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The WW2 Podcast

A history podcast looking at all aspects of WWII, military history, social history, the battles, the campaigns, tanks, gun and other equipment, the politics and those who ran the war. I look at it all. With WW2 slipping from living memory I aim to look at different historical aspects of the Second World War. In each episode of the WWII Podcast I interview an expert on a subject. No topics are out of bounds (as yet), and I cover the military history side of the war as well as looking the home front. Hopefully the format allows for close examination of a topic, and makes for absorbing listening.
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The WW2 Podcast
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Apr 15, 2019

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.

Apr 1, 2019

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’

Mar 15, 2019

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.

Mar 1, 2019

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

Feb 15, 2019

"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.

Feb 1, 2019

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

 

Jan 15, 2019

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.

Jan 1, 2019

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.

Dec 15, 2018

At the outbreak of WWII Britain put into motion the strategy of using the Royal Navy to blockade Germany, depriving her of essential goods. When Europe fell the blockade was widened to include all of Europe.

This provided a dilemma for the British, the Ministry of Economic Warfare was in favour of depriving all occupied countries of goods, for the Foreign Office depriving occupied countries would mean negatively affecting countries that were allied with Britain.

In Greece this would lead to famine, and a relief operation organised by the International Red Cross.

I’m joined by Dr James Crossland of Liverpool John Moores University. James specialises in the history of international humanitarian law and the development of the Red Cross.

Dec 1, 2018

Long standing listeners will have heard me chat to Walter Zapotoczny before, in episode 57 we looked at Ardennes offensive, and in episode 63 we looked at German penal battalions.

Patrons of the podcast might recall on both occasions after I’d finished recording we got to talking about the Italians in North Africa.

Well, Walter’s book on the topic was released a couple of months ago ‘The Italian Army In North Africa: A Poor Fighting Force or Doomed by Circumstance’

Hopefully we can answer the question a poor fighting force or doomed by circumstance in this podcast.

Nov 26, 2018

“'Stay low, stay on track, and stay alive' was the motto of the RAF's most secret Station, Tempsford. That's exactly what Geoffrey Rothwell did ‒ DFC & Bar, 1939-45 Star, Aircrew Europe Star with France/Germany Clasp, Defence Medal, Victory Medal, Order of Leopold II & Palme, Croix de Guerre 1940 & Palme, Bomber Command Medal, POW medal, La Légion d’honneur ‒ from Bomber Command via SOE to Stalag and back.”

In episode 53 I talked to Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell about the SOE agent Diana Rowden. After we had stopped recording Gabrielle told me about her husband Geoffrey Rothwell, was the last surviving pilot for SOE during the war. At the time she was in the process of checking through a biography of Geoff’s experiences.

Sadly since then Geoff has passed away, but Gabrielle has managed to complete the book recounting his life and wartime experiences and its been released, the title is ‘Last Man Standing’.

In this bonus episode of the podcast I talk to Gabrielle about Geoff’s life.

Nov 15, 2018

‘On a dark night in 1944, a beautiful stretch of the Devon coast became the scene of desperate horror. Tales began to leak out of night-time explosions and seaborne activity. This was practice for Exercise Tiger, the main rehearsal for the Utah Beach landings…’

This is very much an episode in two halves, I start by looking at the disastrous Exercise Tigerwhich took place in April 1944, at Lyme Bay and Slapton Sands in Devon. Then move on to talk about a Sherman tank!

I’m joined by Dean Small.

Dean’s father Ken did much to rediscover those event in April 1944, and create a memorial to those who lost their lives. He wrote the book The Forgotten Dead: The true story of Exercise Tiger, the disastrous rehearsal for D-Day

You can find out more about the exercise on Dean's website Exercise Tiger Memorial.

Nov 1, 2018

US Marine, Lt Alexander Bonnymanlanded on Tarawa in December 1942. He was mortally wounded leading an assault on a Japanese bunker, which was key to defense of the island, and act for which he would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor.

In this episode of the podcast I talk to his grandson, Clay Bonnyman Evansabout the events surrounding his death and about how his grandfather's remains, along with hundreds of others who had been hastily buried, were lost after the war.

Oct 15, 2018

At the beginning of WWII Germany invaded and occupied Denmark and Norway, but left neutral Sweden alone. Less than a year later citizens from all three of those Scandinavian nations were volunteering to join the Waffen-SS. By the end of the war in 1945 the number of Scandinavians who had fought in the Waffen-SS had reached the thousands. Casualties were high, but there were survivors and they returned home, often to face retribution and condemnation.

In episode 55, I discussed the Flemish Waffen SS, with Jonathan Trigg. Since then he’s been busy tracking down the few surviving veterans of the SS who were from Scandinavia, for his new book Voices of the Scandinavian Waffen SS: The Final Testament of Hitler's Vikings.

Being a fellow Yorkshireman, with a new book, on a very interesting topic, I thought it rude not to ask him back!

Oct 1, 2018

Way back in episode four of the podcast, I talked to Andrew Panton about the Lancaster Bomber; Andrew is the pilot of Lancaster ‘Just Jane’ here in the UK. Whilst chatting the role of flight engineer came up, I had no clue what they actually did, I wasn’t aware they worked in tandem with the pilot to fly the plane.

Ever since I’ve been on the lookout for someone to talk to about the role, if you do a search on Amazon you’ll discover how overlooked the Flight Engineer has been in the historiography.

Earlier this year Colin Pateman released his latest book ‘Fuel, Fire and Fear: RAF Flight Engineers at War’, clearly he is the man to speak!

Sep 15, 2018

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.

Sep 1, 2018

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.

Aug 15, 2018

Last year I talked to Mark Felton about the escape attempts of British VIP prisoners, held by the Italians. That was episode 49 Castle of Eagles, the book is possibly my favourite read of last year.

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’.

Aug 1, 2018

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.

Jul 15, 2018

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!

Jul 1, 2018

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’.

Jun 15, 2018

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.

 

Jun 1, 2018

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.

May 15, 2018

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.

May 1, 2018

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.

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