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Timewatch: Revisiting Omaha - discussion

Updated Thursday 20th December 2007

John Farren chairs a discussion about the difficulties of making accurate TV history, taking the Timewatch Bloody Omaha programme as a starting point.

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John Farren: Hello, I’m John Farren, Editor of the BBC flagship history series Timewatch. In this podcast, we’re going to be going deeper to explore some of the historical issues involved with making the Timewatch programme Bloody Omaha and what's involved in historical research and background to such a programme. With me, in the studio, to discuss this, I have Dan Todman from Queen Mary University, a historian of war, Simon Trew, the Bloody Omaha Programme Consultant from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and Stuart Mitchell, an historian with the Open University.

Bloody Omaha is a sixty minute programme presented by Richard Hammond, which looks basically at what happened on Omaha Beach. It’s as simple as that. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to make for about nine years and was essentially precluded from doing by the big anniversary of D-Day. Where everyone told every story, apart from this story, which to me goes right to the heart of the matter. Because D-Day was not expected to be a walk over; indeed, it was expected to come very close to failing. And it did come quite close to failing I think at Omaha. Is that right, Simon?

Simon Trew: Well, I mean, certainly, I think one thing that's not been commonly understood is the level of casualties which the Allies expected to sustain on D-Day. If we look at First Army’s report of operations from October ’43 to August ’44, we can see that they actually thought they’d suffer about 12,500 casualties on D-Day, and probably as many as 6,000 of them at Omaha Beach, and that's one of the points that we make in the programme, and I think that's probably the first time that that point’s actually been made.

John Farren: So it was a damn close run thing?

Simon Trew: Well, potentially so. I mean it’s quite difficult to imagine D-Day failing with the benefit of hindsight, and certain things have to happen on D-Day for there to be a disaster. Probably the Allies have to be kicked off at two separate places; Omaha being one, perhaps, and maybe the British Airborne landing at the eastern end of the bridgehead. If those two things had happened, and they might have happened – it’s very difficult to prove that they could have done but they might have done – then we might be looking at a very different scenario playing out.

John Farren: I guess it goes to the heart of the relationship between the media and history, but for me, to consider commissioning it, I need to be able to ask you that question and think I’m going to get response that says yes it might have unravelled, but for you, to keep your credibility, you have to kind of say well steady on. And what's interesting, I suppose, for me about this programme is the reason I wanted to commission was based on a piece of research or a piece of work that turned out not to be probably quite as presented, or maybe you could tell us about the archaeological find and then we’ll bring Dan in.

Simon Trew: Yes, well, a couple of years ago, a very interesting chap called Gary Sturm, who owns a certain amount of property in Normandy, started to excavate on the site of a German battery position a few miles to the west of Omaha Beach at a place called Maisy, and at the time, quite understandably, he was very excited about the discovery and got quite a lot of media attention, national press in the UK in particular. And certainly the work that he’s done there in excavating the site is tremendously important, but perhaps, as we look at it a little bit more detailed, we’re yet to establish with certainty the relationship between that place and the events on Omaha Beach.

So, perhaps, at the moment, it’s being talked up in a way which is understandable but I think we’re still a way away from knowing just how important that location is.

John Farren: However, it’s the reason that it kind of grabbed my attention this time around. Dan, what does that say to you about it?

Dan Todman: Well, I think that's partly about how history is being presented in the media, across all media forms today, and that shapes the form of television documentaries.

John Farren: Did it work for you as a programme?

Dan Todman: Yes. I think the shape, there are a lot of different bits of information in this episode of Timewatch, but I think it manages to get across, not only what happened on Omaha but what might have happened, the different explanations, the different points of view historians take. But also the personal stories of what it felt like to be on Omaha Beach, and I think managing to bridge that gap between the individual and the broader narrative is something that’s very difficult. I mean that's difficult for all forms of popular history, I think, and to manage that and retain academic respectability is particularly hard.

John Farren: Tell me about it. Stuart Mitchell, from the Open University, do you think that the personal element of television swamps proper history, or do you think that sometimes we get it right?

Stuart Mitchell: Well, I think, in the case of Timewatch, more often than not you do get it right, but there is, I suppose, a pull towards tendency to reduce history to personal elements because that's what appeals to the widest possible audience. In this case, you have very judicially balanced the stories of the veterans, which are very evocative of the scenario that they encountered when they first landed, with some really good solid hard historical primary evidence. But that's an extraordinarily difficult balancing act to maintain. This programme does it, most of the Timewatch series, I think, does it very well, but a great deal of history programmes do tend towards perhaps the slightly mawkish.

John Farren: That's a good word isn’t it because I mean you really do want it being the difference between evocation and mawkishness. I suppose, it is quite a difficult line to walk. I mean, one thing we haven’t talked about is the choice of presenter. We discussed using Simon. Basically it is Simon’s academic quest through the programme, and Simon’s well capable of carrying a programme. We’d been asked specifically by BBC2 to explore broadening our appeal and so we thought, you know what, Richard Hammond we know is really interested in this area of history and heroism, let’s see what happens when we take someone like that, and I think it was a surprise for the Open University.

Stuart Mitchell: It was, yes. I think we on the whole thought it was, we were surprised. I suppose, at first glance, we might have even been slightly disappointed, but I understand that you have to create a constituency for yourselves, and of course the Open University wants to create a constituency that's going draw more people into studying with us, so from that point of view it’s a very good thing. But it is a bit of a shock to have somebody who is renowned for, in effect, presenting a very popular and broadly based programme which is, I suppose, appeals mainly to men, presenting something that is a serious piece of academic history. That said, I suppose – and perhaps I’m wrong here – the type of audience that watches Top Gear, being sort of men into machines and so forth, might also be interested to watch a history programme which is again about men shooting each other up and so on.

John Farren: Strangely enough, he appeals to women, also, which is kind of part of the reason. I think that the programme on Dunkirk, last year, two years ago, actually got a very large mixed audience, and my wife, whose father was at Dunkirk, who would never watch a war programme, sat down and watched it. And I guess I was trying to get something of that feeling into this film where you’re really, really moved. Simon?

Simon Trew: Well, I mean it’s a tremendously emotional story, and one thing that struck me very strongly was the emotional ride within the programme. That it builds up to a sort of plateau of emotion and then drops away a little bit, and then it builds up again at the end. You know, the first time I’d seen it in its cut, I found a real lump in the throat moment at the end when it pans back from Coleville Cemetery and, in particular, the connection between the images, the way that it’s presented visually on the programme and of course the veterans saying they remember these individuals as human beings. And they remember them as human beings rather than as soldiers, and that comes out immensely strongly at the end of the programme I thought.

Dan Todman: The history of war in the 20th Century is not just the history of men, it’s the history of men and women, and I think particularly as the Second World War becomes recorded as an event in family history, there's space there for it to be of concern to groups in the population who aren’t traditionally supposed to be interested in war. And, actually, I thought one of the things the programme did very well was despite, you know, there's a narrative of war that's about technology and machines, and I was certainly apprehensive when I saw that Richard Hammond would be presenting, that that was the story that was going to be told. That, if you’re looking to attract petrol heads, then it will be about jeeps and tanks and things like that, and actually I thought it avoided that very well.

John Farren: Stuart, what were you going to say?

Stuart Mitchell: Well, I think what Simon says ties into some of the material that you were employing, which actually went beyond, as Dan said, simply the nuts and bolts of war, if you like. Archive footage is used particularly well and gives a great sense of perhaps what it was like on the journey across. But also there are lots of incidentals there. There are the photographs that the Government wanted ordinary British citizens to send into them so they’d get an idea of what the coastline of Normandy was like. So that sort of thing, I think, probably will appeal to an audience beyond, as Dan said, the petrol heads who just want to see the calibre of certain guns and how many people died here and so on and so forth.

John Farren: I think that television does emotion better than anything else, really. I mean we don’t do facts and figures very well. The reason I think the producer of this particular programme, James Hayes, did so well, just kind of recapping what you’ve all said, I think, is that he gets that blend of, there’s lot of information, a lot of very complex information in here and emotion. But, Simon, when we approached you, I mean what do you feel when somebody approaches you to say come and tell us this incredibly complex story; we’re going to have 8,000 words to do it in?

Simon Trew: Yes, no, I mean it’s a big problem and I think it’s illustrative of a much broader issue in the history of the Second World War and representing it, whether it be on television or some other form of media, which is that these are phenomenally complex stories, about which a great deal has been written, but actually an awful lot of it is repetitive and an awful lot of it actually excludes areas of ongoing research or new research. And of course my instant reaction was oh this is Saving Private Ryan sort of territory and it’ll be convenient and it’ll be conventional, rather than perhaps casting light on some of the things that have perhaps, on the basis of a current research, are becoming clearer to us.

But, when we’re looking at something like the Normandy Campaign or Omaha Beach, these are stories that we think we know extremely well. You know, there are any number of books on Omaha Beach that either are focused exclusively on Omaha or are included as a large part of their material. Stephen Ambrose’s book for example on D-Day, a third of the book is on Omaha Beach; although, ostensibly, it’s about D-Day as a whole. And I think that there are great big chunks of the history of the Second World War that we thing we know tremendously well but actually where there's still enormous amount of work to be done.

And I think one thing that's interesting to me in this programme is that, I think the programme is brilliant, but as it goes through I’m thinking, yes, I don’t agree with that, and so I’m very conscious that there's still an ongoing debate about the things that have been brought out in this programme. There's much more work still to be done, essentially.

John Farren: Dan Todman, from Queen Mary University, historian of war, were there surprises in this film for you?

Dan Todman: The story of the Rangers being diverted from Pointe Du Hoc and coming on the beach, and the idea that that was one of the key points that made a difference, was not something that I think I was fully aware of that this was being seen as a decisive moment. I'm interested to ask Simon really how decisive he thinks it was. I think also just the focus on, I think one of the ways that this programme works very well visually I think is the camera angles on the beach get across how high those bluffs are, relative to the beach, which I think is one of, in terms of explaining potential disaster on Omaha, it’s the geography of the beach that's really important. And I thought that conveyed it to me in a way that actually I hadn’t seen on other television programmes about Omaha and D-Day.

Simon, tell us more about the Rangers. How much difference does their arrival make?

John Farren: Just to Simon, I’m just going to interject there to say that we haven’t rehearsed this. This is the jeopardy of live radio even though it’s a podcast. So, Simon, if you say not at all important, I’m going to put down my microphone and leave the room.

Simon Trew: Reverse my position entirely, yes. I mean it’s a glorious example of what that great, famous passion philosopher, von Clausewitz, called ‘friction’, the tendency of things to go not according to plan. And most soldiers tend to see friction as a negative effect upon war because they spend hours, days, weeks planning things relentlessly, they accumulate equipment, they brief people and so forth, and then it all goes wrong. And they tend to see it in those terms, it goes wrong. But, of course, something which commandos of real capability appreciate is that friction, as well as creating unforeseen problems, creates unanticipated opportunities, and this is precisely what happens at Omaha Beach.

Yes, it’s bad news for the Ranger assault force that go ashore at Pointe Du Hoc that they don’t get 500 reinforcements, and they have a pretty bleak time holding the Pointe Du Hoc position after they’ve seized it for a couple of days. But what's bad news for them is extremely good news for the traumatised survivors of the 116th Infantry Regiment who’d gone ashore in the opening waves at the western end of Omaha Beach. And, of course, Omaha Beach is a big place; it’s 7,000 metres long. And the idea that events on Omaha hinge on upon the arrival of 500 or thereabouts Rangers at a particular time or place would be an exaggeration.

So what we’ve got in this programme is not the complete story of Omaha Beach. It pretty much ignores, as it has to, the events at the eastern half of Omaha Beach, where very few of 29th Division soldiers go ashore and no Rangers go ashore, and yet things are unlocked there in terms of breaking through the German defences and so forth. But the western end of Omaha Beach, and this is the point we make in the programme, was very, very bad. It was bad pretty much everywhere but the western end was particularly problematical.

It’s also a point at which, during the evening, German counterattacks begin to develop a little bit of momentum. And I very much believe that the conclusion of the programme – which is the Rangers arrival there both unlocks the German defences and also then helps to secure that end of the beach against German counterattacks – is a truly robust one. I think, you know, it stands the weight of examination.

Dan Todman: And that goes back in some ways to what we were talking about in terms of what can you do with a history programme, that you can’t tell the whole story of Omaha Beach, it’s too big. But I thought in terms of concepts and themes the idea of contingency in military history, it got to grips with that very well.

John Farren: Stuart?

Stuart Mitchell: One other thing on, we’re talking about the matter of contingency. If there was a slight omission in the programme, perhaps, from my point of view, is it that the reasons for the failing of the aerial assault perhaps needed to be fleshed out a bit. I realise obviously you’re working with a very compressed timeframe there. Well, we’re told obviously that it fails or it doesn’t happen perhaps as it should, but would you care to go into a little bit more detail about why that is?

Simon Trew: Yes, I mean the aerial bombardment was a key part of the preparation for the Normandy invasion everywhere. It’s not just at Omaha Beach and hundreds and hundreds of aircraft are committed, in fact thousands if you include the British and the American planes together at all places. But, essentially, the American Air Force who made the contribution at Omaha here, they are the ones who make the decisions on when and where they’re going to drop their bombs. This is something which is left to them as the experts in doing it. And there's great concern that if they drop their bombs too early that they will fall amongst the leading assault waves. So they build in a little bit of slack because of the poor weather conditions when they can’t see their targets and, as a result, they drop their bombs some distance in land. Now, if you’re flying an aircraft at a couple of hundred miles an hours, you only need to delay the dropping of the bombs by a matter of a few seconds and you’ve got the bombs landing in a place where they’re not actually killing any Germans at all.

John Farren: I think what I particularly liked, and again I think it’s important not to labour the point, you don’t want to ram things don’t the audiences’ throat, particularly the Timewatch audience because they’re very clever. But there's a terrible kind of modern resonance that the American military planners say we can drop a bomb in a pickle barrel at night from 20,000 feet. And one just thinks back to some of the scenes that we’ve seen with smart bombing over the last two decades and you just kind of think, "plus ça change."

Shall we move on now to looking at a kind of more general theme which is World War Two programmes. I mean, around the table really. Too many of them? Why do we make so many of them? Should we make so many of them? Let’s start with you, Dan.

Dan Todman: I don’t think there's a problem of there being too much interest in the Second World War. I mean there's nobody who works on the history of warfare seems to think that's bad because that means that we get employment. And also, in terms of teaching, it’s a hugely popular subject with students. I think there is an issue to do with quality and the historical echo effect, which is that in a way because it’s so close, because it’s known to be a subject where you will get viewers, that it can be comparatively easy, not just television programming but books, can be comparatively easy in media text to produce. You go to the Imperial War Museum and or the National Archives and ask them for their key D-Day images and it’s the same ones that will come time and time again. And I think one of the things that you become aware of quite quickly when you work on the Second World War is how much work there still is to be done, historically, on great big chunks of it. That, if you say that you’re a historian who researches World War Two, the normal reaction’s well surely there can’t be more to write. But, actually, I think there big gaps in our historical knowledge about that. And there can be a positive interaction between the public interest and the historic academic field in that way, if that public interest is used as a driver.

John Farren: Simon Trew, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, too much World War Two?

Simon Trew: Well, I mean it’s interesting isn’t it because, of course, we have this impression, perhaps, and I don’t think it’s an illegitimate one, maybe, from certain people’s points of view. But, of course, we have great chunks of the Second World War about which we don’t tend to make television programmes. You know, China’s role in the Second World War. You know, here’s a truly vast operational theatre. I can’t remember seeing a programme recently at least on China in the Second World War. Great chunks of the war on the Eastern Front, again, you know, Anthony Beaver popularises Stalingrad or maybe the battle of Berlin and so forth, but I bet if you went out there and asked most people name another Eastern Front battle, they’d struggle. They might come up with Kursk or something like that, but that's probably about as far as it would go.

And, again, even when we come to areas like Normandy, as I was saying, we think we know Normandy backwards. We’ve had, I don’t know how many books but an awful lot on D-Day and plenty more on the Normandy Campaign, and yet there are great yawning chasms. Not least because the records of the time are actually pretty poor for the most part. War diaries tend to be written by sort of exhausted intelligence officers who are adjutant several days after the events described, especially if they’re in combat units, as opposed to support units.

The Americans had some very good combat historians. Guys who were actually trained university academics, who put on uniforms, took on fairly lowly ranks sometimes. Staff Sergeant Forrest Pogue, one of the greatest American historians of the Second World War but he took on the rank of a Staff Sergeant so that he could talk to ordinary guys as well as to officers. And the Americans were quite good at capturing that kind of information and it’s a really important primary source for this, for Omaha Beach, but it’s absolutely necessary because the guys on Omaha Beach weren’t particularly interested in keeping detailed signals logs or war diaries of grid references of where they were at a given moment, not least because they didn’t know themselves.

John Farren: Stuart Mitchell, from the Open University, do we exclude a significant part of the audience, of the available audience by choices like Bloody Omaha do you think?

Stuart Mitchell: Well, I suppose, as a non-military historian, I feel slightly conflicted about this. Like Dan and Simon, I fully accept that there are vast areas of the Second World War that we don’t know enough about but I think, to answer the question about whether or not there's too much on the Second World War on television, I think there's not enough good stuff and far too much stuff which is, as I said earlier, mawkish and personalised and not really integrated within a string academic framework.

That said, I think the Second World War, certainly, if it’s constructed or the narrative is constructed in the way that you’ve done it here, so you actually are bringing in individual personal testimonies from the veterans, the types of primary source, like the reconnaissance photographs, the references to the British Army constructing its fake invasion force in Kent and so on and so forth. That sort of humanises it but at the same time constructs it within a more solid and robust academic framework, and that can, I hope, appeal enough to both historians and also to the general public.

But there is I think, and there always is going to be, a certain part of the historical community, perhaps, and certainly sort of the passive consumers of history who will say, no, no thanks we’ve had enough of war in general and perhaps the Second World War in particular. I don’t know whether you can get over that hurdle and make the Second World War interesting to them all over again but I suspect that that’s still quite a minor part of the audience so it’s perhaps not too much of a problem.

John Farren: Simon Trew.

Simon Trew: I was just wondering what, in particular, what Stuart thought about the fact that the Second World War is perhaps perceived, quite widely, as still a good war. You know, the bad guys wear the black hats and the SS Runes and that kind of stuff, and at a time when we seemed to be bogged down in wars that aren’t perhaps generally seen as good wars, and they also appear unwinnable, unlike again something like the Second World War, whether this makes the media, generally, like to tell stories of the Second World War. You know, Tom Brokaw’s Greatest Generation and things like that in The States, they have a market now because of the environment, the world that we’re living in.

Stuart Mitchell: Absolutely, I think that's very much the case. It’s a very useful counterpoint for all media to say look, well not particularly perhaps those who are doubtful of the sense and - what's the word I’m looking for?

John Farren: Legitimacy.

Stuart Mitchell: That's it, legitimacy of perhaps some operations that are going on in certain parts of the World today. So, to use the Second World War as a counterpoint, this was a good war for true and noble causes and can justify it philosophically and so forth. So it’s a very useful way of setting up what I think is possibly a slightly false Manichean differentiation between that and what is currently is going on, perhaps, in the areas of the Middle East and so forth.

So I think it’s a useful tool but I think, by using it in that way, we perhaps miss out on some of the subtleties of the Second World War and certainly some of the stories which this programme, amongst others, has endeavoured to uncover. But, as you rightly said, more work needs to be done and it would be great to see some programmes about the Eastern Front and some of the brutalities that went on there, and perhaps then we’d move to a position where the more nuance the public understanding of the Second World War perhaps wouldn’t seem quite such a rosy glow.

John Farren: I think, keep waiting, Lawrence Reece has a major six-part series coming out that will address some of what you’re talking about. I think it’s a really important point, though. I think that having a touchstone of consensus that sits so centrally to our own recent history that the history of America, of Britain, of all of pretty much Western Europe, in which even the Germans acknowledge that they’re glad they lost that war, that they were the bad guys, that's very, very rare. And I think that actually underpins the television apposite for history because you can have simple certainties. It’s very different, strangely, in Spain, where I was speaking a couple of weeks ago, they have very little television history. And I think the reason for that is, sitting central to their recent histories, massively non-consensual war, which still resonates and still divides communities. So I do think more it is important for our mythology of our history.

Dan Todman: I think culturally the Second World War’s tremendously morally easy for Britain and America, as Simon was saying, and to a degree that hides the geopolitical rationale behind Britain’s entry to that conflict but it actually forms a barrier I think in some ways to our more detailed understanding. I thought it was very interesting that were no German veterans speaking in the programme. You know, we don’t really cope with the moral issue of what does it mean to fight and to kill in a war, on both sides.

John Farren: Purely a matter of time and resource, actually. We started looking for them and then we realised we’ve only got sixty minutes. But I agree, in most of our films, we try to have the guys who were shooting at each other, or the women, indeed, who were shooting at each other on the Eastern front. You know, we try and reflect both sides. But I think you’re right that is a slight omission. And I’d just like to come on to the broader point though that, when you read the speeches that were made in Parliament at the outset of the war, it’s very clear that ‘Empire’ is what this war kind of meant to the British Parliament, and we’ve lost that sense completely I think. I was really shocked by it.

Dan Todman: I think the War, even before it begins, is being set up in some parts of British culture as a war of good against evil. And if you look at the way the British Left, both the intellectual Left and the unions, thought about the experience of the Left in Germany and in Spain, they saw the threat to their very existence from Fascism and Nazism. So there is that sort of Manchurian divide is there I think before the War. But, in terms of why September 1939, rather than a different moment to fight, that’s just a very contingent circumstances that are to do with the development of the war economy and, as you say, the defence of the Empire.

Now it’s not surprising in a way that gets subsumed even during the War into a dialogue about good and evil. Because saying we’re fighting to preserve a version of Britain which is widely perceived as unequal but it’s okay, it’s not a great rallying call to immobilise the country for total war. It has to be here is a fight against ultimate evil. Which it is as well.

Simon Trew: And things have to be brought down to a lowest common denominator when you have a peculiar marriage, the most bizarre allowance, both domestically and internationally. I mean how else do you sell a war when you’ve got one of the most corrupt regimes in the World, the Chinese, when you’ve got a Bolshevik regime, you’ve got the American version of democracy and you’ve got the Americans thinking that we’re the worst Imperialists in the World, worst than Stalin, indeed, so it’s a difficult problem.

John Farren: For a terrible moment, when you were talking about lowest common denominator and a marriage of miscegenation, I thought you were talking about television and history - gladly not the case. Kind of final thoughts really, you’ve touched there really on the difference. You are history professionals and I am a television professional who kind of dabbles in history. I find it fascinating, but I'm always thinking about what can the broader audience take away from this, and we try not to have the barrier to entry so high that only a specialist will come and watch the programme. But at the same time you want people to take away something genuinely new and surprising. Do you think we achieved that in this programme, Stuart?

Stuart Mitchell: Yes, I think you do. Although, I suspect, there are one or two areas of the programme which are going to be a bit tough for the lay person but on the whole I think there's enough to sustain them through it. If they’re going to take away anything from the programme I hope that it is, here’s a sort of direct challenge to the predominant Hollywood myth, if you like, of gallant heroism in the face of overwhelming odds and so forth. And this presents a much more nuance, a much more sensible academically robust scenario, narrative, if you like, and I hope that that will filter through to the audience. I hope the audience will take that away and to perhaps revise the dominant impression of how D-Day was fought.

John Farren: Dan Todman?

Dan Todman: I think academic history and television history are different things. Televisions history is of some really quite very specialised skills because it feeds of the visual, and it seems to be that you can’t have the expectation as an academic that you can tell the whole story in the space of an hour of TV, which is such a limited number of words. What I think you have to aim to do is not just to tell the same stories again to make people think, and if you can make the audience think, both about what the purpose of history is and about the specific event that you’re looking at, then that's a great function to fulfil, not just for the individual but for society as a whole, actually.

And one of the benefits of modern technology is that you can then be backed up. I mean, thinking back to historical documentaries, I mean I think the writers and producers of those ground breaking series, like The Great War and The World at War, would have given the hind teeth for the chance to talk in more depth to an audience after the programme itself, to explain this is what we got right and what we got wrong. I think, if there's something for the audience to take away, it’s that point you made earlier about contingency. I thought Simon’s point about friction being both a positive and negative thing is a really useful one to think about.

John Farren: Simon, always a risk, when you sign up for a television programme as a reputable academic, what were you most happy with what you think the audience will take away from it?

Simon Trew: Well, I’m happy that we’ve made some new or at least made things clearer to people then perhaps they’ve been seen as for decades now. Joe Balkowski’s work on establishing the number of people who became casualties at Omaha, most people won’t know that. I got a book through the post, literally yesterday, a recent French work on D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, and it sticks with the old figures taken from the American official history of the 1950s, for example. So it’s still being regurgitated out there, and I think Joe’s work there is important. I think emphasising the role of the Rangers is an important point to make, and no doubt will be welcomed in the Ranger community, indeed.

So I think that we are sort of making some things clearer than they have been perhaps for sixty plus years. But, it’s like so many of these things, I mean my sort of sense about a programme like this is that the key is getting the audience hooked, interested, wanting to find out more, so that they will go away and they’ll go on websites and they’ll look for work by the historians mentioned and so forth. I mean I’m very conscious, having come out of this programme, of just how much work still needs to be done on Omaha. There are things in that programme that have got me thinking and wanting to clarify a little further. In particular, for example, Steve Zaloga comments on the importance of German artillery in causing casualties at Omaha. Something I happen to disagree with. But, I suppose, where we’re at is we’re still not that final documentary about Omaha. We’re still not the final book about Omaha. These are yet to be written.

John Farren: Yes, I think that's kind of what I’m most proud of in this programme is that you get a sense of how history works. But even though you’re clearly the touchstone, you’re the consultant and you appear in the programme, and clearly we’re giving an awful lot of weight to your opinions, there are moments when people who disagree with your thesis are allowed to speak and you actually see that's how history works. It’s not that dissimilar from peer review or the scientific process in some respects, and I’m really proud of that in this film and actually in what we’ve been trying to of in Timewatch, I think that your point about history communities, Dan, that is what's exciting about where the new technology is taking us. That we don’t say, sit back, Timewatch is going to tell you a story, that's it, it’s over. That, you know, this very podcast and the Open University’s discussion forum that will have been running by the time people are listening to this for a number of weeks, those are part of contributing to the story, and that's I think brilliant.

Well, thank you very much. My thanks to Dan Todman from Queen Mary University, Historian of War, to Stuart Mitchell from the Open University, and to Simon Trew, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, who was the Programme Consultant for Bloody Omaha. And my name’s John Farren and I’m the Editor of BBC Timewatch. This has been a BBC Worldwide Production for the Open University.

 

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