Could a modern-day Nimitz-class aircraft carrier single-handedly take out the 56-ship Japanese task force that crossed the Pacific to attack the American fleet at Pearl Harbor in 1941?
Such was the premise of the 1980 sci-fi thriller The Final Countdown. In the film, which starred Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen, the famous nuclear-powered, super-carrier encounters a bizarre time vortex while on a routine patrol off Hawaii and is hurtled back in time to Dec. 6, 1941 – the day before the legendary surprise attack that plunged the United States into World War Two.
After struggling to figure out exactly where (and when) they are, the officers of the Nimitz find themselves confronted with a grim choice: Do they unleash the full power of the carrier’s jet fighters and attack aircraft on the enemy armada before it strikes thus irrevocably altering the course of history or do they watch from the sidelines as the momentous events play out on their own? With the world’s future hanging in the balance, the skipper and crew of the mighty aircraft carrier struggle to contain a situation that’s rapidly spinning out of control. The result is a rousing (if not a little dated) bit of speculative history… and not a bad movie.
Last week, the American news website Slate.com tried its hand playing at the same sort of “what if…” scenarios. But instead of pitting F-14 Tomcats against Mitsubishi A6M Zeros over Pearl Harbor, contributor Paul Frick imagined how the Allied invasion of Normandy might have been different had the U.S. forces that charged into battle on June 6, 1944 did so with 21st Century arms and equipment.
Could the slaughter on Omaha Beach have been avoided had the initial wave of American GIs that waded ashore in bullet-resistant Kevlar body armour and helmets? How would Hitler’s Panzers fare in the Bocage country against the virtually indestructible M1A2 Abrams? Imagine the amphibious landings on the Normandy coast being carried out using state of the art hovercraft and helicopters rather than cramped and sluggish Higgins boats? How about close air support being laid down by the formidable F-15 Strike Eagle instead of planes like the Mustang, Thunderbolt or Lighting? Frick ponders these hypotheticals (along with several others). All in all, a fascinating read.