Marsh Theater at 1062 Valencia in San Francisco is a friendly, laid back, 110 seat theater attached to a community art center, and is surrounded by stunning shops, cafes, lovely fusion food places, and avant garde artistic shops. The theater itself is a lovely place for writers and performers to easily develop no-frill performances.
In a recent performance that I attended, “A History of WWII: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin”, multi award-winning actor and playwright, John Fisher took the audience on a whirlwind journey of or the WWII from the period between allied invasion of Normandy to the Fall of Berlin. Much happened during the short time period between June, 1944 and May, 1945 that finally marked the end of Hitler and the fall of Berlin.
This is a fascinating 85 minutes performance that takes the audience through the final year of the war, when some of the most fateful battles were fought. Fisher is recipient of several awards and in this fast paced solo performance, he does an incredible job of taking the audience through many of the war’s most crucial battles, generals, decisions and throws in information about books and movies that have memorialized these key battles. I will highly recommend this performance for World War II buffs.
Tickets for this show can be obtained at www.themarsh.org .
I was so fascinated by Fisher’s show that afterwards I went through my notes and learned more details about all the fascinating stories he shared in the show. I have attempted to summarize some of that history below for anyone wanting a ready reference of the crucial final year of the war.
History of WWI: The D-Day Invasion to the Fall of Berlin
The Battle of Dunkirk, fought in France, in 1940s had shown that the British had great air force and navy but lacked superior army power to win the war. Fortunately, Hitler’s army halted their advance at the time and it gave the Allies sufficient time to organize the Dunkirk Evacuation where more than 330,000 troops were rescued and it allowed the Allies to build a defensive line. United States was sitting on the side lines. On December 7, 1942, Japanese bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. US continued to maintain formal neutrality, mostly supplying ammunition. Japanese forces pursuing territorial expansionism, bombed the American fleet in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941. That woke the sleeping giant. The day after Pearl Harbor, the US Congress officially declared war on Japan, and was followed by Britain. Three days later, Germany declared war on the United States. In the end, the US involvement changed the course of the War.
After referring to the history that led to United States joining the war, Fisher goes on play act scenes from the war, as shown in many war movies. In one of the final battles, the allied forces from US, Britain, Canada and Free French forces (later joined by contingents from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece and the Netherlands joined the ground campaign and landed on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944 through parachutes, supported by massive air attacks and naval bombardments. Hitler then made a fateful strategic decision. In the aftermath of a failed coup, he recalled General Van Kluge General Kluge feared Hitler’s wrath and killed himself and that was German army’s great loss. Fisher’s description of the failed coup on Hitler, provided much comic relief, in this war story. It is amazing that his dissenting generals made multiple errors in carrying out one of the most impactful acts of their lives.
Fisher goes on to tell the story of Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful military operation fought in the Netherlands, planned and led by the British Army, with an objective to seize a series of nine key bridges that could provide the Allies with an invasion route into Germany. While the Allies succeeded in the liberation of several bridges, they failed to secure the last bridge, over the Rhine and thus failed to cross the Rhine. This failed attempt is memorialized in the film, “A Bridge Too Far”. Fisher also gives out names of several reference books on the subject. Germans were still losing but they had not lost the will.
Launched through the densely forested region in Belgium and Luxembourg, The Battle of the Bulge, was the last major German campaign against the Allies. Germans intended to split the Allied lines. Due to allied overconfidence and negligence of this region, American forces manned by division of 16 and 17 year olds, bore the greatest brunt of the attack and American forces incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. This has been memorialized in the book, “The Ghost Front” written by twin brothers who survived the attack. Fortunately for the Allies, the battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces. The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the second deadliest battle in American history.
However, until the Battle of the Bulge, America mostly provided resources and fire power. It was Russia that provided the blood, swet, and tears. Stalin was completely oblivious to the suffering and decimation of his troops. Despite significant losses, he continued to provide an inexhaustible supply of troops and ordered Soviet forces to “fight to the last man”, although women also participated in the battle. He also issues, “Not One Step Backward!” rule, which decreed that cowards were to be “liquidated on the spot.” In the end, while America lost slightly more than 400,000 soldiers (killed or missing) and almost no civilians during World War II, the USSR is believed to have lost at least 11,000,000 soldiers (killed and missing) as well as somewhere between 7,000,000 and 20,000,000 million of its civilians. While growing up, Fisher was fascinated by the war and by German generals speaking in interesting accent. But as the story gets closer to the end, the huge cost of war in terms of the lives lost, hangs in the air like a crude reality.
Despite enormous payout in terms of lives lost, Stalin’s ambitions were not contained and in the final stages of the fall of Berlin, there was a “Race to Berlin”, a sort of competition to enter Berlin between two Soviet marshals who separately commanded their armies to drive their men as fast as they could. Meanwhile American generals Montomery, Patton and even the Brits wanted to continue the advance into Berlin. But Eisenhower made a different choice. He wished to avoid further American casualties which were estimated to be around 100,000 American men, if they were to compete for Berlin. Eisenhower also wished to honor the agreement made with the Soviets at the Yalta Conference and allow Stalin to exert control over Berlin. The Americans leaving Berlin for the Soviets, enabled the Soviets to take the lead, and after the bloody “Battle of Berlin” (where the Soviets engaged in many atrocities and war crimes), the Soviets prevailed. This forever changed the course of history. Soviets implemented The Iron Curtain, both sides began the race for nuclear arms, and the ensuing Cold War lasted nearly 45 years.