The Great War

The Great War is a 26-episode documentary series from 1964 on the First World War. The documentary was a co-production of the Imperial War Museum, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The narrator was Michael Redgrave, with readings by Marius Goring, Ralph Richardson, Cyril Luckham, Sebastian Shaw and Emlyn Williams. Each episode is c. 40 minutes long.

Profiles of the five European powers engaged at war’s start: German Empire, French Third Republic, United Kingdom, Russian Empire and Austria-Hungary. The Balkan Wars and the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.
Political consequences of the assassination: the July Crisis. Austrian pressure on Serbia, involvement of Russia and Germany, the Schlieffen Plan and diplomatic exchanges leading to the British declaration of war on Germany.
The start of war in the West. German invasion of Belgium, the Battle of Liège and subsequent atrocities. French advances and retreats in Alsace-Lorraine and the Ardennes, the deployment of the British Expeditionary Force. Interviewees include Edward Spears and Euan Rabagliati.
The events preceding the First Battle of the Marne. The fighting retreat of BEF and the French in the West, Russian invasion of East Prussia and German counter-attack at Tannenberg. The Battle of Mons, the First Battle of Guise and preparations for the defence of Paris. Interviewees include Robert Cotton Money and Edward Spears.
The stabilisation of the fronts. The First Battle of the Marne, the Race to the Sea, the Siege of Antwerp and the First Battle of Ypres in the West; Austrian defeats in Serbia and in Galicia in the East. Reprisals against Germans in Britain, mass enlistment in the British Empire and Christmas at the front lines. Interviewees include Edward Spears and Henry Williamson.
The first months of war at sea. Naval supremacy of the Royal Navy and its vulnerabilities to mine and submarine warfare. The seizure of German overseas colonies, the Siege of Tsingtao, the raids of the Emden and the pursuit of Maximilian von Spee. The naval Battle of Heligoland Bight, Battle of Coronel, Battle of the Falkland Islands and the Battle of Dogger Bank.
War in Europe in the first half of 1915. German success at the Second Battle of the Masurian Lakes, Russian Siege of Przemyśl, German Gorlice–Tarnów Offensive and Russian collapse due to severe shortage of materiel. German use of poison gas at the Second Battle of Ypres, British munitions shortage and the role of wartime industrial production. Interviewees include Gustav Lachmann.
The effects of protracted war on civilian life of the major powers, with focus on Britain. The sinking of RMS Lusitania, reprisals against foreign nationals. The founding of Lloyd George’s Ministry of Munitions, employment of women in the war industry, resulting labour disputes. Interviewees include Norman Demuth and Walter Greenwood.
The Ottoman Empire joins the war on the side of the Central Powers. Armenian Genocide and Gallipoli Campaign.
The war in the latter half of 1915, marked by successes of Central Powers. German and Austrian advance in the East, Russian withdrawal. Italy enters the war on the Allied side, attacking Austria and is stopped at the river Battles of the Isonzo. The Allied offensive in the Second Battle of Champagne and Third Battle of Artois falters. Serbia is overrun by German and Austrian troops, with Bulgaria joining the war in this operation, on the side of the Central Powers. Allied relief troops land in Salonika but are delayed by Greek internal politics, while Serb and Montenegrin forces and civilians flee through Albania to Corfu.
The Battle of Verdun through June 1916, with a brief look at the civilian life in France at the time.
The British army in Picardy in 1916. Recruitment and training of volunteers in Britain, deployment in France, logistics of supplying a million-strong force. The artillery barrage preceding the Allied joint offensive. Interviewees include Charles Carrington.
The Battle of the Somme, with mentions of concurrent Allied offensives: the Brusilov Offensive in Galicia, Romanian invasion of Transylvania and several Battles of the Isonzo in Italy. All sides suffer immense losses, Germany adopts a defensive posture and Britain introduces tanks.
War-weariness in Europe. In Britain, conscription, loss of shipping to German U-boats, Easter Rising in Dublin, the Battle of Jutland and the death of Earl Kitchener. In Germany and Austria, loss of morale, construction of the Hindenburg Line and the death of Emperor Franz Joseph. In Russia, discontent bordering on revolution. A change of guard in Britain, Germany and France, favouring continuation of war.
The Western Front in 1917 prior to the arrival of US troops. German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, successful British diversion at Arras, French failure in the Nivelle Offensive. Mutinies in the French Army follow but are resolved by General Philippe Pétain. Interviewees include Edward Spears and Henry Williamson.
United States enters the war. US foreign policy in early 20th century. Non-interventionism at war’s start, swings of public opinion, industrial production favouring the Allies. Wilson’s re-election and the declaration of war on Germany, prompted by the Zimmermann Telegram and unrestricted submarine warfare. Preparations for war, conscription, General Pershing’s arrival in Europe.
British and Dominion offensives in Flanders in 1917, originating from the Ypres Salient. The successful capture of Messines Ridge is followed by the Battle of Passchendaele, with many casualties on both sides. Rainy weather sets in early and armies bog down in mud. Interviewees include Cecil Arthur Lewis.
Russian revolutions of 1917. Overview of life in imperial Russia and of consequences of war. Food revolts lead to February Revolution, the Czar abdicates. The Provisional Government continues the war, Germany helps Vladimir Lenin return to Petrograd. Failure of Kerensky Offensive, widespread desertions, October Revolution. Germany supports independence of Ukraine and Finland, forces the punitive Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on the Bolsheviks.
The Western Front at the end of 1917. Experiences: artistic portrayals, sounds and smells of the war, aerial photographs. The discrepancy in perceptions between soldiers and civilians, psychological breakdowns, sense of belonging to the unit. Georges Clemenceau becomes French Prime Minister, the Battle of Cambrai ends in stalemate. Interviewees include Charles Carrington, Horace Birks and Henry Williamson.
Impact of war on everyday life. Shell shock. Censorship and propaganda. British naval blockade leads to starvation diets in Germany. German submarine warfare, countermeasures, food shortages and rationing in Britain. Use of women’s labour, better labour policies, women’s suffrage. Zeppelin air raids, air defence, Gotha Raids, Mustard gas, railway guns and Paris Gun. Interviewees include Benjamin Muse and Egbert Cadbury.
The start of German Spring Offensives in 1918. Shortage of manpower in Allied lines, German reinforcements from the East. German offensives Operation Michael at the Somme and the Battle of the Lys in Flanders.
The end of German advance in the West. Delayed deployment of US troops, German offensive in Champagne hastens their arrival. First AEF engagements. The final German assault halted, again at the Second Battle of the Marne. Brief footage of African American regiments. Interviewees include Melvin Krulewitch and Charles Carrington.
Allied offensives in summer 1918. French counter-offensive at the Marne, the Battle of Amiens, the Second Battle of the Somme, advance to the Hindenburg Line. In Britain, public protests yield to sceptical optimism. In Germany, troops lose morale and leaders realise that victory is impossible. Interviewees include Douglas Wimberley.
War in the Middle East. British capture Basra and mount an unsuccessful campaign toward Baghdad. Ottomans fail to capture Suez but check the British advance Palestine campaign begins. Britain encourages Arab Revolt against the weakened Ottomans, then captures Baghdad, Jerusalem and in 1918, Damascus. The dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, the seeds of future conflicts. Interviewees include George Langley.
War on the frontiers of Austria-Hungary, in the Balkans and in Italy. Allied troops in Greece establish the Macedonian Front but do not advance, the Central Powers occupy Romania. Allied intervention brings Greece to their side. Austrian and German troops breach the Italian front at the Battle of Caporetto and stop just short of Venice but next Austrian assault at the Piave fails. Allies breach the Macedonian Front, Bulgaria capitulates. Czechoslovakia and South Slavs declare independence, Italy launches counter-offensive Battle of Vittorio Veneto, Austria-Hungary capitulates and dissolves.
War’s end. Allied Hundred Days’ Offensive in the West continues, US President Wilson offers Fourteen Points as peace terms. Germany’s allies capitulate after defeats on other fronts. Revolution in Germany, Kaiser Wilhelm abdicates, Germany accepts peace terms. Human costs of war, reception and celebration of the armistice. Interviewees include Henry Williamson and Keith Officer.