Hitler’s Combat Newsreels on DVD…

From as far back as I can recall, I always seemed to have an abiding interest in military history…my first awareness in my youth being that of the British side of the story in both the First and Second World Wars, (my paternal grandfather having been a pre-war professional soldier who served with the Essex Regiment in the trenches of the Western Front between the years 1914-18).

However thanks to my coming across the eye-popping Third Reich collection of a great mate Phil, in my later teens, (who happened to live just around the corner from my parent’s house), my fascination for military history very much became focussed on the story of the Nazi era, yet it was to be another 10 years before I had a chance to actually turn my private studies into, effectively, a life-time of work in this fascinating historical and archival field of period film & music…

In fact I had been working for some while with small Winchester-based Film & TV company Lacewing Productions, (at that time primarily cutting my teeth as Production Manager on the famous and evergreen series: ’The Old Country with Jack Hargreaves’), when I mooted to the two directors that I thought, with this new-fangled thing called ‘video’ just coming into vogue, (I joined the telly world when 16mm film was still the shooting & programme transmission medium via tele-cine), there was now an opportunity to start re-releasing many of the WW-II documentaries being sold to the collector on super 8mm home-reels onto video… and perhaps even set up a dedicated mail-order company to market such military material straight to the enthusiast?

I was allowed to spend any down-time I had at the studio researching into the viability of my ideas but sadly, by the time that I had realised that I was indeed onto a winner, Lacewing had gone under, so I put all of my notes away safely and went off to work as a freelancer. However several years later, through a circuitous route, Tomahawk Films was created, with me at the helm, and so I went back into the old files and dusted off my notes…

By now several other companies had also realised that WW-II documentaries on video were the ‘latest thing’ and there was now a market for such titles…so Tomahawk very soon became an archival distribution & mail-order company seeking out & sourcing some fantastic WW-II documentary footage and releasing it to an avid video market that could not get enough!

Eventually our World War Two video catalogue, entitled Images of War, offered some 400 exciting documentary titles and we had mail-order customers all over the world…but slowly alongside the original, in-house work that I was putting into producing my documentary Channel Islands Occupied, I was also putting out the word out I was looking for anybody that might be sitting on any captured German film footage. Sounds silly saying it now, but I thought back then that there might just be a chance that amongst the veteran soldiers who brought all sorts of souvenirs back like helmets, flags & badges etc, somebody might have had the chance to ‘acquire’ some film cans…so I put an advert in the old Exchange and Mart, as was back then….and I actually got a reply!!!

A former British intelligence officer telephoned to say that he had pile of rusty German film cans ‘under his spare bed’ if I was interested in coming and having a look…? So not wanting to miss a possible opportunity I jumped in my car and headed north to Yorkshire to meet this lovely old chap..and sure enough there, under that spare bed, was indeed a pile of 16mm mute film.

Pulling out an old British army projector, he started spooling up the first can, and over the next few hours I sat transfixed as I saw some of the most exciting German Propaganda Kompanie combat film footage I had ever seen…(for even by the late 1980s as this was, I was already starting to see the same old film footage being put out in a range of documentaries and was aching to see something new!). By the end of the impromptu film show my head was reeling but I knew that I wanted very much to buy this film footage..so after a fabulous dinner in the nearby town, and probably having imbibed one too many glasses of excellent wine, I offered him £2,000, (a fortune then and not an insignificant amount now), for all 16 cans, to which he very readily and happily agreed..!

During dinner he was able to fill me in a little more and explained that, in 1945 he and his driver had arrived in Hanover only to stumble across Ukrainian troops ransacking the city’s main Gestapo Headquarters and looking for treasures whilst also throwing cine-projectors from an upstairs window!!  Brandishing his pistol he burst into the building and charged upstairs through the Ukrainian troops coming downstairs, loaded with their booty, and on seeing piles of film cans stacked in a blazing room, grabbed 16 of them and retreated back to his jeep to be driven back to his Allied base camp for security analysis… and there they stayed until after the war when, amazingly, he was handed them back, considered to be his own personal ‘booty’ which should be returned!

The cans were put into his spare room and remained, untouched, until my E & M advert in the mid 80s stirred his memory, when I was called and subsequently arrived to see all the cans resurface completely intact! Once I had the them safely in Tomahawk’s care we arranged to have the film taken up to the heart of the film industry in London’s Soho, where all of the reels were expertly cleaned & re-oiled to get rid of the years of dirt and so bring them sparkling back to life.

Once lovingly restored we brought in a 16mm film editor to cut & splice the stunning sequences together to effectively produce four exciting video titles from the restoration of these superbly detailed German combat newsreels, which were then transferred to 1” tape thence latterly to Beta SP as new master formats came on-line…

As I alluded to earlier, most of this Nazi Propagandakompanie footage had never been in public before and though it had many sub-titles throughout, there were no soundtracks found with it and we assumed that, as Die Wochenschau (Weekly Newsreels), such footage was destined to be shown in local German cinemas in its silent form with perhaps just piano or other musical accompaniment maybe.

However rather than leave it silent Tomahawk acquired a stirring German soundtrack, (now released as a separate audio CD) and armed with a newly acquired collection of WW-II sound effects (also available as an SFX archive on our CD Sounds of War), we went into the studio, with Simon ‘Woody’ Wood, who was back then a freelancer before the days of his current studio, studio Dubmaster, who really brought this incredibly film to life. In fact it was this German music soundtrack that would eventually set Tomahawk films off into its direction of Third Reich Military & Civilian Music on CD…a direction that we had no inkling of at the time!!

Which also helps explain to our later Third Reich Musik collectors, unaware of our early genesis, why we are actually called Tomahawk Films:   simply because of that fact that we started out as a war-time documentary film company but as, slowly & steadily, our name became synonymous with German Military music we did think about a possible name change to reflect that fact…

However we soon realised that, from a marketing point of view, once you are well known for something in particular, you certainly don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and change your name… so even though 75% of our historical media work is now in the German archival music field, rather than the in ‘pure documentary production film’ arena, the name ‘Tomahawk Films’ stayed and our Third Reich music continues to be happily marketed on CD around the world under our well-known moniker..!

So after Woody, (the first time that Tomahawk Films had actually worked with him, the second being as sound recordist on our 50′ television documentary ‘Channel Islands Occupied’) had produced his sound-on-film dubbing magic, Tomahawk proudly released the outcome as a 4-part video series, each with its own separate title:

Russian Front Volume I: The all-out action begins as Wehrmacht cameramen cover the combat assault teams across the Dneiper River, taking Minsk, Stalingrad and Rostov whilst close-quarter action intercuts with spectacular footage in the cockpits of Me-110′s and He-111′s battling high above the Russian steppes…

Russian Front Volume II : The intense and bloody combat photography continues in the heat of battle as the German infantry storm Kharkov and Kersch with flame throwers & heavy M.G’ whilst a fascinating record of the siege of Sevastapol offers an incredible sequence on German heavy artillery, including the Wehrmacht’s truly awesome railway guns…

Air Land and Sea: A Kriegsmarine Honour Guard introduces the Scharnhorst, Prinz Eugen and Gneisenau’s ‘Channel Dash’ under R.A.F. attack whilst rare Dieppe newsreel and the Waffen-SS in Finland leads into ‘Murmansk to Africa’, a lightning overview of the war and ends with some really exciting Luftwaffe in-cockpit action in ‘Air War in the East’.

Finally the 4 title: Afrika Korps: which offers desert combat footage from the war in North Africa, including Ju-88′s in action, Italian assault troops, German troops under canvas with Rommel and the Fall of Tobruk; also Luftwaffe footage of the air attack on Malta and finally a great sequence offering ground crews ‘bombing-up’ and close ups of Kesselring and fighter ace Marseille…

At a later date we took the decision to then re-edit all four titles together to make an exciting and more cost-effective 90 minute video for our customers entitled: The Combat Newsreels of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich,which in turn became a world-play DVD of the same name, still with its incredible 16mm footage and stirring German music and combat effects soundtrack…

Over the years I have often thought about writing a  script and narrating it for the DVD, but do you know what?.. the film footage is so exciting and so gripping that any random voice-over, (however well or pertinently I had written a script), would have added little to the viewer’s enjoyment and possibly merely insulted their intelligence.

So in the end I opted to leave these incredible Combat Newsreels with just their rip-roaring music & combat sound effects sound-track where pertinent…and happily I made the right decision judging from the enthusiastic customer feed-back we get..and the fact it still keeps selling in its many thousands..!.

Even today, I have still seen very little of this footage used in the myriad TV documentaries that keep appearing on television, so I still bless the day that my old appeal for German footage via the pages of the Exchange & Mart came up trumps..!

Copyright@ Brian Matthews 2013

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