The World at War (1973)
by Thames Television
Videos in this documentary
THE WORLD AT WAR (1973)
The World at War is a 26-episode television documentary series on World War II and the events leading up to and immediately following it. It was produced by Jeremy Isaacs, narrated by Laurence Olivier and its score composed by Carl Davis. A book, The World at War, was written by Mark Arnold-Forster to accompany it.
The series was commissioned by Thames Television in 1969. Such was the depth of its research, it took four years to produce at a cost of £900,000 (2006 equivalent: £10.9 million). At the time, this was a record for a British television series. It was first shown in 1973, on ITV.
The series interviewed leading members of the Allied and Axis campaigns, including eyewitness accounts by civilians, enlisted men, officers and politicians, amongst them Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz, Walter Warlimont, Jimmy Stewart, Bill Mauldin, Curtis LeMay, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Alger Hiss, Toshikazu Kase, Mitsuo Fuchida, Minoru Genda, J.B. Priestley, Brian Horrocks, John J. McCloy, Lawrence Durrell, Arthur Harris, Charles Sweeney, Paul Tibbets, Anthony Eden, Traudl Junge and historian Stephen Ambrose.
In the programme The Making of "The World at War", included in the DVD set, Jeremy Issacs explains that priority was given to interviews with surviving aides and assistants rather than recognised figures. The most difficult person to locate and persuade to be interviewed was Heinrich Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff. During the interview, he admitted to witnessing a large-scale execution in Himmler's presence.
It is often considered to be the definitive television history of the Second World War. Some consider it the finest example of the documentary form. It also presented rare colour film footage of some of the war's events.
In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, The World at War ranked 19th.
THE WORLD AT WAR
Episode 1: A New Germany: 1933-1939
Original Air Date—31 October 1973. The rise of the Nazis in Germany and German territorial gains prior to the outbreak of war. Interviewees include Werner Pusch and Christabel Bielenberg.
Episode 2: Distant War: September 1939-May 1940
Original Air Date—7 November 1973. The German and Soviet invasions of Poland, the Winter War, the sinking of the Graf Spee and Britain's apathy during the "phony war" until Britain's defeat in its first military engagement with German land forces in Norway, which led to the rise of Winston Churchill. Interviewees include Lord Boothby, Lord Butler, Admiral Charles Woodhouse, Sir Martin Lindsay and Sir John "Jock" Colville.
Episode 3: France Falls: May-June 1940
Original Air Date—14 November 1973. France in ferment, the Maginot Line, Blitzkrieg warfare, and the Nazi invasion of France and the Low Countries. Interviewees include General Hasso von Manteuffel and General André Beaufre.
Episode 4: Alone: May 1940-May 1941
Original Air Date—21 November 1973. The Battle of Britain, retreats in Greece, Crete and Tobruck, and life in Britain between the evacuation at Dunkirk and Operation Barbarossa. Interviewees include Anthony Eden, J.B. Priestley, Sir Max Aitken, Lieutenant General Adolf Galland and Sir John "Jock" Colville.
Episode 5: Barbarossa: June-December 1941
Original Air Date—28 November 1973. After dominating southeastern Europe through force or intrigue, Germany embarks on the massive invasion of Soviet Union. Despite a string of lightning victories, the invasion ultimately stalls after a failed assault on Moscow in Russia's harsh winter. Interviewees include General Walter Warlimont, Albert Speer, Paul Schmidt and W. Averell Harriman.
Episode 6: Banzai! Japan: 1931-1942
Original Air Date—5 December 1973. The rise of the Japanese Empire, the Sino-Japanese war, Pearl Harbor and the early Japanese successes, and the fall of Malaya and of Singapore.
Episode 7: On Our Way: U.S.A. - 1939-1942
Original Air Date—12 December 1973. The opposition by various factions to the United States of America entry into the war, U-boat attacks on Atlantic convoys and America's gradiated responses, the mobilization of America after Pearl Harbor, the fall of the Philippines, the Doolittle Raid, Midway and Guadalcanal. Interviewees include John Kenneth Galbraith, John J. McCloy, Paul Samuelson, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Tregaskis and Vannevar Bush.
Episode 8: The Desert: North Africa - 1940-1943
Original Air Date—19 December 1973. The desert war, starting with Italy's unsuccessful invasion of Egypt and the successive attacks and counter-attacks between Germany and Commonwealth forces, and the Afrika Korps's eventual defeat at El Alamein. Interviewees include General Richard O'Connor, Major General Francis de Guingand and Lawrence Durrell.
Episode 9: Stalingrad: June 1942-February 1943
Original Air Date—2 January 1974. The mid-war German situation in Southern Russia leading to the Battle of Stalingrad – and its ultimate German catastrophe.
Episode 10: Wolf Pack: U-Boats in the Atlantic - 1939-1944
Original Air Date—9 January 1974. The submarine war focusing mainly on the North Atlantic. Tracks the development of both the convoy system and German submarine strategy. Interviewees include Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz and Otto Kretschmer.
Episode 11: Red Star: The Soviet Union - 1941-1943
Original Air Date—16 January 1974. The rise of the Red Army, mobilization of Soviet production, the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet partisans and the Battle of Kursk.
Episode 12: Whirlwind: Bombing Germany - September 1939-April 1944
Original Air Date—23 January 1974. The development of British and American strategic bombing in both success and setback. Interviewees include Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Albert Speer, James Stewart, William Reid, General Curtis LeMay, Werner Schröer, Lieutenant General Adolf Galland and General Ira C. Eaker.
Episode 13: Tough Old Gut: Italy - November 1942-June 1944
Original Air Date—30 January 1974. Focuses on the difficult Italian Campaign beginning with Operation Torch in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily; Salerno, Anzio, Cassino; and the capture of Rome. Interviewees include General Mark Wayne Clark, Field Marshal Lord Harding, Bill Mauldin, and Wynford Vaughan Thomas.
Episode 14: It's a Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma - 1942-1944
Original Air Date—6 February 1974. The jungle war in Burma and India - what it "lacked in scale was made up in savagery". Interviewees include Mike Calvert, Sir John Smyth and Vera Lynn (the episode title is the name of one of her songs), and Lord Mountbatten of Burma.
Episode 15: Home Fires: Britain - 1940-1944
Original Air Date—13 February 1974. Life and politics in Britain from post-Battle of Britain to the first V-1 attacks. Interviewees include Lord Butler, Lord Shinwell, Lord Chandos, Tom Driberg, Michael Foot, Cecil Harmsworth King, and J.B. Priestley.
Episode 16: Inside the Reich: Germany - 1940-1944
Original Air Date—20 February 1974. German society and how it changes as its fortunes in war are reversed. Censorship and popular entertainment, the transformation of German industry, the recruitment of female and foreign labour, allied bombing, German dissent - including the 20 July plot, and the mobilisation of the Volkssturm towards the war's end. Interviewees include Albert Speer, Otto John, Traudl Junge, Richard Schulze-Kossens, and Otto Ernst Remer (English translation spoken by Lawrence Olivier).
Episode 17: Morning: June-August 1944
Original Air Date—27 February 1974. The development and execution of Operation Overlord followed by the allied breakout and battles at Bocage, and Falaise. Interviewees include Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Kay Summersby, James Martin Stagg and Major General J. Lawton Collins.
Episode 18: Occupation: Holland - 1940-1944
Original Air Date—13 March 1974. Focuses on life in the Netherlands under German occupation, when citizens chose to resist, collaborate or keep their heads down. Interviewees include Louis de Jong (who also served as adviser for this episode) and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
Episode 19: Pincers: August 1944-March 1945
Original Air Date—20 March 1974. The allied breakout in France and the setback at Arnhem, the Warsaw Uprising, the Battle of the Bulge, and the crossing of the Rhine. Interviewees include Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, General Hasso von Manteuffel, Major General Francis de Guingand, W. Averell Harriman and Major General J. Lawton Collins.
Episode 20: Genocide: 1941-1945
Original Air Date—27 March 1974. Begins with the founding of the S.S. and follows the development of German racial theory. It ends with the implementation of the Final Solution.
Episode 21: Nemesis: Germany - February-May 1945
Original Air Date—3 April 1974. The final invasion of Germany by both the Western and Eastern allies, the denouement at Dresden, and the events in the Führerbunker. Interviewees include Albert Speer, Traudl Junge and Heinz Linge.
Episode 22: Japan: 1941-1945
Original Air Date—10 April 1974. Japan's society and culture during wartime, and how life is transformed as the country gradually becomes aware of increasingly catastrophic setbacks including the Doolittle raid, defeat at Midway, the death of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Battle of Saipan and the relentless bombing of Japanese cities.
Episode 23: Pacific: February 1942-July 1945
Original Air Date—17 April 1974. The successive and increasingly bloody land battles on tiny islands in the expansive Pacific, aimed towards the Japanese heartland. Following the bombing of Darwin, the over-extended Japanese are progressively turned back at Kokoda, Tarawa, Peleilu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and finally Okinawa.
Episode 24: The Bomb: February-September 1945
Original Air Date—24 April 1974. The development of the atomic bomb, the ascendency of President Harry Truman, emerging splits in the Allies with Joseph Stalin, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ultimately leading to the surrender of Japan. Interviewees include Toshikazu Kase, Yoshio Kodama, Marquis Koichi Kido, Major General Charles Sweeney, Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, Alger Hiss, W. Averell Harriman, Lord Avon, McGeorge Bundy, John J. McCloy, General Curtis LeMay and Hisatsune Sakomizu. Following the events from the death of US President Roosevelt through to the dropping of the two bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that prompted Japan's surrender.
Episode 25: Reckoning: 1945... and After
Original Air Date—1 May 1974. The situation in post-war Europe including the allied occupation of Germany, demobilisation, the Nurenburg trials and the genesis of the Cold War. The episode concludes with summations about the ultimate costs and consequences of the war. Interviewees include Charles Bohlen, Stephen Ambrose, Lord Avon, Lord Mountbatten of Burma and Noble Frankland.
Episode 26: Remember
Original Air Date—8 May 1974. How the war - both good and bad experiences - was experienced and remembered by its witnesses.
Product Description, from Amazon.com
This landmark incomparable remembrance of world war ii includes rare interviews with veterans & survivors amazing archive footage & chilling narration by sir Laurence Olivier. Studio: A&e Home Video Release Date: 08/24/2004 Run time: 1199 minutes
Sir Jeremy Isaacs highly deserves the numerous awards for documentaries he has earned: the Royal Television Society's Desmond Davis Award, l'Ordre National du Mérit, an Emmy, and a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. His epic The World at War remains unsurpassed as the definitive visual history of World War II.
The Second World War was different from other wars in thousands of ways, one of which was the unparalleled scope of visual documents kept by the Axis and Allies of all their activities. As a result, this war is understood as much through written histories as it is through its powerful images. The Nazis were particularly thorough in documenting even the most abhorrent of the atrocities they were committing--in a surprising amount of color footage. The World at War was one of the first television documentaries that exploited these resources so completely, giving viewers an unbelievable visual guide to the greatest event in the 20th century. This is to say nothing of the excellent, comprehensible narrative. Some highlights:
* A New Germany 1933-39: early German and Nazi documentation of Hitler's rise to power through the impending attack on Poland
* Whirlwind: the early British losses in the blitz in the skies over Britain and in North Africa
* Stalingrad: the turning point of the war and Germany's first defeat
* Inside the Reich--Germany 1940-44: one of the most fascinating documentaries that exists on life inside Nazi Germany, from Lebensborn to the Hitler Youth
* Morning: prior to Saving Private Ryan, one of the only unromantic views of the Normandy invasion
* Genocide: this film is one of the most widely shown introductions to the Holocaust
* Japan 1941-45: although The World at War is decidedly focused more on the European theater, this is an important look into wartime Japan and its expansion--early 20th-century history that lead to Japan's role in World War II is superficial
* The bomb: another widely shown documentary of the Manhattan Project, the Enola Gay, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki
The World at War will remain the definitive visual history of World War II, analogous to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. No serious historian should be missing The World at War in a collection, and no student should leave school without having seen at least some of its salient episodes. Rarely is film so essential. --Erik J. Macki
Source: Amazon.com / Essential Video, Editorial Reviews
REVIEW, from Amazon.com
440 of 446 people found the following review helpful:
5.0 out of 5 stars Without a doubt...the best..., January 10, 2002
By Charles W. Adams (Adel, Iowa USA)
Assuming that a filmmaker can't go on indefinately, let's say making a history of World War II in hundred or more hours of videotape, Jeremy Isaacs has done a masterful job of capturing the essense of World War II, including its causes and the Cold War that evolved out of its conclusion.
Please note, "The World At War" was produced between 1971 and 1974, which means the interviews with veterans and other war survivors were filmed close to thirty years after the conclusion of World War II.
I watched much of this series when it was first telecasted in the 1970s, and continued to view reruns of programs over the last 25+ years. I had thought that I had seen every episode two or three times, but after finishing the complete DVD collection, I'm pretty sure I completely missed some programs and saw only bits-and-pieces of others.
What a tremendous production. Beautiful reproduced on DVD, with excellent color and superb graphics (maps).
I especially appreciated the opening special, "The Making of..." with producer Jeremy Isaacs, as well as Isaacs' brief introductions to each of the 26 programs. I only wish he had prepared similar introductions to the supplementary material on Discs 4 and 5, but you can't have everything.
"The World At War" is hundred times better than the typical fare found on A&E, The History Channel, and even PBS. That's not to say that quality productions are not being made today, but Jeremy Isaacs' production is just plain better than most things regularly scheduled documentaries on cable and broadcast television.
Special mention must be made of the music by Carl Davis and the writers, who are too numerous to mention. Everyone familiar with this series knows the contribution of Sir Laurence Olivier, definitely the finest documentary narration I've ever heard.
As an American, I particularly appreciate the British perspective, which offers a different view of the breath, scope and horror of the war. The series really puts the current War on Terrorism in perspective.
The supplementary material begins with an extended interview/commentary by Traudl Junge who served as Hitler's secretary. She's a fascinating person, speaking calmly and thoughtfully about her former employer, especially the events leading up to his suicide.
There is an equally interesting interview with historian Stephen Ambrose, filmed in the early 1970s. While looking 25+ years younger, Ambrose sounds almost the same as he does today during his numerous C-Span and PBS appearances.
The most fascinating of the eight hours of supplementary material are the programs dealing with the Death of Adolf Hitler and the extended two part examination of the Final Solution.