The Best Episodes of The World at War

Originally broadcast in 1973 as 26 one-hour programmes, The World at War sets out to tell the story of the Second World War through the testimony of key participants. The result is a unique and unrepeatable event, since many of the eyewitnesses captured on film did not have long left to live. Each hour-long programme is carefully structured to focus on a key theme or campaign, from the rise of Nazi Germany to Hitler's downfall and the onset of the Cold War. There are no academic "talking heads" here to spell out an official version of history; the narration, delivered with wonderful gravitas by Sir Laurence Olivier, is kept to a minimum. The show's great coup was to allow the participants to speak for themselves. Painstaking research in the archives of the Imperial War Museum also unearthed a vast quantity of newsreel footage, including on occasion the cameraman's original raw rushes which present an unvarnished and never-before-seen picture of important events. Carl Davis' impressive score underlines the grand scale of the enterprise.

The Bomb (February - September 1945)

#1 - The Bomb (February - September 1945)

Season 1 - Episode 24

Western scientists have developed a new, immensely powerful weapon - the atomic bomb. On August 6th 1945, the Enola Gay delivers the world's first atomic bomb to Hiroshima. The world would be forever altered.

star 8.05
73 votes
Directors: David Elstein

#2 - Remember

Season 1 - Episode 26

For many the Second World War was the most significant experience of their lives. Heartbreaking first hand remembrances from a vast array of survivors on both sides of the war.

star 7.95
42 votes
Directors: Jeremy Isaacs
Barbarossa (June - December 1941)

#3 - Barbarossa (June - December 1941)

Season 1 - Episode 5

After dominating southeastern Europe through force or intrigue, Germany begins Operation Barbarossa, 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

star 7.95
205 votes
Directors: Peter Batty
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Whirlwind: Bombing Germany (September 1939 - April 1944)

#4 - Whirlwind: Bombing Germany (September 1939 - April 1944)

Season 1 - Episode 12

Bomber Command begin bombing German cities by night and the Americans reinforce the attacks by day; a whirlwind of terror and destruction that will win the war.

star 7.94
107 votes
Directors: Ted Childs
A New Germany (1933 - 1939)

#5 - A New Germany (1933 - 1939)

Season 1 - Episode 1

Germany, a nation stricken by humiliating defeat and emerging from crippling economic depression, looks to one man for a resurgence of hope and dignity. That man is Adolf Hitler…

star 7.91
486 votes
Directors: Hugh Raggett
Morning (June - August 1944)

#6 - Morning (June - August 1944)

Season 1 - Episode 17

The Western Allies resolve to invade Europe. England becomes a floating supply dump and the British and Americans assemble the largest invasion fleet in history. It is June 6th 1944 - D Day.

star 7.91
95 votes
Directors: John Pett
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Alone (May 1940 - May 1941)

#7 - Alone (May 1940 - May 1941)

Season 1 - Episode 4

After Dunkirk, Britain faces the German onslaught. Although the RAF wins the Battle of Britain, the cities are blitzed and on the continent the last Allies are conquered. The outlook is grim.

star 7.89
233 votes
Directors: David Elstein
France Falls (May - June 1940)

#8 - France Falls (May - June 1940)

Season 1 - Episode 3

France discovers it is woefully unprepared for modern warfare as the Nazi war machine easily skirts around the Maginot Line. Britain retreats and prepares for invasion.

star 7.87
299 votes
Directors: Peter Batty
Inside the Reich: Germany (1940 - 1944)

#9 - Inside the Reich: Germany (1940 - 1944)

Season 1 - Episode 16

Initial victory in Europe turns sour after the defeat at Stalingrad, yet Germany prepares to fight to the end - even after an assassination attempt on the Führer.

star 7.84
99 votes
Genocide (1941 - 1945)

#10 - Genocide (1941 - 1945)

Season 1 - Episode 20

The Nazi's are racist; the Aryans are a master race, others, particularly the Jews are sub-human. Himmler's SS sets about ridding Europe of millions of Jews.

star 7.84
90 votes
Directors: Martin Smith
Red Star: The Soviet Union (1941 - 1943)

#11 - Red Star: The Soviet Union (1941 - 1943)

Season 1 - Episode 11

For two years the Soviet Army fights the Germans almost alone. After one of the greatest land battles in history, the nation survives and triumphs - but with a loss of no less than twenty million of its people.

star 7.79
106 votes
Directors: Neal Ascherson
Reckoning (1945...and after)

#12 - Reckoning (1945...and after)

Season 1 - Episode 25

The war ends slowly and messily. Britain is victorious but exhausted and the super-powers confront each other as they decide the fate of Europe.

star 7.79
57 votes
Directors: Jerome Kuehl
On Our Way: U.S.A. (1939 - 1942)

#13 - On Our Way: U.S.A. (1939 - 1942)

Season 1 - Episode 7

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..

star 7.79
171 votes
Directors: Peter Batty
The Desert: North Africa (1940 - 1943)

#14 - The Desert: North Africa (1940 - 1943)

Season 1 - Episode 8

For 2 years the 8th Army and Rommel's Afrika Corps fight in the wastes of North Africa. Finally the tide turns at El Alamein.

star 7.78
164 votes
Directors: Peter Batty
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Nemesis: Germany (February - May 1945)

#15 - Nemesis: Germany (February - May 1945)

Season 1 - Episode 21

Hitler retreats to the Fuhrer bunker is Berlin as Germany crumbles around him and his lieutenants abandon him to a fate of suicide. Meanwhile, the Russians raise the red flag in Berlin.

star 7.77
92 votes
Directors: Martin Smith
Distant War (September 1939 - May 1940)

#16 - Distant War (September 1939 - May 1940)

Season 1 - Episode 2

In Eastern Europe, the full force of the Nazi machine rolls on - but in Britain, an uneasy calm settles on the nation. It is the 'phoney' war, with the sound of distant guns thundering ominously on the horizon…

star 7.76
325 votes
Directors: David Elstein
Tough Old Gut: Italy (November 1942 - June 1944)

#17 - Tough Old Gut: Italy (November 1942 - June 1944)

Season 1 - Episode 13

Churchill called Italy the 'soft underbelly of the crocodile' and thought the Allies could cut through it to the heart of Germany. But the soft underbelly turned out to be a 'tough old gut'.

star 7.73
101 votes
Directors: Ben Shepherd
Stalingrad (June 1942 - February 1943)

#18 - Stalingrad (June 1942 - February 1943)

Season 1 - Episode 9

Hitler's early successes in Russia made him reckless and he resolves to capture Stalingrad. The battle lasts six months with the Russians emerging as victors. The Wehrmacht never recovers.

star 7.73
138 votes
Directors: Hugh Raggett
Wolfpack: U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939 - 1943)

#19 - Wolfpack: U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939 - 1943)

Season 1 - Episode 10

In a war of high technology and animal courage, the German U-Boats fight Allied merchantmen, hounding them in packs.

star 7.67
114 votes
Directors: Ted Childs
Banzai!: Japan (1931 - 1942)

#20 - Banzai!: Japan (1931 - 1942)

Season 1 - Episode 6

The rise of the Japanese Empire, the Sino-Japanese War, the Soviet-Japanese border conflicts, Pearl Harbor and the early Japanese successes in the fall of Malaya and Singapore. At war since 1931 on the Chinese mainland, the Japanese hope for easy victories over the British and Dutch. And then on December 7th 1941, Japan makes their infamous attack on Pearl Harbour.

star 7.67
200 votes
Directors: Peter Batty
Pincers (August 1944 - March 1945)

#21 - Pincers (August 1944 - March 1945)

Season 1 - Episode 19

The end of the war appears close at hand with the liberation of Paris in 1944, but the British and Americans disagree on how to advance. Meanwhile, Poland suffers devastating losses to achieve victory.

star 7.64
81 votes
Directors: Peter Batty
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Occupation: Holland (1940 - 1944)

#22 - Occupation: Holland (1940 - 1944)

Season 1 - Episode 18

Through a neutral country, Holland is attacked by Germany without warning in 1940. During the next four years, life carries on seemingly without incident, but underneath resistance never dies.

star 7.62
87 votes
Directors: Michael Darlow
Japan (1941 - 1945)

#23 - Japan (1941 - 1945)

Season 1 - Episode 22

Initially apprehensive about the outcome of declaring war, the Japanese quickly turn to celebration with early victory. In the end, their worst fears are unimaginably exceeded.

star 7.60
70 votes
Directors: Hugh Raggett
Pacific (February 1942 - July 1945)

#24 - Pacific (February 1942 - July 1945)

Season 1 - Episode 23

The Americans fight their way across the Pacific towards Japan and the Philippines. Perhaps the bloodiest campaign of all, each island has to be taken by storm and the Japanese fight to the last man.

star 7.60
65 votes
Directors: John Pett
It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma (1942 - 1944)

#25 - It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma (1942 - 1944)

Season 1 - Episode 14

Vera Lynn sang of a lovely day tomorrow, but the war in Burma was mud and monsoon. Britain's largest army learned to master the jungle and fought the Japanese to standstill.

star 7.60
99 votes
Directors: John Pett