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.
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.
“'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.
‘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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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!
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This episode, is released just after the 75th anniversary of the escape of ten American prisoners of war, and two Filipino convicts, from the Davao Penal Colony. The following year when the story broke, the US War Department would call it the ‘greatest story of the war’. The man made famous at the time for escaping, and recounting the story, was Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess. A fighter pilot who not only fought in the air, but during the defence of Bataan led and amphibious assault as an infantryman.
Joining me to tell us the story of ‘Ed Dyess’ is John Lukacs, who is fighting to get Dyess awarded the Medal of Honor; and keeping his memory alive with the website 4-4-43.com.
If you remember back in episode 45, I discussed the Barton Brothers with Sally Mott Freeman, Dyess’s story intersects with that as Barton was at the Davao Penal Colony and his brother Bill was in Washington aware of Dyess’s escape.
One of my first guests was Jeffrey Cox, we discussed in length the Java Sea campaign in episode 14.
Jeff has been busy for the last couple of years writing his follow up book Morning Star, Midnight Sun – The Early Guadalcanal-Solomons Campaign of World War Two. So I asked Jeff back to discuss the campaign.
Jeff and I talked for nearly three hours, so whilst the podcast is trimmed to keep us on message if you want some more why not become a patron and have another 30min of us talking what he's unto next and torpedos!
In episode 57 I talked to Walter Zapotoczny about Ardennes Offensive, chatting with him it told me had had a new book out in 2018 looking at German Penal Battalions. That sounded like a topic right up my street so I got him back to talk with us.
When war broke out in 1939, Hitler created `Strafbattalion' (Penal Battalion) units to deal with incarcerated members of the Wehrmacht as well as `subversives'. His order stated that any first-time convicted soldier could return to his unit after he had served a portion of his sentence in `a special probation corps before the enemy'.
In this episode we’re going to be discussing the plight of 168 Allied Airmen who found themselves imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp. It’s something that even to this day governments seem unwilling to admit to.
“As we got close to the camp and saw what was inside... a terrible, terrible fear and horror entered our hearts. We thought, what is this? Where are we going? Why are we here? And as you got closer to the camp and started to enter [it] and saw these human skeletons walking around; old men, young men, boys, just skin and bone, we thought, what are we getting into?” — Canadian airman Ed Carter-Edward's recollection of his arrival at Buchenwald.
Joining me is Frederic Martini, his father was shot down over France in 1944 and was one of the Buchenwald airmen. His written about his father’s experiences, the book is Betrayed.
If Slim’s 14th army was the ‘Forgotten Army’ the RAF bombing campaign in the Far East is even more forgotten!
In this episode I'm talking to Matt Poole.
Matt's mother is from Liverpool, her first husband was in the RAF serving in Burma when he was shot down over Rangoon. In trying to find out what happened that night Matt was introduced to Bill Kirkness who served in the same squadron.
Bill had written a memoir of his wartime experience, though he's sadly now passed away Matt has edited the manuscript into RAF Liberators over Burma: Flying with 159 Squadron.
We discuss Bill Kirkness's war, the RAF in Burma and Matt's journey of piercing the story together
When I plan the podcast episodes I don’t usually sit down and look at the subject and how it relates to those episodes around it, hence we’ve often found ourselves in the pacific in quick succession.
In this instance it seems serendipitous that we’re going from looking at the fall of France, in the last episode, to looking at the experiences of German fighter pilots in Europe. The two topics compliment one another rather well.
Joining me is Patrick Eriksson.
Patrick is the author of Alarmstart: The German Fighter Pilot’s Experience in the Second World War. Since the 1970’s Patrick has been an associate member of the German Air Force Veterans Association interviewing and corresponding with former members of the Luftwaffe.
In this episode I’m looking at ‘Case Red’ the German attack on France post Dunkirk. Often when we talk about the Battle of France the history seems to stop at Dunkirk, in actual fact the fight carried on for a few more weeks. There was still British 100,000+ troops in France, Churchill was keen to keep the French fighting…
Joining in me is Robert Forczyk, if you recall last year we discussed Operation Sealion with Bob. He’s been beavering away and has a new book out, ‘Case Red: The collapse of France’. Its a real eye opener…
In this episode we’ll be looking at two British soldiers in occupied Burma.
Major Hugh Seagrim operated for two years behind the Japanese lines, organising Karen resistance before he was eventually forced to surrender. Seagrim crosses paths with Roy Pagani, trying to make his way back to British army in India, after escaping as a POW working on the Burma railway. Pagani is a remarkable man he had already escaped from Dunkirk in 1940, and Singapore when it fell in 1942.
Joining me today is Phillip Davis.
Phillip is the author of Lost Warriors, Seagrim and Pagani of Burma The last great untold story of WWII.