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United States History in Streaming Documentary Films: World War II 1939–1945

World War II 1939–1945

FDR: The War Years
"Reelected by a landslide in 1936, Franklin Roosevelt won unprecedented third and fourth terms in 1940 and 1944. Having maintained neutrality in the face of European hostilities his administration began supplying arms to the allies by 1940 and then led the nation into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Having seen the nation through the war, Roosevelt died less than four weeks before the German surrender."

The War: A Ken Burns Film

A Necessary War (December 1941–December 1942)
"After a haunting overview of the Second World War in episode 1, A Necessary War, Ken Burns takes us to back to the moment it all began. The inhabitants of four American towns recall life in their communities on the eve of the conflict. For them others finally beginning to recover from the Great Depression, the events overseas seem impossibly far away. But suddenly, their tranquil lives are shattered by the shock of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and an utterly unprepared America is thrust into the greatest cataclysm in history. At the end of America’s first year of war, more than 35,000 U.S. troops have been killed."

When Things Get Tough (January 1943–December 1943)
"It is now January 1943. Americans have been at war for more than a year. In When Things Got Tough, Ken Burns explores the state of the world during this tumultuous second year. The Germans, with their vast war machine, are still occupying most of Western Europe and the Allies have not agreed on a timetable to dislodge them. American troops are now ashore in North Africa ready to test themselves for the first time against the German and Italian armies. Most chilling…thousands of soldiers have now adopted the idea that'“killing is a craft,' as reporter Ernie Pyle explains to the readers back home. In cities such as Mobile and Waterbury, nearly all manufacturing is converted to the war effort. And in Europe, thousands of American airmen are asked to gamble their lives against preposterous odds. Episode 2 ends as 1943 comes to a close: Allied leaders plan for the invasion of the Europe, Hitler strengthens his coastal defenses, and back home, things are getting tougher still."

A Deadly Calling (November 1943–June 1944)
"In episode 3, A Deadly Calling, Ken Burns revisits the fall of 1943, when Life publishes a photograph of the bodies of three GIs killed in action and the American public sees the terrible toll of war for the first time. And despite American victories in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, the Japanese empire still stretches across 4,000 miles. In Europe, the killing goes on all winter and spring until Allied soldiers finally break through to liberate Rome. Through historic footage and interviews, the program journeys to the battlefields and back home again as the public is devastated by newsreel footage of the furious conflict. Violence explodes as Americans grow more determined to do whatever is necessary to hasten the end of the war. Meanwhile, the long-delayed invasion of France is now just days away."

Pride of Our Nation (June 1944–August 1944)
'By June 1944, there are signs on both sides of the world that the tide is turning. Through historic footage and interviews, Ken Burns’ Pride of Our Nation brings us to June 6: D-Day. A million and a half Allied troops embark on one of the greatest military operations in history—the invasion of France. It is the bloodiest day for America since the Civil War. In the Pacific, Marines encounter Japanese civilians who, like their soldiers, seem resolved to die for their emperor rather than surrender. And back at home, Americans remain glued to the radio, watching newsreels, and scanning casualty lists. Finally, in late July, Allied forces break out of the hedgerows of Normandy, and after four years of Nazi occupation, Paris is liberated."

FUBAR (September 1944–December 1944)
"By September 1944, the Allies seemed to be moving steadily toward victory in Europe. General Dwight Eisenhower’s chief of staff tells the press, “This war is over.” In episode 5, FUBAR, Ken Burns explores the coming months when a generation of young men will learn a lesson as old as war itself—generals make plans, plans go wrong, and soldiers die. American soldiers are ordered into some of Germany’s most forbidding terrain. And in the Pacific, General Douglas MacArthur is poised to retake the Philippines at Leyte, and although the nearby island of Peleliu holds little tactical value, the Marines are ordered to take it anyway. It is a battle expected to last four days but drags on for over two months. At home, Americans cheer the newsreels of General MacArthur “returning,” but soon it becomes painfully clear that the war will not end before winter. "

The Ghost Front (December 1944–March 1945)
"By December 1944, Americans had grown weary of the war: the stream of newspaper headlines telling of new losses and telegrams bearing bad news seemed endless. In episode 6, The Ghost Front, Ken Burns explores the unpredictable and unnerving months toward the near-end of the war. In the Pacific, American progress had been slow and costly, while in Europe, no one was prepared for the massive counterattack Hitler launches in the Ardennes forest of Belgium and Luxemburg. Back home, newspapers cover the Battle of the Bulge as citizens begin to wonder if victory can truly be won. In March, Allied warplanes drop 185,640 tons of bombs on Germany—more than in any other month of the war—and Marines face 21,000 Japanese defenders who are ordered to kill as many Americans as possible. In the coming months, Allied bombings set Japan’s cities ablaze, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving millions homeless. But by the middle of March 1945, the end of the war in Europe finally seems imminent."

A World Without War (March 1945–September 1945)
"The final episode, A World Without War, is Ken Burns’ extraordinary look at the final months of WWII. In spring 1945, President Franklin Roosevelt warns Americans that although the Nazis are on the verge of collapse, the battle with Japan could stretch on for years. But in April, Roosevelt suddenly dies and another horror unfolds in Europe: Allied forces rapidly push across Germany and discover the true horrors of the Nazi’s industrialized barbarism—concentration camps. On May 8, with Germany in ruins and their fuehrer dead, the Nazis surrender. But the fight against Japan grinds on until August 1945 when President Harry Truman orders the use of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, forcing rulers of Japan to admit defeat. In the following months and years, millions of young men return home to pick up the pieces of their lives and try to learn how to live in a world without war."


A Nation at War
"This video journey focuses on the entrance of the United States into World War II. Discover that although the war was fought overseas, Americans worked on the home front to support the troops and life in the United States changed as a result."

Taking the Offensive
"The road to Allied victory in World War II proved to be long, hard, and bloody. Consider the debates over the use of the atomic bomb that forced Japan's surrender on the Pacific front."

"Mired in the Great Depression, America’s economy revved up with the onset of World War II—an event that would dramatically reshape the nation and its socioeconomic landscape. This program delves into the WWII era with attention to the role of women and African-Americans, the use of new military technologies, and the enormous impact of this period on the standing of the U.S. in the world order."


(A Nation at War)