Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 3

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.

red areas mark the two keel pieces that broke during sinking.

Red areas mark the two keel pieces that broke during sinking, while Titanic was on the surface. created by Joe C Combs 2nd.

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.

Afrikaans: Skeepsmodel van die RMS Titanic. Ne...

Afrikaans: Skeepsmodel van die RMS Titanic. Nederlands: Scheepsmodel van de ‘Titanic’ (Glamour op de golven) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

figure 8 moment of initial failure.
Marine Forensic Panel Report

figure 9 moment of initial failure of the double bottom.
Marine Forensic Panel Report

figure 10 the bow section pulls downward on the stern section.
Marine Forensic Panel Report

20 responses to “Titanic: How The Ship Broke Apart & Sank, part 3

  1. Ari Feblowitz

    This article is incorrect, in the inquiry days later, multiple survivors claimed to have seen the break, one even said that it looked like a “knife” cut through it. Shew couldn’t have seen that if it was under water.


    • For many years I would have been gracious & polite taking great pains to explain in detail, while bending over backwards in your favor, why your comment is stupid.
      However, my patience with stupid people expired a long time ago.
      1. Your assumption is that a break in the ship means that the ship is in two separate halves.
      The upper portions of the ship did break and split. The the split did not go completely through the ship. It took longer for the lower parts of the ship to split into two separate halves.
      2. The eyewitnesses you site also stated that just before the ship sank from sight the back one third of the ship settled back down then rose until the stern of the ship was vertical. It paused then quickly went straight down.
      The point where the ship settled back down according to the eyewitnesses was the back third of the ship just forward of the 4th funnel.
      If everything forward of the 4th funnel is gone, what caused the stern of ship to pivot to a vertical position?
      Or are you saying that the stern of the ship defied buoyancy and the completely separate stern, against all known logic & science, moved almost 90° to a vertical position standing on top of the water?
      The ship broke forward of the 4th funnel. The upper decks were parted but the keel and lowest deck were still connected, so that the ship was not in two separate halves yet.
      The bow, already submerged began sinking lower. The keel & lowest deck acted like a hinge allowing the stern to settle back down. As the last of the air inside the bow escaped more water rushed adding weight to the bow. As the bow settled lower underwater the weight, with the lowest deck and keel still connected, forced the stern to pivot up until it was vertical.
      If the ship was already in two separate halves, when the stern settled back it would have simply filled with water and sank either stern first or horizontally.
      The next time you want to impress the world with how smart you are learn something first so you don’t look so stupid.


  2. Troden Gore

    if the titanic broke apart on the surface as most like to claim than the debris field on the bottom would be significantly larger, debris analysis has shown according to the size of the debris field and the damage from the speed of the impact the ship broke apart 3/4’s of the way down due to hydraulic pressure.


  3. joan

    did you consider the list to port


    • Yes. But the list to port did not factor in heavily in the sinking by all the research we have done and the research of others that we have seen.
      Very good point though. Thank you.


  4. joan

    did you consider the list to port?


  5. Emilio

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    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there!
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  7. David G. Brown

    Your analysis of the breakup is better than most. I find only one fatal flaw — you don’t take into account buoyancy. The stern in your drawings does not create enough buoyancy to support itself. No matter how you cut it, for any of the ship to have stayed on the surface it was necessary to create a “hole” of displaced water big enough to support the ship. This buoyancy problem is also what “sinks” the 1912 conclusions that Titanic sank intact. The upended hull could not have created enough buoyancy to stay afloat as described by survivors.

    The only source of buoyancy great enough to allow the stern to swing upright was that which still resided in the awash bow section. Even though much of it was under water, there was still enough buoyancy to maintain the still-connected portions of the hull afloat. As the bow filled, it tried to drag the air-filled stern under. But the stern had enough buoyancy to fight the bow and this caused the hinging action. It also caused much of the weight of the stern (unsupported by its own buoyancy) to push down on the butt end of the bow section. That should have caused a teeter-totter effect and brought the prow to or above the surface for a brief time. And, this was captured in the drawing done by artist L.D. Skidmore aboard Carpathia at the direction of young Jack Thayer.

    I participated in studies of the strength of Titanic’s hull girder for the History Channel. They showed the hull to have been stronger than Harland & Wolff intended. My belief is that the keel did not fail. Nor did the upper decks. It was neither a “top down” nor a “bottom up” breakup. Rather, in my opinion it was the port side which failed, probably as a vertical crack in way of the after expansion joint. Water entering through this crack caused Titanic to lose its starboard list and begin rolling to port. Most people overlook that at the end Titanic was in a death roll to port.

    That same ingress of water flooded Boiler Room #1 and caused a rapid change in the hull from hogged (middle high) to sagged (middle low). The steel couldn’t take that sort of treatment and renewed cracking girdled the hull. From there on it was a catastrophic failure of the structure.

    I must say again that while dramatic, Titanic’s breakup did not result from some sort of weakness in the steel or the rivets. The actual ship held together beyond what its builders intended — and well beyond what any hull girder needs to be able to withstand. After all, the ship was already beyond the point of no return when the hull cracked.

    — David G. Brown
    “Titanic Myths, Titanic Truths”
    “The Last Log Of The Titanic”
    “Titanic-Missing Pieces”
    “Titanic-Achilles Heel”


  8. Ivan

    I think this article is awesome ! but when you talk about how the stern sank and the weight of each section (the engines and all that) did you consider the weight of the water entering the broken stern? ( lets assume the stern was already separated from the bow) I mean the water weight must have been quite a force pulling down , and the bulkheads that were still closed would have made the same effect as they did with entire ship ( sink the bow and rise the stern) but this time would be sink the engine room and rise the last section…I dont know a lot about physics but im really interested in what you state in this articles


    • There is only one problem with your theory. The double-bottom. The water would have been rushing in through the double bottom and coming up through the covers in the deck. Also the water tight doors in the engine room were open to allow movement. The water would have settled through out the stern section. Some of the covers were off the decks as they changed line-ups with the pipes and brought pumps on-line from other compartments to help pump out the water.
      Very good comment Ivan. Thank you.


      • Ivan

        Its always good to find this kind of articles with strong evidence in them Ok I know I did not consider the double-bottom or the open bulkheads, my mistake. But, lets suposse that the water is running freely through all the stern, if you look at the blueprints, the space in the last section of the stern (specially the double-bottom) is significantly smaller due to the ships design, ¿do you believe that would make the stern rise at a high angle? and ¿Is it possible that if the stern reached an almost vertical position, the weight of the engines and everything you specify pulling downwards could drag the stern underwater regardless of the air trapped inside wich then caused the implosion?. Another thing is that even if I find all your evidence hardly refutable I still have trouble understanding how did the bow managed to pull down the stern with only the decks atacched to it . I mean the main structure could not stand the pressure of the stern rising , how could the atacched decks stand the pressure of the bow pulling down against the stern trying to stay afloat, and considering what you wrote about the temperature of those decks there is another question that I hope you can answer ¿Do you think that the water entering the ship from the break-up could make the temperature of those decks lower to the point where they could no longer resist some kind of pressure or puling from the bow? Thank you for answering my previous comment I hope you can clarify some of these doubts.


        • Ivan, all very good points. Too much to answer in a reply to a comment, so I will write an article on your questions. Very good comments. If you would be interested in writing an article for our web site e-mail us at edjcc2author@mail.com


          • Ivan

            Well Im certainly not an expert in the subject but if its possible I could write a small article with some of my thoughts, I will send you an e-mail as soon as I can!


            • Thank you. I like the way you think and I believe our readers will also. The path to new discoveries is through always questioning why, and then looking for the answers.


  9. I think that is among the so much vital information for me. And i am glad studying your article. However wanna observation on few normal issues, The web site taste is wonderful, the articles is actually great :D. Excellent job, cheers.


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