PBS Partners With Channel 4 in Unprecedented Expedition to Find Sunken World War II Battleships "Hood" and "Bismarck" for New Specials Beginning Oct. 31
-- PBS and Channel 4 Provide 24-Hour Coverage of the Expedition Including Live Webcast of Underwater Filming of the Wreckage --
PASADENA, Calif. - July 27, 2001 - It was one of the greatest sea battles of World War II, ending in the destruction of two of the world's mightiest warships and the loss of almost 3,500 lives. Now, 60 years later, PBS has partnered with England's Channel 4 in an extraordinarily ambitious expedition to find Great Britain's HMS Hood and Germany's Bismarck for two new television specials. The first broadcast will be a one-hour look at the expedition leading up to the location of the Hood, on Wednesday, October 31 at 8 p.m. (Check local listings.) A two-hour special will follow in 2002. The announcement was made today by Pat Mitchell, president and CEO of PBS, at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena.
On Monday, July 2, a search vessel and an international team led by David Mearns, one of the world's foremost experts in wreck exploration, set sail from Cork, Ireland. The battleships were found with remarkable speed by the 22-member crew, which includes personnel from Oceaneering Technologies of Maryland. The Bismarck was discovered on July 9, 150 miles west of Brest in northern France, and ten days later, the Hood was located in the Denmark Strait in the North Atlantic.
The Hunt for the Hood Web site (PBS.org/hood/PBS) gives the public the opportunity to experience the excitement and drama of the exploration with live video streaming and breathtaking photos from the sea floor as well as video archives, daily news dispatches from the search vessel, details about the complex operation and the history of the ships. It also enables people to talk to Mr. Mearns, the crew, experts and veterans via live chats and email, and to express their opinions in a special Web forum.
The October 31 television program and the subsequent documentary will explore the remains of the warships using state-of-the art search equipment and film technology, shed new light on the mysteries surrounding the ships' destruction, and tell remarkable battle stories through the eyes of survivors. Both programs will also make extensive use of 3-D graphics to recreate and explain the catastrophic events of 60 years ago.
"We're thrilled to partner with Channel 4 in this important expedition and program," said Ms. Mitchell. "What's particularly exciting is that people can watch history being made live on the Web prior to the PBS telecasts and learn a great deal about every aspect of the project. This is the kind of timely and informative programming and outreach that are PBS's signature."
Sarah Marris, deputy commissioning editor, Science and Education, Channel 4 Television said: "This is the first time that Channel 4 has funded such an ambitious expedition. We are delighted that the team has overcome gales, technological breakdowns and other seafaring challenges, and achieved what they set out to do. Channel 4 and PBS can now reap the benefits of their bravery and expertise as we recreate an important piece of history and produce a major cross-platform event."
David Mearns and production company ITN Factual have planned and researched the project for more than six years. Their survey ship, the Northern Horizon, originally a deep-sea trawler, had been on three expeditions led by Dr. Robert Ballard of Titanic fame. It is equipped with side-scan radar equipment (specifically designed by Mr. Mearns) to locate large wrecks, mounted on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) sent to the seabed almost two miles beneath the surface. The remains of the Bismarck had already been found once by Dr. Ballard, who didn't have time to survey the wreck properly. Although he never disclosed the location, he did leave vital clues in his book about the expedition.
Questions remain to this day as to why the Hood sank so quickly and the PBS/Channel 4 programs hope to provide answers. The explorers have one rule: "Look, but don't touch." They will not move or touch anything except to leave a plaque at the site of the wreck. This will include a CD-ROM bearing the names of all the men who died. Once the expedition is over, the Hood's location will not be revealed. The site will be protected and those who sacrificed their lives will be left in peace.
The HMS Hood was considered to be the greatest warship afloat; it was certainly the biggest. Commissioned in 1920, she was 810 feet long and weighed more than 42,670 tons. Between the two world wars, the HMS Hood was the fastest, most powerful and arguable the most beautiful ship afloat.
The Bismarck was a state-of-the-art battleship and was Germany's challenge to Britain's supremacy at sea. At 792 feet long, she weighed in at nearly 45,000 tons. The vessel was launched in 1939 and was fitted with the most daunting array of firepower ever assembled on a single ship.
On May 24, 1941, the two battleships came face to face off the coast of Greenland, in the Denmark Strait. Within minutes, HMS Hood was hit twice by the Bismarck, then broke in half and sank. Of her crew of more than 1,400 only three survived, among them Ted Briggs, the sole survivor alive today and a participant in the PBS/Channel 4 program.
The loss of the Hood, the pride of the nation, shook Britain to the core. Winston Churchill responded by issuing his famous command, "Sink the Bismarck." Every available allied ship and plane hunted for the warship. Three British battleships were able to decimate the Bismarck on May 27, 1941 near the port of Brest in northern France. Of the 2,000-member crew, only 115 survived. Two of the greatest warships ever built would then become inextricably linked in history forever.
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The UK's Channel 4 is, uniquely, commercially funded but with a public service mission to foster creativity, diversity and innovation in its programs and services at no cost to the UK taxpayer or licence-fee payer. This combination of cultural and commercial objectives has created one of the world's most admired television channels, the UK's leading independent film company and one of the most enduring and potent media brands.
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