In episode 107, I talked to Ian Mitchell about the Battle of the Peaks and Longstop Hill in North Africa. Ian subsequently emailed me suggesting I talk to Sam Wallace, a post graduate researcher at Leeds University, who was working on some interesting stuff; Sam's PhD is titled The Allied Sandbox: The Tunisian Campaign and the Development of Allied Warfighting Methods, 1942-43.
After chatting with Sam, we decided to look at his MA thesis which is titled Arme Blanche to Armoured Warfare: The Process of Mechanisation within the British Cavalry and the Construction of British Tank Doctrine, c.1925-45,which covers the interwar decision to mechanise the British cavalry arm, and the impacts this decision had on the resulting development of British armoured doctrine, regimental identity and the effectiveness of British armour in the Second World War.
In 1944, Ira Barnet took off from an airfield in New Guinea. Flying a B-25 Mitchell, from the 48th Tactical Fight Squadron, Ira and the crew were on a regular mission to harry any Japanese shipping they came across. Attacking a barge the Japanese managed to get some luck shots on Ira’s plane. Attempting to nurse the Mitchell back to base it became obvious the plane wasn't going to make it. Ira was forced to make an emergency landing in a jungle swamp, miles behind enemy lines.
In this episode we’re looking at the ordeal the crew went through and the rescue mission that was launched in an attempt to bring the boys back home.
I’m joined by Bas Krueger.
Bas is an aviation historian and author of Kais, which recounts the story and Bas’s own attempts to locate the B-25 over 70 years later...
Bertram Ramsey was the mastermind behind the evacuation of the BEF from France in those crucial weeks at the end of May and the start of June in 1940. It was his planning, determination and leadership which helped evacuate around 338,000 men from Dunkirk. But for this Royal Navy Officer, still officially retired, it was just one landmark operation he was involved with. Ramsey would go on to plan and take part in the invasion of North Africa, Sicily and Normandy; for Overlord he would be in overall command of the naval component of the D-Day landings, Neptune.
But, Admiral Bertram Ramsay is not now a household name, overshadowed by some of his contemporaries. Hopefully in this episode we’ll try and put the record straight.
I’m joined by Brian Izzard.
Brian’s book Mastermind of Dunkirk and D-Day: The Vision of Admiral Bertram Ramsay is the first major biography of Ramsay for 50 years!
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On 6th August 1945, Colonel Paul Tibbets, flying the ‘Enola Gay’ a B-29 Superfortress named after Tibbets’s mother, dropped the first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima.
The bomb, ‘little-boy’, devastated the city; exploding with the energy of approximately 15 kilotons of TNT. The explosion instantly killed thousands of people and in the next few months tens of thousands more would die from the effects of burns, radiation sickness, and other injuries, compounded by illness and malnutrition.
On the 9th August Nagasaki would be the next city to be hit by an atomic bomb.
The effects of the atomic bombs shocked even the US military. Even before the Japanese surrender, the US government and military had begun a secret propaganda and information suppression campaign to hide the devastating nature of these experimental weapons. For nearly a year the cover-up worked—until New Yorker journalist John Hersey got into Hiroshima and managed to report the truth to the world.
Hersey’s story would shape the postwar narrative of the atomic bombs, and the US government’s response has helped frame the justification for dropping the bombs which comes down to us today.
I’m joined by Lesley Blume author of the excellent Fallout: The Hiroshima Cover-up and the Reporter Who Revealed It to the World.
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.