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A little known episode given its due
on October 8, 2013
I am writing this review as a 'novice' when it comes to my knowledge of WWII. Of course, we all know what we were taught at school, but I can't say I know much more about this war other than that, and movies of course. I picked this documentary because it was short (~45-50 minutes), and I think PBS did an excellent job conveying the whole episode within that time frame. Very briefly, the documentary is about Churchill's decision to bomb the French Navy (Britain and French were allies), to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans. The Germans had just signed an armistice with the French Government that required the ships to return to the ports in France and be under German supervision, but it was not clear whether they would get their hands on the ships as the French Navy commander had promised Churchill that he would order his men to destroy the ships should the Germans try to seize them.
The documentary traces how Churchill arrived at this decision, the role of Roosevelt's refusal to aid Great Britain (by sending it warships) in catalyzing/causing the bombing, how and why did the bombing actually happen at Mers el Kebir but not elsewhere, the carnage, and the aftermath. There were interviews with a few French sailors who survived and one English sailor, who took part in the bombing. The interviews bring the whole thing to life and you easily see how vividly the sailors remember that day. The Canadians were also indirectly involved in this episode, and there are interviews with Canadian historians as well. All in all, as someone who did not know of this event, it was a fascinating documentary for me. However, if you are an expert on WWII who already knew the details of this event, I don't think you'll find much new material here except for the interviews.