This page is part of 'Battlefield Normandy'.


'Believe me Lang, the first 24 hours of the invasion will be critical,…
the future of Germany will depend on the outcome of that,…
as well for the Allies as for Germany it shall be THE LONGEST DAY '.
(Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, to his adjudant, on 2 April, 1944.)

Werner Hinz as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel


When Cornelius Ryan's book 'The Longest Day' climbs on the bestseller list, Darryl F. Zanuck decides that the story must be made as a motion picture. Unfortunately the rights to the book are already sold to the French producer Raoul Levy. But Zanuck doesn't gif up and, after some negotiations, he gets the rights. He then starts the difficult search for wartime material. Especially German weapons are hard to find. In England they find a captured 20 mm cannon. A couple of 50 mm anti-airguns were secured from some bunkers near La Rochelle in France. From a museum in London they can borrow a PIAT. Other museums as well were willing to loan German weapons to Zanuck. Still harder to find was rolling material and what they found had to be restored.

Richard Burton, as Fl.Off. Richard Campbell, a frustrated RAF pilot

In one scene they needed some Spitfires that attacked a German column. Through the French ex-wartime pilot, Pierre Laureys, they rented a couple of Spitfires. Laureys restored the Spitfires (MH415, MK297, and MK923) and flew self a Spitfire when they shot the attack scene, just as he did with 340 Squadron on June 6th, 1944, low and very fast! It was fortunate for Zanuck that he did not need a bigger armada of planes. The parachute droppings were under a heavy base of clouds and at night. To create the illusion, the sound effect of 'passing' planes was enough. They built two gliders, a British Horsa and an American Waco CG4A. There were a couple of large models of Lancaster bombers that were use as tow planes for gliders. They also used post-war Skyraider planes that looked a bit like Tempest fighter bombers.

Major 'Pips' Priller (Heinz Reincke), the hot-headed German ace in a Bf 108

The German 'Luftwaffe' consisted in the movie of two Bf 108's Taifuns, because for the lack of the real thing. It’s a pity, everyone sees that it are not fighter planes (in reality it were Fw 190's). But finally, the material, the costumes and the star cast is on the set, so the shooting could begin,… of ‘The Longest Day’.


After five minutes into ‘The Longest Day’, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (a roll for Werner Hinz) steps into the frame, to tell us that at this spot, Normandy, the Allies are likely to land. It is obvious in front of a background projection. In the middle of the dialog, Rommel ‘disappears’ suddenly, while the dialog is continuing over the background projection. Was this an artistic experiment of the producer, or a slip up during editing?

Left, Dwight Eisenhower and right Henry Grace as Ike Eisenhower

Producer Zanuck asked the Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower if he would repeat his role in the movie. Eisenhower was flattered and accepted. But the time, 18 years after D-Day, had taken its toll, and despite the afford the make-up department did her best, the Ike from the past could not be recreated. Eisenhower his part for the movie was minor, it was the action that would be the main part, and there were just a few lines to be spoken. So, a casting was made on the set where the set decorator Henry Grace was discovered who had a close resemblance to Eisenhower. Grace did some stiff acting, but in comparison with some ‘gung-ho’ actors, he did a real good job.


When we talk about 'real', the location for OMAHA Beach was no longer useable to re-enact the American landings over there. Fortunately for Zanuck the 6th Fleet was at manoeuvre near Corsica. Twenty-five ships were available for him and 1600 marines stormed the Corsican beach. The filming became in danger when in August 1961 the Russians put up the 'Berlin Wall'. The co-operation of the American army was in jeopardy, the soldiers were more eager to fight the Russians than the 'Normandy' beach. There was even an investigation and later a change in policy between the Pentagon and Hollywood. Another location where a large portion of 'OMAHA' was shot, was on the island of Île de Ré. Here is a bay, Conches des Baleines, that has a similar curve as OMAHA Beach.

The beach Conche des Baleines, a view from La Solitude on Île de Ré

midden: Robert Mitchum, on 'Omaha Beach' (location: Île de Ré)

Star at Omaha Beach was Robert Mitchum as General Norman Cota. He speaks here the legendary words ‘Rangers, lead the way’. In the real world his words would have gone lost in the terrible noise of explosions, but there are countless eyewitness reports he spoke these words, on the beach or at his headquarters. So it is justice that the motto for the Rangers is proudly ‘Rangers lead the way.

Left, Jeff Hunter (Fuller) and right Eddie Albert (Col. Thompson)

A ‘sidekick’ next to Mitchum is Eddie Albert in the roll of Colonel Thompson. He suggests, to Cota, at one point to ask permission for a retreat from OMAHA Beach. Later in the movie he will die in a ‘dramatic’ way (after he whistles, like a cowboy who is moving his cattle out), when he is hit by a bullet. A heroes roll has Sgt. John H. Fuller (roll of Jeff Hunter) when he and his men place the bangeloors (pipemines) at the right spot so a breakout can be made.


The first real location were filming took place was Ste-Mere-Eglise. This is the location were the para-drop was re-enacted of the 82nd Airborne Division. Behind the church they built a house that was on fire during that night (the real house stood at the place were now the museum is housed). It was one of the more dramatic scenes from 'The Longest Day', the paratroopers in the flickering lights of the fire who came down around the church.

Above the 'set' in Ste-Mere-Eglise (It realy is from the movie),
and below the situation today.

Actor Red Buttons plays the part of Private John Steele. This paratrooper became hooked on the church tower. He hung helpless for some hours and was a witness to the horror below. It was an ordeal to film in Ste-Mère-Eglise. Around the square at the church the set decorators made a big mess of burning wrecks and rubble. Life size dolls, in paratrooper clothing, were hung into trees and on to buildings. To conceal it, the large monument was covered in sandbags.

Behind the two GI's, the monument covered in sandbags can be seen

To prevent some uneasiness under the locals of Ste-Mère-Eglise, because of all those German uniforms (it was just 17 years after), a loudspeaker called out that it were all French actors and stuntmen!

John Wayne as Lt.Col. Benjamin Vandervoort

Star part around Ste-Mère-Eglise was given to John Wayne in the roll of Lt.Col. Benjamin Vandervoort, commander of 2nd Battalion, 505 PIR of the 82ste Airborne Division. Charlton Heston had his eyes on this part, but it went at last to Wayne. Producer Zanuck had managed that every star actor would take just 25.000 dollar for their appearance in the movie. But when Wayne saw a interview with Zanuck in which he spoke of the flop Wayne had produced with the ‘The Alamo’, he was not pleased, to say the least. If Zanuck wanted him that bad, he had to pay Wayne 250.000 dollar, and a separate place from the rest of the credit roll. Zanuck gave in, and paid Wayne what he had asked. This made Wayne far from popular on the set with the other actors, and was mostly ignored by the others.

John Wayne as Lt.Col. Vandervoort, right the real Vandervoort
(find the differences,...)

Lt.Col. Vandervoort broke his left ankle during the jump over Normandy. As you watch the movie, you may notice that John Wayne has broken his wrong ankle,… his right! Wayne plays his part as he plays all his parts in westerns, a slow moving caricature, who can conquer the whole world. First of all, a dramatic gesture with his arms, and then a ‘John Wayne’ one-liner, such as 'go on,..'. Wayne his name was separated on the credits, and appears way down below (but Zanuck kept his promise to Wayne).

Pointe du Hoc

The filmcrew at work on Pointe du Hoc

After shooting completed at Ste-Mere-Eglise the crew left for Pointe du Hoc. Actors Robert Wagner and Paul Anka had to climb the steep cliff together with real US Rangers. These are some exiting scènes. Steven Spielberg would later use one of the scènes for Saving Private Ryan. When German soldiers want to surrender, a Rangers shoots them. He seems not to know what;...'Bitte, bitte!' means.

Robert Wagner is wounded,
(the Rangers on the left will shoot in a moment the 'Bitte, bitte'- Germans).
The same bunker today, with the exception of the S-35 tankturret

The 'set-decorators' had little to do at this place. Everything was unchanged since June 1944. To protect the actors against the upcoming tide, they had a huge crane that operated a large platform that could move the 'Rangers' up and down (just as the camera crew). The Rangers in the movie are not wearing their distinctive blue shoulder patch.

Pegasus Bridge

While one team is filming at the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, another team is working at the Caen canal, near Benouville. Here is the re-enactment of the attack on the so called Pegasus Bridge. The landing with the Horsa gliders is brought in a spectacular way, and is a great action opener at the start of D-Day. This was a text book act by the British paratroopers in the first hour of June 6, 1944.

Richard Todd (left as Major John Howard) expects at any moment a German counter attack

Actor Richard Todd, as Major John Howard, plays an important roll in ‘The Longest Day’. Todd was born on June 11, 1919, in Ireland. His childhood was in India, where is father was an army doctor. When the family returns to West Devon, England, Richard goes to the military school at Sandhurst. A career as a writers lies ahead, but he finally becomes an actor at Italia Conta school. When the Second World War starts, Richard Todd joins the 7th Parachute Battalion, part of the 6th Airborne Division. He jumps east of the Orne river, in Normandy, just before 01.00 hours, on June 6t, 1944. As relief troops he and other para’s head for the two bridges over the Orne and the Caen canal (Pegasus bridge). During the night Todd runs into Lt. Sweeney at the Pegasus Bridge, who captured with his men the Orne bridge. Sweeney had just captured Major Hans Schmidt when he approached the bridge. As a commander who was given the order to protect the bridges, Schmidt asked to be shot on the spot (his request was denied).

From left to right: Peter Lawford, Lord Lovat, Richard Todd and John Howard.
(Behind Peter Lawford is the large monument of Pegasus Bridge, hidden behind sandbags)

A week earlier, during a exercise, Todd and Sweeney, had also run into each other. When they introduced themselves, it went like this, Lt. Sweeney: "I met this chap on the bridge and he said,… "Hello, my name is Todd and they call me Sweeney",… So I replied,… "Hello, my name is Sweeney and they call me Tod!" (Richard Todd played once the roll of Sweeney Tod, a murderess barber). Richard Todd would never have guessed, that in 17 years time, in 1961, he would be once again standing on the bridge, now as an actor to portray Major John Howard who was given the order: 'Hold,… until relieved'. It has to be Richard Todd his 'twilight-zone' moment.

Left, Peter Lawford (Lord Lovat) and in the middle Richard Todd (John Howard)

The ‘relieve’ for Howard had to come from Lord Lovat and his troops, who had landed on SWORD Beach, and were legging it towards Pegasus Bridge. Before the shooting of the scenes were started at Pegasus Bridge, producer Zanuck had Lord Lovat and Major John Howard brought over to meet the men who were going to portray them. The men had not seen each other since Jun 6, 1944. Richard Todd played Howard, Lord Lovat was done by Peter Lawford.

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