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112 - Four Hours of Fury: Operation Varsity

On the 24th of March 1945, 75 years ago this year, the largest ever airborne operation swung into action. Operation Varsity involved over 16,000 paratroopers and thousands of planes, the objective was to secure the west bank of the Rhine and the bridges over the Issel. Behind them was the Monty’s 21st Army Group which was crossing the Rhine as part of Operation Plunder. A successful crossing of the Rhine would allow the allies access to the North German Plain and ultimately to advance upon...


111 - An Impeccable Spy: Richard Sorge

"Richard Sorge was a man with two homelands. Born of a German father and a Russian mother in Baku in 1895, he moved in a world of shifting alliances and infinite possibility. A member of the angry and deluded generation who found new, radical faiths after their experiences on the battlefields of the First World War, Sorge became a fanatical communist - and the Soviet Union's most formidable spy." Joining me to discuss Sorge is Owen Matthews. Owen is the former Moscow and Istanbul Bureau...


110 - The P-47 Thunderbolt and 362nd Fighter Group

In this episode we’re going to be looking at the P-47 Thunderbolt and the US 362nd Fighter Group. The P-47 was a fighter bomber and very much suited to a ground attack role, with it's eight .50 cal machine guns and it could carry a bomb load of 2,500lbs or rockets. On top of that, it could take a lot of punishment. I’m joined by Chris Bucholtz. Chris is an aviation historian with a number of books under his belt including Thunderbolts Triumphant: The 362nd Fighter Group vs Germany's...


109 - The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

At the end of last year aviation historian Mathew Chapman sent me over his MA thesis, which is titled The Evolution of Professional Aviation Culture in Canada, 1939-45. In it he outlines the development of the British Commonwealth Air Training program in Canada, but the thesis goes on to discuss how veteran WWII pilots would dominate post war commercial airlines. If you were an air passenger in the 50’s, 60’s, 70s, and into the 1980s, there was a good chance your pilot was a WWII veteran....


108 - The Battle for Hong Kong, 1941

We’re all familiar with the events on that day of ‘infamy’, the 7th December 1941. The Japanese launch their typhoon in the pacific with the attack on Pearl Harbour. Hours later they would invade Malaya; an operation that would outflank the British 'fortress’ singapore. Japanese units would land on the Philippines and the conquest of the Dutch-East Indies (modern day indonesia) would begin. Less well known is the Japanese attack on the British territory of Hong Kong The island had been...


107 - The Battle of the Peaks and Long Stop Hill

We’re in North Africa for this episode of the podcast. In late 1942 the Allies landed in Morocco and Algeria, this was operation Torch. With them landed elements of what would become First Army, comprising of British, French and American troops. It was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Kenneth Anderson a dour capable, scotsman. First Army would be tasked with moving east pushing the Germans back into Tunisia, with the goal of capturing Tunis. After a 500 mile advance, the allies reached...


106 - Operation Swallow

In this episode we’re starting with the US 110th Infantry regiment in the Ardennes and following a small number of GI’s who became POW and sent back to Germany, to ultimately work as slave labour on ‘operation swallow’. Joining me once more is military historian Mark Felton. Mark is having a busy year, if you recall we chatted to him recently about the Bridge Busters, a raid on the Dortmund-Ems canal in episode 96. In episode 73 we discussed US troops undertaking Operation Cowboy as a...


105 - Case White: The Invasion of Poland, 1939

2019 marked the 80th anniversary of the invasion of Poland by Germany and then a few weeks later, Russia. It was the event that forced Britain and France to finally declare war on Germany. In a five week campaign the Wehrmacht fought one of the largest armies in Europe to a point where it collapsed. But the Poles were not necessarily the backward force commiting cavalry to attack tanks as often the narrative of the campaign suggests. In 1939 the Polish army could put more tanks in the field...


104 - Alarmstart: The Luftwaffe in the Mediterranean

If you cast your mind back to February 2018 I discussed the experience of German fighter pilots experience in Western Europe with Patrick Eriksson, that’s episode 60. Later that same year, Patrick followed up with a second book Alarmstart East, focusing on the luftwaffe fighting over Russia (episode 85). Patrick has now finished his trilogy of Luftwaffe books with Alarmstart South and the final defeat, closing with the German experience flying in and around the Mediterean; so North Africa,...


103 'Chink' Eric Dorman-Smith

If you’ve ever read about the British experience in the Deserts of North Africa during WWII, one name usually gets a mention somewhere in the narrative, that of Eric Dorman-Smith, often refered to as ‘chink’. He can be a divisive character, sometimes portrayed as a far thinking military genius whose ideas were ignored or misunderstood. To others he represents what was problematic with both the senior British commanders Wavell and Auchinleck, whose fortunes rose and fell; he was symptomatic...


102 - D-Day Through German Eyes

June 2019 marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we had a month of D-Day podcasts looking at the operation from the British, Canadian and American perspectives. The narrative of that day is the difficulty of the operation, doubts if the landings would succeed, but what if we turn the tables? How was it for the Germans? To answer that question I'm joined by WW2 podcast stalwart Jonathan Trigg. Jonathan has joined us in the past to discuss his work researching foreign recruits to the SS, you...


101 - Operation CHASTISE: The Dambusters

On the night of May 16th, 1943, 19 Lancaster bombers took off from England heading toward the German industrial heartland of the Ruhr. They carried a new bomb, designed to skip across water avoiding any torpedo nets before hitting the target and sinking into the depths; then exploding.. The bomb was codenamed ‘upkeep’, we know it today as the ‘bouncing bomb’ designed by Barnes Wallis. Those Lancaster's of 617 squadron, commanded 24 year old Guy Gibsonwould become known as the ‘Dam Busters’,...


100 - Left For Dead At Nijmegen

On the 17th September 1944 Gene Metcalfe, of the 82 Airbourne, parachuted in to Holland as part of Operation Market Garden. Approaching the bridge they were to capture Gene is injured in a firefight and left for dead. He would spend the rest of the war as a POW. I talk to Gene about his wartime experiences in the Airbourne, as a POW and what happened once he was liberated. Left for Dead in Nijmegen, by Marcus Nannini, is the story of Gene's war, it is a fantastic read and well worth...


99 - George Mergenthaler - MERG

One thing I’ve learned from producing these podcasts is the research never ends, it only leads to new avenues of interest branching off from the original topic. And this is the case for Peter Lion. If you recall in episode 33, Peter told us how elements of the US 28nd infantry division, stationed in the Luxembourg town of Wiltz put on a christmas party for the local children, and this included GI Richard Brookins dressing as St Nicholas and arriving by jeep to hand out gifts. In...


98 - Operation Market Garden

September 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden, the allied attempt to create a sixty mile corridor, and secure a crossing over the Rhine. The plan was to use the newly formed First Allied Airborne Army to seize and hold nine key bridges until relieved by the British Army’s XXX Corp. The Airborne component was known as Market, and the ground attack was Garden. Joining me to talk about the background to airborne operations and Market Garden is Dr William Buckingham....


97 - Japanese POW: Ray Fitchett

Last year I got an email from Cole Gill, his grandfather had made a number of tape recordings recounting his experiences during the war serving on the Royal Navy ship HMS Exeter, then as a POW at the Fukuoka camp,where he witnessed the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Who wouldn’t be interested in that story? Cole sent them over and after listening to them they’ve been languishing in my virtual bottom draw on my computer, awaiting for me to have some inspiration. Well I’ve got...


96 - Bridge Busters: The Dortmund-Ems Canal Raid

In this episode we’re looking at an RAF raid in 1940 against the Dortmund-Ems canal. The canal was a vital trade route with huge amounts of supplies and raw materials passing along it daily. With the fall of France and the build up to Operation Sealion, the invasion of Britain, interrupting the traffic on the canal would aid in upsetting the German timetable. But to undertake the task a level of accuracy was needed from the RAF which was hitherto unheard of… It was very much a...


95 - Jimmy Stewart

For a long time I’ve been fascinated by movie stars who chose to join the military and saw combat in World War Two. And one star in particular has always interested me, ‘Jimmy Stewart’. A big star in the 1930’s, in 1940 he would win the Oscar for best man in The Philadelphia Story’ and was nominated for one for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, yet when war came he was insistent on not avoiding it and joined the United States Army Airforce flying combat missions over Europe. Joining me to...


94 - 1941

The usual narrative for WWII is that turning points of the war are in 1942 with the battles of Midway, El Alamein and Stalingrad. While these are unquestionably major victories that signalled the ‘end of the beginning’, as Churchill would put it. Friend of the podcast Andrew Nagorski has suggested that actually 1941 was the pivotal year of the war. Andrew contends that the decisions made in 1941, by the major nations, would make an allied victory not just possible but inevitable. It’s a...


93 - D-Day: The British Beach Landings

In the last episode we looked at the American experience of D-Day at Omaha beach, this time it’s the turn of the British and Canadians at Sword, Juno and Gold on the 6th June 1944. In this episode we’re going to concentrate on the British and Canadian landings on D-Day. I’m joined by John Sadler. Now we’ve talked to John before in episode 26, when we looked at Operation Agreement, a combined operations raid in the deserts of North Africa that included the Long Range Desert Group, the SAS...