Top British Pathé Videos of 20th Century Maritime Disasters

The Titanic as it departed Belfast in 1912. Still image from video courtesy of British Pathe
The Titanic as it departed Belfast in 1912. Still image from video courtesy of British Pathé

For much of the 20th century, British Pathé was one of the leading producers of newsreels and documentaries in the world.

Now, more than 100 years from its roots as the world’s first televised news platform, the London newsreel has uploaded its entire collection, some 85,000 digitally remastered films and videos, to its Youtube channel.

The archived videos, which span more than 80 years of footage, are a treasure trove for history buffs. Pathé cameras were on-hand to capture some of the most extraordinary and historic events in modern history including, sometimes, when disaster struck. Their coverage of maritime events was no different.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of some of the major maritime disasters captured as cameras rolled; some you have heard of, others you probably have not, but each fascinating and tragic in their own right.

For those of you interested in browsing the complete archive, check out the British Pathé Youtube page HERE and be sure to let us know some of your favorites in the comments. (Warning: I hope you didn’t have anything to do this weekend. Sorry).

Torrey Canyon Tanker Disaster (1967)

The suezmax tanker shipwrecked off the western coast of Cornwall, England in March 1967, causing one of the worst oil spills in U.K. history, and the world.

Tanker Rescue – Tanker Breaks In Two (1962)

In 1962, the tanker “Bridgewater” broke in two a few hundred miles off the coast of western Australian. A coordinated rescue effort led to the successful rescue of all crewmembers with the exception of the Chief Officer, who suffered a broken leg.

HMS Barham Explodes and Sinks (1941)

During WWII, the HMS Barham was torpedoed by German submarines in the Mediterranean Sea, causing the ship capsize and explode within a matter of minutes. Over 800 lives were lost. Remarkably, however, over 300 survived after being rescued by British ships.

Ablaze At Sea AKA Tanker Ablaze (1920)

In 1926, an unidentified tanker carrying 3 million gallons of oil caught fire at sea, and it was all captured on film.

Titanic and Survivors – Genuine 1912 Footage

This footage, showing the ill-fated Titanic prior to its departure and then the New York arrival of the Carpathia with survivors, is eerie to watch.

Tanker Torn Apart by Raging Seas (1960)

The tanker “Pineridge” broke in two off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, leading to the loss of the Captain and six crew. The ship wasn’t the first to be lost in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, and it certainly wasn’t the last.

Sinking Of Us Aircraft Carrier Lexington (1942)

The USS Lexington (CV-2) was scuttled in the Pacific Ocean during the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942.

Million Pound Ship Ablaze! (1932)

The U.S.-flagged liner “Segovia” was destroyed by a fire at a Norfolk, Virginia dock on the eve of its maiden voyage. The vessel was constructed under the Jones-White Act of 1928, aka the Merchant Marine Act, which was passed by Congress to help stimulate private shipbuilding in America and increase the competitiveness of the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Oil Tanker Bursts (1926)

This footage shows an oil tanker after it exploded in Brooklyn, New York in 1926. The blast could be felt for miles.

Air Drama in the English Channel

Cameras role as Nazi bombers attack British ships in the English Channel. This footage was captured from the White Cliffs of Dover in 1940.

American Transport Wrecked (1917)

Shipwreck of the USA transport ship ‘Summer’ off the coast of the Jersey in the Channel Islands.

Again The Sea Takes Toll (1931)

A freighter is seen after it ran aground on the jagged rocks of Point Reyes, just north of San Francisco, in fog “as thick as pea soup”.

Ablaze At Sea (1924)

Seven lives were lost when this tanker burst into flames off California in 1924.

A Picturesque End 1916

Crowds watch as the U.S. Navy frigate “Franklin” is destroyed by fire.

Axis Crews Scuttle More Ships (1941)

Axis crews scuttle ships off the coast of Costa Rica before giving themselves up under direct orders from Berlin and Rome.

Oil Tanker Ablaze (1920)

Twenty crewmembers were reportedly lost when two tankers collided in the United States.

Largest Oil Tanker (1968) – Universe Ireland

This video can labeled under the “bad omen” category. The Universe Ireland, which would have its name changed to Betelgeuse, sank just over a decade later off Cork Ireland in what is now known as the Whiddy Island disaster.

Correction, Universe Ireland was not a disaster (or was it, someone clarify?). Still a good video.

Honorable mention in remembrance of today’s 70th Anniversary of D-Day:

Reminder: Be sure to check out the British Pathé Youtube page and let us know which videos we missed the comments.