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Epoch Cinema Documentary Review: ‘Operation Sussex’


May 10th, 1940, might be a date that doesn’t exactly resonate with many Americans, but it’s quite a memorable date among many Europeans, particularly those who hail from France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

On that day, Germany invaded those countries. France fell to the German army in less than six weeks. They wouldn’t even begin to be liberated until the famous Normandy landings (also known as D-Day) that commenced on June 6, 1944, as popularized in Hollywood films such as 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan.”

But there were some heroic people who helped to pave the way for this ultimate liberation of the Western Front—people who were part of lesser-known operations. One of these operations is the focus of a 53-minute historical documentary film titled “Operation Sussex,” directed by Bonnie Friedman (available on EpochTV).

The Germans occupy France in 1940. “Operation Sussex” (Alliance Productions.)

Although it is rather short in length, this film covers a lot of historical ground. It tells the tale of three Allied counties—the United States, Great Britain, and France—that worked together via a daring intelligence operation. The documentary is told through Friedman’s narration, as well as surviving members of the operation. Since most of the people interviewed in this film are French, it contains lots of handy English subtitles.

During Operation Sussex, 120 brave French men and women (118 men and 2 women to be exact) volunteered to train as parachutists in England by American and British military and intelligence forces. All of the volunteers were very young and as one interviewee explains, out of the 120 individuals, only 10 were over the age of 25 (the youngest was 16 ½).

The training of the volunteers was rigorous and thorough. They had to be prepared to not only jump out of Allied planes over German-occupied France but do so while being shot at by the numerous German anti-air gun emplacements positioned there (especially the 8.8 cm Flak guns).

French volunteers lift off from England in “Operation Sussex” (Alliance Productions.)

But that wasn’t all—even if they successfully land, they’d be expected to elude German forces and link up with members of the French Resistance, usually under the cover of night.

Understandably, telling friend from foe was often difficult for the young French paratroopers and they constantly risked being captured by German soldiers. Captives that weren’t killed outright were sometimes delivered into the nefarious hands of the Gestapo to be tortured for information, before inevitably being killed.

The French volunteers were always grouped into teams of two. If these teams managed to safely meet up with members of the French Resistance, they were to observe German army movements (and anything else useful, such as the location of supply depots and V1 and V2 rocket launch pads). Any intelligence gleaned was to be reported back to Allied forces stationed in England via radio. Once D-Day kicked off, they were expected to continue reporting on enemy troop and vehicle movements.

President Ronald Reagan meets with Clarence Thomas in “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words.” “Operation Sussex” (Alliance Productions.)

These brave volunteers faced immense danger, and many of the details of what transpired in their particular cases are recounted through fascinating interviews by the volunteers themselves, as well as their various American and British trailers.

One of the things that I thought director Friedman did extremely well was combining lots of World War II combat and news footage, with interviews in a seamless manner. Sometimes, an interviewee would talk about some harrowing event they’d experienced and they’d narrate over the old footage, which gives parts of the excellent documentary a real feeling of immediacy.

After watching this incredible account of these intrepid French volunteers, I felt that this would be a great opportunity for anyone to learn about a relatively lesser-known aspect of World War II—not just military aficionados. It has a distinctly humanistic undertone that helps people to understand how three allied nations stood together in unity in order to stand up against the evils of Nazism. Overall, “Operation Sussex” is a highly informative documentary I can see watching again and again. It’s available on EpochTV.

Watch“Operation Sussex,” on Epoch Cinema here.

‘Operation Sussex’

Directors: Bonnie Friedman Running Time: 53 minutes MPAA Rating: Not Rated Release Date: Jan. 28, 2012 Rated: 4 stars out of 5

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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