1 9 6 6 – 1 9 6 8 (USA)
The Rat Patrol was based on the exploits of the real-life British Long Range Desert Group and focused on three Americans and a Briton fighting the Afrika Korps in North Africa during World War II.
The Englishman was Sgt. Jack Moffitt, a demolitions expert, and the crew was commanded by Sgt. Sam Troy.
Young Privates Mark Hitchcock and Tully Pettigrew completed the Rat Patrol, who whizzed around the desert making life miserable for the remarkably slow German tanks and their remarkably myopic gunners, who were the worst shots in that (or any) war, apparently.
The idea of a war series based in the desert must have sounded really nifty to ABC to begin with. But then they had to go shoot the thing and the hazards of doing that became apparent with the pilot itself.
Working in Yuma, Arizona, in 118º temperatures, the production faced lost time when the jeeps broke down. Suddenly, shooting at the US Army’s Camp Irwin in Barstow, California, seemed like a great idea, but the Army pulled out at the last second.
Then shooting switched to Almería in Spain, where production units from The Great Escape (1963) and Battle of the Bulge (1965) had left an assortment of tanks, military trucks, troop carriers, mortars and artillery pieces behind. It seemed like a sensible idea at the time . . .
For 17 weeks the cast and crew lived in a town which stank of fish and sewage and had no safe drinking water.
Everyone got intestinal flu or dysentery, Christopher George lost 20 pounds, all the actors (and the director) hated the scripts, and Hans Gudegast, who played the role of German nemesis Hauptman Hans Dietrich (using his real name which he would later change to Eric Braeden) thought his role was a caricature. And on and on it went . . .
Finding Spanish Army soldiers tall enough to play German soldiers was the next challenge.
Then three days of action footage was lost in transit, the crew were forced to work in a 70 MPH wind storm for seven days, Christopher George injured his knee jumping from a jeep, Lawrence Casey and Justin Tarr also banged themselves up on various moving vehicles, shooting was rained out for three days in a row, the second-unit director quit and the production manager developed a bleeding ulcer!
The show eventually debuted and was an instant hit, but fortunately for all involved, production moved back to the US, where at least the water was drinkable, although the injuries continued, unfortunately – Fans may remember an episode where Moffitt holds off a whole squad of Germans while his leg is in a cast.
The cast was real since he broke his ankle and George suffered a concussion when their jeep turned over during shooting.
TV Guide recommended The Rat Patrol only to those who wanted “fast action, plenty of plot, real he-man dialogue, tough good guys and honest-to-badness bad guys . . . but don’t care about nuances of characterisation, changes of scenery, girls and other unimportant matters”.
The Rat Patrol was shown in England briefly but was pulled off the air as British viewers objected to an American leading the charge in that particular campaign and felt It was the height of wishful thinking that two American jeeps with small guns mounted on them could defeat anything the Germans threw at them.
Sgt. Jack Moffitt
Sgt. Sam Troy
Pvt. Mark Hitchcock
Lawrence P. Casey
Pvt. Tully Pettigrew
Hauptman Hans Dietrich