How Historically Accurate Is Saving Private Ryan?

Steven Spielberg's "Saving Private Ryan" (1998) is a groundbreaking war movie. It showed the emotional and physical trauma of war in a way that no film had quite been able to until then, with a plot that is loosely based (all but a few minor characters are fictional) on the four Niland brothers, two of whom were killed in the war (via All That's Interesting). Yet while many World War II veterans, including those present at D-Day, attest to the extreme emotion that the film induced in them, there are some technical aspects of the film that do not line up with reality. 

Many of these changes were made for the sake of time, such as the landing itself, which lasted all day instead of a few minutes (via History vs Hollywood). Others were for the sake of cinematic effect — for instance, the German machine gun nests were not as massive and imposing as shown in the film, and instead would have typically been far smaller and often well concealed (per Reddit). Also, unlike in the film bullets, lose their momentum when entering the water, meaning soldiers underwater would not have been shot (though many in real-life did drown due to the weight of their gear).

Saving Private Ryan is faithful to World War II, but has inaccuracies that will annoy the eagle-eyed

While Spielberg cannot be blamed for his lack of actual German Tiger I tanks for the film's final battle, the T-34-based mock-up left a lot to be desired at key points. The vision ports of many contemporary tanks had thick glass and/or a periscope system, and firing a gun into that of a Tiger would likely not do much to harm the crew. Tank hatches were also heavy and complex contraptions (pictured above), and the thin prop used in the film would have been completely inadequate for even a light tank (via War History Online).

There are several fleeting mistakes that can be seen as well, such as various German defensive structures in the invasion scene facing the wrong way to be effective. However, Spielberg's attention to detail is reflected in other places. He hired real amputees to portray injured soldiers, according to Esquire, and utilized actual war-era landing craft and P-51 fighters (which were not ideal for ground attack missions, per World War Wings, in spite of Matt Damon's Private Ryan calling them "tank busters"). Also accurate was his depiction of two Czech soldiers conscripted by the Germans (via Independent).