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Friday, March 19, 1999 Published at 19:54 GMT

Veterans riled by Ryan

Saving Private Ryan: But where are the British troops?

Steven Spielberg's film Saving Private Ryan may well be in line for Oscar recognition - but a group of British war veterans wish he had put their contribution to the D-Day landings in the spotlight too.

Oscars '99
Saving Private Ryan is nominated for 11 Academy Awards, and director Spielberg is looking forward to what he calls "Hollywood's greatest party" on Sunday.

But some British veterans were furious when they saw the film, which tells the story of a company of US servicemen who have to find a fellow soldier behind enemy lines in occupied France.

The BBC's Sanchia Berg meets the war veterans
They feel it glorifies the US contribution to D-Day - at the expense of their own efforts.

As a Royal Navy cox, Ron Massingham steered one of the first British boats which took US crews onto the Normandy coast.

Oscars '99
He recalled: "They were just getting mown down. It was chaos. There were explosions all around the beach and they were running into them."

When he saw the landings recreated in Saving Private Ryan he was upset there was no sign of the British role.

"I was disappointed to see British craft weren't portrayed when in fact British craft took the very first of the assault crews in. It was all US crew that was portrayed."

Unit brought in by British troops

[ image: The film is nominated for 11 Academy Awards]
The film is nominated for 11 Academy Awards
At Omaha beach, where the film is set, many of the soldiers were landed by US craft, crewed by the US Coastguard. But the unit featured in the film, C Company of the US Rangers 2nd Battalion batt, was brought in by the Royal Navy on distinctive British landing boats.

Sidney Salaman, a lieutenant in C Company, said he couldn't "speak highly enough" of the British crews.

"Nobody knew what we were going to face, we just knew it was going to be difficult. They were all so helpful - we couldn't ask for anything better."

He sympathises with the British veterans.

"I'd feel the same if the situation was reversed. I'd feel a little bit left out," he said.

'It's not a documentary'

[ image: Spielberg insists his film is faithful to what happened in Normandy]
Spielberg insists his film is faithful to what happened in Normandy
Professor Steven Ambrose, a renowned American historian, was the chief technical adviser on Saving Private Ryan.

He said he knew C Company had been brought in by British craft, but added: "You don't see any craft, and you don't see any of Omaha beach either. You see where Spielberg chose to shoot it, in Ireland.

"It's Hollywood, it's not a documentary and it's more accurate than any other movie that's come out of Hollywood."

George Green, then a Royal Navy sub-lieutenant, led the wave of craft on Omaha beach. He lost several of his own men, and believes Steven Spielberg should not be rewarded for leaving out the contribution his troops made.

"He has been approached about the validity of his historical research. He stands by it and says he did all the research that was necessary, so he stands by his film.

"On those grounds, I can't see how he can possibly justify winning an Oscar."

Artistic licence

Steven Spielberg: "There is no role for the British in Saving Private Ryan"
The director himself is adamant his film reflects reality - but admits to taking a little artistic licence.

He said: "There is no role for the British in Saving Private Ryan. There certainly was a major role for the British in Normandy and in the invasion of Paris. But Saving Private Ryan is the story of Omaha beach at 6:30 in the morning - there were no Brits there, and no Brits on Utah beach.

"They were with the Canadians and the French. This is not The Longest Day. I did not do an overview of the entire Normandy experience, I focused on a ranger company, C company.

"I think historical accuracy is a bedrock and upon that stories can be told when you do a picture about history, whether it's my own film Amistad or about the Civil War, its important the stage the players are on is accurate.

"But it's also okay in my opinion that stories can be told on that stage that tell a story which didn't happen exactly the way history might have told it."

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