Expert Opinions on What Really Happened - 1912

In all probability, according to The Scientific American, a massive, projecting, underwater shelf of the iceberg with which she collided tore open several compartments of the Titanic,

Is This What Happened? In all probability, according to The Scientific American, a massive, projecting, underwater shelf of the iceberg with which she collided tore open several compartments of the Titanic, the rent extending from near the bow to amidships. The energy of the blow, 1,161,000 foot-tons, was equal, it is estimated, to that of the combined broadsides of the battleships Delaware and North Dakota. © Scientific American. The Literary Digest (11 May 1912) p. 981. GGA Image ID # 10869441df

While it is well to adopt many of the precautions and devices suggested since the iceberg sent the Titanic to the bottom, yet we are reminded by no less an authority on ice than Robert E. Peary that, after all, for the modern transatlantic liner, "there is no certain protection against icebergs except to give the region where they may occur the widest berth."

And it likewise appears to Engineering News (New York) "that the first and most important lesson of the Titanic's loss is the need for moving the summer course of transatlantic steamers between North Atlantic ports and English Channel ports farther south."

This, as our readers know, was done at once by the joint action of the steamship companies. In connection with a chart showing the various "'lanes," Engineering News goes on to say:

"The position of the Titanic, as given in her calls for assistance by wireless, was Lat. 41° 46', Long. 50° 14'. It will be seen by referring to the chart that this was 14', or about 16 miles, south of the regular westbound summer route.   The early reports that the Titanic was using the shorter route—the northern or Winter route — were plainly erroneous.

"The general position of the group of icebergs upon one of which the liner was wrecked is indicated on the chart. The iceberg symbols on the chart mark positions at which icebergs were sighted by different vessels in the few days immediately preceding and following the wreck. 

For the sake of clearness, only a few of the numerous reports received at the New York Office of the United States Hydrographic Bureau are marked in the chart.

"The course of the group of bergs to the southward under the influence of the Labrador current can be traced by means of the pilot charts issued monthly by the Hydrographic Office.

The Labrador current curves around the coast of Newfoundland and is believed to pass below the Gulf Stream. The ice brought shown by the current from the north is picked up by the Gulf Stream and carried slowly eastward, being at the same time rapidly melted as a general rule by the warmer water.

The speed of the Gulf Stream in this vicinity is only 15 or 20 miles per day. Slight variations in the flow of the two currents or difference in the character of the ice itself may account for the further progress of the ice to the southward in some years.

"The ice this year is farther south than it has been during a long period of years, and on April 16 the transatlantic lines announced an agreement, in consequence of the reports as to where in the Atlantic,  to shift the established routes so as to bring them 60 or 70 miles farther south in the vicinity where icebergs were met.

Repositioning Steamship Routes

Three days later, on April 19, an agreement was affected between the steamship lines and the United States Hydrographic Office, moving the routes some 100 miles farther  south still to the position indicated on the chart reproduced herewith.  The chart shows also the former routes which were established in 1898. The new routes are about 175 miles longer than the former summer routes."

Chart of the North Atlantic Showing the New Summer Routes for Steamships.

Chart of the North Atlantic Showing the New Summer Routes for Steamships. Inter Routes of German and French Lines Are Not Shown. the Turning Points Are the Same as for the English Lines. These Points Are Indicated by Small Open Circles. Position of Icebergs Is Shown by Shaded Spots. © Engineering News. The Literary Digest (11 May 1912) p. 982. GGA Image ID # 1086b494ee

The sinking of the Titanic has convinced many that there is no such thing as "the unsinkable ship." Yet, The Scientific American would remind us, "the ship's company who set sail from Southampton on the first and last voyage of the world's greatest vessel" had "many and good reasons" for believing that she was unsinkable.

The Purported Strength of Construction

To begin with, we read in a carefully prepared article in this authoritative weekly: "The floor of the ship was of exceptional strength and stiffness. Keel, keelson, longitudinal, and inner and outer bottoms were of a weight, size, and thickness exceeding those of any previous ship.

The floor was carried well up into the sides of the vessel, and in addition to the conventional framing, the hull was stiffened by deep web frames — girders of enormous strength — spaced at frequent and regular intervals throughout the whole length of the vessel.

Tying the ship's sides together were the deck beams, ten inches in depth,  covered, floor above floor, with unbroken decks of steel. Additional strength was afforded by the stout longitudinal bulkheads of the coal bunkers, which extended in the wake of the boiler-rooms, and, incidentally, by their water-tight construction, served, or rather, in view of the loss of the ship, we should say were intended to serve, to prevent water, which might enter through a rupture in the ship's outer shell, from finding its way into the boiler-rooms.

"As a further protection against sinking, the Titanic was divided by fifteen transverse bulkheads into sixteen separate water-tight compartments; and they were so proportioned that any two of them might have been flooded without endangering the flotation of the ship.

"Furthermore, all the multitudinous compartments of the cellular double bottom and all the sixteen main compartments of the ship were connected, through an elaborate system of piping, with a series of powerful pumps whose joint capacity would suffice to greatly delay the rise of water in the holds, due to any of the ordinary accidents of the sea involving a rupture of the hull of the ship.

"Finally, there was the security against foundering due to vast size—a safeguard which might reasonably be considered the most effective of all. For it is certain that, with a given amount of damage to the hull, the flooding of one compartment will affect the stability of a ship in the inverse ratio of her size— or, should the water-tight doors fail to close, the ship will stay afloat for a length of time approximately proportional to her size."

How Lifeboats For All Could Be Carried

How Lifeboats For All Could Be Carried. On the Left, Boat Deck of the Titanic Showing 20 Lifeboats Carrying About 1,000 Passengers. On the Right, Plan of Boat Deck Showing Suggested Accommodations for 56 Boats Carrying About 3,100 Passengers. © Scientific American. The Literary Digest (11 May 1912) p. 982. GGA Image ID # 1086a1115f

Speed and the Iceberg

Therefore, "unsinkable she was by any of the seemingly possible accidents of wind and weather or deep-sea collision." Bow on, and "under the half-speed called for by careful seamanship," she would probably have survived even a head-on collision with an iceberg. But there was just one peril against which she was as helpless as the smallest of coasting steamers— "the long, glancing blow below the water-line, due to the projecting shelf of an iceberg."

Nevertheless, asserts this writer with emphasis, "had the Titanic been running under a slow bell, she would probably have been afloat today." Even that deadly under-water blow, we are told, "would scarcely have been fatal had the ship been put, as she should have been, under half speed."

For in that case, "the force of the reactive blow would have been reduced to one-quarter." To quote the ensuing explanation: 

"The energy of a moving mass increases as the square of the velocity. The 60,000-ton Titanic, at 21 knots, represented an energy of 1,161,000 foot-tons. At 10 knots, her energy would have been reduced to 290,250 foot-tons.

Think of it, that giant vessel, rushing on through the ice-infested waters, was capable of striking a blow equal to the combined broadsides of the twenty 12-inch guns of the Delaware and North Dakota, each of whose guns develops 50,000 foot-tons at the muzzle!

"Newton's first law of motion 'will be served."  "But had the speed been only one-half and the energy one fourth as great, the ship might well have been deflected from the iceberg before more than two or three of her compartments had been ripped open; and with the water confined to these, the powerful pumps could have kept the vessel afloat for many hours, and surely until a fleet of rescuing ships had taken every soul from the stricken vessel."

This writer has no patience with the contention that it is impossible for a ship like the Titanic to carry life-boats enough for all on board. He has studied out the problem and present  its solution in the accompanying diagram.

In its editorial summing up the "Lessons of the Titanic's Loss," The Army and Navy Journal (New York) makes special mention of these: the value of the life-raft, the need of more competent seamen, better appliances for launching boats, "a steam- or gasoline-propelled pinnace," and search-lights.

It also calls attention to a letter from Admiral Robert E. Peary.  In Admiral Peary's opinion:

"A powerful search-light would be of great assistance in determining the presence of icebergs in a ship's course in clear weather," but would be useless in a fog.

Large icebergs, he says, are easily located and avoided. but "the most dangerous ice menace to a steamer is the last remaining fragment of a berg, usually a mass of dense translucent ice, hard as rock, almost entirely submerged, absorbing the color of the surrounding water, and almost invisible, even in broad daylight, until close aboard."

A steel passenger-ship, striking one of these "growlers," would be likely to have "her bilge torn open from bow to quarter. For our huge modern steel steamships, traveling at high speed and intensely vulnerable to puncture, there is no certain protection against icebergs except to give the region where they may occur the widest berth."

Lewis Nixon, the shipbuilder, believes that some of the difficulties in the way of providing a sufficient number of lifeboats are real, but he suggests life-rafts and a sort of detachable deck.

Admiral F. E. Chadwick, in a letter to the New York Evening Post, also recommends the raft. He discusses the question of the Titanic's size, speed, and construction, but concludes thus:

“Certainly her size had nothing to do with her loss, and her speed was less than that of some others. Any ship driven at such speed on to a berg of such character would have torn her bottom to pieces.  She was lost by unwise navigation—by running at full speed, though so amply forewarned, into a dangerous situation which might easily have been avoided. This is the fundamental, sad, and one important fact. It accounts for everything.”

"Science and Invention: Experts on the 'Titanic' Wreck," in The Literary Digest, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol. XLIV, No. 19, Whole No. 1151, 11 May 1912, p. 981-983.

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