Category Archives: WWII

France, 1940 – debunking the ‘Halt Order’.

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Up until last year and the release of Dunkirk (2017), it was generally assumed by the layman and amateur historian that the successful evacuation of Dunkirk was due to the lax, complacent attitude of the German Army, this a direct order from Hitler to halt the armoured divisions as a benevolent peace offer to the British. Only now has consensus gathered amongst us part-time carnage bookworms that this is nothing but a fallacy. Myths are embedded within official military narrative and it happens because they are convenient, an easy answer to overwhelmingly complex logistical and political issues. The laziness, with exceptions, of the modern historian is so rampant that contemporary sources are taken as gospel, i.e., works by peers. It’s as if the archives don’t exist.

James Holland’s recent digging into this seemingly forever contentious event now appears to have silenced the Hitler apologists (that he didn’t want to intensify war with Britain, bla, bla). The order quite simply came from the frontline generals, and Hitler’s subsequent involvement was as an intervention between competing branches of the German military. For an in-depth anatomy of the whole mess, I highly recommend this piece on Holland’s own website: http://www.griffonmerlin.com/2016/07/17/dunkirk-1940-hitlers-halt-order/

Fittingly, the Russians just this past week let forensic experts analyse Hitler’s teeth, dispelling, one would hope, the belief that he fled to Argentina in a U-boat or emigrated to the Moon.

Further reading:

http://www.griffonmerlin.com/2016/07/17/dunkirk-1940-hitlers-halt-order/

https://skeptoid.com/blog/2013/04/15/no-hitler-did-not-let-the-british-escape-at-dunkirk/

https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2017-07-24/why-the-germans-blew-it-at-dunkirk

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/sep/06/the-war-in-the-west-review-james-holland

 

 

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Operation Market Garden – A Bridge Too Far.

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I first saw A Bridge Too Far (1977) on VHS in 1998 midway through a glorious summer mostly spent playing Mortal Kombat on a dilapidated SNES. I purchased the film with Dante’s Peak (1997) from an electronics store on Dalry Road, Edinburgh. The latter movie, some gibberish about a volcano starring James Bond and Sarah Connor, was garbage on tape. The former, featuring the first incarnation of James Bond and a who’s who of star names, was a revelation. It had carnage, a British-American Pro Bowl of acting talent, a surfeit of bridges, an addictive theme tune, and some thoroughly nasty Waffen SS units.

More so than El Alamein, the Battle of Arnhem was the last gritty swansong of the British Army, and nothing like it was seen until the Falklands War in 1982. The movie was one of the first to shed light upon the deficiencies in military leadership that plagued the later ‘successful’ campaigns of WWII, the myth of Montgomery as peerless grand master demolished here. It’s fitting the film was made in the late ’70s, that rotten era of excessive inflation, industrial action, uncollected garbage, and three-day work weeks. Britain was seemingly on its last legs, and it’s almost as if a splatter of tragic nostalgia was needed to top it all off.

Anyway, it’s online now and of decent quality:

Further reading/viewing:

https://www.historyextra.com/period/a-bridge-too-far/

https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-ii/bridge-far-true-story-behind-xxx-corps-market-garden.html

 

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Where Eagles Dare (1968) – Wehrmacht Stormtroopers.

Where Eagles Dare (1968) surely must have been watched on a loop by George Lucas as he was penning A New Hope (1977) and the expanded Star Wars universe.

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Fan art poster.

 

Hohenwerfen Castle is this movie’s Death Star, the German troops the most incompetent ever assembled in what is the peak Hollywood WWII turkey shoot; Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood mow the fuckers down like Stormtroopers. Reducing a complex military operation to the wits and whims of two ‘superhero’ protagonists, it’s this blasé depiction of war that has young lads all giddy (“chomping at the bit”) en route to army recruitment offices.

The Wehrmacht grunt here is a Stormtrooper sans the Arctic clobber, and by the end one could be forgiven for thinking that Messrs Burton and Eastwood casually take out an entire division.

It’s quite the escapist experience, and its influence is rampant – the Medal of Honor video game series, for example, is an unabridged adaptation of the movie’s aesthetic. In an ideal Pentagon monopoly on propaganda, the enemy is devoid of dimensions and the battle a cakewalk.

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War is no messy struggle when you’ve got personality pulling the trigger.

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Dunkirk (2017) – a brief appraisal.

Dunkirk (2017) is a new kind of war movie.

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There are no gratuitous blood-and-guts sequences, nor are there any overtly saccharine attempts to sentimentalise the drama (think Spielberg). It was wound like a spring, and shot with such precision and clarity of vision. The film is a non-linear impressionist snapshot of the evacuation, and it was so refreshing to see a picture made of that great escape bereft of nonsensical German accents or extended scenes of generals and statesmen at conference tables. It’s the anti-genre constraints war movie, more akin to a peak Michael Mann picture – Heat (1995), The Insider (1999) – than your generic battle flick.

Operation Dynamo - men wait in an orderly fashion for their turn to be rescued.

Fear predominates – fear of being smothered by a relentless enemy, this claustrophobia reflected in sometimes mere facial expression and the economy with which Nolan employs the classic close up. And in small acts of heroism characters occasionally perform, the film explodes with such unexpected emotion that it occasionally reaches the cinematic heights of the transcendental. The last twenty minutes of Dunkirk (2017) are among some of the most prolongedly intense in modern cinema, hope (and home) the against-all-odds outcome. Masterpiece.

Further reading/viewing:

http://www.historytoday.com/patrick-wilson/dunkirk-victory-or-defeat

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/jul/23/dunkirk-review-terrifyingly-immersive-christopher-nolan

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D-Day – then and now.

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I love these concoctions. What do you call them? I think this is Omaha Beach, 6 June, 1944 (though I could be wrong). It’s stuff like this that gives these historical photos real reverence. The record almost comes alive here.

Further reading:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/06/06/d-day-landing-sites-pictures_n_5458026.html

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Whicker’s War.

Alan Whicker, that mustachioed gentleman traveller, the original dapper vagabond. It was in the last great daring crusade that he honed his craft as the director of cameramen of the Army Film and Photo Unit (AFPU), or the “Army Film and Punishment Unit”. This two-part documentary is cracking. We seldom get the filmmakers as subject matter, the images of war taken for granted (our YouTube pleasures). Their sole purpose was to document. It’s our record of that struggle, the spearhead evidence offered to new generations. Their weapons were film reel.

Whicker talks of the danger of seeking that ‘perfect shot’. You may get it, but that entails being up close. And then you’re dead. Only Oliver Stone’s Salvador (1986) comes to mind here, *the* photojournalism masterwork.

N.B. More than half of Whicker’s team were killed or wounded.

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Kolberg (1945) – last looney propaganda piece of the Third Reich.

Kolberg (1945) is frankly bonkers.

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The most expensive German film of World War II at eight million marks, and shot between October 1943 to August 1944, this monstrosity depicts the defence of the eponymous fortress town against French troops at the height of the Napoleonic Wars (1807). It’s a kind of metaphor for German fortunes after the failures of Stalingrad and Kursk; with strategic initiative lost, the remainder of the fight on the Eastern Front became a series of attritional, reactive operations with no chance of success.

The extras comprised 187,000 people and 50,000 soldiers, apparently the second-highest cast of all time behind Gandhi (1982).

The city of Kolberg itself was declared a fortress town a mere month after the film’s opening, this consisting of regular showings in Berlin whilst air raids pummelled the capital.

Imagine the ideological fanaticism of a regime that, as ultimate annihilation beckoned, it still felt the need to plough such ludicrous resources into a movie of epic undertaking, resources that could have been of immeasurable human and material value in the war effort. This Nazi-opus Gone with the Wind (1939) just serves to highlight the tenuous grip on reality exhibited in the last years of the Third Reich, and an overbearing emphasis on *will* as the essential component in turning the tide of war.

Further reading:

http://militaryhistorynow.com/2015/04/29/kolberg-the-third-reichs-cinematic-swan-song/

 

 

 

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Verisimilitude on the Eastern Front.

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I’ve always wondered about this one, and have no way to verify whether it’s a legitimate piece of footage or not. It appears to be shot on the Eastern Front, capturing brutal house-to-house fighting between the Red Army and the Wehrmacht. Stalingrad, perhaps? I know re-enactments were commonplace, and especially right after battles. It’s an eerie proposition, though, that a soldier’s passing would one day be played back in an Edinburgh slum on a Friday evening, the viewer drinking Southern Comfort from a ThunderCats mug.

Any further info welcomed.

1:32 on the clip.

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