The Longest Day Essay

The Great War: July 1, 1916—The First Day of the Battle of the Somme. By Joe Sacco. W.W. Norton; 54 pages; $35. Jonathan Cape; £20. Buy from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk

IT WAS at the battle of the Somme that ordinary soldiers lost their illusions about the nature of modern warfare. On the first day alone, July 1st 1916, more than 57,000 British troops were killed or wounded.

They were part of a 120,000-strong wave intended to break the stalemate on the western front. The attack was meticulously planned, generously supplied and, in the end, a disaster. The pre-attack artillery fire that was supposed to dislodge the Germans from their trenches failed: it was notable, Adam Hochschild writes in an accompanying essay to “The Great War”, “mainly for its noise”. The Germans simply waited out the attacks in deep bunkers, then used artillery that had been camouflaged to shred the advancing troops. It remains the single bloodiest day in British military history.

Joe Sacco’s book includes none of this. Indeed, aside from his essay and Mr Hochschild’s, printed together in a separate pamphlet, it includes no words at all. Instead, using the Bayeux tapestry—a 70-metre-long work that celebrates the Norman conquest of England—Mr Sacco tells the story of July 1st 1916 in a single 24-foot-long black-and-white drawing. Mr Sacco was raised in Australia and he hews to a British perspective, explaining that it has “seeped into my consciousness”.

Broken by accordion folds into 24 plates, Mr Sacco’s narrative—and despite its wordlessness it is nothing if not narrative, with the action, lines and motion of one plate leading seamlessly into the next—begins on the morning of the attack. General Haig, in full military dress, is walking the grounds of Château de Beaurepaire. It ends at a casualty station, with the wounded writhing on stretchers and a few able-bodied troops burying those beyond medical help. In between, men prepare, ride, march and, in vast numbers, die.

Mr Sacco eschews anything resembling realistic perspective and proportion. Yet his ability to cram in detail is extraordinary. And it is the details that linger: the smile on the face of a young French boy as he watches the troops saddle up and ride, bandages unravelling from a severed leg lying unclaimed on the battlefield, and the faces of the officers overseeing the gravediggers: stoic, weary and harrowed.

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The Longest Day Essay

"The Longest Day" was a mammoth project dramatizing D-day, the Allied invasion of France. It was nearly three hours in length and with an enormous ensemble cast, all playing supporting roles. The production was very conscientious about realism, the actors were always of the same nationality as their characters, and spoke in their native languages, leading to a lot of subtitles translating French and German dialogue. Although the movie was historically correct, it was also meant to be a blockbuster by starring John Wane, Robert Mitchum, Sean Connery and Henry Fonda. But The American role in the invasion is not exaggerated, and the German soldiers and officers are not portrayed as brutal stereotypes.

The date for invasion was decided in Washington in May 1943, but due to some difficulties it had been postponed till June 5. June 5th was the unalterable date for the invasion to take place. The troops and the officers had been stationed in barracks for month and they were getting quite anxious to get the invasion over with. On June 5th due to bed weather the invasion had been postponed again, some ships were already on the way and had-to be recalled. The film shows the meeting that General Eisenhower (Supreme commander of the Allied forces who was in charge of the operation Overlord) held to decide to whether of not go on

with the invasion. They came up with a decision to delay the invasion for twenty- four hours. The solders and the officers got quite excited when they heard that the invasion was delayed for only 24-hours, they were worried, if the invasion would
be delayed any longer they would have to wait for two more month for the tide to be back.

The allies took a lot of thought in fooling the German intelligence. Allies had air supremacy so German recon planes were very unsuccessful. The allies used that to their advantage, they had set up fake landing crafts and purposely allowed German planes in those arias. Germans had also underestimated the Allies. They didn’t believe that allies would ever gather up a navy big enough to attack the French coast but on June 6th a fleet of more then 5’000 ships took off for the French beaches.     

Prior to the landing of the Allied troops there were several pr invasion bombings, which had very little effect on German fortifications. The movie did a very good job in portraying the feeling you would have landing on the beach and

dodging the bullets and running through artillery fire and land mines, it was focused on three or four people and the atmosphere wasn’t as depressing as it

probably would be in real life. Given consideration that the film was made in early sixties these things are easily forgiven. The movie did a very good job in focusing on Omaha beach where the allies had encountered most resistance. It was the most restricted and heavily defended of all beaches. The Allies had assigned one veteran division to this beach. Germans were fighting...

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