Show cover of The WW2 Podcast

The WW2 Podcast

A military history podcast that looks at all aspects of WWII. With WW2 slipping from living memory I aim to look at different historical aspects of the Second World War.


205 - Victory to Defeat: The British Army 1939-40
As some of you may know, I am also a First World War historian, and the academic history of the war can be very different from the public perspective, which dwells on the first two years of the war.  Forgetting the victories of 1917 and 1918 is not new; it is something the British army did during the inter-war period. Added to this corporate amnesia, there was very little discussion in Britain on who the army might be expected to fight. All this culminated in 1939 with a British army unprepared for war and the defeat in France in 1940. Joining me once more is Robert Lyman, who, with Richard Dannatt, has written Victory to Defeat: The British Army 1939-40. The book is a compelling account of the mismanagement of the British army from the end of the First World War to the start of the next war.  
56:31 01/10/2023
204 - Armour in the Pacific
We do not think of armour being widely used in the Pacific campaign, and compared to other theatres, that is a reasonable assumption. However, it was utilised by both the Japanese and Americans from the island campaigns, such as Tarawa and Guadalcanal, through to the Philippines. Joining me today is Mike Guardia, who is the author of American Armor in the Pacific and The Combat Diaries: True Stories from the Frontlines of World War II.  
45:40 25/09/2023
203 - The Battle of Britain, July 1940
In this episode, I’m joined by Patrick Eriksson. If you cast your memory back, Patrick has previously joined us to talk about the Luftwaffe and his Alarmstart trilogy of books (episodes 60, 85 and 104). This time, he is back to discuss the opening few weeks of the Battle of Britain, covered in his book Tally-Ho: RAF Tactical Leadership in the Battle of Britain, July 1940.  
50:03 15/09/2023
202 - Leningrad, 1941-42
From September 1941, the Germans surrounded Leningrad, laying siege to the city for 900 days. Over 2 million Russians were trapped, and thousands would die through starvation. As the winter closed in, Lake Ladoga froze, allowing trucks to cross the ice. Dubbed ‘Road of Life’, it would bring vital supplies and eventually evacuate over a million civilians from the besieged city. While all the time, the Russian army struggled to try and lift the siege. I am happy to welcome back to the podcast Prit Buttar. Pritt’s latest book is To Besiege a City: Leningrad 1941–42, and we will discuss the first year of the siege.  
57:53 01/09/2023
201 - Japanese Americans in WWII
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, over 125,000 Japanese Americans living in the continental United States were incarcerated in prison camps. The majority of these were born in America and US citizens. This was authorised by an Executive Order from President Roosevelt. The Japanese Americans complied and spent years in the camps. Even though incarcerated, they remained loyal Americans. When the call came for volunteers for the Army first the 100th Infantry Battalion was formed and then the 442 Regimental Combat Team - in which thousands of Japanese Americans volunteered to serve. These two units were awarded over 4,000 Purple Hearts, and 21 men received the Medal of Honor. In post-war America, the narrative of the treatment of Japanese Americans shifted. In 1988 President Ronald Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act, which officially apologised for the incarceration on behalf of the U.S. government. Joining me today is Mitchell Maki. Mitchell is the President and CEO of the Go For Broke National Education Center, a non-profit organisation dedicated to preserving the legacy and lessons of the Nisei World War II veterans. And he is the author of Achieving the Impossible Dream: How Japanese Americans Obtained Redress.  
69:22 15/08/2023
200 - The Life of Mrs George S Patton
Few wives of prominent men are more than a footnote in many histories, but they were often central to their husbands' lives. The classic well-known example is the relationship between the wartime British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his wife Clementine (see episode 116). For months I've been sitting on Stefanie van Steelandt's biography of Mrs Patton, Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs George S Patton. Following my look at George Patton in the last episode, I thought it was the opportune time to look at his wife Beatrice.  
61:41 10/08/2023
199 - Patton, August - December 1944
If you cast your memory back to episode 157, Kevin Hymel joined me. We discussed General Patton from the campaigns in Mediteranean in 1942 to just before his activation as commander of third army in 1944. Kevin is back. This time we will discuss Patton’s arrival in France through to the Battle of the Bulge. Kevin has worked as a historian for the US Army and is currently doing work for the Arlington National Cemetery. He is also a tour guide for Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. He is the author of Patton’s Photographs: War as He Saw It, and his second book in what is to be a trilogy, is Patton's War: An American General's Combat Leadership, Volume II: August to December 1944.  
47:11 01/08/2023
198 - Kesselring
In episode 144, I chatted to Andrew Sangster about Alanbrooke. Earlier this year, I noticed Andrew had a new book, Flawed Commanders and Strategy in the Battle for Italy, 1943-45. With his co-author Pier Paolo Battistelli, the book looks at Montgomery, Mark Clark, Patton, Harold Alexander, Albert Kesselring and the fighting in Sicily and Italy. There is too much to cover in a single episode of the podcast, but I’ve asked Andrew back to discuss the fighting in the Mediterranean from the perspective of Kesselring. Andrew Sangster has six degrees, in Law, Theology and four in history including his doctorate. An ordained priest, he has trespassed away from the Church to teaching and the study of history. He has taught in grammar schools and at Eton College, was a headmaster for some nine years and has assisted post-graduate students of history. He has some twenty published history books to his credit both in the United Kingdom and overseas with some co-authored with Pier Paolo Battistelli, the well-known Italian historian. When not called for Church duties he studies the lesser-known aspects of modern history and plays chess for relaxation.  
37:47 15/07/2023
197 - Kohima
Fought between 8 March and 18 July 1944, the battles of Imphal and Kohima were the turning point of one of the most gruelling campaigns of the Second World War (1939-45). The decisive Japanese defeat in north-east India became the springboard for the Fourteenth Army’s subsequent re-conquest of Burma. Joining me for this episode is Robert Lyman, author of the excellent A War of Empires; Japan, India, Burma and Britain 1941-45. The book covers the defeat of the British and Indian armies in 1941-42, the change of commanders, the restructuring, training of the army and new tactics, and the extraordinary victories culminating in Mandalay in May 1945 and the collapse of all Japanese forces in Burma. But that is a big topic to cover. So I thought we would focus on the battle of Kohima and, to some extent, Imphal. In 2013, a British National Army Museum poll voted the Battles of Kohima and Imphal as ‘Britain's Greatest Battle’.  
71:58 01/07/2023
196 - Winthrop Bell: Cracking the Code
In public life, Canadian Dr Winthrop Bell was a Harvard philosophy professor and wealthy businessman. As MI6 secret agent A12, he evaded gunfire and shook off pursuers to break open the emerging Nazi conspiracy in 1919 Berlin. His reports provided the first warnings of right-wing conspiracies in the German establishment, eventually leading to Hitler and the National Socialists. In the 1930s, after reading Hitler's speeches and books, Bell was warning of the Holocaust. But his warnings fell on deaf ears until the outbreak of war. For this episode, I am joined by Jason Bell. Jason is a professor of philosophy at the University of New Brunswick. He has served as a Fulbright Professor in Germany and was the first scholar granted exclusive access to Winthrop Bell’s classified espionage papers. Jason is also the author of Cracking the Nazi Code: The Untold Story of Canada's Greatest Spy, which recounts Bell’s story.  
57:59 15/06/2023
195 - Their Finest Hour Project
With the Second World War slipping from living memory, the University of Oxford has launched Their Finest Hour. The project aims to empower local communities to digitally preserve these stories and objects before they are lost to posterity.  For this episode, I am joined by Dr Joseph Quinn to explain how the project works and how you can get involved.  
52:07 07/06/2023
194 - The Battle of Leyte Gulf
The battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval battle of WWII, it consisted of four separate actions near the Philippines between the US Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy. The Japanese plan was to disrupt the American landings on the island of Leyte. In one respect, the plan was a success, the Japanese did draw off Admiral Halsey’s 3rd Fleet. But ultimately, it was a disaster for the Japanese Imperial Navy, which suffered one of the most decisive defeats of the war. Joining me is Mark Stille. Mark was last with us discussing Pearl Harbor in episode 155. He has a new book published by Osprey titled - Leyte Gulf: A New History of the World's Largest Sea Battle.  
65:23 01/06/2023
193 - London Underground
As attacks on London by the Luftwaffe became a reality in the summer of 1940, Londoners needed somewhere to shelter from the air raids. And so during the Blitz and through to the end of the war, deep-level Tube stations of London underground were utilised, sheltering thousands every night. But the role of the underground is much more complicated, in 1939, the station platforms were never expected to see civilians sleeping there, but rather they were to be kept clear for emergency transportation use. In this episode I am joined by Niall Devitt. Niall is the author of Underground Railway: A New History, which is due to be published by Pen & Sword.  
59:49 15/05/2023
192 - 'The Angels', The 11th Airborne Division
When we think of airborne operations in WWII, the historiography is dominated by operations in the European Theatre. Parachute drops on Sicily, the Normandy coast for D-Day and into the Netherlands for Market Garden.  But, in the Pacific, Joseph Swing's 11th Airborne Division - nicknamed the Angels - were making combat drops. They fought in some of the war’s most dramatic campaigns, from bloody skirmishes in Leyte’s unforgiving rainforests to the ferocious battles on Luzon, including the hellish urban combat of Manila.    Joining me is James Fenelon. Long-time listeners might remember I chatted with James about the US 17th Airborne Division during Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine. This time we are discussing James' new book Angels Against the Sun: A WWII Saga of Grunts, Grit, and Brotherhood.  
46:32 01/05/2023
191 - US Glider Pilots of World War II
The US glider pilots in WWII were all volunteers. Playing a pivotal role in delivering thousands of troops, including logistical support, these pilots landed their gliders ahead of the ground forces in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. Yet, 80 years later, their story is virtually unknown. For this episode, I am joined by  Scott McGaugh. Scott is the author of The Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin: The Glider Pilots of World War II. If this has piqued your interest in Glider pilots, in episode 13, I discuss the experiences of British glider pilots with Matt Yates.  
40:21 15/04/2023
190 - Mussolini's Last 10 Days
In April 1945, with the Allies closing in, the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, with his German bodyguards, decided to flee Milan. The convoy was later joined by a Luftwaffe column retreating toward Germany, making a powerful force. In this episode, we're going to be looking at Mussolini's last days and the race between the OSS, the SOE and the Italian partisans to kill or capture him. I am joined by Malcolm Tudor. Malcolm is an Anglo-Italian author specialising in Italy during WWII. He was last with us in episode 86, discussing the SAS in Italy. His new book is Mussolini, The Last 10 Days, A New Investigation.  
52:22 01/04/2023
189 - The Stalingrad Airlift
Stalingrad ranks as one of the most infamous, savage and emotive battles of the 20th century. To supply the trapped and exhausted German Sixth Army, the Luftwaffe mounted an airlift in the winter of 1942/43. The weather conditions faced by the flying crews, mechanics, and soldiers on the ground were appalling, but against all odds, and a resurgent and active Soviet air force, the transports maintained a determined presence over the ravaged city on the Volga, even when the last airfields in the Stalingrad pocket had been lost. I'm joined by Robert Forsyth, whose new book is To Save An Army: The Stalingrad Airlift. Robert has been with us before discussing Luftwaffe special weapons and, before that, the Luftwaffe's attempt to support U-Boat operations in the Atlantic.  
57:49 15/03/2023
188 - Company of Heroes
Following episode 187, when I talk to Forczyk about the war in North Africa, I thought it might be interesting to see how that fighting is interpreted and simulated as a computer game. And look at the choices game designers make when juggling authenticity and entertainment. I’m joined by David Milne from Relic Entertainment. David is one of the senior designers who worked on Company of Heroes 3, a computer game which focuses on WWII in North Africa and Italy.  
35:22 07/03/2023
187 - Desert Armour: Tank Warfare in North Africa
The war in the North African desert was pure mechanized warfare and, in many respects, the most technologically advanced theatre of World War II. It was also the only theatre where for three years, British and Commonwealth, and later US, troops were in constant contact with Axis forces. In this episode, we are going to be discussing North Africa in the early period of WWII, from 1940 to the end of 1941. I'm joined by, now regular of the podcast Robert Forczyk, whose new book is Desert Armour: Tank Warfare in North Africa: Beda Fomm to Operation Crusader, 1940–41.
72:58 01/03/2023
186 - Our Man in Tokyo
In 1932 career diplomat Joseph Grew was posted to Japan as the American Ambassador. At the time, Japan was in crisis. Naval officers had assassinated the prime minister, and conspiracies flourished. The military had a stranglehold on the government. War with Russia loomed. Not only was the country in turmoil, but its relationship with America was also rapidly deteriorating. For the next decade, Grew attempted to warn American leaders about the risks of Japan’s raging nationalism and rising militarism while also trying to stabilize Tokyo’s increasingly erratic and volatile foreign policy.  From domestic terrorism by Japanese extremists to the global rise of Hitler and the fateful attack on Pearl Harbor, the events that unfolded during Grew’s tenure proved to be pivotal for Japan and for the world in the run-up to WWII. To discuss Joesph Grew and Japanese American relations running up to the war, I’m joined by Steve Kemper. Steve is the author of Our Man in Tokyo, which draws on Grew’s diary, correspondence, dispatches, and first-hand Japanese accounts to lay out Japan's road to the Second World War.
43:07 15/02/2023
185 - Adrian Carton de Wiart
In this episode, I discuss one of the most remarkable soldiers of the British Army, Adrian Carton de Wiart. Belgium by birth, he would fight in the Boer War, lose an eye in the Somaliland Campaign, win a VC and lose a hand in First World War, command the British troops during the Norwegian Campaign of 1940, spend time as a POW for the Italians (where he escaped) and finish the war a Winston Churchill’s personal representative to Chiang Kai-Shek. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography described him thus: "With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate, and became a figure of legend." I am joined by Alan Ogden, author of The Life and Times of Lieutenant General Sir Adrian Carton de Wiart: Soldier and Diplomat.
48:12 01/02/2023
184 - My Road to Mandalay
Don Townsend joined the British army as a private in 1940 and saw service in Egypt, then India and Burma. After five years of active service he left the army as a Major. I'm joined by Don's son, David has compiled his father’s wartime letters home to his family and future wife into the book My Road to Mandalay.
60:26 15/01/2023
183 - The Waffen-SS
The Waffen-SS was one of the most formidable German military formations of the Second World War. Feared for its tenacity and ruthlessness in battle, notorious for the atrocities it committed. As a distinct fighting force derived from the Nazi Party's SS organization, it stood apart from the other units of the German army. Its origins, structure and operational role during the war are often misunderstood, and the controversy still surrounding its conduct makes it difficult today to get an accurate picture of its actions and its impact on the fighting. To discuss the SS, I’m joined once more by Anthony Tucker-Jones, whose book Hitler's Armed SS: The Waffen-SS at War, 1939-1945 was released last year.
48:26 01/01/2023
182 - The British Parachute Regiment
The Parachute Regiment was formed in June 1940 and eventually raised 17 battalions. It would see service in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, Normandy, Arnhem and would cross the Rhine as part of the largest airborne assault ever undertaken. To discuss the formation of the regiment and its history through WWII, I’m joined by historian and broadcaster Mark Urban, who has written an authorised history of the regiment called Red Devils: The Trailblazers of the Parachute Regiment in World War Two.
59:37 15/12/2022
181 - Britain's Coast at War
During WWII, the whole of Britain’s coastline was involved in the struggle against the Nazis. In 1940-41 invasion was the main threat. Many towns and cities around the coast, such as Plymouth, Portsmouth, Hull and Great Yarmouth, were the targets of devastating air raids. The East Coast was pivotal to North Sea operations against enemy mining and E-boat operations, and the Western ports, particularly Liverpool, were crucial to the vital Atlantic convoys and the defeat of the U-boat threat. In this episode, I’m joined once more by the cultural and social historian Neil R Storey to discuss Britain’s Coast at War, which is also the title of his book Britain's Coast at War: Invasion Threat, Coastal Forces, Bombardment and Training for D-Day.
58:56 01/12/2022
180 - US Navy Demolition Divers
In this episode, we’re going to be looking at US Navy combat divers. The Combat Demolition Unit would land on D-Day with the first wave of troops. It was their job to clear coastal defences that might get in the way of landing craft.  In the Pacific, Underwater Demolition Teams were carrying out similar tasks on islands such as Iwo Jima and Okinawa.  I’m joined by Andrew Dubbins. Andrew managed to track down one of the surviving divers who landed on Omaha beach, then was shipped to the Pacific to land on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. His book is Into Enemy Waters: A World War II Story of the Demolition Divers Who Became the Navy SEALS.  
43:28 15/11/2022
179 - Bitter Peleliu
In late 1944, as a precursor to the invasion of the Philippines, U.S. military analysts decided to seize the small island of Peleliu to ensure that the Japanese airfield could not threaten the invasion forces.  It was estimated that the island would fall in a week or so. In fact, the fighting on Peleliu would go on for 74 days. The US would pay a heavy price for capturing the island with a higher casualty rate than the fighting on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In this episode, I'm joined by Pacific War historian Joseph Wheelan, author of Bitter Peleliu: The Forgotten Struggle on the Pacific War's Worst Battlefield.
36:21 01/11/2022
178 - Battles of Rzhev Salient
After the failure to take Moscow in the autumn of 1941, the Germans were left with a large salient bulging into the Russian lines, extending to the town of Rzhev. The battles around Rzhev were some of the bloodiest battles of the war for the Russians. Though millions of men would fight and die in the vast tract of forests and swamps, the Rzhev Salient does not have the name recognition of Leningrad or Moscow. I’m Joined by Prit Buttar, author of Meat Grinder: The Battles for the Rzhev Salient, 1942–43. Prit was last with us discussing the defeat of Army Group South in 1944 in episode 136.
61:40 15/10/2022
177 - Japan's Pacific War
I seem to have had a good run of episodes this year looking at operations from the German perspective. In this episode, we are off to the Pacific to look at the Japanese perspective of the war. I'm joined by Peter Williams. Peter lived in Japan for four years. Whilst he was there, he interviewed Japanese veterans of the Second World War. His book 'Japan's Pacific War' collects together over 40 interviews with veterans who predominantly fought against the Australians.
42:00 01/10/2022
176 - Colditz
At the outbreak of WWII, the ancient gothic castle of Colditz was converted into a prisoner-of-war camp. Its location on a rocky spur overlooking a river made it the ideal location for a high-security prison, or so the Germans thought. Sent to Colditz were some of the most difficult allied prisoners-of-war. Made famous after the second world war in memoirs, films and TV, Colditz was known for its multiple escape attempts, some of great derring-do, others were feats of ingenuity and engineering. In this episode, I'm joined by Ben Macintyre. Ben is the bestselling author of books including Agent Sonya, SAS: Rogue Heroes, The Spy and the Traitor, Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends. Ben's new book Prisoners of the Castle: An Epic Story of Survival and Escape from Colditz, the Nazis’ Fortress Prison takes a new look at the Colditz and really fills out the story.
54:41 15/09/2022