Ok guys, look. This is for your own sakes. It’s my job to read military books and watch DVDs and then review them in an honest and fair light. Look upon it as I’m taking one for the team as it were. It’s not all champagne lunches, gala dinners and all expenses paid holidays to the Far East for business you know? Sometimes I have a rough time reviewing sub standard books that leave me numb and in a cold sweat or watch DVDs that make me want to poke my own eyes out with the sharp end of jackboot! It’s tough, I’m telling you but someone has to do it.

So, Military DVDs. Is there still a place for them even with the dozen or so history style TV channels we have at our disposal? Yes. I think there is, and long may they reign.

Operation Bullbasket was an epic raid of WW2 by the SAS. Did I gouge my eyes out? Well no. Ok I may have contemplated it when I initially saw it was from a familiar stable of rather poor DVDs I’d reviewed before but to be fair they seemed to have changed direction of late so with blood shot eyes I gave it a go. I’d never heard of Operation Bullbasket to be perfectly honest. I was of course aware of the numerous raids on France prior to, during and post D-Day but not of specific units and tasks. The basic outline to Bullbasket was for B Squadron, SAS to be dropped behind enemy lines in an attempt to destroy French railheads and thus stop the movement of German troops and armour to the new front being carved out in Normandy. The SAS worked closely with the French Resistance whose local knowledge was of course priceless and relied heavily on them for food, guidance and in some cases firepower.

The initial drop took place on D-Day itself and was clearly intended to stay some time as the presence of the SAS armed jeeps proved. Further suggestions of their longevity were the setting up of a base camp deep in a forest near Verrieres.

Now, the raids themselves are open to debate depending on what source you choose to read or watch. Some say damage was slight others say it was a huge achievement towards a foothold in Nazi occupied France. Even the term ‘raid’ is open to debate as the only real sizeable target encountered, a petrol train, was deemed too much for the small force to tackle and was passed onto the RAF.

Either way, although damage was inflicted on the Nazi war machine more than 30 men lost their lives In the raid. Most were executed upon capture and some were tortured or brutally beaten to death. The overall effect in my mind was somewhat minimal for the high price paid.

The DVD, again led by the charismatic Tim Saunders and team, goes someway to explain in further detail about the raids and the planning prior to the attack. It’s somewhat clinical to be honest and even cold at times but I put this down to the limited hard evidence available and the amount of guesswork and assuming that has to be done when writing on a subject such as a highly top secret raid that is still shrouded in secrecy and raises more questions than answers. It’s sad in part and you have to be thankful for that as we all need to be reminded from time to time about the sacrifices made by others for our lives today. During the period of Remembrance here in Britain it’s hard not to be moved by such a story and for that we should be grateful that people like Saunders, himself a former soldier, bring to our attention lesser known stories and escapades which would otherwise be forgotten.

The film well produced and moves at a decent enough speed though it’s still filmed in my most hated ‘migraine-o-vision’. A handheld camera with cellophane over the lens!

My only real quibble and ache on this one, again, I’m afraid to say is the poor use of re-enactors and in some cases their appearance. Recreations of scenes from history have to be accurately portrayed down to the smallest detail otherwise it unwinds and undoes all the hard work and research in the documentary itself. It’s a frightful bore to keep mentioning it and I always feel I’m obliged to, but disinterested lads cast into a uniform with no military training or interest in their part don’t make for watchable or believable TV viewing. With a whole wealth of living history groups and knowledgeable individuals I don’t see why we should be falling at this hurdle. Still budgets play a part, I guess, and the machine grinds on but if this issue was addressed I can’t help but feel these films would be embraced by a much wider audience.

All in all, though, this is a great effort and one that should be rewarded by our interest.

Reviewed by Phil Hodges for War History Online

Destruction of the French Railways.
Pen & Sword

Phil Hodges

Phil Hodges is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE