Paul Woodadge: Filming the Battlefields of WWII

Filming in Sicily. Photo: Paul Woodadge

I am confident that the finished film will provide a rich experience that the WWII buff will appreciate and enjoy.

As we progress into the 75th anniversary year of Monte Cassino, Operations Overlord and Market Garden, the Ardennes offensive, and other key battles of WWII, the thirst for fresh stories and information is being quenched by new books and magazine articles almost daily.

The history lover is spoiled by a plethora of new detailed works, often the result of years of study by both professional and amateur authors and historians.

From my view as someone who veraciously devours such titles, the TV documentary is in some ways, the poorer cousin of this type of book. The BBC, Channel 4, History Channel and Discovery know there is a market for WWII productions, but budget and time restrictions often result in “overview” programs aimed at a general audience rather than the WWII buff.

This is completely understandable of course, and I enjoy watching these shows immensely. Passionate and knowledgeable presenters have provided wonderful glimpses of the war and taken us to battlefields all over the world.

Floods at La Fiere
Floods at La Fiere

I believe, however, there is an audience for a more detailed approach. A smaller audience for sure, but a dedicated one. Which brings me to my current project WW2tv. It’s simple, really: I would like to take people across, through, and inside the battlefields like never before.

An immersion into the beaches, fields, hedgerows, hills, and forests that will almost allow you to feel as if you were there yourself and fighting alongside the men and women who liberated Europe. I will be pairing with fellow tour guides, authors, and historians, and drawing on my own more than 25 years of traveling and touring WWII sites.

The huge challenge is that in terms of production I am a one-man band. I will write the scripts, plan the shoots, capture the video, record the audio, and do all the editing myself. It’s both daunting and terrifying and yet utterly thrilling.

So what am I doing differently from previous film-makers? Well, let me explain first what I am not doing. I won’t be using veteran interviews, at least not very much. Perhaps I will use the odd rare vintage interview that has never been seen before, but really as a resource, the interviewing of WWII veterans has very nearly come to its natural conclusion.

I’m also going to avoid using recreated battle footage of reenactors. It can sometimes look incredible, but (in my opinion) just as frequently looks “wrong” somehow. Knowledgeable viewers are distracted by uniform details and weaponry and the scenes can feel staged.

The use of 3D maps, cutaway diagrams, satellite imagery and other high-tech features will also be missing.

Filming in Sicily
Filming in Sicily

Mostly, I have to say, because I won’t be able to afford such gimmicks! I will however be using short clips of actual WWII footage, but only when absolutely appropriate and not at the expense of new location footage. Another idea I am putting into action is to use high school and college-aged kids to record WWII veterans’ quotes.

We are used to hearing the heroes talk as themselves but I want to use young voices to present their experiences. For this, I am working with history and drama treacher friends to create high-quality audio files I can slot in to my films.

The vital component of my concept is the creation of brand-new footage of the actual locations. Last week I spent three days filming in the British 6th Airborne area around Pegasus Bridge and the DZs northeast of Caen in Normandy. My on-screen expert, there with me at every location, was my friend Neil Barber.

Neil Barber
Neil Barber

There is absolutely no one who has a better understanding of the operations in this area than Neil, and his excellent series of books are the very best on the subject. His many years of research and annual visits to Normandy combined with his incredible memory for detail meant I really just had to point my camera at him and say “go.” He is not a professional TV presenter, yet his sincere passion simply shines through.

Neil Barber
Neil Barber

We filmed at something like 40 separate locations and went down to section-sized Airborne and Commando actions from June 6-8. I honestly don’t think some of the locations around Amfreville particularly have ever been put on film before.

Another film I am working on is about the Dog Green area of Omaha Beach. I have filmed sunrises and sunsets, the beach at both low and high tide and from behind the shingle. I’ve also crawled (literally) with my camera into German bunkers no one has filmed in previously and shot views back to the beach.

This project will feature a narration by another friend, Kevin Hymel, a prolific magazine author and a Stephen Ambrose Tour Company guide. I am confident that the finished film will provide a rich experience that the WWII buff will appreciate and enjoy.

For the American Airborne sector I have been out to film the winter-floods to faithfully show the conditions the 82nd and 101st jumped into on D-Day. Again, I don’t think this has been achieved previously.

I have a long way to go. I launch on August 1st, 2019 and I need to get a nice selection of films and interviews completed by then. Right now I ask you to see what I am up to on my Facebook page and YouTube Channel.

Paul Woodadge




YouTube channel

Neil Barber

All photos provided by Paul Woodadge.

Paul Woodadge

Paul Woodadge is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE