Volume 7 of the “Through Enemy Eyes”
Volume 7 of the “Through Enemy Eyes” series of German wartime newsreels opens on 26 November 1941 with the funeral of Ernst Udet. Just nine days before, Germany’s second-highest scoring First World War ace (with 62 victories, second only to his commander, Manfred von Richthofen) had committed suicide.
As the chief of T-Amt --- “Techical Bureau” --- the Reich Air Ministry's developmental department, the Gerneraloberst had been the target of blame (which he guiltily accepted) for Luftwaffe loses in the Battle of Britain, owing to his alleged over-emphasis on mass-producing inadequately defended dive-bombers. The English knew better, however: their interception of enemy radio transmissions, not any misperceptions of German technical deficiencies, had decided the aerial campaign.
Contributing to his state of mind, Udet was pushed over the emotional edge when his girl friend left him. While these facts are not so much as alluded to in the Wochenschau coverage of his state funeral march to Berlin’s Invaliden cemetery, they serve as background to the event.
Meanwhile, the German drive toward Moscow had arrived within 19 miles of the Soviet capital; it would never get any closer. But Newsreel 586 concentrates instead on the siege of Leningrad with some great scenes of heavy artillery blasting the defiant city. The action switches to the south, where a gigantic Red Army armored train bristling with long-barrelled cannons is seized by Wehrmacht troops.
In the Mediterranean Theater, captured British footage of the Royal Navy’s top aircraft-carrier, HMS Ark Royal, shows off her great size and fire-power. After her loss to u-boat torpedoes, gun-cameras aboard Messerschmitt interceptors document how incredibly close Luftwaffe pilots zeroed in on their prey, in this case, RAF Hurricanes and Spitfires, shredded at point-blank range.
The December 10th newsreel begins with a ferocious artillery barrage of Leningrad. The city could no longer be taken, because troops required for its occupation had been diverted by Army generals to the fighting before Moscow and in the south. The gigantic city had been effectively isolated, although Axis forces demanded for the siege could certainly have been put to better advantage elsewhere.
Far from this dilemma, at a French airfield on the English Channel coast, Messerschmitt-109Fs are serviced by maintenance personnel in scenes historians and model builders alike should find invaluable for close-ups of the aircraft’s the Daimler-Benz DB 601 powerplant and cockpit details. The "Friedrich" represented an aerodynamic improvement over all previous models, with a substantially increased range of 1,060 miles over the Bf 109E's 410 miles. With a maximum speed of 394 mph, the “F” outflew contemporary Spitfires, one of which is chased at tree-top levels in this exciting newsreel coverage before being shot down.
Air combat continues over the Libyan Desert, where Italian Fiat Falcons strafe and bomb a British armored column. Although a biplane in a war of monoplanes, the CR-42 gave exemplary service in the ground-attack role, as dramatically demonstrated here.
The Wochenschau for 7 January 1942 is notable for the absence of a theme quoted from Franz Liszt’s symphonic poem, Les Preludes, that began every German newsreel since the opening of Operation Barbarossa. The advent of a new year was probably seen as an opportunity to withdraw the victory fanfare, which would have seemed inappropriate in light of Wehrmacht reversals before Moscow.
But the scenes here are uncompromisingly realistic, as they depict hideous winter weather in which men can hardly survive, let alone fight. Numerous details of German small arms weapons and uniform rank appear in house-to-house skirmishes for some anonymous Russian hamlet. No less freezing conditions are faced by crews aboard minesweepers, their decks and turrets sheathed in ice, as RAF bombers attack.
In the Crimea, a large-scale amphibious landing attempted by the Reds is entirely smashed by German and Romanian defenders, as evidenced by a nearly capsized Soviet destroyer, its exposed hull holed with numerous direct hits. Low-level assaults are carried out by ground-attacking Stormoviks, referred to as “cement bombers” for their heavy armor. But they cannot prevent a colossal German siege cannon from bombarding Sevastopol.
The February 9th newsreel highlights officers of the Blue Division, Spanish volunteers in the Leningrad sector. A long and unusually detailed segment documents the successful u-boat cruise of Erich Topp to the waters near New York City, where he sinks a freighter on the surface with his deck-gun.
In North Africa, Axis anti-tank guns engage in a furious desert battle with British armor, reducing Churchill and Matilda tanks to burning hulks.
Operation Cerberus, Hitler’s successful relocation of Kriegsmarine capital ships from French ports, is showcased with intense action, as the battle-cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau down RAF bombers during the famous “Channel Dash“.
Subsequent newsreels feature Heroes Memorial Day with Third Reich pomp and circumstance at its best, followed by the cruise of a German auxiliary cruiser through the Indian Ocean, where it scores against one armed freighter after another.
Volume 7 concludes with armored clashes in Libya and a performance of Wagner’s Meistersinger Overture conducted by the renowned Wilhelm Fuertwaengler in a tank factory.
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