The World at War

The World at War
The World at War
Format Documentary
Created by Jeremy Isaacs
Opening theme World at War Theme music
Composer(s) Carl Davis
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 1
No. of episodes 26
Producer(s) Thames Television
Running time 22 hours 32 minutes
Original channel ITV
Original run 31 October 1973 – 8 May 1974

The World at War (1973–74) is a 26-episode British television documentary series chronicling the events of World War II. It was produced by Jeremy Isaacs, narrated by Laurence Olivier and has a score composed by Carl Davis. A book, The World at War, was written by Mark Arnold-Forster to accompany it.



The World at War, which made use of rare colour film footage, was commissioned by Thames Television in 1969. Such was the extent of its research, it took four years to produce at a cost of £900,000 (2009 equivalent: £11.4 million[1]). At the time, this was a record for a British television series. It was first shown in 1973, on ITV.

The series interviewed major members of the Allied and Axis campaigns, including eyewitness accounts by civilians, enlisted men, officers and politicians, amongst them Albert Speer, Karl Dönitz, Walter Warlimont, James Stewart, Bill Mauldin, W. Averell Harriman, Curtis LeMay, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Alger Hiss, Toshikazu Kase, Mitsuo Fuchida, Minoru Genda, J. B. Priestley, Brian Horrocks, John J. McCloy, Lawrence Durrell, Arthur Harris, Charles Sweeney, Paul Tibbets, Anthony Eden, Traudl Junge, Mark Clark, Adolf Galland, Hasso von Manteuffel, and historian Stephen Ambrose.

In the programme The Making of "The World at War", included in the DVD set, Jeremy Isaacs explains that priority was given to interviews with surviving aides and assistants rather than recognised figures. The most difficult person to locate and persuade to be interviewed was Heinrich Himmler's adjutant, Karl Wolff. During the interview, he admitted to witnessing a large-scale execution in Himmler's presence. Isaacs later expressed satisfaction with the content of the series, noting that if it had been unclassified knowledge at the time of production, he would have added references to British codebreaking efforts

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes compiled by the British Film Institute during 2000, voted for by industry professionals, The World at War ranked 19th.


The series has 26 episodes. Producer Jeremy Isaacs asked Noble Frankland, then director of the Imperial War Museum, to list fifteen main campaigns of the war and devoted one episode to each. The remaining eleven episodes are devoted to other matters, such as the rise of the Third Reich, home life in Britain and Germany, the experience of occupation in the Netherlands, and the Nazis' use of genocide. Episode 1 begins with a cold open describing the massacre at the French village of Oradour-sur-Glane by the Waffen SS. The same event is referenced again at the end of Episode 26 and the series ends with Laurence Olivier uttering the poignant word, "Remember".

# Title Original air date
1 "A New Germany (1933–1939)" 31 October 1973 (1973-10-31)
The rebirth of Germany and growth in power of the NAZI Party leading up to the outbreak of war. Interviewees include Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist-Schmenzin, Werner Pusch and Christabel Bielenberg
2 "Distant War (September 1939 – May 1940)" 7 November 1973 (1973-11-07)
The invasions of Poland, the Winter War, the sinking of the Graf Spee, the "phony war" and failure in Norway and the elevation of Winston Churchill to Prime Minister. Interviewees include Lord Boothby, Lord Butler, Admiral Charles Woodhouse, Sir Martin Lindsay and Sir John "Jock" Colville
3 "France Falls (May – June 1940)" 14 November 1973 (1973-11-14)
French politics, the Maginot Line, Blitzkrieg warfare and the Nazi invasion of France and the Low Countries. Interviewees include General Hasso von Manteuffel and General André Beaufre
4 "Alone (May 1940 – May 1941)" 14 November 1973 (1973-11-14)
The Battle of Britain, retreats in Greece, Crete and Tobruk, and life in Britain between the evacuation at Dunkirk and Operation Barbarossa. Interviewees include Anthony Eden, J. B. Priestley, Sir Max Aitken, Lieutenant General Adolf Galland and Sir John "Jock" Colville
5 "Barbarossa (June – December 1941)" 21 November 1973 (1973-11-21)
After dominating southeastern Europe through force or intrigue, Germany begins the massive invasion of Soviet Union. Despite several quick victories, the invasion ultimately stalls after a failed assault on Moscow during Russia's harsh winter. Interviewees include General Walter Warlimont, Albert Speer, Paul Schmidt and W. Averell Harriman
6 "Banzai!: Japan (1931–1942)" 5 December 1973 (1973-12-05)
The rise of the Japanese Empire, the Sino-Japanese War, Pearl Harbor and the early Japanese successes, and the fall of Malaya and Singapore
7 "On Our Way: U.S.A. (1939–1942)" 12 December 1973 (1973-12-12)
The opposition by various factions to the United States of America entry into the war, U-boat attacks on Atlantic convoys and America's gradiated responses, the mobilization of America after Pearl Harbor, the loss of the Philippines, the Doolittle Raid, Midway and Guadalcanal. Interviewees include J. K. Galbraith, John J. McCloy, Paul Samuelson, Isamu Noguchi, Richard Tregaskis and Vannevar Bush
8 "The Desert: North Africa (1940–1943)" 19 December 1973 (1973-12-19)
The desert war, starting with Italy's unsuccessful invasion of Egypt and the successive attacks and counter-attacks between Germany and Commonwealth forces, and the Afrika Korps's eventual defeat at El Alamein. Interviewees include General Richard O'Connor, Major General Francis de Guingand and Lawrence Durrell
9 "Stalingrad (June 1942 – February 1943)" 2 January 1974 (1974-01-02)
The mid-war German situation in Southern Russia resulting in the Battle of Stalingrad – and its ultimate German catastrophe. 
10 "Wolf Pack: U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939–1943)" 9 January 1974 (1974-01-09)
The submarine war emphasizing mainly the North Atlantic. Tracks the development of both the convoy system and German submarine strategy. Interviewees include Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz and Otto Kretschmer
11 "Red Star: The Soviet Union (1941–1943)" 16 January 1974 (1974-01-16)
The rise of the Red Army, mobilisation of Soviet production, the Siege of Leningrad, the Soviet partisans and the Battle of Kursk
12 "Whirlwind: Bombing Germany (September 1939 – April 1944)" 23 January 1974 (1974-01-23)
The development of British and American strategic bombing in both success and setback. Interviewees include Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, Albert Speer, James Stewart, William Reid, General Curtis LeMay, Werner Schröer, Lieutenant General Adolf Galland and General Ira C. Eaker
13 "Tough Old Gut: Italy (November 1942 – June 1944)" 30 January 1974 (1974-01-30)
Emphasizes the difficult Italian Campaign beginning with Operation Torch in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily; Salerno, Anzio, Cassino; and the capture of Rome. Interviewees include General Mark Clark, Field Marshal Lord Harding, Bill Mauldin, and Wynford Vaughan Thomas. 
14 "It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma (1942–1944)" 6 February 1974 (1974-02-06)
The jungle war in Burma and India - what it "lacked in scale was made up in savagery". Interviewees include Mike Calvert, Sir John Smyth and Vera Lynn (the episode title is the name of one of her songs), and Lord Mountbatten of Burma
15 "Home Fires: Britain (1940–1944)" 13 February 1974 (1974-02-13)
Life and politics in Britain from post-Battle of Britain to the first V-1 attacks. Interviewees include Lord Butler, Lord Shinwell, Lord Chandos, Tom Driberg, Michael Foot, Cecil Harmsworth King and J. B. Priestley
16 "Inside the Reich: Germany (1940–1944)" 20 February 1974 (1974-02-20)
German society and how it changes as its fortunes of war are reversed. Censorship and popular entertainment, the transformation of German industry, the recruitment of female and foreign labour, allied bombing, German dissent - including the 20 July plot, and the mobilisation of the Volkssturm towards the war's end. Interviewees include Albert Speer, Otto John, Traudl Junge, Richard Schulze-Kossens and Otto Ernst Remer
17 "Morning: (June – August 1944)" 27 February 1974 (1974-02-27)
The development and execution of Operation Overlord followed by the allied breakout and battles at Bocage, and Falaise. Interviewees include Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Kay Summersby, James Martin Stagg and Major General J. Lawton Collins
18 "Occupation: Holland (1940–1944)" 13 March 1974 (1974-03-13)
Emphasizes life in the Netherlands under German occupation, when citizens chose to resist, collaborate or remain passive. Interviewees include Louis de Jong (who also served as adviser for this episode) and Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands. 
19 "Pincers: (August 1944 – March 1945)" 20 March 1974 (1974-03-20)
The allied breakout in France and the failure of Operation Market Garden, the Warsaw Uprising, the Battle of the Bulge and the crossing of the Rhine. Interviewees include Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, Wynford Vaughan Thomas, General Hasso von Manteuffel, Major General Francis de Guingand, W. Averell Harriman and Major General J. Lawton Collins
20 "Genocide (1941–1945)" 27 March 1974 (1974-03-27)
Begins with the founding of the S.S. and follows the development of Nazi racial theory. It ends with the implementation of the Final Solution
21 "Nemesis: Germany (February – May 1945)" 3 April 1974 (1974-04-03)
The final invasion of Germany by both the Western and Eastern allies, the bombing of Dresden, and the events in the Führerbunker. Interviewees include Albert Speer, Traudl Junge and Heinz Linge
22 "Japan (1941–1945)" 10 April 1974 (1974-04-10)
Japan's society and culture during wartime, and how life is transformed as the country gradually becomes aware of increasingly catastrophic setbacks including the Doolittle raid, defeat at Midway, the death of Isoroku Yamamoto, the Battle of Saipan, Okinawa and the relentless bombing of Japanese cities
23 "Pacific (February 1942 – July 1945)" 17 April 1974 (1974-04-17)
The successive and increasingly bloody land battles on tiny islands in the expansive Pacific, aimed towards the Japanese heartland. Following the bombing of Darwin, the over-extended Japanese are progressively turned back at Kokoda, Tarawa, Peleliu, the Philippines, Iwo Jima and finally Okinawa
24 "The Bomb (February – September 1945)" 24 April 1974 (1974-04-24)
The development of the atomic bomb, the ascendency of President Harry Truman, emerging splits in the Allies with Joseph Stalin, and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ultimately leading to the surrender of Japan. Interviewees include Toshikazu Kase, Yoshio Kodama, Marquis Koichi Kido, Major General Charles Sweeney, Brigadier General Paul Tibbets, Alger Hiss, W. Averell Harriman, Lord Avon, McGeorge Bundy, John J. McCloy, General Curtis LeMay and Hisatsune Sakomizu
25 "Reckoning (April 1945)" 1 May 1974 (1974-05-01)
The situation in post-war Europe including the allied occupation of Germany, demobilisation, the Nuremberg Trials and the genesis of the Cold War. The episode concludes with summations about the ultimate costs and consequences of the war. Interviewees include Charles Bohlen, Stephen Ambrose, Lord Avon, Lord Mountbatten of Burma and Noble Frankland
26 "Remember" 8 May 1974 (1974-05-08)
How the war – both good and bad experiences – was experienced and remembered by its witnesses. 

The series was originally transmitted on the ITV network in the United Kingdom between 31 October 1973 and 8 May 1974, and has subsequently been shown around the world. It was first shown in the US only in syndication, notably on Secaucus, NJ station WOR in the late seventies (although episodes were edited both for graphic content and to include sufficient commercial breaks). PBS station WGBH broadcast the series unedited and in its entirety in the late eighties. The Danish channel DR2 also broadcast the series in December 2006 and January 2007. The History Channel in Japan began screening the series in its entirety in April 2007. It repeated the entire series again in August 2011. The Military History Channel in the UK broadcast the series over the weekend of the 14th and 15 November 2009. The U.S. version of the Military Channel aired the series in January 2010. In summer 2010, BBC2 in the U.K. transmitted a repeat run of the series.

Currently - October 2011 - the British channel Yesterday has started a showing of the series.

Each episode was 52 minutes excluding commercials; as was customary for ITV documentary series at the time, it was originally screened with only one central break. The Genocide episode was screened uninterrupted.

The series was also put on 13 Laservision Longplay videodisks by Video Garant Amsterdam 1980, and included Dutch subtitling for the Dutch television market.

Additional episodes

Some footage and interviews which were not used in the original series were later made into additional hour or half-hour documentaries narrated by Eric Porter. These were released as a bonus to the VHS version and are included in the DVD set of the series.

  1. Secretary to Hitler
  2. Warrior
  3. Hitler's Germany: The People's Community (1933–1939)
  4. Hitler's Germany: Total War (1939–1945)
  5. The Two Deaths of Adolf Hitler
  6. The Final Solution: Part One
  7. The Final Solution: Part Two
  8. From War to Peace


The original book The World at War,[2] which accompanied the series was written by Mark Arnold-Forster in 1973. In October 2007 Ebury Press published The World at War, a new book by Richard Holmes, an oral history of the Second World War drawn from the interviews conducted for the TV series.[3] The programme's producers committed hundreds of interview-hours to tape in its creation, but only a fraction of that recorded material was used for the final version of the series. A selection of the rest of this material was published in this book, which included interviews with Albert Speer, Karl Wolff (Himmler's adjutant), Traudl Junge (Hitler's secretary), James Stewart (USAAF bomber pilot and Hollywood star), Anthony Eden, John Colville (Private Secretary to Winston Churchill), Averell Harriman (US Ambassador to the Soviet Union) and Arthur "Bomber" Harris (Head of RAF Bomber Command).

See also

  • Apocalypse: The Second World War (2009) - A National Geographic documentary on the Second World War
  • The Great War (1964)
  • BBC History of World War II (1989–2005)
  • The Secret War (1977) - a BBC TV series on the technological advances of the Second World War


  1. ^
  2. ^ ISBN 0712667822
  3. ^ Holmes, Richard (October 2007). The World at War: The Landmark Oral History from the Previously Unpublished Archives. Ebury Press. ISBN 9780091917517. 

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