Secret War DVD Review: to set Europe ablaze

From the producers of Churchill’s Bodyguard and Hitler’s Bodyguard, the new Secret War documentary exposes some incredible spy missions during World War II. Secret War premiered on Discovery’s Military Channel back in January, and is now available as a four-DVD set, containing all 13 episodes of the series.

Less than a year after World War II began, Hitler’s armies occupied much of mainland Europe -- and the island nation of Great Britain stood alone. Rather than wait for the expected German invasion, Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to hit back at the Nazis any way he could. In the summer of 1940, he set up a secret new organization called the Special Operations Executive, or SOE, and gave it a simple task: “To set Europe ablaze.”

Secret War goes inside Churchill’s secret army to tell the dangerous story of the SOE agents and other clandestine warriors who went behind enemy lines. Sometimes the operations were spectacularly successful, at other times completely inept. Taken together however, the efforts of these men and women not only helped to save thousands of lives, and to turn the tide of World War II.

Few people were aware of SOE's existence. To those who were part of it or liaised with it, it was sometimes referred to as "The Baker Street Irregulars", after the location of its London headquarters. It was also known as "Churchill's Secret Army" or the "Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare". For security purposes, various branches, and sometimes the organization as a whole, were concealed behind names such as the "Joint Technical Board" or the "Inter-Service Research Bureau."

SOE operated in all countries or former countries occupied by or attacked by the Axis forces, except where demarcation lines were agreed with Britain's principal allies (the Soviet Union and the United States). It also made use of neutral territory on occasion, or made plans and preparations in case neutral countries were attacked by the Axis. The organization directly employed or controlled just over 13,000 people, about 3,200 of whom were women. It is estimated that SOE supported or supplied about 1,000,000 operatives worldwide.

The 13 episodes of Secret War are: The Special Interrogation Group; Hardy Armies; Operation ‘Ratweek’; The Mafia Connection; Double Agent TRICYCLE; The Banker; The Norwegians and the Bomb; The English Scholar and the Fight for Greece; The Dutch Disaster; The SAS Italian Job; The Spymistress and the French Fiasco; The French Triple Agent; Christine Granville: Polish Spy; Agent Garbo; and finally, The Aristocrat and the Balkan Communist.

Each of these one-hour episodes (minus commercials) presents a fascinating, little-known story of behind-the-scenes actions during the War. Bonus materials include a 20-page viewer’s guide with a chronology of World War II, articles on Winston Churchill, Fortress Europe, resistance movements, the SAS and MI6.

By Greg Barbrick

About the author

Greg Barbrick has been watching TV so long he remembers watching first run episodes of Star Trek.

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