at war

The World at War

The World at War is a 26-episode television documentary series on World War II, including the events leading up to it and following in its wake. The series was produced by Jeremy Isaacs for Thames Television (UK). Commissioned in 1969, it took four years to produce, such was the depth of its research. It premiered on ITV in 1973 at a cost of £900,000, a record (at the time) for a British television programme. The series was narrated by Laurence Olivier and its score was composed by Carl Davis. A book, The World at War, was written to accompany the series by Mark Arnold-Forster.

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, Jimmy Stewart, Bill Mauldin, Curtis LeMay, Lord Mountbatten, Alger Hiss, Toshikazu Kase, J.B. Priestley, Brian Horrocks, Lawrence Durrell, Arthur Harris, Charles Sweeney, Paul Tibbets, Anthony Eden, Traudl Junge and historian Stephen Ambrose.

Jeremy Isaacs says in "The Making of The World at War" (included on the DVD set) that he sought to interview, not necessarily the surviving big names, but their aides and assistants. The most difficult subject to locate and persuade to be interviewed, according to Isaacs, was Heinrich Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff. The latter 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 a historian to list fifteen key campaigns of the war and devoted one episode to each. The remaining eleven episodes are devoted to other issues such as home life in Britain and Germany, the experience of occupation in The Netherlands, 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.
  2. Distant War (September 1939–May 1940).
    Interviewees include Lord Boothby, Lord Butler, Sir Charles Woodhouse, and Sir Martin Lindsay.
    The German and Soviet invasions of Poland, the turbulent political climate in Britain, and the rise of Churchill.
  3. France Falls (May–June 1940) Interviewees include Hasso von Manteuffel and André Beaufre.
    France in ferment, the "Phony War", and the German invasion of France and the Low Countries
  4. Alone (May 1940–May 1941). Interviewees include J.B. Priestley, Sir Max Aitken, and Adolf Galland
    The Battle of Britain, and life in Britain between the evacuation at Dunkirk and Operation Barbarossa.
  5. Barbarossa (June–December 1941). Interviewees include General Warlimont, Albert Speer, Paul Schmidt and Averell Harriman.
    The German invasion of the Soviet Union.
  6. Banzai!-Japan (1931–1942)
    The rise of the Japanese Empire, the Sino-Japanese war, Pearl Harbor and the early Japanese successes, and the fall of Malaya and Singapore.
  7. On Our Way-U.S.A. (1939–1942). Interviewees include John Kenneth Galbraith, John J. McCloy, Paul Samuelson, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Tregaskis and Vannevar Bush.
    The dissidence of various factions in the United States of America on the war prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the mobilization of America after Pearl Harbor, the fall of the Philippines, the Doolittle Raid, Midway and Guadalcanal.
  8. The Desert-North Africa (1940–1943). Interviewees include Richard O'Connor, Francis Guingand and Lawrence Durrell.
    The evolution of the desert war from the Italians, the German Afrika Korps, and the British ripostes.
  9. Stalingrad (June 1942–February 1943)
    The mid-war German situation in Southern Russia leading to the battle of Stalingrad--and its ultimate German catastrophe.
  10. Wolf Pack-U-Boats in the North Atlantic (1939–1943). Interviewees include Karl Dönitz and Otto Kretschmer.
    The submarine war focusing mainly on the North Atlantic. Tracks the development of both the convoy system and German submarine strategy.
  11. Red Star-The Soviet Union (1941–1943)
    Focusing on the non-military aspects of war in the Soviet Union such as industry and morale, the siege of Leningrad, the Soviet partisans, the Battle of Kursk, and the war's ultimate sacrifice in 20 million Soviet dead.
  12. Whirlwind-Bombing Germany (September 1939–April 1944). Interviewees include Sir Arthur Harris, Albert Speer, James Stewart, William Reid, Curtis LeMay, Werner Schröer, Adolf Galland and Ira C. Eaker.
    The development of British and American strategic bombing in both success and setback.
  13. Tough Old Gut-Italy (1943–1944). Interviewees include General Mark Clark, Field Marshal Lord Harding, Bill Mauldin, and Wynford Vaughan Thomas
    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.
  14. It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow-Burma (1942–1944). Interviewees include Michael Calvert, Sir John Smyth, Vera Lynn (of which the episode title is from one of her songs), and Lord Mountbatten.
    The jungle war in Burma and India despite malaria and the monsoon.
  15. Home Fires-Britain (1940–1944). Interviewees include Lord Butler, Lord Shinwell, Lord Chandos, Tom Driberg, Michael Foot, Cecil King, and J.B. Priestley.
    Life and politics in Britain from post-Battle of Britain to the first V-1 attacks.
  16. Inside the Reich-Germany (1940–1944). Interviewees include Albert Speer, Otto John, Traudl Junge, Richard Schulze-Kossens, and Otto Remer (English translation spoken by Lawrence Olivier).
    Life inside Germany following the invasion of Poland--and the realization of defeat.
  17. Morning (June–August 1944). Interviewees include Lord Mountbatten, Kay Summersby, James Martin Stagg and J. Lawton Collins.
    Follows the development and execution of Operation Overlord (aka D-Day) followed by the allied breakout and the Battle of the Bocage, and the battle of Falaise.
  18. Occupation-Holland (1940–1944). Interviewees include Louis de Jong (who also served as adviser for this episode) and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
    Focuses on life in The Netherlands under German occupation.
  19. Pincers (August 1944–March 1945). Interviewees include Sir Brian Horrocks, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, Hasso von Manteuffel, Francis Guingand, Averell Harriman and J. Lawton Collins.
    The allied breakout in France and the setback at Arnhem, the Warsaw Uprising, the Battle of the Bulge, and the crossing of the Rhine.
  20. Genocide (1941–1945)
    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.
  21. Nemesis-Germany (February–May 1945). Interviewees include Albert Speer, Traudl Junge and Heinz Linge.
    The final invasion of Germany by both the Western and Eastern allies--and the denouement at Dresden.
  22. Japan (1941–1945)
    Focuses on life in Japan during the war--and the reality of defeat after Saipan.
  23. Pacific (February 1942–July 1945)
    Follows mainly the battles of the United States forces against the Japanese--Tarawa, Guam, Peleilu, the Philippines, and Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
  24. The Bomb (February–September 1945). Interviewees include Toshikazu Kase, Yoshio Kodama, Marquis Koichi Kido, Charles Sweeney, Paul Tibbets, Alger Hiss, Averell Harriman, Lord Avon, McGeorge Bundy, John McCloy, Curtis LeMay and Hisatsune Sakomizu.
    The development of the atomic bomb and the role of President Harry Truman in ending the war.
  25. Reckoning (April 1945). Interviewees include Charles Bohlen, Stephen Ambrose, Lord Avon, Lord Mountbatten and Noble Frankland.
    The situation in post-war Europe including the allied occupation of Germany.
  26. Remember
    World War II's influence in a post-war world

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 Danish 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.

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

2007 Daily Mail DVD promotion

In July 2007, the British Daily Mail newspaper began a free DVD promotion of 14 selected episodes of the series, primarily those which focused on British or Commonwealth subjects. The first disc was given away with the edition of 6 July, while a further disc could be claimed on each subsequent day (Sundays excepted) with a voucher redeemable at branches of W H Smith or Easons retailers. Due to what the newspaper called "unprecedented demand", the voucher-redeemed scheme was extended to twenty episodes, with the remaining six and a presentation pack available for purchase via mail order. The promotion gave the newspaper a circulation boost of 2.8 million copies.


The original book The World at War (ISBN 0712667822), which accompanied the series was written by the late 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 Russia) and Arthur Harris (Head of RAF Bomber Command), '

  • Holmes, Richard The World at War: The Landmark Oral History from the Previously Unpublished Archives. Ebury Press. ISBN 9780091917517.

See also


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