Tag Archives: dvd

The Waterloo Collection DVD: Victory and Pursuit

This is the final part of a four volume series of DVD’s, looking at the Waterloo Campaign of 1815. I enjoyed the other three DVD’s very much, but for me this was the best of the bunch.

We all know about the last-ditch advance of the Imperial Guard, and of Wellington shouting ‘up guards and at ‘em!'; must of us military nerds will probably already know about Napoleon’s desparate attempts to rally his army, before making a desparate flight back to Paris.

But what is really ingenious about this DVD, is that it really does tell us what 95% will know next to nothing about. For almost 200 hundred years the focus of historians looking at Waterloo has radiated out from that valley south of Mont St Jean. But the whole campaign was fought on a much broader canvas. Of particular interest here is the epic march of the Prussians from Wavre to Waterloo. We are shown around Wavre itself, and told like never before how they managed to evade Grouchy.

We are also given a very good summary of the pursuit of Napoleon after Waterloo, back towards Paris; and how Grouchy attempted to check the Prussian Cavalry. I was also very impressed by the attention given to the aftermath of the battle in terms of the numbers of dead and dying, and the thoughts of the Duke of Wellington regarding the loss of so many of his friends.

It has always been an ambition of mine to go to Waterloo. I haven’t managed it yet, but this is the next best thing. Call me a geek, but I love the shots of re-enactor units massed on the field. What I really thought was invaluable about this DVD in particular was the in-depth look at a Black Watch Highlander’s clothing and equipment, courtesy of a couple of re-enactors. Most of it was completely new to me, and a real eye opener. I had no idea that Highlanders wore Moggins, for example. And I have read about the Trotter knapsack in Sharpe, but never really seen one before. Its things like that that really make for an interesting experience.

One change I would possibly make is the number of presenters. They are all very knowledgeable, but our ‘host’ changes too often for the viewer to build up a rapport. Perhaps it might work better to have perhaps one or two key hosts who address the viewer directly, and then they interview other expert guests? But apart from that rather superficial point, I think this is an excellent DVD. I found it interesting, informative, educational, and very well presented. History DVD’s are definitely here to stay.

Victory and Pursuit is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, Napoleonic War

Hougoumont and D’Erlon’s attack – the DVD by Battlefield History TV

Much to my regret I’ve never managed to visit the battlefield at Waterloo – the closest I have got was a realisation at Brussels main station that we didn’t have enough time to get to Waterloo, have a good look, and get back again in time for the Eurostar. But in lieu of a visit in the past 10 years, this DVD, and the others in the Waterloo series, are easily the next best thing.

I’m somebody who has devoured everything about the battle of Waterloo that I could lay my hands on – down to playing with little cut out squares of paper, each representing a unit, when I was but a wee lad. Not to mention being ever so slightly obsessed with Sharpe.But even I learnt something from this programme – in particular, the amount of depth given to the attack on Hougoumont was fascinating. I also enjoyed the little ‘diversions’ from the battle, to explain aspects such as the British heavy cavalry sabre, or the French Artillery system.

What I really like about this programme, is that you actually feel that you are there. You are given a very good feel for the lie of the land – what Montgomery would have called ‘smelling the battlefield’. That’s one thing that is very hard to put across without actually being there, so to convey that sense by DVD is a great achievement. The height of Hougoumont’s walls, the steepness and proximity of the French and Allied ridges, and the feel of the cropfields. There are some great graphics in this as well, perfectly illustrating the conduct of the battle, and some pretty interesting scenes of living history enthusiasts on the battlefield itself.

Using experienced battlefield guides at experts makes complete sense – the experience in showing visitors round the battlefield shows. In fact, the programme feels very much like a virtual battlefield tour, from the comfort of your own armchair. I enjoyed it immensely.

Hougoumont and D’Erlon’s attack can be purchased from Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Napoleonic War

Wittman v Ekins: The Death of a Panzer Ace – The DVD

This is the second DVD I have had the pleasure of reviewing from the partnership of Battlefield History TV and Pen and Sword Digital. Whilst the first DVD I reviewed focussed very much on family military history, this release looks at two very different men, on opposing sides of one of the most famous battles of the Second World War.

Michael Wittman was the most renowned German Tank Ace of the Second World War. By the time he arrived in Normandy with his elite Waffen SS Tank Battalion, he had seen extensive service on the Eastern Front and had been decorated for bravery. By contrast Trooper Joe Ekins was a shoemaker in civilian life who had volunteered for the Norhamptonshire Yeomanry, a territorial armoured unit. These two very different men came to be facing each other in August 1944 during Operation Totalize – Montgomery’s attempt to break out of the bridgehead or tie down German reinforcements, depending on which side of the historiography you sit!

Many books and programmes have attempted to pinpoint exactly who killed Michael Wittman. Where I think this DVD is spot on is in its conclusion that while it is almost possible to pinpoint who exactly killed Wittman, but it is very possible that it was Trooper Ekins. My take on it having watched the DVD, is why have people become so fixated with finding out who exactly killed Wittman? Lots of men and tanks were fighting each other in the summer of 1944, is it really possible or indeed wise to try and isolate individuals from the bigger picture? But I guess if people are interested in it, its always going to be the subject of speculation.

I found this a vey enjoyable DVD indeed. The balace between battlefield visits, the interviews with Joe Ekins and the expert analysis was just about right. In particular I enjoyed Richard Hone’s look at the German and Allied Tanks. The use of battlefield maps, overlaid with graphics and used in conjunction with battlefield views, really brings the story of life. But best of all, the interviews with Trooper Joe Ekin ensure that his memories and experiences are recorded for posterity.

This kind of focussed, battlefield interpretation lends itself very well to the DVD format. Its very well produced, and with a nice soundtrack. Whereas Tracing Great War Ancestors was a good effort, this seems a more confident offering. The ability to talk to veterans, walk the battlefields and present graphics paints a picture far more accesible than even the most vivid book. And I think there is a demand for these kinds of studies. I can think of plenty of stories associated with Arnhem that could be told very lucidly using this approach – fingers crossed we will see many more like this in the future.

Wittman v Ekins: The Death of a Panzer Ace is available from Pen and Sword Digital

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Filed under Book of the Week, d-day, videos, World War Two

Tracing Great War Ancestors – the DVD

DVD

I’m well into the swing of reviewing books now, having been working on my blog for almost 9 months. But it was a pleasant surprise to receive a copy of this brand new DVD from Pen and Sword. In fact, im surprised that its only now that this concept is taking off!

The DVD is broken down into three sections, and follows Richard Hone as he sets off on a journey of discovery, looking to find out more about his Uncle Bill who died in the First World War. In the first part genealogist Simon Fowler shows Richard how to get started. Armed with these details, in the second part Tim Saunders takes Richard to visit the Battlefields in France and Belgium where his Uncle Bill fought, from Loos, via the Somme and Passchendaele, to where he was killed in the Ypres Salient in 1918. Finally, medal expert Phil Mussell explains about First World War campaign medals.

There are also some pretty nifty extras, including a printable family tree planner, a full-colour magazine and book extracts. This aspect of the product is something that could be developed more in the future – would it be possible to include digital examples of documents, for instance? Maybe even film clips and/or music? I’m not sure how licensing would work, but its a thought…

It makes a very pleasant change indeed to be watching a DVD on family military history, rather than reading a book – it brings it to life so much more vividly. I can imagine it being a lot more friendly too if you want to research your family history but are not into reading. It is structured very well, with a nice gentle introduction. I am a big fan of getting out there to ‘smell the battlefield’, so it’s very pleasing to see that the viewer is encouraged to do just that. The use of a case study is a sound idea, and adds a nice personal touch. At the moment I am researching the men of Portsmouth who died in WW1 and watching this DVD has given me plenty of inspiration.

In some respects the presentation is rather rusty, however. Some of the editing is less than crisp in places, and we hear Tipperary and one other WW1 era song throughout. Also, it might make an interesting sideshow to run a sweepstake as to precisely which British Army regiment Tim Saunders was an officer in! But these are issues of style: the substance is all there.

I think we can expect to see a lot more DVD’s like this in the future. I must admit it has got me thinking too: how about some DVD’s in a similar vein, but aimed at younger people?

Tracing Great War Ancestors is available from Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Family History, Uncategorized, World War One