It has been over 75 years since World War II began, and it would seem that by now every possible aspect of it has been explored. Yet with Nazi Hunters: The Heroes Who Defeated Hitler, the British Broadcasting Corporation have found a unique angle with which to tell the story. The program offers an in-depth look at both the Allied soldiers and the tanks they used to overpower the Axis powers. The descriptions and comparisons between the tanks used by both sides is important in understanding what happened. What really sets this series apart though is the focus on the men in the field.
This being a BBC production, the spotlight is on the British war effort, specifically the men of the Fifth Royal Tank Regiment (5RTR). They even had a nickname, the “Filthy Fifth.” For the program, the Fifth Regiment is broken down to the experiences of six members. Three of the them provide first-hand testimony: Corporal Harry Finlayson, Corporal Bob Lay, and Sergeant Gerry Solomon. Through their diaries and letters to home, we also hear from Second Lieutenant Roy Dixon, Trooper Jake Wardrop, and Lieutenant Arthur Crickmay.
We first meet up with the 5RTR when they are stranded in Cherbourg, France in June 1940, and are waiting for a ship to transport them to Egypt. They made it without incident, but things got ugly when Rommel’s Afrika Korps arrived in early 1941. His battlefield strategies and superior Tiger tanks overwhelmed the Fifth. Only two of the 52 Allied tanks made it to Tobruk after tangling with Rommel. But when the American-made M3 tanks arrived, the situation became much more balanced. After a battlefield visit from Winston Churchill and Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, the Allies drove Rommel out of Africa. This one-hour episode ends in January 1944, with the victorious 5RTR being allowed to go home for a two-week leave.
The second episode commences with the invasion of Normandy, on June 6, 1944. Unfortunately for the battle-hardened 5RTR, their transport ship did not make it until June 7. Even though they missed the D-Day landing, they had a long road ahead of them. One of the obstacles they faced was their new tank, the Cromwell. It was a poor match for those of the Germans, and the troops suffered accordingly. Inch by inch they fought, until they received yet another upgraded tank, the vastly superior Sherman Firefly.
The biggest tank offensive of the war was Operation Goodwood, with over 60,000 men, 1,000 tanks, and 2,000 Allied bombers. By March 1945 the 5RTR were on their way to Hamburg. The Filthy Fifth crossed the Elbe River into Hamburg on May 5, 1945, three days prior to the surrender of Germany. The 11-month battle to get there felt like 11 years, but the war was finally over for these brave men.
Nazi Hunters: The Heroes Who Defeated Hitler has just been released to DVD, and it is one hell of a story.