For those interested in movies about the less known battlefields of World War 2 (‘WW2‘), April 9th (‘9.April’ in Denmark) is definitely one to check out. This movie produced in Denmark centers around a Danish Bicycle Infantry Platoon tasked with resisting the German invasion of Denmark on April 9, 1940.
[Poster for 2015 Release]
Firstly, some background information. The invasion of Denmark took place under Operation WeserÃ¼bung, which involved the assault of Norway as well. It is also notable as one of the shortest operations in WW2 with the Danish government surrendering within a couple of hours of the German attack. The mainstream interpretation of events was that the Danish government knew of the invasion beforehand, but also acknowledged that resistance would be futile given Denmark’s poorly armed military and relatively flat terrain (allowing for German tanks (Panzers) to operate with devastating effect). On the other hand, the Danish government did not want to be seen as a collaborationist and thus resolved that at least some symbolic resistance had to be offered to the invasion. As a result, some military units in the South Jutland region bordering with Germany were put on high alert and eventually did resist the invasion, in many cases continuing to do so after the government had surrendered due to poor communication.
[Invasion map of Denmark, April 9, 1940]
Back to the Bicycle Platoon, they are neither trained killers nor are they raw recruits. They are more akin to second-year Fulltime National Servicemen and some are even pretty good marksmen as you’ll see in the opening scene. This will be vital because they will be fighting soon, also because they will have little more than those rifles to resist armored vehicles. The movie takes care to build up the tension experienced during the early hours of April 9, where the garrison of which the Bicycle platoon is part of is placed on full alert, but yet held back from deploying and fortifying the border road where they know the Germans will soon attack from. Although the soldiers are frustrated and bewildered by this reluctance of the part of their superiors, it is implied that political leaders fear the consequences of provoking the Germans into attacking, even as the Wehrmacht stands massed along the border.
[Danish Machine Gun crew firing at armored vehicles during the opening battle of April 9th]
When the fighting begins, it is almost a relief as the anxiety of waiting is finally released. Almost immediately, the audience is faced with the awesome odds confronting the Danes who are forced to fire at tanks and armored cars with nothing larger than a machine gun. In contrast to Hollywood/American WW2 movies, there are no flying Marines/Japanese soldiers (i.e. Hacksaw Ridge), or cheesy heroics like jumping on grenades. Combat is as the dialogue here – tense, intelligent, and painfully aware of the preciousness and fragility of life. The commander, Second Lieutenant Sand, constantly pivots around the various chaotic battlefields checking on his men, while the machine gun crew strives to hit exposed engine parts of the tank instead of giving in to despair at the disparity in armament. In its various battle scenes, April 9th does well in emphasizing the discipline and decency of ordinary soldiers who fight until ordered to retreat, as they keep having to do. Thankfully, neither does it give in to nationalistic catchphrases or exaggerated recklessness either to do so.
Every war movie is filled with death and this one is no different – (Spoilers? Nah, it’s a war movie) and so some Danish soldiers die. The fact, however, that so few do on both sides here actually has the unique impact keeping the deaths that do occur as a tragedy. Rehashing the oft used “A death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic”, the same I think, applies to war films as well. When soldiers and civilians alike die by their hundreds and thousands, they fade into the background, as fodder for the hero in his action scene. April 9th offers a fresh perspective on the war – not as a stage for super soldiers like Captain Miller (Saving Private Ryan), but as a violent and confusing storm that drew in ordinary people, and who then tried their best to perform their duty in the midst of chaos.
As a WW2 film buff, I strongly recommend April 9th to anyone who is one as well. It will be especially worthwhile if you have watched most of the ones covering major battles (especially allied victories) and would like to see something more unique – something about the dark, early days of the war where eventual allied victory was not the certainty it is often imagined to be in blockbusters. If nothing else, watch it to see the super-special Danish helmet in action, it’ll be worth it.
[Danish Anti-Aircraft Gunners sporting the famous M23 helmet seen in April 9th]