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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 3, 2010
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PBS puts together a decent account of the attack that the British fleet carried out on the fleet of its French ally on July 3, 1940 at Mers-el-Kébir off the coast of present-day Algeria. The attack on the French navy base of Mers-el-Kébir was part of Operation Catapult, a ruthless operation that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had ordered to avoid the fall of the powerful French fleet into the hands of Nazi Germany after France's capitulation. This military operation convinced U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain meant business and paved the way for the powerful alliance between both countries during WWII. To its credit, PBS often makes a judicious use of archival footage, interviews with participating British and French sailors, and input of historians such as Martin Gilbert and Andrew Lambert to narrate this little known but critical episode of WWII. Unfortunately, the images at the beginning of the documentary under review are often of poor quality. In summary, the DVD "Churchill's Deadly Decision" will appeal the most to viewers who are already familiar with the key events that occurred during WWII.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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.
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on February 6, 2014
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I was amazed to learn of this incident where Churchill ordered the attack on the French fleet - their allies against the Germans!!! But I understand, and the French were dragging their feet on the timing of the German advance vs. the scuttling of their ships. Along with that was the reticence of our own FDR to come to the early aid of the British, although there may be more to that story, as is touched on in the film.
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on January 29, 2015
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A great job explaining why Churchill did what he had to do!! Very good content!
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on December 25, 2014
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Excellent
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2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2011
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Churchill made the right decision to sink French Ships as if they were taken by the Nazi's then England's position was sorely compromised. The Royal Navy made it very clear to the Admiral of the French Fleet that if they did not move their ships to other locations, then they, the French, must scuttle them. The French waited a long time before taking action and the British were very impatient as Britain was dependent on the French doing this. An extra half hour was given for the French to take one of three alternatives and if not then the British had to sink their ships. The French did not cooperate so the British sank the French Ships.About 1400 French sailor were killed. Later as the Nazi's got closer to where ships were docked in France the French Admiral gave orders to scuttle their ships. The Germans, naturally were very angered by this. I find that at the time the British and French mentalities were so different. I am British and was a toddler in London at the time. I still have my British trait of taking action quickly else the enemy will conquer you. The French seemed very lackadaisical and it was only upon hearing the Germans getting closer did they then scuttle their ships, about 70 ships I think it was.

Had the French taken one of three options given by the British these ships would still be functional. The French were very Angry at the British and dropped some Bombs in British ports but there were no casualties. After this happened President Roosevelt entered the war. This was good for the USA too as they would have been a target for the Axis powers, and Japan was involved in attacking the USA too as well as Australia.
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