‘3D Spies of WWII’ investigates the unsung heroes who put a stop to Hitler

Courtesy of PBS

More than 60 years after its hellish takeover of continental Europe, World War II continues to fascinate history buffs. With the value of hindsight and the aid of declassified information, the public has turned a perpetual eye toward Hitler’s forces and the heroic response of the Allied Powers. It seems that with each passing day a new development emerges on how bad the Germans acted and how clever the British and Americans retaliated.

NOVA, the influential PBS program that dissects the scientific world, turns its editorial eye to a small, almost-forgotten segment of the war. In 3D Spies of WWII: Destroying Hitler’s Top Secret Rockets, writer-director Tim Dunn explores a tucked-away farmhouse in the countryside of England and how a cadre of young intelligence experts used 3D stereoscopes to track the diabolical German Army.

Using cameras that were strategically placed on high-flying Spitfires, the intel officials were able to scour thousands of photographs, mostly taken in northern France. By themselves, the photos are difficult to decipher; they depict farmlands and villages as flat expanses with no easily recognizable characteristics. However, when the photos were viewed using the stereoscopes, they took on a life of their own. The investigators could see hills in the terrain, buildings on the horizon and, most importantly, rockets getting ready to launch.

It’s an interesting phenomenon, but it makes perfect sense. Without the aid of 3D, how could one identify a rocket pointed straight up into the sky? Only with the help of the stereoscopes was the intelligence team able to view the real situation on the ground and plan accordingly.

And their work was not relegated to the universities or the conceptual phase. The 3D images were put to use and forever affected the Allied war plans. To say that these men and women working in the English countryside were instrumental in taking down Hilter’s forces is an understatement.

The 60-minute program, which is now available on DVD, uses the typical format of a NOVA special. It features talking-head interviews from many of the intelligence officials, plus a few on-site visits of the terrain that was photographed in France. Some helpful diagrams and unique views of the 3D technology help the viewer understand what it must have been like to work some 60-70 years ago at the height of the war.

More than anything else, documentaries like 3D Spies of WWII serve as excellent preservation platforms and historical tools. Every year, the world loses more survivors of the World War II era. Hearing their stories and seeing the emotion come to their faces, this many years after the conflict ended, is inspiring and authentic. Soon these conversations will be unavailable, and all that will be left are the fine broadcast programs like 3D Spies, the declassified information and, of course, our memories.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • 3D Spies of WWII: Destroying Hitler’s Top Secret Rockets

  • A NOVA program on PBS, now available on DVD

  • Written and directed by Tim Dunn

  • Running time: 60 minutes

  • Not Rated

  • Rating: ★★★½

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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