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Best World War 2 Documentaries

Updated on September 10, 2014
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World War 2 was the most destructive war in the history of mankind. This is a list of some of the best documentaries that cover the men and women who fought and died in the hell known as the second world war.

The World at War
The World at War

Own "The World at War' on Blu-ray or DVD.

 

The World at War

The World at War is one of the best documentaries ever made, regardless of subject. It manages to capture the horror of war while also highlighting the great sacrifices made by those who fought it and the civilians caught up in it. Over 100 hours of engrossing footage from the war and interviews with 'average Joes' helps to bring the experience home for the viewer.

The series is broken down into 26 separate episodes each one focusing on a different aspect of the war from the prewar build up of Germany to the eventual dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan and the immediate post-war experience of those who lived it.

Series produced by Jeremy Isaacs and narrated by Laurence Oliver.

The War by Ken Burns

The War by Ken Burns takes a different approach in telling the story of world war 2. Rather than try to tell the whole story of the war this series tells the story of the war as it was experienced by four cities in the United States-Mobile, Luverne, Waterbury, and Sacramento. It includes letters to home and many interviews with people on the home front.

This approach to covering the war helps give the viewer a feel for what the mood was like at home during the war. The apprehension at the start of the war -would the Japanese invade the US? Could we fight back? to the joy of victory are all brought to vivid life through interviews with survivors and the reading of letters written during the war. You also feel the pain and loss, not just of the families and loved ones of a serviceman killed in action, but of the entire community.

The series originally aired on PBS as a seven-part miniseries and totals 14 hours in length.

Produced by Ken Burns

Clash of Wings

Clash of Wings is a documentary that focuses on the Air War during World War 2. Totaling 15 episodes in total the series explores the air war from the initial blitzkrieg in Poland to the firebombing of Japan and the atomic bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. There are also episodes devoted to fighters, bombers, and the 'round the clock' bombing of Germany.

The series does a good job of documenting the fierce air battles that occurred during world war 2 in the air with a lot of good gun camera footage.

Battle 360: Enterprise

Battle 360:Enterprise follows the fortunes and misfortunes of arguably the most famous American ship of WW2- the USS Enterprise. This series differs somewhat in its presentation. Rather than using stock footage most of the imagery is computer generated. This allows the producers to provide a more complete look at the battles the USS Enterprise took part in. The narration is a bit over the top (for my tastes) but doesn't detract from the series's appeal.

Several members of the original crew provide a running commentary on what was happening during each battle. They are joined by a current Naval Airman who heaps praise on the efforts and sacrifices made by the men of the Enterprise (and rightly so).

There are Ten episodes in total, starting with the Bombing of Pearl Harbor and ending with the Enterprise's return to the end of the war and the eventual scrapping of 'The Big E', as her crew called her.

Crusade in the Pacific

Crusade in the Pacific is a fairly detailed look at the war in the Pacific theater. It was produced in 1951 (before the pc craze) and is very biased and pro-American-almost to the point of propaganda. However it also covers nearly every major battle in the pacific.

The series also does a decent job of showing the less 'glamorous' side of war and how logistics won the war against Japan. Also unlike the other documentaries in this list Crusade in the Pacific also continues the story through the Korean war and eventual armistice which brought active hostilities on the Korean peninsula to a close with an eye towards the possible future of Asia.

Battle of Britain

This documentary about the Battle of Britain does a great job of explaining the fight for Britain's survival against Nazi Germany in 1940. With the fall of France Britain was all that stood between Hitler and complete victory over Western Europe. The mighty Luftwaffe dwarfed the RAF and yet despite the odds the British emerged victorious.

A little over two hours in length this documentary includes not only real war footage of the Battle of Britain but also some scenes from the 1969 movie of the same title. While this list is focused primarily on documentaries, I strongly advise any history buff to watch both the movie and the documentary.

© 2014 Glen Kowalski

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    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 16 months ago from Texas

      Hi Glen, this is interesting. I try to stay away from war stories they make me sad. But you did a good job on the reviews.

      Blessings to you.

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