The Secret War (TV series)

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The Secret War was a seven–part television series produced by the BBC in conjunction with the Imperial War Museum documenting various technical developments during the Second World War. It was aired during 1977 and presented by William Woollard. The programme opening music was an excerpt from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition. The closing music was by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The 'seventh' episode (The Battle of the Atlantic) often included with video versions of the series was not part of the original series but produced separately.


Episode 1 "The Battle of the Beams"[edit]

This episode documented how British Intelligence became aware of various German Luftwaffe Navigation Beams, such as Knickebein, X Gerat and Y Gerat, and the countermeasures developed to combat them, in what became known as the Battle of the Beams. It is largely based on the book Most Secret War written by R.V. Jones who features heavily in the series. This programme contains rare footage of The Blitz including the bombing of Coventry. Interviewees include Albert Speer and AVM Edward Addison.

Episode 2 "To See A Hundred Miles"[edit]

Covers the development of radar from its first discovery to the creation of the Chain Home system in time for the Battle of Britain, and the subsequent development of the cavity magnetron.

The programme goes on to explain how British Intelligence learnt of German radar developments, including Freya, Wurzburg radar systems and the British raid at Bruneval to capture a Wurzburg system.

This episode also contains details of the RAF's Bomber offensive electronic warfare with the German Luftwaffe, using devices such as Window, Gee, Oboe, H2S and Airborne Interception radar.

It features interviews and demonstrations with amongst others R.V. Jones, Arnold Wilkins, John Randall and Harry Boot, Bernard Lovell, Donald Bennett, and Richard Philipp. Albert Speer also appears talking about the Bombing of Hamburg.

Episode 3 "Terror Weapons"[edit]

This programme uncovers the development of Adolf Hitler's vengeance weapons and how British Authorities became aware of the menace and what actions were taken to prevent and delay their use. It features rare footage of the V1, the V2 and the bombing of Peenemunde, as well as details of Operation Most III, along with interviews featuring R.V. Jones, Duncan Sandys, Albert Speer, Constance Babington Smith, Roland Beamont, Janusz Groszkowski and Raymond Baxter.

Episode 4 "The Deadly Waves"[edit]

In in-depth look into the magnetic mine and the countermeasures developed to overcome it, including degaussing, and an interview with Lt Cdr John Ouvry from HMS Vernon, who defuzed the first intact German magnetic mine on the sands at Shoeburyness found by the British, the actual preserved mine that he recovered being featured in a re-enactment for the episode.

Features interviews with Cmdr. John Ouvry, Capt. Roger Lewis, Sir Charles Goodeve, Sir Edward Bullard, and Donald Henley.

Episode 5 "If"[edit]

This episode showcases certain inventions which either never became operational, or their deployment was significantly delayed, therefore leaving one only to imagine what could have happened 'if' certain developments had become into widespread use.

It features many inventions such as the Messerschmitt Me 321 and Messerschmitt Me 323, various contraptions intended to help the Invasion of Normandy including the Panjandrum and PLUTO, the Bachstelze autogyro, early helicopters, British and German bouncing bomb developments, the Henschel Hs 293, the Messerschmitt Me 163 and Jet aircraft developments such as the Gloster E.28/39, Messerschmitt Me 262 and Gloster Meteor.

Interviewees include Hanna Reitsch, Adolf Galland, Frank Whittle, Stanley Hooker, Constance Babington Smith, and Albert Speer.

Episode 6 "Still Secret"[edit]

Covers the story of the Enigma Code and the Lorenz cipher and how, after valuable initial work by the Polish Intelligence service BS4, and the French, they were broken at Bletchley Park, including some information on the Colossus computer which was still classified at the time the programme was made. It explains how the codes were broken and how the information was used.

Features interviews with Gordon Welchman, Harry Golombek, Peter Calvocoressi, F. W. Winterbotham, Max Newman, Jack Good and Tommy Flowers.

Episode 7 "The Battle of the Atlantic"[edit]

A detailed look into history, the technical developments and tactics used by both Allied and Axis sides during this long and difficult campaign, featuring such innovations as Asdic, Type 271 radar, wolfpacks, Cam Fighters, Hedgehog, Huff-Duff, US Blimps, ASV radar, the Leigh light, Metox, Naval H2S radar, Submarine snorkels and escort carriers.

Contributions from Donald Macintyre, Patrick Beesly, Carl Emmermann, Humphrey de Verd Leigh, Hans Meckel and Bernard Lovell.

Although included in video versions of The Secret War as a seventh episode, this last programme was not made as part of the actual series and was aired separately from The Secret War when first shown. The completely different introduction; title music and credits betrays this (particularly as 'The Secret War' does not appear in the title sequence anywhere, unlike the other 6 episodes).


Produced in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum the programme credited contributions from:

Historical adviser for the series was Alfred Price.

See also[edit]