On Saturday I had a sudden craving to watch The World At War as produced by Jeremy Isaacs and narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier. My efforts to download were frustrated and frustrating but I was directed to another version narrated by Robert Powell which I had never seen. It differed as there were no interviews but the footage and graphics were of similar standard. Above all I was impressed by its balanced content.
Although for some odd reason modern recidivist historians like to downgrade Churchill, the notion that the Allies were flaccid in the face of the Blitzkrieg has generally held good. The story goes not least due to Field Marshall Montgomery, a master self-publicist, that the Allies lost every batte till El Alamein and thereafter won every one. El Alamein was thus the turning and tipping point. In fact the early episodes showed otherwise. Technologically the Allies developed the radar which predicted the Luftwaffe’s raids, gorsing which masked the magnesium footprint on shipping that were setting off mines and above all the Enigma code was broken at Bletchkey. Conversely Goering failed to understand radar and shifted to city bombing after strafing the airfields. The picture emerges that Air Marshall Hugh Dowding was a cool and calculating strategist carefully nursing his inferior resources whilst the Goering was a bloated and vain peacock. Much too has been made of the Blitzkrieg, learned from the British strategists Liddell Hart and John Fuller of fast-moving armoured columns but this had a weakness that the Nazis were to suffer throughout every campaign, namely that the advanced column was far ahead of supplies. Even their most talented general Irwin Rommel experienced this.
If the years building up to the war were characterised by weak and conciliatory leadership by the Allies as reflected by non-intervention in the Civil War of Spain and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, Churchill and Roosevelt soon showed Hitler and Hirohito that they were dealing with a superior calibre of statesman and leader. Hitler was confident that Britain would sue for peace and maybe, but for Churchill, we would have done. Churchill soon showed he would fight dirty. He sent his bombers on a raid on Berlin when some Dorniers dropped their payload on the City of London. Better still he maintained superiority in the one area the Allies always dominated, the Navy, by bombing the French fleet at Mers el Kebir in 1940 once France had ceded and there was a genuine risk the Nazis would take this over as they did the Czech armaments industry.
It’s difficult to criticise the series. I would say that in some cases there is absence of varied footage as clearly there are few shots of Hilter at Berechtsgarten and the same one was replicated. However in most cases the footage only adds to the narration.
Although the First World War is more “my bag”, the Second World War threw together an extraordinary collection of leaders which fascinate me and others and to which the programme does excellent justice.