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A truly bad "documentary", well discussed in the book The Valour and the
Horror Revisited. Suffice to say here that the McKennas have chosed to
unfairly depict the Canadian Army in Normandy as criminally incompetent
while at the same time painting the soldiers as unwitting victims. Such
distractions as historically inaccurate uniforms on the re-enactors who
given screen time, as well as the truly ridiculous recreation of the
Verrierres Ridge assault using Canadian Forces personnel circa 1990, do
nothing to add to the film. Anyone wanting to gain a true understanding
the events in Normandy is better off consulting the various histories by
Stacey, Copp, Roy, et al. Notice also the focus on eastern Canadian
regiments; perhaps a coincidence, but then again, western regiments didn't
charge themselves to extinction the way the Black Watch did at Verrierres
The truth is that Canadian generalship in Normandy is a more complex issue than this so-called documentary would suggest. Canadian soldiers by and large were inexperienced, but did the best they could with what they had. While the McKennas are certainly correct about Canadian tanks being inferior to German tanks, nothing is said about the doctrinal and economic issues which led to these tanks being employed - or the fact that the Canadians were using an artillery-based doctrine to rather good effect on the Continent. The McKennas, in other words, have explored certain elements of this period in a vacuum in order to present "evidence" of some type of conspiracy. Viewers are advised strongly to do further research.
Good interviews with veterans of the campaign are the only notable highlight in this seriously disappointing offering. Even the newsreel footage often did not match the narration; sharp eyed viewers will see footage of the Calgary Highlanders on parade while the Black Watch are being discussed.
My Western Canadian chum Madorosh pretty much stole my thunder, but I'd like to add a few comments. The Canadian generals, as depicted by the filmmakers, seem to be lifted from a novel by Jaroslav Hasek rather than chronicled by Stephen Ambrose or Max Hastings. At least THE GOOD SOLDIER SVEJK had the virtue of sardonic humor. In the spring of 1945, a Dutch-born friend was liberated by men from the Royal Regiment of Canada of the 2nd Canadian Division when it took the town of Groningen. Before that happy event, Canadian troops cleared the Channel ports of France and Belgium, and drove German forces from the Reichswald. By most accounts, they did so quite competently. From viewing IN DESPERATE BATTLE, one might think that First Canadian Army didn't progress beyond the second hedgerow in Normandy. It was sad to see 90s-era Canadian soldiers pressed into "service" as reenactors--I guess they were under orders. IDB is part of a series entitled THE VALOUR AND THE HORROR, and I would suggest that viewers skip the other episodes--I certainly did.
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