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Blitz Street – Episode 2

This weeks episode of Blitz Street on Channel 4 carried on with the theme set down in the first instalment – detonating mock-up bombs in a replica 1940′s street, with eyewitness accounts and expert analysis.

This week the team explode an SC 1000 ‘Hermann’ Bomb, weighing in at 1,000 kilograms. Containing Amatol explosive, it produces more of a ‘heave’ effect than smaller bombs, which was effective at demolishing buildings. The slow-motion playback of the explosion, showing the blast wave, is incredible stuff.

Later in the programme Incendiary Bombs are tested, and also a Flammbomb. Incendiaries were used to great effect on Portsmouth in January 1941, when one lodged in th Guildhall’s ventilation shaft left to the building being burnt out. Small metal tubes packed with magnesium, they had an effect out of all proportion to their size. Flammbomb’s were much larger, but used explosives to throw burning oil over a large area – effectively an early form of Napalm. They must have been ghastly to try to put out.

The programme also focusses a lot on the devestating raid on the Coventry – the scenes of mass funerals are harrowing stuff. Yet I think it is important to remember that it is estimated that 568 people died in Coventry on that night; some suggest the toll may have been as high as 1,000. However fives years later, Historians estimate that between 24,000 and 40,000 people were killed in one night in Dresden. This is not to belittle the experiences of Coventry, London and elsewhere, but to try and give some form of context.

While the eyewitness accounts are a real insight, and its great that their experiences have been shared and recorded for posterity, I’m quite frustrated with the cotributions of the Historians – Juliet Gardner and Stephen Badsey. Their contributions feel very ‘top-down’ and conventiona. In my experience there is more to the Blitz than the ‘we can take it’ cliche and ‘roll out the barrell’. In particular, Badsey’s poor definition of ‘myth’ misleading.

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WWII Lost Films on the History Channel

This week sees the premiere of a brand new series on The History Channel. Entitled WWII Lost Films, it promises unseen footage from the Second World War, digitally restored and in colour.

So how does it fare? Having seen the first episode in advance, I found it very interesting viewing. There is indeed a lot of footage that I have never seen before, including some fantastic image of kamikaze strikes on US Carriers in the pacific, and also of the fighting on Guadalcanal. We also get a very interesting insight from a Jewish immigrant from Austria, who escaped to America from the Anschluss in 1938.

The series has been produced for the American market, and it shows. It does have a very patriotic ‘God-bless-America’ feel to it, and you are given a slight impression that everything prior to Pearl Harbour was pre-amble. But that is by no means a problem limited to this one documentary. Also, it does illustrate the issues around isolationism and the American entry into the war.

It is a very interesting series none the less, and unseen footage is never a bad thing. I just wonder how much unseen films there are of the British aspect of the war, waiting to be discovered and shown to the world?

WWII Lost Films continues every night at 10pm on the History Channel.

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