Il Grande attacco

(Battle Force (a.k.a. The Great Battle)) (1978)




Director:  Umberto Lenzi.

Cast:   Helmut Berger (Lt. Kurt Zimmer), Samantha Eggar (Annelise Ackermann), Giuliano Gemma (Captain Martin Scott), John Huston (Sean O'Hara), Stacy Keach (Major Mannfred Roland), Ray Lovelock (Lt. John Foster), Aldo Massasso (Lt. William McShane), Venantino Venantini (Michael), Ida Galli (Sybil Scott), Orson Welles (Narrator), Edwige Fenech (Danielle), Henry Fonda (General Foster), Aldo Barberito (SS major), Rik Battaglia (American commando), Andrea Bosic (Mimmo Parnat).

story of the build-up to a real Allied offensive against the Germans (in North Africa)


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Berlin Olympics, Germany 1936.  The black American sprinter Jessie Owens ruins Hitler's dreams of German domination of track and field at the Olympics.  American General Foster attends a party given by German Major Mannfred Roland.  With the General is a famous German actress Annelise Ackermann.  They had just recently bumped into each other.  General Foster introduces the actress to Major Roland, who is very impressed at meeting her.  At the party, Major Roland gives the guests medallions as Olympic memorabilia.  Great minds think alike, apparently, because General Foster also hands out medallions as memorabilia.  The medallions look very much alike, but one is in German and the other in English. 

September 1, 1939.  Germany attacks Poland. 

October 1942.  Berlin.  The Germans are at their height of self-confidence.  Major Roland is his wife, the actress Annelise Achermann discuss her safety in Germany.  We learn that Annelise is of Jewish descent.

Los Angeles, May 1942.    General Foster has been brought back to active duty.  He is needed as an instructor at West Point.  The General's son John Foster visits with him.  Dad expresses his disappointment that John has failed two exams.  A telephone call comes in from the General's other son, Ted Foster.  John is a little jealous of his brother Ted because Ted seems to be the father's favorite. 

The next time the General sees John, he is dressed in his army uniform.  He is trying to please his father and is disappointed when his father says he is disappointed that he joined the army:  "You're not cut out for the army."  He would have preferred that John stay in college. 

The Island of Crete.  October 1942.  The British are openly fighting back.  They give Canadian Captain John Fitzpatrick the job of destroying the radio installations on the island that keep track of the goings and comings of the ships in the area.  One group of frogmen start to place explosives on the German mines, while a group of three start killing the German guards on the island.  Frogman Wilson is killed.  The mines start to explode.  The signal is given for the Allied soldiers on boats to disembark.  As the boats head closer to shore, everyone sees a German ship appear.  The ship opens fire on the boats, nearly killing everyone.   

London, November 1942.  The British are ready to take the offensive against the Germans.  War correspondent Sean O'Hara bursts into army headquarters.  He needs authorization to go to Africa to cover the campaign. 

Greece, November 1942.  In Nazi-occupied Greece the Greek guerrillas are being supplied by Britain.  A group of guerrillas attack a small German convoy and have some success until truckloads of German troops arrive.  Most of the guerrillas are caught and/or killed.  Major Roland is with the Germans in the area.  One of the guerrillas is Lt. William McShane from New Zealand.  Major Roland does not want to shoot a Greek guerrilla, but his superior officer tells him to shoot the rebel and get going.  Roland asks the man to help him save him by saying that he is English.  But the Greek will not cooperate.  Roland gives the order to execute the guerrilla. 

November 1942.  Berlin is well on its way to implementing the Final Solution to the Jewish "problem".  A German colonel meets with Mrs. Roland.  Topics discussed were the fact that Mrs. Roland is half-Jewish, on her father's side, and has no special protection because of her  husband because he is not a member of the Nazi Party.  The colonel offers her a way out in return for some sex now and then, but she refuses and walks out on him. 

Plymouth, England.  Christmas 1942.  Captain Fitzpatrick has leave.  The British still cannot launch a solid offensive.

Le Havre, France.  Christmas, 1942.  The Germans start to feel the pressure of their war on them.  French woman Danielle is in desperate need of money.  She goes home with a German officer.  This will be the first time that Danielle has had to think about prostitution.  She says:  "So I may as well start with you."  The officer feels her reluctance and he starts to leave.  She stops him and asks him to stay because the rent has to be paid the next day.  He learns that her husband was killed in the war.  The German officer leaves some money for her and exits without having sex with Danielle.

End of December 1942.  Normandy, France.  John Foster is sent into France on a mission.  It is the first commando unit to be sent into France.  The commandos parachute out and are met by members of the French Resistance.  The mission of the commandos is to blow up the train carrying a monster piece of artillery with a 100 foot long barrel that can fire shells 15 miles.  Foster's job is to find out when the train will be on the move.  They want to knock out the weapon before any future invasion of France. 

The news is that the train is about to move.  The commandos and members of the Resistance take their places.  A guard at the target station is killed.  Explosives are set on the railway tracks.  The men are surprised when some German soldiers get behind them and start killing the commandos.  But the commandos are able to blow up the track and the train with the monster weapon in a huge explosion. 

January 1943.  North Africa will be the sight of the first major offensive campaign against the fascists.  John Foster is now in Africa.  His convoy is attacked by German armored cars.  They are able to destroy one of the cars and get the other one stuck in the sand.  The Germans step up their guerrilla activity.  They attack an Allied jeep and kill the driver and passengers.  They then put on the Allied uniforms and drive to the oil and gasoline depot of the Allies.  The Germans are able to set their explosives and destroy many of the barrels of oil and get away. 

February 19, 1943, Berlin.  The extermination of the Final Solution is well underway.   Two Gestapo men arrest Mrs. Roland.  She calls the colonel to ask for him help, but he refuses to speak to her.  The famous actress is accused to being in contact with foreign artists.  They give her a list of names and tell her that they want her to indicate to them all the names of the people that she knows.  She is given ten minutes and left alone.  She uses the time to jump to her death from a window.

North Africa.  Major Roland is told that he has to travel farther south to get to his unit.  His car gets stuck in the sand and Allied airplanes attack the car.  They are able to explode the car and kill the Major's driver.  The major falls into unconsciousness.  When he awakens he is in a German hospital. 

February 20, 1943.  British VIII army headquarters.   The staff are furiously working on the offensive. 

March 3, 1943, West Point.  General Foster receives the news that his son Ted with General Alexander has been killed.  He calls his son John to break the bad news to him.  The war correspondent McShane and a partner named Hank, who wants to see some real action, discuss their situation.    

March 14, 1943.  The Mareth Line, Tunisia.  The greatest battle begins and it will be the beginning of the end for the Nazis. 

March 15, 1943.  Gabes, North Africa.  Headquarters of German General Von Arnim.  There will be no retreat in north Africa.  Rommel is called back to Germany.  The news is that he is sick.  The Germans plan an attack on the British VIII army on the south, but the Allies attack first. 

March 17, 1943.  General Patton's headquarters.  The plan is to overwhelm Gatsa, a Nazi stronghold. 

March 18, 1943.  British VIII army headquarters.  Captain Fitzpatrick volunteers himself and his commandos to neutralize the German mine field for General Montgomery. 

March 19, 1943.  Using a flare gun, Major Roland and his men spot the commandos at work on the mine fields.  They open up on them with their machine guns and other weapons.  A number of the commandos are killed.  Captain Fitzpatrick realizes that they need to get a message to headquarters telling them to take a different route around the mine fields since they are not completely cleared. 

March 20, 1943.  Patton attacks a German stronghold.  Fitzpatrick is able to get the news to the Allies about veering to the right to avoid the mine fields. 

The offensive begins.  Major Roland calls headquarters to tell him that he has held off an attack, but desperately needs reinforcements.  The Germans use up their last Panzer tank reserves.  There is heavy fighting at the Mareth Line.  Roland tells his men that headquarters has left them to die like rats.  Even worse news comes.  Roland's men are out of shells.  Roland is killed during the battle.  The last of the Panzers withdraw, but Patton draws a line across their line of retreat with his tanks. 

After two months of fighting, the Allies drive the Germans out of North Africa. 

May 13, 1943.  The German Afrika Korps surrenders.    The Allies take 275,000 Axis prisoners. 

John Foster meets Captain Fitzpatrick.  Fitzpatrick shows him a 1936 Olympic medallion he found on a German major.  The medallion was the one given by John's father, General Foster, to Major Roland at the Olympic party thrown by the Major. 

Los Angeles, March 30, 1943.  General Foster visits his son's grave in a military cemetery.  He receives new from North Africa about his son John.  The message is that his son seems to have come through the campaign with flying colors.  And John Foster is now an aide to General Patton. 


It's an o.k. movie.  It's not terrible but it's not really good either.  The movie can't make up its mind whether it's a documentary, a war movie or a German & American home-front movie.  The film tries to do too much.  There are too many characters to really get to know the players.  In addition to everything else going on in the movie, we have to keep track of the three Foster men, German Major and Mrs. Roland, Captain Fitzpatrick and his commandos and war correspondent McShane and his partner Hank.  They could have at least dropped out the war correspondent characters.  One interesting thing that all the main characters arrive on the battlefields of North Africa. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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