Undoubtedly, Iwo Jima was the United States Marine Corps' most famous battle of the Second World War. More than six thousand Marines and attached Navy personnel lost their lives wresting the heavily fortified island from the 20,000 man Japanese garrison. With the capture of Mount Surabachi in the first phase of the battle, the Marines quickly raised the American flag from the highest point on the island. The famous flag raising was captured twice in photographs, as the initial smaller flag was replaced by a larger flag donated by a ship from the invasion force. This larger flag is presently on display at the National Museum of the United States Marine Corps, in its unrestored, wind damaged state.
#1) Battleground (1949)
Battleground is, in my opinion, one of the best WWII movies ever made. This film, done in the aftermath of WWII, was shot using original uniforms, equipment, and vehicles, avoiding the problems that later films had in that regard. Set in the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge, Battleground is a retelling of the famed siege of Bastogne from the perspective of a common infantry squad. Realistic and down to earth without the vile language and gore of modern films, Battleground feels like a genuine story of the 1940's. The banter, jokes, and standard operating procedures speak of the 1940's military, not rebranded military extras from today's WWII films. If you can only make time for one WWII Movie this summer, this should be the one.
#2) Tora Tora Tora (1970)
Tora Tora Tora is the only film that even approaches an accurate portrayal of the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor. Filmed with a massive American and Japanese cast, and using many of the actual locations on Oahu that were in use during the attack, Tora Tora Tora is a long, at times slow paced film that shows the choices and decisions that led to the outcome of December 7th, 1941. The film shows the dynamics faced by both sides. On the Japanese side, the rigid, uncompromising position of the militarists forces Admiral Yamamoto's hand, leading to the choice of a preemptive strike on the US Pacific Fleet. In the mean time, American intelligence discerns the looming war, but peacetime inertia and the fateful decision of General Short to prepare for the wrong attack leads to the American fleet being defenseless at its moorings that day. Aside from some relatively minor language, the films has few vices, and is replete with accurate details that make this film one of the best ever done on a WWII subject.
3) Twelve O'clock High (1949)
Twelve O'clock High, based on a 1948 novel of that title is a story of men against themselves and their weaknesses. Little attention is paid to the enemy, but rather to the dynamics of men in endless rounds of grueling combat. The fictional 918th Bomb Group is losing men and bombers at higher than average rate, for no return in terms of target damage. It is up to General Frank Savage to turn this hard luck group around, with resistance from all ranks as the group is pulled off flying missions to focus on crucial retraining. The film loosely follows the efforts of the 8th Air Force out of England in the summer of '43, acting less as a historical drama, but instead answering the question, "What is Maximum Effort?" Few WWII films delved into the men of the 8th Air Force as well as Twelve O'clock High has, and the film is well worth watching.
4) Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (1944)
The Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April of 1942 would capture the attention of the Allied world in a dark time, buoying Allied morale and rattling previously victorious Japanese strategists. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo told the uncensored story of that great mission, highlighting the bravery of the men that flew what should have been a suicide mission. Despite being a wartime film, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo lacks the corny propaganda feel common to the period, and instead gives the perspective of the crew of plane #7, The Ruptured Duck, as they trained for and eventually bombed Tokyo. The sets were phenomenally detailed and accurate for the era, and the use of vintage B-25s of a comparable configuration to those used in the raid adds to the realism of the film. All told, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo is a film that you will not want to miss.
#5) The Longest Day (1962)
The Longest Day is the best know D-Day film to date. Although various details were still classified, The Longest Day goes to great lengths to show the grand scope of the Normandy invasion in June of 1944. Where the film does go astray though, is perhaps in its choice of too many big name actors filling out the credits. Most are not distracting in their portrayals of their characters, but I would have been more satisfied with someone like Charleton Heston filling John Wayne's role as LtCol. Ben Vandervoot. Also, the film's budget did not allow for the sort of reconstructions that made Tora Tora Tora as good as it is. Simply, the uniforms and equipment are just off, not enough to ruin the film, but it does take away from the experience. The average lay person won't be distracted by it, but WWII buffs will notice. Those critiques aside, The Longest Day is the only dramatic portrayal of the Normandy Invasion out there, and it remains a strong classic to those that can look past its relatively minor inaccuracies.
The M1917 Helmet was one of a multitude of variations of the “Brodie” Helmet developed during WWI, first by the British, and then later by Commonwealth and American forces. The Brodie was a simple answer to the vast bounds that artillery technology had made in the prior century. Once the stalemate of the trenches set in by the winter of 1914-1915, the combatants on the Western front began to lash out at one another with millions artillery shells. Head wounds inflicted by shrapnel began to climb, and all the combatants found a means of producing a then modern ballistic helmet to protect the wearer’s head from overhead shell splinters.
The M1917 helmet was simply an American adoption of the British Mk. I Brodie helmet, and until American production was in full swing, most American troops to see action in WWI were issued British made helmets. However, tens of thousands of American made (and even a few British made) M1917 helmets remained in inventory until the 1930’s. It had been noted in official American and British reports that the overall Brodie design had severe shortcomings when it came to protecting the side and back of the wearer’s head from shell fragments. Air bursts and falling debris were little issue when the individual was protected by a trench, but in more mobile circumstances, the German “Stahlhelm” offered superior overall protection, both due to the hardness of the steel and its deeper shape.
Various US army experiments led to the iconic M1 helmet, adopted at the end of 1941. As a stop gap, old M1917 helmets were refitted with new liners copied straight from the experimental 5A helmet, which would not be adopted. The 1917A1 possessed an improved suspension system made from leather over a sheet metal frame. By 1940, McCord Radiator Co. was granted a contract for new M1917A1 helmets as the military expanded and the draft began to overcome the extreme shortfall in manpower to even begin to approach a wartime footing. The M1917A1 was not intended to serve indefinitely. It was retained and even newly manufactured through much of 1941 because it was already in use. When the M1 helmet became available, the ‘17A1’s were quickly phased out in all branches of the US military by the fall of 1942.
My own M1917A1 helmet is a refurbished and restored M1917 shell covered in a previous post. Using parts and a sturdy, well made reproduction liner from Prarie Flower and Leather Co, I was able to restore it back to 1936 specifications. Overall, the helmet sits nicely on the head. However, the helmet was not designed to remain on the wearer’s head without the chinstrap securely fastened. If tightened down too far it can become uncomfortable. The liner simple doesn’t contact enough of the wearer’s head, and therefore spread out the weight. Simply put, the helmet feels somewhat heavier than it is, and that makes the ‘17A1 somewhat more fatiguing to wear for extended periods compared to a WW2 US Military specification liner. Also, the ‘17A1 has a tendency to slide around and shift position while running, a problem I have not noticed in similarly athletic circumstances with my own M1 helmet so long as the liner is properly adjusted. If worn during the execution of the manual of arms, the rifle’s handguard tends to ding the Brodie helmet’s brim when being shouldered.
The M1917A1 was ultimately a product of its time; it was not what was needed, but it was what could be obtained and mass produced. It was an early, first generation helmet, better than nothing, but can be forgiven for not being advanced or state of the art. By WWII, the M1would replace it and create a helmet superior even to the vaunted German Stahlhelm. The M1917A1 was a key player in the early, dark days of the war, and it served well until the M1 could take its place.