Sometimes It’s More Than Luck..!

Every now and then I receive an e-mail relating to some incredible stories from the Second World War: tales of incredible bravery, some of amazing derring-do and some that just make me stop in my tracks and really think for a moment or two and wonder if they are merely apocryphal or are based in fact..!

For the latest to cross my desk, I am indebted to a good pal of mine who is currently working on the impressive German Maisy Batterie, the recently discovered and thence completely uncovered ‘must-see’ D-Day military attraction slap-bang on the Normandy Invasion Coast of France.The exciting discovery of this long-hidden Batterie and the realisation all these years on of its vitally important role on D-Day has attracted great media interest… and I hope to write about it and offer more photos here in future Blogs…

However, in the meantime his recent forwarded e-mail from across the Channel concerns the story of one Elmer Bendiner, who as a young man, was a navigator with the USAAF on a B-17 Flying Fortress flying from its base here in East Anglia during the heavy air campaign over Germany in the Second World War. Elmer has related a most incredible story of one of his war-time bombing  runs over the town of Kassel that had a most unexpected outcome as the result of a direct hit on the fuel tanks of this sturdy American bomber from Luftwaffe anti-aircraft guns defending the city. Elmer takes up the story:

“Our B-17, the Tondelayo, was barraged by flak from Nazi anti-aircraft guns, which wasn’t unusual, but on this particular occasion our gas tanks were hit. Later, as I reflected on the miracle of a 20 millimetre canon shell piercing the fuel tank without touching off an explosion, our pilot told me it was not quite that simple as on the morning following the raid, he’d had gone off to ask our ground-crew chief for that shell as a souvenir of our unbelievable luck…

The crew-chief told him that not just one shell but 11 had been found in the gas tanks… 11 unexploded shells whereas just one would have been sufficient to blast us out of the sky..! It was just as if the sea had been parted for us… a near-miracle, I thought! Even after all those years, so awesome an event still leaves me shaken, especially after I heard the rest of the story from our former pilot who was later told that the shells had been sent to the armourers to be defused… and they had told him that USAAF  Intelligence had suddenly come in to pick them up and take them away for inspection, without a word as to why..!.

However it later transpired that when the armourers opened each of those shells, they had found no explosive charges… they were as clean as a whistle and just as harmless.. completely empty!  
All except one of them that had contained a carefully rolled piece of paper and on it was a scrawl in Czech. The Intelligence people had then scoured our base for a man who could read Czech and eventually they found one to decipher the note, which set us all marvelling for, when translated, the note read: ”This is all we can do for you now … using slave labour is never a good idea..!”

Indeed whether apocryphal or completely true, (and I’d like to think it was indeed one of those fabulous true stories that emerge from time to time), I’ll let you decide which for, as I wrote at the beginning of this particular Blog, sometimes these stories from the Second World War, whether indeed real or ‘enhanced’ just stop you in your tracks and this was certainly one of those…Talking of which: Part Two of Hitler’s Rise-The Colour Films was aired last night…but at least this time came the voice-over confession at the start of the documentary that the footage had indeed been ‘digitally enhanced’… i.e. colourised, so ‘The Colour Films’ as trumpeted were sadly no such thing, more’s the pity.  As I have often moaned before: ‘Why do they do this..?’

Without meaning to sound too po-faced about this, I personally feel that tampering with original b/w Third Reich film footage through adding colour not only ‘humanises’ some scenes that should remain thought-provoking in their original harsher hues as shot, but also buggering about 70 years after the event by adding such colour that wasn’t originally there is not only akin to inserting newly-written paragraphs in Shakespeare, (or other works of literature years after they were finished & lauded), but somehow seemingly also runs the risk of lessening the impact when the occasional haul of previously unseen Agfa-colour 16mm film (or even 35mm if we are really lucky), still surfaces from time-to-time.

So for these reasons, amongst others, I always find myself thinking they should have left well alone, as the original archival b/w film tampered with in this particular case was absolutely superb and good enough to stand on its own two feet, especially rare footage of Hitler’s Bodyguard divisional band, the Musikkorps Leibstandarte-SS. Indeed the thoughtful commentary running behind some of this superb footage also continued to offer odd snippets of additional background information that the myriad previous documentaries on Adolf Hitler had not thought (or knew enough), about to include and were certainly a most valuable addition to our knowledge of the subject.

But it is almost as if the producers or commissioning editors thought that they wouldn’t get a big enough audience for their black & white footage without somehow sensationalising their documentary for the viewing masses by introducing colour to footage what should have most assuredly remained in its 1930s & 1940s state… especially as in places the colourisers had made a real hash of things resulting in several rather uncomfortable ‘ouch’ moments!

This was a crying shame, and in places something of a diversion as sections of the footage were quite rare… including, (and excitingly for me with this Nazi anthem ever-present in our Tomahawk Films Archive), terrific footage of the Nazi martyr Horst Wessel and the ensuing funeral arrangements after his murder that I’d not previously encountered. In addition, some some of the Hitler Speeches, (and several from Reichs Propagandaminister Goebbels) were actually of the rarer variety and so the visual imagery accompanying them certainly didn’t need any tampering with whatsoever.

It may come as a complete surprise to the young shavers now in charge of the ‘Magic Lantern’ but those of us long fascinated by the history of the Third Reich, both professionally & personally, don’t actually need to be led by the nose in this crass fashion and made to feel that we are not intelligent or sufficiently interested in such historical programmes that we would only watch their documentary if they had jazzed it up a bit first….what a shame and in fact, what arrogance… but then that’s the modern world of television programme-making for you..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

German Music in The Movies – Pt 1

Great to see the superb 2002 WW-II Prisoner-of-War Hollywood movie Hart’s War, (starring Bruce Willis & Colin Farrel), getting another welcome airing on the BBC last night.. and so giving Tomahawk another equally welcome double-credit as the archive supplying the main German musik tracks to the film, the Deutschlandlied and the Horst Wessel Lied as performed by the Musikkorps of the Leibstandarte-SS Adolf Hitlerand taken from our album of the same name…

Both the Horst Wessel Lied, (often known as the alternative Nazi National Anthem), and the ‘true’ German National Anthem, were both supplied to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Los Angeles on disc, where both tracks were then beautifully re-worked by MGM’s audio department and dubbed into the sound-track to appear as if coming directly from loud-speakers of the POW camp that Bruce Willis’ character found himself in… and it was most interesting to hear how the movie’s dubbing team were able to suppress and alter our original high quality re-mastered recordings to give that very ‘tinny’ effect of schellack 78rpm records playing on a wind-up record player via an old 1940s metal loudspeaker over a large area…great work!

Actually in addition to the marketing of our CDs & DVDs to collectors & enthusiasts around the world, as a full-time professional German Archive, Tomahawk is now regularly involved in helping, advising & supplying our original music to similar movie & television production companies for use on their documentary & movie soundtracks and latterly, the incredibly moving and thought-provoking 2008 Disney-Miramax, Mark Herman-directed movie ‘Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ (US spelling), also contacted us for help with their soundtrack..

The movie is based on the isuperb 2006 novel ‘Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ as penned by Irish author John Boyne and which was recently required reading on the history syllabus in schools & colleges here in the UK; and we were contracted to supply two of our tracks, (the Horst Wessel Lied which is actually now one of the most popular tracks for producers, again due to that ‘alternative’ Nazi National Anthem tag), as performed by the Musikkorps der SS-Leibstandarte ‘Adolf Hitler’ and ‘Mein Regiment, mein Heimatland’ as performed by the Musikkorps des Infanterie Regiments Grossdeutschland’ and which can be found on our Third Reich Favourites CD.

In fact this past weekend has been a good ‘un in terms of television credits for Tomahawk, thanks also to the airing on the History Channel of the US New Animal Production’s excellent 2-part series Third Reich – The Rise and The Fall… which was first shown in the US and if you have not yet caught it here over in the UK, then you are in for an absolute treat… I certainly enjoyed oit very much indeed!

I must admit that it has been quite a long while, (despite my 40-odd years of working with, and viewing, archival footage) since I last saw so much original German newsreel footage in a single production such as The Rise and The Fall for, sadly these days, many documentaries are now produced on a very limited budget; allied to that, some network bosses seemingly say to their staff: “go out and make me a documentary on such & such” as if they were heading to the supermarket to merely buy groceries. Sadly I have experienced this at first-hand, having been on the receiving end of a regional TV ‘producer’, (deputed to make such a film at a time of a major WW-II anniversary),  who was sent to me to pick my brains..(free of charge..natch! ).

Unfortunately one of the direct results of these ‘docs on a budget’ is that, unable to afford trained film researchers any more, many WW-II or Third Reich documentaries simply include the same old, (and in many cases very tired), German newsreel footage and you get the impression that the unfortunate individual ordered to find the required footage just sticks his or her head into the Archive to grab the cans or tapes nearest the door on an: ‘oh, that’ll do.. the audience won’t notice”..basis!

Thus it is that often these days, no matter what you watch you will just keep seeing the same old recycled footage coming around time and again..! Makes you wonder why people bother to keep producing such docs in the first place when they have nothing new to add to a debate, nor nothing new to illustrate that debate with…. especially given that most tv audiences for such WW-II documentaries are highly knowledgeable & incredibly well-informed and usually know far more about the subject than most producers do… and will have your legs off at the knees if you make a mistake, especially if it is an unfortunate ‘schoolboy howler’..!

To be fair, I know that original ‘unseen’ footage is becoming ever harder to uncover, which is why the new genre of ‘re-enactors’ being filmed in documentaries is now gaining currency, and though not my favourite production trick I’ll admit, the recent superb Channel 5 series on ‘Heroes of the Skies’ accomplished this with great aplomb, to make a most enjoyable run of programmes.

But this lack of new footage was one of the main reasons Tomahawk Films actively ceased being a WW-II Documentary distributor some 20-odd years ago because every single programme we were being offered increasingly included much the same footage as the previous one, (whatever the WW-II topic being addressed), and we felt we could no longer offer collectors & enthusiasts such a range of apparently ’differing’ documentaries if most were now simply containing the same duplicated footage, time after time.. as that was just not the honourable thing to do..!

However with this superb The Rise and The Fall two-parter by the American New Animal team, they really went the whole hog and not only are their production values quite superb but so much of that I saw in terms of Third Reich archival footage is/was actually new to my eyes. Such a genuine treat and this made it equally exciting for us to see so much our archival music, (12 German tracks supplied in total), being purchased for use on the soundtrack, including a welcome airing for several evocative & spine-tingling tracks from our ever popular Third Reich German Christmas Carols CD..

I was also pleasantly surprised by the producer’s attitude to the doc’s archival music needs in that they also opted for differing tracks from the norm and so also include are lovely dance tracks from our CD ‘Komm mit nach Madeira’:  as performed by Hitler’s favourite band conductor the Hungarian, Barnabas von Géczy, (1897-1971), along with several further emotive tracks from my favourite singer, Ms Lale Andersen as supplied from our Wie einst Lili Marleen CD…

Part one of Third Reich -The Rise has just aired on the Military Channel so I shall now be scanning the TV listings to see when Part Two -The Fall is due to air… hopefully another two hours-worth of really exciting, much unseen & certainly thought-provoking original film footage… and with the appearance of yet more German/Nazi-era period music from the Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive... result!!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012