Tag Archives: Hell Below

Preview: Smithsonian’s Hell Below heads for new waters in Season 3

Hell Below is heading to new heights in Season 3.

The documentary series from Parallax Film Productions Inc.—the crew behind Hitler’s Last Stand, Battle Castle and two previous seasons of Hell Below—has added CGI aircraft to its toolbox. The Vancouver company’s storytelling sets it apart from other projects in this genre with its grittily realistic filming, achieved through as much in-camera filming as possible, including explosions.

The purpose of Hell Below continues to be tracking submarine warfare throughout the course of the Second World War, and Parallax always hit the mark.

Returning Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on Smithsonian Channel Canada, “Killer Strike” spotlights U-47 and its commander, Günther Prien, who is credited with the first official U-Boat kill of the Second World War when he sinks the SS Bosnia. Prien is recalled from patrol early and offered a secret mission to strike the British Royal Navy at its home port of Scapa Flow, in Scotland’s Orkney Islands. Used as far back as the Vikings, Scapa Flow has served as the Royal Navy’s base of operations since the First World War. Fighting heavy currents and dodging blockships, Prien breaks into Scapa Flow, but there is no guarantee he will make it out again.

Expert analysis, re-enactments, stock footage and always-impressive CGI help tell these tales.

Future episodes cover the true stories of German U-Boat Commander Fritz Julius Lemp and the sinking of the SS Athenia, attacks on Allied shipping off the coast of Australia, and the rescue of George H. W. Bush by a submarine after he was shot down.

Hell Below airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. Eastern on Smithsonian Channel.

Image courtesy of Parallax Film Productions Inc.


Season 2 of Hitler’s Last Stand returns to Smithsonian Channel Canada

Parallax Film Productions Inc. is putting out some pretty amazing programming.

The Vancouver-based production company first jumped onto my radar with Battle Castle, an excellent series that recreated castles and showed how they were used for war. I’ve written about Hell Below, which documents the claustrophobic life for those working in U-boats during the Second World War. Now Parallax is back with Season 2 of Hitler’s Last Stand.

Currently broadcast Tuesday nights on Smithsonian Channel Canada, Hitler’s Last Stand tells the stories of Second World War battles post-D-Day, when German forces were being pushed back by the Allies but were still fighting.

“These aren’t the stories about the generals,” says Maija Leivo, executive producer. “These are the stories of these guys who had these unimaginable missions. They were the ones who had to take that hill, cross that river or build the bridge under fire.”

A male soldier looks into the distance. A fire burns behind him.In the first hour-long episode of Season 2, “Lost Battalion,” (available to stream on Smithsonian’s website) an American regiment on D-Day plus 62 drives for the coast to liberate the French port city of Saint-Malo, and encounter Nazi resistance and every road blocked. Even when the 3rd Battalion does break through, within hours, they find the roadblock retaken by Nazi forces and the group surrounded. It’s a harrowing story brought to life not only by the fact it’s all true—and explained by historians, experts and stock footage—but because of the stellar wardrobe, makeup, filming and, yes, tanks.

“We try, as much as we can, to as much filming in-camera as possible,” says Ian Herring, Parallax’s founder. “We do a little CGI for some explosions, but for the most part those are real explosions.” Herring is constantly on the lookout for items from the Second World War that he can purchase and use for filming, scooping up clothing, vehicles and the aforementioned tank when he can. Having a bonafide tank roll through your shot gives immediate realism to the shoot, but it’s not without a glitch or two. Herring remembers a first-season tank its owner had trouble keeping running.

“We shot for 35 days in Season 1 and got his tank running on the last one,” he recalls with a laugh. When Herring needed a German tank, he found one in Plymouth, England. It was brought to Vancouver via the Panama Canal and landed in Seattle, where it was loaded onto a flatbed truck and driven up to Vancouver.

“We got to the Canadian border and the customs people there said, ‘Tank? What the heck? Carry on.’ And we shot the last week of production using a German tank.”

Hitler’s Last Stand airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel Canada. You can watch past episodes via Smithsonian Channel Canada’s website.

Images courtesy of Parallax Film Productions Inc.


Hitler has his revenge in Hell Below

Watching X Company, I was reminded of the Battle of the St. Lawrence, when German U-boats patrolled the Gulf and mouth of the river during the Second World War in search of Allied ships to sink. In Tuesday’s new episode of Hell Below, attacks are ordered along the east coast of the United States in an attempt to threaten the war effort.

In “Hitler’s Revenge,” airing at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel Canada, the German Commander of U-boats, Karl Dönitz, wanted to follow up the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—which caused the U.S. to enter the war—with a full-scale assault along the eastern seaboard. With men like Kapitanleutnant Reinhard Hardegen at the helm of U-123, Dönitz hoped Hardegen and the captains of four more Type 9 submarines would get the job done via Operation Drumbeat. There’s a ton of interesting facts revealed in the episode, including background into Hardegen’s pre-submarine war career, the truly awful conditions inside the U-boats and the lengths crews would go to make 80-day missions aboard them somewhat livable.

There are plenty of action and tense moments. The plan to attack off the coast of New York City is so rushed no accurate maps of the water depth are available and Hardegen has to resort to a city guide and map to figure out what The Big Apple looks like. As with past episodes of Hell Below, stunning recreations, CGI and real war footage bring these harrowing tales to life.

Is Hardegen’s mission a success? Tune in to find out.

Hell Below airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel Canada. You can watch past episodes via Smithsonian Channel Canada’s website.


Hell Below portrays perilous life aboard wartime submarines

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of military programming, and Hell Below is a fantastic one. Produced by Parallax Film Productions out of Vancouver, the documentary series delves into life aboard submarines during the Second World War, and Tuesday’s newest is a humdinger.

“The Wolfpack”—broadcast on Smithsonian Channel Canada at 8 p.m. ET—explores the elite submariners that hunted Allied convoys bringing much-needed supplies from the East Coast of North America to Britain. At the centre of the episode is Otto Kretschmer, one of Hitler’s U-boat aces whose guts and gambles made him a successful and valued member of the German side. Kretschmer inflicted incredible damage by manoeuvring his submersible into the middle of convoys and then picking off ships one by one, leading to cataclysmic losses.

Filmed aboard era ships and subs, Hell Below successfully portrays not only the successes and failures of Kretschmer and his crew, but the claustrophobic conditions they operated in. With hundreds of feet between them and the surface—and with Allied boats dropping depth charges—being on a U-boat crew was not for the faint of heart. You can’t help but feel sympathy as depth charges shudder through the sub’s structure, springing bolts and letting in freshets of water. Expert analysis, re-enactments, stock footage and impressive CGI help tell the tale of Kretschmer’s career and what happened when the Allies finally put radar on their ships.

Hell Below airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel Canada. You can watch past episodes via Smithsonian Channel Canada’s website.