Monday, September 12, 2011


If the blunder alleged by the woman author had actually occurred, and Titanic crashed head-on into the iceberg, a different outcome might have emerged. The bow was probably the strongest part of the ship, perhaps in anticipation of the more likely chance it would take the brunt of any collision.

But, even in 1912, the officers and passengers knew the iceberg had caused severe damage to the starboard (right) side of the ship. After Robert Ballard found the vessel, inspections were done and studies made providing more accurate information. Namely that the steel used in ship construction at the time did not deform under the blows it received, but fractured. That was especially likely under extremely cold conditions, and the water temperature that night was twenty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. In addition, the collision caused rivets, which held the side plates together, to pop out and some rivet heads to be sheared off.

Another reason why so much water filled the ship so quickly was that the sixteen watertight compartments were actually not totally watertight. The bulkheads dividing them rose only partway up, like partitions separating cubicles in some office buildings. Some bulkheads rose only to D Deck, others to E Deck, barely fifteen feet above the waterline. As sea water entered and filled a compartment, it was able to flow over the top of the bulkhead and enter the next compartment. And so on.

The captain ordered the lifeboats to be lowered and asked the Marconi operators to send out the distress signal, CQD. Interestingly, that old Morse code was sent at first, but later they used the “new” code--SOS--which was easier and faster to transmit. The Titanic’s use was said to be the first in history. The Cunard liner, Carpathia, fifty-eight miles away, responded and began its four-hour journey to the site.

In addition to the wireless distress calls, Quartermaster Rowe took eight white rockets from a locker on the poop deck and brought them to the bridge, where, at regular intervals between 12:45 and 1:30, he set them off. But no response came. During the official inquiry, crew and passengers reported having seen lights from what they assumed was another ship between eleven to twenty miles away and kept expecting it to come to their rescue, but it never moved.

However, there was a ship, Californian, whose own log showed it to be at about that position, having stopped at 10:30 because of the large amount of ice ahead. Later, officers on board the Californian testified they had seen the rockets, but received no orders to do anything. The captain denied having seen Titanic and said it must have been a different, smaller ship, which soon disappeared. To this day, there is still controversy about whether the captain, Stanley Lord (not to be confused with Walter Lord who wrote A NIGHT TO REMEMBER about the tragedy), was derelict in not going to Titanic’s aid.

Read my next blog for more about that “mystery” ship and why so many died that April night close to 100 years ago.

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