September 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the Munich agreement, where the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, flew to Germany to meet Hitler; in an attempt to avert war. He famously returned with an agreement which he believed would deliver ‘peace in our time’.
It got me thinking about Hitler's rise to power, in 1933 he joined the government one of only three Nazi’s in it. Five years later he was dominating European foreign policy, as he pushes forward with his agenda. In this episode I thought we’d look at Hitler’s rise to power, from the end of the First World War, through to him joining in the government in 1933.
Joining me today is Professor Matthew Stibbe, from Sheffield University. He has delivered an excellent chapter in the new Oxford Illustrated History of the Third Reichlooking at the rise of National Socialism.
The American built M3 tank was one of the first tanks purchased and supplied in large numbers to the British army in WWII, where it was known as the 'Grant' or the 'Lee'.
It's the first American built tank I became aware of as a child, when I saw 'Monty's' at the Imperial War Museum.
In this episode I'm joined by prolific tank writer and former employee of Bovington Tank museum, David Fletcher. With Steven Zaloga, David is the author of British Battle Tanks: American-Made World War II Tanks.
Well Mark is back, with another cracking story he’s managed to turn up in the archives, that of Operation Cowboy; the book is Ghost Riders.
It recounts the activities of an American unit which raced into Czechoslovakia to accept the surrender of a group of Germans, in doing so they manage to rescue a number of Allied POW’s, with the help of German POW’s they fight off a concerted attack by a SS Unit and then evacuate the mares of the famous Viennese, ‘spanish riding school’.
Back in episode 7, I talked to Alexander Fitzgerald-Black about his MA thesis which focused on the allied air campaign in support of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Which if you’re interested has now been released as a book ‘Eagles over Husky: The Allied Aire Forces In The Sicilian Campaign, 14 May to 17 August 1943’.
Alex and I have kept in touch and always said we should do another episode together discussing the Mediterranean campaign.
I was struggling to pin down a topic, when Alex suggested I read Douglas Porch’s book ‘The Path To Victory: The Mediterranean Theater in WWII’, which focuses on the Mediterranean theatre as a whole. It was a light bulb moment for me, so we’ve decided to have a look at the Mediterranean Strategy.
If you want to hear more from Alex he works for the Juno Beach Centre and hosts their podcast, you can find that at junobeach.org.
In this episode we’re looking at the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Returning from delivering the atomic bomb to Tinian, in preparation for it to be dropped, the Indianapolis was hit twice by torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. She sank in less than a quarter of an hour.
800-900 men went in the shark infested waters, and no one in the US Navy was aware of the unfolding tragedy. The men floated in small groups for five nights and four days before they were finally spotted by the passing US plane.
And that is just half the story.
I’m joined by Sara Vladic.
Sara is the director of the documentary USS Indianapolis: The Legacy, she’s also so-written a book looking at the events surrounding the sinking, the book is titled Indianapolis: The True Story of the Worst Sea Disaster in U.S. Naval History and the Fifty-Year Fight to Exonerate an Innocent Man. It is quite a story!
In the last episode we looked at the development of the world’s navies during the interwar period. To compliment that I thought we’d do something similar with aerial warfare. It is easy to forget in 1939 aviation was still very much in its infancy, and especially aerial warfare.
Theorist such as Giulio Douhethad highlighted the importance of controlling airspace, Douhet also advocated that idea that a nation could bomb its way to victory. Other countries such as Germany envisaged the plane in tactical roles, supporting the army. So at the outbreak of WWII each air force was prepared to a fight a war, just not necessarily the war their enemy was expecting to fight.
Joining me today is Frank Ledwidge.
Frank is a senior fellow in Air Power and International Security, at the Royal Air Force College - Cranwell. Not only does he teach this stuff, he’s written a book on the subject ‘Aerial Warfare: The Battle for the Skies’.
Today what I thought we’d investigate the interwar naval treaties which aimed to prevent conflict, but at the same time, what they did was help shape the navies of the world, in the run up to WWII.
In this episode I’m talking to Craig Symonds. Craig is the Enest J King Distinguished Professor of Maritime History a the US Naval War College and Professor Emeritus at the US Naval College.
Hitler when he came to power, had few international connections, and he distrusted elements of his civil service. What he needed was people he could trust, who were connected to the highest echelons of power throughout Europe. These emissaries would be used to sound out opinion, and smooth over incidents when they happened.
And that is what we’re looking at in this episode, those ‘back channels’, the aristocratic go betweens that Hitler employed.
Joining me is Karina Urbach.
Karina is currently working at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, her book Go 'Betweens for Hitler'was published in 2015.
Joining me today is Max Thimmig, Max’s grandfather was the German WWII night fighter ace, Wolfgang Thimmig. Wolfgang joined the German Army, the Reichswehr, in 1934, and was one of the early pilots in Hitler’s newly created Luftwaffe, in 1935.
Incredibly Wolfgang flew with the Luftwaffe throughout the second world war, from Poland right to the end in 1945.
Max's book is Nattens jägare: Ett tyskt nattjaktess under andra världskriget.
The P-61 was built in response to the Blitz on Great Britain, in 1940. The RAF were in need of a night fighter and they confirmed with their US counterparts on the specifications. The result was a twin tail plane with a crew of three, it was specifically designed to house a radar to zero the aircraft in, at night on their target.
Only four now survive.
Joining me is Russell Strine from the Mid Atlantic Air Museum, who are currently restoring one, the intention is to get it in the air once more.
It’s thanks to Alex Lowmaster for this episode, he tipped me off to a museum local to him, in Pennsylvania, that were restoring a P-61 Black Widow night fighter.
This episode, is released just after the 75th anniversary of the escape of ten American prisoners of war, and two Filipino convicts, from the Davao Penal Colony. The following year when the story broke, the US War Department would call it the ‘greatest story of the war’. The man made famous at the time for escaping, and recounting the story, was Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess. A fighter pilot who not only fought in the air, but during the defence of Bataan led and amphibious assault as an infantryman.
Joining me to tell us the story of ‘Ed Dyess’ is John Lukacs, who is fighting to get Dyess awarded the Medal of Honor; and keeping his memory alive with the website 4-4-43.com.
If you remember back in episode 45, I discussed the Barton Brothers with Sally Mott Freeman, Dyess’s story intersects with that as Barton was at the Davao Penal Colony and his brother Bill was in Washington aware of Dyess’s escape.
One of my first guests was Jeffrey Cox, we discussed in length the Java Sea campaign in episode 14.
Jeff has been busy for the last couple of years writing his follow up book Morning Star, Midnight Sun – The Early Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign of World War Two. So I asked Jeff back to discuss the campaign.
Jeff and I talked for nearly three hours, so whilst the podcast is trimmed to keep us on message if you want some more why not become a patron and have another 30min of us talking what he's unto next and torpedos!
In episode 57 I talked to Walter Zapotoczny about Ardennes Offensive, chatting with him it told me had had a new book out in 2018 looking at German Penal Battalions. That sounded like a topic right up my street so I got him back to talk with us.
When war broke out in 1939, Hitler created `Strafbattalion' (Penal Battalion) units to deal with incarcerated members of the Wehrmacht as well as `subversives'. His order stated that any first-time convicted soldier could return to his unit after he had served a portion of his sentence in `a special probation corps before the enemy'.
In this episode we’re going to be discussing the plight of 168 Allied Airmen who found themselves imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp. It’s something that even to this day governments seem unwilling to admit to.
“As we got close to the camp and saw what was inside... a terrible, terrible fear and horror entered our hearts. We thought, what is this? Where are we going? Why are we here? And as you got closer to the camp and started to enter [it] and saw these human skeletons walking around; old men, young men, boys, just skin and bone, we thought, what are we getting into?” — Canadian airman Ed Carter-Edward's recollection of his arrival at Buchenwald.
Joining me is Frederic Martini, his father was shot down over France in 1944 and was one of the Buchenwald airmen. His written about his father’s experiences, the book is Betrayed.
If Slim’s 14th army was the ‘Forgotten Army’ the RAF bombing campaign in the Far East is even more forgotten!
In this episode I'm talking to Matt Poole.
Matt's mother is from Liverpool, her first husband was in the RAF serving in Burma when he was shot down over Rangoon. In trying to find out what happened that night Matt was introduced to Bill Kirkness who served in the same squadron.
Bill had written a memoir of his wartime experience, though he's sadly now passed away Matt has edited the manuscript into RAF Liberators over Burma: Flying with 159 Squadron.
We discuss Bill Kirkness's war, the RAF in Burma and Matt's journey of piercing the story together
When I plan the podcast episodes I don’t usually sit down and look at the subject and how it relates to those episodes around it, hence we’ve often found ourselves in the pacific in quick succession.
In this instance it seems serendipitous that we’re going from looking at the fall of France, in the last episode, to looking at the experiences of German fighter pilots in Europe. The two topics compliment one another rather well.
Joining me is Patrick Eriksson.
Patrick is the author of Alarmstart: The German Fighter Pilot’s Experience in the Second World War. Since the 1970’s Patrick has been an associate member of the German Air Force Veterans Association interviewing and corresponding with former members of the Luftwaffe.
In this episode I’m looking at ‘Case Red’ the German attack on France post Dunkirk. Often when we talk about the Battle of France the history seems to stop at Dunkirk, in actual fact the fight carried on for a few more weeks. There was still British 100,000+ troops in France, Churchill was keen to keep the French fighting…
Joining in me is Robert Forczyk, if you recall last year we discussed Operation Sealion with Bob. He’s been beavering away and has a new book out, ‘Case Red: The collapse of France’. Its a real eye opener…
In this episode we’ll be looking at two British soldiers in occupied Burma.
Major Hugh Seagrim operated for two years behind the Japanese lines, organising Karen resistance before he was eventually forced to surrender. Seagrim crosses paths with Roy Pagani, trying to make his way back to British army in India, after escaping as a POW working on the Burma railway. Pagani is a remarkable man he had already escaped from Dunkirk in 1940, and Singapore when it fell in 1942.
Joining me today is Phillip Davis.
Phillip is the author of Lost Warriors, Seagrim and Pagani of Burma The last great untold story of WWII.
This episode is being released on the 15th of December, the eve of the Battle of the Bulge. It was the 16th of December 1944 that Hitler launched Operation Watch on the Rhine, the last great offensive in the West.
Joining me today is Walter Zapotoczny, author of The 110th Hold In The Ardennes: The Blunting of Hitler’s Last Gamble and the Invasion of the Reich.The 110th Infantry Regiment were part of the 28th Division which bore the brunt of the German offensive in the first few days.
The Battle of the Bulge has always held a fascination for me, I’ve very clear memories of cold wintery afternoons watching the 1965 film on the TV. Though even as a kid I thought the Telly Savalas character was nonsense!
In the classic narrative, the second world war starts with the invasion of Poland in 1939, though for the Chinese it started with the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
I notice wikipedia solves the start date by stating ‘relate conflicts started earlier’, and that is what we’ll be looking at today the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 and those foreigners who volunteered to fight for Haile Selassie.
I’m joined by Christopher Othen
Christopher is the author of the Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion.
I’ve been promising you an extra episode since September... Well it never came off, I was all prepared to discuss the end of the war in the Pacific but I struggled to pin down the guest so I gave up!
But good things come to those that wait!
I was asked if I might be interested in having a chat with the writer of the new WW2 film Darkest Hour, Anthony McCarten. How could I say no?
If you would like some background listening I looked at Churchill during this period in episode 8, Churchill's decision to fight in 1940.
Within a year of Belgium falling to the Germans in 1940, Belgian citizens were volunteering to join the Waffen SS to fight communism on the newly formed Eastern Front. Thousands volunteered, and the suffered heavy casualties.
I’m joined by Jonathan Trigg author of Voices of the Flemish Waffen SS. He has been gathering the stories of these men and women. What remarkable stories they are, I devoured the book in just two evenings…
We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Pacific this year, I didn’t intend to but as its a theatre of the war I’m not very familiar with I’ve been happy to be pulled down that route.
One topic we’ve skirted round in a number of episodes is the Bataan Death March, its been a topic I’ve been keen to look at as we’ve mentioned it a few times. Plus it’s seems like an obvious gap in my knowledge I needed to fill.
I’m joined by Jay Wertz.
Jay has authored a number of books in the War Stories: World War II Firsthand series, for these he collected eyewitness accounts. He is also the author and historical consultant for World War II Comix. These are not the jingoistic “Commando” comics I grew up with in the 1970 & 80s (is there a world wide equivalent?), Word War II Comix tells the story of the war in a straight factual manner, but in comic form. They’re a great way to get kids reading about the war.
The latest issue looks at the battle of Midway, previous issues tell the story of the fighting on Bataan and Pearl Harbour.
Last year I talked to Greg Lewis about the female agents in the British Special Operations Executive, SOE, who Churchill had tasked with “setting Europe ablaze”. In this episode we’ll be looking specifically at Diana Rowden who was flown into France in 1943.
Diana spent her early years in the South of France before being sent to Public School in England. At the outbreak of war Diana was living in Paris with her mother. When Paris fell they fled south, but once her mother was safely on a boat back to England, Diana decided to remain in France. For over a year she moved through France avoiding being picked up by the Germans, when it got to "hot" she fled back to Britain.
When she finally became know to SOE she was an obvious fit for an agent to be sent to France. It was a huge risk and only a matter of time before she was picked up, which indeed she was. With four other women she was murdered at Natzweiler Concentration Camp in July 1944. She was 29 years of age.
I’m joined by Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell.
Gabrielle’s book Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden, Wartime Secret Agent takes the reader through Dianna’s life”.
I didn't realise when I started chatting to Gabrielle but she is married to Geoffrey Rothwell, he flew over 70 missions before being shot down. For patrons and supporters of the podcast I've made available a quick conversation I had with Gabrielle about her husband.
Between 1943-45 Fernaufklärungsgruppe 5 “Atlantik” would fly missions of up to 18 hours at a time over the Atlantic. They acted as the eyes for the U-Boats. Equipped with big, four-engined Junkers Ju 290s fitted out with advanced search radar and other maritime 'ELINT' (electronic intelligence) devices, Fernaufklärungsgruppe (FAGr) 5 'Atlantik' undertook a distant, isolated campaign far out into the Atlantic and thousands of miles away from its home base in western France.
I'm joined by Robert Forsyth author of Shadow over the Atlantic: The Luftwaffe and the U-boats: 1943–45.
Robert is an author, editor and publisher, specialising in military aviation and military history. Born in Berkshire, England, he is the author of several books on the aircraft and units of the Luftwaffe, an interest he has held since boyhood. His articles have appeared in The Aviation Historian, Aeroplane Monthly, Aviation News and FlyPast and he is a member of the Editorial Board of The Aviation Historian. Long-term, he is working on a major biography of the Luftwaffe commander, Generalfeldmarschall Wolfram Freiherr von Richthofen.