At the end WWII 473 men had been honoured by the United States for their bravery and sacrifice by receiving the Medal of Honor. The Medal was awarded to men of all ranks - from Lieutenant General Jonathan Wainwright at the top all the way down to 18-year-old Private Joseph Merrell. Although 1 million African Americans served in the military during the war, not one was awarded the Medal of Honor, this being despite some extraordinary acts of valour.
In 1993 a US Army commission reviewed cases from recipients of America’s second-highest medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, and determined that a number of these men had been denied the Army’s highest award simply due to racial discrimination.
In this episode, I’m joined by Robert Child author of Immortal Valor: The Black Medal of Honor Winners of World War II.
When we think of the allied war effort it is all too easy to overlook some of the junior partners. In this episode, we are going to be looking at Mexico’s commitment to the Second World War. The Mexican Expeditionary Airforce would serve in the Philippines as the 201st Fighter Squadron known as the ‘Aztec Eagles’.
I’m Joined by Walter Zapotoczny whose new book is The Aztec Eagles: The Forgotten Allies of the Second World War.
In September 1944 a young Marine name Eugene Sledge landed on the Pacific Island of Peleliu. As a mortarman, stretcher-bearer and rifleman Sledge would fight his way across Peleliu then the Japanese island of Okinawa, arguably two of the fiercest and filthiest battles of the Pacific campaign.
After the war, Eugene Sledge became a professor at Montevallo University and turned his diary notes from the war into a memoir of his experiences titled With the Old Breed. The book relates the dehumanising brutality displayed by both sides and the animal hatred that each soldier had for his enemy. Sledge writes of the conditions on the islands that meant the Marines often could not wash, stay dry, dig latrines, or even find time to eat. Suffering from constant fear, fatigue, and filth, the struggle of simply living in a combat zone was utterly debilitating for the Marines.
With the Old Breed has proved to be highly influential and has been used as source material for the Ken Burns PBS documentary The War (2007), as well as the HBO miniseries The Pacific (2010), where Eugene Sledge was played by Joseph Mazzello.
Joining me today is Henry Sledge, Eugene’s son.
You can also find Henry presenting the podcast What's the Scuttlebutt.
George S Patton Junior starred as an Olympic athlete in the 1912 Stockholm games. In 1916 under John J. Pershing Patton joined the Mexican Expedition against the paramilitary forces of Mexican revolutionary Francisco "Pancho" Villa. When the US entered the First World War Patton joined the new Tank Corps and commanded the U.S. tank school in France. Leading tanks into combat he would be wounded near the end of the war.
But Patton is best remembered for his exploits on the battlefields of WWII, and this is what what we are looking at in this episode, from Morocco, through Sicily to D-Day.
Joining me is Kevin Hymel.
Kevin has worked as a historian for the US army and is currently doing work for the Arlington National Cemetery. He is also a tour guide for Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. He is the author of Patton’s Photographs: War as He Saw It and his new book is Patton's War: An American General's Combat Leadership, Volume I: November 1942 - July 1944.
From his earliest days, Winston Churchill was a risk-taker. As a young Lieutenant in the army he charged with the cavalry at the battle of Omdurman, he saw action on the North-West Frontier and took a trip to Cuba to observe the war there. As a journalist, he covered the Boer War putting himself in harm’s way on numerous occasions.
Aged 25 he entered the house of commons and held many of the great offices of state including First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of the First World War, then minister of munitions and at the close of the war Minister for War and Air.
I’m joined by Anthony Tucker-Jones.
Anthony is a British former defence intelligence officer and a widely published military expert. His new book Churchill, Master and Commander: Winston Churchill at War 1895–1945 assesses how Churchill’s formative years shaped him for the difficult military decisions he took when he became Prime Minister in 1940.
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7th December 2021 marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that brought the United States of America into the Second World War.
On the morning of 7th December 1941, just before 8am the Japanese launched their attack on the US naval base of Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Japanese planned the attack as a first strike to cripple the US fleet in the Pacific and prevent America from intervening in other Japanese Pacific Operations. From six Imperial Japanese Aircraft carriers, over 350 planes flew in two waves attacked the American base. Eight US Navy battleships would be damaged, four sunk, along with other cruisers and destroyers. Crucially, one element of the US Pacific fleet escaped the preemptive strike. The American Aircraft Carriers were all absent from Pearl Harbor on the day of the attack.
Roosevelt would proclaim the 7th December 1941 as a ‘date that would live in infamy’.
Joining me to discuss the attack on Pearl Harbor is Mark Stille.
Mark is a naval historian who is prolific in his studies on the naval war in the Pacific. He has written Tora! Tora! Tora!: Pearl Harbor 1941 for Osprey and has two new books out looking at the whole of the US Naval Campaign in the Pacific The United States Navy in WWII: From Pearl Harbor to Okinawa and Pacific Carrier War: Carrier Combat from Pearl Harbor to Okinawa.
In this episode we are discussing chemical weapons. It might seem like an odd topic, unlike the First World War which saw the deployment of gas, chemical weapons were not used on the battlefield of Europe in WWII. But there was a fear of them being used; everyone carried a gas mask and the belligerent nations had huge chemical weapons industries working throughout the war.
I’m Joined by Brett Edwards.
Brett is a senior lecture at Bath University, he is also the host of the poisons and pestilence podcast.
One lesson the allies learned from the fall of France in 1940 was that civilian populations needed managing, to keep them away from military operations. As the allied troops came-a-shore after D-Day in June 1944, with them would be Civil Affairs units. These units were to act as liaisons between the allied combat troops and the civilians they encountered. The remit for the Civil Affairs units was wide and extremely varied, from keeping roads clear of refugees to feeding and housing local populations that war had ravaged.
Joining me today is David Borys.
David is a Canadian academic whose book Civilians at the Sharp End looks at the experiences of the Civilian Affairs units attached to the Canadian First Army. David is also the host of the popular podcast Cool Canadian History, a bi-weekly podcast on everything and anything to do with Canadian History.
Before the outbreak of war, the US Navy and the Marines had put considerable effort into developing a doctrine to support amphibious operations from ship to shore gunfire. When the marines landed on Tarawa in November 1943, it would be the first serious test of this doctrine.
In this episode, I’m joined by Donald Mitchener to discuss the doctrine and how it developed from those initial assault landings on Tarawa through to the end of the war.
Donald is a lecturer at the University of North Texas and author of U.S. Naval Gunfire Support in the Pacific War.
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I’ve an incredible story for you in this episode of Shanghai born John Robin Greaves, ‘Jack’, who emigrated to Australia in 1939 and volunteered for the Australian Imperial Force to serve overseas. The army would send Jack to the Middle East then to Greece, where he would be captured Germans.
Australian ABC journalist Stephen Hucheon has researched his uncle’s story and produced a fantastic article for ABC available on their website.
You can find the full article here:
This discussion is part of a project looking at Australian's in the Mediterranean during WWII. Find out more at historyguild.org.
If you enjoyed the episode with Richard James, when we discussed The Australian's fight the French in Syria and the Lebanon, Richard has written an article on the topic for the history guild. You can find it here:
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I recently read David Colley’s The Folly of Generals: How Eisenhower's Broad Front Strategy Lengthened World War II.David has analysed some of the missed opportunities the allies had in 1944-45 in Europe. He argues that had Eisenhower been more adept at taking advantage of several potential breakthroughs in the Siegfried Line in the autmun of 1944 the war in the European Theatre of Operations might have ended sooner.
It was such a fascinating read, so I thought I’d get David onto the podcast to examine Eisenhower’s broad front policy.
David P. Colley is an award-winning journalist and author who has written for many national publications, including Army, World War II, American Heritage, and The New York Times. Among his books on military history are The Road to Victory, which received the Army Historical Foundation's Distinguished Book Award in 2000, Blood for Dignity, and Safely Rest. He has appeared on the History Channel and Eye on Books. Colley served in the ordnance branch of the U.S. Army.
Since starting the podcast, I’ve looked at the aspects of the war from the point of view of various countries. But, one glaring omission has been any Australian narrative of the war.
The Australians fought across the world on the land, sea and in the air air; notably in the Pacific and the Middle East, which is what we’ll be discussing in this episode.
With the fall of France, her overseas territories predominantly remained loyal to the French Vichy regime. This was true for Syria and Lebanon. To the south were the British in Egypt.
With Rommel in the Western Desert and Germans fostering an uprising in Iraq, the British feared Germany might take control over of Syria and Lebanon. From there, the Nazis could supply the rebels in Iraq and threaten Egypt from two sides. Churchill ordered General Wavell to go on the offensive and take the French territories. The British didn’t envisage the French putting up much of a fight.
The Australian 7th Division would make up the bulk of the allied attacking force.
Joining me is Richard James. Richard is the author of Australia’s War with France: The Campaign in Syria and Lebanon 1941.
I'd like to thank David Phillipson, president of the Australian-based History Guild, charity which promotes historical literacy for all. David reached out to suggest I have a chat with James. If you’re interested in finding out more about the History Guild, go to historyguild.org.
As the course of the second world war turned against the Third Reich some radical proposals and inventive designs, were put forward by armaments manufacturers, scientists, technicians, aircrew and even private individuals to the German Air Ministry for consideration as weapons to be utilised by the Luftwaffe. Some proposals were destined never to leave the drawing board, while others not only underwent trials but were issued to operational units and used in action.
In the episode I’m joined by Robert Forsyth.
Robert is an aviation historian who some of you may recall I chatted to in episode 52, when we looked at Luftwaffe units working with the U-Boats. Robert has a sumptuous new book available from Osprey Luftwaffe Special Weapons 1942–45.
Buoyed by their victories over Poland and France, on the 22 June 1941 the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, and over 3 millions men advanced over the border to attack Russia. The opening of the Eastern Front would be one of Hilter’s most momentous decisions of WWII.
Having only signed a nonaggression pact with German in 1939, Stalin was taken by surprise. The opening weeks of the offensive were wildly successful for the Germans, but as the Panzer formations rapidly advanced the infantry struggled, on foot, to keep up. At Kiev, the Germans would take over half a million Russian soldiers prisoner. Barbarossa was a campaign where one Panzer Divisional commander queried if the Germans were ‘winning themselves to death’.
Joining me for this episode is now regular of the podcast Jonathan Trigg. In episode 55 and 77 Jon and I looked at foreign recruits to the SS, in 102 we looked at D Day from the German perspective and in episode 115115 – To VE Day Through German Eyes we talked about the end of the war for Germany. Jonathan has been busy and has a new book available, Barbarossa Through German Eyes.
In Britain, after the fall of France, there was the fear that the Germans may attempt a channel crossing and invade in 1940. If the Wehrmacht got shore in the south of England, facing them would have been a series of ‘Stop Lines’.
These were defensives which comprised a series of pillboxes and anti-tank obstacles. They hoped these static defences would hold up any German advance long enough for the British to bring forward a mobile reserve.
During WWII this network of fortifications was spread across the country.
Protecting Britain from an invasion in Devon and Cornwall was the Taunton Stop line in the South West of the country.
To tell me all about Stop Lines is Andrew Powell-Thomas. Andrew is a military historian specialising in the military history of the West Country. He is also the author of The West Country’s Last Line of Defence: Taunton Stop Line.
On the heavy bombers the role of the crew members was symbiotic. The pilot needed the flight engineer to fly; the navigator got the plane to the target, and it was the bomb aimer that delivered the ordinance.
Wartime films give the impression of the bomb aimer's job being simply to look through the bombsight and press the button to release the bombs at the right time. In actual fact, their job is much more sophisticated. They aided the navigator, took readings to be dialled into their computer connected bomb sight, and often they might also be expected to man a machine gun in the plane's nose.
In this episode I’m joined by Colin Pateman. If you recall in episode 76 I talked to Colin about Flight Engineers. Well, he’s been busy since then and has just completed a new book Aiming for Accuracy which focuses on bomb aimers in the RAF.
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Alan Brooke would take over as the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff in December 1941. For the rest of the war Brooke would organise and coordinate the British military effort, in such a role acted as Winston Churchill’s senior military advisor.
Brooke’s relationship with Churchill could be tempestuous. Brooke was not a ‘yes man’ and would stand up to Churchill. The two might argue, but Churchill never fired him and appreciated his candour.
History now often overlooks the contribution Brooke made to the war, in favour of commanders who were happy to seize the limelight. He is very much the forgotten Field Marshal.
Joining me is Andrew Sangster.
Andrew is the author of Alan Brooke: Churchill's Right-Hand Critic: A Reappraisal of Lord Alanbrooke. This is a new appraisal and biography of Brooke.
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When France capitulated in 1940 and the Vichy government came to power many of the French colonial possessions remained loyal to the new regime. The same was true for the Island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean.
In this episode I’m joined by Russell Phillips.
Russell’s book A Strange Campaign narrates the story of the battle for Madagascar, where British troops would fight the French for possession of the island.
If you want to hear more from Russell, spool back through the WW2 Podcast feed to episode 27. We discussed Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and the destruction of the Czech village of Lidice as a reprisal by the Germans. Not only was the village physically destroyed all the visible remains were removed.
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Everyone remembers the role of Churchill and Roosevelt throughout the war, but there was a third man key to their relationship and of the three of them the only one to remain in power at the end of the war in August 1945.
Mackenzie King was the Prime Minister of Canada, the largest British Dominion and America's closest neighbour. By the start of the war, King knew both FDR and he’d been friends with Churchill since first meeting in 1905. He would serve as a lynchpin between the great powers, yet is now often overlooked.
Joining me is Neville Thompson.
Neville is a professor emeritus of history at the University of Western Ontario, where he taught modern British and European history. He is also the author of the wonderful book The Third Man: Churchill, Roosevelt, MacKenzie King, and the Untold Friendships That Won WWII which recounts the relationship between the three men based on King’s personal diaries.
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looking at the British Army in North Africa, its tactics and training in an effort to explain the difficulties the 8th Army had fighting the Afrika Korps.
Jame’s book was released last year but I’ve only recently managed to find the time to read his book 8th Army vs Rommel. And what a cracking book it is…
It's a simple question, how do you knock out a Panther tank? When the 'boffins' in Britain got hold of a Panther it's the question they were tasked with finding an answer for.
Using official reports and documents, Craig Moore has been through the archives piecing together all the faults that the British saw in the German Panther during WWII. In this episode, I discuss with him the chinks that were found in the amour of the German tank.
Craig is the author of How to Kill a Panther Tank and How to Kill a Tiger Tank.
'In the years after World War I, the defeated and much-reduced German Army developed new clothing and personal equipment that drew upon the lessons learned in the trenches. In place of the wide variety of uniforms and insignia that had been worn by the Imperial German Army, a standardized approach was followed, culminating in the uniform items introduced in the 1930s as the Nazi Party came to shape every aspect of German national life.
The outbreak of war in 1939 prompted further adaptations and simplifications of uniforms and insignia, while the increasing use of camouflaged items and the accelerated pace of weapons development led to the appearance of new clothing and personal equipment. Medals and awards increased in number as the war went on, with grades being added for existing awards and new decorations introduced to reflect battlefield feats.
Specialists such as mountain troops, tank crews and combat engineers were issued distinctive uniform items and kit, while the ever-expanding variety of fronts on which the German Army fought - from the North African desert to the Russian steppe - prompted the rapid development of clothing and equipment for different climates and conditions. In addition, severe shortages of raw materials and the demands of clothing and equipping an army that numbered in the millions forced the simplification of many items and the increasing use of substitute materials in their manufacture.'
Joining me is Dr Stephen Bull.
Stephen is the author of Ospreys publishings sumptuous German Army Uniforms of World War II.
Since the HBO WWII miniseries Band of Brothers aired in 2001, Major Dick Winters of the 101st Airborne has garnered international acclaim. His exploits hit key moments of the North Western European campaign in 1944-45 as Winter’s took part in D-Day, Operation Market Garden and Battle of the Bulge. A modest hero, he epitomizes the notion of dignified leadership.
Winters was a fairly prolific letter writer, one person he wrote to regularly was a young lady called DeEtta Almon. After the war they lost touch but upon the release of Stephen Ambrose book Band of Brothers, DeEtta contacted Winters and presented him with all the letters he had written to her during the war.
In this episode I’m joined by Erik Dorr and Jared Frederick.
Erik is the owner and curator of the Gettysburg Museum of History, which houses a Dick Winter Collection.
Jared Frederick is professional historian and lecturer, with Erik they have written Hang Tough a unique view of Dick Winters based round the letters to DeEtta Almon that are now housed at the Gettysburg Museum of History.
The common narrative of the war often completely overlooks Germany’s attempts to run spies in Britain. In actual fact, for more or less the whole of the war the German secret service, the Abwehr, were sending agents into Britain.
In this episode I’m joined by Bernard O’Connor, author of Operation Lena and Hitler's Plots to Blow up Britain to discuss German espionage activities.
At the start of 1944 the German army on the Eastern Front was reeling after suffering defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk. Hitler was keen to hold on to the territory occupied by the Germans, but all the while the Wehrmacht was forced to give up ground to the Red Army.
In this episode we’re going to be looking at the fighting throughout 1944 for Army Group South in the Ukraine and Romania.
I’m joined by Prit Buttar.
Prit is the author of a number of books recounting the fighting in Russia during both world wars, his latest is The Reckoning: The Defeat of Army Group South, 1944.