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Allied Air Power 1942-1945: A Newsreel History of Allied Air Force Operations in World War II.

Allied Air Power 1942-1945: A Newsreel History of Allied Air Force Operations in World War II. By Perry Wolff. Havertown PA: Casemate Publishers. 80 min. $14.95 ISBN: 024762065-3

This DVD is a reissue of a documentary film, The Smashing of the Reich, an overview of the Allied campaign in Europe compiled in 1962 from wartime footage. Pen and Sword reissued it as part of a new World War II DVD series. These DVDs, including titles on individual battles, weapons, and campaigns, accompany their popular print series on the same topics.

Smashing the Reich details the course of the war in Northern Europe from autumn 1943 to VE day. The roles of daylight precision strategic bombing, especially of the oil industry, and tactical airpower are prominently featured. D-Day, the breakout from St. Lo, the drive across France, and the Battle of the Bulge are covered. True to the title, a significant percentage of screen time is devoted to bombs falling, guns firing, targets blowing up, enemy footage of burning factories, and gun-camera film of trucks, tanks and trains exploding under strafing attacks. There is plenty of footage of fighters and bombers taxiing, taking off, and in flight; those who track such things will be able to pick out individual units, aircraft, and even individuals in some shots. For instance, General Pete Quesada of the IX TAC appears in a scene with Eisenhower, although he is not pointed out.

Producer and writer Perry Wolff is an experienced documentary creator, with Airpower (1956), A Tour of the White House (1962) and a number of works on history and the fine arts to his credit. The music by composer Norman Dello Joio, who scored the TV documentaries Airpower (1956) and The Golden Prison: The Louvre (1964) emphasizes the dramatic, setting a mood of dominance and supremacy Jim Stephens' narration is appropriately clipped and hard-bitten, in wartime style, with meaningful pauses to let the points sink in.

The World War II compilation documentary genre as we know it originated with the critically acclaimed Victory at Sea (1954), scored by famed composers Richard Rodgers and Robert Russell Bennett. The pattern it set probably peaked with The World at War, a widely viewed 1970's TV series that interspersed eyewitness accounts with original footage.

Unfortunately, Smashing the Reich does not reach the high standard set by those landmark works. This film takes a simplistic view of the strategic bombardment of Europe in World War II. Strategies, tactics, and timelines are blurred. Events are conveniently rearranged to fit the narrative. The B-17 is emphasized; the B-24 is but briefly visible. The Mediterranean Theater of Operations and the Fifteenth Air Force are not cited. Air Force leadership--Eighth Air Force or otherwise--is not in the narrative; it appears to the viewer as though Eisenhower made all the decisions. Casablanca, from which emerged the Combined Bomber Offensive, focusing on defeat of the Luftwaffe, and Operation Pointblank, the air campaign during the first six months of 1944 to seize air superiority over Europe, are not mentioned. Although the crisis of the unescorted bomber in the fall of 1943 opens the film, portrayal of efforts to develop a long-range escort fighter force leaves the impression that the problem was solved almost overnight. Even the film's concentration on the oil campaign is mishandled. The August 1943 Ploesti operation is absent; if the central theme is oil, it should have opened with it. As a history of the air war in Europe, the film falls very short.

All of that said, Smashing the Reich rightfully can be regarded as a newsreel history intended for popular consumption. Those who fought the war, built the weapons, and supported the home front composed this film's original audience. Typical of many documentaries of the immediate postwar years, it closes with scenes of families warmly greeting homecoming troops. Familiar with the wartime sense of menace and national purpose, they would readily have related to the producer's unfettered, graphic approach, and drawn emotional sustenance from seeing that their sacrifices were not in vain: Europe was liberated, prisoners freed, evil vanquished. It would be difficult--perhaps not politically correct--to issue such a work for a general audience now. Shots of neatly costumed re-enactors, cleaned-up battlefields, and restored warbirds with only brief excerpts of contemporary footage characterize documentaries of the past fifteen or twenty years.

Pen and Sword did not restore the film itself for this reissue. Some clips are blurry, contrast is off, and numbered leader (for theater projectionist use) precedes some scenes. After five decades, some sequences have become familiar stock shots. Nonetheless, the era of vivid documentary of the first few decades immediately after the war is a valuable trove of contemporary footage that portrays World War II far more vividly than one is likely to see in modern productions.

Steve Agoratus, Hamilton, N.J.
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Author:Agoratus, Steve
Publication:Air Power History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2015
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