For 100 years the tragic sinking of the Titanic has been discussed, filmed, been the subject of fiction and non –fiction.  Most of us have thought about it in terms of a horrible tragedy of an unsinkable ship being torn apart by an iceberg lurking below the surface of the water in a place it should never have been.

The Royal Mail Steamer Titanic built in the famous shipyard at Belfast, Northern Ireland, stuck an iceberg in the North Atlantic at 11:40 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, 1912, on her maiden voyage.

As we approach the centennial we listen to various different aspects of the event, including the feckless comments by the actress Kate Winslet describing her adverse reaction upon hearing the main theme song My Heart Will Go On of 1997 blockbuster film sung so beautifully by Celene Dion.

As described in an article by Discovery News we learn that “a perfect storm of fateful events” caused the Titanic to go down in a short 3 hours sinking to a depth of 13,000 feet. More than two-thirds of the 2,224 passengers and crew died.

The question of how a 46,000 ton ship sank in three hours has given the experts reason to ponder anew about structural deficiencies of the ship and the series of event that conspired to sink the unsinkable luxury vessel. According to science writer Richard Corfield, “it was a classic event cascade”.

Keep in mind that the experts of 1912–including experienced Captain Edward J. Smith–were convinced that the Titanic was unsinkable when reading the following three paragraphs.

It has been said that Captain Smith paid too little attention iceberg warnings and there were too few lifeboats onboard. Then there was the absence of binoculars in the crow’s nest and the senior radio operator had not passed a crucial ice warning received from a British merchant ship.  The Titanic had been sailing too fast.

The inquiries brought to light other details, such as the absence of binoculars in the crow’s nest and the fact that the senior radio operator had not passed on a crucial ice warning received from the British merchant ship SS Mesaba.

Mesaba gave the precise location (42° to 41°, 25′ N; 49° to 50°, 30′ W) of an area of icebergs that, at the time, approximately 9.40 p.m., was only 50 miles dead ahead of the Titanic,” Corfield wrote.

The message, which read “Saw great number large icebergs also field ice. Weather clear,” was interpreted as non-urgent as it was not prefixed with MSG (Masters’ Service Gram), which would have required a personal acknowledgement from the captain.”  Probably the result of overconfidence when the ship was heavily touted as the most modern ship of her day equipped with the latest technological innovations.

Two metallurgists were cited in the Discovery article, Tim Foecke at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Jennifer Hooper McCarty, then at Johns Hopkins University, who combined their own analysis (in the mid-2000s” reporting inferior materials were used on the ship’s construction. Their analysis along with historical records from the Belfast shipyard revealed that ‘best’ quality iron and not “best best’ had been used and inserted by hand.  The cheaper rivets had a higher concentration of slag, which made them vulnerable to stresses and can “pop off” and cause the hull to “unzip”. If only four instead of six compartments had flooded, the ship would not have gone down.

If the climactic changes that warmed the water more than usual in the Caribbean along with a resulting interplay of two surface water currents and prior high spring tides the icebergs would not have been floating in the area like a minefield, the ship wouldn’t have sunk and two-thirds of the passengers and crew, including Captain Smith wouldn’t have perished.

Click on Discovery News to read their article.


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2 Comments on

  1. Jane C. says:

    This is a terrific post. I learned a lot more about it and am inclined to agree with the finger pointing at the Captain and crew. Maybe a navigator left the bridge with the binoculars (field glasses) around his neck. And, as you said the ship was touted by all as unsinkable. The inferior cost saving bolts were a likely contributing factor and nothing has changed over the last century in that area.

  2. Tin Lizzie says:

    This is a great post. Your personal comments share great insight. Finger pointing and cost saving–an affliction equally as bad in today’s world.

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