Thursday, February 16, 2006


The German-Soviet war was the most destructive in history and left a divided Europe in ruins. Ultimately Nazi Germany was defeated - at an estimated cost of 27 million Soviet lives - and the military commander most responsible for Hitler's downfall was Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov.

Deputy Supreme Commander-in-Chief Zhukov, was the first and only deputy Stalin ever had. He possessed neither charisma nor oratory skill, yet his achievements as a commander place him on a par with Alexander and Caesar. Like them he had a clear strategy, efficient logistical supply, fierce determination and overwhelming strength of character.

Russia had suffered greatly at the hands of the German forces and the Soviet soldiers knew they were fighting for their country's very survival. Under Zhukov's guidance, they snatched Stalingrad back from almost certain defeat and began to drive the Nazis back the way they had come until only Poland lay between Zhukov and Berlin.

Operation Berlin marked the final phase of the Second World War in Europe. The core of this operation, involving over 2.6 million Soviet troops, focused first on the Oder River (the German/Polish border) and then onto Berlin itself. No city of this size had ever been taken before and it was a campaign that America and Britain had avoided, partly through fear of heavy casualties.

Although not a brutal man, Zhukov was fearless and expected the same of his troops. His planning and his ruthlessness were simply too much for the semi-broken Nazi regime to resist and finally Berlin fell, smashed by the sheer relentlessness of the Soviet war machine.

HITLER'S WAR: The Battle of El Alamein

October 23, 1942: most of the soldiers of the Afrika Korp were already asleep in their dugouts. Then, at exactly 9:40 p.m., the quiet was pierced by the deafening sound of over 1,500 heavy British artillery guns opening fire in the fifty miles between the coast and the Qattar Depression. In the air, wave after wave of bombers of the Royal Air Force released their deadly cargoes over the German positions. It was the most massive blanket bombing since the First World War.
A quarter of an hour later, the quiet returned. But before the veil of desert dust and smoke from the detonations could settle, the English infantry advanced to grapple with the enemy - the decisive battle of el-Alamein, the turning point of Rommel's African war, had begun.
Nearly 200,000 troops, over a thousand tanks and 750 planes were available to the British - twice as many as the German-Italian forces could muster. The British troops commanded by General Bernard Montgomery were fresh and highly motivated. Their opponents, by contrast, were worn down and dispirited. Isolated cases of scurvy were already appearing in the German positions before el-Alamein. There was a shortage of ammunition, petrol and replacement parts. And the German troops also lacked the man who had led them to Africa: Erwin Rommel, the victor of Tobruk. Rommel was on "convalescent leave" in Europe. The battle was decided before it could really even be fought.
No general of the Second World War has inspired people like Erwin Rommel. Because of his victories in North Africa, he was known to both sides as the "Desert Fox". Nazi propaganda turned him into a legend that outlived the Third Reich that, until his death, he believed he was serving. Even today, the myth of the ingenious field commander of the Afrika Korps still appeals to both "friend" and "enemy". But the story of Hitler's youngest field marshal has developed cracks. He was a convinced Nazi, it is now said - not a man of the resistance movement, but rather a procrastinator who in the end preferred suicide to openly opposing Hitler. But at the zenith of his success his reputation was so great that, it was believed, he could take the place of entire divisions.
In el-Alamein as well, Rommel's superiors wanted him to work his usual miracles and lead his troops to victory against overwhelming odds. During the night of the attack he departed for Africa, landing there within 24 hours. The Africa campaign was, after all, "his" war. But not even he was able to reverse the tide of events. When the British troops broke through the front at several places on November 2 and threatened to encircle large parts of his army, Rommel ordered a retreat. Hitler, who didn't learn about Rommel's decision until the next morning, sent a telegram urging him to "persist, don't yield a single step ...You must not show your troops any other way than to victory or death."
Rommel responded by immediately halting the retreat. But he knew better than anyone else that Hitler's unrelenting order to hold firm spelled the pointless death of tens of thousands and the end of his army. Eyewitnesses recall a scene in that night: feeling lonely and abandoned by everyone, the field marshal paced back and forth in the desert. Torn between his loyalty to Adolf Hitler and his compassion for his men, whom he didn't want to sacrifice to a useless order. It was the decisive turning point in the life of Erwin Rommel.
On November 3, 1942 at el-Alamein, Rommel hesitated for 24 hours. Twenty-four hours in which thousands died horrible deaths in the glowing-hot sands of Egypt's desert. Then he finally acted, resisting Hitler's order. He placed life above obedience, thus saving most of the Afrika Korps. That evening Hitler grudgingly gave his approval. But his relationship with his "favorite general" was never to be the same again.
The victory at el-Alamein, Churchill proudly declared shortly afterwards, was not yet the beginning of the end, but perhaps the end of the beginning: "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we suffered no defeats," he wrote in his memoirs. The battle of el-Alamein was a turning point that led the end of Hitler's Reich.
All that was left for Rommel to do was pull back to Tunisia. He himself was secretly fetched back to Germany, and it wasn't long before his army was forced to capitulate. Rommel's war in Africa took a toll of over 100,000 deaths.

The Boys Of H Company

H Company was made up mostly of 18 to 20 year old boys who had been training for this day for over a year. For most of them, Iwo Jima was their first time in combat. The boys knew little of the island. They had seen mock ups in briefings but nothing could have prepared them for what lay ahead on the black sand beaches of Iwo.

Iwo Jima was crucial to the US as an air base for long-range bombing missions against mainland Japan. The Japanese knew the island’s importance and spent years "digging in", preparing for the inevitable US attack.

It would take almost two months and over 60,000 troops to take the island and would leave us with one of the most memorable images of the war - the photograph of U.S. marines raising the flag over Mt. Suribachi, or 'Meatgrinder Hill'.

Through compelling first person accounts, dramatic recreations and archival footage, this intense docudrama follows in the boot steps of the boys of H Company as they fight one of the costliest battles in US History.


Crazy Horse was the young, mystical leader of the Sioux and has come to symbolize Indian resistance to the white advance westward. His leadership in the 1876 defeatat Little Big Horn makes him the most famous Indian warrior in America, a reputation he holds to thisIronically, like many revered soldiers day. is a controversial and often despised figure among his own people and the white world. The manner of his death, and just who is responsible for it, has remained a hotly debated topic due to that very fact.

After a year of fighting following the Little Big Horn, Crazy Horse surrenders his band to General George Crook at Red Cloud Agency on May 6th, 1877. Sitting Bull and his people flee to Canada leaving Crazy Horse as the last holdout. Red Cloud, Spotted Tail, and other agency chiefs send runners out to convince Crazy Horse to come in.

The favored treatment that he receives from the army and the influence he has over the young men in the agencies worries the older chiefs. Resentments grow strong, especially among Red Cloud’s people. Crazy Horse, once Red Cloud’s protégé, is now stronger than his teacher.

In August of 1877, in a bizarre twist of events, General Crook, of the U.S. Army, asks Crazy Horse to lead Sioux scouts against the Nez Perce, who are grabbing headlines and public sympathy in their flight toward Canada. At first he refuses, but finally relents and agrees.

When the time comes for the scouts to march north with the soldiers, Crazy Horse claims illness and cannot go. The army interpreter responsible for translating Crazy Horse’s words is Frank Grouard. This is an unfortunate for Crazy Horse since Frank despises the great Indian warrior. When asked to translate why Crazy Horse cannot go and fight, Frank mistranslates the warrior’s words into a threat to go out and join the Nez Perce and fight the soldiers.

General Phil Sheridan, Custer’s mentor, then orders Crazy Horse arrested and imprisoned in Florida. Learning of the news, Crazy Horse flees to his uncle Spotted Tails’ camp where he is convinced to surrender. On September 5th, 1877, Indian police and troops under Lt. W.P. Clark take Crazy Horse to Fort Robinson.

All seems well until Crazy Horse realizes that he is not being given amnesty. He is about to be imprisoned. Resisting arrest, he is held in place by his former friend, Indian policeman, Little Big Man, while a soldier bayonets him in the back. He dies that evening.

Who killed Crazy Horse? Is it a military conspiracy led by Sheridan and Crook and undertaken by Lt. Clark? Is it Red Cloud and the other agency chiefs spreading rumors to panic the soldiers into eliminating this threat to their rule? What is the true role of the enigmatic Frank Grouard? And finally, what is the role of the mysterious Crazy Horse in his own destruction?

HITLER'S WAR: Fire Storm

As waves of British bombers released their deadly cargo over Dresden on the night of February 14, 1945, the streets of the Baroque city on the Elbe River turned into a veritable inferno. Hurricane-like firestorms ripped through the streets, flames several metres high leapt from houses, and people sheltering in basements suffocated or were burnt to death. Even from a height of 22,000 feet, it was possible to make out detail in the eerie glow illuminating the dying city. "For the first time" admits a British pilot, "I felt sorry for the people down there."
Dresden's destruction was the largest single blow dealt by the devastating bombing war - and at a time when the war had in fact already been decided. In the last four months of the war alone, more than 100,000 German civilians were killed by the air raids - about one-fourth of the horrifying total. Thirty-nine large cities were in the sights of the bombers - including many that had been spared before then, such as Dresden and Würzburg. Bomber squadrons targeted Hitler's capital with particularly great frequency. On February 3, 1945 the U.S. Air Force flew an unprecedented attack that laid Berlin's centre in ruins within an hour, costing over 25,000 people their lives.
The final chapter of the war resembled an apocalypse. The reality of the progressive devastation made those affected acutely aware of the horrible consequences that the regime's insane tenacity in fighting on had caused. The firestorm ultimately returned to where it had originally been ignited. But viewed in retrospect more than half a century later, it is clear that the destruction had virtually no effect on the course of the war - just as little as the devastating "retribution strikes" by German rockets against cities such as Antwerpen and London.
Destruction and panic characterized the everyday lives of people in the ruined cities. Increasingly, bombers and fighter planes also zeroed in on masses of refugees who were virtually defenceless against the attacks. Consequently, the end of the war also finally liberated millions of people from a nightmare of fear. But in view of the ruined cities, innumerable casualties, and lost possessions, for many the day of liberation also cast dark shadows.

SECRET SUPERPOWER AIRCRAFT: Secret Superpower Fighters

This programme examines the story of Moscow’s 1952 revelation that its air defences and fighter jets were outdated.

Stalin was furious after his MiG fighters were unable to catch British reconnaissance aircraft taking photos of Soviet airbases and called for a total reorganisation of Soviet air defences.

After this incident, Stalin vowed to never let the West have the upperhand again.

Grounded on 9/11

In response to the attacks on September 11, 2001, the Federal Aviation Authority ordered all planes out of the air. U.S. and Canadian air traffic controllers faced a calamity of epic proportions, how to safely re-route and land 6,500 planes carrying close to a million people.

For individual air traffic controllers, the work was chaotic, intense, and deceptively simple: pick a new route for each flight; radio instructions to turn; listen for pilot confirmation and hold traffic to keep airways from overcrowding.

From Cleveland, Ohio to Gander, Newfoundland, controllers on September 11th searched for alternate airports to land large jets even as their traumatised colleagues stream back from break rooms after watching the attacks on TV.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

1986: Scharansky released

After spending eight years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, human rights activist Anatoly Scharansky is released. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President Ronald Reagan arranged the amnesty deal at a summit meeting three months earlier. Scharansky was imprisoned for his campaign to win the right for Russian Jews, who were officially forbidden to practice Judaism, to emigrate from the USSR. Convicted of treason and agitation, Soviet authorities also labeled him an American spy. After his release, he immigrated to Israel, where he was given a hero's welcome. Later, as a member of Israel's parliament, he was an outspoken defender of Russian Jews.
1797More than 1,000 French troops, led by Irish-American General William Tate attempt an invasion of Britain but surrender shortly after landing in Pembrokeshire on the Welsh coast.
1818Chile proclaims its independence.
1851Start of the Australian Gold Rush in New South Wales when prospector Edward Hargreaves finds gold at Summerhill Creek.
1912China becomes Republic with the overthrow of the Manchu Dynasty.
1924'Rhapsody In Blue' by George Gershwin is first performed in New York .
1965British musician Donovan releases 'Catch the Wind'.
1973Following the successful ceasefire negotiations with the United States of America, North Vietnam releases the first batch of American prisoners of war.
1986An agreement between Britain and France to build the Channel Tunnel is signed at Canterbury.
1993In Britain, a 2 year old boy, Jamie Bulger, is abducted from a shopping centre and killed by two boys aged 10 and 11.
1996British Prime Minister John Major pledges to rebuild the Ulster Peace Process telling Sinn Fein to choose between 'the ballot or the bullet'
1809Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States is born in Kentucky.
1809British naturalist and author, born in Shrewsbury. Best known work is 'The Origin of Species (1859) giving his theory of evolution and natural selection: i.e. the survival of the fittest.
1870Music hall entertainer Marie Lloyd - real name Matilda Alice Victoria Wood is born in London.
1893American general Omar Nelson Bradley.
1923Italian opera, film, and theatre director Franco Zeffirelli.
1934British actress Annette Crosby.
1554Lady Jane Grey, Queen of England for 9 days, is executed on Tower Green on the order of her cousin Mary - a rival claimant to the English throne.
1804Immanuel Kant, German philosopher.
1929English actress Lillie Langtry - friend and companion of King Edward VII.


Ever since the military started using sophisticated airplanes, they have sought ways to build an aircraft that can fly undetected, manoeuvre like a helicopter and fly like a jet.

The Nazis were the first to pursue the idea of building a disc-shaped aircraft. After the war, the Americans, Canadians and Russians all were able to build aircraft similar to the German prototype, perhaps based on the concepts smuggled out by German engineers.

This episode looks at top secret flying saucer designs of the Air Force, with specific dates, times and locations of flights that may point to the real explanation behind the many UFO sightings beginning in 1947, and why the saucer design was abandoned for stealth technology.


War against the French is a major three part series, that examines how the seeds of the modern world were sown amid the turmoil of revolution and war. Using dramatic recreations, expert testimonies and the diaries and letters of key players, ranging from Robespierre to Wellington and Burke to Napoleon, the series brings vividly to life the crucial 26-year period, stretching from the outbreak of the French revolution in 1789 to the decisive Battle of Waterloo in 1815, when Europe was turned on its head.

Great Empires were created and destroyed and the unprecedented scale and ferocity of the conflict brought new ideas and forces into play; liberty, equality, nationalism, industrialisation and the birth of the working classes. In the period that is the focus of this series, France’s pretensions to global dominance were crushed, Britain became a world superpower, and the ideas that were to dominate the modern world, emerged.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, France was the most powerful and populous country in Europe. The French Revolution of 1789 created the first citizens' army and introduced total war. Under the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, the greatest General of his age, France established a mighty empire.

How did a ramshackle British army triumph over the greatest fighting force since Roman times? The British were launched on a painful learning curve. Eventually, by 1815, they had defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.

With testimonies, using the words of the ordinary soldiers of the day, this film explores how Britain won and how the modern world was hammered out on the anvil of war.

The History of Valentine's Day

Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day -- and its patron saint -- is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance... St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Tit for tat

Acts of vengeance and their consequences
Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot’ – so says the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:21) – in other words, the offender should suffer what the victim has suffered. This philosophy of retribution has been part of all manner of societies for centuries.
This website looks at the most powerful example in modern times – the revenge exacted by the Israelis following the assassination of their athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972 – as well as other examples of when vengeance has been the chief motivation for horrific acts. The consequences of such ‘tit for tat’ are also examined.