History of the World According to the Movies: Part 67 – World War II: The Mediterranean

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1961’s The Guns of Navarone is about a crack squad of International Forces sent to destroy those large guns off an island in Greece. Or as star Gregory Peck put it: “David Niven really loves Anthony Quayle and Gregory Peck loves Anthony Quinn. Tony Quayle breaks a leg and is sent off to hospital. Tony Quinn falls in love with Irene Papas, and Niven and Peck catch each other on the rebound and live happily ever after.” Still, it’s a movie that pertains to the trials and tribulations of international cooperation during the war in which people from different countries had to work together to a common goal.

For a good chunk of World War II, the Allies spent considerable time in the Mediterranean area whether it be in North Africa or Italy. Initially, the conflict in this area was originally against the Italy. However, Italy started getting its ass beaten which leads to the Germans coming to aid. Then the Italians get fed up with Mussolini that Il Duce is deposed by the Italian government and joins the Allies (Mussolini would later get rescued by German forces before being killed by his own people in 1945 in a very nasty way). Actually Italy’s switch had been a long time coming since Mussolini declared war on France, in fact. Of course, this leads to Germany overrunning Italy {and Italian civil war between fascist and Allied factions of the populace} which leads to the Allies having to liberate it, a process that took at least two years. Still, it’s this part of the war where you see the arrival of American forces, desert tank warfare, Mediterranean scenery (which may or may not be blown to bits) as well as personalities like Erwin Rommel, George S. Patton, and Bernard Montgomery. Famous battles include Tobruk, El Alamein, Monte Cassino, the Allied invasion of Sicily, and the Allied invasion of Italy. Also, a key setting of a lot of war romance movies most famously Casablanca. Still, unlike the Pacific, at least the war effort in this area isn’t 100% credited to the Americans. Nevertheless, there are some historical errors in movies pertaining to this theater, which I shall point out.

General George S. Patton:

General George S. Patton was an impressive orator with a deep gravelly voice. (Sure George C. Scott was totally awesome as Patton and won a well-deserved Oscar for it. However, the real Patton actually had a high pitched squeaky voice {which would’ve made Patton an unintentional comedy} yet he did manage to steal the spotlight while speaking. Yet, it wasn’t without practicing his posture, poses, and expressions for hours. He also purposefully cultivated his badass image with his immaculate uniform, dual holster pistols, etc. mostly to compensate for his weak and uninspiring voice. Still, the real Patton would’ve approved of his George C. Scott portrayal.)

During the conflict in North Africa, Patton said, “Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!” (Hate to let you down, but he probably never said it. Also, he never actually came against Rommel in combat, but the 1970 film addresses this during the North Africa campaign and Patton is pissed.)

General George S. Patton didn’t swear a lot. (Uh, the 1970 Patton had to actually tone down his swearing and he was a well known potty mouth. For instance, he’d never actually say “fornication” when “fuck” would do just fine.)

Before facing Erwin Rommel, Patton read his book on tank warfare. (Patton would’ve never read Rommel’s book on tank warfare because Rommel never completed it. However, he did write a book on infantry warfare. Still, the guy who actually wrote the book on German tank warfare was General Hans Guderian which is still available today {Though “Guderian, you magnificent bastard” doesn’t have the same ring to it}. Yet, Patton probably read this guy’s book though. Nevertheless, Patton was just as much a pioneer in tank warfare as Rommel was perhaps as far back as World War I and before. Patton’s pioneering and success in tank warfare was one of the reasons why he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel as well as commander of the US Tank Corps by the end of World War I. In that time, he was celebrated by the press as “Hero of Tanks.” Before his assignment in North Africa, he ran a special army training center for its armored divisions which lead him to develop tank tactics as well as prepared himself for combat.)

When General Patton stood in a middle of a street during an air raid, he took potshots at the fighters to defy him by hitting him right in the nose and didn’t even flinch when one of them nearly succeeded strafing him. (Didn’t happen in real life, but that scene from the 1970 film is typical Patton.)

General George S. Patton slapped one shell shocked soldier during the Italian campaign. (He actually slapped hospitalized soldiers on two separate occasions. The soldier he slapped in the movie actually had malaria, not battle fatigue.)

General George S. Patton gave out a grudging apology in front of his divisions and medical personnel after he slapped a hospitalized soldier. (Actually he was genuinely remorseful and he actually slapped two hospitalized seemingly shell-shocked soldiers.)

General George S. Patton referred to himself as a Lieutenant General before the confirmation of his promotion became official. (He actually didn’t until he signed his official commission paperwork.)

General George S. Patton and General Omar Bradley were close friends. (Contrary to Patton, what Bradley and Patton had was a “working relationship” at best. Sure they served together in war and Bradley was a consultant on the 1970 film but the extent of his participation is largely unknown. Bradley despised Patton both personally and professionally and gave his former superior scant praise in his memoirs. In fact, Bradley admitted that if he was Patton’s superior officer during the slapping incident in Sicily, he would’ve not only immediately fired him, but also “would have had nothing more to do with him.” As Bradley’s subordinate on the Western Front, the only reason why Patton stuck around was because Eisenhower wouldn’t let Bradley fire him. And Bradley had a habit of firing senior commanders who he felt were too independent, or whose command style didn’t agree with his own. Patton certainly would’ve qualified. By contrast, Patton was only known to fire just one for cause during the war and after he giving the guy two warnings.)

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery:

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was an overrated preening twit. (Well, Patton indeed portrays Montgomery like this and he did have a bad habit of overstating his own achievements and his proximity to Winston Churchill to play for his best advantage. However, we can’t forget that he was the guy who defeated Rommel both times at El Alamein as well as played a critical role in the invasion of Normandy with getting Operation Overlord off the ground, which was the largest amphibious landing in history yet he’s received no credit in history for that despite it being his most successful act during the war, at least by Americans. Though many say that there were fairly few other generals who could’ve put Operation Overlord off. Still, he was arrogant and reluctant to cooperate with others which made him increasingly unpopular, particularly with Americans. He may have saved Americans in the Battle of the Bulge but his assertion greatly offended them. He also had an extreme racist streak even by World War II Allied standards. Nevertheless, though he may have been a twit, he was a damn good general. Also, despite their rivalry, Montgomery actually admired Patton for his ability to command troops on the field while many of his British colleagues didn’t hold the colorful American general in high regard.)

Count Lazlo Almasy:

Count Lazlo Almasy was a dashing Hungarian explorer t whose sacrifices to save the woman he loved spelled his doom. (This sums up The English Patient who actually wasn’t English though the actor was. However, there was a real Lazlo Almasy was a real explorer who was part of Zezura club. Yet, he actually fought in the German Luftwaffe during World War II and died of amoebic dysentery in 1951. Also, unlike the Ralph Fiennes portrayal in The English Patient, recent discoveries heavily imply that the real Almasy was gay. As for the Claytons {the inspirations for the Cliftons}, they both died in the early 1930s, yet the woman did die in a flying accident.)

North Africa:

General Lloyd Fredenhall left Le Kouif after General George S. Patton’s arrival. (He actually left hours before Patton arrived. And he left in a Buick, not in a Jeep.)

Tobruk:

The Australian 9th Division was known as “The Desert Rats.” (It was a nickname for the British 7th Armored Division. The Australian 9th Division was known as “The Rats of Tobruk” after Nazi propaganda denigrated them as being “caught like rats in a trap.” They started calling themselves “The Rats of Tobruk” with pride ever since.)

The Australian 9th division was commanded by a British captain. (Actually no British officer was ever placed in command of an Australian battalion at Tobruk. Also, The Desert Rats ignored the contribution of British, Polish, and Indian soldiers during the Tobruk siege from April to November of 1941. But at least there are no American soldiers in it.)

During the siege of Tobruk, there was a raid on an ammunition dump. (Contrary to The Desert Rats, this didn’t happen.)

El Alamein:

The British held the Germans at El Alamein right after the fall of Tobruk. (Actually Tobruk fell on in June 21, 1942. The first battle of El Alamein lasted from July 1st to 27th of that year. The group of soldiers in Sahara couldn’t be in the desert that long.)

The Italian Pavia division was stationed at Naqb Rala during the Battles of El Alamein. (Contrary to El Alamein: The Line of Fire, it was actually stationed by Folgore paratroopers. The Pavia division was further north from the line of the Qattara Depression.)

Italy:

US enlisted personnel in the First Special Service Force in Italy were criminals and the unwanted of other units. (Contrary to The Devil’s Brigade, they actually were recruited from volunteers with “outdoors” backgrounds.)

The Anzio Operation took place in 1945. (The Anzio Operation was over by May 12, 1944 while the war in Europe ended in May 8, 1945.)

Italian women would rather hook up with a white American GI protagonist than a fellow countryman regardless whether the whole affair was a one night stand and the GI is married. (Cue to The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in which Gregory Peck knocks up an Italian woman thinking it would be the last tail he’ll ever get before being transferred to the Pacific. And then he comes home to his wife played by Jennifer Jones, has three kids with her, and doesn’t tell her about the war time tryst when he finds out he has a 10 year old son in Italy. All in a movie that was released in the 1950s.)

Members of the First Special Service Force wore red berets. (They actually didn’t. According to Imdb: “All members of the Force eventually wore U.S. Army dress uniforms with U.S. paratrooper boots and distinctive red, white, and blue braided shoulder loops, overseas cap piping, and parachute wing backings.”)

The assault on the Monte La Defensa took place in the early daylight hours. (It took place at night in the dark.)

US soldiers wore a coverall type fatigue uniform during the invasion of Salerno. (The Army had deemed these type of uniforms unfit for field use in 1942. The Allied invasion of Italy took place in September 1943 so no US soldier would were them during that time.)

Soldiers participating in the Allied invasion of Italy wore no markings on their uniform whatsoever other than rank insignia. (Contrary to A Walk in the Sun, Imdb says: “It was standard practice to mark soldiers’ helmets with chalk numbers so that they would know which landing craft they were assigned to board for the invasion. It was also standard practice to wear insignia to denote the soldiers’ units for identification purposes, although sometimes the shoulder sleeve insignia were removed to impede enemy intelligence gathering.” But chalk and unit insignias wouldn’t look cool, right?)

Rome:
The Police Battalion Bozen was a Waffen-SS unit. (It was actually a German police unit contrary to Massacre in Rome. They wore regular police uniforms and its members weren’t considered members of the Waffen-SS.

Major Hellmuth Dobbrick was at the Via Rasella as commander of the 11th SS-Police Company. (Contrary to Massacre in Rome, he was commander of the 3rd Battalion which comprised of 3 police companies. He also wasn’t present at Via Rasella. As for the 11th company, its commander was Lieutenant Wolfgasth who’s absent from the film.)

Miscellaneous:

The HMS Barham was sunk by coastal artillery in the Mediterranean. (Contrary to The Guns of Navarone, it was sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat.)

The British frogmen attacked the Italian ship the Otera in the Gibraltar harbor in 1941. (Contrary to The Silent Enemy, there was no attack on the Otera nor was there an underwater hand-to-hand combat between the British and Italian frogmen.)

Italian frogmen were easy to be seen during the Raid at Alexandria in 1941 since bubbles came from their breathing apparatuses. (Actually contrary to the 1962 film The Valiant, according to Imdb: “the Italian frogmen used pure oxygen ‘pendulum’ breathing sets, in which exhaled gas is returned to the tank via a carbon dioxide filter, rather than the compressed-air apparatus used in peacetime – precisely in order to avoid the problem of a tell-tale string of bubbles. “)

Crete was a safe haven for Allied forces. (By 1943, it had been occupied by Germany for the past two years.)

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One response to “History of the World According to the Movies: Part 67 – World War II: The Mediterranean

  1. Chalk markings on helmets and coverall -type uniforms? I had no idea. General Patton was an interesting character! You didn’t talk about “Kelly’s Heros”!

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