The History that Inspired the Movie

Saving Private Ryan (1998) is a story about a battalion of 2nd Rangers who go in search of Private James Francis Ryan, who has lost 3 brothers in the war. The most memorable and important scene is the opening battle, the invasion of Normandy. While there are other important parts in the movie, such as the specific battalions themselves, the first twenty minutes of the Normandy Invasion sets the stage for the movie, giving an insight into the 2nd and 5th Rangers and the experiences they faced during such a bloody battle.

The Invasion of Normandy was titled the “overlord plan.” The units involved were the 29th Infantry Division, which consisted of the 115th and 116th Regiments. 1 The 101st Airborne Division along with the 2nd and 5th Rangers were in charge of leading the invasion. The 101st Airborne division, also known as the “Screaming Eagles,” was to be dropped into Normandy but most regiments were dropped elsewhere, which was a major failure in respect to the invasion. 2 While the Airborne divisions were spread out, the Rangers were approaching from the sea.

The 2nd and 5th Rangers were spread out among three forces in order to effectively attack the beaches of Normandy and obtain American victory. Force A was made up of 2nd Rangers of Companies D, E, and F. The goal of Force A was to disable the German forces on top of Pointe-du-Hoc and also disable the machine guns from atop the cliff. 3 Force C’s orders were to remain out at sea until a specific call was given and was employed as back up to Force A. Force C consisted of the 5th Rangers and Companies A and B from the 2nd Rangers. 4 Finally, there was Force B, which consisted of the 2nd Rangers, C Company. Force B’s mission was to disarm the cliffs to the right of Omaha Beach, named Pointe-et-Raz-de-la-Percee. There were also machine guns mounted on these cliffs and Force B was to go first and disarm those cliffs. 5

Force B was the force that engaged in the most fighting and also suffered the most casualties. They encountered the most resistance in the fight, but eventually reached their goal, the top of Pointe-et-Raz-de-la-Percee. 6 Force C, which was to wait for a signal from Force A, did not receive the signal due to mixed radio messages. Instead of waiting for the signal, Force C moved in from offshore, onto Omaha Beach. 7 The men were aboard LCVPs, “Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel. 8 The battle was bloody to say the least, with German forces brutally attacking the men as they left the boats for the beach. “As soon as the first Stonewallers started down the ramps, they were riddled with bullets and collapsed face-first into the water as if smacked from behind.” 9 As Force C approached the shore, it was simple to see that much of Force A had been defeated. In the words of John Raaen, a member of the 5th Rangers battalion: “We could see the action from the landing craft as we came in. There was a tremendous amount firepower coming from both flanks. Before we landed on the each, I could see a group of people behind the seawall. They were leveled out and not moving.” 10

Once the Rangers survived the fire fight and met up with one another (those from Pointe-du-Hoc and those from the beach) they were able to take control of the beach. After about two days of fighting, especially fighting off the Germans on Utah Beach, the battle was over, but not without loss. 11 Many divisions and battalions were severely injured and had lost many men. Major Stanley Bach from the 29th Division wrote, “Nothing can approach the scenes on the beach from 1130 to 1400  hours: men being killed like flies from unseen gun positions; Navy can’t hit ’em; air cover can’t see ’em; so infantry had to dig ’em out.” 12

The Normandy Invasion June 6, 1944

  1. Joseph Balkoski, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy (Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2005), 120.
  2. Patrick K. O’Donnell, Beyond Valor (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 122-123.
  3. O’Donnell, 124.
  4. O’Donnell, 124.
  5. O’Donnell, 124.
  6. O’Donnell, 125.
  7. O’Donnell, 125.
  8. Historic Naval Ships Visitors Guide,, (accessed October 25, 2010).
  9. Balkoski, 125.
  10. O’Donnell, 151-152.
  11. O’Donnell, 125 -128.
  12. Balkoski, 147.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.