Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 1

One hundred years, and we know more about the loss of the Titanic than ever before, but there is so much more for us to learn. We need to push forward, we need to know what happened and why. Not for some morbid curiosity, but so we will not do this again, so no one else will ever have to endure what those 2200 people had to endure that cold, lonely night so long ago.

When I look back, across 45 years of my love affair with the sea and the ships that sail the sea, five ships always come to my mind. The USS Maine was the first shipwreck I studied in earnest, then came the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. I remember watching Walter Cronkite announce the loss of the Big Fitz. Even at 13 and far away in the state of Florida ( where I grew up ) I knew that large ships did not go missing on the great lakes anymore … or were not supposed to. Then came the USS Scorpion and the SS Empress of Ireland. Last was the RMS Titanic, I always remember hearing about the ship. Every April 15, when I was a boy, “A Night To Remember” would be on a Sunday matinée on one of the three stations we had in those days ( ABC, NBC, CBS ). For some reason I was never interested in Titanic, not until I began to do research for an eight-foot model I wanted to design and build of Titanic. Some of what I found out defied the laws of science. Some of what I found out not only defied good seamanship it even defied bad seamanship. It became obvious to me that the people who wrote the books I found had never been at sea as a member of a ship’s crew and had very little, if any, idea of the normal routines of a ship at sea and how certain things are done or even why. I was hooked. For the next two decades I studied as much primary source evidence as I could find on Titanic. Each of these shipwrecks has lessons we will learn or repeat. I have studied and will eventually write about each.

There have been many theories over the years about how Titanic broke up and sank. As we discuss each theory there will be a video clip to demonstrate. In part two we will discuss what I have found out concerning the breakup of Titanic.

1912 – 1985, the intact theory: The first generally accepted version of how Titanic broke up and sank was … she did not breakup. There was evidence from the inquiries that she did breakup, but most experts believed Titanic went down in one piece. It was believed that if Titanic was ever found, she would be sitting upright in one piece, smokestacks pointing to the ocean surface. In 1985 when Dr. Ballard found the Titanic we learned she broke up before she reached the ocean floor.

Titanic sinks intact video (click on link) http://youtu.be/b-ymwwWuh5w

Stern sinks after Bow theory: The next theory had Titanic breaking into two separate halves on the surface. The bow started towards the ocean floor. Meanwhile, on the surface the stern settled back on an even keel, then raised up almost vertical. After staying in this verticle position for almost five minutes, the stern then sinks straight down heading for the ocean floor.

The eye witnesses said 200 feet of Titanic’s stern pointed straight up. Most of the animations and recreations show something less than 200 feet. While pointing out that Titanic’s 3 story-tall reciprocating steam engines were at the broken edge of the stern, they go into great detail about the weight of the engines. It is implied, but usually not stated, that the weight of the engines caused the severed stern to rise into the sky. Something that is never mentioned in this theory is the weight of the rudder, three huge propellers, the steam gear and equipment that moved Titanic’s rudder, cargo cranes, three propeller shafts, and guards that protected the wing propellers. All of this weight was at the opposite end of the stern from the reciprocating steam engines, more than enough weight to counterbalance the weight of the two engines. Yet, somehow Titanic’s stern managed to defy gravity and raise itself up, pivoting at the break to stand vertically in the air for almost five minutes.

Stern sinks after bow (click on link) http://youtu.be/YzGeOl2hw5A

Low angle break on the surface theory: Roger Long examined the evidence from the John Chatterton and Richie Kohler expedition to Titanic. Brad Matsen wrote an excellent book ( Titanic Last Secrets, ISBN: 978-0-446-58205-6 ) on this expedition and the examination and final theory based on the new evidence found. I am not going to go into detail here, Brad does a better job, but I am going to point out a few high-lights that impact this article. John and Richie went to Titanic to find pieces of Titanic’s double bottom they had heard were separate from the rest of the wreck. What they found changed everything that we know about the break up of Titanic. Two pieces of Titanic’s double bottom that were originally under the third smokestack, complete pieces from one side of Titanic to the other side. What Roger Long discovered was that the two double bottom pieces, pieces of the keel, broke when the Titanic’s stern reached 11 degrees. Roger’s conclusion was that Titanic’s stern never went above 11 degrees and that the movie images we see of the stern rising vertically into the air never happened. Roger missed one important fact. The internal decks were warmer than the hull, so they were stronger and did not break when the hull broke. The stern rose much higher than 11 degrees. Excellent science, excellent work, and a conclusion that over-reached the evidence.

Bow drags the stern under theory: This is the theory closest to what actually happened, that has so far been proposed. This theory has the Titanic breaking apart, yet still attached until the stern leaves the surface and then immediately breaking into two separate halves. This theory answers the glaring scientific error created by the bow already sinking fast towards the ocean floor, before the stern rises 200 feet into the sky. The only short coming of this theory is that it does not match the wreckage of the Titanic as it is today on the ocean floor. The Discovery Channel video clip explains this theory.

Bow drags the stern under (click on link) http://youtu.be/82frhzqVUJc

The last theory: The last theory in this article will be discussed in part two of this article. It examines the wreckage of Titanic on the ocean floor, and uses this evidence to explain why the Discovery Channel video is close, but still not quite correct. Next Sunday 25 Mar 2012, Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 2 will be posted. (Click on shortlink to go to Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 2 http://wp.me/P1MLkF-cw )

A look at Titanic’s steel and my conclusion. Next Sunday 1 Apr 2012, Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 3 will be posted. (Click on shortlink to go to Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 3 http://wp.me/P1MLkF-hH)

Please feel free to post any comments or questions you have about this article in the comments section below. We are currently working on a contacts page so you may contact us directly, thank you for your patience.

Stern View of the "USS Maine"

USS Maine, Image via Wikipedia

Titanic stern

RMS Titanic, Image via Wikipedia

English: The SS Edmund Fitzgerald in the St. M...

SS Edmund Fitzgerald, Image via Wikipedia

13 responses to “Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 1

  1. Regarding the break it is said that the hull cracked just aft of the third funnel. I wonder if the hull plates actually cracked or if the plates just pulled apart at the rivets due to stresses in the hull. I was taught at school (Maine Maritime) that cracks won’t progress though a riveted joint because of the physical separation of the plates. Rivet failure would instead open a breach in the hull which would allow rapid flooding of that compartment. As this crack progressed down the hull the upper plates would be pulled apart due to tensile shearing of the rivets. As we get lower in the hull the plates would be under compression stress which would buckle the plates outward much like the buckle seen on the wreck in the area at the aft end of the forward well deck on both sides. This buckling probably would have proceeded down to the area of the junction with the double bottom to the main hull, which due to it’s box construction offered more resistance to the buckling, thus protecting Rogers Longs non compressed bottom plates. With this area of the hull now compromised (the flooding of that area would have been rapid and catastrophic) the result would have pulled the whole hull down to a deeper draft due to increased displacement. The progressive hull flooding from the collision and developing down flooding was only in the area of the grand staircase and forward. This sudden flooding a couple compartments further aft changed the stresses on the hull. As the separating sections of the hull settled deeper the flooding was now allowed to propagate forward and aft from the new wound. As for the stern upending
    this was due to the sudden weight of the water flooding the lower compartments. The areas immediately affected were the engine room, the turbine room and the refrigeration and stores compartments. This held quite a cubic volume of (now water) more than enough weight to upend the stern section accounting for the compression damage to the upper decks now seen today.


    • There was an expedition some time ago that found a large section of the double bottom of the Titanic some distance from the rest of the wreckage. It was the entire width of the ship. They found out it was the section under the part of the ship between the third & fourth funnel. They believed it came off early in the sinking because of its location to the rest of the wreckage.


  2. Also one other point. The Titanic broke between the third and fourth funnel.
    The Olympic was rammed just forward of the starboard propeller and the bow of the Hawk actually damaged the fairing around the starboard propeller shaft.
    Two completely different locations.


  3. Mark

    How about;

    the ship which sank was actually RMS Olympic, and it broke where its hull had been catastrophically damaged by the underwater ram of HMS Hawke, as the stern was lifted from the water? That only the quick, bodged repairs and patching-up needed to keep it afloat long enough to be deliberately sunk (as RMS Titanic) had been carried out?


    • Two things.

      1-The claim that the two ships were switch has already been proved a myth by countless Titanic researchers using many pieces of evidence including but not limited the finding of the Titanic’s hull number on various pieces of the wreckage on the bottom of the ocean.

      2-The Titanic (as is evidenced by the wreckage on the ocean floor) broke between the third and fourth funnel. The place the Olympic was damaged by the bow of the HMS Hawke is more than 150 feet aft of where the Titanic broke.

      As with most conspiracy theories the theory takes 1 or 2 points of fact and ignores irrefutable evidence by the score.

      Conspiracy theories sell books & advertising. But there is just too much contradicting evidence to support this theory. And the discrepancy of more than 150 feet in the location of the damage on the two ships is just one piece of the many pieces of evidence.

      There are several good books that have been written going through this theory one bit of evidence at a time disproving the theory.


  4. Leen Hagestein

    My question: the boilers that were found, separeted of the wreck, from wich boiler room they came? If they fell out of the bowsection, then it its obvious that the bow sank midsection towards the oceanfloor, otherwise the boilers would not have fallen out, I guess. So, the drawing that Jack B Thayer made is close to what really happend!


  5. kenzie

    This is great info but now I need to know why the titanic mattered


    • It matters because if we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat history. And unfortunately we have repeated the Titanic many times. The problem with the Titanic was that it was the “cutting edge technology” of the day. We had created the most advanced ship in history up to that point in time. We did not learn the lessons we should have so we made the same mistakes with the USS Thresher, the two space shuttles we lost, the Seattle Tacoma bridge, and many other man-made objects.
      Good question.


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  8. J. G. Burdette

    This was really interesting. To tell the truth I’ve never concentrated on much about the wreck. Great post.


    • Thank you J.G.
      I would like to ask you if you would be interested in doing a guest post for April 15, 2012 the Titanic 100th anniversary. If so, drop me an e-mail (address is on my contacts page).


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