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.


With the hills of Corsica in the back, 'Omaha' is invaded,...

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 of Conche des Baleines from La Solitude point at Île de Ré

Robert Mitchum and Darryl F. Zanuck 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 where the para-drop was reenacted 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).

The 'cricket' was not used by the 82nd Airborne Division
(Steve Forrest (Captain Harding) achter John Wayne)

A returning detail in the movie is the use of the 'cricket', a toy used by the 101st Airborne Division during their jump into Normandy. The use of it by the men under Lt.Col. Vandervoort, of the 2nd Battalion, 505th PIR, 82nd Airborne is fabricated, and not true. In an 'after action report' can be read:
'The cricket signal was the most helpful instrument in the built-up (of the 101st AD)'. Waarbij als voetnoot wordt aangehaald:
'In the same operation 82nd Div did not use the cricket. Its officers said it was an 'amateur's device' and not needed by battle-trained paratroops' (the 82nd Div. had fought on Sicilië and on the mainland of Italy. For the 101st Division it was their first action. The picture above is far from correct,...