How Long Is Your Memory of "The Longest Day"?

By: Susan McDonald
Image: Darryl F. Zanuck Productions, Inc.

About This Quiz

More than 50 years after its release, "The Longest Day" is still considered one of the finest depictions of D-Day, the day in 1944 when Allied forces stormed the beaches at Normandy. The epic film features a star-studded cast and gripping battle scenes mixed with a bit of humor. Do you remember the details?

What happens in the film's opening scene?

The film opens with a man running down a rural path, being chased by a Nazi officer in a jeep. He is shot in the back and the officer takes the attache case he is carrying.

Who was in charge of fortifying the beaches at Normandy against an Allied invasion?

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel directed the fortifications. They included extensive barbed wire, bunkers, and heavy artillery.

How were members of the French Resistance alerted regarding their upcoming assignments?

Members of the Resistance listened to radio broadcasts that sometimes included coded messages disguised in poetry. Different messages were directed at specific groups.

Why were the men of the Allied troops so anxious to get the operation underway?

The Allied troops waiting in England were depicted as being very antsy and ready to go. The operation had been delayed several times because of weather and they just wanted to get on with it.

Why does Gen. Cota (Robert Mitchum) think the operation should go forward even if the weather is bad?

Cota is concerned that further delays will be detrimental to the men. There are 4,000 ships already in the water with at least 200,000 troops on them, and he fears that they are becoming seasick with all the stormy weather.

What do the men do while they wait for their orders?

To pass the time, many of the men shoot dice. It's a good way to kill time and make a little cash.

A paratrooper named Schultz wins $2,500 from a dice game, but goes back to the game and intentionally loses. Why?

Right after he wins big, Schultz receives a letter from his mother with a rosary enclosed. He remembers a previous time when he won money and the next day was injured in a jump, so he is afraid a win this big will bring him bad luck during the operation.

What is unusual about the language in this film?

The movie is unusual because the French and German characters speak their own languages with English subtitles. Typically in films like this, the German and French characters would speak their dialogue in English but with native accents.

Lt. Col. Vandervoort (John Wayne) warns about the danger regarding the planned drop zone for his paratroopers. What is he concerned about?

Vandervoort is worried because the drop zone is small and hemmed in. On one side is a swamp that has been flooded by the Germans and on the other is the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise. He is concerned that his troops could hit either of those, but it is too late to reconsider.

Why do the Germans think the invasion will not take place at this time?

The Germans believe the bad weather -- the worst channel conditions in 70 years -- will prevent an attack. This opinion is supported by the fact that May offered perfect weather, but no attack came.

Rommel takes time out from the war to do some shopping. What does he buy?

Rommel takes a few days of leave to celebrate his wife's birthday. He goes to see her, bringing a pair of French shoes, and so is out of pocket when the invasion begins.

Vandervoort sustains an injury when he parachutes into France. What is it?

Vandervoort suffers a compound fracture to his ankle, but that doesn't stop him. He orders the medic to put his boot on and lace it tightly, then uses his rifle as a cane so he can continue to walk. Fierce!

What job do the pathfinders perform?

The pathfinders have the dangerous job of being first on the ground. They then provide light for the drop zones so the paratroopers know where to land and, hopefully, do so safely.

The troops are issued a 5 cent toy that they are told may save their lives. What is it?

The solders are given a small clicker and instructions on how to use it. They are to click once and if they get two clicks in response, they know the person is friendly.

Who makes the final decision about whether to go forward with the invasion or delay it again?

The final decision rests in the hands of General Eisenhower. After consulting with his top advisors, he says he doesn't like it, but it wouldn't be prudent to wait longer, so he gives the order to proceed.

What is the significance of "John has a long mustache"?

The sentence is one of the coded signals given over the radio telling certain members of the Resistance that it is time to mobilize. In the film, hearing the signal sends one man into fits of joy.

How does Beethoven's Fifth Symphony play into the film?

In Morse Code, the letter V is short-short-short-long, mimicking the sound of the well-known four notes from the symphony. Planes flashed it as a symbol that the troops would be victorious.

What was the job of the troops commanded by Major John Howard in the early minutes of the invasion?

Howard's men were to come in on gliders and capture the bridge. They also needed to remove explosive devices already set on the bridge by the Germans, before the Nazis could blow it up, and hold it until reinforcements arrived. They succeeded.

Why were so many key German officers not immediately available when the invasion began?

Because the Germans were not expecting the invasion to come for some time, they had scheduled a series of war games in Rennes. Several top officers were there, so it took time to contact them and get them into position once it was clear that the invasion had begun.

Who is Rufus?

Rufus is a decoy paratrooper that the Allies dropped near German troops to create a diversion. They decoys looked like real paratroopers and when they hit the ground or were hit with gunfire, they began making loud noises and sending off flashes to make the Germans think they were being fired upon.

A parcel is parachuted down to some civilians waiting on the ground. What is in it?

A small group of Resistance members wait for a large parcel that is parachuted down to them, followed by two paratroopers. Together the civilians and soldiers blow up nearby train tracks and crash the German train traveling over them.

A priest who has parachuted with other troops delays joining the rest of his unit. Why?

The priest is diving into the shallow stream where he landed, looking for the communion set he lost when he landed. A fellow soldier tries to get him to leave it behind, but eventually dives in to help him find it.

General Teddy Roosevelt Jr. makes a written request to do something he knows will be objectionable to high command. What is it?

Roosevelt thinks it's critical that he accompany the men who are going ashore in the first wave. He knows it might not be approved because his father was President of the United States, so he makes his request in writing to have it on the record. The strategy works and his request is approved.

Several top German commanders wanted to move their panzer divisions to the front, but they were not able to do so. Why not?

The panzer, or tank, units could not be moved without Hitler's permission, and several commanders called his headquarters to get the OK. However, they were told that he had taken a sedative, was asleep, and could not be awakened, so the units stayed put.

As troops moved inland from the beach, what kind of music did they hear?

As they pushed inland, some British troops were surprised to hear the sound of bagpipes, but their ears weren't deceiving them. It turned out that Lord Lovat, a top British officer, had brought his personal bagpiper along for the occasion.

The Germans are shocked that the invasion takes place at Normandy. Where did they think it would be?

German officers anticipated that an invasion would come and they were preparing for it, but they were mistaken about the designated location. They anticipated that Pas de Calais would take the brunt of it, so they had not fortified the beaches of Normandy sufficiently.

When a soldier is unable to get his tank started after landing at Omaha Beach, how does Commodore Colin Maud get it going?

Maud remarks that his grandmother always said that anything mechanical can usually be fixed with a good whack, and apparently she was right. He gives it a good knock and it starts right up.

The first troops arriving at Omaha Beach are greeted by a surprising visitor. Who is it?

The troops are surprised when the Mayor of Colleville rides onto the beach on a bicycle, brandishing a bottle of champagne. He is delighted to welcome the Allies and only regrets that he doesn't have enough bubbly for everyone.

Lt. Col. Vandervoort carries a small item that proves very useful in helping his troops accomplish their mission. What is it?

Vandervoort admonishes his men for not using a compass like he does, because without it, they would have been lost, literally. They come to a road sign that has been turned around, so without his compass, they would have gone in the wrong direction.

What happens to F Company to keep them from being more effective?

The paratroopers of F Company are off course and most of them drop directly into the town square of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, where German troops await them. Most of the men are shot and killed before they hit the ground.

Why is Pvt. Steele (Red Buttons) unable to hear?

When he parachuted into Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Steele's parachute caught on the roof of the town's church and he remained hanging there, unnoticed by the German troops below. After 10 hours of church bells clanging just feet away from him, when Allied troops come to the rescue, he is unable to hear what they are saying.

As Allied and German troops battle for the town of Ouistrehm, a group of nuns casually walk across a bridge, seemingly oblivious to the shooting around them. Why?

The troops are shocked to see a group of nuns in full habit casually, but purposefully, walk through the embattled town and into the building where they are holed up. When they're told to leave, they refuse, announcing that they are nurses, and they simply begin working on those who have been wounded.

Arriving in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, why is Vandervoort so enraged?

Vandervoort is angered to see that several paratroopers whose chutes caught in the trees have simply been left hanging there. He demands that his troops cut them down immediately out of respect.

How does Gen. Cota (Robert Mitchum) finally get the remaining troops off Omaha Beach?

Thousands of men are trapped on the beach and are certain to die if they can't find a way to move inland. Cota enlists a group of engineers to blast open a gully that has been filled with concrete, creating a passageway for the remaining troops to leave the beach and proceed.

When Officer Campbell (Richard Burton) encounters a lost soldier, they notice something odd about the dead German soldier in front of them. What is it?

As the wounded Campbell talks with a soldier who has been lost all day, the two men smoke a cigarette and reflect on the events of the day. Nearby is the body of a German soldier Campbell killed earlier and they notice that his shoes are on the wrong feet. The soldier comments that he must have been in a big hurry.

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