World War II: From the Frontlines (2023) s01e03 Episode Script

Episode 3

[wind whistling]
- [machine guns firing]
- [soldiers shouting]
[soldier breathing erratically]
[projectile whistles by]
- [indistinct shouting]
- [machine gun firing]
[man in German] Us Germans
[soldier in German] Fire!
we saw ourselves
as the best army in the world.
Then there was Stalingrad.
[gunfire continues]
[explosions in distance]
From that moment,
we started to fear the worst.
[soldier running, panting]
[narrator] 1942.
As the war enters its third year,
the conflict now engulfs the entire world.
[announcer] The Japanese
have attacked Pearl Harbor from the air.
Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor,
dragging America into the war.
[Franklin Roosevelt]
I ask that the Congress declare
a state of war.
[announcer] Japan has announced
a formal declaration of war.
[announcer 2] This morning's news of
Japan attacks on Thailand and Hong Kong.
In the West,
most of Europe is under Axis control.
The French Resistance has collapsed.
Hitler has now launched
a massive invasion of the Soviet Union.
The German successes against Russia
can be compared to the biggest victories
in the course of this war.
And now the Germans
are on the march in Africa,
where they have the British on the run.
So, now the stakes had never been higher.
With the Axis powers
sweeping all before them,
can the combined forces of the US,
the Soviet Union
and Britain finally stop Hitler?
Or will the Germans
and the Axis powers conquer the world?
[Hitler in German] Our great heroes
have history on our side.
We must crush our enemies
until the final victory!
[newscaster] Good morning, everyone.
The start of another week of war.
[newscaster 2]
Down in the desert sands of Libya,
everyone realizes that
these are mighty serious days.
[Ellis] You must remember
that you are in a desert,
and a desert is a vast expanse of nothing.
We had a much more
colorful way of describing it:
"miles and miles and miles of sweet F-A."
Englishman Ray Ellis has been
fighting the Germans in North Africa
for more than a year.
Ray joined up at the start of the war,
eager to do his duty.
Now, he's starting to wonder
if he'll ever see home again.
[Ellis] I was tired of deserts
and killing,
and sick of the whole thing.
[detectors buzzing]
The excrement and bodies dying,
being shot, and rotting.
Obviously, flies
were there by the million.
Big, black, horrible, juicy flies.
And then there was the Germans.
The Germans were invincible.
Let's face it, nothing had stopped them.
[newscaster] Rommel's men
are on the march again.
Rommel is a daring, skillful opponent.
The German General, Erwin Rommel,
is closing in on the vital
British-held port of Tobruk.
If Rommel takes Tobruk,
he could take the Suez Canal.
If he takes Suez, he takes Africa.
[Ellis] Two officers came and said,
"We've had an order, Sergeant."
"We've got to fight
to the last man and the last round."
He said, "Don't think many of us are going
to see the sun set today, Sergeant."
We're all in it together.
[narrator] Ray's orders:
hold off Rommel's tanks.
No retreat. No surrender.
[Ellis] And I can remember
sitting by my gun
and just waiting
for this battle to start.
Somebody discovered a barrel of Chianti.
Everybody was laughing and happy.
It relieved all the tension.
Back slapping.
And then gradually it changed.
And it was mothers,
sweethearts, and wives.
We was frightened.
[loud explosions, gunfire]
[noises fade]
- [noises resume]
- [soldiers shouting]
[noises fade]
[Ellis] All I knew was,
I was spinning in the air.
I came round.
My gun was upside down.
My friends were wiped out.
[flies buzzing]
I was absolutely surrounded by Germans.
[machine-gun fire in distance]
I got out of my hole and then I ran.
There were two of us left.
And this man
who was helping me, he was blotted.
And that was it.
I was a prisoner.
Ray is the only survivor of his section.
And he's about to be transported
a thousand miles across North Africa
as a prisoner of war.
[Ellis] And so began
the most dangerous journey
I've ever made in my life.
[narrator] The fall of Tobruk puts
all of North Africa within Hitler's reach.
Rommel inflicted considerable damage.
[narrator] Meanwhile, in the Pacific,
the Japanese have scored
one victory after another.
[newscaster] The Japanese attacked
defense facilities in the Philippines.
[narrator] They've conquered
the Philippines, Malaya and Burma.
[newscaster] The Japanese are closing in
on Singapore from the north and west.
[narrator] They're even on American soil
in a remote outpost of Alaska.
[newscaster] The Japs have set foot
in the North American continent
for the first time.
[man in Japanese]
We will wipe out the cruel oppression
of the United States and Great Britain.
[narrator] Now they're planning
a surprise attack on the US fleet
at the Pacific island of Midway.
Sink her aircraft carriers,
and they'll knock the US
out of the war for good.
There's just one problem.
The Americans have
cracked their radio codes
and know the Japanese are coming.
[indistinct chatter]
[Cheek] They called
all the pilots for a briefing,
and somehow the codebreakers
knew right to the minute
what the Japanese were going to do.
[voices muted]
[Best] The morning briefing said
these carriers have been
picked up to the northwest,
steaming in towards Midway.
We knew what the Japanese could do.
We're under no delusions about that.
But we know what we can do.
We know they're coming.
They don't know we're there.
[dispatcher] Pilots, man your planes.
Pilots, man your planes.
[Cheek] It would be the most dangerous
flying I ever did in my life.
[Cheek] We were just coming up
on a large bank of clouds.
And I had no idea
exactly what we were coming up on.
I guess the best way to put it was,
you're stepping
into the main ring right now.
[dive bomber revving]
[narrator] Japanese fighter pilots
scramble to get airborne.
[Iyozo in Japanese]
A large enemy formation in the south
came across on the radio.
When I looked around,
I saw 20 enemy dive bombers.
The gunfire was terrifying!
[machine guns firing]
[Cheek] I look straight ahead of me
and here comes a Zero diving in.
I squeeze the trigger.
My tracer went right into him.
[metal clanging]
[Iyozo] The tank was hit
and the plane started burning.
So I bailed out.
And I hit the water.
[narrator] US pilots shoot down
a dozen Japanese fighters.
[Cheek] I looked over to the left,
and there's the biggest
damn cruiser I've ever laid eyes on.
[narrator] Japan's aircraft carriers
are now defenseless.
The US dive bombers close in.
[Best] The first I could
make out anything,
I could see the bigger black blob.
I pulled up, so the first hit
Second hit.
The third hit.
There must have been an inferno.
I can see it in my mind right now.
[narrator] Four Japanese
aircraft carriers,
almost half their navy,
are sent to the bottom of the Pacific.
For the first time in the war,
the US has inflicted
a major defeat on the Japanese.
[Best] You're walking on air.
The Japanese fleet was blunted.
It was an ambush.
An "ambush" is a dirty term anyway,
but we did to the Japanese
just what they'd done to us,
we ambushed them.
It was wonderful.
[voices muted]
[men cheering]
[narrator] Meanwhile,
on the Eastern Front,
the Germans have failed
to land a decisive victory
over Stalin's forces at Moscow.
[newscaster] Repeated German attacks
are failing to hit Moscow's defenses.
Hitler now makes a decision that will
change the course of the entire war.
Desperate for a quick win,
he diverts his best army south
to attack the city
named after the Soviet leader
[Hitler] The seizure of Stalingrad
will only deepen this gigantic victory,
not because this place
has Stalin's name, which is unimportant,
but because it is
a strategically vital location.
And you can be sure,
nobody will drive us from this place!
[crowd cheering]
[Schönbeck in German]
We were really fired up.
Our tanks were as fast as lightning!
Our morale was sky high
and we had amazing firepower.
[indistinct shouting]
[voices muted]
[newscaster] The Germans
have advanced in the last 24 hours
and German reserves
are continually arriving by air.
But the defenders of Stalingrad
keep pouring in reinforcements.
[officer shouting commands]
[narrator] The Soviets are outmaneuvered
by the German army's speed and tactics.
But their leader, Joseph Stalin,
has other cards to play.
[Stalin in Russian]
Women of the resistance!
The whole world is looking at you
as the force to destroy
the German invaders.
[narrator] The Red Army
has recruited almost a million women.
[officer shouts]
One of them is Alexandra Bocharova.
[Bocharova in Russian] I was told,
"Girl, you're in the army now!"
"You will be a machine gunner."
I liked the heavy machine gun best.
[narrator] August 23rd.
Luftwaffe bombers launch
the first wave of attacks on Stalingrad.
[bombs whistling, exploding]
Down below,
the Panzer regiments have arrived.
[Schönbeck] We came to the Volga
and saw this mighty river.
We were so cocky,
it was, "Great, let's shell the boats!"
[Bocharova] I was on a boat.
A shell landed next to us.
A nurse was thrown into the water.
And she was gone
to the bottom of the Volga.
[bombs exploding, gunfire]
Somehow we made it across.
[narrator] The Germans prepare for
a full-scale ground assault of the city.
[Dengler in German]
We saw Stalingrad burning.
We assumed, when we take Stalingrad,
the war would be over.
[in German] Fire!
[Dengler] We started
the advance on Stalingrad.
[newscaster] More news
of the fighting along the Russian front
[newscaster 2] The German threat
of Stalingrad continues to grow daily.
[Dengler] We'd take a house or ditch
- [heavy gunfire]
- [soldiers shouting]
and they would
take it back a few days later.
We suddenly realized
we had a serious opponent.
Every house was a battlefield.
Shells were raining down like thunder.
We lost so many troops.
[narrator] For three months,
the Nazis and the Soviets
fight each other to a standstill.
But the Soviets have
a plan to break the deadlock.
[Dengler] It was a mixture
of astonishment and horror.
It was like something from a movie.
The Red Army was coming,
from everywhere, north and south.
Stalin has called up reinforcements,
catching the Germans off-guard.
[Bechler in German]
Our guns were superior.
But there were so many of them.
It was one wave after another.
They weren't getting weaker,
they were getting stronger!
We didn't care about our own lives.
All that mattered was the Motherland!
[Bechler] Suddenly,
I saw it with my binoculars.
"My God! Stalingrad is surrounded."
[narrator] While the German army
is trapped at Stalingrad,
in the Pacific,
the Americans and the Japanese
continue the battle for supremacy.
[newscaster] Here are
the highlights in the news of the day.
The whole nation
has its fingers crossed for the Navy
fighting what may be one of the most
crucial battles of World War II,
in the Solomons area.
[gunfire echoing]
- [heavy gunfire]
- [men shouting]
As we must, we are suffering losses.
But we are also
inflicting losses on the enemy.
[narrator] Meanwhile,
in North Africa, the war turns again.
This is the BBC Home and Forces program.
Here's some excellent news,
which has come during the past hour.
The Axis forces in the western desert
are now in full retreat.
Winston Churchill has appointed
a new commander in Africa:
General Montgomery.
And he's begun to halt
the advance of Rommel's Afrika Korps.
Our mandate from the Prime Minister
is to destroy
the Axis forces in North Africa.
We are going to finish
with Rommel once and for all.
It can be done, and it will be done.
But tens of thousands of British soldiers
are still prisoners of the Axis forces.
Since being captured near Tobruk,
Ray Ellis has been packed
on a truck in the North African desert.
[Ellis] I can't remember
how many days it went on.
It was a living hell.
You couldn't sit.
You couldn't move.
In fact, you couldn't turn round.
Dirty, sweaty, stinking men
who were emptying their bowels
and their bladders as they stood.
And you were doing the same.
Many died standing up.
Until we stopped at night,
when the corpses could be carried out.
[narrator] Ray arrives in Italy,
as a prisoner of war.
[Ellis] We'd been starved.
Broken-down group of men.
The street was lined
with people spitting and jeering.
"This is the British army. Look at them!"
And then somewhere, out of the crowd,
a young girl came
and pressed into my hand a big peach.
And then ran back again and hid herself.
And I can remember eating it and holding
my cupped hands round my mouth.
Don't think anything
ever tasted better than that peach.
I just burst into tears.
It made me realize that when you think
the whole world is against you
and things are going wrong,
I always think there's
a girl with a peach somewhere.
It was a wonderful feeling, that
And it gave me the hope
that things can change.
[announcer] This is London calling
in the North American service for the BBC.
Yesterday afternoon at about 4:30,
the Axis armies were cut clean in half.
[narrator] November has arrived,
and there's momentous news from Egypt.
The British 8th Army
has defeated General Rommel's forces
at the Battle of El Alamein.
Now, this is not the end.
It is not even the beginning of the end.
But it is, perhaps,
the end of the beginning.
And now the Americans have landed
to help finish off
the Axis powers in North Africa.
[newscaster] American paratroops
and airborne infantry flown from Britain,
1,500 miles away,
have landed to capture airfields,
while other American troops
have poured ashore on the beaches.
This is the end
of the Axis African adventure.
[narrator] Meanwhile,
Hitler's forces on the Eastern Front
are facing the possibility
of a catastrophic defeat.
The German 6th Army is surrounded.
And the Russian winter is closing in.
[wind whistling]
Hitler's generals tell him
the only hope is to break out and retreat.
But Hitler orders his army
to stand and fight.
[Hitler] These last few months
have been so tremendous.
Let's pay tribute to the soldiers
that delivered this victory.
Defeat is out of the question.
National Socialist Germany
will emerge from this war
with a glorious victory!
[crowd cheering]
[Schönbeck] At first we thought,
we're going to get out of this.
But then things got really bad.
We ran out of gas.
Then we ran out of ammunition.
Then we ran out of food,
so we ate the horses.
We got orders
to demolish houses for firewood.
We'd say, "Get out, we need your house!"
In one house,
there was an old couple.
An old man from Stalingrad
with his wife.
They had made some soup.
Something warm.
He said, "Come, eat with us."
I couldn't believe it!
[narrator] Christmas Day, 1942.
Hans and his men are 1,800 miles from home
and starving to death.
[Schönbeck] We had
a little pine tree in my bunker.
I tried to put on a brave face for my men.
I said, "Guys,
we'll get out of here somehow."
Though I didn't believe it myself.
And nobody else believed me either.
[Dengler] During the course of Stalingrad,
my whole world collapsed.
I saw this corpse.
Some soldiers threw themselves onto him.
They cut out his heart
and lungs and ate them.
I thought, my God, how low have we sunk?
[man in German] The High Command
of the Wehrmacht announces
[man 2 in German] The 6th Army
has succumbed
to the superiority of the enemy.
The battle for Stalingrad is over.
[narrator] On February 2nd,
the German army surrenders.
Eight hundred thousand Axis troops
have been killed or captured.
[Bechler] A Red Army soldier
shoves his gun into my chest.
And that's it, we are prisoners.
[narrator] It's a disaster for Hitler
and his biggest defeat of the war so far.
[Bechler] Then I started thinking of home.
How can we win the war now?
Sooner or later all of Germany will be
surrounded like we are at Stalingrad.
That means the fall of Germany.
That cannot be.
[Bocharova] We hugged, we kissed,
and shouted, "I'm alive!"
I learned I was to receive
the Order of the Red Star.
I was walking proudly!
It felt like the world was watching me.
[narrator] Stalin's Red Army
has stopped the Nazi tide.
But as the conflict
enters its fourth year,
an even harder battle is beginning.
To win the war, the Allies
must take the fight to enemy territory
and venture into
the most dangerous place on Earth:
Nazi Germany.
[Bomber Harris] The Nazis entered this war
under the rather childish delusion
that they were going
to bomb everybody else
and nobody was going to bomb them.
They sowed the wind and now
they are going to reap the whirlwind.
[dive bombers buzzing]
- [pilot 1] Fighters at ten o'clock.
- [pilot 2] Watch 'em, Scotty.
[Scotty] I got my sights on 'em.
[pilot 1] B-17 out of control
at three o'clock.
[pilot 2] Come on, you guys,
get out of that plane.
[subdued theme song playing]
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