The 1965 movie “The Battle of the Bulge” is generally considered by war movie buffs to be the most inaccurate war movie ever made. It stars Henry Fonda leading a large cast of fictional characters (though Fonda’s Lt. Col. Kiley was based on a real U.S. soldier). The film was made to be viewed on a curved Cinerama screen using three projectors. Watching it on DVD doesn’t give the viewer the intended look, which especially hurts the tank battle scenes, according to the film rating website
There are so many inaccuracies in the film that it comes off as interpretive instead of dramatic. In the film’s opening, a precursor to the errors to come, the narrator describes how Montgomery’s 8th Army was in the north of Europe; they were actually in Italy. The inaccuracies don’t stop there.
The weather was so bad at the launch of the German offensive that it completely negated Allied air superiority and allowed the Nazi armies to move much further, much fast than they would have had the weather been clear. In the 1965 film, the weather is always clear. When the film does use aircraft, the first one they show is a Cessna L-19 Bird Dog, a 1950s-era plane.
Despite the time frame of the real battle, December 1944- January 1945, and the well-documented struggles with ice and snow in the Ardennes at the time, there is no snow in the movie’s tank battle scenes. Also, there are few trees in the movie’s Ardennes Forest.
In an affront to the men who fought and won the battle, the film uses the M47 Patton tank as the German King Tiger tanks. The filmmakers show U.S. tanks being sacrificed to make the Tiger tank use their fuel so the Germans will run out. The U.S. didn’t need to use this tactic in the actual battle, as the Germans didn’t have the fuel to reach their objectives anyway.
Speaking of tactics, a German general in the film orders infantry to protect tanks by walking ahead of them after a Tiger hits a mine, which ignores the fact that a man’s weight is not enough to trigger an anti-tank mine and therefore none of them would have exploded until tanks hit them anyway.
Other inaccuracies include:
- The uniforms are all wrong.
- Jeeps in the film are models that were not yet developed in WWII.
- Salutes are fast, terrible and often indoors.
- The bazookas used in the films are 1950s Spanish rocket launchers (the film was shot in Spain)
- American engineers use C-4, which wasn’t invented until 11 years after the war’s end.
- Soldiers read Playboy Magazine from 1964.
The technical advisor on the film was Col. Meinrad von Lauchert, who commanded tanks at the Bulge… for the Nazis. He commanded the 2nd Panzer Division, penetrating deeper into the American lines than any other German commander. Like the rest of the Nazis, he too ran out of fuel and drove his unit back to the Rhine. He swam over then went home, giving up on a hopeless situation.
The reaction to the movie was swift: That same year, President Eisenhower came out of retirement to hold a press conference just to denounce the movie for its historical inaccuracies.