Ten Best World War II TV Shows

L-r: Rick Jason, Vic Morrow in Combat! (ABC-TV)

World War II (1939-45) has not only been fertile ground for countless movies but for television shows as well. Here are ten World War II dramatic television series that no armchair warrior should ever miss. We begin in 1944 France… 

Combat! (ABC-TV, 1962-67)

The long, hard slog from Omaha Beach through the killing fields of France come alive in this highly-respected World War II drama from Selmur Productions. Vic Morrow and Rick Jason have the lead roles as Sgt. Chip Saunders and Lieutenant Gil Hanley, respectively, with an array of actors filling the enlisted ranks through the years, including Pierre Jalbert (Caje), Jack Hogan (Kirby), Dick Peabody (Little John), Conlan Carter (Doc), Tom Lowell (Nelson), Steven Rogers (Doc) and Shecky Greene (Braddock). The stories were interesting and well-crafted, the acting believable and the special effects always first rate with Saunders’ blazing Thompson submachine gun seeing a lot of action. Originally telecast in black-and-white, Combat! – budgeted at approximately $150,000 per episode – switched to color for the final 1966-67 television season. Both the lives of Vic Morrow (1929-1982) and Rick Jason (1923-2000) ended tragically. Morrow was decapitated by a helicopter rotor blade on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983) and Jason committed suicide (gunshot) shortly after returning home from a fan convention.

Number of episodes: 152

Notable guest stars: James Coburn, Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Duvall, James Caan, Lee Marvin, Beau Bridges, Telly Savalas, Mickey Rooney, Sal Mineo, Bobby Rydell, John Cassavetes, Frankie Avalon, Jack Lord, Robert Culp, Wayne Rogers, Bill Bixby, James Franciscus, Faith Domergue, Ricardo Montalban, Leonard Nimoy, Dennis Hopper, Nick Adams

Choice Episode: “The Long Walk” (12/15/64) with Roddy McDowall. An SS officer infiltrates Saunders’ squad, posing as an enlisted man from Memphis named Murfree.

12 O’Clock High (ABC-TV, 1964-67)

Based on the 1949 movie of the same name, 12 O’Clock High made its television debut on September 18, 1964. The series features the lives and missions of the 918th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Eighth Air Force, based in England during World War II. Paul Burke (Colonel Joseph Gallagher), Robert Lansing (General Frank Savage), Frank Overton (Major Harvey Stovall) and Chris Robinson (Sergeant Sandy Komansky) head the cast. A Quinn Martin Production, 12 O’Clock High suffered one of its first major casualties after the first season when Robert Lansing’s Frank Savage was killed off after the actor reportedly complained of a time slot move and a lessening of his role. When it came to the air war in Europe, the classy 12 O’Clock High had no peers on the small screen.

Number of episodes: 78

Notable guest stars: James Whitmore, James Farentino, Jack Lord, Dana Wynter, Burt Reynolds, Sally Kellerman, Roy Thinnes, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Keir Dullea, Claudine Longet, James Brolin, Beau Bridges, Jill Ireland, Roddy McDowall, Wayne Rogers, Ossie Davis

Choice episode: “The Sound of Distant Thunder” (10/16/64) with Peter Fonda and Jill Haworth. Tennessean Lt. Andy Lathrop falls in love with English lass Mary Lean at The Golden Cup Pub, only to lose her in a German air raid.

L-r: Chris Robinson, Paul Burke in 12 O’Clock High (ABC-TV)

The Rat Patrol (ABC-TV, 1966-68)

The North African campaign comes alive in this thrilling World War II entry starring Christopher George as Sergeant Sam Troy, who heads an American unit which specializes in conducting raids on General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. Joining George in his machine-gun mounted jeeps are Gary Raymond (Sergeant Jack Moffitt), Lawrence P. Casey (Private Mark Hitchcock) and Justin Tarr (Private Tully Pettigrew). Hans Gudegast, who later changed his name to Eric Braeden, appears as Captain Hans Dietrich, the Rat Patrol’s principal nemesis. The first several episodes of The Rat Patrol were filmed in Spain, with the production later using the desert regions of California, Nevada and Arizona.

Number of episodes: 58

Notable guest stars: Wolfgang Preiss, Warren Stevens, Gavin MacLeod, Fay Spain, Claudine Longet, Martin Milner, Fabian

Choice episode: “The Do-Re-Mi Raid” (11/6/67) with Jack Jones, Harvey Jackson and Rick Traeger. Sergeant Troy lets himself be captured in order to free celebrity entertainer Mickey Roberts from a German POW camp.

The Gallant Men (ABC-TV, 1962-63)

Set in the Italian campaign of World War II, The Gallant Men features Robert McQueeney as war correspondent Conley Wright. Others in the cast include William Reynolds (Captain Jim Benedict), Robert Ridgely (Lieutenant Frank Kimbro), Richard X. Slattery (Sergeant John McKenna), Eddie Fontaine (Pete D’Angelo), Roland La Starza (Ernie Lucavich), Robert Gothie (Sam Hanson) and Roger Davis (Roger Gibson). Although it ran for only one season, The Gallant Men had its moments, including some great battle scenes along with a little romance as well. The Gallant Men was filmed on the backlots of Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California.

Number of episodes: 26

Notable guest stars: Ray Danton, Peter Breck, Robert Conrad, Mala Powers, Michael Parks, Peter Brown, DeForest Kelley, Dorothy Provine, George Takei, James Doohan

Choice episode: “A Place to Die” (12/21/82) with Michael Parks. An Army paratrooper is out to avenge the deaths of his brothers.

Black Sheep Squadron (NBC-TV, 1976-78)

Originally titled Baa Baa Black Sheep, Black Sheep Squadron dramatized the exploits of the famous VMF-214 Marine Corps squadron in the Pacific during World War II. Robert Conrad stars as the real-life Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, with an array of actors populating the series, including Simon Oakland (General Thomas Moore), Dana Elcar (Colonel Thomas Lard), Robert Ginty (Lieutenant T.J. Wiley), James Whitmore Jr. (Captain Jim Gutterman), W.K. Stratton (Lieutenant Larry Casey), Dirk Blocker (Lieutenant Jerry Bragg), John Larroquette (Lieutenant Bob Anderson), Jeff MacKay (Lieutenant Donald French), Larry Manetti (Lieutenant Bob Boyle), Red West (Sergeant Andy Micklin) and Joey Aresco (Hutch). Black Sheep Squadron features vintage Corsairs, some exciting aerial action and lots of boozing, brawling and womanizing among the Black Sheep members. The show caught holy hell from the Black Sheep Squadron’s former intelligence officer, who reported in TV Guide that the series was largely fiction and bore little resemblance to his old outfit.

Number of episodes: 36

Notable guest stars: Sharon Gless, Kent McCord, James Darren, Anne Francis, Soon-Tek Oh, Peter Frampton, Tim Matheson

Choice episode: “The War Biz Warrior” (1/4/77) with James Darren. Lt. Colonel Rod Towers, a Hollywood movie star back home, reports for duty with the Black Sheep Squadron where he gets a real taste of the war.

Robert Conrad as Greg “Pappy” Boyington in Black Sheep Squadron (NBC-TV)

Garrison’s Gorillas (ABC-TV, 1967-68)

Taking its cue from the 1967 movie The Dirty Dozen, Garrison’s Gorillas features the exploits of four convicts plucked from federal prison, sent on covert missions in Europe and promised pardons if they survive the war. Commanding the special unit is Ron Harper as Lieutenant Craig Garrison, with Cesare Danova as Actor, the con man; Christopher Cary as Goniff, the pickpocket; Rudy Solari as Casino, the safecracker; and Brendon Boone as Chief, the knife-wielding American Indian. It may not have been an original idea, but Garrison’s Gorillas (and that’s not “Guerrillas” as it probably should be), delivered both action and humor during its brief one-season run on the tube.

Number of episodes: 26

Notable guest stars: Telly Savalas, Jack Klugman, Michael Conrad, Glenn Corbett, Frank Gorshin, Gavin MacLeod, Gilbert Roland, Ted Knight, Jamie Farr, Claude Akins

Choice episode: “The Great Crime Wave” (12/5/67) with Harry Beckman, Ray Walston, Robert Donner, Oscar Beregi, Lorna Thayer and Gun Sundberg. The team launches its own crime wave in order to occupy German authorities, giving Lt. Garrison time to plant his explosives and dynamite a cache of Nazi gold.

Jericho (CBS-TV, 1966-67)

This cloak-and-dagger show stars Don Francks as Franklin Sheppard, John Leyton as Nicholas Gage and Marino Mase as Jean-Gaston Andre, three Allied agents who mainly operated behind the lines in World War II. Set in France before the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944, Jericho didn’t even last a full season on the small screen, cancelled by CBS before it could find its audience.

Number of episodes: 16

Notable guest stars: Tom Bosley, Nehemiah Persoff, Whit Bissell, James Doohan, Vic Damone, Walter Koenig, Paul Mantee, Michael Rennie

Choice episode: “Panic in the Piazza” (10/13/66) with Marianna Hill and John Van Dreelen. The team employ the Trojan Horse ploy in order to smuggle explosives into German Army headquarters.

Colditz (BBC-TV, 1972-74)

Colditz Castle, a maximum security prison used by the Germans to hold high-risk Allied POW officers during World War II is the setting of this British television series. David McCallum as Flight Lt. Simon Carter heads the cast, with Richard Heffer (Captain Tim Downing), Paul Chapman (Captain George Brent), Jack Hedley (Lt. Colonel John Preston) and Robert Wagner (Flight Lt. Phil Carrington) as his fellow POWs. Bernard Hepton plays the Kommandant, with Hans Meyer as Hauptman Franz Ulmann. Many of the episodes were inspired by true-life escape accounts from Colditz during Big Two.

Number of episodes: 28

Notable guest stars: Michael Gough, Al Mancini, Garrick Hagon, Dan O’Herlihy

Choice episode: “Liberation” (4/1/74) with Sean Arnold, Peter Bale and Peter Godfrey. In 1945, Colditz Castle is finally liberated by the advancing American Army in the face of stiff SS resistance.

Court Martial (ABC-TV, 1966)

Bradford Dillman (Captain David Young) and Peter Graves (Major Frank Whittaker) star in this World War II drama centering on the United States Army Judge Advocate General Corps. The series was produced by Perry Como’s Roncom Productions and Britain’s ITC Entertainment. Investigation and military courtroom drama in war-torn Europe are the hallmarks of the show, which lasted but one season on the small screen.

Number of episodes: 26

Notable guest stars: Sal Mineo, Darren McGavin, Joan Hackett, Mark Lester, Cameron Mitchell, Ronald Howard, Donald Sutherland, Judi Dench

Choice episode: “Flight of a Tiger” (9/2/66) with John Doucette and Devi Bughwan. Major Whittaker defends U.S. Army Air Forces captain George Crouch, who has been brought up on smuggling charges.

Bradford Dillman, right, in Court Martial (ABC-TV)

Convoy (NBC-TV, 1965)

The United States Navy and its service in the North Atlantic during World War II is dramatized in this short-lived series starring John Gavin as Commander Dan Talbot. Also on hand are John Larch as Merchant Captain Ben Foster, Linden Chiles as Chief Officer Steve Kirkland and James Callahan as Lieutenant Dick O’Connell. As the title indicates, the show centered on a convoy of 200 American ships crossing the U-boat-infested waters of the North Atlantic during Big Two. Low ratings sunk Convoy – one of the last NBC shows to be filmed in black-and-white – after only 13 episodes.

Number of episodes: 13

Notable guest stars: Dana Wynter, Dennis Hopper, Jack Palance, James Doohan, The Kingston Trio, Leslie Nielsen, Diane Baker, Barbara Rush

Choice episode: “Sink U-116!” (11/12/65) with Leslie Nielsen, Monica Lewis, Lee Bergere, Arnold Moss and Robert Pine. Talbot hunts the German submarine U-116, which seeks a safe haven in neutral Portugal.

Other Notable World War II Television Shows

  • Combat Sergeant (1956)
  • Foyle’s War (2002-present)
  • Dirty Dozen: The Series (1988)

Michael Kitchen, in overcoat, as Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War (ITV)

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