Disk 1 of Volume 5 opens with perhaps the most ironic scene in the entire “Through Enemy Eyes” series. It takes place at the Augsburg factory headquarters of the famous Messerschmitt company, where Rudolf Hess presents an award to its namesake, Professor Willi Messerschmitt. Behind them is a twin-engine fighter-destroyer, identical to the aircraft Hess flew on his one-way peace mission just three days later. In fact, while German audiences were watching this very newsreel, the Deputy Fuehrer of the Third Reich was winging his way in an ME.110 toward Britain.
His only superior, Adolf Hitler, appears next in a mass-rally at Berlin’s Sportspalast, where the high ceremony associated with his regime is seen in all its splendor.
The military action begins with troops of the German Africa Corps storming and taking a desert fort. Then Luftwaffe gun-cameras record some really terrific low-level ground attacks against enemy armor. Conspicuous is the almost total lack of Britons among the predominantly New Zealand, Australian, and Ghurkha prisoners. Attention switches to Greece and the 20th Century Battle of Thermopylae, where the British, lacking their own Leonidas, are pummelled into submission by German artillery.
The June 4th newsreel opens with an infantry inspection conducted by General Georg Karl Friedrich Wilhelm von Küchler, who the previous year led the 18th Army in the invasion of the Netherlands, defeated the Dutch army, and continued on into Belgium. After occupying Antwerp, his 18th Army was chief player in the conquest of France, victoriously concluding the campaign at Pas de Calais in the encirclement of Allied forces on the beaches of Dunkirk. Unlike most of his fellow Army generals, he was loyal to Hitler. Later in 1941 until January 1944, von Küchler was in command of the siege at Leningrad. After the war, American occupation authorities condemned him as a “war criminal”, but their severe conditions broke his health, and the 72-year-old prisoner was sent home to die.
His colleague in the Libyan Desert, General Manfred Rommel, is showcased, as the camera follows his meticulous preparations for a surprise attack. Close-ups of German and Italian tanks in action will prove invaluable for model-makers and historians alike. Interesting, too, are views of the Henschel-126 in flight operations. One of the lesser known Luftwaffe aircraft, it played a ubiquitous, essential role in all theaters of the war as a reliable reconnaissance machine.
The Wochenschau moves on to Crete for the best footage ever taken of Deutsche Fallschirmjaeger (German paratroops) and their faithful Ju.52 trimotors. One of the tough “Aunti Jus”, as they were affectionately known by their crews, makes a controlled crash landing, its landing-gear shot away. On closer inspection, the transport has incurred substantial damage, suggesting the high attrition endured by Luftwaffe planes during the Aegean Campaign.
After an enemy airfield is raked by attacking Messerschmitts, the shot-up RAF aircraft are shown to have been a strange mix of the latest Spitfires and truly ancient aircraft, among them an Avro biplane from the beginning of World War One! The newsreel climaxes with some intense ground combat, as the last of the British defenders are driven from Crete.
The June 11th edition shows the Fuehrer and Rechsmarshal Goering enthusiastically inspecting a rare Prussian battle flag from the Seven Years War and Frederick the Great’s chess set. Both were gifts from the Croatian head of state, Anton Pavelic, shown here after his country concluded an alliance with the Third Reich.
Goering meets with Luftwaffe top brass, including Hugo Sperrle, Commander of the 3rd Air Fleet that destroyed the French Air Force in May, 1940; General Albert Kesselring, among the most brilliant military aviation commanders of all time, who would continue to win laurels in North Africa and Italy; Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek, who had urged Hitler to terror-bomb London’s residential neighborhoods, a request the Führer denied; General der Flieger Alexander Löhr, who conducted the successful Dodecanese Campaign, murdered by Tito’s Communists after the war; and Air Inspector General Erhard Milch, whose incompetence was to play a significant role in Germany’s coming defeat.
Subsequent editions on both disks deal chiefly with Operation Barbarossa, the German-led invasion of the Soviet Union. Of special interest is the visual documentation of the earliest moments of the Campaign --- the irrepressible Axis advance into Lithuania; the fall of cities such as Minsk and Bialystok; greeting of the Germans and their allies by Ukrainians, Balts and Russians as liberators from Stalin; exciting gun-camera footage of Red Air Force I-16 fighters and DB-4 bombers knocked out of the sky; a Soviet armored train blasted off its tracks by Stuka dive bombers; low-flying Stromovik attack planes; and the first Heinkel-111 raids on Moscow.
The August 6th Wochenschau stresses participation of various European peoples in the Third Reich’s struggle against the USSR. Shown are crowds of Spaniards boarding trains for the Eastern Front. They are joined by Dutch volunteers, and marching columns of Romanian and Slovak troops during the first, heady days of Operation Barbarossa. This particular newsreel ends with desperate street fighting amid the blazing ruins of Grodno, following by some of the most extraordinary glimpses of Soviet aircraft falling in flames.
Volume 5 of “Through Enemy Eyes” chronicles an especially important period in the history of World War Two, between the successful conclusion of the Balkan Campaign and the opening of Hitler’s raison d’etre --- his fight against the Communist colossus.
Reviewer’s note: While purchasing all fourteen volumes of “Through Enemy Eyes” may be too sizeable an investment for most students of World War Two, they will find nowhere else --- in either the written or spoken word --- original source material that will provide them with a broader, more profound understanding of and appreciation for that seminal conflict. To watch it every day, from first to last newsreel, is a life-changing experience, comparable to seeing and hearing Wagner’s Ring Cycle.
Whatever viewers bring with them to this collection will be expanded a thousandfold. In short, the “Through Enemy Eyes” series is by far the most important, single document to have emerged from the Second World War, bar none.
- Marc Roland
Trouble with viewing all these Wochenschau newsreels, I get so excited, I always feel like looking for a recruitment office somewhere. - Marc Roland