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Saving Private Ryan: Realistic War Movie?

  1. Feb 22, 2014 #1
    Saving Private Ryan is known as a "realistic" war movie, as opposed to the happy-go-lucky WWII films like The Longest Day. Apparently some people equate excessive gore with "realism." I'm fine with excessive gore as long as it's realistic and fits into the "point" of the film. I find Saving Private Ryan to very entertaining and mostly realistic, but I think the only "point" was entertainment and it wasn't realistic enough for me.

    First off, was the Omaha Beach Landing anything like it was depicted in the movie? Why would any American general order such a stupid attack? Landing craft opening 100 meters from machine gun nests? Why not first bring those American destroyers to shell those machine gun nests into oblivion?


    There was a Mythbusters episode about shooting guns into water. The conclusion is that water stops bullets dead in their tracks.

    This doesn't happen:


    I didn't get the best screen capture on the following scene, but if you watch the movie you'll see that there are American troops behind those Germans that are getting shot (You can kinda see their helmets). Troops would never shoot like they do in this scene because there's too much of a risk of friendly fire. Even if they didn't miss, their bullets might go straight through the Germans.


    This always gives me a laugh. The American shoots a German through the wall and then a pool of like 2 gallons of blood literally spills out in 2 seconds.


  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2014 #2
    Well, there exists actuall footage from the Normandy invasion which you can compare to the movie. From what I've seen, it's pretty realistic.

    The allied forces did shell the German reinforcements as well as conduct ariel bombings, but the fortifications in place there were quite substantial. As far as facing german machine guns, they did that because they had to. I don't know (and maybe no one does) how many of those kinds of guns were present there, but there were some 120,000 casualties involved with the Battle for Normandy - those figures alone say a lot about what men on both sides had to face.

    As far as blood pooling out like that - sure maybe a bit much, but you have to grant some artistic license. However, if you shoot someone with a large caliber bullet and hit an artery in the leg or neck, they will lose a trenmendous amount of blood in a very short time - something I hope to never see in person.
  4. Feb 23, 2014 #3


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    Omaha Beach and the landings - a plan was agreed upon. Follow orders. If one unit, captain lietenant, general on his own decides to limit his casualties then command breakdown surely ensues. That is not to say that objectives will or will not be met, but for the invasion a major part of the planning was to everwhelm the enemy all along the beaches with landing crafts and personnel. For sure itwas not pretty.

    the bullet firing into water - depends upon the type of bullet, lower velocity does not shatter.

    Friendly fire - yes they do - immediate threat is of concern.
  5. Feb 23, 2014 #4


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    You may want to read this article. Long story short, in addition to breakdowns in intelligence regarding the composition of the German defenders, very little went according to plan for the landing.

  6. Feb 23, 2014 #5


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    No matter how much naval gunfire you pour into a beach, you won't kill but a fraction of the enemy.

    Normandy has some pretty substantial cliffs in which many strongly protected defensive positions can be easily constructed. The Germans were using more than machine guns to defend the beaches: guns up to at least 150 mm were fired at the invasion fleet. This caliber would be sufficient to cause heavy damage to a destroyer, which essentially had no armor protection. In addition, close in shore, destroyers could not maneuver freely due to the presence of mines and other obstacles installed by the Germans.

    In the Pacific, the Japanese were able to fortify island atolls which had no cliffs and stood only a few feet above sea level. At Tarawa, the first large scale opposed amphibious landing by US forces on a Japanese position, a pre-landing bombardment by battleships firing 360 mm and 406 mm projectiles was unable to destroy all the Japanese positions, which were able to return withering fire when the US troops went ashore. The Japanese had buried their fortifications in the island such that shell fire from offshore was rendered ineffective unless a direct hit was made, and it was difficult to identify these targets because they were so well camouflaged by the Japanese.

  7. Feb 23, 2014 #6
    I think the most unrealistic of all was the mission goal. Risking so many lives just to save one private?
  8. Feb 23, 2014 #7


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    I would have been nigh impossible to take out all of the defences first however there were many efforts to try ahead of the invasion. I've visited sites in France far from the coast where the German army kept very heavy artillery in event of an invasion. I unfortunately don't remember the name of the place but in one setting the RAF parachuted 700 men in ahead of D-day to take out the artillery that could have bombed the beach. The Germans had prepared for this somewhat and had flooded the surrounding fields. Of those 700 over 550 drowned in the mud along with their minesweepers, radios and most of their heavy weaponry. The remaining men still completed the mission.

    Edit: found the mission with some googling: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Merville_Gun_Battery. I've misremembered a few details, in this case most the meant weren't drowned by scattered and couldn't make their way to the gun battery. The Germans did use the field flooding tactic though, I was quite young visiting these places so must have confused too similar missions.
  9. Feb 23, 2014 #8

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    Per the people who fought on the beaches on D-Day, that opening sequence of the film was extremely realistic. Much more so than The Longest Day.

    The real event was much gorier than was the movie. A truly realistic depiction of what transpired not have flown as a movie.

    It wasn't stupid. It worked. It was the first successful invasion of France from across the English Channel against a defined position in over 800 years. It was massively successful. The number of lost lives on the Allies part was huge by modern standards (more American lives were lost on D-Day and in the few days that followed during the battle for Normandy than have been lost in the entire War on Terror), but those losses were smaller than expected. You are judging the times of 70 years ago by the standards and capabilities of our time. Don't ever do that with history.

    The reality was that the initial invasion was timed to occur at low tide. The landing craft dropped the soldiers off over half a kilometer from the cliffs. They had to wade through hundreds of meters of gunfire before getting to land, only to be subject to even more intense gunfire on the beaches. That wouldn't have play well in a movie, even on a large screen. That was intentional artistic license on Spielberg's part. It helped portray the horror of the moment.

    Here's an image of how Pointe du Hoc looks today:

    Here's how it looked 70 years ago:

    Those craters weren't there the day before D-Day.

    First off, it wasn't dead in their tracks. Depending on the gun, the bullets tested on Mythbusters were still lethal after through passing between 1 to 3 meters of water. Secondly, Mythbusters tested lead bullets. They did not test the armor piercing rounds used against the incoming landing craft. Finally, that is exactly what many soldiers who fought on D-Day said happened to several of their colleagues who didn't make it to shore.

    This did happen.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 18, 2017
  10. Feb 23, 2014 #9


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    That was the pure Hollywood part. However, like many tales told in Hollywood, it did contain a kernel of truth.

    Earlier in the War, the 5 Sullivan brothers had been killed when their ship, the USS Juneau, was sunk off Guadalcanal in 1942. Later in the war, 4 brothers from another family were killed, but not all at once like the Sullivans. As a result of these terrible losses, which left families with no surviving sons, a policy was adopted by the armed forces where sole surviving sons would not be kept in combat areas for the duration of the war.


  11. Feb 23, 2014 #10


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    A few more:
    War is chaotic and friendly fire still happens a lot today even though it is a lot less chaotic today than it was then. Yes: it is perfectly plausible that soldiers would shoot people even with a risk of hitting one of their own behind them. And at that range, their odds of missing their targets wouldn't be that high.
    Tough to know how much blood it was, but when shot through the heart, neck or upper/inner thigh, you can lose most of your blood and bleed to death in less than a minute. A quick google tells me that the body holds about 5L of blood and pumps 7L/min.

    Either way, "not bleeding right" would be pretty low on my list of complaints about a movie.
  12. Feb 23, 2014 #11


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    The other point to add to this is that Saving Private Ryan was a fictional account of an historic event. It wasn't a documentary and so when it gets labelled as "realistic" that doesn't mean "exactly how it happened." It was likely a lot closer to reality than other war films tended to be - at least up until that point. There have been many films since that seem to have followed in its footsteps - Band of Brothers comes to mind.
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