Follow TV Tropes


Film / The Lost Battalion

Go To

The Lost Battalion is a 2001 made-for-TV war movie. Set in October 1918, it tells the true story of a U.S. Army battalion, specifically 1st Battalion, 308th Infantry Regiment (reinforced by a couple of understrength companies from two other battalions), which becomes trapped behind German lines. Rather than surrender to the Germans, the American troops decide to hold out until reinforcements arrive. It stars Rick Schroder as Maj. Charles Whittlesey, who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.


This movie provides examples of

  • A Father to His Men: Maj. Whittlesey and Capt. McMurtry both deeply care for their troops.
  • Anti-Villain: Maj. Prinz, the German officer coordinating the attack on the Lost Battalion, is a Type I/Type IV. Prinz is a loyal German officer, and it is his duty to defeat the American battalion because they are holding a very strategic location. However, he is also an honorable man who treats prisoners of war well and who has nothing but respect for his enemies. By the end, he straight out tells a captured American soldier that he wants to save as many of their lives as possible, and when he sends the soldier back with a message to Whittlesey, asking him to surrender, the first thing the message says is that the American soldier bearing the message had done his country proud by refusing to give German intelligence officers any answers.
  • Advertisement:
  • Anyone Can Die: Most named soldiers die in battle.
  • Badass Army: Well, pretty much everyone in the battalion counts, but the most standout examples include:
    • Maj. Whittlesey: aside from being more or less fearless, this guy bum-rushed a German soldier with a flamethrower, dove beneath the jet of flame, and then stabbed the guy with his bayonet.
    • Capt. McMurtry: the man is very handy with his sidearm, and he is capable of putting precisely aimed shots into charging enemies at close range. And then there's the fact that he continued to fight for several days with a piece of shrapnel sticking out of his shoulder like it's nothing.
    • Pvt. Cepaglia and Pvt. Rosen: the two of them are considered to be two of the best and most experienced soldiers in the outfit, and the ones that McMurty will turn to for a difficult mission. Pvt. Rosen gets extra badass points for charging a troop of German flamethrower troops, diving underneath the flames, grabbing the flamethrower, and using it to burn several other Germans. Pvt. Cepaglia gets points for taking a bullet to the gut, and then continuing to fight anyway, though he died afterwards.
  • Badass Boast: "Ya see, Major, what you’re facing is a bunch of mick, dago, polack, and Jew-boy New York gangsters, and they ain’t never gonna surrender!"
  • Badass Bookworm: Maj. Whittlesey was a New York Lawyer before he joined the army. The movie doesn't bring it up, but so was Captain McMurty, having graduated Harvard in 1899, after serving in the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War.
  • Bayonet Ya: Privates Cepaglia and Rosen stress the importance of the bayonet when giving new replacements advice. Sure, artillery, grenades, and machine guns will kill you, but you can't do anything about that except hit the ground. But when an enemy soldier comes at you with a fixed bayonet, you'd better kill him before he kills you.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Privates Cepaglia and Rosen fill this role to the younger, less experienced, soldiers.
  • Big Damn Heroes: When the Germans' first major push was about to overrun the Americans' position, Captain Holderman and his company (from another battalion) arrive. The sudden arrival of 97 men blindsided and overwhelmed the Germans, pushing them back.
  • Big "NO!": Whittlesey screams, "NO!" when he sees the first casualties of the German's flamethrower attack.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The battalion holds the line against the Germans and are eventually relieved by Allied reinforcments, but over half the unit is killed, captured, or wounded. It's even worse if you know the real life fate of Major Whittlesey. He survives the war, but is wracked by guilt and the constant pressure for public appearances post-war. He disappears in 1921, with common consensus being he committed suicide.
  • Blatant Lies: Despite what Gen. Alexander tells Maj. Whittlesey, no Allied troops are supporting his flanks.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Capt. McMurtry seems to have a talent for pulling these off in close quarters combat.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Almost everyone in the company is from New York. Some, such as Pvt. Cepaglia, have extremely pronounced accents.
  • Catchphrase: "Not acceptable" may as well be Whittlesey's.
  • The Cavalry Arrives Late: At the end of the movie, Gen. Alexander finally arrives with reinforcements, only to discover that the battalion has single-handedly repulsed all enemy attacks, and more than half of the trapped soldiers have either been killed or captured.
  • The Determinator: This is the defining trait of Major Whittlesey's leadership, refusing to surrender or retreat against seemingly impossible odds and constantly rallying his troops. The German Major already has this view of American troops, listing off several previous battles during the war such as Battle of Belleau Wood where despite heavy losses, the Americans won the day. It only gets confirmed at the end of the movie when after the final assault fails, he can only mutter to himself "New York gangsters."
  • Doomed Hurt Guy: The opening scene shows a blinded soldier trying to make it through No Man's Land while being fired on by the Germans as two comrades try to help him. The blind soldier's companions make it, but he's gunned down just a few feet from safety.
  • Ensign Newbie: Lt. Leak, a new platoon commander, had never seen combat before the events of the movie. However, because most of his men are just as green and inexperienced as he is, and the few veterans he has under his command show him respect to set an example for the new guys, he doesn't get too much disrespect, and he proves a very capable leader in combat.
  • Fake American: Most prominent among the cast are Sgt. Gaedeke and Pvt. Cepaglia (both English) and the "Texan" Lt. Leak (South African).
  • Friend or Foe: The battalion loses at least sixty men to their own artillery before they can send a message to HQ telling them to stop.
  • Friendly Enemy: A minor example, but when the captured Pvt. Hollingshead was escorted back to American lines to deliver a message to Maj. Whittlesey, he shakes his escort's hand before they part ways, acknowledging that despite being on opposing sides, they were both still human beings.
  • General Ripper: Gen. Alexander, who commands the 77th Division (of which the 308th Infantry is part), seems to be a self-aware version of this trope. He sends Whittlesey's battalion on a suicidal assault against the German lines, and wants them to hold their position even after other U.S. and French troops have retreated to the Allied lines because unless the allies gained a foothold, they would continue to be repulsed. He is deeply shocked, however, when he discovers that his own artillery is firing on the trapped battalion. When Maj. Whittlesey confronts Gen. Alexander at the end, Alexander tells Whittlesey that the battalion suffered "acceptable losses," because even though they were decimated, they gave the Americans a chance to push through the German lines. He doesn't regret sacrificing the battalion because it was necessary, but when Whittlesey bluntly tells him that any one of the men in the battalion was a better man than both the General and himself, Alexander doesn't disagree.
    Gen. Alexander: "Major, you did an incredible job out here, but you had 600 men to worry about and I had 20,000 sent into action. I have to live with that..."
    • The German general is much worse by comparison, sending wave after wave of troops against the enemy without any artillery or air support.
  • Handicapped Badass: Cpt. Holderman takes a bayonet to the thigh, which gave him a wound so bad he needed to use a discarded rifle as a crutch/cane. He continues to fight anyway.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Pvt. Cepaglia and Pvt. Rosen seem to have known each other for a long time and are best friends.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Gen. Alexander takes this stance on leaving Whittlesey and his men cut off and surrounded: they were in a key point in the Germans' lines, and their stubborn defense gave the rest of the American forces a chance to push through.
  • Kill It with Fire: After all else fails, the Germans decide to use flamethrowers to flush out the remaining U.S. troops. This tactic fails too.
  • Killed Offscreen: Private Chinn is mentioned as having been killed in battle sometime after his last scene.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: During the artillery bombardment, Sgt. Gaedeke is blown to pieces by an artillery shell, leaving only his helmet.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: Capt. McMurty doesn't even notice when he takes a piece of shrapnel to the shoulder, and when he does, he just makes some offhand remark about how his mother always said he needed a place to hang his hat.
  • Mood Whiplash: When the American artillery starts coming down on the advancing German lines, the Americans are understandably excited about this. The men start cheering, and the soundtrack becomes almost patriotic... Then the artillery starts falling on the Americans and things go to hell.
  • Nerves of Steel:
    • Capt. McMurtry is pretty much unflappable. Case in point, when two Germans with fixed bayonets were charging at him from two different directions, he calmly shot one in the head, then turned and did the same to the other.
    • Rosen and Cepheglia are introduced giving instructions to some New Meat troops while enemy artillery is landing nearby, something they barely react to as the new men jump around nervously.
  • Not Enough to Bury: Gaedeke is ripped apart by artillery, and Whittlesey nearly name drops the trope while mentioning this.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: After a potato-masher goes off right behind him, Capt. McMurtry receives a large piece of shrapnel in his shoulder. He doesn't even notice until another soldier points it out to him, and decides to leave it in.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The captured Lt. Leak tells Maj. Prinz, "What you're up against, Major, is a bunch of Mick, Pollack, Dago,note  and Jew gangster boys from New York City. They'll never surrender." They also have a Chinese field phone operator and a Native American runner.
  • Red Herring: The reserve troops, when being trucked to the front line, pass by several troops who have been gassed. As it turns out, this is the only hardship the Americans don't face.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Major Whittlesey exhibits a heartbreaking thousand-yard stare as he marches out with the survivors of his battalion at the end. The real Whittlesey was wracked with survivor’s guilt and Post-Traumatic Stress, made worse by his celebrity status when he went home. Unable to cope, he took his own life in 1920.
  • Southern-Fried Private: Lt. Leak, a Texan officer with a heavy accent, who claims he can't understand the New York City accent of his troops.
  • Take a Third Option: As seen on the DVD cover above, the Germans gave them two choices: surrender or die. As you can see, they picked this instead.
  • War Is Hell: It's a World War I movie, what did you expect?
  • Worst Aid: In an example of how desperate the situation had become, the Americans had started taking the used bandages off of the dead to use on their still living wounded.
  • Worthy Opponent: Maj. Prinz, a German officer, comes to consider the American troops as this, and even wants to give them free passage back to their own lines.