Blitzkrieg! Germany Conquers France May-June 1940; Third Reich 1944: The Desperate Days, Vol. 2; German Fallschirmjagers in Action 1939-1944, RZM Imports, Southbury, Conn., VHS videos, 1998, $29.95 each.
Today’s World War II documentaries provide computer-generated maps, interviews and historical perspective to tell their stories. But sometimes it is better to return to the primary sources to get a real picture of what happened during the war.
RMZ Imports now gives WWII enthusiasts a window into the German army via original newsreel footage of the war. The action is real and intense. Sequences that normally run for only a few seconds in modern documentaries are fully played out, enabling the viewer to better understand the German perspective of the war.
Three of these videos, Blitzkrieg!, Third Reich 1944: The Desperate Days, Vol. 2, and Fallschirmjagers in Action, guarantee to teach even the most astute World War II scholars something new. In Blitzkrieg!, the greenness of the combat photographers is obvious as they focus on artillerymen firing their guns, battle wreckage, and columns of defeated French and British troops marching into captivity. There is excellent footage of German tanks rolling through rough terrain with swastika-emblazoned flags on their engine decks, attesting to Germany’s superior air power. The narration fails to mention any significant battles of the campaign, instead referring to the Marne, Paris and Verdun, World War I battle sites with which the average German of 1940 could identify. While footage of German troops celebrating the end of the campaign is interesting, it is coverage of the surrender ceremony–fascinating scenes of German and French officials boarding, leaving and reboarding the famous railway car where it all took place–that will really impress most viewers.
In Desperate Days, Vol. 2, the action is more close-up and the scope is worldwide. A German submarine shells a merchant ship off Madagascar, tanks and infantrymen capture villages on the Russian steppe and Luftwaffe bombers raid London to the strains of Richard Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries.” Desperate Days also includes a speech from Joseph Goebbels to the citizens of Berlin and an interview with Hans Ulrich Rudel, the tank-busting Stuka ace, upon receiving the diamonds to his Iron Cross.
Fallschirmjagers in Action is both a recruiting and a training film. The recruitment section highlights the actions of Germany’s airborne troops, from capturing a bridge in Holland to the defense of Monte Cassino in Italy. The airborne troops served in almost every theater of war, including North Africa and the Soviet Union. While best remembered for their stunning capture of Fort Eben Emael in Belgium, they also took part in Otto Skorzeny’s rescue of the imprisoned Benito Mussolini.
The video reveals that the paratroopers jumped without weapons, which were dropped in canisters for the men to retrieve upon landing. It also shows dead and wounded Americans, something missing from most American documentaries. The film ends with the narrator saying, “Wherever they have been committed, they have fought with resolve and determination. The enemy has repeatedly confirmed this.”
RMZ’s collection of German newsreels adds a new dimension to the study of WWII, yet will also be enjoyed by any enthusiast. The videos are well worth purchasing, if only to see the lengthy interviews with prominent Germans during the war.
Kevin M. Hymel