The briefest possible summary: 1. The Fated Sky. Summary of the development of early air with an emphasis on the Luftwaffe.
2. Battle for Britain. Luftwaffe vs. the RAF.
3. Fifty North. Air in Scandinavia.
4. Maximum Effort. The first thousand-bomber raid.
5. Desert Air Force. Tribulations and triumphs in North Africa.
6. Combined Ops. Gliders and paratroops.
7. The Rising Sun. Japan conquers Southeast Asia.
8. Round the Clock. Bomber command and the USAF pound Germany.
9. Wings Over Italy. The slogging match up the boot.
10. Overlord. Paratroops, bombs, and fighter-bombers clear the way.
11. Facing New Weapons. Jets, the V-1 and the V-2.
12. The Cold Dawn. Germany gives up.
13. Eastern Victory. Japan gives up.
14. The Unquiet Peace. The Cold War and Korea.
15. Past and Future. A summing up.
It's not quite like most of the other post-war documentary series. The earlier ones -- "Victory at Sea" and "Crusade in Europe" -- were almost victory laps. "The World at War" introduced a human elements and the adversary's point of view. This one is almost leisurely in its coverage of the war, and it doesn't demonize the enemy quite as much.
There are no talking heads. It's all combat footage, newsreels, and war-time documentaries. Some of the footage -- especially from gun cameras -- is already familiar but what's surprising is that so much of it is not. This was only 1954 -- nine years after the war ended -- and the producers seem to have taken into account that some of the Germans, at least, were human. (The Japanese remain problematic.) I'd never seen the shots of Hitler saluting at a ceremony honoring the dead. And, though many are familiar with Harris's "reap the whirlwind" speech, I'd never seen footage of German civilians huddling in the basement while their cities were destroyed, one of the civilians being a pretty little blond girl. Missing from the gun camera footage, and from almost ALL war documentaries, is to me the most unforgettable. Not the locomotive penetrated by bullets and spurting plumes of steam. Instead, a frantic French farmer in his cart, trotting his horse along a dirt road, before farmer, cart, and horse all disappear together in a cloud of dust, riddled by bullets from a fighter-bomber.
None of the narrators (which include Ralph Richardson if my ear is correct) comments on the foolishness of it all. First, a great big destructive war. Then, before we can even settle down, another smaller one in Korea, a point at which the series ends. Now, of course, we're faced with multiple smaller ones. It seems never to end.