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The World at War is a 26-episode television documentaryseries 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, Mark Clark, Adolf Galland and historian Stephen Ambrose.

In the programme The Making of "The World at War", included in the DVD set, Jeremy Isaacs 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 episodes

The series has 26 episodes. Producer Jeremy Isaacs asked Noble Frankland, then director of the Imperial War Museummarker, to list fifteen key campaigns of the war and devoted one episode to each. The remaining eleven episodes are devoted to other matters, such as home life in Britainmarker and Germanymarker, the experience of occupation in The Netherlandsmarker, and the Nazis' use of genocide.

The episodes are:

  1. A New Germany (1933–1939)

    The rise of the Nazis in Germany and German territorial gains prior to the outbreak of war. Interviewees include Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, Werner Pusch and Christabel Bielenberg.
  2. Distant War (September 1939 – May 1940)

    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 units in Norwaymarker, 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.
  3. France Falls (May – June 1940)

    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.
  4. Alone (May 1940 – May 1941)

    The Battle of Britain, retreats in Greece, Crete and Tobruk, 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.
  5. Barbarossa (June – December 1941)

    After dominating southeastern Europe through force or intrigue, Germany embarks on the massive invasion of Soviet Unionmarker.
    Despite a string of lightning victories, the invasion ultimately stalls after a failed assault on Moscowmarker in Russia's harsh winter. Interviewees include General Walter Warlimont, Albert Speer, Paul Schmidt and W. Averell Harriman.
  6. Banzai!: Japan (1931–1942)

    The rise of the Japanese Empire, the Sino-Japanese war, Pearl Harbormarker and the early Japanese successes, and the fall of Malaya and of Singaporemarker.
  7. On Our Way: U.S.A. (1939–1942)

    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, Midwaymarker and Guadalcanalmarker.
    Interviewees include John Kenneth Galbraith, John J. McCloy, Paul Samuelson, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Tregaskis and Vannevar Bush.
  8. The Desert: North Africa (1940–1943)

    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 Alameinmarker.
    Interviewees include General Richard O'Connor, Major General Francis de Guingand and Lawrence Durrell.
  9. Stalingrad (June 1942 – February 1943)

    The mid-war German situation in Southern Russia leading to the Battle of Stalingradmarker – and its ultimate German catastrophe.
  10. Wolf Pack: U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939–1943)

    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.
  11. Red Star: The Soviet Union (1941–1943)

    The rise of the Red Army, mobilisation of Soviet production, the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet partisans and the Battle of Kurskmarker.
  12. Whirlwind: Bombing Germany (September 1939 – April 1944)

    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.
  13. Tough Old Gut: Italy (1943–1944)

    Focuses on the difficult Italian Campaign beginning with Operation Torchmarker in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily; Salerno, Anzio, Cassinomarker; and the capture of Rome.
    Interviewees include General Mark Wayne Clark, Field Marshal Lord Harding, Bill Mauldin, and Wynford Vaughan Thomas.
  14. It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma (1942–1944)

    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.
  15. Home Fires: Britain (1940–1944)

    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.
  16. Inside the Reich: Germany (1940–1944)

    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).
  17. Morning: (June – August 1944)

    The development and execution of Operation Overlord followed by the allied breakout and battles at Bocagemarker, and Falaisemarker.
    Interviewees include Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Kay Summersby, James Martin Stagg and Major General J. Lawton Collins.
  18. Occupation: Holland (1940–1944)

    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.
  19. Pincers: (August 1944 – March 1945)

    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.
  20. Genocide (1941–1945)

    Begins with the founding of the S.S.marker and follows the development of German racial theory.
    It ends with the implementation of the Final Solution.
  21. Nemesis: Germany (February – May 1945)

    The final invasion of Germany by both the Western and Eastern allies, the denouement at Dresden, and the events in the Führerbunkermarker.
    Interviewees include Albert Speer, Traudl Junge and Heinz Linge.
  22. Japan (1941–1945)

    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 Midwaymarker, the death of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Battle of Saipan and the relentless bombing of Japanese cities.
  23. Pacific (February 1942 – July 1945)

    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, Tarawamarker, Peleilu, the Philippines, Iwo Jimamarker and finally Okinawa.
  24. The Bomb (February – September 1945)

    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.
  25. Reckoning (April 1945)

    The situation in post-war Europe including the allied occupation of Germany, demobilisation, the Nuremburg trialsmarker 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.
  26. Remember

    How the war - both good and bad experiences - was experienced and remembered by its witnesses.

The series was originally transmitted on the ITV network in the United Kingdom between 31 October 1973 and 8 May 1974, and has subsequently been shown around the world. The Danishmarker channel DR2 also broadcast the series in December 2006 and January 2007. The History Channel in Japan began screening the series in its entirety in April 2007. The Military History Channel in the UK broadcast the series over the weekend of the 14th and 15th of November 2009.

Each episode was 52 minutes excluding commercials; as was customary for ITV documentary series at the time, it was originally screened with only one central break. The Genocide episode was screened uninterrupted.

The series was also put on 13 Laservision Longplay videodisks by Video Garant Amsterdam 1980, included Dutch subtitling for the Dutch Video Market.

Additional episodes

Some footage and interviews which were not used in the original series were later made into additional hour or half-hour documentaries narrated by Eric Porter. These were released as a bonus to the VHS version and are included in the DVD set of the series.

  1. Secretary to Hitler
  2. Warrior
  3. Hitler's Germany: The People's Community (1933–1939)
  4. Hitler's Germany: Total War (1939–1945)
  5. The Two Deaths of Adolf Hitler
  6. The Final Solution: Part One
  7. The Final Solution: Part Two
  8. From War to Peace


The original book The World at War (ISBN 0712667822), which accompanied the series was written by Mark Arnold-Forster in 1973.

In October 2007 Ebury Press published The World at War, a new book by Richard Holmes, an oral history of the Second World War drawn from the interviews conducted for the TV series. The programme's producers committed hundreds of interview-hours to tape in its creation, but only a fraction of that recorded material made it to the final cut. A selection of the rest of this material was published in this book, which included interviews with Albert Speer, Karl Wolff (Himmler's adjutant), Traudl Junge (Hitler's secretary), James Stewart (USAAF bomber pilot and Hollywood star), Anthony Eden, John Colville (Parliamentary Private Secretary to Winston Churchill), Averell Harriman (US Ambassador to Russiamarker) and Arthur Harris (Head of RAF Bomber Command).

See also


External links

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