Secrets of War AKA Sworn to Secrecy: Secrets of War
R2 - United Kingdom - Network
Review written by and copyright: Paul Lewis (8th May 2011).
The Show

Secrets of War (The Documedia Group, 1998-2001)


Produced for American television, Secrets of War (or, to give it the title by which it is better known in the US, Sworn to Secrecy) was made for broadcast on the History Channel. The first series was originally broadcast in 1998, and episodes of the documentary series were produced up until 2001. In terms of its scope, Secrets of War could probably be likened to Thames Television’s The World at War (1973-4).

Secrets of War offers narration by Charlton Heston; Heston’s voice lends the series a solemn authority. Featuring some for-the-time expensive-looking computer graphics, combined with archival footage, clever use of stills photography, dramatic re-enactments and interviews with both participants of the wars under discussion and contemporary experts (such as historians and politicians), Secrets of War focussed largely on the methods used to conduct espionage, counter-espionage and covert operations.


The episodes in this DVD release cover the First and Second World Wars, the Cold War, the Korean War, the Six Day War, the war in Vietnam and the first Gulf War. The bulk of the episodes deal with events in the Second World War, with discussion of the cracking of the Enigma code (‘The Ultra Enigma’), some of the methods via which the Allies confused German forces in the Second World War (‘Tools of Deception’), the tactics used by the Resistance fighters in France (‘The French Resistance’) and the Nazis’ development of top secret weaponry (‘Secret Weapons of the Third Reich’). A handful of episodes focus on a theme rather than a specific war, tracing the development of a specific issue throughout all of the major conflicts of the Twentieth Century: ‘Spies in the Sky’ traces the development of aerial reconnaissance throughout the century, and ‘Super Guns’ examines the use of ‘long-range firepower’ from the long-range siege gun (the Paris-Geschütz/Paris Gun) developed by the Germans in the First World War to Saddam Hussein’s ‘Project Babylon’ (a project dramatised in Frederick Forsyth’s 1994 novel The Fist of God). Perhaps obviously, the episodes focusing on more recent wars (for example, ‘Vietnam: Alpha Strike’) feature a greater number of interviews with the participants of these conflicts.


Disc One:
‘German Intelligence in World War II’ (52:02)
‘The Ultra Enigma’ (52:01)
‘Women Spies in World War II’ (52:01)
‘Weapons of the Shadow War’ (52:03)

Disc Two:
‘Nazi Gold’ (52:00)
‘The Battle of the Atlantic’ (52:03)
‘“Sitzkrieg”: The Phoney War’ (52:02)
‘The Battle of Britain’ (52:01)

Disc Three:
‘Tools of Deception’ (52:01)
‘Rommel’s Enigma’ (52:01)
‘Secret Weapons of the Third Reich’ (52:00)
‘D-Day Deceptions’ (52:02)

Disc Four:
‘The French Resistance’ (52:01)
‘The Invasion of Panama’ (52:01)
‘The Gulf War: Steel Rain’ (52:01)
‘The Gulf War: Secrets in the Sand’ (52:02)

Disc Five:
‘Spies in the Sky’ (52:02)
‘Korea: Behind the Bamboo Curtain’ (52:01)
‘Cold War: The Strangelove Factor’ (52:01)
‘Korea: Stalin’s Secret Air War’ (52:01)

Disc Six:
‘Vietnam: Alpha Strike’ (52:01)
‘Vietnam: Hidden in Plain Sight’
‘WWI: Germany’s Secret Gambles’ (52:00)

Disc Seven:
‘Super Guns’ (52:01)
‘Vietnam: Special Operations’ (52:01)
‘Shadows of the Six Day War’ (52:01)


The episodes are presented in their original broadcast screen ratio of 4:3. As noted above, they combine archival footage, stills, interviews with contemporary experts and dramatic re-enactments. All of the episodes have a good presentation on this DVD release.



The episodes contain a two-channel stereo soundtrack, which is clear – if a little ‘muddy’ at times. Sadly, there are no subtitles.




The episodes are very effectively-edited and are supported by a dramatic (and – in the manner of much of the History Channel’s documentaries – perhaps a little too insistent) score by Ramón Balcázar. Perhaps because of the omnipresent music, which frequently signifies adventure and intrigue, a few of the episodes arguably have a little too much of a ‘Boy’s Own’ tone to them. Some of the techniques (including the use of computer graphics) were presumably at the cutting-edge at the time these documentaries were produced. Heston’s familiar, and authoritative, voice lends a gravitas to the content of the narration, although there have apparently been some criticisms of the accuracy of some of the facts included in the series. Nevertheless, amateur historians and military history buffs will find this release a delight. The episodes are certainly factually-dense, and some of them may require several viewings in order for a viewer to process all of the data delivered in the narration and on-screen.

For more information, please visit the homepage of Network DVD.

The Show: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:


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