The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 4 – Types and Architectural Features

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Italy’s Castel del Monte was built in the 1240s by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. You may not know it, but it originally had a curtain wall. Yet, it’s a unique enough castle to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Finally, we get to the castle architecture. Over the 900 some years castles were built during the Middle Ages, they took on many forms with many different features. Most castles were made from wood since it was cheap, readily available, and an easy building material. However, a wooden castle was totally helpless against flaming arrows because we all know how wood catches fire, breaks, and decays over time. However, if a noble could afford it, he’d have his castle constructed from stone despite the high expense and maintenance. But stone was significantly less flammable and breakable with siege weapons and the elements. Early castles mostly consisted of simple fortifications and design. But as the medieval period went on, they became more complex with more towers, stronger gatehouses, and sturdier walls.

Castle Types

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Restormel Castle in England is an example of a shell keep which was a circular stone keep, are type of castle design. Though once a luxurious residence of the Duke of Cornwall, it was in ruins by the 16th century.

Adulterine Castle- a castle built without a liege lord’s or king’s approval.

Concentric Castle- a castle with 2 or more concentric curtain walls, such that the inner curtain wall is higher than the outer and can be defended from it. Often had round towers.

Courtyard Castle- a castle type consisting of a stone curtain wall surrounding a courtyard with buildings built inside it, normally against the curtain wall.

Knight’s Castle- a castle owned by a knight.

Motte and Bailey- an early form of castle where a large mound of dirt was built up. A wooden fortification was placed on top, which were shaped like a timber fence forming a circle like a crown.

Rectangular Keep- a stone castle with a square or rectangular keep with a second-floor entrance. The castle on Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a classic example.
Shell-Keep- castle style consisting of a circular or oval wall surrounding its inner portion. Usually stores and accommodates wooden buildings inside the hollow walls.

Stone Keep Castle- the classic medieval castle with a stone keep and a thick stone wall, which can be rectangular or circular in shape.

Tower House- a small castle consisting mainly or entirely of a single tower.

Architectural Features

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Built in the 12th century, the Château de Pierrefonds almost seems straight out of a fairy tale. Despite its 19th century restoration, it retains most of its defensive military architecture.

Aisle- space between an arcade and outer wall.

Ambulatory- aisle around an apse.

Apse- a circular or polygonal end of a tower or chapel.

Baluster- a small column.

Balustrade- a railing, as along a path or stairway.

Bar Hole- Horizontal bar for timber bar used as a door-bolt.

Barrel Vault- a cylindrical roof of stone or wood.

Base Cruck- a form of wood framed construction where the roof is supported by curved logs rising from the walls and not by aisle posts set on floor.

Bay- an internal division marked by roof principals or vaulting peers.

Blind Arcade- a line of arches on the face of a solid wall for decoration.

Bonnet- a freestanding fortification.

Boss or Keystone- a central stone in an arch or vault.

Bressumer- a beam to support a projection.

Cap House- a small chamber at the top of a spiral staircase in a tower or turret, leading to an open wall walk on the roof.

Cavalier- a raised structure containing a battery, usually sited above a bastion’s center to give better trajectory.

Cesspit- a wall opening where waste from one or more toilets were collected.

Colonnade- a range of evenly spaced columns.

Course- a level layer of stones or bricks.

Crossbar or Transom- a horizontal window division.

Cupola- a hemispherical armored roof.

Crow or Corbie Steps- a step-gabled end to a roof.

Diaphragm- a wall running up to the roof ridge.

Dog Leg- a right angle in a passageway.

Dormer- a vertically placed window in a sloping roof. Like you see on the top floors of a Cape Cod house.

Entresol or Mezzanine- a low story between 2 high ones.

Fireplace- a walled hearth used for heating a room. Most castles in the later Middle Ages had one in almost every room once they took off.

Gable- a wall covering the end of a roof ridge.

Garret- a building’s top story within a roof.

Groined- a roof with sharp edges at intersection of cross vaults.

Groin- junction of 2 curved surfaces in a vault.

Hood- an arched covering.

Impost- a wall bracket to support arch.

Jambs- side posts of an arch, door, or window.

Joists- wall-to-wall timber beans to support floor boards.

Lancet- a long, narrow window with a pointed head.

Label- a projecting weather molding above a roof or window to deflect rainwater.

Lantern- a small structure with open or window sides on top of a roof or dome to let light or air into the enclosed space below.

Lattice- Lines crossing to form a network whether on a window, fence, or gate.

Lintel- a horizontal stone or beam bridging an opening.

Loggia- a covered arcade or colonnade.

Louvre- a potter vent allowing smoke to escape from the hearth.

Meurtriere- an opening in the roof of a passage where soldiers could shoot into the room below.

Molding- masonry decoration that’s long and narrow as well as casts strong shadows.

Mullion- a vertical division of a window that’s constructed in panels.

Newel- Center post of a spiral staircase.

Nookshaft- a shaft set in a jamb or pier angle.

Pediment- a low-pitched gable over porticos, doors, and windows.

Pilaster- a shallow pier used to buttress a wall.

Piscina- a hand basin with a drain, usually set against or into a wall.

Pointed Arch- a sturdy arch that distributed the force of heavier ceilings and bulky wall. Can support much more weight than previous, simply, spindly pillars.

Rear Arch- an arch on a wall’s inner side.

Relieving Arch- an arch built up in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.

Rib- a raised molding dividing a vault.

Roofridge- a roof’s summit line.

Soffit- an underside of an arch, hung parapet, or opening.

Spur- a triangular buttress used to strengthen a round tower’s bottom.

Spiral Staircase, Corkscrew, or Turnpike- a winding, circular staircase spiraling up clockwise which allowed added sword room for defenders. Steps were built unevenly to make it difficult for attackers to climb and fight. Said to be among the most economical and convenient method of accessing upper tower floors and easier to defend.

Squint- an observation hole in wall or room.

Traverse- a small bank or wall cutting across a covered way’s line.

Tympanum- a space between a lintel and arch over a doorway.

Vault- stone roofing.

Vaulted Ceiling- a ceiling with sturdy pointed archers and pillars that allowed ceilings to be taller than ever before. Also provided an impression of height, grandeur, and elegance. Can be built in a variety of different shapes and sizes.

Wall-Plate- a horizontal roof-timber on wall-top.
Wall-Stair- staircase built into a wall’s thickness.

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The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 3 – The Keep, Bailey, and Interior

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Built in the 14th century, the French Château de Vincennes boasts one of the tallest medieval fortified medieval structure in its keep. Within Paris, this castle served as the French royal residence during the 15th century. Yet, it’s had a long and colorful history with memorable moments.

Once you get through the walls, it’s on to the castle’s interior. First, we go into the courtyard with the bailey where you’d find plenty of animals grazing, gardens, and buildings. These buildings consisted of stables, workshops, barracks, water suppliers, and storage facilities. You may even see a chapel there. Yet, the central heart of the castle was the keep, which was considered the strongest area and the last place of refuge if outer defenses fell. During times of peacetime, it was the lord’s main residence where he’d conduct his business. He’d hold meetings and entertain guests in the great hall. At banquets, the kitchens would be bustling preparing lavish feasts while everyone was treated to dinner and entertainment. In some castles, the lord and his family would eat and sleep in the hall. Sometimes you might even find a chapel or dungeon, too.

The Courtyard

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Scotland’s Doune Castle was built in the 13th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany. Its 14th century reflected current ideas on what a royal castle should be. Yet, we remember this as the castle featured in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Its courtyard isn’t particularly big in this aerial shot. Yet, it at least includes a well.

Bailey, Courtyard, Enclosure, or Ward- open space surrounded by a castle’s walls. Walls making up the bailey could be considered part of it. A castle could have several of these like an upper bailey, lower bailey, west bailey, and/or east bailey. Had room for buildings to house the Lord and his immediate followers along with space for animals and storage. During attacks, the local people could enter the bailey for safety.

Bake House- building that would’ve baked fresh bread for everyone living within the castle since bread was a dietary medieval staple.

Barmkin- a yard surrounded by a defensive wall in smaller castles.

Brewery- a building where an ale wife would’ve brewed ale and beer. Mostly because brewing beer was said to sterilize highly polluted water.

Death Hole- the space between the inner and outer curtain walls of a concentric circle that trapped attackers.

Garden- green area located in the bailey near the kitchen. Was split into several sections: fruit trees and bushes, herbs for cooking, herbs for medicine, vegetables, flowers for cooking, and flowers for medicine. There were often stairs leading up to it.

Inner Ward or Quadrangle- large inner courtyard inside a castle, usually around the keep. A focus to day-to-day residential life within the castle.

Outer Ward- large courtyard outside the inner ward but still held within the curtain wall. Was mostly reserved for livestock for grazing.

Stables- part where the horses and other livestock are kept since they’re the main medieval means of transportation, communication, and battle. Included haylofts and spaces for the grooms to live.

Workshops- separate buildings in the bailey for artisans to make objects for maintaining the building the grounds. Consists of carpenters, farriers, and blacksmiths.

The Keep

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Germany’s Burg Eltz was built in the 12th century and has been own by the same family for over 33 generations. It is one of 3 castles in the country that have never been destroyed. Yet, its keep is quite imposing in the Alps.

Forebuilding- a fortified entrance to the keep. Often held a staircase and a small chapel.

Keep, Donjon, or Great Tower-generally the central main tower built in the inner ward which was the tallest and strongest structure in the castle and gave a commanding view of all fighting positions. Usually served as the ruling lord’s residence since it was the safest place. The top most part served as his and his family’s quarters. The bottom was used for storage. While the middle was used for the great hall. In warfare, it was mostly used as the last line of defense during a siege or attack. Can be square or round and comprise of several floors. Can be attached to walls or free standing. Its walls could be over 17 feet thick to prevent undermining and a built-in staircase.

The Dungeons

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Castle dungeons were the stuff of nightmares. If you were thrown in here for a crime, you can be subject to a dark room in the castle basement with all kinds of horrifying conditions. And yes, you may be subject to torture and possibly execution. If you don’t starve to death or succumb to disease first.

Dungeon- a place to confine political prisoners. Mostly consists of a single small room with a single access from outside like a heavy door. Is generally underground and sometimes a secret passageway would lead to it. Though it could also be in the keep or under a gatehouse. Has plenty of unique torture devices for interrogation like branding irons, collar, torture rack, and others. Other enhanced interrogation techniques include whipping, boiling in water, and starvation etc. Also, employed full-time executioner who also administered torture.

Oubliette- a dark, narrow, underground, vertical tunnel-like dungeon with the only opening consisting of an iron-grilled trap door on the ceiling from the guard room floor where prisoners were left in their solitude for psychological torture. Though other torture methods may be used for interrogation or increase a prisoner’s suffering. Once a victim was thrown in the oubliette, they were considered forgotten by the outside world and left to die. Survival was nearly impossible and there was no way to escape.

The Great Hall

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The Great Hall was the main room in the castle where the lord would conduct his business, hold meetings, and throw feasts. In early castles, the lord, his family, and staff would even eat and sleep there.

Gallery- passage built into the thickness of the walls that runs around the upper part of a keep’s hall. Windows allow light into the hall below and the passage allows for movement around the keep’s upper floors. Also provides a position where hall events can be viewed. If the hall’s captured, defenders could’ve used a gallery to shoot arrows from.

Hall or Great Hall- a major room that’s possibly the heart of the castle which served as the castle’s principal living quarters. Usually a castle’s largest room either built in the keep or a separate building. Generally, consists of an elaborate high vaulted roof and/or a gallery running around on top of it. Served as a throne room, conference center, and dining hall.

Minstrels Gallery- a raised gallery overlooking the great hall intended for the lord’s musicians. Consisted of a narrow balcony with a railing or balustrade.

Truss- a timber frame used to support the roof over the great hall.

The Chapel

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Since Christianity was very important to people in the Middle Ages, most castles included a chapel. These can range from a simple room like this to elaborate buildings.

Aumbry- recess to hold sacred objects, typically in a chapel.

Chancel- the space surrounding the altar.

Chapel- a place of worship usually built within the keep, near the gatehouse, or a separate building in the bailey. Can range from a simple room or an elaborate edifice that can be 2 stories high with the family sitting in the balcony and servants in the nave. May have a resident or visiting priest depending on the resident noble’s peerage rank. Great place for the lord to marry off family members to secure alliances, soldier funerals, and display of piety. Also, a great space safe since harming a priest was widely seen as the ultimate act of barbarity. For only the most fearless of castle attackers would do such a thing. Not to mention, killing anyone in a place of worship was often frowned upon in the Middle Ages.

Choir- part of a cruciform church east of the crossing where you’ll find the singers.

Narthex- a chapel’s principal hall between the nave and the main entrance.

Nave- the principal chapel hall, extending from the narthex to the chancel.

Living Quarters

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In most medieval castles, high ranking nobles rarely slept alone since many had servants there with them. Yet, they can nonetheless be colorful tableaus as you see in this one.

Apartment- a room belonging to a castle household resident like a lord’s widowed mother.

Bottlery or Buttery- a room for storing and serving beverages like wine land other expensive provisions like a castle wine cellar. Located between the great hall and the kitchen. The person who presided over this room was called the butler.

Bower- attractive private apartment intended for the Lady. Usually in a room behind the dais of the great hall but later a higher level in the keep.

Camera- a private room used for both living and sleeping that’s set apart from the more public areas of a house.

Cistern- a castle’s water source, which collected rainwater from roofs. Can be located within the keep or bailey. Some castles had rudimentary plumbing that channeled water from cisterns to sinks.

Great Chamber- the bedroom for the lord and lady located on the keep’s upper floor.

Kitchens- where food is made. In early castles, they were separate from the keep in kitchen towers due to fire risk. But moved to the keep when brick construction became more common. A castle kitchen’s size was often proportionate to castle’s intended grandeur and importance. The most elaborate kitchens were all set to cook and prepare game and fish when hunting on the grounds.

Larder- a cool area where perishable food is stored prior to use. Was usually close to the kitchen. Staffed by a larderer who was responsible for meat and fish. Often had ice to keep the food chilled along with meat hooks.

Latrine or Privy- rooms with holes in the seats used as toilets. Wastes dropped below into the bailey, the outer wall’s base, the moat, or cesspools within the tower. Usually far away from the chambers and often had double doors to reduce the smell. But as time went on, a private privy was built for people occupying important rooms. To keep out a noxious stink, privy windows had no glass, which made it freezing in the winter months. Can be fitted with a wooden or stone bench with as many as 4-6 holes in it. Hat a chute which led to a cesspit or moat. Supplemented by chamber pots.

Oratory- a private chapel with an altar used by the lord’s family for private prayer. Can also be a small cell attached to a larger chapel.

Pantry- a storage area for food, beverages, gold, and other items. Usually located in the keep’s lower levels.

Screens- wooden partitions at the kitchen end of a hall, protecting passage leading to the buttery, pantry, and kitchen.

Solar- originally a room above ground level, but commonly applied to the great chamber or a private room off the great hall. Was traditionally seen as the sleeping and private quarters of the Lord’s family. But later became their private living room. Usually above the great hall.

Wardrobe- a room used to store the lord and his family’s clothes and personal articles.

Well- a castle’s primary water source that proved important during a siege even if they had little food. Can be situated in the courtyard or keep. Or at least located near the kitchen either within the bailey or keep. Outside wells were usually protected from the elements by a wooden covering or iron grating. Yet, it was possibly the castle’s weakest point. Since invaders could poison the water supply if left unattended, which virtually guaranteed defeat.

Specialty Areas

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No castle could ever be without its own armory. But where it was could depend on the castle. On some it can be in the keep. In others, in the gatehouse or bailey.

Arcade or Cloister- a covered passageway with arches along one or both sides. Can also be a row of arches supported on columns, which could be free standing or attached to a wall (like a blind arcade).

Armory- a room which stored weapons, armor, and other defenses to use in war or attacks. Typically located in the keep’s upper levels.

Barracks- a building or group of buildings used to accommodate soldiers.

Blockhouse- a small square fortification, usually of timber bond overlapping arrangement of bricks in courses.

Dovecote- a building used to house pigeons and doves. Generally contained pigeon holes for birds to nest.

Guardroom- room used by on-duty guards. Can also store weapons. However, the guards wouldn’t sleep there since they’d be barracked in the gatehouse, a tower, or under the keep.

Ice House- building to store ice. Was usually built underground with a conical or rounded bottom to hold melted ice and a drain for water.

Kennel- place to keep animals, particularly hunting dogs.

Knight’s Hall- a large room or chamber within a castle where knights gathered for meetings, meals, and planning their next activities.

Knights’ Quarters- living area for resident castle knights.

Mess Hall- dining area for soldiers and servants. May include its own kitchen.

Secret Passage- secret routes in the castle that served a variety of purposes. Some were designed to pen up a distance from the castle so inhabitants could escape during an attack or get supplies in and out during a siege. Secret passages also led to secret chambers where people can hide, supplies could be kept, or a water well was dug.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 2 – Towers and Gates

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England’s Windsor Castle was built after William the Conqueror’s invasion in the 11th century. Since then, it’s been a residence for the royal family to this day. Even if modern British monarchs just use this place for a weekend getaway. And yes, you’d almost mistake this gatehouse as the castle itself.

So we’re off to a great start. Some of the other distinguishing castle features are towers and the gates. When you look at any castle picture, you might come across an imposing entrance with the impressive gatehouse containing a drawbridge and that sliding iron wrought door of spikes. Yet, since an unsecure entrance made a castle uniquely vulnerable, the gateway was usually the first structure built in stone. A gatehouse contained a series of defenses to make a direct assault more difficult than battering down a simple gate. Yet, you’d probably wouldn’t know this in movies where vast armies storm the castle with no problem. In reality, trying to storm a castle head was a stupid way to lose an army. Another prominent castle feature are the towers, which were used for look outs and shooting arrows along with storage and imprisonment. They could be built in various locations like the walls and the gatehouse as well as come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Though early towers were mostly square shape which were said to be quite easy to topple through burrowing at the foundations. While round towers were not.

The Main Entrance

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The Welsh Harlech Castle was built by English King Edward I Longshanks in the 1280s. It was involved in several wars and was used as a residence and military headquarters by Welsh hero Owain Glyndwr in the early 1400s. Later, it was held by the Lancastrians during the 1460s until the Yorkist forces took it during the Wars of the Roses. And served as a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War in the 1640s. Today it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site as one of “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.” Nonetheless, seeing this imposing gatehouse, you wouldn’t want to storm this castle.

Barbican- a stone outpost protecting the castle’s gate usually built in front of the main entrance. Construed in the form of a tower or gateway where guards could stand watch. Some may include a narrow passage allowing for a limited number of attackers forced into a confined area for defenders to shoot at them like fish in a barrel through murder holes from the ceiling. Early barbicans were built from earthworks and wooden palisades designed to add complexity to the entrance’s layout and confuse attackers. Usually acted as the outermost defense of a castle. Due to limited space, was only defended by a small number of men.

Breastwork- a heavy parapet slung between 2 gate towers. A defensive work usually situated over the portcullis.

Drawbridge- wooden bridge in front of the main gate to span the moat or ditch. In early castles, it was moved horizontally to the ground by hand or destroyed and replaced. In later castles, it was built so it can raise up in a hinged fashion thanks to pulleys, ropes, chains, and winches. Can be raised or withdrawn making crossing impossible and prevent siege weaponry being pushed toward the castle’s walls and gates.

Gatehouse- a complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect the castle’s main entrance. Often had a guard house and living quarters. Usually consisted of 2 very large stone towers joined above the main gate guarded by a bridge, gates, portcullis, or a combination. But can range from a simple structure to a 2-3 story building with an impressive façade to impress royal visitors. Above the entrance were rooms to house the constable and some men to defend the building who were stationed on the first floor. While the top floor contained murder holes and storage space for weapons. Traditionally the most vulnerable part of the castle, it became one of the most secure and with an excellent defensive position. Contains a passage with all kinds of obstacles, traps, and murder holes in the vaulted ceilings. So perhaps you want to think twice before storming a castle. Usually the first part of the castle to be completed. Though a larger and circular wall castle could have more than one.

Murder Holes- holes left in the floor on a gatehouse’s upper level, used to thrust pole weapons down, or shoot down flaming arrows at attackers trapped between the inner and outer gates. Also used for dropping heavy rocks, hot tar, boiling water, and other nasty things.

Neck or Death Trap- a narrow walled passage between a barbican and the castle walls which trapped invading enemies.

Portcullis- a heavy, sliding metal or wood grate with sharp spikes that was vertically dropped just inside the castle’s main gate through ropes and pulleys. Designed to block passage and make using rams against the main gate less effective. Think about that before trying to break down a door with a battering ram. Can also be dropped on an enemy and injure multiple people. Was always in a state of readiness and the guards can drop it from its suspended position at any time. Some gatehouses could had more than one, depending on the castle’s size and number of entrances.

Turning Bridge- drawbridge pivoted in the middle and worked like a see-saw. Had a counterweight attached to the end near the gateway.

Wicket- a person-sized door set into the main gate door.

Wing-Wall- a motte’s wall downslope to protect stairway.

Yett- a portcullis of lattice wrought iron bars used for defensive purposes.

The Towers

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Originally built in the early 1100s, the Alcazar of Segovia started out as a fortress, but has served as a royal palace, a state prison, a Royal Artillery college, and a military academy. Today it’s a military archives building, museum, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Yet, you have to admit how its towers give the place a unique look.

Bastion Tower- tower projecting from a wall face that functions as a bastion.

Bastle House- a small tower house with a living room over a cowshed.

Corner or Archer Tower- tower located on curtain wall corners used for firing arrows from slits.

Drum Tower- a large, round, low, squat tower built into a wall, usually connecting stretches of curtain wall.

Flanking or Mural Tower- tower located on the castle walls that provided effective flanking fire.

Gate Tower- tower constructed at the main entrance. May be part of the gate house.

Tower- fortification used to provide stability and additional defensive capabilities to the curtain wall. Used for firing upon enemies, lookout, storage, and keeping prisoners. Provided access to lookout points, wall walks, and sleeping points. Can be constructed in various shapes, sizes, and at various locations.

Sanitary Towers- a tower in the inner or outer walls used as a toilet. The wastes would drop into a cesspool in a pit.

Wall Tower- tower on wall that archers used for showering arrows on invading armies.

Watchtower or Look Out- a freestanding structure used to alert the castle in an enemy attack, spot returning soldiers and visitors in the distance, check whether the coast was clear before anyone left the castle, and send messages to distant people using recognized symbols. Had to be so high that areas around the castle could be watched for an impending attack or siege. Usually had a 360-degree view as well as employed a guard or watchman to see for many miles around.

Turrets

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Belgium’s 14th century Cleydael Castle seems straight out of a fairy tale on the water. However, the turrets on that one tower are quite unique.

Bartizan or Crow’s Nest- a small turret at the corner of a tower or wall. Usually at the top but not always. Usually located at one of the highest points of the castle and used as a lookout.

Belvedere- a raised turret or pavilion.

Squinch Arch- arched support for an angle turret that doesn’t reach the ground.

Turret- a small tower rising above and resting on the walls or the edge of the castle’s main towers, usually used as a lookout point. Allowed defenders to provide sheltering fire to the adjacent wall in attacks. Can contain a staircase if higher than the main tower or an extension of a tower room.

The Anatomy of a Medieval Castle: Part 1 – Around the Walls

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This is Bodiam Castle in Sussex, England. Built in 1385 to defend against French invasion during the Hundred Years War, it doesn’t have a keep. But its walls and moat are impressive.

Whether you’re into Disney movies, Middle Earth, or Game of Thrones, we all seem enchanted with medieval castles. However, while we imagine them as a fairy tale palace, they were medieval house fortresses for European nobility. Though you’ll also find castles in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Castles originated in the 9th and 10th centuries as the fall of the Carolingian Empire resulted in individual lords and nobles dividing the territory. To control the area surrounding them, these guys built castles as both offensive and defensive structures. Castles provided a base to launch raids and protect from enemies. Though castle studies often emphasize their military origins and see castles as “a fortified private residence,” they also served as centers of administration and power. Urban castles were used to control the local populace and important travel routes. Rural features were often near features integral to life and community like mills, fertile land, or a water source. Though most medieval castles in Europe today are made from stone, many were made from wood, especially in the early Middle Ages. Due to lacking arrow slits and towers, early castles often exploited natural defenses and relied on a central keep. But as a scientific approach to castle defense emerged, leading to tower proliferation and emphasizing flanking fire. Taking inspiration from Roman forts and technology from the Crusades, you’ll find some concentric castles. Nevertheless, since all things much come to an end, castles began to decline began to decline with the introduction of gunpowder which made them uncomfortable and undesirable places to live. Though these structures still captured the imagination enough to make aristocrats want to build castle like houses, but without the key defenses.

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This is Herstmonceux Catstle in England’s East Sussex. Built in the 15th century, it’s one of the most significant brick buildings in England. Though more like a palace than a fortress, its walls and moat are nonetheless impressive. By the way, from 1957-1988, it was home to the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Today it’s used by the Bader International Center of Queen’s University in Canada.

The first part of this series will focus on the outermost components like the walls and what’s outside them. As the first line of defense, such structures would have to make invasions and sieges incredibly difficult for the enemy. Before a castle was built, you’d often construct an artificial hill called a motte and a ditch filled with water called a moat. A castle’s walls had to be high enough to make scaling with ladders impossible. And they had to be thick enough to withstand bombardment from siege engines. Though sizes vary, a typical castle wall could be 10 feet thick and 39 feet tall. They’d also have stone skirts around their bases to prevent infiltration as well. Walkways on top of curtain walls allowed defenders to rain arrows on the enemies below with battlements giving them further protection.

Outside the Walls

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The Chateau de Gisors in France whish was a key fortress for the Dukes of Normandy in the 11th and 12th centuries. It was built to defend the Anglo-Norman Vexin territory from the King of France. However, when Richard the Lionheart got imprisoned in Germany, the castle went into Philip Augustus’s hands. Was also known for its links to the Templars, serving as a final prison for its last Grand Master in 1314. Still, its motte is particularly notable.

Berm- a flat piece of land between the curtain wall and the moat protecting it. Intended to reduce soil erosion to keep the wall from collapsing. Also kept debris from the wall from falling into and filling the moat.

Bivalate- a pair of defensive ditches or earth embankments surrounding a mound or medieval castle.

Caponier- a covered passage within a ditch.

Caponiere- a covered passage across a ditch to an outer fortification structure like a ravelin.

Counterscarp- outer slope of a ditch.

Couvre Face- a low rampart in a ditch protecting the ravelin’s face.

Covered Way- a protected communication wall all around the ditch’s outer edge, covered by earthworks from enemy fire.

Crownwork- a freestanding fortification built in front of the main defenses.

Cunette- a trench at a ditch’s bottom.

Ditch or Fosse- a common defense dug around the castle’s outside walls and the resulting earth to create banks. Most were dry but some were filled with water to create moats. The steeper the ditch sides, the better since it made it more difficult for attackers to climb. Though ditches weren’t filled with water, rainfall would’ve created a muddy obstacle to cross. The castle’s toilets also emptied into it, giving attackers another disgusting problem.

Earthwork- fortification made of earth mounds, banks, and ditches.

Glacis- a bank sloping down from a castle which acts as a defense against invaders. Consists of broad, sloping, naked rock or earth on which the attackers are completely exposed.

Hornwork- an independent earthwork located in front but not connected to the curtain wall within its bastions’ range (so it can be defended by them). Had long parallel sides with a back shaped like a crescent moon facing the castle’s curtain wall. But was built so low so it couldn’t shelter attacking forces if overrun. Forced attackers to start their siege further away from the castle and gave defenders a better chance to destroy siege lines before they could reach the structure.

Moat- a deep, wide ditch surrounding a castle’s outer walls. Often filled with water from diverted rivers, lakes, or springs with a special dam. Mostly had an inlet and outlet of water rather than being a self-contained donut (unless the castle was built on an island in the middle of a lake). It was often around 3-30 feet deep and at least 12 feet wide. It was sometimes within the outer wall or between the outer wall and the inner wall. Its primary purpose wasn’t to stop attackers but siege weapons, siege towers, battering rams, and most importantly, tunnelers. Since tunneling a castle was an effective means of collapsing the walls or infiltrating it. A moat would cause any tunnel to collapse through flooding. Also, gave valuable time for castle defenders to form strategies for subsequent defense. Sewage was often tipped into the moat so it would smell pretty unpleasant.

Motte- a natural or artificial hill with a flat top upon which a castle was built. Was constructed from dirt and rocks to a height between 10 and 100 feet.
Neck Ditch- a ditch cutting across a neck of land to hinder an enemy’s advance.
Place of Arms- an enlarged area in a covered way where troops could assemble.
Ravelin or Demilune- a triangular earthwork located in front (but not connected to) the curtain wall, within range of the curtain wall’s bastions. The back was shaped like a crescent moon and faced the curtain wall. But built low so it couldn’t shelter attacking forces if the ravelin was overrun. The front sides also had a defensive wall of their own. Allowed defenders to fire upon attacking troops before they could reach the curtain and a better chance to destroy siege lines before they could reach the castle. Forced attackers to start their siege further away from the castle.

Revetment- a retaining wall to prevent erosion.

Scarp- a slope on a ditch’s inner side.

Tilting Yard- yard or field where jousting tournaments and combats took place. Usually situated just outside the castle’s confines.

Watergate- a gate allowing a coastal castle to be resupplied by sea, especially during a siege.

The Walls

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Scotland’s Craigmillar Castle is a ruined castle in Edingburgh built in the 14th century. Mary, Queen of Scots once stopped here to convalesce after her son James’s birth. It was here some of her supporters decided to kill her godawful husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Still, the walls are amazing to look at.

Allure or Wall Walk- walkway at the top inside of the curtain wall, which allowed guards to look for enemies. Reached either from a set of stairs running up from the wall’s inside or from a built-in tower. Can also be the fighting area on a tower as well.
Bastion or Bulwark- a structure projecting at the end of the curtain wall or at the junction of 2 walls. Usually situated at each corner of a curtain wall. Though could be placed in the middle if the walls were long. Allowed the defenders to cover dead ground (blind spots where attackers can’t be seen or fired upon) and provide crossfire for the curtain wall and adjacent bastions. Can consist of a tower or turret.

Batters- a section at a castle wall’s base that’s angled in such a way to make dropped stones bounce away from the curtain wall and into the enemy. Also add strength to the wall walk’s base.

Buttresses- a rectangular masonry projections used as additional outside strength and support for walls. Become thinner towards the top. Prominently featured in Gothic cathedrals like Notre Dame.

Chemin-de-Ronde- a walk-walk extending all the way around a castle.

Chemise Wall- wall formed by a series of interlinked or overlapping semicircular bastions.

Citadel- the innermost curtain wall of a concentric castle. Had walls higher than the rest and was the last line of defense before the keep itself.

Corbel- a stone bracket projecting from a wall or corner that supports a main floor or other structure’s weight. Often used for turrets.

Cornice- a decorative projection along the top of a wall.

Counterguard- a long near-triangular free-standing fortification within the moat.
Crenels, Embrasures, or Wheelers- small openings in crenellation that’s splayed on the inside, allowing the archer to move into the arrow slit space and get a better view.

Cross-Wall- an internal dividing stone wall in the keep providing extra strength and a platform for wooden floors. Also served as a barrier at times when the keep had been invaded.

Curtain Wall or Enceinte- a surrounding outer stone wall around the castle connecting the towers and other fortifications. Was designed to protect the castle. Can be 8-20 feet wide, up to 45 feet high and 1,500 feet long.

Flying Buttresses- masonry projections used to spread and support the weight of tall walls by transferring force directly to the ground. Were often elaborately designed, appearing to dart and sweep around each building, giving a sense of movement and flight. Usually decorated with intricate carvings giving a sense of grandeur and importance.

Garderobe- a room projecting from a wall that served as a toilet the family’s clothes. A hole in the floor allow wastes to drop below. Had chutes for discharge which often led to the castle moats and had iron bars to prevent entry from attackers.

Glacis- an angling of the curtain wall along the vertical plane that allows the wall to deflect some or all the force of rocks or other missiles thrown from a siege engine or cannon balls fired from siege cannons.

Hoardings or Brattices- wooden fortifications added to the crenellations and towers to provide additional protection to the castle’s defenders. They were removable and provided overhead cover. Also provided a walkway outside the crenellations facilitating the dropping of stones and hot liquids on attackers.

Hoarding Holes- holes in the castle walls to support the hoarding.

Inner Curtain Wall- defensive wall within a castle dividing the inner area into 2 or more defensive areas.

Lunette- a fortification shaped like a half-moon or arrowhead which was similar to a bastion except that it didn’t have wings connecting to a castle’s wall and the back was generally open. Can be its own structure or connected to a curtain wall like a bastion.
Machicolations- permanent stone additions to a castle’s battlement which provided better cover for defenders inside the castle, allowing them to drop items like boiling oil, hot lead, dead animals, human excrement, and rocks on attackers. Most often located in places that would be commonly attacked like near the main entrance.

Oriel Window- a window or set of windows sticking out from a building like bay windows. Made of stone or wood. Often had corbels underneath to support them.

Orillion- an arrowhead bastion.

Palisade- a sturdy wooden fence built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed. Can be as high as 10 feet tall.

Pitatta Forma- a fortification structure protecting the curtain wall between 2 bastions. It’s square or rectangular in plan but takes the form of a small tetrahedral bastion.

Plinth- a wall’s projecting base.

Postern or Sally Port- a small secondary gate located in the curtain wall’s back, which mostly functioned as a backdoor entrance or exit. Was connected to a small guard room near the bailey. Was often in a concealed location which allowed occupants to come and go inconspicuously. If possible, it could be built on a cliff, only accessible by footpath. During a siege a postern could act as a secret exit for troops to pass through besiegers or send out a messenger. Was firmly barricaded during conflict and people sometimes used a password to enter. Used by tradesmen and servants during peacetime. Designed for only one unmounted person could go through at a time.

Putlog Holes- castle wall holes to support scaffolding.

Rampart- a defensive wall of stone and mounds of earth that can be built quickly for early medieval castles. Later replaced by battlements.

Rear Arch- arch on an inner wall’s side.

Relieving Arch- an arch built in a wall to relieve thrust on another opening.

Respond- a half-pier bonded into a wall to carry an arch.

Redan- a small ravelin, derived from the lunette but had shorter sides. Was often made of earthwork but could comprise of stone and other materials. Could be its own structure or connected to a curtain wall like a bastion.

Rubble Core- a filling between the outer and inner wall parts.

Shield Wall- an exceptionally thick wall protecting the castle on its most vulnerable side.
Talus- a slope on the curtain wall that inhibited an attacker’s ability to reach the wall with a siege tower. Since a tower’s ramp wasn’t enough. Also provided a strong foundation to help support a wall against undermining.

Battlements

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England’s Warwick Castle was developed from an original built by William the Conqueror during the 12th century. During the Hundred Years War, it was refortified which resulted in one of the most recognizable examples of 14th century military architecture. After its stronghold days were over in the 17th century, it was converted in a country house. And yes, you’ll find a lot of cool battlements here.

Arrow Loops, Arrow Slits, or Loopholes- thin slots in the walls and structures used to shoot arrows through. Came in a variety of shapes and sizes, usually depending on the weapons fired from it. Low and narrow arrow slits were suited for crossbows. High and wide arrow slits were built for longbows, which can be as high as 9 feet. But common designs are key holes, vertical slits, or crosses which allow the archer to fire his weapon with a great amount of protection.

Battlement, Rampart, or Crenellation- a defensive, outside top wall that has a broad top with a walkway and a typically stone parapet. Notched wall consists of alternate crenels (openings) and merlons (square sawteeth) to give castle defenders a position to fight or fire through as well enough protection to reload.

Fausse Braie- an exterior battlement, outside and parallel to the main battlement and considerably below its level.

Finial- a slender piece of stone used to decorate the merlon tops.

Merlons- upward square sawteeth of a battlement. Often pierced with arrow slits for observation and fire. Are usually rectangular in medieval Europe but can also appear in a swallow-tail form along with other shapes. Also have a secondary decorative purpose by giving the castle a distinct castle like appearance you find in storybooks.

Oilette- a round opening at a loophole’s base to help archers to easily aim a shot.

Parados- a low wall on a main wall’s inner side.

Parapet- a barrier at the edge of a roof, terrace, walkway, or other structure. Often used to defend a castle from military attack as a low defensive wall at shoulder or head height.

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 79 – The Vietnam War

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Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 epic Apocalypse Now is a Vietnam War rendition of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Though it may not be a film you may want to show your kids, it’s one of the more definitive films about Vietnam that has shaped the popular Hollywood perspective. Of course, it depicts the Vietnam War as kind of the hell it was with American soldiers of questionable sanity as well as the smell of napalm in the morning. Also, it has a psychedelic rock soundtrack, too.

Of course, I couldn’t begin the Post-War era and plunge into the 1960s without talking about a little thing called the Vietnam War which began as a war of colonialism between the Vietnamese and the French only to turn into a civil war with Cold War implications when Ho Chi Minh’s forces wanted to unite Vietnam under a Communist government. Whenever we think about this war, we usually picture jungle guerrilla warfare, draftees being sent against their will, American troops committing human rights violations, hippies protesting, napalm, Agent Orange, Asian hookers, and helicopters. Whenever you see a movie on Vietnam, you will tend to hear songs like “For What It’s Worth” b Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” the Rolling Stones, and other psychedelic rock music. Most Vietnam movies will feature US troops who may start the war either as idealistic young men or unwilling draftees then slowly become broken and disillusioned wrecks at best or crazy homicidal maniacs at worst. Either way, your American movie GIs will need serious psychological help when they come back home. And unless it’s the terrible John Wayne Green Berets or the unreliable narrative of Forrest Gump, don’t expect any movie adaptation on the Vietnam War speak favorably because it’s one of the most controversial conflicts as far as the US is concerned. And while the US may win some battles in Vietnam, let’s just say their fighting would be like trying to fix a watch with a sledgehammer. Nevertheless, there are plenty of movies about the Vietnam War that do contain their share of inaccuracies which I shall list.

Lyndon B. Johnson:

Lyndon B. Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War was an unpopular policy decision from the beginning. (Actually it was rather popular back in the day especially after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which happened when Johnson was running for his own term as President {he was serving out Kennedy’s term at this time}. It only started becoming unpopular in 1968 at least in the media {despite not having a single major newspaper thinking the US should leave Vietnam}, though a lot of civilians supported it then even if they didn’t like it. Yet, it had definitely become unpopular by Richard Nixon’s presidency though.)

Lyndon Baines Johnson got America into the Vietnam War. (He only brought that war closer to home. Actually, it was years in the making and had been supported by previous administrations of both parties. Other presidents would’ve done the same thing as Johnson at the time for escalation was bound to happen.)

Ron Kovic:
Ron Kovic apologized for his role in the accidental death of a Marine Corporal to his family, yet the man’s wife couldn’t forgive him. (Although this is depicted in Born on the Fourth of July, it never happened.)

Ron Kovic was inspired into becoming an anti-war activist when he saw his high school sweetheart in a protest after the Kent State shootings. (Contrary to Born on the Fourth of July, Donna never existed and Kovic didn’t see the protests in person, yet he was inspired into becoming an anti-war activist after seeing that protest on TV and was certainly outraged of how the protesters were treated.)

Major Fred Peck threatened to take Ron Kovic’s head if anything was said about the Marine Corporal’s day. (Peck wasn’t interviewed for Born on the Fourth of July, but Kovic did voice such concerns to him. However, the major just investigated and concluded that Kovic probably didn’t kill the Marine. He even promoted Kovic as a leader of a new scout group.)

Ron Kovic was a recipient of the Army Commendation Medal. (Kovic was a Marine, Oliver Stone.)

During Ron Kovic’s protest with his fellow Vietnam vets at the Republican National Convention of 1972, they made a scene that attracted a few cameras, blocked an aisle, and riled the delegates. When one Republican delegate spat at Kovic, security guards moved in, roughly pushing and pulling veterans from the hall and physically prevented reporters from following. Outside, Kovic was beaten and thrown out of his wheelchair by an undercover cop. (The scene with the Republican National Convention of 1972 actually happened but it was less dramatic than how Oliver Stone put it. Robert Dornan is said to have persuaded the guards into the convention but told Kovic and his pals not to make a scene. Unsurprisingly, Kovic and his friends ignore him. Yet, Dornan said, “It was not as big a disturbance as the movie showed, but it was a disturbance. They were screaming. The guards came down and politely pulled their chairs backward. [They] put them out peaceably.” According to UPI, the scene went like this: “After about five minutes, security agents wheeled them in protesting out a side door. I went out and watched him and the other two congratulating one another, bragging about what they’d accomplished.”)

Le Ly:

Le Ly was married to a US soldier named Steve Butler who later committed suicide. (Contrary to Heaven & Earth, she actually married two American men named Ed Munro and Dennis Hayslip. Her first husband was more than twice her age and died from emphysema. Her second marriage wasn’t a happy one. However, contrary to the Oliver Stone film, she hadn’t been in Vietnam since 1973 because she’s viewed as a traitor there.)

Adrian Cronauer:

Air Force DJ Adrian Cronauer was staunchly liberal, anti-military, and antiwar. (Sorry, but Good Morning Vietnam gets this wrong. Cronauer described himself as “a lifelong card carrying Republican” and served as vice-chair in the 2004 Bush/Cheney re-election campaign {as far from an anti-war liberal as anyone could possibly be but much more controversial}. Not to mention, he was a Sergeant, not Airman First Class. Cronauer also states that much of what Robin Williams did in that movie would’ve gotten him court-martialed in a heartbeat. And, no, he wasn’t kicked out of Vietnam but left when his tour of duty ended.)

Air Force DJ Adrian Cronauer played rock music with commentary during his tour in Vietnam. (Actually he just played rock music with no commentary.)

Adrian Cronauer lied his way to teach an English class so he could get close to a local. (Yes, he did teach English but not for that reason and he didn’t lie his way in either.)

Khmer Rouge:

Dith Pran and his family escaped Cambodia by going straight to Thailand and the Red Cross. (Actually contrary to The Killing Fields, he was found by the Vietnamese before that and made a village chief before his American ties were discovered. Also, the movie doesn’t show him being tortured and the fact that he lost over 50 family members including three brothers and a sister during Khmer Rouge. Interestingly, the man who played Pran, Dr. Haing Ngor also survived Khmer Rouge as well but lost his wife. After winning his Oscar, he was gunned down in an LA parking garage by muggers who wanted the locket he swore never to part with.)

New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg was a loyal friend to Dith Pran. (Contrary to The Killing Fields, the real Al Rockoff said that Schanberg was a lying coward and that many of the scenes in the French Embassay at Phnom Penh are inaccurate. Let’s just say that Schanberg and Rockoff probably didn’t get along.)

Laos:

The Pathet Lao POW camp had 6 prisoners. (Contrary to Rescue Dawn, it had seven besides Christian Bale’s character.)

US Navy pilot Dieter Dengler spoke English with an American accent. (While his Christian Bale portrayal does in Rescue Dawn, he actually spoke English with a heavy German accent since he was born in Germany.)

Dieter Dengler was a Flight Lieutenant in the US Navy. (There’s no such rank in the US military. It’s an RAF rank. Dengler’s real rank was Junior Grade Lieutenant.)

US Air Force pilot Eugene DeBruin was a selfish and unstable prisoner who threatened to betray his fellow captives at any time and didn’t know what to do when it came time to escape. (DeBruin’s brother Jerry and fellow captive Pisidhi Indradat were very unhappy with how Eugene DeBruin was depicted in Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn. Both say that DeBruin taught his fellow cellmates English, shared his food and blanket, and even returned after escaping to help an injured cellmate. When it came time to escape, DeBruin simply refused to leave while some sick prisoners remained and he is still considered missing to this day {though there were reports of him being alive as late as January 1968}. Pisidhi Indradat called him,“The finest man I have ever met.” Not only that, he also helped plan and implement the escape as well. Of course, the film was already completed by the time Werner Herzog found this out.)

During the escape from the Pathet Lao POW camp, Dieter Dengler shot the two prison guards. (Contrary to Rescue Dawn, this was DeBruin’s idea and it was Pisidhi Indradat. Also, the Thai Indradat would later be captured and put in another prison camp but he and his fellow Lao prisoners would  be rescued by Lao troops and the CIA. He’s the only survivor from Rescue Dawn who’s still alive to this day.)

Dieter Dengler formulated the idea of storing rice in bamboo tubes during the escape from the Pathet Lao camp. (This was Eugene DeBruin’s idea.)

While in the Pathet Lao POW camp, Dieter Dengler  formulated an entire escape plane that included uncuffing the hand cuffs with a nail. (Contrary to Rescue Dawn, this was the other prisoners’ idea before Dengler ever stepped foot at the camp and didn’t tell him about it until two weeks after he arrived.)

American Home Front:

The military was outraged by the idea of a US sergeant and his men kidnapping, gang raping, and killing a Vietnamese girl. (Though the men were convicted and sentenced, there’s very little evidence that anyone was. Also, though not mentioned in Casualties of War, the convicted men’s sentences were greatly reduced on appeal. Unsurprisingly, the military still has a problem with handling cases of sexual assault.)

Vietnam veterans were spit on by anti-war protestors. (Not a single incidence of this has been reported.)

Vietnam produced more American casualties than almost any other. (Of course, movies set in Vietnam do put emphasis on the US casualty rate which was 58,000 troops, which is less than what America lost in the American Civil War and both World Wars. Yet, the Vietnamese suffered much more.)

Older people supported the Vietnam War while younger people opposed it. (Actually younger people were more likely to support the war than their parents; younger people who opposed it were just more vocal. The parents were more likely to oppose the war due to WWII and Korea and especially if they had a son who was eligible for the draft.)

Married men couldn’t get drafted to Vietnam. (US legislation sewed up that loophole in 1965. Yet, if you were the son of a famous politician in Texas, on the other hand….)

Pittsburgh during the Vietnam era was filled with people of Eastern European descent and Orthodox living in trailer parks whose women wore babushkas and combat boots and men worked in the steel mills as well as hunted in forests with Ponderosa pines. (Contrary to The Deer Hunter, there are no Ponderosa Pines in Pennsylvania and though most guys did work in steel mills, most millworkers didn’t live in trailer parks, have wives that wore babushkas or combat boots. And not everyone in Pittsburgh is Eastern European descent or Orthodox in that matter. Oh, and why did they have to hunt Asian Red deer instead of white tail deer?)

Most American soldiers during the Vietnam War were draftees. (Contrary to most Vietnam War movies, 2/3 of American forces serving there were volunteers and so were three US presidential candidates like John Kerry, John McCain, and Al Gore. Of course, these are volunteers in the loosest sense such as people who voluntarily enlisted.)

Most US draftees were usually sent to Vietnam. (Actually many were sent someplace else to fill in for other soldiers but you wouldn’t want to go to Vietnam though.)

The first US draft lottery took place in 1968 before the MLK assassination. (It took place in 1969.)

Miscellaneous:

In Vietnam, the sun set over the ocean. (Vietnam has no west coast.)

The Vietnam War was just North Vietnamese vs. the US. (It was at first the French vs. the Vietnamese then it was the North Vietnamese vs. South Vietnamese with South Korea, the United States, Australians, and New Zelanders aiding the South and the North Koreans and Soviets aiding the North. Then it was the Vietnam vs. China.)

The Vietnam War was a guerilla jungle conflict. (Well, most of the time it was. Yet, about 75% US troops there lived on bases that were decked like little isles off Americana with all the amenities of American living. Those 75% had to worry more about getting injured in sports or catching STDs than getting killed.)

The North Vietnamese were a poorly armed guerilla force. (They had a badass air force as well as were supplied by the Soviets with tanks, anti-aircraft guns, and heavy artillery. Yet, the equipment was so good that the Soviets had to stop shipping it through China because the Chinese kept swiping it. Not only those, but the guerrillas in the South were well-integrated into the regular North Vietnamese forces and had some training before seeing combat. Oh, and they had AK-47s which were far superior than what the Americans had, especially M-16s which sucked. But, yeah, they did use guerilla tactics to an advantage.)

US Sergeant Tony Meserve saved Private Sven Erickson. (Contrary to Casualties of War, he didn’t but Meserve did have a heroic reputation and was nominated for a Bronze Star for coming to a GI’s aid when his ammo pouch had exploded.)

NVA/VC Sappers were used as suicide bombers. (Though it’s said so in Platoon, Sappers were actually too valuable to be seen as such for they were specially trained combat engineers/reconnaissance commandos who used stealth to infiltrate a camp’s defenses and take out strategic targets, such as barbed wire obstacles or bunkers, with explosives before the main attack. Yet, the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong did use suicide bombers but they didn’t consist of their demolitions experts.)

NVA/VC troops wore steel helmets. (Contrary to Platoon, only North Vietnamese anti-aircraft troops protecting bases in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. Those in South Vietnam wore floppy “boonie hats” or the standard North Vietnamese sun helmet.)

The 3rd Training Ranger Battalion served in the Vietnam War. (There has never been such unit in the US military yet We Were Soldiers does give special thanks to them in the credits.)

Parris Island trained Texas Marines for Vietnam. (Contrary to Full Metal Jacket, Cowboy would’ve trained in San Diego since it was for Marines recruits who lived west of the Mississippi River. Parris Island was for recruits who lived east.)

Vietnam Marine era drill instructors were nasty and sadistic pieces of work. (Contrary to Full Metal Jacket, Lee Ermey {who was a sergeant in real life} said in an interview that a drill instructor would never slap, choke, or punch a recruit {at least openly}, even back when he was a young Marine. Also, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman is far more verbally abusive in the movie than what would be permitted in real life. The drill sergeant in Forrest Gump is a more accurate example.)

The French Mobile Group 100 was ambushed and killed to the last man. (Contrary to We Were Soldiers, it was ambushed several times and they were able to escape in all of them, though they did suffer severe casualties. Also, they didn’t consist of members of the French Foreign Legion but rather the 1st and 2nd Korea Battalions, Battalion de Marche of the 43rd Colonial Infantry and the 2nd Group of the 10th Colonial Artillery.)

Huey helicopters could lift about 19,000 pounds. (Contrary to Apocalypse Now, they couldn’t life more than 10,500 pounds.)

M16s had 30 round magazines. (They had 20 round magazines.)

The Vietcong used red tracer ammunition. (The US did. The Vietcong used green.)

US soldiers wore camouflage uniforms during the Vietnam War. (They wore green. )

Vietnamese civilians were passive victims, prostitutes, or conniving with the enemy.

The Vietcong were ludicrously sadistic and evil. (As you see in The Deer Hunter. In real life, they were just very determined to win.)

Every American helicopter used in the Vietnam War was a Huey. (H-34 Choctaws, SH-3 Sea Kings, CH-47 Chinooks, CH-46 Sea Knights and OH-6 Cayuses were also in use but you wouldn’t see them in Vietnam Era films.)

The Communist Vietnamese won almost every major engagement in the Vietnam War. (Actually the US won every single major battle in the Tet Offensive, while the Viet Cong took so many losses they played no major role in the war at that point. Not only that, the North Vietnamese never really won a major battle. The reason why the North Vietnamese won the Vietnam War had more to do with the fact that they just kept coming no matter what the Americans threw at them. In short, they wanted to win more than Americans wanted them to lose.)

American troop levels in Vietnam were 500,000 in 1968. (Levels reached 500,000 a year later.)

American jeeps in Vietnam had ignition switches. (They didn’t.)

National Security Action Memorandum 263 was the first step in total US withdrawal in the Vietnam War. (Contrary to JFK, it only foresaw the withdrawal of 1,000 advisers, and not even those if South Vietnam failed to “take up slack.”)

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 71 – World War II: POWs, Resistance Fighters, and Other Things

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1963’s The Great Escape famous for starring Steve McQueen in that iconic motorcycle scene where he’s chasing himself. Yet, it’s also known for it’s famous depiction of a great POW camp escape in which three tunnels were dug in the prisoners’ bunkers that were named Tom, Dick, and Harry. While it kind of does take liberties with the truth, I’m sure this film will be loved by generations. Nevertheless, POW camp prisoners in Germany considered escaping as a duty and would come up with a lot of creative ways to do so, some of those not shown in film.

I mainly did my movie history blog posts around World War II based on location but there are some aspects in which it isn’t possible, yet there are plenty of movies made pertaining to them nevertheless. In some ways, World War II movies don’t just have to be war movies. You can have prison movies set in POW Camps like Bridge on the River Kwai or The Great Escape with Nazi commandants and such. A lot of times you’ll always have at least one person who wants to escape but some may not have the kind of bad luck William Holden did. You have movies with Resistance (mostly French) freedom fighters who’ve had enough with Hitler’s occupation and if Hitler was in a theater, they wouldn’t hesitate to blow it up to bits. Then you have spy stuff with internationally assembled crack teams of soldiers played by some of the most famous names in cinema also possibly trying to blow something up. Or possibly stealing some secrets from the Nazis. Either way, there would have to be a Nazi uniform change at some point in the plot. Still, while there are plenty of movies about these things, there are plenty of stuff they tend to get wrong, which I shall make note of accordingly.

Resistance Movements:

Everyone in France supported the French resistance and the Free French movement. (The truth is most French mostly remained neutral at least in the beginning up to D-Day even though they certainly didn’t like being occupied. Also, the French Resistance mostly consisted of young people.)

Else Gebel was a political anti-fascist prisoner who was sympathetic to Sophie Scholl’s plight. (Unlike the German movie Sophie Scholl, it’s plausible that Gebel was a Gestapo mole. Then again Sophie probably wouldn’t have known that.)

Resistance movements were only on the Allied side. (Actually there were people who did have resistance movements but joined the Axis powers. People like Indian Independence leader Chandra Bose for instance. You can see why he isn’t remembered. Also, you have the White Russians.)

Resistance movements were all united in a common goal and seldom fought amongst each other. (Some countries actually had more than one movement and it wasn’t unusual for them to end up fighting each other as well. According to TTI: “China had so many turncoats-turned-resistance fighters-turned-bandits that the historical community generally wrings its hands and splits it up into local and regional warlords, nationalist guerrillas, communist guerrillas and Chinese Communist Party guerrillas, with some room for overlap.”)

Norwegian “limpet mines” gave off big explosions on German ships. (Contrary to Max Manus, according to Imdb: “Such mines contained only a small amount (4 kg) of explosives and were placed on a target ship’s hull beneath the water line. In that position, even a small hole can do a lot of damage (in part due to the water pressure surrounding the hull).” But filmmakers can’t be satisfied with a small amount of explosives so if it doesn’t blow up spectacularly, it’s not worth seeing.)

Jens Christian Hauge was in the Norwegian resistance in 1940. (He joined the resistance later because he was in jail in 1940.)

The Oslo harbor was brightly lit to help Norwegian resistance members sabotage German ships. (Unlike in Max Manus, Oslo had a blackout enforced in case of long awaited Allied bombing raids. Max and his friends probably had to work in the dark.)

POW Camps:

World War II prisoners were treated in accords with the Geneva Conventions or at least had a right to. (The Japanese weren’t subject to the Geneva Convention and POWs until the 1950s and treated their prisoners horrifically {though this had more to do with them being under a fascist military dictatorship}. As for Japanese POWs, they didn’t expect to be treated as anything other than shit to begin with though the Japanese government at the time couldn’t care less about their fates. Still, treatment of them varied by country, though no Japanese POW wouldn’t want to be held in captivity by the Chinese or Soviets.

As for the Germans, while they generally kept to the Geneva Convention when it came to US, UK, French prisoners or what not until perhaps close to the end though treatment did vary from camp to camp. Yet, the Nazis didn’t believe the Geneva Convention applied to Eastern Europeans so captured Red Army soldiers usually ended up as slaves or starved in death camps at best {this is why they’re considered Holocaust victims. Also, while 5 million Soviet POWs were taken, only 2 million were liberated by the end of the war}. Those who were liberated were sent to filtration camps that were effectively high security prisons until they were cleared or condemned. Those who were cleared were cleared {consisting of more than 90% of Soviet POWs}, were freed and sometimes re-drafted. Those who were condemned could be executed, sent to a Siberian gulag, or stripped of rank and sent to a penal regiment {which was for mid-rate crimes like surrendering or retreating when fully capable to fight}. Those in penal regiments had hard, dirty, and dangerous jobs with a high death rate. This would entail penal tank crews being sent out with their hatches shut to prevent them surrendering again while penal infantries were tasked with playing a deadly game of minesweeper. Maybe the Japanese had the right idea with committing suicide as far as the Russians were concerned. Italian POWs in German custody were also treated poorly. Soviet prison camps were unsurprisingly harsh to Axis prisoners that many would try to surrender to other Allied countries like Britain or the US. Their treatment of Axis POWs consists of basically what you’d expect in Stalinist Russia. Then you have the Katyn Massacre of Poles that happened while Russia was allied with Nazi Germany.)

The three guys who got away in the great escape were from the British Commonwealth. (Contrary to The Great Escape, the guys who got away were Dutch and Norwegian. Most were killed, executed, or sent back though.)

The great escape happened during the summer months. (The actual escape actually occurred in March when there was still snow on the ground. Most of the escapees trying to run across country were forced by deep snow to leave the fields and go onto the roads as well as into the hands of German patrols. Oops!)

Escapees during the great escape were all shot in a common space at one time. (50 were shot in many different places, sometimes alone or in groups.)

Executions of great escapees were conducted by uniformed German troops using a Spandau machine gun. (Actually contrary to The Great Escape, they were conducted by Gestapo agents using pistols at close range not with a machine gun in Ramboesque fashion.)
It wasn’t unusual for Allied prisoners to assault German guards during an escape. (Contrary to The Great Escape, Allied prisoners actually avoided doing this at all costs since such actions would be tantamount for inviting execution or at least some time in a highly unpleasant German military prison like Colditz if lucky.)

Italian prisoners in Allied POW camps were considered civilians once Italy joined the Allies. (Sorry, Major Battiagila, but your country’s allegiance doesn’t exempt you from being tried for war crimes as you said in Von Ryan’s Express.)

POWs in German prison camps always wanted to escape for some reason. (Actually it was their duty to try to escape and would go through many creative ways to pull it off. Believe me, I’ve seen Nova episodes on this.)

Officers and enlisted men would be in mixed quarters in every German POW camp. (The Germans always segregated officers and enlisted men in separate POW camps.)

A group of Allied prisoners at a German POW camp formed their own soccer team that won against Germans for respect. (Well, there’s a movie about this called Victory, but there wasn’t an Allied soccer team and to my knowledge I don’t think Pele served in World War II, let alone do time at a German prison camp {seriously why?}. Yet, there was a Ukranian POW soccer team but they beat their resident Nazi captors miserably and repeatedly that they ended up arrested, tortured, and executed by the Gestapo as well as taken to work camps.)

Espionage:

Ian Fleming was a WWI vet by the time he joined the 30 Commando Unit. (Though Fleming is seen wearing ribbons of the 1914-1918 War Medal and Victory Medal in Age of Heroes, he was born in 1908 and would’ve been too young to fight since he was only 10 when the war ended.)

British spy Violette Szabo was tall blonde. (She was a brunette who was less than 5’5.” But she’s played by British actress Virginia McKenna {the woman from Born Free} in a biopic about her. She was a widow of a French soldier as well as a British spy who underwent two missions in occupied France. She was captured by the Germans on her second mission who interrogated, tortured, and deported her to a concentration camp in Germany. Still, the film Carve Her Name with Pride doesn’t show her fate in Ravensbrueck concentration camp which was execution by firing squad at the age of twenty-three but it was made in the 1950s. Her companions were gassed.)

A Polish spy at Bletchley Park passed crucial secrets to the Soviet Union during the Enigma decryption. (Actually contrary to the 2001 Enigma, the traitor was actually a guy named John Cairncross who’s British.)

The OSS was around before Pearl Harbor. (It was founded in 1942.)

MI6 was a reliable intelligence agency during WWII. (Actually in 1939, the Nazis had already exposed MI6’s networks in Europe and the Special Operations Executive took over functions in wartime. Thus, you wouldn’t want to report secrets to MI6 but the SOE.)

Ulysses Diello was a valet to the British ambassador in Turkey who passed secrets to the Germans as Agent Cicero. (Yes, there was an Agent Cicero who was a valet to the British Ambassador to Turkey and was an immensely successful spy. Yet, unlike what 5 Fingers suggests, he was actually Kosovo born Albanian Elyeza Bazna who spoke very poor English and was far from the perfect facsimile of an English gentleman as James Mason’s portrayal. Also, that part about the pursuit after Agent Cicero flees the British Ambassador’s residence is pure fiction.)

War Crimes Trials:

German soldiers were executed for the Malmedy massacre during the Battle of the Bulge. (Actually while there were Germans found guilty as well as sentenced to death, no death sentence was carried out so Marlene Dietrich wouldn’t have to worry so much in Judgment at Nuremberg.)

Wehrmacht officers would disguise themselves as SS officials during the Nuremberg trials. (Actually SS officers would try to disguise themselves as Wehrmacht officials to hide their involvement. At Nuremberg, you’d rather be an ordinary soldier than an SS official.)

Miscellaneous:

World War II soldiers lit their cigarettes with butane lighters. (Butane lighters weren’t invented until the 1950s.)

Air raid sirens always gave a continuously constant sound. (Most of the sirens were hand cranked and gave variable sound when cranked hard 5 times and slacked off 5 times.)

Nazi sympathizers were fans of Chopin’s music. (Contrary to Shining Through, most Nazi supporters would’ve detested Chopin for his Polish and French ethnicity alone.)

WWII bombing crews always stood at a good chance of surviving. (If it’s World War II and you find yourself on a bombing crew, make sure you get your affairs in order and make your peace with the Almighty because less than 50% of them managed to survive their tour.)

German soldiers used night vision scopes in World War II. (Well, not exactly though they were around in Nazi Germany at the time. Still, these infrared scopes were clumsy, very heavy, rare, and reserved for special ops. Also, it’s inconceivable any would’ve been stationed near a glorified officer’s brothel.)

Combat squads could travel in broad daylight and allow enlisted men to talk a lot. (Unlike the journey in Saving Private Ryan, squads would never be allowed to travel during the day time because they’d risk exposing themselves to the enemy. They usually would travel at night in order to go unprotected by the enemy. Also, arguing with your captain during such a mission would’ve resulted in you getting court-martialed.)

World War II military vehicles had radial tires. (Radial tires were patented in 1915 but they weren’t used on vehicles until the 1960s.)

Monopolization of the radio during combat was always a good idea. (Radio nets were shared with the entire squadron during combat and were only to be used in emergencies or by a commanding officer. To describe everything you’re doing while crowding out what others in your squadron are doing, would lead to your squad mates beating the living crap out of you back at the base.)

Aerial torpedoes were designed to attack airfields. (They were made to attack ships and were launched at low-level waters, not to attack land based targets.)

Military nurses had long flowing hairstyles during the war. (They weren’t permitted to have long flowing hair styles while in uniform. Rather the permitted length of hair had to be just above their collars. Thus, they either had to wear it up or cut it. As for makeup, they either were allowed to wear skin tone cosmetics or none at all.)

Nobody smoked during World War II. (Contrary to Pearl Harbor, most people smoked during the 1940s. The only people who didn’t smoke in 1940s movies, were those who hadn’t yet entered puberty. To have nobody smoke in a World War II film is perhaps one of the greatest historical sins a filmmaker could commit. Yes, I know smoking is bad for you, but still.)

Mistreating civilians was a violation of the Geneva Convention at this time. (No, the revision of the Geneva Convention in regard to civilians wasn’t adopted until 1949, unfortunately.)

Soldiers always wore their helmets buckled. (It was common for soldiers to leave their helmets unbuckled due to the common belief that the helmet would break a soldier’s neck when it reacted to a concussion due to a nearby explosion.)
During the war, people rode on bicycles with rubber tires. (By a certain point in the war, only wooden tires would be available, especially in Europe.)

You could easily pick out a Gestapo. (Gestapo usually wore civilian clothes so, no.)

Foreign girls always went for American GIs, particularly if he’s the white protagonist.

During special operations, an Allied soldier could always find a Nazi uniform to fit him perfectly as a disguise.

Special operations always consisted of a group of people from different countries played by big named actors so no Allied country’s participation in the war goes unrecognized.

Despite being bombed, buildings would always have electricity and running water.

History of the World According to the Movies: Part 70 – World War II: The American Home Front

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The 1989 film Fat Man and Little Boy is about the story of the Manhattan Project and the development of the Atomic Bomb. Paul Newman is seen here playing General Leslie Groves while a guy named Dwight Schultz plays the legendary Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer. Nevertheless, while Richard Joffe does get some things right, the story is more suited for his political viewpoints and it’s far from the historic truth. For one, it was Oppenheimer’s dream job to work in the Manhattan Project (while Groves would rather be leading combat troops) and he and Groves got along famously, despite being polar opposites in personality for they both wanted the same thing. Also, Oppenheimer and many of his fellow scientists didn’t have any second thoughts about dropping the atom bombs until after they found out about the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Also, Paul Newman was way too handsome to be General Groves.

Of course, while there wasn’t much attacking on US soil besides Pearl Harbor, it didn’t mean that there wasn’t much going on in the home front. Like the British, Americans did experience rationing, air raid drills, sending bacon grease and scrap metal to the war effort, women working in munitions factories as well as families waiting for their loved ones to come home from the war. Yet, in other ways, it was unique with WWII propaganda films as well as movies from Hollywood, the USO, the role of racial minorities, and other things. You have Japanese American internment camps that were filled with a group of people who were displaced mostly due to ethnicity, culture, and they or their ancestors came from an enemy of the US at the time. Oh, and racism as well of suspicion of disloyalty did have a lot to do with it, too. Yet, the disloyalty of Japanese Americans was somehow put to rest since 20,000 of them fought in the war. You have the Tuskegee Airmen who were an elite unit aerial African American fighters whose overcoming of racism and adversity greatly contributed to their success. Then there’s the Manhattan Project which would be famous for developing one of the most deadly weapons in human history and usher in the atomic age. Nevertheless, while there are plenty of movies made about the American home front, there are plenty of inaccuracies in them as well, which I shall list.

Japanese American Internment:

Japanese Americans were the only group in America to be rounded to internment camps. (Actually, they were the only group to be interred who were mostly American born. German and Italian Americans were also interred but these numbers were small and only pertained to first generation or legal aliens.)

Almost all Japanese Americans were placed in internment camps during World War II. (Actually you may think this is true but not really. Most of the Japanese Americans interned were living on the West Coast, particularly in California where interment was popular among white farmers who resented their Japanese American counterparts {most Japanese Americans there at the time were farmers}. Not to mention, California wasn’t a state known by its friendliness toward Japanese Americans, just the opposite. Anti-Japanese bias on the West Coast was prevalent at this time. By contrast, Hawaii only sent a very small portion of their Japanese American population to internment camps {mostly prominent politicians and community leaders} since the area had been on martial law already and the risk of sabotage and espionage by Japanese residents on the islands was low. Not to mention, 35% of their population had Japanese ancestry and they were active in almost every sector of its economy. Had Hawaii had most of their Japanese American population interred, the then-territory would’ve had its economy crippled. Over 50,000 Japanese Americans on Hawaii remained undisturbed during the course of the war mostly due to being too economically viable to evict.)

The AAGPBL:

The AAGPBL played regulation baseball. (Contrary to A League of Their Own, they actually played a baseball/softball hybrid game. In its first years it was closer to softball.)

Racine won the 1943 World Series in a 7 game series against the Rockford Peaches. (It was in a 5 game series against the Kenosha Comets.)

The Tuskegee Airmen:

Not a single Tuskegee Airman was shot down by enemy fire. (66 Tuskegee Airmen were killed in action and they didn’t have an official flying ace even though one may have had enough unregistered kills to qualify. 25 of their bombers were lost to enemy fire.)

The Tuskegee Airmen was created to prove that blacks could effectively fly a plane. (They were trained by racist instructors who washed trainees out for the smallest mistakes to prove that African Americans were unsuitable to be fighter pilots. The result was hand-picked elite that wiped the floor with everything they met as well as were provided the best protection of all US Army Air Force fighter groups in Europe. Thus, contrary to Red Tails, their status as an elite fighting unit was almost purely accidental and as a result of training from hell.)

The Manhattan Project:

Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Reed Flutes” was played during the countdown of the Trinity atomic test in Alamogordo, New Mexico. (Actually it was Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade of Strings” but this is a minor error in Fat Man and Little Boy.)

Frenzied nuclear weapon expansion had been driven from the outset by pigheaded militarists intimidating morally sensitive scientists into doing what they knew to be wrong. (Sorry, Richard Joffe, but this is wrong. Nuclear expansion served the best interests of the military and the Manhattan Project scientists. Maybe they knew designing the bomb was wrong, but they greatly underestimated the bomb’s potential for wiping humanity which came to haunt them after the Hiroshima and Nagasaki.)

General Leslie R. Groves was a warmongering jerk and strutting martinet. (Yes, he was a jerk as Major General Kenneth Nichols called him “the biggest son of a bitch I’ve ever met in my life. I hated his guts and so did everyone.” He was known to be arrogant, socially awkward, as well extremely sarcastic. Yet, even he said that his commander was one of the “most capable individuals” he ever met. He’s said to be an organizer without equal as well as a tireless leader who held together the far-flung elements of the Manhattan Project, which employed 125,000 workers at facilities nationwide. Not to mention, he was the guy in charge of building the Pentagon which was the reason he was picked to lead the Manhattan Project in the first place. He was also a student of MIT before transferring to West Point, where he graduated 4th in his class. Then again, his security measures weren’t the most adequate since Los Alamos employees named Klaus Fuchs and David Greenglass {brother-in-law to Julius Rosenberg} were still able to smuggle atom bomb details to the Soviets, which Fat Man and Little Boy doesn’t address.)

General Leslie Groves was happy leading the Manhattan Project. (Groves actually didn’t want to lead the Manhattan Project, which he called, “Oh, that thing” and later chafed at being a taskmaster to “the largest collection of eggheads in the world.” He had longed to lead combat troops into war but his career had languished in the corps of engineers and his leadership of the Pentagon’s construction was a success, that he was the most likely candidate. He only changed his mind about the job when he saw that the Manhattan Project was his opportunity for glory and worked unceasingly to the end.)

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and his fellow scientists were against the idea of the atom bomb and felt guilty about being a part of the Manhattan Project for the rest of their lives. (Well, yes, many Manhattan Project scientists did regret their roles in the Manhattan Project but only after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were known, unlike in Fat Man and Little Boy. He would become a vocal opponent of the development of the even more powerful H-bomb though. But during the atomic bomb’s designing phase, Oppenheimer craved a job at Los Alamos so badly that he’d even be interested in obtaining an army commission to curry favor with General Groves. Once hired in 1942, Oppenheimer worked on the Manhattan Project with appropriate martial zeal as well as gave an idea of poisoning the Germans’ food with radiation. Most of his fellow scientists supported nuking Japan as well and had a big celebration after the bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered.)

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer was a quiet, moralistic, and easy going man. (Actually though kind of bohemian and witty, this was a guy who stole chemicals and tried to kill his own tutor for making him attend classes on experimental physics which he hated {he preferred theoretical}. This was while he was studying for his doctorate in physics at Cambridge University.  He also betrayed his friend Haakon Chevalier, a literature professor at Berkeley, as someone who had contacted him about sharing secrets with the Russians when asked by the FBI to name names during his time at Los Alamos {though he’d later regret this and said he invented this “cock and bull” story but Chaevalier’s career was ruined because of him, though Oppenheimer might’ve named him to protect his brother who was a known Communist Party member}. Also, contrary to Fat Man and Little Boy, he was a much more outgoing man than portrayed in the film. Interestingly, the said tutor was Patrick Blackett who’d  go on to win a Nobel Prize. Oppenheimer also had a humongous ego to boot despite having a voice like Mr. Rogers. And yes, he was associated with Communist politics in the 1930s as were both his wife and ex-girlfriend. His past association with leftist politics would later hurt him during the Red Scare as he opposed the Cold War arms race.)

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and General Leslie R. Groves didn’t get along. (Contrary to Fat Man and Little Boy, despite their personality differences, they got along fine because they both wanted the same thing. Groves even praised him on his work in the Manhattan Project saying, “I was reproachfully told that only a Nobel prize-winner or at least a somewhat older man would be able to exercise sufficient authority over the many ‘prima donnas’ concerned. But I stuck to Oppenheimer and his success proved that I was right. No one else could have done what that man achieved.” Groves also got along well with the other scientists save Hungarian Leo Szilard.)

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer came up with the idea of implosion. (It was actually fellow scientist Seth Neddermayer who proposed the theory and his formulation came gradually.)

The experiment with the two hemispheres of beryllium surrounding a core of plutonium and held apart with a screwdriver was called the “drop” experiment. (It was called “tickling the dragon’s tail” but it’s by the expy for Canadian physicist Louis Slotin from Fat Man and Little Boy. Yet, though he died from an experiment relating to radioactivity, his death didn’t provide any cautionary warning for Oppenheimer since it happened on May 30, 1946.)

General Leslie Groves was a fit man. (Actually he weighed between 250-300 pounds in contrast to Paul Newman’s fit figure in Fat Man and Little Boy. Oppenheimer by contrast, weighed 116 pounds during the Trinity Test.)

J. Robert Oppenheimer’s ex-girlfriend Dr. Jean Tatlock committed suicide on January 1945. (She killed herself in January of 1944. Interestingly, she was Oppenheimer’s first love and the first person he ever dated but she suffered from depression {he married his wife Kitty a year after he broke up with Jean}. Still, it’s said he had an affair with her during his time in the Manhattan Project while some say that he only spent the night with her once in mid-June of 1943 after he was picked as head of the laboratory in Los Alamos. It’s highly disputed. We could say that he certainly cared about her and may have felt guilty on breaking up with her despite knowing that she certainly wasn’t relationship material. Still, while we can’t really confirm whether Oppenheimer and Tatlock were romantically involved during his time at Los Alamos, he did have an extramarital affair but it was with Kitty when she was married to her third husband, a physician named Richard Harrison. And it wasn’t until Kitty found out she was pregnant to Oppenheimer when she divorced Harrison and Robert became her fourth
husband in November of 1940. Still, despite only dating two women throughout his entire earthly existence, Oppenheimer certainly had an interesting love life.)

General Leslie Groves was a recipient for the Good Conduct Ribbon. (To qualify for the Good Conduct Ribbon, a soldier must be an enlisted man for at least 36 months. Groves was a West Point graduate and thus ineligible.)

General Leslie Groves met Dr. Leo Szilard in his hotel bathroom while the latter was in a bathtub and the former was on the toilet. (They actually met at the Metallurgy Laboratory at the University of Chicago along with the rest of the scientists. They had an antagonistic relation and Groves tried to fire him.)

The Trinity explosion took 2-3 seconds. (It actually took 40 seconds.)

Kitty Oppenheimer was an adoring wife who thought her husband Robert was the greatest man who deserved anything he wants. (Oppenheimer would’ve probably wished his wife to be like this since he kind of thought he was God’s gift to humanity who deserved anything he wanted. Still, she was known to drink and make catty remarks about her husband.)

Miscellaneous:

America had the best artillery, tanks, tacticians, or generals in World War II. (America had the most money, the highest rate of productivity, and perhaps the most adaptive and self-reliant rank and file of all the fighting armies.)

USAAF bombing crews usually survived with no ill effects. (Since the USAAF bombed German targets by day, they had a monstrously high casualty rate in the bomber department. There’s a reason why the policy for USAAF airmen was “25 and out” for most of the war. Once most airmen completed 25 missions, their war was over but the average crewman only had a 1 in 4 chance of actually completing his tour of duty. Yet, as the war progressed, 25 got upped to 30 and then 35. The average bombing crew got shot down in its 20th mission. American bomber crews were known to be notoriously fatalistic, having determined that after reaching the half-way point on their tours of duty, they were living on borrowed time.)

“Little Brown Jug” was recorded after Glenn Miller’s death. (Actually contrary to The Glenn Miller Story, it was one of his first bonafide hits in 1939, but the movie makes it clear where he got it from.)

WWII was a universally supported one in the US. (The US only went into the war at around Pearl Harbor and even then there were Americans who opposed the war either because they were pacifists or Nazi sympathizers. And yes, World War II did have its share of draft dodgers even in the United States.)

A PT boat’s main function was “to harass the enemy and buy time for a navy that was still on the drawing boards.” (This is sort of accurate but as Washington lawyer and WWII veteran Leonard Nikoloric said, “Let me be honest. Motor torpedo boats were no good. You couldn’t get close to anything without being spotted. I suppose we [Squadron Three] attacked capital ships maybe forty times. I think we hit a bunch of them, but whether we sank anything is questionable. The PT brass were the greatest con artists of all time. They got everything they wanted-the cream of everything, especially the personnel. But the only thing the PTs were effective at was raising War Bonds.”)

The United States military was integrated at this time. (Actually it was still segregated and would be desegregated shortly after World War II. However, many of World War II movies were made after that time and with the assistance of the US military like The Glenn Miller Story. However, such errors could be forgiven since the war was fought by Americans of all races and creeds anyway even if they didn’t fight in integrated units.)

Female cadets were in attendance at West Point at this time. (West Point didn’t start admitting women until 1962.)

There were no gays in the US military during World War II. (Actually the US military effort during World War II was one of the reasons why the gay community became a more prominent force in later years. Sure there was a Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy but the war effort brought so many people away from their homes and into contact with people they wouldn’t have met otherwise, sometimes these were people like them. Also, gay US WWII vets include Rock Hudson, Gore Vidal, and others.)

The US Navy made a petty fuss about shirts. (Actually Mister Roberts is right about the US Navy’s fuss about shirts but it wasn’t out of pettiness. The navy’s medical branch actually found that shirts provide protection against burns in case of explosion.)

US soldiers would leave their sweethearts behind who faithfully waited for them to return home, while their men didn’t mess around. (This wasn’t 100% the case since there were soldiers who did cheat on their sweethearts {sometimes wives} or sometimes abandoned them altogether. Not to mention, sometimes the sweethearts weren’t so devoted either as you understand the concept of a “Dear John” letter. Then there’s the fact that 1946 saw a jump of divorces in the United States.)

“Fouled up” was a common phrase of American soldiers during World War II. (Contrary to Saving Private Ryan, I believe the correct terminology is “fucked up.” For God’s sake, Spielberg, were you aiming for a PG-13 audience? I mean what’s wrong with including swearing in a rated R movie, especially if the main reason for it is violence.)

During combat jumps, US paratroopers jumped out of planes one by one with the jumpmaster commanding, “Go! Go!” (The jumpmaster was always the first off the plane while the rest of the paratroopers immediately followed behind him exiting the plane as fast as they could in order to land as close together as possible. I know the one by one combat jump is always done in movies but paratrooping has never worked that way since it would result in the whole unit being spread out in various locations. Try locating the rest of your unit using that method.)

American soldiers used “thunder” as a challenge word to identify friendlies while “flash” was used as a response. (Contrary to Saving Private Ryan, it’s the other way around with “flash” as the challenge word and “thunder” as the response. The reason why “thunder” was chosen as a response word for identifying friendlies was because of the “th” sound which is nonexistent in German. Thus, if a German were to say, “thunder” to “flash” he wouldn’t be able to hide his accent.)

The US Army had a 113th Tank Division during this time. (There was never a US 113th Tank Division in WWII.)

The Pentagon was completed by 1942. (It wasn’t completed until 1943.)

Women factory workers in the US home front were treated decently by their bosses. (While the average US serviceman was paid $54.65 weekly, factory women were paid $31.50. Also, if they were working among men, there’s a possibility that sexual harassment was frequent in some places. I mean there were no laws against it.)

World War II was the first time when housewives took up work outside the home as their husbands went to war. (Despite the fact that women were expected to be housewives throughout most of human history, this wasn’t always the case, even in America. Even before World War II, many women worked outside the home, especially in times under financial ruin like the Great Depression or death in the family like a spouse. If you’ve seen Mildred Pierce, you know what I mean. It was just that more women were doing the more important jobs that would be normally reserved for men. Not to mention, before that time, many didn’t really consider women’s work as anything of relative importance.)

“Little Orphan Annie” was a 1940s radio show sponsored by Ovaltine. (Ovaltine dropped “Little Orphan Annie” and switched to “Captain Midnight” in 1940. That year “Little Orphan Annie” would be sponsored by Quaker Puff Wheat. Announcer Pierre Andre would also go to “Captain Midnight” in early 1940 since audiences identified him too much with Ovaltine. This detail would help set A Christmas Story to 1939 since The Wizard of Oz came out that year and there’s no mention of Pearl Harbor.)

Bing Crosby’s “Merry Christmas” album was released at around 1940. (It wasn’t released until 1945 and reissued in 1947.)

The Red Ryder BB gun had a sundial and a compass among its features. (The screenwriter for A Christmas Story confused the Red Ryder with another kind of BB gun that had these features. Thus, guns had to specially made for the film. Yet, the Red Ryder BB gun was real but it doesn’t have a sundial and compass.)

Indiana schools were integrated in 1939. (They weren’t until 1949 yet there are three black kids in Ralphie’s class.)

Window air conditioners were widely available at this time in the US. (Contrary to Lost in Yonkers, while window air conditioners were sold as early as 1938, they weren’t mass produced until after World War II.)

US Navy seamen were experienced swimmers. (US Navy seamen weren’t required to know how to swim and many didn’t during this time.)

Movies during this time were seen in a wide screen format. (Not until the 1950s.)

All American aircraft carriers had angled decks. (Not in World War II they didn’t. But there aren’t that many straight decked carriers left as attempts to preserver the USS Enterprise {most decorated warship in US history} into a museum as a museum all ended in failure.)

June Carter was 10 in 1944. (By this time, she would’ve been 14 or 15.)