We've neglected the Battle of the Atlantic, so in this episode of the podcast we look at the how the US Navy tackled the U-Boat threat during WWII. To start with, flying long missions with just a pair of binoculars to spy an enemy sub, by the 1944 new technology was being applied to track, trace and destroy U-Boats.
Joining me is Alan Cary.
Alan is a historian specializing in military aviation and has written Sighted Sub, Sank Same: The United States Navy Air Campaign against the U-Boat.
On the 24th of March 1945, 75 years ago this year, the largest ever airborne operation swung into action. Operation Varsity involved over 16,000 paratroopers and thousands of planes, the objective was to secure the west bank of the Rhine and the bridges over the Issel. Behind them was the Monty’s 21st Army Group which was crossing the Rhine as part of Operation Plunder.
A successful crossing of the Rhine would allow the allies access to the North German Plain and ultimately to advance upon Berlin.
Joining me today is James Fenelon.
James served in the US Airborne before turning his hand to writing, he is the author of Four Hours of Fury which looks at Varsity. It’s a good read and does an excellent job of getting across the confusion of the situation for those men, once they hit the ground on that day in 1945.
"Richard Sorge was a man with two homelands. Born of a German father and a Russian mother in Baku in 1895, he moved in a world of shifting alliances and infinite possibility. A member of the angry and deluded generation who found new, radical faiths after their experiences on the battlefields of the First World War, Sorge became a fanatical communist - and the Soviet Union's most formidable spy."
Joining me to discuss Sorge is Owen Matthews.
Owen is the former Moscow and Istanbul Bureau Chief for Newsweek Magazine and has just has just released a biography of Richard Sorge, An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge, Stalin’s Master Agent. It’s a cracking read! I thoroughly enjoyed it…
In this episode we’re going to be looking at the P-47 Thunderbolt and the US 362nd Fighter Group. The P-47 was a fighter bomber and very much suited to a ground attack role, with it's eight .50 cal machine guns and it could carry a bomb load of 2,500lbs or rockets. On top of that, it could take a lot of punishment.
I’m joined by Chris Bucholtz.
Chris is an aviation historian with a number of books under his belt including Thunderbolts Triumphant: The 362nd Fighter Group vs Germany's Wehrmacht.
At the end of last year aviation historian Mathew Chapman sent me over his MA thesis, which is titled The Evolution of Professional Aviation Culture in Canada, 1939-45. In it he outlines the development of the British Commonwealth Air Training program in Canada, but the thesis goes on to discuss how veteran WWII pilots would dominate post war commercial airlines.
If you were an air passenger in the 50’s, 60’s, 70s, and into the 1980s, there was a good chance your pilot was a WWII veteran. Take Concorde, the most famous passenger plane. The first man to fly it, Brian Trubshaw, he was in Bomber Command and flew Lancasters and transports during the war. If that is not interesting enough, the retirement of these veteran pilots led to a re-evaluation of the relationships between aircrew, the effects of which (as my wife pointed out) were so fundamental they have been introduced into the health service here in the UK.
We’re all familiar with the events on that day of ‘infamy’, the 7th December 1941. The Japanese launch their typhoon in the pacific with the attack on Pearl Harbour. Hours later they would invade Malaya; an operation that would outflank the British 'fortress’ singapore. Japanese units would land on the Philippines and the conquest of the Dutch-East Indies (modern day indonesia) would begin. Less well known is the Japanese attack on the British territory of Hong Kong
The island had been ceded to the British in 1841, it served as a valuable harbour for ships trading with the Chinese port of Canton (now Guangzhou). Since then the colony had grown to include the Kowloon peninsula and the New Territories on the mainland, giving Hong Kong a land border with China.
We’ve looked at various early attacks made by the Japanese in December 1941, but I’ve often wondered what happened to Hong Kong? Well to answer that I’m joined by Phillip Cracknell. Phillip is a battlefield tour guide in Hong Kong as well as being the author of The Battle for Hong Kong, December 1941.
We’re in North Africa for this episode of the podcast. In late 1942 the Allies landed in Morocco and Algeria, this was operation Torch. With them landed elements of what would become First Army, comprising of British, French and American troops. It was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Kenneth Anderson a dour capable, scotsman.
First Army would be tasked with moving east pushing the Germans back into Tunisia, with the goal of capturing Tunis. After a 500 mile advance, the allies reached what would become known as Long Stop Hill with its surrounding peaks, a natural upland barrier.
To guide us through the battle I’m joined by WWII historian Ian Mitchell. Ian has been piecing together the battle over the last nine years, and layed it all out in his book The Battle of the Peaks and Long Stop Hill. It is a crucial battle of the campaign which until now has been overlooked.
In this episode we’re starting with the US 110th Infantry regiment in the Ardennes and following a small number of GI’s who became POW and sent back to Germany, to ultimately work as slave labour on ‘operation swallow’.
Joining me once more is military historian Mark Felton. Mark is having a busy year, if you recall we chatted to him recently about the Bridge Busters, a raid on the Dortmund-Ems canal in episode 96. In episode 73 we discussed US troops undertaking Operation Cowboy as a rescue mission to save the world famous ‘spanish riding school’, and one of my favourite episodes 49 we talked about VIP POWs held by the Italians - that is a fantastic episode! And if you’ve listened to all that, don’t forget Mark is prolific on youtube with his short pieces on military history, you can find him at Mark Felton Productions.
2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Germany and then a few weeks later, Russia. It was the event that forced Britain and France to finally declare war on Germany.
In a five week campaign the Wehrmacht fought one of the largest armies in Europe to a point where it collapsed. But the Poles were not necessarily the backward force commiting cavalry to attack tanks as often the narrative of the campaign suggests. In 1939 the Polish army could put more tanks in the field than the US military, she was exporting arms, including the Bofors gun favoured by the British.
Joining me is Robert Forczyk.
I’ve talked to Robert before when we looked at Operation Sea Lion in episode 32, and Case Red: The collapse of France in episode 59. Well, he’s back with his new book Case White: The Invasion of Poland 1939, from Osprey.
If you cast your mind back to February 2018 I discussed the experience of German fighter pilots experience in Western Europe with Patrick Eriksson, that’s episode 60. Later that same year, Patrick followed up with a second book Alarmstart East, focusing on the luftwaffe fighting over Russia (episode 85).
Patrick has now finished his trilogy of Luftwaffe books with Alarmstart South and the final defeat, closing with the German experience flying in and around the Mediterean; so North Africa, Sicily, Malta etc and through to the end of the war.
So I asked Patrick back for a chat…
If you’ve ever read about the British experience in the Deserts of North Africa during WWII, one name usually gets a mention somewhere in the narrative, that of Eric Dorman-Smith, often refered to as ‘chink’.
He can be a divisive character, sometimes portrayed as a far thinking military genius whose ideas were ignored or misunderstood. To others he represents what was problematic with both the senior British commanders Wavell and Auchinleck, whose fortunes rose and fell; he was symptomatic of retreat, reorganisation, confusion and poor leadership.
The curious thing about Dorman-Smith is so little is directly written about him, he is a footnote in the books of other desert leaders and often only gets a brief mention in histories of the North Africa Campaign.
So hopefully in this episode we’ll shed some light on ‘chink’. Joining me today is James Colvin.
James is currently working on a history of the 8th army pre the battle of Alamein, which will be published by Helion next year (I’ll keep you all posted when it’s released).
June 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we had a month of D-Day podcasts looking at the operation from the British, Canadian and American perspectives. The narrative of that day is the difficulty of the operation, doubts if the landings would succeed, but what if we turn the tables? How was it for the Germans?
To answer that question I'm joined by WW2 podcast stalwart Jonathan Trigg.
Jonathan has joined us in the past to discuss his work researching foreign recruits to the SS, you can find those in episodes 55 and 77. Earlier this year, he had a new book released titled D-Day Through German Eyes: How the Wehrmacht Lost France. With D-Day fresh in our minds I thought we best get him back to have a chat about the allied invasion of Europe from the German perspective.
On the night of May 16th, 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers took off from England heading toward the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. They carried a new bomb, designed to skip across water avoiding any torpedo nets before hitting the target and sinking into the depths; then exploding.. The bomb was codenamed ‘upkeep’, we know it today as the ‘bouncing bomb’ designed by Barnes Wallis.
Those Lancaster's of 617 squadron, commanded 24 year old Guy Gibsonwould become known as the ‘Dam Busters’, the operation was CHASTISE. The mission would be a success, as in two of the targeted dams were hit and breached causing millions of tons of water to surge down into the Ruhr region, flooding mines, destroying factories and homes.
The crews that survived the raid would arrive back in Britain as celebrities, swept up in the wartime propaganda; and of course memorialised in books such as Paul Brickhill’s ‘The ‘Dam Busters’, of which the well known 1955 film is based.
Joining me to discuss the raid is Victoria Taylor.
Victoria is a Post Graduate Researcher at the University of Hull. Her MA thesis is Redressing the Wartime and Postwar Mythologization of Operation CHASTISE in Britain.
Recommended books about operation Chastise.
Cooper, Alan W. The Men Who Breached the Dams. Pen & Sword Books, 2013.
Holland, James. Dam Busters. Random House, 2012.
Sweetman, Dr John. The Dambusters Raid(Cassell Military Paperbacks). W&N, 1999.
On the 17th September 1944 Gene Metcalfe, of the 82 Airbourne, parachuted in to Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Approaching the bridge they were to capture Gene is injured in a firefight and left for dead. He would spend the rest of the war as a POW.
I talk to Gene about his wartime experiences in the Airbourne, as a POW and what happened once he was liberated.
Left for Dead in Nijmegen, by Marcus Nannini, is the story of Gene's war, it is a fantastic read and well worth picking up a copy.
One thing I’ve learned from producing these podcasts is the research never ends, it only leads to new avenues of interest branching off from the original topic. And this is the case for Peter Lion.
If you recall in episode 33, Peter told us how elements of the US 28nd infantry division, stationed in the Luxembourg town of Wiltz put on a christmas party for the local children, and this included GI Richard Brookins dressing as St Nicholas and arriving by jeep to hand out gifts.
In researching that Peter bumped into the story of George Mergenthaler, heir to the Mergenhaler Linotype Company.
I’ve been trying to pin down a guest for an ‘extra’ episode for quite a while, so when Peter proposed we discuss his book MERGit I jumped at the chance.
For Patrons of the podcast I make available parts of the interviews that are off topic or just never made it into the ‘final cut’. I’ve a bit more of Peter and chatting and I’ve decided to release it free to everyone as a big thank you for listening and all the support you’ve all given me.
If you want to listen to it you can find it at patreon.com/ww2podcast.
September 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, the allied attempt to create a sixty mile corridor, and secure a crossing over the Rhine. The plan was to use the newly formed First Allied Airborne Army to seize and hold nine key bridges until relieved by the British Army’s XXX Corp.
The Airborne component was known as Market, and the ground attack was Garden.
Joining me to talk about the background to airborne operations and Market Garden is Dr William Buckingham. William is the author or Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944.
Last year I got an email from Cole Gill, his grandfather had made a number of tape recordings recounting his experiences during the war serving on the Royal Navy ship HMS Exeter, then as a POW at the Fukuoka camp,where he witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Who wouldn’t be interested in that story?
Cole sent them over and after listening to them they’ve been languishing in my virtual bottom draw on my computer, awaiting for me to have some inspiration.
Well I’ve got them out, dusted them down and what I have for you is the story of Raymond Fitchett.
It’s a big thank you to Cole Gill for sharing these recordings.
In this episode we’re looking at an RAF raid in 1940 against the Dortmund-Ems canal. The canal was a vital trade route with huge amounts of supplies and raw materials passing along it daily.
With the fall of France and the build up to Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, interrupting the traffic on the canal would aid in upsetting the German timetable. But to undertake the task a level of accuracy was needed from the RAF which was hitherto unheard of… It was very much a proto-dambusters raid.
Joining me to discuss the raid is Dr Mark Felton, author of The Bridge Busters.
We’ve spoken to Mark before, we looked Operation Cowboy, where some elements of the Whermacht joined with the Americans to save the world famous Lipizaner horses at the close of WWII. In episode 49, we discussed British VIP POWs held by the Italians. If you’ve not heard it, dig it out. I think it’s my favorite episode of the WW2 podcast so far.
You can also find Mark on YouTube here.
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.