“Dunkirk” Trailer 

This week saw the release of the first trailer for director Christopher Nolan’s movie based on the Dunkirk evacuation. While the trailer doesn’t reveal too much it does give a sense that it will be a high quality film.

Take a look for yourself.

It isn’t the first movie to be made specifically about the evacuation. A 1958 movie starring Richard Attenborough and John Mills also faithfully tells the story of this remarkable chapter of history so if you can’t wait for the new movie then seek that out. You won’t be disappointed.

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Training Film: Officers and Men (1944)

Officers and Men

In August 1944 the British Army commissioned a training film instructing new officers on how best to lead their men. For a new officer joining the ranks so late in the war it must have been a daunting task to lead men in to combat especially if those men had already seen action and the officer hadn’t.

You can view the whole fascinating film on Forces.TV by clicking on the link below.

http://bcove.me/c7vbjhvf

Wings (Series 1) – BBC Drama

Wings BBC

Like Downton Abbey but thought it could do with more aeroplanes? Then this is the show for you. Wings was produced by the BBC in 1977 and was given a second series the following year. The first series followed the exploits of a young blacksmith named Alan Farmer who has dreams of flying aeroplanes even though his father was killed in a plane crash a few years earlier.

With the outbreak of war he joins the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) befriending the mischievous Charles Gallion (whose name gets twisted in to “Gay Lion”) who comes from a distinguished military background but is more suited to the more casual RFC. The two of them are trained to fly by the stout and battle hardened Captain Triggers who eventually becomes their Flight Commander.

The story takes place in 1915 on the eve of the impending “Fokker Scourge” – the arrival of the Fokker Eindecker fighter that decimated the RFC’s lumbering biplanes. The series is a very intimate look at life in the RFC, mostly concentrating on the pilots but a number of the groundcrew get their characters fleshed out also, showing the benefits and the danger compared to the trenches.

Very quickly we learn just how deadly military aviation was in 1915 and how their own aircraft were as much a threat as the Germans. The series goes in to great detail to show how the air war evolved with the main characters initially limited to reconnaissance and then explores the efforts made to arm their aircraft for so-called “forward action”. A great deal of effort went in to making this series authentic and it shows. The footage of the BE.2 flying will endear anyone with a love of aviation while at the same time giving you a taste of just how vulnerable these aircraft were.

Anyone looking for a story of glamorous pilots fighting the “Hun” should look elsewhere however. At times this is a brutal series with some genuinely chilling scenes. There is one scene that will stay with most people who have seen the series involving Captain Triggers at a train station talking to a wounded officer who reveals something horrifying to him regarding his thoughts on the RFC (no spoilers here in order to not ruin the effect).

There are a number of themes that are prevalent in the series such as class differences, post-traumatic stress disorder, the complete ignorance of the British Army command to the situation in the air and the effect on people at home. Regarding the home front a great deal of the first series is dedicated to Farmer’s family and the story there revolves around a love triangle between his mother, his father’s brother who has lost an arm in the war and a storekeeper. For those with an interest in military aviation these scenes tend to distract from the story of the war but aren’t uninteresting.

Finally, the quality of the acting in the series is of the highest degree. While the story revolves around Tim Woodward’s Sgt. Farmer the star of the show is without a doubt Nicholas Jones’ portrayal of Captain Triggers – a character clearly inspired by the real life World War One ace Major Lenoe Hawker. Triggers is a powerful force and Jones delivers every scene with energy and charisma. A number of secondary characters come and go the purpose of which is to emphasize the casualty rate in the RFC.

If you have a few hours to spare then a binge watch of the series is highly recommended. It does not disappoint and to watch them together helps you pick up on many of the little things that were included that come together to create an incredible account of the war in the air above the trenches.

Below is the first episode but you can view the entire series list by CLICKING HERE

MOVIE – Kato Hayabusa Sento-tai (1944)

Kato Hayabusa Sento-tai (1944)

There’s no escaping it. Every country makes some kind of propaganda movie especially during wartime. We may look at these movies more cynically with the benefit of hindsight but if you take a moment to step back to those dark times and consider the position of civilians who had loved ones fighting far away in the field. They didn’t want to see the brutal reality of what their loved ones were going through. They wanted to see them living it up in between daring escapades if only to give them a reprieve from worrying for an hour or two.

This movie falls well in to that category and is one of the few Japanese propaganda movies to have survived in to the 21st century. It tells the story (albeit loosely) of Colonel Tateo Katō, a Japanese ace of the early war period as he leads his men in to combat for the first time in their new mount, the Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon); the title actually translates in to “Kato’s Peregrine Falcon Squadron”. Katō’s real story is a fascinating one and I would recommend anyone with an interest in military history to research him on the internet. Despite all his skill in the air he was killed in a fluke by a gunner aboard a Bristol Blenheim in May 1942. His heroism and attractive physical attributes made him an ideal tool for the Japanese propaganda machine who commissioned this movie less than two years later.

Let’s be clear on something; this is not a biopic of Katō’s life and death. The movie is more about honour, duty and selflessness – essentially all the things the Japanese leadership wanted from it’s people as the noose around Japan’s neck tightened. The characters rarely display any other attributes and when they aren’t in the air annihilating the Allies they are fooling around on the ground or giving grandiose speeches about what it means to serve the Japanese Empire.

I can put up with all this (although being a patriotic Brit seeing the Union Jack desecrated was a bit hard to swallow) but what I found unsettling shall we say is how the pilots treat women in the few scenes where there is one. There is an early scene with a Chinese servant where Katō asks if she understands what he is saying and it feels downright threatening. In a later scene concerning a woman who only works at the base as a maid, the pilots are disappointed hinting that they hoped she was one of the notorious “comfort women”. Anyone who knows more than the average person when it comes to the war in the Pacifc knows just how brutal the Japanese were especially to women who were raped and murdered on a whim by Japanese soldiers without punishment. On the contrary it was expected of them to “dominate” their defeated foes. It was this more than anything that left a bitter taste with me and I can’t dismiss it. Don’t get me wrong here I am not being biased. I watch the film Zulu and while I thoroughly enjoy it my sympathies are actually with the Zulu warriors who at the end of the day were defending their homeland.

Moving on to something more positive, the production values of this movie are exceptionally high even compared to Hollywood propaganda movies of the day. Stunning footage of actual Japanese warplanes are intermixed with painstakingly recreated models to produce some rather epic dogfight sequences. Of particular note is a scene involving an RAF Brewster Buffalo in a very low level dogfight. Quite amusingly, the RAF pilot is animated(!) because they obviously didn’t have any Caucasian actors for the role. Just as fascinating is the fact they used a captured Brewster Buffalo and P-40 Tomahawk for a ground scene where a few engineers are looking them over.

A fascinating movie that is probably tainted by my own views of the war but well worth a try.

RAF Movie – High Flight (1957)

High Flight RAF Hawker Hunter 1957

High Flight takes its name after a poem written by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., an American aviator who flew for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) who lost his life in 1941 over RAF Cranwell where the film is set. Excuse the cynicism but there is something apt about that, for this film appealed more to American audiences than it did British who largely dismissed this film.

The story revolves around a new cadet to RAF Cranwell named Tony Winchester (played by Kenneth Haigh). Winchester is forever making a nuisance of himself as he believes his own skills as a pilot means he is exempt from the same rules as everyone else. Normally this would get him thrown out of the RAF but his senior instructor has history with Winchester’s father who was killed during the war and so a lot of his antics end up getting tolerated. In the end a team is put together to display the Hawker Hunter at the Farnborough air show and Winchester must learn to put his ego aside and work with the others in his unit.

This film, like a lot of contemporary American movies, prefers to look glitzy than realistic with all the flight scenes while playing on the myths of military life. It has all the excitement young boys dreaming of flying in the RAF would have in the 50s but this results in a movie that feels detached from reality. Winchester would be thrown out of the service in his first scene when he lands his personal plane at Cranwell without permission and almost colliding with a De Havilland Vampire but is kept on!

The flying sequences are brilliantly filmed however. There is logic in the progression from Provost basic trainers up to Vampires and then on to Hawker Hunters. There is also a fascinating scene where the cadets are flying in a Vickers Varsity navigation trainer but the rest of the movie is then just high-jinks and light heartedness all of which contrast to what is supposed to be a serious undertone regarding the instructor and Winchester’s father.

Give it a try. There is some enjoyment to be had out of it but fans of The Dambusters may be a bit disappointed.

RAF Movie – Conflict of Wings (1954)

Conflict of Wings 1954 De Havilland Vampire

The great thing about YouTube is that sometimes it will open you up to movies forgotten by time and this is one such movie. Set in 1950s Norfolk the story concerns the local population of a village as they learn that a nearby stretch of land called the Island of Children is going to be used as a weapons range by the RAF. The once pleasant relations with the nearby RAF base quickly turn sour as both put forward their arguments leading to a surprisingly tense climax.

This is a simple movie that has that 1950s innocence to it with undertones of the serious nature of the early Cold War world. From a military enthusiast’s point of view there is plenty here to keep you interested such as footage of an active RAF base in the 1950s and an albeit brief glimpse at squadron life. One of the most interesting scenes is a training session covering the use of rockets against ships and tanks.

The flying eye-candy primarily concerns the squadron’s De Havilland Vampires that are being re-roled from a fighter to a ground attack tasking hence the need for a new weapons range. Other aircraft that feature include a Gloster Meteor T.7 and perhaps best of all a pair of pre-production Supermarine Swifts that visit the base. The two Swift pilots joke about the Vampires being museum pieces which is somewhat ironic since the Swift’s career was nowhere near as successful as the Vampire’s.

The rest of the movie addresses an important topic that is as relevant now as it was back then; the military’s impact on the environment. This is not an action packed movie although it has some nice flight scenes. It has good pacing and at just under an hour and a half it’s not too long. Got a quiet afternoon and like aeroplanes and local history then this might be for you.

MOVIE – The Flying Lesson

A truly beautiful short film about a woman who wants to honour her pilot-grandfather by going up for a flight in the same De Havilland Tiger Moth trainer that he did. Aided by the distinctly old fashioned instructor known as Douglas she experiences the feeling of a true stick-and-rudder aircraft – the closest any of us will get to flying like a bird.

Well made, moving and featuring stunning in-flight footage of the Tiger Moth this is a must-see for fans of a true British aviation icon.