There are too many World War II documentaries, not enough World War I documentaries. It seems the most popular historical documentaries today are ones filled with colorized footage with very little historical substance.

If the Department of Education did not block Youtube out of fear that children might spend some time doing something other than preparing for a test, I’d be able to bring my laptop in and show clips of classics like this.

I prefer World War I to World War II, thank you very much. No WWI documentary touches this one in my opinion even though it certainly is not perfect. This was pretty much what I watched throughout my Christmas vacation, how cheerful:

PART I – EXPLOSION (Covers the European balance of power system up until the outbreak of general war in the Summer of 1914):

PART II – STALEMATE (Covers the initial enthusiasm of mobilization and its descent into bloody trench warfare.)

PART III – TOTAL WAR (Covers the development of new war technologies and the mobilization of the colonies that made it into a true world war. The Gallipoli Campaign begins in this episode.)

PART IV – SLAUGHTER (Covers some of the major land battles like the Somme and Ypres to illustrate the desperation of trench warfare.)

PART V – MUTINY (Covers the development of shell shock, the first Russian Revolution and the collapse of the Eastern Front.)

PART VI – COLLAPSE (Covers the entrance of the United States into the war and the collapse of the German war effort.)

Part VII – Hatred and Hunger (Covers the Paris Peace Conference, the rise of the Bolsheviks, Russia’s bloody civil war and the collapse of Woodrow Wilson’s hopes for world peace. The videos are broken into smaller episodes.)

PART VIII – WAR WITHOUT END (Covers the aftermath of the war, including the break down of the old European world and the rise of a new, scarier, uncertain and modern world. Shows how the Great War would set the stage for World War II.)

Overall this is a wholly satisfactory series about World War I for beginners and history buffs alike.

My only criticisms are that they did not spend enough time on the Armenian Genocide. They sort of tucked it away in an obscure part of the series and never mentioned it again. The sea war was also only sort of half-covered, merely touching on the Battle of Jutland.

On the other hand, their treatment of trench warfare is stellar. The individual stories were very instructive and there is just a ton of great original footage. Their treatment of the Russian war was also very good. I can’t really fault them for glossing over the Bolshevik Revolution because that wasn’t their focus. There is a very nice section on America’s involvement in Russia’s civil war that sowed the seeds of the Cold War.

Bookmark this page for when you have the time to see this documentary so you don’t have to chase down the Youtube links.

This film is also a great companion to John Keegan’s The First World War. Keegan really highlights the larger war tactics, strategies and aims on both sides that led to some of the great battles of the Great War.

I really miss teaching 10th grade Global Studies because I don’t get to cover World War I. There were so many interesting characters here, so many present and past icons crossing paths and so many institutions that rapidly died without much to replace to it. More than most wars, even World War II, WWI was the crucible where the old world died and the world in which we live today started its long painful birth.

The advent of flight, tanks, poison gas, mechanized war, Hitler’s career, the Soviet Union, America as a world power, modern psychology and much more are discussed in this movie.

At the same time, the death of European dynasties, balance of power politics, Napoleonic warfare and other long-standing institutions are also discussed.

Check out PBS’ The Great War.



  1. I consider World War I to be the pivotal event of the 20th century and one of the pivotal events in all of human history. You’re right that there aren’t nearly enough documentaries delving into this conflict, what led up to it, and it’s immediate aftermath. The vast majority of people who know anything about the war know only of the trench warfare of the Western Front. That’s unfortunate because the impact of the Great War is still seen today.

    Thanks for the link to the documentary. While I know a good bit about the conflict, I can always learn more from a well-done piece.

    • Thanks for stopping by. Unfortunately, we seem to only want to remember the Great War as a folly of trench warfare and military leaders who refused to get with the 20th century. It’s an important lesson but done to death at this point. The conflict had so many other layers of meaning which, I think, is what puts people off. WWII is much easier to understand. WWI, even for those living back then, was more confusing and complex.

  2. Within the last few years historians from Germany have done extensive research on my family. My Grandfather and his four brothers all served in the German military in different Bavarian regiments during WWI. One saved three wounded comrades in the first days of the war in France and was decorated with the “Eisernes Kreuz”. One was an artillery observer with field binoculars and telephone. One brother was a member of the 2nd bicycle platoon and was killed in 1915. My Grandfather served in the 21st Bavarian Infantry from 1914-1918. In 1914 he was seriously wounded, shot in the liver. In 1915 he voluntarily returned to the battle front and during the battle of Champagne was “buried alive”. He was sent home to convalesce. From 1916-1918 he participated in position warfare with the Bavarian Infantry Nr.1 against the Russians in the swamps of Roskitno where he was infected with malaria. After the end of WWI he declined a war pension fund for the benefit of more needy injured war veterans.
    After the war he became a partner in a leather goods firm and in 1934 established his own business in Munich. In 1939 he was sent to Dachau concentration camp. Two brothers were killed in jail or camps, one fled to Holland and survived. Someone my Grandfather knew got him out of Dachau and with visas and quota numbers already in place were able to escape through Italy, where they awaited american dollars, from family already in the US, to pay for their ships passage to the US. My grandfather, grandmother and my then 15 year old father were able to escape Hitlers reign. Most other family members were not as fortunate. At the age of 18 my father enlisted in the US Navy as a “Seabee”. He proudly served from 1943-1946 and became an American citizen.
    Just thought I’d share this personal story. I believe that because of the service to their country rather than their Jewish heritage each brother believed they were safe from persecution.
    Although I have not taken the time to review all of these documentaries they are of great interest to me. Thank you for posting.

    • Thank you for sharing your family’s fascinating, and heartbreaking, story. I think it is overlooked that many people killed by the Nazis were war heroes and patriots, the very people Hitler promised to redeem. I think it is an important story to be told, especially as Germany continues to reconcile its past. Thanks again for stopping by.

  3. As a freelance photographer and semi-amateur historian who’s beginning a project on Monuments to the World War (note what I’m saying there) in America I have to say I’m very glad to see you’ve posted this. The First World War is simply not understood to the level it should be here in America. Hopefully with the upcoming 100th anniversary it will get at least some of the recognition it deserves.

  4. First World War – useful expert list and email addresses below.

    What did you do in the Great War, Mummy?

    Forgotten Realities: Women and WWI

    The House of Lords

    Wednesday 5th March 2014

    Chair: Rt Hon Baroness Fookes DBE, former Deputy Speaker House of Commons


    Introduction Lesley Abdela, journalist, international specialist on women’s roles in modern peace building and
    post conflict situations

    Resolute effort and self-sacrifice: Women and the Great War: the pioneering work of the of the Imperial War Museum’s
    Women’s Work Sub-Committee during the First World War
    Sarah Paterson, Family History Librarian, Imperial War Museum

    World War 1 photographed through women’s eyes
    How women photographers portrayed their own war experiences and roles of other women on the Eastern and Western Fronts
    Hilary Roberts, Head Curator Imperial War Museum photograph archive

    Battling on the Home Front: coping and caring
    Dr Judith Rowbotham, FRSA, FRHistS, Director, SOLON with Jen Doyle, PhD student, KCL

    Guest list attending:

    Dr Jane Grant Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

    Mo Connolly, Royal Photographic Society, chair of The Society’s Documentary and Visual Journalism Group which is launching a major WWI photography project.

    Sue South, Women’s Records Specialist, The National Archives, Kew plus Roger Kershaw, TNA.

    Anna Maguire AHRC Collaborative Doctoral Award Student ‘Colonial Cultures during the First World War’
    King’s College, London, and the Imperial War Museum, London.

    Dr Gill Clarke Visiting Professor University of Chichester. Guest Curator From Fields To Factories : Women’s Wartime Work on the Home Front Otter Gallery University of Chichester

    Ms Gael Dundas, Head of Collections Management, Imperial War Museum

    Dr Helen Glew Senior Lecturer in History University of Westminster

    Dr Hanna Diamond FRHistSoc University of Bath

    Dr Krisztina Robert, historian, Roehampton University

    Mary Scott, Editor, London Library Magazine

    Anna Sparham, Curator, Photographs, Museum of London

    Kathleen Palmer, Department of Collections, Imperial War Museums

    Major General John Moore-Bick CBE MA FICE FCIL DL, General Secretary, Forces Pension Society.

    Mary Ingham Author and Specialist Researcher Women’s WW1 records

    Dr Matthew Glencross, Visiting Research Fellow, ICBH King’s College London

    Dr M. D. Kandiah, Institute of Contemporary British History, King’s College London.

    Professor Michael Dockill, Emeritus Professor of War, King’s College London (colleague of Dr Kandiah)

    Antony Penrose Director, The Lee Miller Archives and The Penrose Collection (photographs)

    Fiona Stapley-Harding Retired Master Photographer (served in 4 conflicts)

    Eileen Smith IWM archivist

    Alistair Murphy Curator Norfolk Museums Service

    Kate O’Brien kate.o’ Archive Services Manager (Collection Development) King’s College London

    Heather Blake UK Director Reporters Without Borders
    Ami Bouhassane Registrar & Trustee – Lee Miller Archives; Curator – The Penrose Collection

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