The usual historical narrative of the U-boats during WWII usually revolves around the 'Battle of the Atlantic', and the struggle over the convoys bringing vital supplies to Britain.
But the story of the U-boat war is much more complex, they went into action on the first day of hostilities with Britain and France and operated in nearly every theatre of operation in which the Wehrmacht served, and within all but the Southern Ocean.
To discuss the global U-boat war I am joined by Lawrence Paterson, author of The U-Boat War: A Global History 1939–45.
Operation Foxley was the name of the secret plan supported by Winston Churchill to assassinate Hitler in 1944-45. Different methods of assassination were considered, such as a sharp shooter or poisoning, through to a more elaborate plan that included hypnotism.
I'm joined by Eric Lee.
Eric has been with us before, in episode 130, to discuss the Georgian uprising against the Germans on the Dutch island of Texel at the end of the war. His new book is Britain's Plot to Kill Hitler: The True Story of Operation Foxley and SOE.
In episode 158, I talked to Henry Sledge about his father's experiences with the US Marines in the Pacific, which led me to rewatch the 2010 TV miniseries The Pacific. The show revolves around three lead characters, Eugene Sledge, Robert Leckie and John Basilone.
Basilone received the Medal of Honor for heroism above and beyond the call of duty during the Battle for Henderson Field in the Guadalcanal Campaign and would go on to be posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.
In this episode, I am joined by Dave Holland.
Dave is a former marine and battlefield tour guide on Guadalcanal. On his youtube channel, Guadalcanal - Walking a Battlefield, Dave takes the viewer to Guadalcanal and explains the battlefields and shows you what exists today from WWII.
Rodolfo Graziani, Marshal of Italy, Viceroy of Ethiopia and one of Mussolini's most valued generals remains to this day a divisive figure in his homeland. Revered by some Italians as a patriot and vilified by others as a murderer.
From the allied perspective, he was the Italian general whose troops surrendered en masse to the British during operation Compass, which almost knocked the Italians out of North Africa in 1941.
But what is the true story of Rodolfo Graziani?
Today I am joined by James Cetrullo.
For the first time, James has translated from Italian the biography Rodolfo Graziani: Story of an Italian General written by Alessandro Cova.
In 1940 the British Purchasing Commission approached North American Aviation (NAA) to build under license Curtis P-40 fighters. NAA suggested that rather than produce an old design they proposed a new design, this would become the P-51 Mustang.
When fitted with the Roll-Royce Merlin engine, the Mustang would be one of the most important fighters of the war. With its ability to carry tremendous amounts of fuel, the plane was able to fly deep into Europe providing fighter escort for the bomber groups. Over the skies of Germany, it proved more than a match for what the Luftwaffe could throw at them.
Joining me is Chris Bucholtz.
Chris is an aviation historian with a prolific body of work. He previously joined me in episode 110 to discuss the P-47 Thunderbolt. His new book published by Osprey is P-51B/C Mustang: Northwest Europe 1943-44.
On September 1, 1939, the day World War II broke out in Europe, Gen. George Marshall was sworn in as chief of staff of the U.S. Army. Ten months later, Roosevelt appointed Henry Stimson secretary of war. For the next five years, from adjoining offices in the Pentagon, Marshall and Stimson headed the army machine that ground down the Axis.
In this episode, we’re going to be discussing the relationship between the two men as they negotiated the war.
Joining me is Edward Farley Aldrich author of The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration That Won World War II.
The expansion of British industry to cater for war production began to be put in place in the 1930s. But still with the outbreak of war Britain needed to stretch every sinew to harness, coordinate and maximise its resources. Firstly to defend itself and then to help liberate Axis-occupied countries.
In this episode, I'm joined by Neil Storey.
Neil is an award-winning social historian and lecturer specialising in the impact of war on twentieth-century society. His new book is Wartime Industry.
Tobruk was one of the greatest Allied victories – and one of the worst Allied defeats – of the Second World War. Almost from the start of producing the podcast I’ve wanted to do an episode looking at Tobruk. I think it probably first gets a mention in episode 11 when we looked at Richard O’Connor, since then the town has come up in numerous episodes.
I'm joined by David Mitchellhill Green
David is the author of Tobruk: Rommel and the Battles Leading to his greatest victory. It is a fascinating read which places Tobruk in a wider history to help explain why it was strategically important.
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.
This episode is brought to you by Tactical Tea, for your supplies use promo code WW2PODCAST