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The Longest Day

Cigar-chomping Darryl Zanuck re-created one of history's most momentous events on the beaches of Normandy.
Fred Hift
From the Print Edition:
Bill Cosby, Autumn 94

(continued from page 3)

Part of the thrill of The Longest Day was re-creating the sense of drama and tension that surrounded the lead-up to the real invasion. In retrospect, both sides seemed almost determined to foul up the preparations.

The Allies went to great lengths to keep the actual incursion date a secret, hoping to fool the Germans into believing that the air- and seaborne assault would take place across the Strait of Dover in the Pas-de-Calais area rather than right across the Channel. Even down to the last day, when Eisenhower ordered the invasion fleet to return to port rather than face a raging storm--the worst to hit the Channel in some 20 years--there was fear that the Germans had spotted the ships and were prepared for the landings. They hadn't.

And Adolf Hitler, even after the Allies had landed, still believed the Normandy beach fighting was only a cover for the "real thing" to come.

Even more astonishing, the German Wehrmacht high command had plenty of warning. A German spy at the British Embassy in Turkey had told his superiors in Berlin that the BBC in London would alert the French Resistance to the invasion by broadcasting a two-part coded message taken from a poem by Paul Verlaine called "Song of Autumn."

The first part would be: "The long sobs of the violins of autumn." The second, signaling an attack within 48 hours, was: "Wound my heart with a monotonous languor." The poem was duly broadcast and set off a wide range of railroad demolition and other destructive activities by the French underground.

German intelligence intercepted those messages and even notified Berlin, but the high command didn't put the troops on alert--at least not the German Seventh Army Corps, which had been stationed along the Normandy coast.

The Germans had called war games for June 6 in Rennes, France, some 80 miles southwest of Omaha Beach, and many top-ranking officers were absent from their north-coast redoubts. Most important, Rommel, in charge of all the German defenses, was far from his headquarters at La Roche-Sur-Yon(75 miles south of Rennes on the Atlantic Coast). He had gone home to Germany to visit with his wife and see Hitler. To make things even worse, the German high command had shifted its last remaining fighter wing from Normandy back to Germany, leaving just two planes capable of taking to the air. They promptly attacked the British invasion force and then hightailed it to the interior.

The Germans weren't alone in their mistakes, however. On the Allied side, there were errors galore. The most glaring involved a press message on June 3, originating from Eisenhower's headquarters, stating: "General Eisenhower today announced Allied landings in France." It turned out to be a mistake, of course, a careless machine "test" by a teletype operator in the pressroom, yet the Germans received it, and seeing no maritime activity on the Channel, actually ignored it.

F.H.


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