Thursday, 20 May 2010

The World at War 1969 – 1970: Part 1 of a multipart review

Note: As this review is taking about as long as World War 2 itself I have decided to publish in blocks. The episodes are NOT necessarily in broadcast order but as they are pretty much self sustained this doesn’t really matter. Here is Part 1.

Here is one of the most haunting openings ever. Before you read this review watch this…at least until the titles roll. If you don’t want to go out and buy this boxset I will eat several hats.

Produced over the course of 4 years starting in 1969 the World at War is truly a definitive study of almost every aspect of World War II. It has great detail, is poignant and moving and brilliantly produced by Jeremy Isaacs  and Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. Running to 26 episodes each almost an hour long there is nigh on 23 hours of brilliant documentary here. The World at War is also a brilliant product of its time. In 1969 people were ready to talk about their often harrowing experiences in the War and the series has some amazing interviews from members of all classes, races and protagonists involved in the war, before they became too old to recount so faithfully what occurred. The Series runs to 26 episodes as said, here is a rundown of what is covered in each. Apologies for what is destined to become a monster of a post. I am loath to split it so I guess I will finally be publishing this in a few years time!

A New Germany: 1933 – 1939

PDVD_040 Germany in 1933 was a shadow of its former self. A previously powerful and proud nation it had been crippled by defeat in the Great War and was struggling with the loss of territories and economic depression. The common man struggled for his daily bread and when the Socialists promised to feed every man and restore Germany to its glory then it was gratefully believed. Adolf Hitler was voted in as Chancellor and soon after the decision was passed to allow him to rule without Parliament. As a dictator. For the majority of the population times did improve. The villainous Jew and all the other minorities that were sucking the life from Germany were finally being put in their place creating a golden age that such civilised countries as America openly espoused the benefits of. 30th June 1934 Hitler orders the arrest of major rivals and perceived enemies, blood runs as people are “Shot trying to escape” Hitler takes ultimate power after the death of the President pronouncing himself Fuhrer. All oaths are now sworn to him rather then Germany. If you follow the Fuhrer and do as he says, if you are right ethnically, you will do well. Hitler started to expand its borders back to and beyond their previous levels. Europe did nothing. Then in 1939 Hitler made movements to regain Prussia…via Poland. Britain and France had promised that Poland would be protected. The line was finally drawn.

Distant War: September 1939 – May 1940vlcsnap-2009-10-18-18h46m05s241

The War seemed so far away in the first few months from Chamberlains declaration. People prepared and readied for total war with the blackout fully into force and the evacuation of huge numbers of children from Britain's major cities the eruption of full barbarity seemed imminent. So started “the Phoney War”. Initially not a huge amount changed. People remained unemployed and the War industries did not see the expected eruption in activity. France accused Britain of not taking the War seriously with its mobilisation of 200,000 troops. A credible charge when you consider France has in excess of 6 Million. There was activity in the seas under the gaze of Winston Churchill but initial successes lead to a disastrous campaign in Norway. The time had come for Chamberlain, he wasn’t giving the war the importance that it was felt it deserved. Despites the promises made to Poland we had done entirely nothing to assist them. Finally almost the entirety of Parliament revolted. Chamberlain went to the King following the massive revolt and recommended that the King replace him…with a  charismatic man, Winston Churchill. Finally the War was to start to hot up. Again this is a fantastic episode with a great take on the events of the early war. It did seem that the efforts were being made and the politics of the time are portrayed in easily understandable detail. It also nice to see information on Lord Halifax. The man that COULD have been Prime Minister. 

On Our Way: U.S.A 1939 – 1942

When war broke out in Europe it was considered by the United States as a European way. Why should the Americans get involved at all. In fact there were great political gains being made by those opposing joining the war and although aid was given to the Allies in Europe this was always at the agreement of neutrality. Two major events changed this. In December 1941 Pearl Harbour was attacked by Japan devastating the US fleet harboured there. This cemented war against Japan and despite repeated sinking's of US ships in the Atlantic by Germany the American administration stuck to its guns. This was changed when Hitler made the massive error of declaring war against the USA giving them exactly the political reason they needed to enter the war fully. There are some typically great interviews in this episode and some excellent footage of ant-war sentiment. The coverage of the aspects is well done and, although obviously emotive, as it concentrates mainly on the political points behind the joining of the war it is one of the less moving episodes in the series.

The Desert: North Africa 1940 – 1943

With conflict in the Pacific and Europe being so overbearing it is particularly easy to overlook the conflict in the North African theatre. The environment was a punishing as the war and despite a quick win in most areas by the allied forces the fatal mistake was made to move concentration away from Tripoli and on to Greece. This lull in the onslaught gave Germany a chance to bolster the failing Italian Troops on the ground and the Afrika Corps under the Command of Rommel made their way into the fold. It would be two years before the tide turns at El Alamein under the command of Montgomery. It was the first Decisive victory of the War and was said by Churchill  "This is not the end, nor is it even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Stalingrad: June 1942 – February 1943

PDVD_002 Hitlers eyes had once again turned to Russia with the bold plan to take Stalingrad and split the Oil Mines in the Caucus area of Russia thus taking the valuable oil fields. This did not go according to plan and the Russian population of Stalingrad fought so violently that progress was painfully slow for the German Army. On top of this at the very dawn of their final victory they were humbugged by Russian forces who cut them off stranding them in Stalingrad with no food or warmth in the harshest of winters. Massive losses were incurred and they were denied the permission to surrender to the Russians as Hitler believed that the political impact of the holdout was worth it. When the final surrender came in the defeated German forces where taken prisoner. Marched across country few ever returned to their homeland. Stalingrad took its toll.

Wolf Pack: U- Boats in the Atlantic 1939 –1944


With the eruption of War Britain suddenly faced a huge problem. The safe traffic of supplies to its shores. Although rationing was quickly implemented it still wouldn’t change the basic fact that as an Island we needed supplies for home and for war. If the Germans could prevent us receiving these then we would have to capitulate or starve. The u-boats hunted for Germany in packs and nearly succeeded in this destroying millions of tons of shipping. Although this episode is a technically fantastic as the rest of the series it suffers in my view from an extremely dry subject (sorry for the pun) as naval warfare is not the most enthralling of subjects. In this case in particular it was an extended game of cat and mouse. That said it makes this one of my lesser episodes covering a very major part of the War but failing to grab the passion in the way that other parts of the serial have managed.

Red Star: The Soviet Union 1941 – 1943

     PDVD_014Back to form for the series Red Star is a truly chilling look at the virtual annihilation of Russia at the hands of the Germans. Covering the punitive siege of Leningrad and the Russian bounce back from near defeat the episode expertly deals with the struggle of the Russian people and the growing strength of the Red Army. It also brings home the sheer volume of death in this part of the war with an estimate of around 20 Million Russians dead by the end of the War. You know things are bad when you round to the nearest million. Under the unceasing pressure and a Wermacht that is set on destroying that which they cannot have. A Wermacht that burns and destroys everything it encounters Russia pull off the prodigious feat of equalling and then surpassing Germanys war production. All this from a beleaguered state. It is no surprise that the West grew to fear the power of Russia in peacetime.

Tough Old Gut: Italy November 1942 – June 1944

PDVD_017 The Allies with America newly onboard turn their attentions to the offensive against Germany. The decision is passed to attack via the soft underbelly of Italy. This is initially a great success but once Italy is hit proper it becomes a massive undertaking and Italy's landscape make progress greatly difficult and eventually attention turns towards the Americans original proposal, Normandy. This is another excellent episode and covers what seems to be extremely quick capitulation by the Italian armies. Whether this is fair or not is another matter however one thing is clear. The German army and the Italian country make the soft underbelly of Europe one Tough Old Gut.

This concludes Part one. To come…


France Falls: May – June 1940

Alone: May 1940 – May 1941

Barbarossa: June – December 1941

Banzai – Japan: 1931 – 1942

Whirlwind: Bombing Germany September 1939 – April 1944

Its a Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma 1942 – 1943

Home Fires: Britain 1940 – 1944

Inside the Reich: Germany 1940 – 1944

Morning: June – August 1944

Occupation: Holland 1940 – 1944

Pincers: August 1944 – March 1945

Genocide: 1941 – 1945

Nemesis: Germany February – May 1945

Japan: 1941 – 1945

Pacific: February 1942 – July 1945

The Bomb: February – September 1945

Reckoning: 1945 …and After


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