28 March 2019. On 14-15 April 1912 RMS Titanic vanished near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Over the next few weeks I look at the ‘Event Cascade’ of reasons why.
When people ask the question, “What sank Titanic?” at first sight, the answer is obvious. It hit an iceberg – how complicated can it be? But that simplistic answer masks deeper and more substantive question: Why did Titanic sink so quickly?
It is a mistake to regard Titanic as somehow primitive. She was the most modern ship of her day, in a world that relied on its steam trade to maintain communications between Europe and America in the same way that today we rely on aviation. Titanic incorporated the latest technological innovations of the age to help ensure its safety. For example, it was the first ship to have sealable, watertight bulkheads with electrically operated doors that could be closed from the bridge at a moment’s notice. The hull was made of steel and was held together in the middle three-fifths of the ship’s length by steel rivets. She carried the latest Marconi wireless equipment, with a 5000 W transmitter that gave it a range of five hundred kilometres.
On the face of it the human factors were stacked in Titanic’s favour too. She had the most experienced crew of the entire White Star line on board for her maiden voyage, who were commanded by the White Star line’s most experienced captain, Capt E. J. Smith, the Commodore of the Line.
It is also worth noting that the North Atlantic run was very far from being an unknown quantity in the Edwardian era. It was as busy as the air route between Europe and America is today, and the chances of seeing a fellow ship en route were as high as an air traveller seeing a fellow aircraft today.
But the simple truth is that against all odds and expectations, including those of the ship’s designers, Lord Pirie, of the Harland and Wolff shipyard, and Thomas Andrews of the White Star line itself, Titanic sank as fast and completely as a stone, less than three hours after she had hit the iceberg. If she had stayed afloat a little longer then rescue ships could have got to her and tragedy been averted.
This is the real question of the Titanic mystery: How could a 46,000 ton ship sink so quickly? The answer is to be found within the science behind Titanic’s construction.
Watch this space for my trilogy of Titanic articles, coming soon.