The True Story

the titanic conspiracy: the true story (5/7)

The historical documentary series continues with a film following attempts to test a new theory about the sinking of Titanic. Maritime experts now believe that a fundamental flaw in the vessel’s design may have allowed it to split in two when it hit the iceberg. A team of divers heads to the wreck of Titanic’s sister ship, Britannic, in search of evidence that may prove human error contributed to the huge loss of life. The film also tells the story of the aftermath of the disaster in 1912.

The story of Titanichas long exercised a powerful grip over the public imagination, whilst questions have always remained over the causes of the accident. An expedition to the wreck in 2005 shed new light on the disaster with the discovery of parts of the ship’s hull, torn off the vessel at the point where she split in two (as seen in ‘Titanic’s Final Moments – The True Story’). Naval engineer Park Stephenson is in no doubt about the significance of this find: “That really threw into question everything we thought we knew about the break-up,” he says.

Evidence from the 2005 mission suggests that the stern of Titanicdid not lift as far out of the water as previously thought. If this is the case, it means the ship broke in two at a relatively shallow angle – which may indicate a crucial design flaw. “At the back of my mind is this question: how could the ship have been that weak?” says naval architect Roger Long. He suspects that a feature called an ‘expansion joint’ –a small intersection in the middle of the ship designed to make it more flexible at sea –may have contributed to Titanic’s break-up. Studying the original plans, Long is shocked to discover the poor quality of the joint. Could this have been the weak link in the design?

To test the theory, a team of divers must locate the expansion joint on the wreck – no mean feat, considering its narrow size. In order to improve their chances, divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler propose a dive to the wreckage of Titanic’s sister ship, Britannic, which sank in the Aegean Sea in 1916. Britannic, built in 1914, is almost identical to her illustrious sister, and has the advantage of being more accessible to divers.

After a number of obstacles threaten to derail the expedition, the dive finally gets underway, while Roger Long explains the importance of establishing the truth of the accident. “It’s not an engineering question,” he says. “Ultimately, it’s a human question.” He contends that Titanic’s break-up meant she sank faster than if she had remained intact – condemning some 1,500 passengers to death before a rescue ship could arrive.

The divers successfully locate the expansion joint and make the startling discovery that it was modified from the original plans. This suggests that the designers changed the joint on Britannic after Titanic’s sinking because they knew it was flawed. But to test the rest of Long’s theory, the team calls upon the help of a firm of naval experts to calculate the forces sustained by Titanicafter hitting the iceberg – with surprising results.

As the present-day quest for answers about Titanic’s fate gathers pace, the documentary looks back in time at the very first investigation into the tragedy in 1912. Archive images and documents from the time illustrate the reaction to the catastrophe and reveal the story of how the White Star Line was called to account by the US Senate. Company boss J Bruce Ismay controversially survived the disaster and was forced to defend himself against accusations that the ship deliberately ignored iceberg warnings. But did his testimony and that of surviving crew members amount to a cover-up of events?

olympic massacre: the true story (5/7)

The historical documentary series continues with an examination of the horrific events of 6th September 1972, when Palestinian terrorist group Black September took 11 members of the Israeli athletics team hostage. The rescue attempt resulted in a bloodbath that killed all the hostages, a German policeman and five of the terrorists. Using new footage, archive material and eyewitness testimony, this gripping documentary provides a unique perspective on that catastrophic day.

The Summer Games of 1972 were supposed to banish the ghosts of the Games held by the Nazis in 1936. Munich, ‘a cosmopolitan city with a heart’, presented itself as a fun park for the youth of the world to meet in a casual atmosphere and celebrate the Olympics. Athletes from around the world, including a team from Israel, were staying in the Olympic Village.

Security concerns about a possible attack by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) were raised, but officials believed that they were prepared for every eventuality. However, they were soon proved wrong when a group of armed, masked intruders managed to enter the Israeli team’s headquarters at dawn on 6th September. Wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg attempted to fight back and was shot, before being forced to lead the attackers to the rooms of the other Israelis; he died from his injuries. The hostages were taken to Andre Spitzer’s room on the first floor, where weightlifter Yossi Romano was shot dead as he tried to fight back.

The assailants were members of Black September, a Palestinian terrorist group with ties to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organisation. After Weinberg’s body was removed by paramedics, the terrorists presented their demands. They announced that they wanted the 200-plus Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, and two German terrorists of the Red Army Faction, to be released in exchange for the Israeli hostages.

Security staff were unprepared for the situation and had to quickly form a crisis management team consisting of Germany’s Minister of the Interior, Munich’s chief of police, the mayor of the Olympic Village, and Bavaria’s Minister of the Interior. But with the Israeli government refusing to give in to the terrorists’ demands, the German authorities’ hands were tied.

The terrorists set an ultimatum, threatening to shoot the hostages one after the other. Germany had no anti-terrorist unit of any kind. The Israelis offered theirs, but the German constitution forbade the use of armed forces of foreign nations on German soil. So the crisis team improvised. First, German Police attempted to infiltrate the building disguised as chefs, to determine how many assassins were inside. They were unsuccessful. Then, as negotiations began, a chain of incredible blunders unfolded. In broad daylight, German police, wearing tracksuits and military helmets, moved into position to attempt an assault. But many TV cameras filmed the event, giving the terrorists ample warning of an attack that had to be quickly aborted.

The crisis reached its bloody conclusion at a military airbase near Munich. Ill-prepared police marksmen opened fire on the terrorists, but failed to stop them throwing hand grenades into helicopters with the hostages on board. All of the Israelis died. Still worse, news was released that they had all been saved, only to be contradicted a few hours later with the terrible truth.

The three surviving terrorists never stood trial because another PLO gang hijacked a German plane and the terrorists were released in exchange. But the Israelis gave the Munich story a bloody postscript. A number of covert hit squads set out to kill those responsible, and many innocent civilians died as a result.

Today, millions of people throughout the world still remember what was then the world’s worst terrorist atrocity.

titanic’s final moments: the true story (4/7)

The documentary series exploring infamous historical events continues with another chance to see this fascinating investigation into the sinking of the Titantic. The film follows a recent expedition which found surprising new evidence that may forever change what is known about the Titanic’s final moments. Testimonies from historians, experts and survivors also help reconstruct the events of that fateful night.

In 1912, the ‘unsinkable’ Titanicdisappeared beneath the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. This most famous of all maritime disasters has long captured the public imagination, and has fostered a desperate desire to establish the truth of the accident. “It’s not the deepest shipwreck, it isn’t the shipwreck that caused the greatest loss of life. But yet, it stays in the public consciousness – everyone knows of Titanic,” says diving expert Richie Kohler. “There are things on Titanicthat are not understood,” he adds. Among the key facts that remain unclear are how and why this behemoth of the sea broke in two during its descent to the sea bed.

In August 2005, a unique expedition got under way off the easternmost point of Canada. The Keldysh, a Russian scientific research vessel, is one of the few ships in the world equipped to explore a region as dangerous and inaccessible as outer space: the ocean depths, more than two miles down.

When the wreck of the Titanicwas first located in 1985, public interest in the already legendary ship grew. Now, more than 90 years after the sinking and 20 years since the discovery, is there anything new to be learned? Lawyer David Concannon believes so. In the summer of 2000, while exploring the wreck in a Russian submersible, David and his dive partner found ribbons of steel far south of the known area of the wreck site. They think that these are part of Titanic’s hull, torn off by the iceberg that proved her downfall. If this belief is correct, it contradicts the generally accepted theory that the ship’s sinking was due solely to damage along the starboard side. “In this area is evidence that could change the commonly held beliefs about the sinking of the Titanic,” David says.

Now, divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler hope to find out the truth of David’s claims. With a storm approaching the site of Titanic’s watery grave, the team only has three attempts to locate the spot that David has described. Descending at roughly 100 feet per minute in their submersibles, it does not take long to pass the deepest point these divers have ever been. But the first of their dives proves disappointing. Although a piece of steel is sighted, it bears no resemblance to the “ribbons of steel” described by David. “Either they weren’t where I thought they were or we missed them entirely,” he says.

The first two dives yield some intriguing clues, including evidence of a long trail of coal on the sea bed, dumped by Titanicas she foundered towards her doom. But it is only on the final dive that the team finds what it is looking for: two pieces of the ship’s missing bottom. Does this bear out David’s theory that damage occurred to the bottom as well as the starboard side of the vessel?

Now the real work begins, as footage from the dive is sent back to dry land for months of analysis. Researcher Tom McCluskie is in no doubt of the importance of the find. “That is totally awe-inspiring,” he says. “That is the most significant piece of Titanicfootage I’ve ever seen in my life.” But what new conclusions can the team draw from the evidence? Regardless of what discoveries are made, it seems likely that Titanicwill continue to hold a powerful fascination for years to come.

blood diamonds: the true story (3/7)

The documentary series exploring infamous historical events continues. Earlier this year, Leonardo di Caprio starred in the Hollywood blockbuster ‘Blood Diamonds’. This documentary goes behind the story of that film to explore how the worldwide diamond trade has funded wars across western and central Africa, leading to the death and displacement of millions of people.

Sierra Leone on Africa’s west coast is one of the poorest nations on earth, with an average income of just 220 US dollars. Conversely, the country is rich in natural resources, with verdant tropical forests stretching for miles and a plentiful source of high-quality diamonds below ground. In some cases, diamond mines are used to cement the economy of a poor nation and drag the populace out of poverty, but in Sierra Leone they have brought only chaos and misery. Blood diamonds or ‘conflict diamonds’, explains Alexander Yearsley, senior campaigner for international pressure group Global Witness, “are diamonds mined and sold by rebel movements, particularly in Africa, that are used to finance arms purchases.”

Between 1991 and 2001 in Sierra Leone, a brutal civil war between government forces and a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) raged, with 75,000 people being killed and two million being displaced. For many of the survivors, lasting reminders of the conflict exist in the form of deliberate amputations, which were to become a trademark atrocity of the RUF. “They committed every war crime in the Geneva Convention, then invented one of their own,” explains Greg Campbell, author of the book ‘Blood Diamonds’.

In order to fund their war against the government, the RUF gained control of the diamond mines in the east of the country and began to release the stones into the world market. But the RUF were not alone. As conflicts raged in three other war zones –Liberia, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo –diamonds from these countries flowed freely throughout the world. In Angola, a civil war that lasted two decades saw rebel forces –this time calling themselves UNITA –sell almost four billion dollars-worth of diamonds throughout the world.

In some cases, the stones were traded directly for weapons. “This was simply a diamonds-for-arms transaction,” explains Alexander Yearsley. At one stage, UNITA even had MiG fighter jets at their disposal.

In 1998, the UN Security Council attempted to stop the illegal trade by imposing sanctions to prevent the sale of any African diamonds not certified by that country’s government,but it had limited success. At the end of that year, Global Witness released an exposé of the Angolan situation called ‘A Rough Trade’. Unlike the actions of the UN, the report caused a huge stir, not least because much of the criticism was levelled at De Beers –the international company responsible for around 40 per cent of the world’s diamond trade. “The diamond industry likes to think that conflict diamonds only started in 1999,” says Yearsley. De Beers defend their position, claiming to have had nothing to do with blood diamonds, since they closed their Angolan offices as soon as the UN imposed sanctions.

However, for those personally affected by the wars, the definition of blood diamonds matters little. “The human cost is very plain to see,” says Yearsley. Even today, many people in western and central Africa fall victim to the land mines placed by forces during the numerous civil wars.

Blood Diamonds: The True Story combines firsthand accounts from survivors and perpetrators of the African diamond-funded wars with testimony from a range of industry experts and journalists. Along with remarkable accounts of the true horrors of these hidden wars comes an exploration of the worldwide fascination with diamonds, the difficulties of obtaining justice for the millions of people who have suffered through the illegal diamond trade, and the complexity of adapting the industry to benefit the people of Africa.

jonestown cult suicides: the true story (2/7)

The documentary series exploring infamous historical events continues. This instalment takes viewers back to November 18th 1978, and the apparent mass suicide by over 900 members of a religious cult and the murders of a US congressman and an investigating journalist. Using dramatic reconstruction, archive footage and testimony from survivors – including cult-leader Jim Jones’s own son Stephan – this film tells the story of what really happened on that apocalyptic day.

During the turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s, thousands of Americans flocked to hear charismatic preacher Jim Jones at his Peoples Temple church. Preaching a combination of socialist ideals and Christian redemption, Jones saw himself as both a prophet and a saviour.

But in 1977, when former members of the cult accused Jones of mind control, druggings and physical and sexual abuse, the preacher and hundreds of his followers fled the ensuing media frenzy to the South American country of Guyana. Here, in the middle of the jungle, Jones planned on building a new community: a socialist paradise he called Jonestown. But for some members it soon became apparent that this new community was not the utopia of which Jones had spoken. Surviving resident Vernon Gosney recalls: “I wanted to leave as soon as I got there. I was not free to leave. Nor was anyone.”

Before long, several relatives of the Jonestown residents became concerned that their loved ones were being held against their will. On November 14th 1978, US Congressman Leo J Ryan took a delegation of reporters, photographers and relatives of Peoples Temple members to discover what was happening in Jonestown. One of these relatives was Sherwin Harris, whose ex-wife and daughter were at a Peoples Temple-owned house in the Guyanan capital, Georgetown, 150 miles from Jonestown. Also at the house was Jim Jones’s son Stephan, who had been allowed out of his father’s community with several other young men to participate in a basketball tournament in the city. Jim Jones was not happy about Ryan’s planned visit, but allowed it after some negotiation.

Vernon Gosney recalls the frenzied preparations that took place in anticipation of the arrival of the Congressman Ryan, including members rehearsing speeches about how much they loved Jonestown: “The survival of the community rested on these people coming and leaving without incident, and giving wonderful reports on Jonestown.” During Ryan’s visit, Gosney managed to get a message to the Congressman, asking for help leaving the community and explaining that he was not the only one who wanted out. Vernon chose to leave his four-year-old son behind.

The combination of press scrutiny and the defection of a number of cult members pushed an already unstable Jones closer to the edge, amking him increasingly paranoid and irrational. As he and Ryan were discussing arrangements for those who wished to leave, one of Jones’s followers attacked the Congressman with a knife. Suddenly, the danger the vistors faced became all too apparent.

Ryan, Gosney, journalists Tim Reiterman and Don Harris and a number of defectors headed to the nearby airstrip where their plane awaited – but Jones had sent some of his followers to stop them. As the group came under fire, Reiterman escaped into the jungle – emerging later to find five dead bodies, among them Congressman Ryan and NBC reporter Bob Brown.

Meanwhile, Jones prepared the Peoples Temple faithful for their own deaths. “If you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over,” said Jones in the last recording of his voice. Cyanide was mixed with tranquilisers, sedatives and a fruit-flavoured drink, and everyone was lined up to drink the poison. But how many of them took it voluntarily? “One of the myths of Jonestown was that it was a mass suicide,” says Tim Reiterman, “when in fact it was a mass murder.” First to die were the 300 children of Jonestown.

Speaking today, Stephan Jones ponders the real reasons behind the cataclysm of 1978 – why did more than 900 people die that day? “What would someone have to tell you… to get you to do something that you couldn’t possibly believe you were capable of?” he asks. An understanding of why so many people died, he explains, “might offer us something so their lives won’t be in vain.”

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