Saturday, November 5, 2011

Secrets of the Dead: D-Day (2004)

Hurray for the mavericks.

Several unconventional thinkers helped Allied leaders overcome many of the deadly obstacles Nazi Germany prepared for an invasion of France during the Second World War. Their story is not often told, but the first half of this very well made PBS documentary offers riveting details about their special creations.


Secrets of the Dead: D-Day also offers a welcome chance to hear of the experiences of American, British and German men who were part of D-Day on June 6, 1944.

To escape mines, hedgehogs and barbed wire, American, British and Canadian troops needed specialized equipment.

Andrew Jackson Higgins, a New Orleans boat builder, had starting building what would become assault craft used on D-Day a decade earlier. With some effort, he was able to get the American navy to pay attention to what he made. Even Nazi leader Adolf Hitler learned about Higgins and dubbed him 'The New Noah.'

Nicholas Straussler was a Hungarian engineer who created a flotation system for tanks to navigate on to the Normandy beaches and provide firepower for soldiers. The Allies learned the importance of getting tanks on the beach pronto after the disastrous raid on Dieppe, a French port, in 1942.


Archival films show early protoypes. A British man, Bob Grundy, tries the flotation system with a tank in the present day. A Second World War veteran who 'swam' to shore with such a tank watches.

Major Gen. Percy Hobart was a British military engineer who devised a number of modified tanks for use in the invasion inclduing a crab tank that used flailing chains to detonate landmines. The Bobbin tank put down a canvas cloth for tanks to ride on so they wouldn't sink into the soft blue clay on the beach.

Learning how these machines came to be is fascinating. The last half of this 95-minute documentary focuses on the invasion itself.


Secrets of the Dead: D-Day includes remembrances from British glider pilots and tank crews, American paratroopers and a German soldier who was part of the defence force at Omaha beach where American troops landed.

Their stories are funny, informative and moving.

My big beef with this fine effort is based on being a Canadian. Where are the remembrances from the Canadian veterans? Canadian troops landed at Juno Beach, but receive scant attention here. Why couldn't at least one Canadian veteran been tapped to recount his experiences on June 6, 1944?

Secrets of the Dead: D-Day offers a great package -- details about new military weapons that helped make the difference in June 1944, archival footage that tracks the development of these weapons and interesting interviews with veterans who were at Normandy 67 years ago. Narrator is Liev Schreiber (X-Men: Origins of Wolverine).

RATING: 9/10

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