Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 2


RMS Titanic was found about seven years before I began my research into the ship. During those intervening years I remember seeing photographs, photograph mosaics, and drawings based on photographs of the wreck, with an analysis of what caused the damage we were being shown. Two of the conclusions that were often repeated I never agreed with (and that was before I began my research).

First, the collapsed decks on the bow section did not happen when the ship hit the ocean bottom, as is commonly believed. The animations always show completely erect decks that collapse on contact with the ocean floor.  Granted, when the ship hit the bottom, more of the decks did collapse, but the decks at the break were already collapsed when the bow began its decent to the ocean floor. I did not know how or why the decks were collapsed at the break. What I did know was that if all of that damage was created when the ship struck the ocean floor there would be more damage than we were now seeing.

The bow of Titanic forward of the anchor struck the ocean floor first. The ship hit the bottom with such force that it buried the nose of Titanic deep into the mud. The energy created from Titanic’s decent to the bottom, coupled with the weight of the bow section, was so powerful that it bent the Titanic’s bow slightly to the right and from about the well deck back, the bow section was bent down. That was an incredible amount of energy. However, most of this energy was dissipated by the time the broken end of the bow hit the bottom. The energy left was just enough to collapse a few more yards of decks.

The second conclusion I have never agreed with, is that water flowing through the stern is the cause for the massive damage to the stern. If this were true there would be more damage to the bow. As a submariner, I knew what caused the damage to the stern. Dr. Ballard described the stern as looking as if a bomb had gone off in it. One piece of metal bent outward and a piece of metal next to it bent inward. He said it made no sense. I recognized that description; it is what I hoped would mercifully happen to me if my submarine were headed to the bottom. Only one thing causes that kind of damage, an implosion.

In 1992 I began to research Titanic in earnest. Fifteen years later I had discovered plenty about the Titanic, most there for the world to see, but overlooked by others. Still I could not explain the damage to the bow, but knew the leading theories were not correct. In 2009, I sat on the couch, quietly reading on a Sunday afternoon. I had just bought Brad Matsen’s “Titanic’s Last Secrets.” By the time I finished reading Brad’s book, I knew exactly what had happened and why. I finished reading his book at my desk and then immediately set to work. Grabbing my engineering books off the shelf and the folder with my notes on Titanic’s steel hull, I began to work out the math. I was mad at myself, I could not understand how I had missed this before. The missing pieces of Titanic’s double bottom and the conclusions of the Roger Long were the missing key I had been looking for; the Roger and the other Titanic experts were so close, but their conclusions missed one important fact. I now knew what had happened to Titanic, why the experts and Roger were still getting it wrong, and more important why Titanic broke up and sank the way she did.

As the stern began to rise into the air the double bottom could not support the weight. The hull that was in water was at the freezing point. That temperature was the temperature at which the steel was at its weakest. But, the decks inside Titanic were not at that temperature. The Titanic, inside its hull, was at a comfortable temperature and in the engine room it was down right hot because of the boilers. The decks inside Titanic would be more pliable because of the warmer temperature, whereas the exterior hull would be brittle and fracture. This is the point that Brad’s scientists, and the titanic experts, keep missing the decks inside Titanic’s hull would not and did not fracture when the hull fractured.

When the hull had fractured, as the stern reached 11 degrees up, the decks inside did not. The decks inside Titanic stretched, bent, and collapsed down on top of each other. The weight of the Titanic was being supported by the walls and bulkheads inside Titanic, they were not made to support this kind of weight. What Brad Matsen’s scientist had missed was the warmer temperature of the decks inside Titanic. The walls and bulkheads inside Titanic, directly above the now missing section of double bottom collapsed under the weight of Titanic’s stern, folding up like cardboard. The decks pan-caked down after the walls and bulkheads collapsed. When this happened the bow took a plunge downward and slowly began to point vertically down. This is when the stern settled back and then rose vertically.

As the bow began to attempt its decent to the ocean floor, the stern (still filled with air) pivoted upward with the collapsed decks acting as a hinge. The decks had been bent in one direction as the stern settled back and now as the stern rose vertically those same decks were being bent in the opposite direction. The air trapped in the stern held the stern above water until enough air escaped to allow the water-filled bow to pull the stern underwater.

If the two sections had broken at the surface, the air trapped in the stern would have caused the stern to float longer. Also, without the bow tugging on the stern there was too much weight with propellers, propeller shafts, rudders and steam steering equipment to allow the stern to stand up on the broken end. If the ship broke into separate pieces just below the surface, the air-filled stern end would have floated back towards the surface before starting its decent.

The damage from the implosion of the stern shows there was still quite a large amount of air in the stern when it imploded. The bow must have pulled the stern deep enough to overcome the positive buoyancy of the air trapped inside, and then the hull separated into two separate sections. The stern separate from the bow, at a point still within a few hundred feet of the surface, the pressure from the sea overcame the weakened steel and much lower pressure of air trapped inside and the stern imploded.

When the bow struck the bottom, the already weakened bulkheads inside Titanic collapsed and more of the bow decks pan-caked down, towards the forward end of the bow. The section between the bow and stern was shredded by the negative buoyancy of the bow and the positive buoyancy of the stern working against each other, and the twisting of the hull which was happening just before separation.

The scientists were correct when they said the hull could only support the stern to an elevation of eleven degrees. They said the ship separated in two, only because they forgot about the warmer temperature inside Titanic. The scientists were concentrated on the remarkable discovery of the double bottom pieces they had just found, and over looked the warmer internal decks of Titanic.

Looking at the remains of the USS Thresher reminds us of the stern of the Titanic. Looking at the remains of the USS Scorpion reminds us of the bow of the Titanic. The USS Thresher imploded and the USS Scorpion was water-filled as it descended to the ocean floor.

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)

Difficult to recognize wreckage of the USS Thresher.
US Navy photograph.

Stern of RMS Titanic.
copyright RMS Titanic Inc.

Stern of RMS Titanic.
copyright RMS Titanic Inc.

The bow of USS Scorpion, looking as it did on the surface.
US Navy photograph.

The bow of the RMS Titanic, very recognizable.
copyright RMS Titanic Inc.

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14 responses to “Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 2

  1. Phil Bell

    the other clue ignored by Roger Long is when looking for ‘ ribbons of steel’ the team discovered a trail of coal and bed springs leading almost a mile south of the stern section this would indicate that when the bow section sank it dragged the stern section forward over this distance allowing coal and bed springs to fall from the ships torn hull until total separation between 250 and 500 feet which allowed the heavy items such as boilers and reciprocating engine parts to fall from the ship

  2. Phil Bell

    at last someone has suggested that the stern was dragged down by the bow section judging from the amount of destruction caused by implosion this has to be the case there was another clue that was ignored by Roger Long I was able to theorise how the titanic broke up and sank

  3. Daniel Allen Butler

    Just found this today. Fascinating. Almost exactly the way I described it in “Unsinkable” back in 1998.

  4. Its fantastic as your other posts : D, thankyou for putting up.

  5. Sorry I meant March 29th! Ugh!

  6. I’ve decided to do the guest post on the discovery of the wreck. Also the Morro Castle post will be up on the 23rd. I looked at the calender wrong! Enjoyed the post.

    • I am looking forward to the Morro Castle article. If you are looking for any particular information on the Titanic article let me know. I’ll search my library. I have Dr. Ballards memior, it’s very good (just wish he would have indexed it LOL). I think you picked the perfect topic, don’t forget to link to it on your page after it is posted.

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