Sieg Im Westen DVD Review by Blaine Taylor

Sieg Im Westen DVD Review by Blaine Taylor

According to the film's box liner notes, "Hitler's greatest military victory---the conquest of Holland, Belgium, and France in the spring of 1940---is graphically documented in this special Nazi feature.

"Here is the onslaught of panzers/tanks aircraft, and infantry that stunned the world. Films from special frontline camera crews, captured Allied footage, and animated maps enhance the viewer's understanding of this awesome blitzkrieg/lightning war. Directed by Sven Noldan, musical score by Herbert Windt, Germany 1941."

Adds the firm's direct mail catalog, "The Third Reich's most ambitious war documentary chronicles Hitler's six-week campaign---marked by continuous combat and spectacular German victories---established the blitzkrieg as a bold strategy that revolutionized warfare.

"Before the offensive, the German High Command deployed camera teams of hand-picked professionals among various army groups poised to attack. Motorized and permitted unlimited access to the front, the correspondents recorded the onslaught from the perspective of the common soldier.

"Editors combined this material with the best scenes from the newsreels and captured Allied footage to produce an authentic and riveting cinematic record of the campaign. The novel use of animated maps throughout the feature balances the soldier's eye view of battle with the strategic progress of military operations. Herbert Windt---renowned for elaborate orchestral compositions for the Leni Riefenstahl epics Triumpf des Willens/Triumph of the Will and Olympiac---provided an original score for the film.

"The IHF program includes Panzer Greifen An/Panzer Attack! a rare wartime featurette introduced by Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian covering the breakthrough at Sedan.

"An IHF audio slide show presents lesser known details about the western campaign and the making of Sieg im Westen, Germany , 1941, B & W, 120 minutes, original German sound, English subtitles."

The bonus documentary---Panzer Greifen An/Panzers Attack! ---details the 1940 combat actions of the 19th Panzer Corps that consisted of the 2nd and 10th Panzer/Armored Divisions, commanded by the acknowledged creator of the German Tank Corps, Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian, who also introduces this exceptional short feature.

The film's narrator intones that the Allied objective in 1940 was to seize the Third Reich's industrial Ruhr heartland, and then penetrate deeply into the interior of Nazi Germany. Hitler decided to forestall that potential Allied thrust by striking first, and did---on May 10, 1940---with lightning armored assaults of his own. Guderian's centered on the French fortress city of Sedan, which had been a key battle site as well in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.

The viewer sees Hitler and his High Command chief---Col. Gen. Wilhelm Keitel----and the latter's deputy, Gen. Alfred Jodl, at the map table at a secret Fuhrer/Leader Headquarters location at the outset of the offensive, which was launched as Fall Gelb/Case Yellow at 5:35 AM, May 10, 1940, and caught the Allies completely flatfooted, despite its anticipation since November 1939.

Special maps reveal the armored column breakthroughs of the vaunted Maginot Line---without any regard for flank security---and the film highlights Guderian and his men. In period combat footage, the viewer sees German assault troops landing in aircraft ahead of the panzers, followed by infantry, armored cars, motorcycles with sidecars (and also without), plus light tankettes and heavier tanks.

We see long motorized columns passing tree trunks painted white at eye level, done for night-time driving during blackouts. Streams are forded by infantry with wooden paddles in rubber inflatable boats. We also see bridges blown up by the retreating enemy armies being repaired by German Army combat engineers, as the drive proceeds into Belgium via the heavily wooded Ardennes Forest area toward the focal point of Sedan across the French frontier.

Small towns are driven through quickly on the ground as light German Army Storch/Stork observer monoplanes fly overhead. PZ1 tanks pass by with bundles of long wooden sticks on the back, for usage to gain traction in case of being stuck on muddy roads. The crucial Maas River is both reached and crossed by the advancing panzers and their follow-up motorized infantry regiments.

Cars ford streams up to their axles in water, and tanks with the sprocket wheels awash as well, towing other vehicles trailing behind them, complete with light artillery pieces and machine guns. Camouflaged trucks, wheeled anti-aircraft artillery, and short-barrelled tanks are directed by military traffic policemen, the silver gorgets visible on their chests.

Blasted enemy bunkers, occupied towns, and French war memorials to the Great War of 1914-18 are seen in the extended Maginot Line area. German air support is present in the form of deadly Luftwaffe/ Air Force Stuka dive-bombers, their famous siren whistles wailing as they bomb and strafe French ground troops, seen retreating.

Sedan itself is bombed, and the city is seen blazing, with huge billowing smoke clouds arching skywards. Motorcycle dispatch riders relay orders from rear staff to forward units in the advance, while tanks are seen crossing rivers atop hastily constructed pontoon bridges built on boats. French fighter planes are shot down, both by ground-based anti-aircraft fire and Luftwaffe fighters.

This veritable paean to mobile warfare concludes with columns of bareheaded German infantry singing on their route of march.

The package's slide show is IHF's standard excellent fare as well. It begins with combat scenes from the First World War, followed by tanks being scrapped under the stringent terms of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that ended the fighting. Juxtaposed with these scenes are those of the new army created by Adolf Hitler, with fickle disarmament being ridiculed. A period cartoon shouts that, "The ape of rearmament has been let out of its cage---the beast is turned loose!"

National Socialism---Nazism---is shown opposed to the never-ended French armaments industry, while the West Wall workers of 1938-39 are seen erecting a defensive bulwark against aggressive Republican France. According to the text, 850 copies of the July 1939 film The West Wall were distributed overseas before the May 1940 Western Offensive, as well as photo spreads splashed in the newspapers both friendly and neutral to Nazi Germany in the war, as a means of using psychological warfare against the Allies.

We also see interior still shots of the mighty Maginot Line that the German Army both by-passed and pierced in the overall offensive. Colored French Empire troops are discussed, along with pre-attack propaganda research on French morale generally.

Sieg in Westen premiered in Berlin as Nazi Germany was preparing its assault on both Greece and Yugoslavia in a similar Blitzkrieg campaign. Some battle scenes were, indeed, reconstructed and even reenacted by the troops on the ground who'd fought them in 1940, as detailed in Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's postwar best-selling book The Rommel Papers.

Color still photos are inter-spliced with standard black-and-white photos taken by "the most advanced combat journalists in the war," those of the triumphant German Army. The place name of "Luttich" is slyly substituted for that of the real Belgian Fortress Eben Emael in the 1941 film Sieg im Westen, which the "Luftwaffe" is said to have taken.

When Reich Marshal and Air Force Commander-in-Chief Hermann Goring saw the preview of the film, he was outraged, charging that his paratroopers hadn't been properly credited with one of the most daring and innovative operations in military history. As a result---on July 30, 1940---the exact sequence of events atop one of the Eben Emael bunkers was reenacted, to be inserted into the final movie print. Thus, Goring's beloved paratroops weren't ignored after all, even though the initial mission had been classified as top secret when it occurred.

British POWs were filmed by Waffen/Armed SS division photographers in both color and black-and-white images, as next we see French civilians at Dunkirk getting food from German Army field kitchens.

The surrender of the Royal Belgian Army is depicted to Army Gen. Walther von Reichenau on May 27, 1940, a mere week after the overall campaign commenced. Hitler, we are told, screened the film on Jan. 20, 1941 at the New German Reich Chancellery in Berlin, after which the Fuhrer talked with the cameramen and told them how impressed he was by their combat footage.

We see the captured French 9th Army Corps commander Gen. Henri Giraud---and learn he later escaped from France to turn up in North Africa to join the fight against Nazi Germany from there with his rival, Gen. Charles de Gaulle. We also see bw good interior view stills of Hitler in the map room of his top secret French war headquarters, codenamed Felsennest/Rocky Nest, that was used during May 5-June 6, 1940, plus color footage of tanks crashing through stone walls.

Underground scenes of the Maginot Line are reenacted by actual French soldier POWs to show what their jobs were in wartime. The French are cited as "gallant adversaries by the Germans, and Hitler is seen touring the fallen Maginot Line as well. Hitler, we are told by German cameraman Ertel, talked with French Army soldiers about the bombardment of the line by the Germans outside, and what that was actually like inside the underground forts.

French Marshal Philippe Petain asks for an armistice with his enemy, but the fighting goes on as the conditions are debated by both sides. We see flashbacks of French white troops and black Senegalese occupying the German Rhineland and Ruhr during 1918-23, followed by scenes of surrendered black French colonial troops in 1940, as German propagandists used these shots to dramatize the futility of Negro troops against superior Nazi Aryans. Dr. Josef Gobbels wanted "To bring rage and loathing toward France" for murder and abuse by these scenes, we are informed. Darkly, audience members upon seeing the film shouted out, "The whole bunch should be gassed!"

The famous scene of German Army Gen. von Briesen reviewing from horseback conquering troops entering Paris was actually shot a few days after the actual event, we are informed, not on June 14, 1940, something that this reviewer was ignorant of as well.

Von Briesen---a wounded 1939 Polish campaign veteran---was selected for this signal honor, and died in combat in Russia on Dec. 20, 1941.

Additionally, we learn that out of a population of 5 million people in Paris, only 700,000 stayed in the City of Light as the Germans approached, with the refugees clogging French highways, roads, and county lanes, thus hampering their own army's attempts to reinforce the town in the face of the Nazi advance.

Franz von Papen invited the Turks to see Sieg im Westen as a diplomatic means of inducing neutral Turkey to enter the war on the German side, as she'd done in 1914, but to no avail. Another slide commentary says that Benito Mussolini came into the war on June 10, 1940, with a wag's comment on Hitler; "I came, when I saw, he conquered," a take off on Julius Caesar's famous line: "I came, I saw, I conquered."

Amidst long lines of French Army POWs raggedly trudging to the rear, we learn that Marshal Petain of Vichy fame asserted, "The defeat is a result of our own apathy." Hitler kept the thousands of POWs in Germany as a bargaining chip with the French until well into 1943.

Next, comes the famous surrender scene of World War I Generalissimo Ferdinand Foch's railway dining car in the June 21,1940 setting of the Forest of Compeigne, where it had been on Nov. 11, 1918 to receive the German surrender delegation of that era. Now, we see the tables turned, as Hitler, Goring, Hess, and the others seated opposite their French counterparts as it is France that seeks an Armistice.

Wearily, 11 million French refugees hamper the French Army, but not the victorious German advance, a rout brought on by bogus propaganda warnings of imminent bombardments. On June 18, 1940, a muted German victory parade is held in Paris (that von Briesen saluted), but none on a grand scale in the Reich itself (only the 218th Division goose-stepped, in honor of its piercing of the Maginot Line) because final victory hadn't yet been achieved: England was still in the war. The sinking of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kebir by the British Royal Navy to keep it out of German hands is used by Dr. Gobbels to inflame French feeling against their traditional enemy, the English. Gobbels, we are told, had a rivalry with the Army's own film propaganda department because Sieg im Westen was a military movie, and therefore not directed by him.

Denied censorship rights, the miffed Nazi Propaganda Minister produced his own version, entitled On the Road to Victory to upstage the official view of the Army.

For Sieg im Westen, director Sven Noldan shot fully 20,000 feet of footage, and the finished film was translated into 22 languages for its Berlin premiere of Jan. 31, 1941. It grossed millions, and had two popular songs especially composed for it. Thus was Dr. Gobbels himself upstaged!

The composer---Herbert Windt---had served as a volunteer in World War I and been wounded at Verdun in 1916. His face had been horribly disfigured, and he underwent the new science of reconstructive facial surgery. Earlier, he'd composed the musical score for the Nazis' first film, Morgenrot, as well as the soundtrack for the wartime film, Campaign in Poland, also directed by Sven Noldan. After the war, the Russians reportedly wanted Windt to work for them, but he refused, resumed writing music in 1950, and died in 1965.

Director Noldan contrasted the lusty singing of the British wartime song We'll Hang the Washing on the Siegfried Line in the beginning of his film with a dirge of lament near the end as the British Expeditionary Corps is shown either as POWs or chased off the Continent at Dunkirk. (The real Siegfried Line was actually used in World War I, and wasn't the real West Wall of the Second World War, we're told.)

The German magazine Film Courier called Sieg im Westen "A stroke of genius," and so is this production's slide show: fully 87 outstanding slides alone for the bonus feature!

This reviewer found it fantastic, fun, entertaining, and informative.

The film restoration part of the bonus features shows before and after examples of how Sieg im Westen was painstakingly restored, frame by frame, both visually and audially, with digital filtering. Overall, this is a truly spectacular production.

Available on DVD from International Historic Films, Inc. Bonus Feature Panzer Greifen An/Panzers Attack! With Introduction by General of Panzer Troops Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian and Photo Gallery with accompanying scholarly audio commentary. Switchable English and original German narration tracks.

Sieg Im Westen/Victory In The West: A Film of the Supreme Command of the German Army
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