World War II: From the Frontlines (2023) s01e01 Episode Script

Episode 1

[distant explosions]
[static crackling]
This is the Mutual Broadcasting System.
Fresh details of a Europe in turmoil.
[announcer] This is the BBC Home Service.
[Winston Churchill] Upon this battle
depends the survival of civilization.
[German] The Empire must act
like a man standing in motion.
[commentator] Peace or war
is now in the lap of the gods.
[Franklin Roosevelt] We believe
that the Nazis and the fascists
have asked for it
and they're going to get it.
[static crackling]
This is the story of World War II.
What it was really like.
- [alarm sounding]
- [men shouting]
- [planes buzzing deck]
- [men shouting]
[machine guns firing]
We'll put you on an aircraft carrier
when the kamikazes strike.
[man speaking German on radio]
Take you inside a tank
with the Nazis' Panzer Division.
You'll ride with the American GIs
for the liberation of Paris.
[crowd cheering]
And with the Soviet Red Army
for the final assault on Berlin.
[machine guns firing]
[ordnance pounding tank]
This is the true story
of the biggest conflict in human history.
This is World War II from the frontlines.
[soldier] Flame thrower, break off.
[dive bomber buzzing]
[men shouting]
[narr ator] 1939.
Germany is ruled
by Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler.
He believes his people
are a superior race,
destined to conquer Europe.
His armies have already walked
into Austria and Czechoslovakia.
But the Second World War
begins when he invades Poland.
A task that falls first
to the German Air Force, the Luftwaffe.
[indistinct chatter]
[switches click]
[engine revving]
[dramatic music playing]
[Bob in German] I was proud
to be squadron leader at 23.
We thought Germany
was doing something great.
[dive bombers buzzing]
The world would sit up and take notice!
[Kulski] There was a terrible noise
and the trees started bending.
And right over the treetops came out
huge black airplanes with crosses.
They seemed like hundreds of them.
They were flying to bomb Warsaw.
There was just complete chaos.
People running away.
[baby cries]
We just laid down.
I was really terrified.
[announcer] Please stand by
for a very important announcement.
Germany has invaded Poland
and has bombed many towns.
[speaking German]
[Hitler in German]
Already, endless columns of Polish troops
have been captured.
Poland asked for this fight.
Now Poland is getting a fight.
[crowd cheering]
[voice muted by cheering]
[narrator] After three weeks,
the Polish capital, Warsaw,
falls to the German army.
[man in Polish]
Hello, hello. Can you hear us?
This is our last radio announcement.
German troops have entered Warsaw.
[Kulski] I remember seeing
the dead horses and the ruined buildings.
Our house didn't have any windows left.
It was the same house, but it wasn't.
My mother bursts crying and she threw up
when she saw
everything that was happening.
It was just such a shock.
[woman] We were simply overwhelmed
by the German military might.
The sort of feeling developed
that we were helpless.
It was a feeling of being in a trap.
There was no way out.
I think people
simply didn't want to accept it.
And then very gradually
but relentlessly, it started to happen.
[narrator] There's something dark
happening in occupied Poland.
[Kulski] The Germans started
the terror immediately.
They brought in the Orthodox rabbi
and tied him up to the roof
of the wooden synagogue
and started a fire
and made the elders
run in to try to save him.
And they all died
right in front of my eyes.
The Germans made it very clear
that it was a question of time
that they were going to kill us all.
So we had to defend ourselves.
We had to defend our families.
And that was when I decided
to join the Polish resistance.
Julian Kulski is still only a schoolboy.
But soon he will learn
what it means to kill a man.
But from Germany,
the war looks very different.
[Werk in German] For many of us,
being a decent German
meant being a member of the Nazi party.
We were the good guys.
[crowd cheering]
[crowd chanting "Sieg heil!"]
[Werk] Hitler was there for us.
He was our Führer, sent by God.
[soldiers in German] Here we stand.
We are ready
to carry Germany into a new era.
One people,
one Führer,
one Reich!
[narrator] Hitler's plan is
to create a German empire
by invading countries to the east.
But Great Britain and France
have a pact with Poland.
So they now declare war on Germany.
[announcer] Just to bring you
up to date on the news of Europe,
if you are just turning on your radios:
Great Britain is now at war with Germany.
[announcer 2]
Every minute spent on production now
is vital to the defense
of the country and your homes.
In Paris and London, they're sending
children to the safety of the countryside.
[man in French] We are determined
not to submit to threats of violence.
[narrator] France and Britain are calling
up their colonial armies for support
from Asia and Africa.
[man in French]
In a world of masters and slaves,
we must save liberty and dignity.
Allied troops spread out
along the Maginot Line,
a network of bunkers
and fortresses along the German border.
For eight months, the two sides
eyeball each other across the line.
[announcer in German] The first phase
of this great fight is over.
And what we did in Poland
will be fulfilled in England and France!
[narrator] Spring 1940.
The Germans launch a surprise attack.
They go around the Maginot Line,
through the Ardennes Forest.
[indistinct chatter on radio]
[Heinlein in German]
My friends had fought in Poland,
and I wanted to see action.
I was thrilled.
[men speaking German on radio]
[narrator] The Panzers pour into Belgium,
the Netherlands, and France.
[Heinlein] We were surprised
there was hardly any resistance.
[woman] The day they arrived,
I remember, I was afraid.
My mother said, "Things are
going to get very bad, very bad."
They were arresting
young people on the street.
And you never saw them again.
It was terrible.
[Heinlein] Then the British came
in their little armored vehicles.
They were so outdated.
With one shot they were in a ditch.
[narrator] The British fall back
to the beaches of Dunkirk,
cornered by the Germans.
They're trapped and defenseless.
[Hunn] We'd got to Dunkirk.
Then suddenly out of the sky
would come these airplanes.
[plane engines revving]
[dive bombers buzzing]
They're screaming, and they would dive
on these men and machine-gun them.
You could do nothing about it.
What terror!
[narrator] With their backs to the wall,
the British mount a last-ditch evacuation.
[announcer] Near Dunkirk this evening,
Allied troops have been
deliberately machine-gunned
and slaughtered by low-flying aircraft.
Allied hospital ships have been attacked.
You're up to your neck. Dead bodies.
The slaughter.
Then somebody pulled me up.
I looked out, and there in front of you
was the whole of Dunkirk.
Massive flames, smoke, explosions.
And you think, that's hell.
[announcer] and how the Royal Navy,
using nearly a thousand ships,
has brought back nearly 350,000 men.
[narrator] The British Army scrambles home
and lives to fight another day.
[Hunn] We arrived back home at Margate.
I felt rather ashamed.
Because I knew that
there was hordes of Germans
on the other side of the channel.
[narrator] In the space of a few weeks,
the German army has killed or captured
more than two million Allied troops.
It takes the Nazis 21 days to take
the rest of France and roll into Paris.
[commentator] France has surrendered.
[commentator 2]
Britain alone will continue the struggle.
[crowd cheering]
[narrator] In Berlin,
Hitler gets a hero's welcome.
The Nazis now control much of Europe.
Only Great Britain stands in their way.
But Prime Minister Winston Churchill
is defiant.
[Churchill] We are in
one of the greatest battles in history.
You ask, what is our policy?
It is to wage war by sea, land and air
with all the strength
that God can give us.
Victory at all costs.
Without victory, there is no survival.
[narrator] Hitler is preparing
the final knockout blow,
a full-scale invasion of Great Britain.
But first, he must take down
the British Royal Air Force.
[bell ringing]
[pilots shouting]
[Wellum] Somebody gave me this
lithe-looking creature called a Spitfire
and said,
"There's a Spitfire, go and fly it."
The ground crew were waiting for me
and told me how to start the thing.
The next thing I knew,
it had leapt into the air.
Sort of me hanging on to it, really
and off we went
into the wild blue yonder.
[narrator] Geoffrey Wellum is
a Spitfire pilot just out of training.
He's one of just over
a thousand young men
who now carry the fate
of the war on their shoulders.
[Wellum] I remember thinking,
"Oh, my goodness me."
And you offered up a little prayer.
"It's going to be
a very busy day, O Lord."
"If I forget you, don't you forget me."
"Just give me this day."
"Please give me this day."
[narrator] Across the English Channel,
the German pilots
gather for a final briefing.
[Bob] The campaigns in Poland and France
gave us a lot of experience
so we were ready.
The English knew we were better pilots.
[Wellum] One got a little bit angry.
What were they doing over here?
They've decimated Europe,
flattened Poland.
And here they are over this country.
You know, what right
have they got to do this sort of thing?
[Churchill] We shall fight
on the seas and oceans.
We shall fight with growing confidence
and growing strength in the air.
We shall defend our island,
whatever the cost may be.
We shall fight on the beaches.
We shall fight
in the fields and in the streets.
We shall never surrender.
[Bob] We had always
seen the English as brothers,
but as soon as the shooting started,
it was us or them.
[Wellum] We went up
through a little bit of cloud.
And I looked ahead.
There they were.
I've never seen
so many airplanes in the sky at one time.
[dive bombers buzzing]
We were heading
towards them at 300 miles an hour.
They were coming
towards us at 300 miles an hour.
That's 600 miles an hour.
The next thing I knew,
we went straight into them.
[machine gun firing]
[metal clanging]
It was just flying for your life.
You see aircraft on fire.
Aircraft breaking up.
People bailing out
and their parachutes don't open.
It was total war.
[narrator] For 12 weeks,
the RAF and the Luftwaffe battle it out.
By the end of September,
1,600 German aircraft
have been brought down.
[Bob] The losses were so huge.
The whole mission had to be aborted.
And the Battle of Britain came to an end.
[narrator] For now,
Britain is safe from invasion.
[Wellum] The important thing
was that we stopped them
and denied them their aim.
For the first time,
the Germans realized
they had suffered a setback.
And they didn't like it.
[in Italian] Hail the Duce!
[crowd cheering]
[in Italian] We are going to battle
against the democracies of the West.
Run to your weapons
[crowd cheering]
to show your tenacity
your courage
and your valor!
[narrator] Hitler isn't the only dictator
casting a shadow over Europe.
Italy has its own strongman,
Benito Mussolini.
He's plotting a deal with Hitler
and planning
military adventures of his own.
[Mussolini] Italy is standing strong,
proud and united as never before.
[narrator] With the Brits
fighting Germany,
Mussolini takes his chance
and invades British-controlled Egypt.
It took five days for the Axis troops
from Agedabia to Derna.
[crowd cheering]
[narrator] Meanwhile, back in Europe,
thousands of Allied soldiers
are now prisoners of war.
One of them is Pham Van Kiem,
a Vietnamese soldier
serving with the French army.
[Kiem in French]
Once we got into the camp
in the barracks,
there were many prisoners of all races.
Senegalese, Algerians, Moroccans,
Tunisians, from all over.
[narrator] The Nazis begin
to separate colonial soldiers
from other prisoners of war.
[Kiem] After shaving our heads,
we were all given numbers.
I didn't understand why.
[narrator] The Nazis are
conducting so-called medical research
to advance their racist beliefs.
And this is just the beginning.
[static on radio]
Back in occupied Poland,
they are segregating the Jewish population
inside areas of cities
and towns known as ghettos.
To fight back, 13-year-old Julian Kulski
has decided to join the Polish resistance.
[Kulski] At first I was just the runner,
carrying messages through
a secret underground passage.
Later on,
my captain taught me how to fight,
how to kill a person
with a knife or with your hands.
[gun fires]
[narrator] Julian's unit prepare
for resistance against the occupiers.
But their operation
is uncovered by the Nazis.
[soldiers shouting indistinctly]
[Kulski] Somehow the Germans
learned about my commander.
And the Germans arrested him
and shot him point-blank.
He was everything.
I loved that man.
And I just swore that I would revenge him.
I and another boy spent
the whole day looking for Germans.
We found downtown a German soldier.
He started pulling out his gun.
And we both fired.
He fell on his face.
My initial reaction was,
you were able to kill them.
They were human.
Next day, they killed 20 women
and children on that spot.
'Cause for every German,
there were 20 civilians
shot on the same place.
It was medieval.
I feel responsible
for the death of these poor people.
[narrator] In the ghettos,
they'll soon begin to round up Polish Jews
and deport them to camps.
As for the rest of Poland,
the Nazis have plans for them too.
[Twardecki in German]
One day, a troop of SS guards came.
Our mothers were told
there was no food in Poland,
so they wanted
to care for us at a children's camp.
I remember being torn from her arms
and put onto a train.
On the side, it said: "Polish children
for nourishment of the Reich."
[narrator] Alojzy Twardecki
is one of 20,000 Polish children
abducted by the SS.
[somber choral music playing]
[Twardecki] The color of the eyes,
the hair those were weeded out.
They called me "little angel."
I had curly hair then, very, very blond.
And light blue eyes.
And then, Germanization began.
I felt like a German boy.
[Hitler] My German youth,
we want to be one people.
And you, my youth,
are to be this people
because you are the flesh of our flesh
and the blood of our blood.
And in your young heads
burns the same spirit that rules us.
Before us Germany lies,
in us Germany burns,
and behind us Germany follows!
[narrator] The scale
of Hitler's ambition is now clear.
He dreams of creating a 1,000-year Reich,
homeland to a single master race.
[incoming bombs whistling]
Now German bombs
are falling again on British cities
in a new terror campaign.
[announcer] German aircraft carried out
a number of attacks on Great Britain.
The raid was scattered
over many parts of the country.
[narrator] Meanwhile, Fascist Italy
has invaded neighboring Greece.
[reporter] Troops are moving forward
after breaking through
the weak Greek resistance.
[narrator] And beyond Europe,
war is spreading.
Japan is on a mission to build
a so-called new order in Asia.
They're already at war with China.
[Tojo in Japanese]
Our Empire has entered the next stage
of cooperation in a New World Order!
[narrator] Now Nazi Germany,
Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan
agree to join forces
in a formidable new alliance.
They're known as the Axis powers.
Their plan is to conquer the entire globe.
But there's one more player
to be reckoned with.
[patriotic Russian music rising]
The Soviet Union
has the world's largest army.
And in Joseph Stalin,
they have a dictator
with the ambition to match Hitler's.
[Stalin in Russian]
Our forces are numberless.
The enemy
will soon learn this to their cost.
Forward to victory!
[narrator] 1940 has seen
the fires of war ignited in Europe.
In 1941, the flames will spread
to engulf every corner of the globe.
From the NBC news room in New York
President Roosevelt
said that the Japanese
have attacked
the Pearl Harbor from the air.
I'll repeat that.
President Roosevelt
says that the Japanese
have attacked
Pearl Harbor in Hawaii from the air.
[subdued theme music playing]
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