Rarely seen since its original airing in 1978, The Unknown War is a 20-part documentary that examines WWII from the Russian side of the conflict. It was a direct response to The World at War, a ground-braking documentary that the Soviets felt did not tell the full story of
On June 22, 1941, two days short of the anniversary of the start of Napoleon's invasion of
By early October, German troops were miles from
This documentary tells the story of the Eastern Front through the eyes of the Russian people and their commanders. The Soviet film vaults were opened for this project, and a vast majority of the video is footage taken during the war by Russian cinematographers. The series was created by sifting through three and a half million feet of Russian newsreel and combat footage, most of which has never been seen in the
The series also does a magnificent job of detailing the vast cost in human lives the conflict cost the Soviets. By the time the war was over, a staggering 10 million + Russians were killed and this is brought home over the course of the series. The siege of
Other important battles in the Eastern Front are also examined. The Battle of Kursk the largest tank conflict in history is an exciting chapter. Here Hitler tried to destroy the Russian army once and for all and literally thousands of tanks faced off in an epic struggle. Likewise the Defense of Stalingrad, the liberation of
The series is hosted by Burt Lancaster, and while he does a great job narrating the story, the video inserts featuring the actor interrupt the flow of the story. He's filmed at the site of some famous battle to show what the place looks like today (or as it did in the late 70's) but he often recaps the information that was just given in detail during the first 15 minutes of the show. That seems a little useless, and the present day shots aren't that interesting.
Also, the show is told from a Soviet point of view and tends to gloss over the negative things that Soviets did during the war. The German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact is portrayed solely as a way for Stalin to bide his time and prepare for an anticipated Nazi invasion. No mention is made of the secret protocols which carved up Europe into German and Russian zones of influence and the fact that
Overall, this is an excellent series that gives an in depth look at the Eastern Front, a subject that often is mentioned only briefly in WWII documentaries. Even with its flaws, this is an important show.
The 20 episodes arrive on 5 DVDs, each with it's own slimcase. The five cases are housed in an illustrated slipcase.
The set comes with the original mono soundtrack. Compared to modern documentaries, this show sounds thin and unimpressive, but that's largely due to the fact that it was made in the late 70's. The narration is easy to hear and the sound effects are decent. About what you'd expect from a TV show from this era.
Since most of the series consists of vintage footage filmed under less than ideal circumstances, the full frame B&W image isn't impeccable, but it does look very good taking its history into account. The unrestored picture is generally very clear and with minimal print damage. The contemporary color shots are less impressive, with the colors muddled a bit and a bit faded.
There are a couple of extra, both of which are very good and add a lot to the understanding of the subject matter and how the series was created. The first is a 25-minute interview with Rod McKuen who co-wrote the script as well composed the music. It's very informative as well as being interesting. He talks about working with the Russian historians and authorities on the project as well as what was left out of the project. It's a great addition to the series. There's also a 33 minute talk with historian Dr. Willard Sunderland who points out some of the ommisions from the series. This too was a splendid bonus that helps bring some balance to the series.
There can be no argument that the Russian Army played a significant role in Nazi Germany's defeat. If Hitler's forces had not been split fighting on two fronts who can say if D-Day would have been successful or what the fighting in