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.
I was reading the British Journal for Military History and an article caught my eye titled The Psychological Impact of Airborne Warfare & the British Response to the Airborne Threat by Dr Tim Jenkins.
In 1940 the Germans achieved stunning successes with the use of airborne troops, the Fallschirmjäger. The first recorded attack by parachutists was in Denmark against the fortress at Masnedø. The reputed impregnable fortress at Eben Emael in Belgium would surrender to just 78 German airborne troops who had landed on top in Gliders.
Traditionally Britain was safe beyond the English Channel, protected by the Royal Navy, this new threat from the air caught the public imagination. There was a clamour in the press, questions were raised in Parliament... What to do?
The result would be thousands of sign posts removed to confuse enemy parachutists, golf course would be ploughed up to prevent glider landings and of course the Home Guard would be formed.
It’s a brilliant article and I suggest you give it a read, you can find it here. Tim agreed to come on the podcast and have a chat.
In this episode I’m looking at Operation Tonga, the British airborne element that led the way during the D-Day landings in 1944.
I’m joined by Stephen Wright.
Stephen is keenly interested in the operation, an operation his uncle was killed taking part in. For the last twenty years he’s been researching the airborne, and particularly the use of Gliders during the closing years of the war.
His book, co-authored with Bill Shannon, Operation Tonga brings to the reader first hand accounts of that night. Stephen is also involved with a new feature film True Valour, you can follow its progress here on Facebook and for more information the website is truevalourmovie.com.
In this episode we’re looking at high ranking British POWs held by the Italians and their attempts at escape. The middle east was considered an Italian theatre, rather than prisoners be shipped to Germany high ranking officers such as Generals Richard O’Connor, Phillip Neame, Adrian Carton de Wiart or Air Marshal Owen Boyd were placed into Italian custody as POWs. Neither rank or age deterred their determination to escape
In this episode I’m looking at the giant soviet T-35 tank with Francis Pulham. As you will discover the T-35 was a peculiar vehicle with five turrets, very few were ever produced and almost all were knocked out very early in the war.
Francis is the author of Fallen Giants, The Combat Debut of the T-35a tank.
"The T-35 was a Soviet multi-turreted heavy tank of the interwar period and early Second World War that saw limited production and service with the Red Army. It was the only five-turreted heavy tank in the world to reach production, but proved to be slow and mechanically unreliable. Most of the T-35 tanks still operational at the time of Operation Barbarossa were lost due to mechanical failure rather than enemy action.
Outwardly, it was large; but internally, the spaces were cramped with the fighting compartments separated from each other. Some of the turrets obscured the entrance hatches." wikipedia
In this episode we’re in the Western Desert in 1940-41 looking at the air campaign fought by Raymond Collishaw and his RAF crews.
Collishaw was a WW1 fighter ace. When the war broke out in 1939 now Air Commodore Collishaw he commanded an RAF Group in Egypt. The fighting in the western desert in 1940 and early 41 is often overlooked yet with his army counterpart, Richard O’Connor they scored some stunning successes. Collishaws ideas on tactical air support would become the blue print for allied air operations later in the war.
Joining me is Mike Bechthold.
Mike is the author of Flying to Victory: Raymond Collishaw and the Western Desert Campaign 1940-41.
As many of you know I bang on about supporting me via Patreon at the start of each episode. These small donations pay for hosting, software and help me to find the time to dedicate to the show.
After two years of plugging away I’ve finally reached my first funding goal on Patreon, $250 per month! Now I've reached this goal I’m going to upgrade my hosting package allowing me to potentially post more and longer podcasts.
As a thank you to everyone for their support, and a very big thank you to all the Patrons who give a dollar or two each month, here is an extra podcast I recorded.
I’ve chatted with Craig Moore before. He runs the website tank-hunter.com and contributes to tank-encyclopedia.com… Craig recently took part in a dig to recover one of the very few British Covenanter tanks which has been buried in Surry in the UK!
"The Covenanter A13 Mark III Cruiser Mk V tank is regarded as one of the worst vehicles ever produced in Britain at a time when the country was desperate for tanks." more
In this episode we’re going to be discussing Bill Cheall.
Bill joined the Green Howard's in 1939, a regiment in the British army, and fought throughout the whole war. He was evacuated through Dunkirk, fought in the Desert, took part in the invasion of Sicily and in 1944 landed on Gold beach on D-Day…
Bill wrote his memoirs which have been edited by his son Paul and publish as “Fighting Through from Dunkirk to Hamburg: A Green Howard’s Wartime Memoir”.
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For more information and pictures of Bill Cheall you can visit fightingthrough.co.uk and you can find Paul's podcast at fightingthroughpodcast.co.uk.
The Green Howard's are of particular interest to me as they are my local regiment. I have two grandfathers who service in WW1 with them, and a great uncle who served in WW2. Uncle Jack. reputedly, like Bill was plucked from the beaches of Dunkirk, though he was later shipped to India and saw fighting in Burma.
In this episode we’re looking at three brothers all in the US Navy at the start of the war, and their remarkable story.
Today I’m joined by Sally Mott Freeman, her book “The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family's Quest to Bring Him Home” follows her father and his two brothers through the war.
Bill Mott would start the war in FDR’s Whitehouse Map room, his brother Benny would be on the Carrier USS Enterprise and Barton was a supply officer based in the Philippines…
Their experience brings out how difficult it must have been for families at war.
Last year I talked to Irish Historian Bernard Kelly about his book “Military Internees, Prisoners of War and the Irish State during the Second World War”, thats episode 23 for those who haven’t listened. We discussed how the Republic of Ireland walked the tightrope of neutrality and how it treated troops of belligerent nations who found themselves within its borders..
Chatting with Bernard after that recording I discovered his MA thesis looked at the Russia’s Winter War with Finland. Yet another interesting WW2 topic and that's what we’ll be discussing in this episode.
In November 1939 Russia attacked Finland, Britain and France were already at war with Germany and were not keen on declaring war on Russia in the defence of Finland. More importantly a total collapse of Finland might mean a Russian threaten Sweden and Norway?
Also throw into the mix that Swedish iron was vital to the German war effort it meant the Allies needed to do something, but what?
The role of the International Committee of the Red Cross during WWII is complicated. Closely bound to Switzerland the ICRC tried to remain neutral whilst at the same time operating with in the boundaries of the Geneva Conventions.
Criticised for its failure to speak out during the holocaust as the war came to a close it went into overdrive to remain relevant in a post war world.
I'm joined by Gerald Steinacher.
Gerald is Associate Professor of History and Hymen Rosenberg Professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, his latest book is Humanitarians at War: The Red Cross in the Shadow of the Holocaust.
In January I had an email from Bob Drury, if that name sounds familiar it’s because I chatted to Bob in episode 30 talking about Old 666. He wondered what I had planned for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Coral Sea.
As it happens I’d not actually thought about the Battle of the Coral Sea! Bob suggested that he and his writing partner of Lucky 666 Tom Calvin come on the podcast and have a chat.
The naval clash at in the Coral sea was pivotal in the war against Japan. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor nothing had stood in the way of the Japanese typhoon that had swept across the pacific. Fortress Singapore, the Dutch East Indies there was nothing seemingly the Royal Navy or Americans could do to stop them.
At the Coral Sea three Japanese Aircraft Carriers would face two US Carriers, this would be the first time a naval battle would take place without any belligerent ships seeing one another, it was a new war of carrier launched aircraft.
Was it a draw? Both sides withdrew. History shows us it would be a tactical victory for the Japanese and a strategic victory for the Americans. Perhaps more importantly it was the first time the Japanese were stopped.
We’re looking at amphibious operations during the war in this episode. Until I started researching I hadn’t realised how many there were. We’re all pretty familiar with the handful in the European Theatre but in the Pacific the list is long…
In this episode I’m talking to Mike Walling.
Mikes is the author of Bloodstained Sands, US amphibious operations in WWII, he is a veteran of the US navy coast guard and has spent the last forty years collecting stories from veterans.
I’ve been planning to look at some individual soldiers stories for some time, the first was going to be the story of a Green Howard who fought through from D-Day until the end of the war. As his story is similar to my great uncles everyone in my family was interested and the book has gone on it’s travels passed from my mother to my sister to my brother… As of typing I haven't got it back...
In the meantime when I was given the opportunity to talk to Frank Lavin about his father's war time experience I jumped at the chance.
Frank has gathered together and organised his father letters he posted home during the war. Carl Lavin was a high school senior in Canton, Ohio, when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Canton, Ohio, native was eighteen when he enlisted, a decision that would take him with the US Army from training across the United States and Britain to combat with the 84th Infantry Division in the Battle of the Bulge and through to the occupation of Germany.
The book is Homefront to Battlefront: An Ohio Teenage in World War II there is a link on the website.
In this episode we’re looking at a topic we touched up on in way back in episode 06 when we looked at the OSS. We’re looking at the OSS station chief in Bern, Switzerland, Allen Dulles and his connections with the German resistance during the WWII.
Dulles incredibly was approached by a number of Germans unhappy with the Nazi regime who fed him information from 1943 onward.
I’m joined by Scott Miller.
Scott’s book Agent 110: An American Spymaster and the German Resistance in WWII, looks at Dulles operation in Switzerland and pieces together his connections with the German resistance.
Once the Allies had crossed the English Channel on D-Day the next large natural barrier would be the crossing of the Rhine into Germany.
Toward the end of 1944 the fighting had been hard, the Americans had slogged through the Hürtgen Forest, everyone had reeled against the German counter attack in the Ardennes. The Rhine is a perfect natural border, the crossing of which would be symbolically crossing the last line of defence in to Germany from the West.
The task was given to Montgomery's 21st Army. As ever Monty put together an enormous set piece battle (Plunder), he knew the war was close to the end, many of the Allied troops in his command had fought for years. He couldn’t afford for the crossing to fail.
4,000 guns opened up on the 23rd March, in the American sector they fired 65,000 shells in one hour! Varsity, the airborne arm of the operation was the largest airborne operation in history, with over 16,000 troops flown in.
To discuss this, and the crossings that beat Monty to it, I’m joined by Marc DeSantis. If that name sounds familiar that is because Marc is also regular guest on the Ancient Warfare Magazine Podcast. He is also a regular contributor to many history magazines on WWII topics.
In this episode we’ll looking at how Britain found the manpower to fight the war. By the end at least four and a half million had served from Britain, if we add to that figure Empire and Commonwealth forces we’re looking it perhaps upwards of ten million. Its an astounding figure….
I’m joined by Roger Broad.
Rogers New book Volunteers and Pressed Men looks at recruitment during both the First and second World War in both Britain and its Empire.
In this episode I’m talking to Edward Hooton and we’re looking at the air war over the Eastern Front, a topic I’m not familiar with. From my own point of view it's always been overshadowed by the ground war.
Edward has written a number of books on aviation history during WWII. His latest book “War over the Steppes: The air campaigns on the Eastern Front 1941-45” is a fascinating look at the air operations carried out by both the Russians and Germans during the war.