‘V-Discs’…

One of the interestingly beneficial side-effects of working in the field of German military musical history is just how often it overlaps other archival fields; as was just the case some years back when I was in a German archive and laid my hands on a group of 78rpm records on a label marked ‘V-Disc’ which, upon further examination seemed to contain a vast selection of WW-II era American music as obviously enjoyed by the GI’s in the front-line of the ETO (European Theatre of Operations) between D-Day June 6th 1944 and the Fall of Germany in May 1945….

But the story of these rare records goes back to the Summer of 1942 where, across the Atlantic, the American Federation of Musicians went on strike seeking royalties from the recording industry to compensate their members who were now perceived to be losing work as a result of alleged competition from these new recordings. Dragging on for over a year, it drastically reduced the production of new commercial recordings whilst also cutting off a vital supply of new records being sent out to help entertain the troops now fighting overseas.

However Robert Vincent, a lieutenant & sound-engineer with the US Army Special Services Division, suggested to his War Department that music could be specifically recorded for the Armed Forces and so in July 1943 he was transferred to the music section of American Special Forces in New York where he set about seeking support from the striking musicians together with a waiver of all royalty fees from their record companies & unions.

In return, the US War Department gave a full assurance that all such recordings that were produced under this scheme would be for military personnel only and, after hostilities had ceased, all 78 rpms manufactured would be deemed ‘military surplus’ and so destroyed, along with all of the original master-recordings…

Original known as ‘Special Services Recordings’ Robert Vincent’s secretary coined the name ‘V-Discs’ (the ‘V’ standing for both Victory & Vincent), and this became the official terminology for these recordings when shipped to US Armed Forces serving in foreign theatres! With the sole purpose of providing morale-boosting ‘music from back home’ for the GI’s serving overseas, a variety of entertainment was sourced: from commercial recordings & radio broadcasts to movie sound-tracks & specially commissioned performances from clubs & theatres across the United States.

Technically ‘V-Discs’ were cut with as many as 136 grooves per inch so that more than 6 minutes of music could be included, as opposed to the standard 4 minutes per side. But the most striking difference was that, with the raw material within schellack in short supply, by 1943 ‘V-Discs’ were actually manufactured in vinyl… amongst the very first such records ever to be made!

The first shipment of 1,800 boxes each containing 30 copies of these special ‘V-Discs’ were shipped from RCA-Victors’ New Jersey pressing plant in October 1943 and eventually some 8 million discs containing over 3,000 differing performances from various American artistes would had been manufactured by the time of war’s end and the programme’s rapid cessation some four years later in 1949…

Although most V-Discs were officially destroyed as agreed with the US music industry, a number found their way back to America in the kit-bags of returning GIs in 1945 or, as with this collection I happened upon, were left behind in a civilian house in Wurzburg in Southern Germany at war’s end… my only sadness being that, with such a heavy-handedness with the needles in the field when played by the troops, their quality was so bad that even our star audio-engineer Simon ‘Woody’ Wood could not digitally re-master them into a unique and broadcast-quality addition to The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive.

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Tomahawk Films’ New Year..

A very happy and contented New Year to all of the fantastic and most loyal customers of the Tomahawk Films’ WW-II German Archive that we have around the world and indeed to the ever-growing band of kind and enthusiastic collectors & students of military history now regularly reading our Blog and are beginning to contact us either to share welcome snippets of information or just telling us they are enjoying what we post from time to time here on the Tomahawk Film’s website…

I must admit, (though my friends & colleagues in the business already know it to be fact, sadly), that being the Luddite that I am, I’m so much happier with just a word-processor to write on; so that having to finally launch ourselves into the modern era of ‘social media’ and leave behind the old Tomahawk Films catalogue mail-order business, (that has served us so well over 27 years), has become a bit of a shock to my system… it’s sad, but I know it has to be done!

Albeit still so embarrassing when I watch a tiny tot happily & confidently typing on a lap-top or using the latest mobile phone with all its latest apps & gizmos with such aplomb… makes me feel a right klutz)! Then I content myself with the thought that said tot could not write and produce a 50 minute WW-II TV documentary..but then again, knowing my luck these mega-bright little sparks probably could.. and judging by some current TV output..actually do!

But I find it really worrying that there is now such a cultural divide (or should that be a cultural apartheid?) opening up between those of us over 50 and those under.. and, yes, I am the man that shouts at World’s Strongest Man contests on the box when the commentator says a competitor is ’1.8 metres high and weighs 128kgs’. Excuse me? Speak English man not some strange continental Euro verbiage.. I can imagine a man at 6” 6” weighing 26 stone..but everything else… just forget it!

However persisting with my desire…well it’s not my desire but everybody else’s it seems, (thanks Malcolm!), I actually spent over 6 hours yesterday at our local IT company hopefully, and finally, sorting out the Tomahawk Films website and ensuring that its upgrade to a new, firmer foundation and with a change-over from Card Net (Lloyds Bank’s credit-card clearing bank) to the more global Barclaycard, goes seamlessly. If it does then within the next few weeks the our distinctive German archival website will both have a more secure footing to stand upon and be an easier, more customer-friendly & ultra-secure experience for those German music & film footage fans that generously want to continue buying our rare German archival products via the website and having Barclays accept their welcome Visa & Master card payments on our behalf, (alongside our continued usage of PayPal of course).

If that wasn’t enough (smelling salts Daphne!) I then went through an intensive couple of hours being shown the rudiments of Twitter, Facebook & You Tube, (thanks to the aforementioned Malcolm, who is our great mate Malcolm Moore who runs the excellent Mist of Time on-line & battle re-enactors militaria operation up there in Yorkshire and who is ‘our man in the north’ (along with felllow friend Anthony at Militaria.net) as it was Malcolm that finally convinced us here at Tomahawk that we have to embrace the new social media..or die.

Sadly it is a case in fact that one of the downsides to our fabulous success of our German Archive as we enter our 28th year of operation is that we are a regular target for the myriad rip-off merchants in Europe, Russia and North America who still appear to be sitting in their back bedrooms copying our CDs on a home computer then offering the contents on–line as if it were their own (or passing it off as genuine Tomahawk Films products) or worse simply banging it all up on You Tube without asking our permission. Indeed infamous US pirate even went to all the trouble of copying our distinctive red cardboard covers and placing our ripped-off material on several well known American on-line auction and book sites, but I think a ‘phone call to the right ears disabused him of that notion, hopefully he is now out of business..well we can hope I suppose!

Some youngsters seem to view my generation who’ve been in Film & TV a life-time (so do actually have a small clue as to what we talking about..well sometimes!) as dinosaurs; however for some reason there is a new breed of techno folk coming through now who either have no understanding of the concept of Copyright..or simply care even less and it is really galling when you do a regular Google test to check where our German Archive sits within their listings.. only to find those rip-off merchants are actually ranked higher than our bona fide archive..frustrating in the extreme!

These techno-herberts may be highly advanced in all forms of on-line technology but none of them seems to have grasped the simply concept of Copyright and that if somebody else has that Copyright you simply do not rip it off and post it or advertise it on-line as yours…I think these folk must wear strange glasses that make the words ‘on-line’ translate into ‘free to plunder’… and the on-line authorities seem to care not a jot..well that has to change if there is any justice!

One of these companies passing themselves off as ‘professionals’ have simply lifted our rare and original Kriegsweihnachten Christmas Carols CD (that took me 2 years to source and produce), changed the running order, replaced our distinctive cover and, bold as you like, have it offered on their website as ‘legal downloads’ with some obscure German name appended to the recording to make it look as if they have legally acquired the rights….I think not!.. and in fact I’m not sure they would understand the meaning of the word legal if it hit them in them face. Certainly, and as mentioned before, Tomahawk Films does not offer any of our material as digital downloads as happily, (at least for now) our myriad customers still want our complete archival albums on CD and in an attractive sleeve.. (or the real enthusiastic collectors as I tend to call them!) Perhaps ‘digital’ is not the way forwarded as everybody once blithely predicted..indeed look at the newly burgeoning vinyl market with new material being released onto record..who’d have thought it

Sadly as I increasingly make my way through the business world I see there is precious little honour left in business dealings any more (though with wonderful exceptions inall  the people Tomahawk deals directly with in terms of sale & supply!). I suppose with the pirates, where there is a buck to be made from somebody else’s endeavours, then honour is an alien concept, which is really tragic!

But let’s not get down about the dishonest ‘herberts’ infecting the internet and just be thankful for all the good people out there..to whit, thanks to Malcolm, Craig at our IT company CT Central, my director-cameraman Nobbie and his girl-Friday Harriet, Tomahawk are now about to take the fight to the pirates and ne’er-do-wells by opening our own YouTube account so we can legally list and offer some our archive’s music as tasters of the original material to be found in our archive via the Tomahawk Films website… likewise we will open up a Facebook account to keep ourselves updated and see what’s what in the wider world outside of our production offices here in Hampshire..

I have to say that Twitter is the one that I am least convinced by at the moment as what do you say that can be of any meaning in however few characters you are allowed.?. What can you actually say that might be of some importance to anybody else? Since last evening I have started to follow Jeremy Clarkson, BBC ‘Top Gear’ stalwart and a journalist I admire greatly, (though not for his motoring columns as cars, sadly, do nothing for me), but his weekly newspaper columns about life in general are some of the funniest ‘laugh out loud’ musings I have ever seen and happily are now available as delightful book collections, which I read avidly and highly recommend!

For my money, Jeremy is consistently quite the funniest and irreverent writer currently in print,but watching & reading his exchanges yesterday with a female journalist (who I suspect might be London’s Mayor Boris Johnson’s feisty magazine-editor sister) it all seemed quite inane and not really worthy of taking up any of their valuable time and I thought, er why?

The gist of the tweets seems to a bit of slagging for his most impressive Q17 Arctic Convoy documentary that went out last week and was in fact one of the finest war-time documentaries I have seen of late (after the recent Goering: A Career) and I urge you all to take a gander if you get the chance. Jeremy is just a sublime & confident presenter of such war-time docs as his very evident patriotism shines through and his admiration for the veterans he is talking about certainly adds a very personal touch to the programme.

But returning to his ‘tweets’ of yesterday I sort find all these rather unedifying to have such little spats played out in public.  These are bright people so why do they need twitter..something I am still musing about with Tomahawk. Just why do we need a place to leave inane one-liners when we have our website and our Blog through which to express ourselves more fully? .I cringe even more when certain ‘loved up’ couples in the media seem to play out their entire romance on Twitter of the edification of others and I feel like shouting ‘oh do get a room you two’..!

I don’t know whether it is a ‘showbiz thing’ that these folk have to always been seen in public or cannot live their lives without somebody commenting about them…Malcolm & Nobbie have both told me that Tomahawk being on Twitter, (plus the aforementioned You Tube & Facebook), will all help keep Tomahawk Films in the public eye and so keep us right up in the Google rankings, above the very people trying to rip us off..So if it is for the good of the company then we will give it a go..but I can already see Twitter will be the first of these social media to fall by the wayside for Tomahawk Films, as who is going to be sitting in his bath, say, and be interested in the fact that we have just acquired a new German signalhorn for the archive?

Actually that said, I’ll now completely contradict myself and thank John for contacting us having read my Blog relating to such signalhorns & German Bugles to say that he has recently bought a Max Glass-marked example and do we know of the company?… We certainly do for Max Glass (left) was one of the main manufacturers of such signalling instruments and was prolific in distributing them…but oddly Max Glass was also a typewriter-producing factory and was probably as well known, if not more so, for such German Schreiber machines.

Indeed our good pal Shawn over in Texas very generously gifted us an original invoice (Rechnung) dated September 1st 1939 that he picked up recently as issued by Max Glass from Klingenthal, one of the major musical instrument production areas of Germany (also a ski-jumping town I believe?) during both the years of Imperial Germany and the Third Reich. We just missed adding another Max Glass to the archive over Christmas so must ask John if it was indeed his good self that managed to purchase this bugle from a dealer..it had a small waffenampt stamp to the garland, (something I have never seen before so am keen to hear more about that). However our signalhorn collection continues to ebb & flow..as we speak we are awaiting one from Holland and two from Germany but the Christmas back-log seems to have all 3 still in its grip.. so we must be patient!

However back to the social media and it will just remain to be seen if Tomahawk launching itself on to such platforms will be a success or indeed a damp squib…I must admit I have certainly enjoyed writing the Tomahawk Blog which is now just over a year old…though sometimes the ‘old grey matter’ runs a bit dry and it is not always easy to come up with something new opine on…that is why occasionally there are 3 or 4 Blogs in a couple of weeks or nothing for a month. However it is good to see that since we started Blogging the hits to our Tomahawk Film’s website have actually doubled. So we know you guys out there are finding us..and thank you so much for that..great to know we are not sitting in the dark, wittering to ourselves!

On that front, sad news to report that over the Christmas holidays I heard from the family of former Ober-Kanonier Helmut Zimmerman of the 319th Artillery Regiment stationed in Guernsey, (and whom I wrote about in my Blog and magazines articles A Guernsey Gunner’ returns) passed away on Boxing Day and I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family. Helmut was a wonderful man whom I was pleased to know and spend some time with over in Guernsey… as with many terrific, German veterans he always had a twinkly smile and a warm greeting and was a much loved friend of Guernsey.

So in being able to share both happy & sad news I can see social media does have its part to play in keeping everybody involved & interested in this specialised field of military study & collecting and to that end I welcome any Blog readers contacting me via the Tomahawk Films website to either say ‘hello’ or share any information or comments about anything I may have written here..or indeed any world war two television documentaries you may have watched & enjoyed that I may have missed? Having spent the bulk of my professional career in the film, TV & sporting outside broadcast world, I am still a sucker for a good TV documentary and still enjoy watching them & writing about them, so please feel free to make contact with me, it’ll be great to hear from you…!

Meantime wishing you all a great year of study & collecting in 2014… Tomahawk certainly did much better in 2013 than expected on sales of archival CDs, DVDs & Books so perhaps the Recession is finally lifting its heavy hand from backs & our wallets… here’s hoping!  

           Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Goering: A Career…

I don’t mean this to sound ‘full of it’ (or as my former Aussie colleagues would say ‘up myself’) but when you’ve spent the bulk of your professional career working in and around World War Two & Third Reich military history and watching TV documentaries on the same, almost daily, (allied to an ever-present hobby in the same vein), you eventually reach a point when you think that you may, possibly, have viewed much of the original period archive-footage available or have heard most of the historical angles expressed by the experts from this important period in time.. that in fact there is not much more to come to the surface that you haven’t already watched, heard or read about at some point in the previous 40-odd years of study!

It is also the case, (and one of the reasons that Tomahawk Films ceased being a distributor of WW-II documentaries to spend more time promoting my own TV documentary, ‘Channel Islands Occupied’), that rarely does anybody come up with something totally new in terms of documentary content or unseen 16mm newsreel footage to warrant yet another ‘look’ at a well-worn subject. In fact it always amazes me our Third Reich newsreels footage on Tomahawk Film’s Hitler’s Combat Newsreels is still, apart from the odd few seconds shown here & there, pretty unique in terms of what turns up on our screens these days and so it always manages to retain its ‘first seen buzz’.

One of the reasons I see so much archival material recycled across myriad documentaries is because we have a TV on in the corner of our production office tuned into the main satellite channels to keep an eye on WW-II documentaries to help us up to date with who is using our German music or Sounds of War combat SFX under contract, or to pick up on the names of new documentary companies who might be interested in using our German archive for future projects…

As I have said many times before, with so many WW-II documentaries airing on the dedicated satellite television platforms, (many being merely repeats from previous years) it is always a happy surprise when something fresh pops up on the TV screen and really grabs your attention. I am pleased to say this has happened to me in recent weeks.. firstly yesterday in the shape of a superb doc called Nazi Hunters, following the immediate post-war efforts of US Forces to bring Jochen Peiper and members of the SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ (part of the overall 6th Panzerarmee) to justice for their involvement in the massacre of American GIs at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes in the winter of 1944/45… and then on Sunday night (and the previous Sunday to that), in the shape of a real cracker of a superb new 3-part documentary series on the H2 Military History Channel entitle Goering: A Career.

In co-production with Germany’s ZDF Channel and with the ever-superb journalist Guido Knopp listed in the credits, (though this time strangely under ‘lighting’ rather than writer/producer, so perhaps this was an early outing to his subsequent career), this series is offering both some stunning original colour footage and a great script providing further thoughts on Goering, the man, thus making it a really engrossing and very well researched & delivered documentary on Hitler’s Number Two and Head of the Third Reich’s air arm..and still the final episode to go..!

Born in 1893, Herman Goering was a former WW1 Ace in the Kaisers’ fledgling air arm and went onto become the much derided, overweight and somewhat lazy Supreme Commander of Hitler’s new air force, the Luftwaffe. His later addiction to morphine has been well documented down the years and this might explain his often strange military decisions, (or indeed lack of them), at times, resulting in his Luftwaffe High Command often being driven to utter distraction by its leader’s increasingly bizarre behaviour later on in the war…

Indeed had Goering been ‘clued-in’ to the modern concept of aerial warfare, (rather than wedded to WW1 fighter tactics), one wonders if the outcome of the Battle of Britain might have been a much closer thing; nevertheless it appears that from the very outset Goering actually knew that his Luftwaffe was under strength in both aircraft & manpower!

Indeed a regular contributor to yesterday’s episode Part 2 was a former Luftwaffe Test Pilot who admitted that all of the early aircraft promised to Hitler, (and often shown in some strength displaying in the skies above early Nazi Party Rallies), were nothing more than un-tested prototypes so, apart from the legendary ME Bf109, when war broke out in 1939, the Luftwaffe was indeed not the force it was wildly publicised as being or that the Allies believed it to be!

Another tantalising fact emerging from this superb profile is that as Goering indeed knew in advance that he had not the firepower at his command to deliver for Adolf Hitler, (despite always assuring his Führer that he had), behind the scenes he was doing everything he could to avoid another World War, including secret pre-war negotiations with Britain to find a way of averting conflict and his air arm being ‘found out’ in actual combat!

From some of what I heard last night it appears, to my mind at least, that Goering was perhaps more of a sensible individual than we have all given him credit for, despite being undoubtedly lazy and often finding any excuse to  bunk off to his superb castle-like country estate at Carinhall to indulge his love of hunting and spend time with his later accumulated wealth. Which was a complete reversal of his fortunes given that, pre-war, he had escaped from his growing role within the fledgling Nazi Party and fled to Sweden where, as a penniless former fighter pilot, he effectively lived off his wife’s parents. He eventually he returned to Germany to take up his position at Hitler’s side, but ever fearful of the Führer’s moods and stubborn single-mindedness plus his increasing desire for war, he never actively opposed Hitler’s visions for European domination, (even though he knew that half of his ideas were barking!).

Also detailed was Goring’s later wealth, stemming from his ‘success’ as an art dealer, though his dealings, (interpreted as ‘shopping’ in the countries Germany had recently occupied) were straightforward theft. Indeed at vital moments when he should have been taking full command of Luftwaffe air operations in the Battle of Britain and thence the 1941/42 Eastern Front campaign in Russia, he was more concerned with having his staff locate great works of art across Europe, to then be transported back to Carinhall in his own personal train… much to the ill-concealed anger of his elite fighter pilots who felt they were trying to conduct air campaigns on two major fronts with their hands tied behind their backs.

One superb interview thus far was with the Luftwaffe fighter ace and Knight’s Cross with Oakleaves holder Günter Rall, who, (with 275 combat victories in World War Two) later went on to serve with distinction in the post-war German Luftwaffe. A remarkably modest and hugely likeable former pilot with his ever-fluent and superb English, his interviews are always worth watching and listening to and in this terrific second episode he again delivers some very interesting facts & figures, plus a ‘no-holds barred’ appraisal of Goering as an air-force leader..!

Another incredible fact of which I was totally aware was that Herman Goring had a younger brother called Albert…very much a man in the background and who actually spirited a number of leading Jewish businessmen and film-makers out of Germany to America in the pre-war period. Indeed when it came to the ‘Jewish Question’ itself, it seems that Goering himself was somewhat more pragmatic about this whole issue than was hitherto known…and incredibly it appears that he also allowed several leading Jews to escape the Third Reich, (despite being Hitler’s  deputy and replacement Führer should Hitler die), excusing himself with the line: ‘A Jew is only when I say he is a Jew’..another most interesting fact to emerge from this documentary.

I won’t give too much more away in case you have not yet seen this 3-parter as no doubt it will be repeated, (a great many times… and rightly so in this case), in the coming weeks and months amidst the tidal wave of great-to-merely-mediocre Third Reich documentaries now airing across the gamut of satellite TV channels, however this one is most definitely worth a watch..the final episode coming on H2 this Sunday evening!

Just as a final thought when talking about the current crop of WW-II documentaries now appearing on a television set near you: I don’t know if you have noticed, but why has there been allowed to emerge an extremely annoying habit of the experts, when wheeled-in to voice their historical expertise on camera, of constantly talking in the present tense?  A whole raft of rather earnest historians, university lecturers and the ‘great & the good’ are paraded before us to eagerly tell us that ‘Goering is this’, ‘Hitler is that, or Rommel is faced with a tough situation, or such & such squadron is flying against so & so or that a unit of this force is fighting through great odds… and so on and so forth!

I don’t know which producer started this appalling interviewing habit, but everybody’s now seemingly at it. However these are now global events from over 70 years ago, so memo to whomsoever: please use was not is… thank you, I feel so much better now..!

                         Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013