The BEST Episodes of The World at War
Every episode ever - ranked by fan votes!
Last Updated: Jun 17, 2020
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.
#1 - The Bomb (February - September 1945)
Season 1 - Episode 24 - Aired Apr 24, 1974
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.
#2 - Tough Old Gut: Italy (November 1942 - June 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 13 - Aired Jan 30, 1974
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'.
#3 - A New Germany (1933 - 1939)
Season 1 - Episode 1 - Aired Oct 31, 1973
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…
#4 - France Falls (May - June 1940)
Season 1 - Episode 3 - Aired Nov 14, 1973
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.
#5 - Whirlwind: Bombing Germany (September 1939 - April 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 12 - Aired Jan 23, 1974
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.
#6 - Genocide (1941 - 1945)
Season 1 - Episode 20 - Aired Mar 27, 1974
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.
#7 - Pacific (February 1942 - July 1945)
Season 1 - Episode 23 - Aired Apr 17, 1974
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.
#8 - Alone (May 1940 - May 1941)
Season 1 - Episode 4 - Aired Nov 21, 1973
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.
#9 - Morning (June - August 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 17 - Aired Feb 27, 1974
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.
#10 - Banzai!: Japan (1931 - 1942)
Season 1 - Episode 6 - Aired Dec 5, 1973
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.
#11 - Distant War (September 1939 - May 1940)
Season 1 - Episode 2 - Aired Nov 7, 1973
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…
#12 - Red Star: The Soviet Union (1941 - 1943)
Season 1 - Episode 11 - Aired Jan 16, 1974
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.
#13 - Nemesis: Germany (February - May 1945)
Season 1 - Episode 21 - Aired Apr 3, 1974
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.
#14 - Japan (1941 - 1945)
Season 1 - Episode 22 - Aired Apr 10, 1974
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.
#15 - Barbarossa (June - December 1941)
Season 1 - Episode 5 - Aired Nov 28, 1973
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
#16 - Remember
Season 1 - Episode 26 - Aired May 8, 1974
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.
#17 - On Our Way: U.S.A. (1939 - 1942)
Season 1 - Episode 7 - Aired Dec 12, 1973
The opposition by various factions to the United States of America entry into the war, U-boat attacks on Atlantic convoys and America's gradated responses, the mobilization of America after Pearl Harbor, the loss of the Philippines, the Doolittle Raid, Midway and Guadalcanal.
#18 - Reckoning (1945...and after)
Season 1 - Episode 25 - Aired May 1, 1974
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.
#19 - Inside the Reich: Germany (1940 - 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 16 - Aired Feb 20, 1974
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.
#20 - Wolfpack: U-Boats in the Atlantic (1939 - 1943)
Season 1 - Episode 10 - Aired Jan 9, 1974
In a war of high technology and animal courage, the German U-Boats fight Allied merchantmen, hounding them in packs.
#21 - The Desert: North Africa (1940 - 1943)
Season 1 - Episode 8 - Aired Dec 19, 1973
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.
#22 - Stalingrad (June 1942 - February 1943)
Season 1 - Episode 9 - Aired Jan 2, 1974
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.
#23 - It's A Lovely Day Tomorrow: Burma (1942 - 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 14 - Aired Feb 6, 1974
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.
#24 - Home Fires: Britain (1940 - 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 15 - Aired Feb 13, 1974
Finding strength in unity at home in Britain during the war, it was a time of gas masks, Winston Churchill, Dig for Victory, evacuation, George Formby, the Land Army, ITMA, the Squander Bug and the Beveridge Report.
#25 - Occupation: Holland (1940 - 1944)
Season 1 - Episode 18 - Aired Mar 13, 1974
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.