Many of the theories common today dealing with the breakup of Titanic, have the ship breaking into two separate halves while the stern is still on the surface (just as we see in James Cameron’s movie Titanic). They rely on metallurgical analysis of the steel brought from the wreck scene of Titanic, to show Titanic was in two separate halves before the stern left the surface. The bottom up failure of Titanic’s hull is correct and is supported by analysis of the wreckage on the sea floor as well as by scientific evidence. However, they are wrong about the ship separating on the surface.
First, tests of the recovered Titanic steel were conducted by Tim Foecke of the Metallurgy Division, National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE, Technology Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Materials Science and Engineering Laboratory. These tests were exhaustive, and clearly demonstrate the steel of the keel at a temperature of -1 degrees celsius (31 degrees fahrenheit) would fail under the stress loads that would have been present as Titanic’s stern began to rise out of the water (somewhere between 11 and 17 degrees). These test also demonstrate that the steel would have snapped instead of stretching, bending, and elongating.
In addition to the N.I.S.T. tests and report, Roy Mengot and Richard Wytowich wrote The Breakup of Titanic, A Progress Report from the Marine Forensics Panel. Roy and Richard also made use of marine engineering computer models to recreate the breakup of Titanic along with the metallurgical data. As with Tim’s work, I commend these men for their exhaustive, time consuming, and accurate work. Both reports are well worth reading, not just by those in the engineering and metallurgical fields, but also by serious Titanic researchers.
There is only one point that is missed in both of these reports. While the hull of Titanic was in water that was at the freezing point, the decks inside Titanic were not. Down in boiler room number one (under the number 3 funnel where the keel failure took place), they were creating steam for the engines (and later for the lights), the temperature would have been about 38 degrees celsius (100 degrees fahrenheit). On the passenger decks the temperature would have been about 23 degrees celsius (74 degrees fahrenheit). As the above reports demonstrate the steel could have suffered fractures at these higher temperatures as well, but they would have been stronger than the keel. Also, when the keel broke that would have relieved some of the stresses felt by the decks above the keel. unfortunately, the tests that were conducted were primarily made at the -1 degree celsius temperature, with little attention on the higher temperatures .
One final point on Titanic’s steel. Many people point out that metallurgy was in its infancy. This is true, however as I point out in my book Titanic, A Search For Answers, when the ship Marquette & Bessimer Number 2 was built in 1905 in Ohio, USA (to carry railroad cars across Lake Erie to Canada) they were very specific about their ship’s steel. “… no more than 0.06% sulfur content in the ship’s steel. The tensile strength of the steel was to be between 54,000 and 62,000 pounds per square inch. They also specified what type of destructive tests were to be done, and the amount of deformation in the steel that was acceptable during these tests. (Titanic, A Search For Answers pages 55 and 56). The steel used for Titanic would have been rejected for the Marquette & Bessimer Number 2 five years earlier.
Second, not one of the survivors on the boat deck of Titanic remembered the deck splitting in half while Titanic was still on the surface. This would have been very dramatic and well remembered by the survivors, not just a few days later during the American Inquiry but for the rest of their lives (remember the scene in Cameron’s movie).
Third, there were survivors that reported hearing 3 or 4 explosions just before Titanic sank. Those witnesses who’s background provided the best knowledge to determine the cause, described the sound as muffled and doubted it was the boilers. This sound was most likely the keel fracturing (also stated in the above mentioned reports). There were also witnesses close to Titanic at the sinking that heard a muffled explosion after Titanic left the surface. This would have been the implosion of the stern at a depth between 200 and 500 feet.
It is true that the expansion joints did fail, but they would not have caused the hull to fail. The expansion joints were in the superstructure, which sat on the hull, but was not part of the hull structurally.
Four, as stated earlier in Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 2, there was an implosion. The implosion could not have taken place on the surface, an implosion is caused by a difference of pressure. In this case the difference in pressure was air trapped inside the stern at near surface pressure, and water pressure building up on the outside of the hull. When the difference increases above the strength of the hull, the hull begins to collapse, water rushes inside the hull and air rushes out. This is why some hull plates are bent outward and others are bent inward. The implosion would begin in one area of the hull and rapidly spread as the stress would increase on the surrounding hull areas. This implosion would happen in a fraction of a second. The exact depth can not be determined (we would have to know exactly what the weakened threshold was) but a good estimate is between 200 and 500 feet.
For there to be enough air in the stern to cause an implosion, the stern needed to sink below the surface before most of the air inside the stern had time to escape. With that much air inside the stern it would have still been positively buoyant and would have need to be pulled under by the bow. With that much air inside, as the bow sank and the stern tried to float, the stern would have turned upwards at between 45 and 75 degrees.
Fifth, many survivors (those that witnessed the stern going under) stated the stern went up just before the final plunge somewhere between “almost 45 degrees” to “perpendicular”, depending upon the witness testifying.
The bedplate for the two engines was 195 tons each engine was about 400 to 450 tons total weight about 1,000 to 1,100 tons. The ship’s turbine (for the center propellor) weighed about 130 tons. The steel stern frame weighed 70 tons (the last perpendicular frame before the overhanging stern). The rudder weighed 100 tons, the wing propellors weighed 38 tons each, with the center propellor weighing 17 tons. We have not even begun to talk about the steam steering gear, the stern post for the rudder or any of the six cranes on the after end of the stern and already the weight is just short of 300 tons. The weight between the back of the stern section and the front of the stern section was almost equal, the engine side (including the turbine) would have approximately, a 200 ton advantage. Not much difference when you are talking about a section of ship that was about 250 feet long weighing between 12,000 and 15,000 tons. The front of the stern (where the engines and turbine are) just did not weigh enough to make the stern stand straight up. Even if the engines and the turbine combined did weigh enough, for the 250 foot long stern to stand on end with 250 feet pointing straight up defies the laws of physics. The pivot point for a detached stern would not be at the break.
The final conclusion to be gained from these three articles is thus. Many of the accepted theories (part 1) come very close to answering how Titanic broke apart and sank. However, in each case a minor oversight of all available evidence has led to an incorrect conclusion. After a careful examination of all the available evidence, this is how I believe Titanic broke up and sank:
As the bow sank and the stern rose, the keel began to bend down (this is called hogging). When the stern rose to about 11 to 17 degrees, the stress on the keel caused a catastrophic failure of the keel in two places under the number 3 funnel. This failure relieved some of the stresses on the upper decks. However, as the stern settled back the wood and light weight steel walls on the upper decks (directly over the failed keel) collapsed under the weight of the stern. As the walls (bulkheads) under the 3 funnel collapsed, the decks pancaked down. The bow sank lower in the water, attempting to drag the stern under. The collapsed decks acting like a hinge, the stern pivoted and rose to a vertical or near vertical position. Eventually the bow succeeded in dragging the stern under, and at a depth between 200 and 500 feet the stern imploded, separating the bow and stern sections of the ship.
- My First Titanic Video (joeccombs2nd.com)
- How Titanic captain’s steward wrote of fears that doomed liner was cursed just days before it sank (dailymail.co.uk)
- He survived the Titanic shipwreck, and became a Manchester legend (thejc.com)
- Largest collection of Titanic artefacts to go under the hammer… with results of auction revealed on 100th anniversary of disaster (dailymail.co.uk)
- Pictured: The Titanic shown on the base of the ocean nearly 100 years from that fateful night (dailymail.co.uk)
- A Writer’s Perspective: Why Titanic’s Story Endures (jillarcherauthor.wordpress.com)
- National Geographic Present Titanic Exclusive New Photos of The Wreck (socyberty.com)
- Row brews over the sale of Titanic memorabilia (itv.com)
- Titanic obsession helped launch newspaper career (goerie.com)