For a long time I’ve been fascinated by movie stars who chose to join the military and saw combat in World War Two. And one star in particular has always interested me, ‘Jimmy Stewart’. A big star in the 1930’s, in 1940 he would win the Oscar for best man in The Philadelphia Story’ and was nominated for one for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, yet when war came he was insistent on not avoiding it and joined the United States Army Airforce flying combat missions over Europe.
Joining me to discuss Jimmy Stewart’s military career is Robert Matzen, author of Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight For Europe.
The usual narrative for WWII is that turning points of the war are in 1942 with the battles of Midway, El Alamein and Stalingrad. While these are unquestionably major victories that signalled the ‘end of the beginning’, as Churchill would put it. Friend of the podcast Andrew Nagorski has suggested that actually 1941 was the pivotal year of the war.
Andrew contends that the decisions made in 1941, by the major nations, would make an allied victory not just possible but inevitable. It’s a compelling idea.
As we’ve had Andrew on the podcast previously (in episode 18, when discussed Nazi war crimes), I thought it would be good to get him back for a catch up and to outline his thesis laid out in his new book ‘1941: The Year Germany Lost The War’.
In the last episode we looked at the American experience of D-Day at Omaha beach, this time it’s the turn of the British and Canadians at Sword, Juno and Gold on the 6th June 1944.
In this episode we’re going to concentrate on the British and Canadian landings on D-Day. I’m joined by John Sadler.
Now we’ve talked to John before in episode 26, when we looked at Operation Agreement, a combined operations raid in the deserts of North Africa that included the Long Range Desert Group, the SAS and the Royal Navy.
John is also a battlefield guide of the D-Day Beaches and surrounding areas and has a book out called D-Day: The British Landings.
‘Before the war, Normandy’s Plage d’Or coast was best known for its sleepy villages and holiday destinations. Early in 1944, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel took one look at the gentle, sloping sands and announced ‘They will come here!’ He was referring to Omaha Beach ‒ the primary American D-Day landing site. The beach was subsequently transformed into three miles of lethal, bunker-protected arcs of fire, with chalets converted into concrete strongpoints, fringed by layers of barbed wire and mines. The Germans called it ‘the Devil's Garden’.’
In this episode I’m joined by Robert Kershaw military historian, battlefield guide and author of Fury of Battle: A D-Day landing as it happened. We discuss the American landings on D-Day at Omaha beach.
Since then Walter has been busy researching the history of the sinkingof the USS Arizona during the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 194 and the fate of the crew, including a remarkable 23 sets of siblings.
He has a new WWII book out called Brothers Down, so I thought we’d get him back to discuss it.
On the 6th of June 1942 Japanese troops invaded the island of Attu which is part of Alaska, it was the first time since 1812 that continental America had been invaded.
In this episode we’re looking at the US attack to recapture the island, the fighting was bitter in a very hostile environment, and the discovery of a diary of a Japanese army surgeon who had been trained before the war in the USA.
I’m joined by Mark Obmascik, author of The Storm on our Shoreswhich traces the story of the fighting on Attu, Paul Nobuo Tatsuguchi and an American GI called Dick Laird.
A few months ago I got email from David Taylor asking if I’d ever considered looking at the cork industry in WWII? I'm sure like you, it had never crossed my mind.
The more I looked into it the more I got enthused by the story of cork, it was a wonder product during the early 20th century, used in all manner of things - almost anything that needed a seal such as a gasket used cork, so it was crucial to the auto industry, aviation and munitions. The American government defined it a strategic industry along with coal and steel!
What makes the story more intriguing is the majority of it came from neutral Portugal and Spain…
I hope I’ve laid out my case on why it is such a fascinating story.
I’m joined by David Taylor, who is the author of ‘Cork Wars’ which tells the stories of some of those involved in the cork business during WWII and Crown Cork and Seal one of the largest companies producing cork products during the war.
In this episode we’re going to be looking at the Free French and the Division Leclerc, commanded by Philippe de Hauteclocque. Raised in the French Colonies of Africa, they fought with distinction in the deserts of Libya and with the British 8th Army. They also took part in the fighting in North West Europe after D-Day, being one of the units that liberated Paris in 1944.
This is not just a story of a unit, but is very much the story of the growth of the Free French.
For this episode I’m joined by M.P. Robinson.
Robinson is author of a number of book, the latest published by Osprey being‘Division Leclerc: The Leclerc Column and Free French 2nd Armoured Division, 1940-46’
We’ve all see the film Downfallabout the Führerbunker in Berlin, in the closing days of the war. And we all know the story of how Adolf Hitler, with his new wife Eva Braun, committed suicide and the body was destroyed. Well, how much of that story do we actually know?
Since the end of the war a series of newspaper reports, books and more recently the TV series Hunting Hitler have all put forward the idea that Hitler escaped at the end of the war and the official history, for want for a better phrase is not the whole truth…
In this episode I’m joined by Luke Daly-Groves.
Luke is a postgraduate researcher at Leeds University and author of the new book Hitler’s Death, in which he revisits the original post war investigations by the allied powers and using all the data now available assesses how accurate they were. In doing so he also explores and debunks these Hitler conspiracy theories.
The SAS made their name in the North African desert, but less well known is after that they continued to fight in the mediterranean theatre. They carried out raiding missions in advance of the invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky, and then operating behind enemy lines during the Italian Campaign.
For this episode I’m joined by Malcolm Tudor. Malcolm's father actually fought in Italy during WWII, his Italian mother’s family worked with the partisans and aided escaped allied POW’s. Malcolm is also the author of SAS In Italy, 1943-1945
"There are no more than a handful of Second World War Luftwaffe members alive today. Patrick Eriksson had the foresight to record these experiences first-hand before it was too late. Some witnesses ended up as senior fighter controllers. The recollections and views of the veterans are put within the context of the German aerial war history. By no means all the witnesses were from the ranks of the so-called ‘aces’."
Last year I discussed the experiences of German Luftwaffe pilots fighting in the West, against the Allies, I was joined by Patrick Eriksson. Patrick has completed the second book in his trilogy looking at the Luftwaffe - Alarmstart East- this time tracking the pilots on the Eastern Front from 1941 though to the end of the war in 1945.
In this episode we’re going to be looking at the story of Howard Snyder, a B-17 ‘Flying Fortress’ pilot, flying with the US 8th air force from Britain. Through letters Howard wrote to his family, and exhaustive research, his son Steve Snyder has pieced together the remarkable story of his father, and what happened after he was shot down in Belgium.
You can find more about Steve Snyder and his father, Howard, at stevesnyderauthor.com
In 1943 allied surveillance picked up the construction of V1 and V2 rocket sites in France. Without quite knowing the extent of the threat allied planners decided to embark upon a pre-emptive campaign to deny the Germans the use of these sites, the code name was Operation Crossbow.
It would be an Anglo-American Operation with ran up until the end of WWII, in 1945.
I’m joined by Steven Zaloga.
Steven is a prolific military historian and analyst, he has also written a book on Crossbow published by Osprey, Operation Crossbow 1944; Hunting Hitlers V-Weapons.
In this episode we’re going to be looking a Japanese submarine operations in the Pacific in the early part of the war. While I’m sure we’re all familiar with the Imperial Japanese surface fleets actions during 1941-42, especially if you’ve listened to my discussions with Jeff Cox in episode #14 and #63, but there seems to be very little mention of submarines. Which is interesting because if we look at the Battle for the North Atlantic it was all about the German U-Boats.
Joining me today is Mark Stille.
Mark is a retired US Navy commander, alumni of the US Naval War College and author of numerous Osprey titles, mainly focusing on the war in the Pacific - his latest being USN Fleet Destroyer vs IJN Fleet Submarine.