Ships that Changed the World is a fascinating three-part series which explores how the history of the 20th century was defined by the iconic vessels of the age. Presented by Colonel Tim Collins, the show uncovers the secret history of ship building, and charts the fortunes of Belfast-based dockyard Harland and Wolff, revealing how the ships and the industry they spawned shaped the course of global history for almost a century.
Once the greatest shipbuilders in the world, they played a crucial role in two world wars, survived Luftwaffe bombing, the Wall Street crash, and the advent of air travel. Their story is littered with superlatives – a string of world’s first, greatest, biggest and fastest – and of course, they also built a ship called the Titanic.
The series combines the frontline maritime exploits of these magnificent ships and their crews with the social history of unemployment and recession which defined the lives of the designers and master craftsmen who built them back on land. From the Titanic’s fateful launch to the sinking of the Bismark, from the German sea blockade to the departure of the SS Canberra to fight in the Falklands, and featuring appearances from boats such as HMS Dreadnaught and character such as Winston Churchill, the series is an engrossing account of how the fortunes of nations were won, and lost, at sea.
In this series Tim uses computer-generated imagery, original locations and archive footage to present this story of Northern Ireland’s global shipbuilding industry. Utilising an inventory of visual techniques including film projection, digital time-lapse photography and CGI, and featuring lost Titanic footage, this is not just a story about ships, a shipyard or even a city, but of earth-shattering events on a global scale.
Written & Directed by David Starkey ; An About-Face Media Production for BBC Northern Ireland
Part 1: Titanic and the Race for the Atlantic
Tim Collins looks at how the city of Belfast revolutionised maritime history, helping turn the Titanic and White Star Line into the biggest names in transatlantic passenger shipping. The building – and sinking – of the Titanic had a profound effect on Belfast, shipbuilding and the shipyard that resounded for a generation. But for the world, the sinking became an emblem of the end of the Victorian age, and created history that endures to this day. As a result of the Battle of Jutland 1916, a new breed of cruiser was sought. HMS The Hood was designed in 1918 and built at Harland and Wolff in Belfast to counter the new class of German destroyer.
Part 2: Ships at War
Tim Collins reveals how Northern Ireland developed some of the biggest warships of World War One, turning the tide of the war and forever changing the way naval warfare was waged. The aftershock of the Titanic’s sinking continued to be felt, but still some of the most famous commercial vessels and warships were built in this period. This would become critical. The Second World War galvanised the shipyard. Its performance would determine whether Britain would starve during the blockade. The sinking of the Hood in 1941, a symbolic flagship of the British fleet, was a huge blow, and Churchill retaliated by ordering the sinking of the Bismarck. This tale became a symbol of Britain’s defiance.
Part 3: From the Sea to the Air
Belfast remained a stalwart competitor in shipping technology with the innovative liner SS Canberra, which served as both a cruise ship and a troop-carrier during the Falklands War. The race to restore the huge quantities of merchant shipping sunk during the war reinvigorated the shipyard. This was a new phase, with 1950s leisure and travel replacing war. The new flagship of the P&O line was to be the SS Canberra. But after its long run as a luxury liner and cruise ship it would be sent to war in 1982 for the Falklands conflict. Although it returned to commercial service, it’s ‘death’ in 1998 marked the end of the big century of shipbuilding.