Human beings throughout the Twentieth Century have experienced the most amazing Action Adventures. On the one hand they have attempted certain exploits with mixed results, on the other epic events have proved beyond their control. In both cases, humanity has had to summon up enormous resources of ingenuity and fortitude to control circumstances, events and the environment. In some cases people have found themselves struggling against their own kind and in other cases against the elements which have resulted in an interaction which has produced Great Adventures. Whether discovering hitherto unknown tombs of kings or fighting globally for a ideal or just simply surviving – here in this series you will find the stories on which every action adventure film ever made was based – the only exception is that these stories were filmed at the time and are true.
Since the dawn of the age of moving film it has been possible to capture some of humanity’s greatest achievements. This series is concerned with those adventures where footage exists of the successes, the strivings and in some cases the failures of people against the elements or overwhelming odds. It covers the way in which the two greatest oceans were conquered by air transportation. How the secrets of antiquity were unlocked – sometimes with deadly results. How expeditions have reached the extremities of the Earth in polar exploration and the mountains. How man has grappled with the elements of ocean, fire and flood – and in the ultimate adventure – the frontiers of space.
During the brief time on this planet which has been possible to film, humanity has found itself locked several times in global conflict. This has produced heroes of the hour whose adventures stand as definitive factual stories seldom matched in the annals of fiction.
The adventures of Lawrence of Arabia; the sinking of the Bismarck; JFK and the Motor Torpedo Boats; the quest for speed in the air, on land and on water; the race to the sound barrier; the race to the moon; the race to defeat enemy superweapons and the race to escape certain death – all these have produced cliff-hanging escapades worthy of any Hollywood film.
These true stories of spies, daring escapes and special missions are sheer adventure through and through. They show the dignity of the human spirit and its determination sometimes in the face of evil and darkness. The planet has yielded many adventures in the Twentieth Century and this series with its access to over 250,000 hours of the world’s greatest archive film gives the viewer the inside track on what it must have been like to be there. It is the greatest series on Twentieth Century adventures ever produced.
Produced by Nugus/Martin Productions Ltd for BBC Worldwide
Part 1: Wings Across An Ocean
Conquest of the Atlantic By Air
How the Atlantic was conquered by air ranging from the pioneering epic of Lt Cdr Read USN in his Curtis flying boat and Alcock and Brown in their converted Vickers Vimy bomber in 1919, to Charles Lindbergh’s epic solo crossing of 1927 and the record speed flights, including Concorde.
Once man had conquered the power of flight, his next goal was to find a way to cross the Atlantic. The pioneer was Lt Commander Read of the US Navy who crossed the North Atlantic in a Curtiss NC-4 flying boat. In 1919 he was followed by Alcock and Brown in their converted Vickers Vimy bomber; and a few years later Charles Lindbergh made his epic solo flight across the Atlantic. In the following years the record breaking attempts were aimed at speed with Concorde’s breaking of the sound barrier.
Part 2: Wheels of Adventure
The World’s Longest Motor Journeys
Long distance car rallies, including the London-Sydney and the Pan African rallies, and attempts to drive round the world (by Kegresse half-tracks in the 1920s) and the length of the Americas. Epic footage of speed and endurance.
With the development of the motor car man soon turned his attention from using it as a means of travel to using it for his sporting aspirations, to driving around the world, to remote corners, to those places where few men have ventured before. Driving in these early days was always a challenge. Dirt roads that the horse found perfectly acceptable became impassable quagmires of mud for the automobile. Despite these challenges, it was not long before the automobile transformed itself from novelty to necessity. The advent of the world’s longest motor journeys took place with the London-Sydney and Pan Africa car rallies, in deserts and at tropical jungles. These were then followed by epic attempts of endurance to drive round the world and across the length of the Americas.
Part 3: Captain Courageous
The Story of Captain Carlsen and the Flying Enterprise
Kurt Carlsen’s epic solo struggle to save his 6,700 ton merchant vessel, her holds waterlogged, from the ravages of an Atlantic hurricane during Christmas 1951. Spectacular film taken at the time shows the immense bravery of this famous Captain in his efforts to stay with his ship.
Danish Captain, Henrik Kurt Carlsen, was given the name of ‘Captain Stay-put’ by the press in 1952, when his ship rolled on her side and couldn’t right itself. The vessel Flying Enterprese was doomed. Pounding seas had cracked her hull, tilting her thirty degrees on the port side, and sending a tidal wave pouring through her engine room.
Making sure that the passengers were taken off, he–together with Mate Kenneth Dancey– stayed on board his ship as rescue efforts to tow him into Falmouth failed. They battled the raging seas in a valiant attempt to bring the battered ship into port. Captain Carlsen only jumped off the ship at the last moment before it sank and was rescued by the Turmoil. Their story is one of astounding courage and determination.
Part 4: Who Dares Wins
The Story of the Special Air Service
A young Commando officer conceived the idea in Egypt in 1941. Since then the SAS has grown to become the world’s most feared and prestigious Special Forces unit.
The Special Air Service was created in 1941 by a young Commando officer, David Stirling, after a disastrous parachute jump whilst on duty in the Middle East. Since then the SAS has become the world’s most feared and respected Special Forces unit. Only ten percent of those who apply for entry into SAS detachment are accepted to begin training–and few survive that. An SAS soldier must live off the land, crouch concealed for days at a time, live for months in the jungle or desert–and accompish the impossible. Since their creation, SAS forces have have completed missions in Egypt, Libya, the Falkland Islands and Borneo. Anywhere that Britain’s interests are threatened, the SAS can be found…but not easily.
Their history and most famous achievements, such as the Iranian embassy siege in 1980, are captured in this startling documentary.
Part 5: Descent from the Skies
The Story of the Parachute
Parachutists are a breed apart, for few experience the freedom and the whims and the very substance of the air as they do. From its original development and use during the Great War, through the beginning of sport parachuting between the wars and its use in World War II (including airborne forces) to the skydivers of today. Includes footage of early unsuccessful attempts.
A history of parachuting incorporates the pioneers, those who have leapt for their lives from stricken aircraft, the paratroopers who used the parachute to carry them to battle , the show-jumpers, the Sky Divers who jump simply for pleasure and the test jumpers who made it possible for them to do so.
Like many inventions the parachute was originally developed during the heat of battle in the Great War. During the inter-war years it started to develop as a sport but came into its maturity in the Second World War with the development of airborne forces, which played a key part in Hitler’s invasion plans. The skydivers of today are the latest in a long list of those who sought to descend from the skies; sometimes with unfortunate consequences. It is a story that relates the excitement, the triumph, and the tragedy that have accompanied parachuting through the years.
Part 6: No Surrender!
Japanese Soldiers Who Refused to Believe World War II was Over
A number of Japanese soldiers in the Pacific did not heed the news in August 1945 that their country had surrendered. They continued to wage guerrilla war both in the belief that their country was fighting on and for their own survival. One on the island of Guam in the Marianas did not surrender until 1960 and the last, Hiru Onada, endured a further ten years before giving himself up to the Philippine authorities.
August 1945. The Japanese Empire’s four million troops surrender to Allied forces. But many Japanese soldiers–stranded deep in the jungles of the Pacific islands–fought on single-handedly. And their imagined enemies–mainly island residents or peace-keeping forces–swarmed in their gunsights. Not even leaflets, endless pleas by radio, nor friends and family could budge these warriors from as much as thirty years of jungle warfare.
Some Japanese soldiers in the Pacific refused to believe Japan would commit the shame of surrender and thought that the news of Japan’s capitulation in August 1945 was an American trick. They continued to wage a guerrilla war for a further twenty five years until the Emperor’s last, loyal soldier surrendered in 1970. The soldier’s loyalty etched their names forever on the hearts of their countrymen.
Part 7: Lawrence of Arabia
How He Helped the Arabs to Liberate Their Lands from the Turks
The story of T E Lawrence’s exploits with the Arabs during the Great War. Hitherto unseen clips of Lawrence riding in the desert with King Faisal and the victorious arrival into Damascus.
Thomas Edward Lawrence was dispatched to Arabia in 1915 to support Britain’s war effort there. Lawrence grew to love the desert people and their struggle and made it his private agenda to ensure that Britain granted the Arabs independence from Turkey as promised.
Lawrence led countless raids on railways, long desert treks and repeated assaults on Gaza. He endured capture and brutal torture that scarred him emotionally and served to bolster his resolve. His heroism made him legendary in Arabia and worldwide.
T.E. Lawrence was probably one of the greatest adventurers of the Great War and was immortalised in film by Peter O’Toole. But what was the true story behind this man who helped liberate the Arabs from the Turks? This documentary contains rare footage of Lawrence of Arabia riding with King Faisal at their triumphant arrival into Damascus.
Part 8: Fjord Watchers
Norway’s World War II Radio Spies
A group of Norwegians, separate from Milorg, the main Resistance movement, sent back intelligence of German activities in their country by radio direct to the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). Among their coups was tracking down the German battleship Tirpitz. They were often infiltrated back into their country by the Shetland Bus, a group of Norwegian fishing smacks based in the Shetland Islands.
When Hitler invaded Norway in 1940, some fled, most submitted…and a courageous few became Fjord Watchers-spies. Whether roaming a busy Oslo street or foraging in a remote mountain cabin, they radioed a constant stream of intelligence to Allied forces even as German soldiers relentlessly hunted them.
Special agents such as Torstein Raaby, whose reports helped sink the infamous German battleship Tirpitz, and author Thor Heyerdahl would pose as merchants, fishermen an laborers while they scrutinized Hitler’s every move. They were the eyes, ears and voice of the armies that liberated Norway.
Part 9: They Landed by Moonlight
The Dropping of Agents into Occupied Europe during World War II
Set against the backcloth of the Special Operations Executive and its US equivalent, the Office of Strategic Services, the use of light aircraft, parachutes, motor torpedo boats, and submarines to insert agents. The programme illustrates examples of particular agents such as Odette, Yeo-Thomas (The White Rabbit), and Violet Szabo.
1942. British Special Operations Executive (“SOE”) agent Odette Sansom, mother of three, steps off a courier for the French resistance network–a highly trained Allied spy. One slip of the tongue, a flash of a British clothing label…and her life could be over.
During the course of war, dozens of brave SOE agents gathered intelligence for relay back to England, destroyed Nazi roads, bridges and strongholds, and paved the way for D-Day, the largest military operaton ever attempted.
Part 10: Fastest on Land
The Story of the Land Speed Record
The men that have striven for it and the cars they drove. Craig Breedlove and the plane without wings and Malcolm Campbell’s historic ‘Bluebird’. Breathtaking shots of success and disaster in the Nevada Desert.
In 1904, automotive pioneer Henry Ford set an early speed record–to increase sales. By the late ’20s, British competitors Henry Seagrave and Malcolm Campbell had pushed the record to more than 200 mph…25 years later, Campbell’s son Donald doubled his father’s speed. Craig Breedlove’s jet-powered “Spirit of America” soon rocketed to a new record–which was broken by a rocket-powered vehicle and then by one attached to a sidewinder missile. Today Breedlove is once again trying to become the world’s fastest man…by driving the speed of sound.
With breath-taking footage of triump and disaster this documentary tells the story of men who risked their lives to be the fastest on land. From Malcolm Campbell’s ‘Bluebird’ to Craig Breedlove’s self-designed plane without wings that broke the 600 mph barrier in 1965 it is the true story of man’s obsession with speed and danger on land.
Part 11: Wings Over the Orient
The Story of Imperial Airways
How the air routes were trailblazed to the east and the Pacific during the 1920s and 1930s. The fascinating story of how the East and Australia became just an air-journey from Europe.
The air route to the east and the Pacific was a trailblazing effort for Imperial Airways during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Subsidised by the government its objective was to open air routes between Britain and her Empire. In January 1927 a service between Cairo and Basra was opened after a furrow several hundred miles long was dug in the sand to assist navigation across the desert. This programme depicts the fascinating story of how the East and Australia became just a plane journey from England.
Part 12: Barnstormers and Stuntmen
A History of Aerobatics
Fighter pilots developed the art during the Great War, but it soon became a source of wonderment for the peoples of the world. A select group of these daredevils found new audiences, performing their stunts in the silent feature films and serials that proliferated throughout the 1920s. Startling footage never seen previously of early flying stunts.
The history of Aerobatics was developed into an art by the fighter pilots of the Great War who sometimes performed miracles in the air. They flew their rickety aircraft within a few feet of the ground, looped them again and again in dangerous maneuvers and roared earthward in seemingly suicidal dives, pulling out at the very last minute. These were the danger-loving fliers of aviation’s early days, widely known as barnstormers. Soon it became a source of wonderment around the world as people risked their lives trying to perform dangerous feats that really tested the Limits of Man’s endurance and agility. Startling, never seen before, footage of early flying stunts are included in this programme.
Part 13: Against the Odds
Great Air Escapes
Some of the remarkable escapes which people have had from air disasters including the tail gunner who fell 12,000 feet without a parachute and survived.
More than half the passengers in plane crashes escape with their lives… but how? Flying in a plane is not only the fastest way to get to a destination, it’s also the safest. Despite this fact, engine issues, bad weather, and even pilot errors can occur and lead to a plane crash. But even when these rarities occur, there are often survivors who make it off the plane alive.The greatest escapes from disasters in the air are truly breathtaking. These stories of plane crash survivors are proof that even when the odds are against people, they can still find a way to make it out of unimaginable circumstances. Chances are very high that most of us will never have to experience a plane crash, but there are plenty of people who have and have lived to tell the tale.
From the Hindenburg airship disaster to the tail gunner who fell 12,000 feet without parachute and survived, these remarkable tales of survival are a testament to the fact that surviving an air disaster is against all odds.
Part 14: France’s Yankee Fliers
The Story of the Escadrille Lafayette
Well before their country entered the Great War a number of adventurous Americans volunteered to fight for the British and French. Among them were a number of pilots, and in early 1916 they were formed into a special French fighter squadron, which fought with great distinction on the Western Front. Amazing aerial footage shows WW1 dog-fights as they really were.
If the Wright brothers’ 1903 flights in Kitty Hawk marked the birth of aviation, World War I can be called its violent adolescence—a brief but bloody era that completely changed the way planes were designed, fabricated, and flown. France’s Yankee Fliers tells the story of the men who were at the forefront of that revolution: the daredevil Americans of the Lafayette Escadrille, who flew in French planes, wore French uniforms, and showed the world an American brand of heroism before the United States entered the Great War.
Part 15: Kennedy’s Torpedo Boat Drama
How a Future US President Faced Death in the War in the Pacific
Set against the backcloth of motor torpedo boats attracting adventurous spirits in both world wars, this is the story of the future US President and his struggle to survive after the sinking of his PT-109 off New Georgia in the Solomons in July 1943. Few people know how close JFK came to death in World War II when his PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer in the Pacific killing two of its crew.
While on night patrol in the Solomon Islands, skipper Jack Kennedy’s torpedo boat was cut in half by a Japanese destroyer. Although injured himself, Kennedy pulled one badly wounded man to the shore, then swam to nearby islands to find help for his crew.
Kennedy’s torpedo boat was the only one to be rammed by the Japanese navy during the war, which led to accusations of poor leadership. However, nobody could doubt the courage of Kennedy to lead his 10 men to safety as he swam for over five hours to raise the alarm and be rescued by a navy that had given him up for dead. His exceptional courage and leadership saved his men… and made him one of World War II’s most notable heroes.
Part 16: Amazon Adventures
Exploring the World’s Longest River
In the tradition of ‘Indiana Jones’ the true story of Man’s efforts to reach the source of the world’s mightiest river including the mystery of the disappearance of Colonel Fawcett in 1923.
The Amazon basin is a marvel of the world and the imagination, an ecosystem of unrivaled size and diversity, and a place of near mythical status among travelers. The Amazon River has more water than the next eight largest rivers combined, and is twice the area of India, and the basin spans eight countries.
The Amazon is the world’s mightiest river and the second longest at 6.280 kilometres. The river was first discovered when a captain noticed that his ship, which was out to sea, was actually sailing in fresh water and that this must be the outflow of river. Since then many explorers have tried to discover the source of this great river. One of them, Colonel Fawcett, mysteriously disappeared in 1923 whilst tracking up the Amazon.
Part 17: Over the Wall
Berlin Escapes 1961-89
The many and sometimes successful attempts to escape under the watchful eyes of the East German border guards. Set against the background of the history of the Wall.
On August 13th, 1961 building commenced on die Berliner Mauer, the wall that would divide the world for nearly thirty years, as well as the city of Berlin. During that period more than five thousand people escaped to freedom, but over two hundred lost their lives. Even the phrase, Checkpoint Charlie, evokes the deception and fear that existed every day in the East and West Berlin.
On a Sunday morning in 1961, shocked citizens awoke to the sounds of a barrier being built along the border separating East and West Berlin. Over the next three decades, thousands of of East Berliners risked their lives–leaping from buildings, crashing vehicles into gates, digging tunnels–in desperate attempts to breach the Berlin Wall and reach the West.
In 1989, as Communist rule was collapsing throughout Europe, defiant Berliners began to tear the Wall down. Today, a few battered sections remain standing–a monument to those who died trying to escape to freedom.
Part 18: Spies in the Sky
The Story of Aerial Photographic Reconnaissance
The fascinating story with newly released footage on how flying high and fast, and often unarmed, aircraft brought back valuable intelligence on the enemy in both war and peace. Sometimes they did not return.
We have come a long way since the first few silk-suited aerostiers of the French revolution ascended in tethered balloons to scan the battlefield through wobbly telescopes. In just 230 years, humanity has progressed from its first faltering flights to the capability to photograph from space an object the size of a grapefruit – a testament both to technological progress and our need to keep a close eye on the world around us.
From the days of artillery-spotting balloons the extensive use of aerial reconnaissance began in the Great War and has continued throughout wartime and peacetime. Newly released footage shows the dangers that these planes faced flying high and fast in enemy territory. Many of these reconnaissance planes were unarmed with only their wits to guide them safely back home. Some however never returned.
Part 19: Save Our Souls
Dramatic Sea Rescues
Some of the Twentieth Century’s most famous examples, with emphasis on how the rescue services have operated in the most appalling conditions.
When the “unsinkable” Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage, she went down long before rescue ships could reach her. Those who survived owed their lives to the brave, self-sacrificing efforts of some of the crew and passengers on board.
Shipbuilding, sea communications and rescue capabilities have advanced since then, but as the ill-fated voyages of the Morro Castle, Andrea Doria, Estonia and others show, disaster can strike at any time. And when it does, heroic efforts often mean the difference between survival…and a watery grave.
Disasters at sea can be due to war, negligence or more often the force of nature. The twentieth century is littered with examples of sea disasters, from the negligence that sunk the unsinkable Titanic on her maiden voyage, to the tragedies of war and the weather. However, if the cause of the disaster was bad weather, the rescue services then have the most difficult task of responding to the SOS in the most appalling conditions.
Part 20: Towering Infernos
Exploits of Firefighters
Some of the world’s most dramatic fires and how they have been fought, with live action footage of daring rescues and escapes.
Spectacular, out-of-control blazes create unique problems for firefighters. During World War II, in Hamburg, bomb-triggered fires of unprecedented scale created heat so intense it sucked in hysterical bystanders. A 25-story Brazilian office complex belched thick, toxic smoke, trapping workers on balconies and windows. And the highrise MGM Grand Hotel, firefighters staged a daring helicopter rescue for frantic guests breaking out windows on the upper floors. No matter how great the danger, firefighters battle on until the last ember is doused… then prepare for the next inferno.
The Towering Inferno was one of Hollywood’s blockbuster disaster films. But the reality of a major fire that is out of control is a more frightening spectacle than any film can portray. Using live footage of the major fire disaters of the twentieth century, this episode shows how these towering infernos have been fought and the bravery that has led to daring rescues and unbelievable escapes.