WW2 podcasts: 9 top episodes about the Second World War

What have you always wanted to know about World War 2? We've hosted many Second World War historians on the HistoryExtra podcast, with discussions from the origins of the global conflict to the big questions of the Holocaust. BBC History Magazine editor Rob Attar selects 9 WW2 podcasts from the archive that you can listen to for free right now…

B-17 bombers make their way to England to aid the British in WW2, April 1942. (Photo by Getty Images)
1

Poland, 1939: World War Two begins

When selecting World War 2 podcasts, it seemed sensible to begin at the beginning (for the war in Europe at least). In 2019 Roger Moorhouse wrote a powerful history of the battle for Poland, and in our conversation he explored the main events of a clash that is surprisingly little known. He also highlighted the extent of Nazi and Soviet brutality that was already evident in these early weeks of the conflict.

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VE Day at 75 

Seventy-five years ago this month, Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies, bringing to a close the European war. Read articles from BBC History Magazine’s VE Day special supplement, in which we explore the moment of victory from several perspectives:


2

A new life of Churchill

Seventy-five years on from victory in Europe, the figure of Winston Churchill continues to dominate British perceptions of the war years. Andrew Roberts authored a major new biography of the prime minister back in 2018 and we caught up with him soon after to discuss his findings and tackle some of the debates that continue to swirl around him.


3

The big questions of the Holocaust

We’ve covered the Holocaust several times on our podcast over the years, but for a comprehensive overview of the Nazi genocide, this would definitely be the place to start. In our 2017 interview, filmmaker and author Laurence Rees answered – as the title suggests – the key questions that remain about the mass killings of Jews and other minorities in WW2. Having interviewed numerous perpetrators and survivors while making BBC documentaries, Laurence offered his own distinctive perspective on these events.


4

The wartime SAS and Hitler’s drug addiction

An amazing story from an amazing storyteller. Ben Macintyre is one of the masters of WW2 popular history and was an excellent choice to write the authorised history of the SAS in the conflict. In our discussion from 2016 he described some of their incredible escapades in the fight against the Axis. That conversation is followed by an interview with Norman Ohler on how drugs fuelled the Nazi war machine – another extraordinary tale.


5

Secret listeners

The history of WW2 is filled with ingenious intelligence operations and this 2019 episode explores one of the most fascinating of those. Historian Helen Fry explained how German prisoners of war had their conversations bugged by their British hosts and revealed some of the secrets that were divulged.


6

Max Hastings on the Dambusters

Sir Max Hastings is one of the world’s most successful historians of WWII and always brings a fresh perspective, even to familiar topics. His 2019 book examined the iconic story of Operation Chastise and in our interview he highlighted both the heroism of the Dambusters and the devastation their mission wreaked on those below.


7

Beevor on Arnhem

Back in 1998 Antony Beevor revolutionised WW2 popular history with his bestselling narrative account of the battle of Stalingrad. Since then he’s produced similarly brilliant works on several other battles and campaigns, most recently his 2018 history of Operation Market Garden. In our extensive interview, he explained why Arnhem was a bridge too far for the Allies.


8

The bombing of Dresden

The ruins of Dresden after the bombing by Allied forces in early 1945. (Photo by Getty Images)

Few Allied actions in the war are as controversial as the February 1945 bombing of the city of Dresden, which killed over 20,000 people and devastated one of Germany’s architectural and cultural jewels. On the 75th anniversary of the raid, Sinclair McKay laid out the full horror that the bombs inflicted and considered the moral questions thrown up by the events – to which the answers are anything but simple.

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9

Okinawa: the battle and the bomb

In Britain our focus is dominated by the existential clash against Nazism, but this was of course a global war and the battles in the east were often as terrible – if not more so – than those closer to home. In an episode released just last month, Saul David relayed the brutal events of the 1945 battle for the island of Okinawa and argued that the blood shed there was crucial in the US decision to use atomic weapons.

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Rob Attar is editor of BBC History Magazine