Drain the Ocean: WWII (2016) - full transcript

World War II left the greatest-ever number of ships and submarines hidden beneath the waves. Now, as the oceans drain, each vessel reveals its secrets through new data-based 3D ...

These are the wrecks of World War II.

Some of its greatest mysteries
lie beneath the sea.

Imagine if we could empty oceans,

letting water drain away

to reveal secrets from the deep.

Now, using the latest
undersea scanning technology,

we can drain the oceans.

For the first time,
we can catch sight of answers

to long-standing questions.

Pearl Harbor. Who fired the first shot?

Who sank the German super ship, Bismarck?

D-Day. Why is there a tank battalion
underwater, off the coast of France?

Discover a world of drowned mysteries
as never seen before...

in Drain The Ocean, WWII.

[hull creaking]

New underwater scientific surveys
pierce the deep oceans.

Powerful computers turn accurate data
into 3-D images.

Now we can examine sunken wrecks
in detail from any angle.

Draining the oceans
throws new light on World War II.

The Pacific Ocean,

scene of a devastating surprise attack
on a Hawaiian island

and its key American naval base,

Pearl Harbor.

Pearl Harbor was ground zero.

The Japanese attack changed everything.

NARRATOR: Imagine if we could pull a plug

to let the waters of Pearl Harbor
drain away.

For the first time,
we can construct a precise picture

of the mighty battleship USS Arizona,

the most infamous sinking on that day.

Most ships sunk in the attack
were brought to the surface again.

Why not the Arizona?

[birds squawking]

Early Sunday morning, December 7th, 1941.

Ships of the US Pacific fleet
are in harbor.

America is not at war.


Japanese bombers attack.

There is no warning.


That Sunday morning
I heard a very loud explosion.

I turned the radio on
to see what was the cause of it.

They said the Japanese
have attacked Pearl Harbor.

NARRATOR: In under two hours,
Japanese bombing claims 2,400 lives...

and destroys or damages
over 300 planes and 20 ships.

The battleship Arizona explodes
with a deafening bang.

People said if you heard that explosion,
you'd never forget it.

[loud explosion]

[siren wails]

NARRATOR: Nearly half the casualties
that day were on the Arizona.

WEATHERWAX: Water was on fire,

and the whole area
was just black with smoke.

1,177 killed.

These are all young people.

They went to bed and never got up.

NARRATOR: Most of the fleet was salvaged

and repaired to fight in the war.

The Arizona remains where she sank...

a memorial for visitors standing over her.

She lies in shallow water.

A war grave.

the ship is settling into the mud...

There are bubbles coming up,
the ship is creaking and groaning.

It's a little bit spooky at times.

NARRATOR: After the attack,

the US Navy attempted to recover
all the other ships.

But not the Arizona.

If we could drain the sea
from Pearl Harbor,

would we discover why they
didn't refloat this great battleship?

Now, using the most recent survey data,
we can drain Pearl Harbor.

For the first time,
we will see the drowned vessel

as she is today,
but this time, high and dry.

The fact-based,
high-resolution visualization

takes us to the crumpled bow...

and leads us to the answer.

An armor-piercing bomb hit Arizona's
forward ammunition store.

It set off more than
a million pounds of gunpowder.

The damage is extraordinary.

The force sliced her hull in two.

PAWLOWSKI: Down by the forecastle, where
the blast literally blew the bow off,

there's a crack about as wide as my fist

that starts on the edge of the vessel
and goes clear down to the keel.

TILBURG: The crack that runs
through the entire ship

and down the sides of the hull,

that's major structural damage
to the vessel,

which is why they gave up
the thought of bringing that ship up.

NARRATOR: Now Pearl Harbor is drained
of water, it's clear for all to see.

USS Arizona remains on the bottom

because the break in her hull is too big

for her to be repaired or floated.

As the ocean rushes away
outside the harbor,

the sight of another, bigger mystery
is about to be uncovered...

one that was poised to rewrite history.

Did the Japanese really fire
the first shot on December 7th, 1941?

[gun blast]

Over an hour before
Japan's surprise attack,

an American destroyer claims
it fired on a Japanese submarine

and sank it.

If true, then the United States,
not Japan, fired first in the Pacific War.

The submarine vanishes.

No general alarm is raised.

The authorities think the crew
of the USS Ward must be mistaken.

The men cannot prove they hit anything.

TILBURG: In those days,
right before this impending conflict,

there had likely been
a number of false sightings.

The report that the Ward made

went as another potential sighting
that they couldn't follow up on.

Did the Ward sink an enemy submarine

over an hour before the shock attack?

The only way to be sure
is to find that sub.

In the '90s, submersible pilot Terry Kerby

set out to find the submarine.

TERRY KERBY: There it is.

NARRATOR: For his team
from the Hawaii Undersea Research Lab,

the mission turned into a marathon.

Luckily, their high-tech craft
can dive deep.

KERBY: Pisces V is capable
of diving to 2,000 meters

and a normal dive
usually lasts about eight hours.

You usually launch at 8:00 in the morning
and it's back on deck by 5:00 p.m.

NARRATOR: The hunt for a Japanese sub

supposedly sunk over an hour before
the air attack on Pearl Harbor

proved harder than expected.

What we found was that there was

a great deal of objects
that could have been the submarine.

We actually wound up with something
like 37 different possible targets

that could be the Ward midget sub.

[indistinct radio chatter]

NARRATOR: Terry had
no accurate position data from 1941,

but war records confirm
two-man Japanese mini subs

were secretly trying
to sneak into Pearl Harbor.

DELGADO: The idea was to launch them
as if they were tiny, little hornets

buzzing out of a nest.

Carrying two torpedoes, they could
dart in and out of a main battle line,

fire their torpedoes, come back,
recharge their batteries, be reloaded

and go and fight again.

NARRATOR: Months turned into years.

Did USS Ward truly hit
a Japanese submarine?

Eventually, evidence looms into sight.

[inaudible radio chatter]

About 30 meters north of the target.

KERBY: That was an exciting day.

After ten years, finally coming across
and in perfect condition.

It just connects you with that history.

When we found it, it was just elation

and then the next part was
there's two people inside of it.

Then it became a little bit...
more emotional,

just thinking about what had happened
and what their final moments were like.

Is this the sub they've been looking for?

Silt on the sea floor is easily disturbed.

Only glimpses of the sub are seen.

If we could drain the sea
outside Pearl Harbor...

could we see the submarine
in precise detail

and cast light on evidence
confirming the Ward's claim?

Now, combining the very latest
visual video and sonar data...

we can pull the plug on the Pacific Ocean.

We can view Terry's find from any angle.

We can examine it in unexpected detail.

After decades on the bottom,

the Japanese midget sub
is amazingly intact.

And on its right side,
there's a four-inch hole...

exactly where the American destroyer Ward

reported hitting her.

This remarkable discovery
settles the argument.

We could confirm to the Ward survivors

that they did indeed sink that submarine,

which was very, very important.

That submarine would have probably
gotten into the harbor

if they hadn't sunk it.

That was the first shot fired in anger
by the United States in the Pacific War

and it sank that midget sub
in more than 1,000 feet of water.

The US Navy did engage a hostile sub

off Pearl Harbor over an hour
before the first bombs fell.

Yet no alarm was raised on the island.

After the war, the US Congress
found the attack on the sub

should have been recognized as
the immediate basis for an all-out alert.

DELGADO: To what extent would
the United States Armed Forces

have been able to respond is hard to say.

People would hope they would.

Japan's shock assault on Pearl Harbor

changes the direction of World War II.

Its ally, Germany,
declares war on the USA.

More ships are sunk.

If we were able to peel back
the layers of water

and drain the Atlantic Ocean,

we would discover
the German battleship, Bismarck,

built to be unsinkable.

Bismarck was designed to take hits,

but sinking her
was another matter altogether.

Draining Bismarck for the first time

sheds light on the question,

"What sank Germany's largest battleship?"

At launch, Bismarck is
Germany's biggest ever warship.

Her crew numbers over 2,000 men.

Eight massive, 15-inch guns

can fire shells weighing almost a ton
24 miles.

Her first mission,

destroy British convoys in the Atlantic.

[horn blows]

May 24th, 1941...

HMS Hood, pride of Britain's Royal Navy,

launches an attack on the Bismarck.

Western Approaches Command,
Britain's secret naval center,

plots the battle.

GROVE: This took place
in the Denmark Strait here,

as the German ships were
coming out of this passage

between Greenland and Iceland.

Bismarck fires very accurately,

the Hood is hit in one
of her Achilles' heel areas,

her magazine blows up...

In fact, she blows up
virtually from end to end.

NARRATOR: Hood's crew of 1,418 men
are all killed, save three.

The loss
of the Royal Navy's iconic warship

reaches British Prime Minister Churchill.

His order goes out...

"Sink the Bismarck."

The Royal Navy would not let her get away.

Over 50 British warships race after her.

Bismarck finishes almost 16,000 feet down.

She was hit many, many times.

If you look at the wreck today,

the number of holes in that wreck
is quite remarkable.

NARRATOR: If we could drain the ocean,

would we see what finally sank the ship
that was meant to be unsinkable?

Today, state-of-the-art underwater surveys

allow us to pull the plug on the ocean
and drain the Atlantic itself.

Trillions of gallons of seawater disappear

to reveal long-hidden secrets.

For the first time, we expose Bismarck
lying three miles down.

Seeing her in this unique light
uncovers an astonishing question.

Did the British send her to the sea floor?

Or did the Germans sink their own ship?

May 26th, 1941.

The British have been
desperately searching for Bismarck.

Finally, planes from
aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal

get her in their sights.

They attack with torpedoes.

One makes a lucky strike.

GROVE: It hit on the stern,

the very weak point of even
the most powerfully apt battleship.

Now Bismarck's wreck is plain to see,

we can examine in forensic detail
the torpedoes' crippling blow.

One of Bismarck's two rudders is buckled,

damaging the steering gear.

The other rudder is blown off altogether.

Unable to steer, there is no escape

as the British fleet close in
for the kill.

The captain knew within five minutes,

if he didn't have rudders,
he was in big trouble.

GROVE: She was very much a sitting duck.

The British are able to open fire on her
and they just keep hitting her.

NARRATOR: In the clear light of day,
for the first time in over 70 years,

Bismarck's damage can be seen by all.

Relentless British shelling
destroys her guns and crew.

More torpedoes hit...

tearing into sections of the hull.

Parts of the ship begin
to fill with water.

JURENS: The ones that really hurt were
the larger ones from the surface ships.

They made fairly substantial holes
and probably significant flooding in.

[gun blast]

After constant attack from dusk till dawn,

the unsinkable Bismarck goes down.

Her sinking starts a controversy.

GROVE: The classic question about
the sinking of the Bismarck is,

did British sink her
or did her own crew sink her?

Was she scuttled or was she sunk?

NARRATOR: If Bismarck was sunk
solely by British shells,

water would only flood the areas they hit.

As Bismarck went down,

undamaged sections full of air
would collapse under pressure.

Her hull would soon crush.

But the true-to-life
data-based visualization

shows Bismarck isn't crushed.

There were no large pockets of air.

Careful examination reveals

torpedo damage weakened some hull plates.

Water inside the ship
burst more plates outwards

when she hit the sea floor.

Evidence Bismarck was completely flooded.

Her crew had deliberately let in water.

They helped sink their own ship.

JURENS: The crew really had
no choice whatsoever.

They were going to be faced with an action

where they were going to be
sunk by the Royal Navy.

GROVE: They knew they were going to die.

The only thing they could do honorably,

other than surrender
which wasn't honorable,

was to sink themselves,
so they completed the process.

Both sides can take a certain amount
of pride, I think, in this.

She was scuttled
and she was sunk, together.

NARRATOR: The Germans turn
to more secret operations.

World War II's battle of the Atlantic
grows fiercer.

Along America's east coast,

hundreds of American wrecks
sunk by Germany scatter the seabed.

This is an American battlefield.

It's right in our backyard
and it's really not well-known.

How did the enemy mount secret attacks

3,000 miles from German bases?

To answer this,
we drain the seas off North Carolina.

Cape Hatteras,
on the USA's Eastern Seaboard.

Coastal merchantmen travel along
shipping lanes close to shore.

In early 1942, this area attracted
Nazi U-boats in search of easy targets.

It was a spot where, because of shoals,

ships would have to slow down

and, as large amounts of traffic moved
during World War II,

it was a point well-known to the Germans,

where they could congregate,
wait and just start shooting.

Today, maritime archaeologist Joe Hoyt

searches for the many ships
the U-boats sank.

His side-scan sonar maps the seabed.

Overhead one time.

HOYT: Basically, what this is,
is there's two channels on either side.

These are transducers that are sending out

an active sonar sound wave
and creating an image of the bottom.

Right now,
we're gonna go off the back deck,

we're gonna deploy it in the water,
pay it out,

let it settle out behind the boat

so it can actually start
running the survey.

All right, let's start paying out,
pay out.

NARRATOR: The survey is searching
for evidence over 70 years old.

The sonar penetrates right to the bottom
of the shipping lanes.

Now we're set up, it's collecting data.

So right now we're seeing
this is an actual image of the seabed

and as you can, there's not much here.

It can be tedious, but it all pays off

when you come across something
that you've never seen before.

Rudder at midships.

NARRATOR: Joe's detailed survey

will allow us to peel back the water,

revealing how U-boats sank
so many ships without being caught.

Imagine pulling the plug on the ocean.

The waves of the US East Coast drain away.

Vanishing waters expose a ship
sunk by a German U-boat.

After more than 70 years on the seabed,

she is brought into the light of day.

This is the Dixie Arrow,
an unarmed merchant vessel.

Her cargo, 86,000 barrels of oil.

A crew of 33.

This unique photograph shows her
after being torpedoed.

Eleven men died.

Dixie Arrow was one of many.

In six months,
German U-boats sank nearly 400 ships

off the east coast of the US.


Twenty-five off Cape Hatteras alone.

They took roughly 5,000 lives.

HOYT: The first ships started sinking
in January of 1942.

There was a large,
four-month window period

where it was just annihilation.

NARRATOR: Accurate sonar data allows
draining to continue along the coast.

It exposes a German submarine...


We can see her as she is
on the seabed for the first time.

This sub alone sank or damaged
nine ships in under two weeks.

How did U-boats manage
to attack so many vessels

without being caught?

Most Americans weren't even aware

of the fact that the enemy
was literally just off the beach.

NARRATOR: To prevent panic,

authorities banned news of attacks
on America's doorstep.

They didn't order blackouts.

At night, lighthouses and town lights
gave U-boats a clear view of ships.

DELGADO: The Germans remarked

they could see the ships silhouetted
in the offshore lights,

making it very easy to just
simply start mowing them down.

NARRATOR: For six months,
the U-boats continued their attacks.

You've got oil washing up on the beach.

In some instances, there's actual bodies.

It really had an enormous impact,

not only on the materials
that were being moved,

but in the psyche of the Americans
on the home front.

Only by luck were U-boats ever found

and sunk in the shallow
coastal waters by day.

The disappearing waters
reveal the U-boat's secret.

They used the geography of America itself.

Off Cape Hatteras, the sea bottom
drops away sharply, close to the coast.

Germans could quickly run to hide
in the deeper ocean.

HOYT: The U-boats would hunt all night,

and as sunrise came,
they would move out into deeper water,

where they could remain safe
from counterattack during the day.

NARRATOR: Eventually, the US Navy
mobilized coastal air patrols,

ending the threat to merchant shipping.

On July 7th, 1942,
U-701 was attacked by a plane.

Of its 43-man crew, only seven survived.

World War II escalates as the US joins
the fight to liberate mainland Europe

in the largest amphibious invasion
in history.

DELGADO: The fierce fighting
left an incredible record on the bottom.

It is a vast battlefield
lying just off those beaches.

NARRATOR: Three miles off the coast
of Northern France,

our data-based visualization
of the sea floor

uncovers tanks ready for battle.

Why are tanks out at sea?

By June 1944,

Southwick House in England
is the scene of intense planning.

The Royal Navy's lead historian

studies the most ambitious invasion
of World War II,

known as D-Day,
masterminded within these walls.

That is the actual map that was looked at

by Eisenhower
and all the Allied commanders

in this very room,
the operations room for D-Day.

There are five channels
and that is the channels

that are safe for the invasion forces
to go through.

[siren wails]

NARRATOR: 5,000 Allied ships carry men
and machines towards Normandy.

It's the biggest armada in history.

To defeat the Germans in Europe,
the invasion must have access to France.

Seas are rough.

Beaches are heavily defended.

[explosions and automatic gunfire]

Since World War II,
the sea of the D-Day landing beaches

has attracted marine archaeologists.

Chris Howlett is the former head
of the UK's Seabed Data Center.

Specialists in underwater mapping.

He took part in a survey
of 50 miles of Normandy coastline.

The results were more than he expected.

[electronic beeping]

HOWLETT: Within that area,
we found about 600 targets, if you like.

600 objects on the sea floor.

600 targets is probably ten times

what you would kind of expect
on a normal coast.

NARRATOR: Most surprisingly,
they discovered a tank battalion.

Why are there tanks on the seabed
off the coast of France?

Today's latest scientific surveys

uncover secrets beneath the sea
in a totally new way.

Processing data from two-and-a-half miles

off D-Day invasion zone, Omaha Beach,

the water is peeled back...

to reveal a most unexpected wreck...

an American tank.

A Sherman from
the US 741st Tank Battalion.

Its 75-millimeter gun faces forward,
ready to fire.

This tank never joined the battle
for the beach.

And it's not alone.

Other tanks lie in a cluster nearby.

HOWLETT: The cluster's
probably about a kilometer across.

To find 20 or 30 tanks
in such a confined area

is actually quite an amazing event.

NARRATOR: Most of the tanks are upright.

None seem to have been hit by shells.

Tanks were sent to help infantry
take the beach.

Why are these out at sea?

Close examination of the images

shows these are no ordinary Sherman tanks.

They have a surprising modification.

Between the tracks are two propellers.

These tanks can swim.

You've got these two strange propellers

driving off a cog system at the back

and they also have a large canvas screen
that is put around the tank

and that traps enough air to just
about give the tank positive buoyancy.

NARRATOR: Mechanical arms support
a waterproof screen,

or skirt, around the tank.

Now, this 33-ton tank can float.

Footage of secret trials

proves the amphibious Shermans
can cross smooth water.

They will travel over the English Channel

on special ships like this one,
a tank landing craft.

Unusually, the tanks were to deploy
two miles out at sea.

PRINCE: The captain of the ship
would attempt to turn his stern

into the weather,

so that he was trying
to create a small patch of

as calm as possible water
in front of the ramp.

The ramp would have to be lowered

and then the first tank would
have to drive off into the water.

Just the craziest idea that you could

all of a sudden put a big skirt
around a tank

and propellers on it and it could
make its way like a boat to shore.

NARRATOR: So what goes wrong?

Now the sea has been digitally removed,

we find the amphibious tanks in a line,

stretching from their launch position
towards Omaha Beach.

It was not gunfire that sank these tanks.

It was high waves.

Effectively, they've got roughly around

two feet's worth of clearance.

The waves on D-Day, anything up to
sometimes three or four feet.

NARRATOR: Water floods the tanks.

Twenty-seven out of 29 sink.

PRINCE: That's where you end up
with the pattern of wrecks

that we see on the seabed,
where the tanks have been lost,

either at launch
or as they foundered on their way in.

The loss of the tanks contributes

to the over 3,700 casualties
on Omaha Beach that day.

D-Day itself is a triumph.

The Allied forces seize the beaches.

Now they need to advance inland.

Reinforcements are ferried
from Britain to Europe.

Draining the sea further along the coast

reveals the tragic story
of one of the troop ships.

DELGADO: In a big ship full of guys,
when something bad happens, it's epic.

NARRATOR: 400 American soldiers drown
as this ship sinks.

With the water gone, a question arises.

Was there anything
that could have saved them?

NARRATOR: Winter, 1944.

Six months after D-Day.

The Belgian troopship, Leopoldville,
leaves Southampton, England.

She's carrying over 2,200
young American soldiers to France.

PRINCE: These are troops of a division
that hasn't fought before.

The majority of them would be
in their early 20s,

so the absolute vast majority of them
will have had no experience of combat.

NARRATOR: The Leopoldville never made it.

Around a third of those onboard died.

Today, her wreck lies
just north of Cherbourg,

Leopoldville's destination.

400 US soldiers drowned
only five miles from shore.

Why weren't more saved?

Early evening, December 24th.

The Belgian captain and crew
have Leopoldville within sight of land.


A German U-boat torpedoes the ship,
killing at least 300 men.

The remaining 1,800 US soldiers
scramble on deck to await orders.

A British escort ship rescues
about half the survivors.

The rest wait for help
from the harbor nearby.

We expected somebody to come out

and take the thing into tow.

We just stood there in our ranks,

waiting for somebody
to tell us to do something.


A second explosion rocks the ship.

It begins to sink.

The captain orders "Abandon ship."

His Belgian crew board the lifeboats.

The US soldiers
do not understand what to do.

PRINCE: There definitely is a level
of confusion amongst the crew

and the US troops
about the decision to abandon ship.

We had no instructions aboard ship.

Nothing that would aid in survival.

NARRATOR: As the Leopoldville sinks,

the young American soldiers have no choice

but to leap into the freezing water.

400 men drown before rescue arrives.

Survivors claim many died needlessly.

Will draining the sea
from the Leopoldville

shed light on their story?

As the waters disappear,
a dark secret is revealed.

The crew took the lifeboats,
but now, exposed for all to see,

unused life rafts called Carley floats.

Each simple float could take a dozen men
as soon as they're released.

Few were released.

The soldiers didn't know how to use them.

Still attached to the ship,
they couldn't save anyone.

300 to 350 were killed by the torpedo.

The rest didn't have to die.

DELGADO: Sometimes what you see
on the bottom... is heartbreaking.

NARRATOR: Their sacrifice is not in vain.

Others finished their mission.

In May 1945, World War II in Europe ends.

Freedom returns.

Today, thousands of wrecks
remain beneath the waves...

silent witness to the struggle
and slaughter of the past.

Memorials to a generation
that gave us their lives.

Captioned by
Pixel Logic Media