6. Regiment.

Retired Marine captain, actor and Vietnam veteran Dale A. Dye, who was an advisor on HBO’s Band of Brothers and the movie Saving Private Ryan, was a consultant.

The narrator is Ellwood von Seibold, a British-born tour guide now living in France where he specializes in battlefield tours. Very energetic and spry for a middle-aged man, his enthusiasm for the subject shines through clearly in the film. Climbing a rope ladder at Pointe du Hoc or running between points on a portion of the battlefield may leave him a bit breathless, but that adds to the sense of what it was like for men in the battle, breathing hard from their exertions—and hoping to continue breathing.

In places these one-man recreations seem a little silly, as when von Seibold squeezes off rounds from an M-1 Garand at a clearly unmanned MG-42 at Brecourt Manor, but most of the time they work. And one of the best elements of the film is that viewers are mostly seeing things from a single combat man’s perspective. Looking over von Seibold’s shoulder, the close proximity that existed between American soldiers on a featureless beach and the German bunkers from which fire and death rained down upon them is striking. When he stands in a shell crater that is deeper than he is tall, it is easy to imagine the fear German defenders must have felt as large naval shells exploded close to their positions. The Teutonic words for "Who signed me up for this?" must have gone through many Aryan minds that day.

Von Seibold drives a restored Dodge command car in the production, and footage of it rolling along Normandy’s roads is used to segue between locations. He wears different American uniforms—and the occasional German one—at different times, depending on whether he is narrating an action by a paratrooper unit, infantry on the beaches, Rangers, or others. He talks about the uniforms and their accoutrements. The "Extras" section of the DVD looks at some of the weapons carried by both sides and clearly demonstrates the advantage in firepower the American semi-automatic M1 Garand had over the German bolt-action Mauser 98K.

The film features several nice touches. When a new scene begins, a digital clock appears briefly on the screen, showing the time of day or night when the action described was taking place on June 6, 1944. All scenes were shot at the time of day when those actions would have been occurring; thus, the church at Ste. Mere Eglise is shown in a night scene with the clock at 1:15 a.m. while von Seibold talks about paratroopers taking fire as they descended on the town, one of whom, Pvt. John Steele, was forced to play dead while dangling from his chute, which had snagged on the church steeple.

Rather than simply telling viewers, "This unit was sent to capture this objective," the production uses maps and narration to explain the importance of each objective in relation to overall success. A unit patch laid over the map identifies the unit being discussed as the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, etc.

The overall feel of The Americans on D-Day is that of watching a BBC program on the telly about the Yanks in the Normandy Invasion, although the BBC had no involvement in the project. The sound of a British voice narrating a film about U.S. combat troops may surprise American viewers at first, but von Seibold’s enthusiasm for his subject will quickly overcome that reaction.

It is an entertaining and informative production that appears to have been a labor of love. And this reviewer has to admit, after watching it, he’d like to take one of von Seibold’s tours to see if the tour guide is always this animated.

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