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The World At War - Volume 3

Pearson Television International/Warner Vision . R4 . COLOR . 414 mins . PG . PAL


While the prospect of reviewing over 32 hours of a documentary series about World War 2 might seem daunting or insurmountable to some, rest assured that the sheer quality of the classic 1973 Thames TV series The World At War makes such a large-scale effort a pleasure. Consistently fascinating and of exceptionally high quality, The World At War is considered to be a benchmark achievement for television documentaries, and it remains so 28 years after it was made. Laurence Olivier’s narration is, as always, superb, and particularly poignant during this batch of episodes.

The third of the five double-DVD sets encompassing the entire World At War series is possibly the best so far - certainly it’s the most thought provoking and confronting of the volumes to date. Given the subject matter covered here, that’s not at all surprising; as the tide began to turn in the European and Pacific Wars, the scale of the devastation wrought by all sides increased as the stakes got higher. And as the Allied forces clawed back territories taken by the Germans and the Japanese, incomprehensible atrocities were fully revealed, atrocities that stand among the most evil and horrific deeds ever perpetrated by the human race on their own species.

As volume 3 begins, we take a look at Germany as the Third Reich’s dominance begins to fall apart…

16. Inside The Reich
While in 1940, many German citizens were proud of Hitler’s achievements in Western Europe, the Fuhrer’s plans to invade Russia and turn it into a German territory were doomed to failure. While food rationing and other hardships started to bite at home, German soldiers were being slaughtered in massive numbers on the Eastern front, Hitler resorting to sending the inexperienced into the battle, refusing to admit defeat. Meanwhile, the Allies’ bombing campaign against German cities has a devastating impact, while some of Hitler’s closest confidants hatch a plan to assassinate the dictator. Among those interviewed in this episode is Hitler’s personal secretary, Traudl Junge.

17. Morning
After extensive planning, the Allied forces’ long-awaited invasion of Hitler’s Europe takes place - Operation Overlord, better known to most as “D-Day”. The Allies set sail in 6500 ships and land on the beaches of Normandy in France on five fronts, fighting their way inland and eventually liberating Paris. But it was not without cost, with thousands of Allied soldiers gunned down on the beaches mere seconds into their battle. Graphic film of this is included here, as well as footage shot from inside one of the landing boats as it pulls onto the beach, many of those seen on screen having mere seconds to live. Interviews with soldiers and key personnel are included, including Lord Louis Mountbatten and even General Eisenhower’s driver.

18. Occupation
Though Holland had remained neutral throughout the early stages of the war, the Nazis were unhesitant about invading the country and placing them under their rule. Though they tried to give the Dutch a sense of security by assuring them that little would change, in reality the Nazis had other, more sinister plans. Dutch Jews were targeted, segregated and persecuted, with 140,000 of them deported and most of those killed; meanwhile, Dutch workers were forced into becoming slave labour for the Nazi war machine. Some of the Dutch worked actively against the Nazis, but at a cost - in one case, a transport strike designed to halt Nazi supplies proved effective but brought horrific reprisals from the Reich.

19. Pincers
With Paris liberated, the Allies began to move closer to Germany from the West while the Russians approached from the East. The British idea of surrounding and cutting off the German forces was adopted, but ran into serious problems, while the Russians rapidly regained ground they had lost to the Germans, though in the process they also laid waste to German towns and massacred innocent civilians. Meanwhile, an uprising in Warsaw sees thousands of Poles fighting an impossible battle against the Nazis, eventually surrendering their city after more than 200,000 of them are killed in the fighting. The Nazis systematically destroy Warsaw in an act of revenge. But the final German offensive against the West, the famous “Battle Of The Bulge” on the Ardennes front, marks the effective end of the Nazis’ hopes of victory against the Allies.

20. Genocide
Possibly the most disturbing episode of the series, as the story unfolds of the Nazis’ plans to create a new, “pure” race of Aryans that would make up their dream of a new Germany. Using the concept of the “survival of the fittest” as an excuse, SS commander Heinrich Himmler is charged by Hitler with supervising the “cleansing” of Germany and its territories - in other words, the removal of the Jewish population, who the Nazis saw as a barrier to their dream of a new race. While some Jews escaped or were deported, many others were summarily shot dead in mass executions. But with Germany increasingly cut off from the outside world, the decision is made to systematically exterminate the Jews by gassing and cremating each and every one of them. Jews are rounded up, sent to death camps around Germany, and one of mankind’s most horrific and shameful chapters begins in earnest. The interviews with Jewish survivors in this episode are often harrowing, and some footage here highly disturbing; nevertheless, this is compulsory viewing for all.

21. Nemesis
Hitler, aware that his plans for domination of Europe lie in ruins, hides out in Berlin in his underground bunker as the Allied and Russian armies approach the bombed-out city. Meanwhile, survivors from the death camps are freed by the liberating forces, who force German citizens and officials to tour the camps, parading them past enormous piles of dead Jewish bodies to show them the true horror of the regime to which they had acquiesced. Faced with certain defeat, Hitler marries his partner Eva Braun and the pair then commit suicide, his last moments witnessed by his valet and secretary, both of whom are interviewed here. Germany surrenders - but another threat still remains.

22. Japan
While many Japanese citizens were surprised by the country’s declaration of war on the USA and Britain, but the ruling powers in Japan had, in fact, been conditioning their people to fight - and die - for their country for many years, building into the Japanese population a sense of invincibility and of unwavering loyalty to their Emperor - who, ironically, didn’t want war with the US in the first place (Prime Minister Tojo, a military general, overruled him). But the sheer industrial power of the Western countries worked in their favour, as bombing raids began on Tokyo, killing a quarter of a million Japanese and rendering eight million homeless, Tokyo virtually levelled. The final strike, though, would be even more horrific…

23. Pacific
Headed by Allied General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz, the taking back of the Pacific region from Japan followed soon after the Japanese had made their foray into Australia, bombing Darwin’s naval base and briefly considering invading the country. Fighting in Papua New Guinea relieved that threat, and the long task of pushing Japan back into its own borders began in earnest. A difficult, bloody campaign that cost many tens of thousands of lives, the Pacific war moves from one tiny island to the next as the Allies face a Japanese army prepared to fight to the death, and a new type of airborne danger - the Kamikaze.


Once again, we’re dealing with some very old archival footage here, and of course the programs themselves are almost as old now as this archival footage was at the time of the series’ production. Compared to previous releases of this series, though, miracles have been achieved in restoring and transferring the series to DVD, and though there is a lot of film damage - and the occasional telecine flaw - clearly visible on screen, it in no way detracts from the clarity of the material on screen. Much of the 1973 interview footage here is in remarkably clean condition, though there are instances where the negatives were obviously damaged slightly and have had to be repaired.

All episodes are presented at their original 1.33:1 full-screen aspect ratio, and naturally are not 16:9 enhanced.


While presented in its original mono form, the soundtrack here is free of the telltale crackles and pops of the on-film optical soundtrack, and was likely sourced from magnetic tape, probably the master sound edit. While no-one’s going to expect anything approaching modern sound quality, everything here is clean and clear, with the various sound effects added by the producers to silent archival film adding great impact to some very harrowing scenes. The occasional minor audio glitch is completely acceptable given the age of the material.


Once again, only modest extras are provided, with the standard episode summary on the main screen and a small collection of photos and links to specific content provided for each episode. It’s the episodes themselves that are important here, though, and it’s doubtful that anyone’s going to be complaining about a lack of bonus material when the series already covers events in such detail.

Once again, the stylish four-panel sliding menu system does not operate correctly on the Creative Encore Dxr2 PC decoder, and users of this setup will need to select every episode here from the Creative software’s title-selection menu; the four episodes here are titles 3, 4, 5 and 6. The menus system caused no problems on either stand-alone players or the various PC software-based players currently in use.


Words cannot adequately describe just how important and compelling this series is - and similarly, they can’t describe the catalogue of horror seen throughout this disc set, which brings us near to the end of the main World At War series. As with previous volumes, even those who thought they had a good working knowledge of the events of World War 2 will be surprised by what they discover here, and the episodes here dealing with atrocity distinguish themselves by not only looking at the events, but at the social climate and the thinking of the men that caused these tragedies to happen. It’s essential viewing for everyone, not just those with an interest in modern history - and DVD is the ideal medium on which to present a series of such broad scope.

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      And I quote...
    "...essential viewing for everyone, not just those with an interest in modern history..."
    - Anthony Horan
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