After the fall of France, Germany turned its attention to Britain. The Battle of Britain is the story of the hard pressed RAF struggling against an enemy, which up to that point hadn’t been stopped. Immortalised on celluloid in the 1969 film, with a star studded cast, Guy Hamilton’s Battle of Britain is very much an anglo centric view and even nearly 30 years after the war the narrative leans heavily on the wartime propaganda. The story of the Battle of Britain is much more complicated, that is not taking anything away from those men Churchill referred to as ‘the ‘few’, in fact in many instances it makes their story more remarkable.
This may well be a topic we come back to from time to time, but to start us off we’re going to look at those crucial summer months in 1940 from the German perspective, asking how did they view it and what was their experience?
Joining me today is Douglas Dildy and Paul Crickmore authors of To Defeat the Few: The Luftwaffe’s campaign to destroy RAF Fighter Command, August–September 1940.
Doug is a retired US Air Force colonel who spent nine of his 26-year career in Western Europe and retired with approximately 3,200 hours of fast jet time, almost half of that as an F-15 Eagle pilot.
He attended the US Armed Forces Staff College and USAF Air War College and holds a Masters Degree in Political Science. Doug has authored several campaign studies as well as several articles covering the Dutch, Danish and Norwegian air arms' defence against the German invasions of 1940.
Paul is an aviation historian and former air traffic controller, he’s penned numerous books including a number on the SR-71 Blackbird and F-15.
The Spanish civil war has been highlighted as an important prelude to WWII with Germany, Italy and Russia providing men and materiel for the Republican and Nationalist forces. Augmenting this were other foreign fighters forming the international Brigades. In this episode we’ll explore this conflict to see how much influence it had on the Second World War.
I’m joined by Alex Clifford, author of The People’s Army In the Spanish Civil War and co-host of the podcast History's Most, a podcast that delves into interesting, under-reported and controversial topics in history. In each episode they take a 'most' or 'worst' in history and investigate it, from History's Most Guilty man, to most Unlikely victory to worst democracy. From Erich Ludendorff to the First Crusade... You should be able to find it on your podcast software of choice...
As you know I like to seek out lesser known topics of the Second World War. In this episode we’ll be looking at the British army’s Middle-East Anti-locust Unit (MEALU). Due to locust threatening local food crops in the middle east, and to prevent valuable shipping space being used to import food the unit was created, and tasked with waging war on locust.
Joining me is Athol Yates.
Athol is Assistant Professor at Institute for International and Civil Security, at the Khalifa University in the United Arab Emirates. He has recently published the paper The British Military and the Anti-Locust Campaign across the Arab Peninsula including the Emirates, 1942-45
In this episode we’re looking at the British decryption efforts centred around Bletchley Park. I’m sure to some extent you’re all aware of the German cypher machine Enigma which proved so challenging to crack, but how much more do you know of British Government Code and Cypher School, which was housed at Bletchley Park during World War II.
Joining me is Dermot Turing, if the name sounds familiar he is the nephew of the now well known Alan Turing whose name is now synonymous with the cracking of the enigma code. Dermot has served as a trustee of Bletchley Park and the Turing Trust, he is author of a number of books looking at Alan Turing and codebreaking, his latest being The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park.
The old adage is ‘information is power’, and in this episode we’re going to be looking at the US operations to initially obtain information that was in the public domain. Post D-Day the mission changed to both seizing books, documents and papers as the Allies advanced; then after the close of hostilities in May 1945 the operations morphed once more to collecting, seizing and sorting books. The men tasked with this job were an unlikely band of librarians, archivists, and scholars.
It’s a particularly less well known corner of the war that historian Kathy Peiss throws the spotlight on in her book Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe.
Kathy Peiss is the Roy F. and Jeannette P. Nichols Professor of American History at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research has examined the history of working women; working-class and interracial sexuality; leisure, style, and popular culture; the beauty industry in the U.S. and abroad; and libraries, information, and American cultural policy during World War II.
Clementine Churchill supported her husband Winston through the ups and downs of his long career. She was his most trusted confidant, counsellor and companion. Indeed it could be arguable that without his wife Clementine, Winston might never have become Prime Minister. By his own admission, the Second World War would have been ‘impossible without her’.
I'm joined by Marie Benedict.
Marie is the author of Lady Clementine: A Novel.
80 years ago this month (thats May 2020, if you're reading this from the future) the Germans finally surrendered to the Allies. While there were a number different surrender ceremonies the 8 May 1945 was declared by the Western Allies to be Victory in Europe Day, VE Day (the Russians celebrate it on the 9th May).
In this episode we take a look at the closing period of the war, from September 1944 though to VE Day from the perspective of the Germans.
Regular listeners will recall last year I talked to Jonathan Trigg about D-Day and the Normandy Campaign from the German side of the lines. Well we’re going to pick up the story and discuss from September to the end of the war in May 1945, which co-incidently is the the topic of his latest book To VE-Day Through German Eyes: The Final Defeat of Nazi Germany.
In this episode we’re exploring the work of army Chaplains assigned to British Airborne units during the war. These men landed with the troops by parachute or glider, often behind enemy lines sharing the dangers and challenges of front line operations through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, D-Day and Arnhem to the crossing of the Rhine.
I’m joined by Linda Parker.
Linda has written a number of books exploring the work of British Army Chaplains, her latest is Nearer my God to Thee: Airborne Chaplains in the Second World War.
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.