Ike: Countdown to D-Day

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Ike: Countdown to D-Day
Written by Lionel Chetwynd
Directed by Robert Harmon
Starring Tom Selleck
James Remar
Timothy Bottoms
Gerald McRaney
Ian Mune
Theme music composer Shinkichi Mitsumune
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Dennis A. Brown
Paul Carran
Lionel Chetwynd
Tim Christenson
David Craig
Editor(s) Chris Peppe
Cinematography David Gribble
Running time 89 minutes
Distributor A&E Television Networks
Columbia TriStar
Original release
  • May 31, 2004 (2004-05-31)

Ike: Countdown to D-Day is a 2004 American television film originally aired on the American television channel A&E, directed by Robert Harmon and written by Lionel Chetwynd.

Tom Selleck portrays General Dwight D. Eisenhower, US Army, popularly known by his nickname of "Ike". The film deals with the difficult decisions he made leading to up to D-Day, including dealing with the varied personalities of his command: Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, US Army (James Remar), Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., US Army (Gerald McRaney), General Bernard Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, British Army (Bruce Phillips) and General Charles De Gaulle, Free French (George Shevtsov).

The film does not have action sequences, focusing instead on the inner workings of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force that led to the successful D-Day invasion of World War II. Concentrating on decisions actually made by Eisenhower and the pressures brought to bear on him personally, it includes his personal relationship with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Ian Mune) and his own Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell Smith, US Army (Timothy Bottoms).

The film is also notable for being the only major production in which General Montgomery's portrayal concentrates on his role as a competent military professional, instead of focusing on his alleged personality disorders, while still showing his egocentricity and foibles. General Patton's complex personality is also outlined in a very brief set of scenes played by Gerald McRaney.

The film omits Ike's relationship with Kay Summersby, his driver, though she appears briefly in a scene where the general officers are viewing movie reels. She is also portrayed as his driver when Ike visits US paratroopers on the eve of D-Day.

Countdown to D-Day was filmed entirely in New Zealand with the roles of British characters played by New Zealanders; the American roles were played by Americans.




  • U.S. Army Air Force Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, is incorrectly referenced as "Jimmy" Spaatz. Likewise, his name is mispronounced as "Spatz" rather than "Spots." The error probably comes from confusing Spaatz with Jimmy Doolittle, then commander of the Eighth Air Force; Spaatz was Doolittle's superior officer, as he was commander of the United States Strategic Air Forces in Europe.
  • Churchill incorrectly refers to the Combined Bomber Offensive as "saturation bombing," an anachronistic term that can only be accurately applied to RAF Bomber Command. The period term was "area bombing."
  • Churchill refers to Spaatz as "flamboyant," which he was anything but, and suggests that, like Bomber Harris, he felt that bombardment could be used in place of an invasion; while that belief was popular among USAAF officers, Spaatz never advocated this. The friction between Harris and Spaatz with Eisenhower was due to their commands being placed under Eisenhower's jurisdiction, the argument being that the invasion was wasting resources by using strategic bombers in a tactical role. Their commands regained their independence shortly after the invasion.
  • The opening scene suggests that Great Britain and the United States had not seriously considered the possibility of a supreme allied commander prior to planning the D-Day invasion. In fact, appointing supreme commanders for the various theaters was seen as a given as it had proved beneficial in the last days of the World War I with the appointment of Ferdinand Foch in 1918 over the Allied forces in Western Europe. The reason Eisenhower's appointment took some negotiation was the fact that the original supreme commander for the European Theater of Operations, Frank Maxwell Andrews, was killed in an airplane crash.
  • While Gerald McRaney's voice is somewhat closer to the actual voice of George Patton than George C. Scott's famous performance in Patton (film), McRaney's stomach is rather prominent considering that the real Patton was a former Olympic athlete who still cut an impressive figure in his last days.
  • The scene at the end of the film showing the visit to the 101st airborne troops is presented to the viewer as being on June 6, 1944. This particular gathering took place on the eve of D-Day on June 5, 1944, prior to the take-off to France. The airborne phase of Overlord began late in the evening of June 5 and into the early hours of June 6. Thus by daylight on June 6 Allied airborne troops were already on the ground in France.
  • The film incorrectly talks about "DD" -- "duplex drive landing craft." No landing craft had DD drive. The "DD's" actually were Sherman tanks modified with a waterproof underbody and skirt, allowing the tank to float in calm water, and a propeller to propel the tank from LCT launching craft to shore. On Omaha, most of them sank in rough seas, meaning the troops on the beach had no armored support. The raid by German torpedo boats on a large practice landing did happen, but did not involve DD (duplex drive craft) and was extensively "hushed up." See Exercise Tiger
  • Contrary to the film, LST's (landing ship tank) were not used on the initial hours of D-Day; they came in after the beaches were secured.
  • General Montgomery's dagger like thrust into Berlin wasn't presented to Eisenhower before D-Day, it was part of his plan for operations following the breakout of Normandy and was presented during the first week of September. In fact the landings were enlarged from three beaches to five by Montgomery.
  • Although strictly speaking not an error, the offices and meeting places were not identified (though reference was made to Maidenhead in Berkshire as the location of the "phony army") but implied that London was the location, the actual site of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was Bushy Park, Teddington, Middlesex.
  • The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) was not referred to by this name in the film.
  • In the film, Churchill said "no-one in Britain lives more than 150 miles from the sea". In fact, it's 65 miles.

Historical accuracies[edit]

  • The movie accurately depicts the incident which nearly torpedoed Overlord. In a drunken scene at a restaurant, Major General Henry Jervis Friese Miller — a West Point classmate of Eisenhower — of the USAAF blurted out the general time and place of Overlord. A lieutenant of the 101st Airborne overheard this and reported it up the chain of command. Miller was sent home in his regular rank of Colonel. Maj. Gen. Bedell Smith spoke to the lieutenant and reported that the officer felt bad about doing what he did, but that he was worried about the lives of his men on the day they went to war without letting the Germans know when and where. Eisenhower on hearing this said the officer was better than Miller. He told Miller that it was their longstanding friendship that prevented him from seriously court-martialing him.
  • The film also makes reference to a message composed by Eisenhower to be given to the press corps in the event the invasion failed. This message was found, years later, in a pocket of General Eisenhower's old uniform. In this speech, Eisenhower accepted full responsibility for any failure of the assault.
  • In the US Armed Forces at the time, general officer ranks were not always permanent and many were temporarily granted to senior officers through the use of Army of the United States ranks. This was comparable to the National Army in World War One, and the Volunteer Army in wars of the 19th Century; it was not the same as brevetting which could occur in the Regular Army, the Volunteer Army, or the National Army, but had become less common after Senate confirmation for brevet ranks became required. This situation was necessary because of the massive expansion of the Army for the war. The Regular Army numbered a few hundred thousand, but the combination of the Regular Army, the National Guard, and the Army of the United States peaked at over 8 million in the summer of 1944, creating a need for a significant number of senior officers, much more than required by the Regular Army itself. When relieved of an assignment requiring the higher rank (either for cause or simply a transfer, the officer would return to his rank in the Regular Army. As Bedell Smith put it: "You'd lose your theater rank. They'll take three of those stars." Miller was sent home in his regular rank of Colonel. (In the movie, however, it is Omar Bradley that tells Ike he would lose three of those stars, right before they begin discussing the composition of the sand on the Normandy beaches).
  • There was indeed a shortage of Higgins boats (LCVP).
  • Unlike many movies and written accounts of the Normandy invasion, the movie accurately references the role of the Canadian First Army (Juno Beach) instead of simply rolling it into a generic reference to the "British". The accuracy extends to appropriate use of the Canadian Red Ensign (the flag in use at the time) rather than the present day maple leaf flag.

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