ANZACS Part IV and V (1985) The Battles of Amiens and Hamel

This is just a short wrap-up post. I finally watched the last two episodes of the ANZACS mini-series and I liked them as much as the first three. There were a few predictable moments and the end was a bit anti-climatic but very realistic.

I would really like to recommend the series once more. It’s excellent. It’s also an amazing story. The bravery and courage of the ANZACS was really something. I already said it in another post that one thing that struck me was the way they went to war. They took it like some sporting adventure, they were big on comradeship and good spirits. It seemed a bit stretched at first but I’ve done some research and some of my readers confirmed that this was the way they were.

What you get to understand as well, when you watch this series is the huge difference the end of the war represented for the Australians and the French. All through the series you see the ravaged landscape, the bombed villages and although some places remind the lads of home, their country remained untouched. I’m not saying the contribution wasn’t great, no, but when they were finally back home, they could really leave the war behind. That was not possible for the French soldiers who had to cope with a devastated country. The land has still not fully recovered until today. There are still places where you see craters and trenches, where they left the barbed wire and there are still bombs exploding.

While Part IV is still heavy on combat, Part V, which is a bit anti-climatic, is a quiet part. It centers on the Armistice and the ANZACS’ return home to Australia.

Here are the reviews of Part I GallipoliPart II The Somme  and Part III Passchendaele.

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ANZACS Part II The Somme (1985)

ANZACS part two takes us to the battle fields in France where the lads we met in the first part will take part in the battle of the Somme. Before they start to fight in the trenches they undergo a bit of training and are also shown the way the Germans fight.

There are still humourous episodes when old-world hierarchy meets with Australian insubordination but this clash of attitudes is also very unfortunate. General Haig, as this episode shows, was less than thrilled by the Australian’s lack of obedience and thought it best to send them off to one of the bloodiest battle fields. Surprisingly they are doing very well. Where most other companies achieve nothing they manage to capture some terrain and there are also more and more losses among the Germans. The British high command is surprised by this can-do attitude and the ability to fight demoralization however they still refuse to recognize their valor.

At the end of the episode the heavy fighting has taken its toll anyway. The men return extremely weary and it’s hard to imagine that the ordeal only just begun.

In episode I an Australian journalist had an important role in covering up the senselessness of the battle at Gallipoli. We see the same journalist once more. He is the Australian prime-ministers’ spokesman and has to find out whether the Australians are not just sacrificed. He points out that they haven’t really won a lot of terrain so far. He is informed that it isn’t only about winning terrain but about wearing out the Germans.

The trench scenes are very convincing. These are trenches that crumble, they have been under such heavy fire all the time, that they are merely shallow dug outs. Usually the trenches we see in WWI movies are very high. The fact that they had to be reconstructed constantly and did at times hardly give any shelter isn’t shown very often.

Like in part two, the story moves between the battlefields and the home front which adds to the authenticity.

I enjoyed part II even more than part I (see review here).

I attached chapter two from Episode 2 (2/10)

Beneath Hill 60 (2010) Australian Miners Fighting in The Tunnels of WWI

I am really glad to be able to dedicate this year’s last review to a movie that came out in 2010. I am also glad that the Australian movie Beneath Hill 60 was one of the biggest surprises of this year. After having watched a few more recent war movies like Everyman’s War and Passchendaele my hopes were not too high. I was wrong. This is a thoroughly good movie in which everything is right. The main story, the accuracy, the flashbacks, the actors, the score, the pictures, all together make a great combination. Last but not least the movie is based on a true story that is maybe not universally known but truly amazing. In 1916 Australian miners were digging tunnels beneath the trenches. The worst of those tunnel systems was located beneath Hill 60, in Belgium. The aim was to blow up the whole hill and the trenches around it. The outcome was the biggest explosion ever. It could be heard as far as London and Dublin.

At the beginning of the movie the men around Captain Oliver Woodward are digging in the tunnels beneath the trenches in France. Woodward is a newbie and as  such has to prove himself first. Unfortunately he makes a mistake when he doesn’t realize that the sound one of the miners hears isn’t his own heart but digging sounds of the Germans. The movie is full of suspenseful moments when the digging miners have to stop and listen, if there are Germans close by. Whoever gets a chance will blow up parts of the tunnel system and the fight will rage underground. As claustrophobic as it is inside of the earth, it is still more secure than above. Every time the men get out of the tunnels, they see the madness of the war in the trenches, the constant shelling, the mud, the never-ending rain. The young miners can hardly handle to be outside; they are scared to death.

After his initial misjudgment Woodward soon proves to be more than worthy and he and his team achieve one difficult mission after the other, below and above ground. The story in the tunnels is interspersed with flashbacks. We see Woodward in Australia. He is an engineer with a mining company, freshly returned from Papua New Guinea. There is of course a love story but it is far from schmaltzy and just emphasizes Woodward’s character. He is gentle, intelligent, very able and has a great sense of humour. Newer war movies often operate with such flashbacks and mostly they are not successful. The flashbacks disrupt the movie and add a sugar-coating that is hard to swallow. This is not the case here. It’s a great diversion from the rest of the movie that shows mostly very dark scenes in the tunnels. Some of the tunnels are constantly under the threat to be flooded and water is dripping endlessly. A good sound system does come in handy. The sound effects are absolutely brilliant. Honestly, you will check your cupboards, to make sure, they didn’t start leaking.

The camaraderie between these fine men is depicted in a nice way, and every loss is felt by the spectator as well.

As far as setting goes, this is one of the most extreme. The men are in these tunnel systems almost day and night. Anything more claustrophobic is hard to imagine.

I would really urge you to watch this film. It is certainly the best that came out this year, and maybe one of the best of the decade. Australian filmmaking proves once more what it is capable of. The film director knew how to combine a well-told true story with the right amount of emotion. I couldn’t find the tiniest flaw.

I already attached the trailer in my List on Australian War Movies but decided to attach it again.

The Lighthorsemen (1987) or One of the Rare Movies on Cavalry Combat

I would say this is one of the lesser known war movies but that says nothing about its quality.

I already mentioned this movie for its portrayal of a soldier who is unable to shoot.

Lighthorsemen is wonderful for many reasons. It tells the true  story of the Australian Cavalry´s participation in WWI in Palestine. British and Australian troops had to confront the German and Turkish forces. The Light Horse had already fought in many battles, among them at Gallipoli. The movie´s realism is convincing. The character portraits are nicely drawn. One soldier is more likable than the other and we slowly get to know each one  in the regiment, and follow them from the early beginning to the battle scenes. This is one of those movies in which you really care about the protagonists. There is even a love story between Dave, the soldier who can´t shoot, and a nurse but it is discreetly kept in the background.

The essential story line of Lighthorsemen follows the 4th Light Horse Brigade in Palestine in 1917 until the battle of  Beersheba where they  achieve what 60000 infantry men could not do. They  break through the entrenched infantry and free the city. This is not an easy endeavor. The heat is scorching, water is scarce and it is a massive strain on the horses.

The battle scenes, especially the final charge,  are really exciting.  We see  the whole regiment  fly along under the line of fire. A fabulous scene.

I am not sure it is a 5 star movie, but it certainly is a solid 4.5.

And, maybe surprising for a war movie involving combat, it has a certain lighthearted quality and cheerfulness stemming from  the fact that those nice lads manage to achieve the impossible.

Was I a bit cryptic? Hope so. Just want to lure you into watching this fine film.

Kokoda, 39th Battalion (2006) or The Australians´ Fight in the Pacific

Kokoda 39th Battalion is an Australian movie by Alister Grierson and tells another story that took place in the Pacific during WWII. Only this time we don´t watch Americans fight for the Australians (as they do, amongst oher things, in the miniseries The Pacific), but the Australians themselves. The Kokoda trail on Papua New Guinea is the main trail that leads directly to Port Moresby. By means of this trail the Japanese were planning to arrive at Port Moresby and from there an invasion of Australia would have been easy.

Obviously the Australians did everything to prevent this. The 39th battalion who is in the center of this movie was essentially a battalion of untrained volunteers. The central story focuses on two brothers who joined this battalion together.

The opening of the movie shows us a sequence of still lives that are very beautiful. Pictures of fauna and flora of the island. After that we see what has to be interpreted as premonition like dream of  Jack, one of the two brothers. This is somewhat an exaggeration of what the terrain was like. Same as in episode 4 of The Pacific there is a constant rain, and the terrain gets muddier and muddier. Jack slips and is almost drowning in mud. In the end he looks like some almost amphibian prehistoric creature. Those first ten minutes make you believe you might watch a film like The Thin Red Line with a lot of flashback elements, daydreams but that is, as you soon realise, not the case. From that moment on Kokoda turns into Hamburger Hill, meaning heavy jungle infantry combat.

The men are surrounded by Japanese soldiers whose camouflage is so much more efficient than their own, whose fighting experience is outstanding, and whose cruelty, as the movie wants to make us believe, is beyond imagination.

This was one of the movies that made me think again and again: Why war? Why did that happen? Why did it have to happen. The efforts of the Australians seem so futile, that even though they won in the end, there is nothing noble in all this. It´s just horrible and hard to watch.

I first thought that this was an average movie but the overall atmosphere is so intense, the desperate fight of these badly trained men is so well depicted that I think it´s quite a good movie that I would recommend you´d watch. And, most important, the pictures of the dense forest and the instances of cruelty in the middle of the jungle aren´t easily forgotten and stay in your mind long after you´ve watched it.

Yes, it´s biased, the Japanese are shown as beastly monsters but still.

Furthermore it tells a quite soulful story of the deep bond between brothers.

DVD on Amazon

The Soldier Who Couldn´t Kill: Dave in the Lighthorsemen (1987)

Apart from being one of the rare movies about cavalry combat this movie depicts a very interesting problem: The soldier who can´t kill. This is interesting in many ways. Sure it is commonly acknowledged that killing at war and killing in peace time is not the same. While one qualifies as simple killing, the other is said to be murder. You never hear anyone say about a soldier that he “murdered” enemies. He killed them. No judgement here, just a fact. Now what about the soldier himself? Is this really just “killing” for him, a justified way of taking someone else´s life? I don´t think so. Many soldiers suffer from nightmares when back from war and often, one of the elements they dream about, is the enemies they killed coming after them. Undoubtedly they feel guilty. Pacifists all over the planet will agree with them.

Dave in The Lighthorsmen is a good hunter in civil life. He knows how to handle a weapon, he is able to aim and shoot. But he is incapable of killing.

You don´t see that very often in war movies.