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Scientific Aftermath of the Titanic Disaster - 1912

Questions in applied science, especially in engineering, suggested by phases of the Titanic disaster, continue to agitate the scientific press, both here and abroad.

Foremost among these, perhaps, are questions connected with the vessel's structure, and with the arrangement and efficiency of the bulkheads that were supposed to render her "unsinkable."

Some of the chief engineering aspects of the disaster are discussed in the leading article in Engineering (London). Questions that press for immediate discussion and settlement are, first, the effect of center-line or longitudinal wing bulkheads.

Such have obvious advantages but have imperfect stability under disastrous conditions. The effect of impact on the superstructure of very large ships is another point that Engineering thinks will have to be considered.

In such ships, there are now usually two or three decks above the molded structure. Would inertia have effects similar to those experienced in railway collisions, in which the body of the carriage is driven from the underframe? As the boats and launching-gear are carried on these decks, there is a possibility of damage to them under such conditions.

It is quite evident, thinks The Engineering Record (New York, April 20), "that the enormous inertia of such a great vessel contributed to her destruction."
A leading article in The Engineer (London) is also devoted to the loss of the Titanic and raises other questions, particularly regarding arrangements for securing water-tight subdivision, comprising not only the number and disposition of bulkheads, but also the height to which they extend, and the water-tightness of the deck at their upper extremity.

Safety pontoons for ocean vessels are suggested by Henry R. Towne, President of the Yale and Towne Manufacturing Company. He wrote to the
New York Times on the subject (April 25), and follows up this first suggestion with an article in Engineering News (New York, May 2).

A Life-Raft to Form Part of the Deck.

A Life-Raft to Form Part of the Deck. This device proposed by the London Sphere would be part of the deck ordinarily, but in case of wreck it would float oft as a raft holding hundreds of the passengers and crew. © London Sphere. The Literary Digest (25 May 1912) p. 1096. GGA Image ID # 1087a33f99

Mr. Towne's pontoons would be independent structures, so built on deck as to float off if the vessel should sink. A single one might be large enough to hold 1,000 persons. He writes:

"Experience has shown that the modern large steamship when fatally injured sinks slowly. This would afford ample time in which to assemble the passengers and crew in the pontoons (except possibly a portion of the crew which might be assigned to lifeboats as scouts) and to close the doors and port-holes. It also implies that each pontoon as it became-immersed would automatically release-itself and float away.

"In the designing of a new ship, the incorporation of 'safety pontoons' would involve no difficulties, and probably would entail little, if any, additional cost. In the case of many, if not all, existing vessels, it would be possible to remodel their upper works, so as to incorporate these pontoons, if this change were deemed advisable.

"The interior of each pontoon would be as available for normal daily uses as the present superstructure of the ship,  which it would replace, and a reasonable amount of interior decoration could be adopted without at all impairing the efficiency of the pontoons for their ultimate purpose in case of disaster.

It would even be possible to include in the emergency power equipment provision for moderate lighting of the interior. In a heavy sea, the hatches in the deck or roof of the pontoon would need to be closed, but in a moderate or smooth sea, if protected by proper combings, they could be opened,  and at times the occupants of the pontoon could safely emerge upon the upper deck, which, of course, would be surrounded by a proper railing.

The pontoon would thus be simply an 'isle of safety,' in or on which the passengers and crew could remain during the few hours which elapse before the arrival of succor, whereupon they would be transferred by lifeboats to the rescuing ship or ships." 

In a later issue (May 9), the same paper calls attention to the fact that the water-tight bulkheads on the Titanic were so constructed that the margin of safety was very slight, the top of the after bulkheads being only just above the water-line:

"As the filling of some of the compartments would raise the water-line on the hull, it is evident that the margin of safety obtained by bulkhead division is soon exhausted.

"It is of much interest to note that the American Line steamer New York, although built twenty-four years ago, has all her bulkheads carried up to a deck which is 14 to 15 feet above the vessel's water-line, while some of
the vessels built in recent years have their bulkheads carried to a deck only 10 feet   above the water-line.

The New York was designed at a time and under conditions when provision of safety against collision was very much desired by ship-owners. Each compartment of the vessel was self-contained."

Special attention is devoted to the electric-engineering side of the disaster by The Electrical World (New York, April 27).  This paper notes that two deductions stand out clearly, namely, the importance of constant wireless watch on board large steamers, and the importance of maintaining incandescent lighting on large vessels under all conditions of emergency.

It goes on:

"It was by great good fortune that the single operator carried on the Carpathia happened to catch the Titanic's signal of distress. Onboard small ships, the expense of wireless watch-and-watch becomes excessive, but on large ships, this expense is well warranted.

Closer communication between the wireless room and the navigation room than now ordinary exists would also seem warranted, so as to avoid unnecessary loss of time in carrying emergency signals to the officer in charge.

In regard to lighting, it appears that it was fortunately capable of being maintained on the ill-fated Titanic until only a few moments before her funnels were submerged, and long after water had reached the engine-room on the injured side of the ship.

It is to be supposed that this was due to the continuation of the generating-plant operation on the uninjured side. If the ship had been plunged in darkness early in the history of the accident, the confusion and terror would probably have been beyond the power of the officers and men to control, so that what will ever stand out in history as an international triumph might have become an international disgrace.

It is, therefore, worth considering whether a storage-battery plant, for keeping the principal incandescent lamps lighted for several hours in emergency, might not well be installed on all large passenger-steamers.

The simulative effect of adequate artificial lighting, in cases of sudden night emergencies, on both intelligence and nerve, is a factor in certain classes of illuminating engineering that cannot be ignored."

In addition, the writer believes, everything points to the absolute necessity of controlling power to regulate wireless telegraphy. He says:

"Dreadful as was the loss of life, it is not unlikely that without wireless calls for help, which brought a quick response, there might not have been a single survivor left to tell the story of the Titanic's recklessness and tragic end.

A few hours more and toughening sea and increasing cold might have completed the grim list of the dead; but the experience of the next twenty-four hours showed only too plainly that, without the most rigorous regulation, wireless telegraphy might prove powerless to bring help in time.

A Route That Will Defy The Icebergs. The Proposed Hudson Bay Route to Europe. Dotted with Bcrgs and Shrouded in Fog.

A Route That Will Defy The Icebergs. The Proposed Hudson Bay Route to Europe. Dotted with Bcrgs and Shrouded in Fog. © Engineering News. The Literary Digest (25 May 1912) p. 1097. GGA Image ID # 10881b7ac3

The experience of the Carpathia and of the shore stations showed constant interference from chattering plants in every direction. Had the Titanic struck a derelict or run down another steamer near enough in-shore to have fallen within the range of this interference, it is very doubtful whether her plight and position could have been made out so that help might have reached her in time to save the boats.

"The main thing is to keep so close a hand on stations of every kind that, when the hour of need comes, all interference can be stopped at a minute's notice, [and] . . . the severest penalties should be prescribed and inflicted for the sending of false messages.

The dreadful experience suffered by those who had friends on board the Titanic and believed them saved as by a miracle until the terrible news leaked out, should never be repeated.

"Someone, perhaps in carelessness, perhaps in fear or in greed, sent false messages of rescue. Such a person, if proper regulation had been passed, ought to serve a long term in a Federal prison."

Mr. Hudson Maxim, who is an expert authority on the impact of a projectile on its target, gives in Hearst's Magazine (New York) the following interesting estimate of the terrific force of the blow when the ship met the berg:

"Assuming that the Titanic weighed, with load, about 50,000 tons, and assuming that when she struck the iceberg she was traveling at a speed of about eighteen knots an hour, she was moving forward at a velocity of, say, about thirty-two feet a second—or about the velocity which a falling body acquires at the end of .the first second.

"The Titanic struck with a force as great as though she had been dropped upon the ice from a height of sixteen feet. By consequence, then, she struck that iceberg with an energy of impact roughly fifteen times 50,000 tons, or 750,000 foot-tons. This was equal to an energy sufficient to lift the battleship Oregon bodily to a height of about seventy-five feet.

"The crushing shock upon her how was, therefore, as great as though she were stood on end, bow upward, and the battleship Oregon dropped upon her bow from a height of seventy-five feet.

"This is taking into account only the momentum of the vessel, and nothing for the great thrust of the propellers under her enormous horsepower to follow up the initial impact.

"If the Titanic, as was very probably the case, was going at full speed, she very possibly rammed the iceberg with the force of 1,500,000 foot-tons. This would be energy sufficient to lift the battleship Oregon bodily to a height of nearly a hundred and fifty feet, more than enough to melt ten tons of cast iron and would equal in force a blow of thirty twelve-inch projectiles striking her how at once."

"Scientific Aftermath of the 'Titanic' Disaster," in The Literary Digest, New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, Vol. XLIV, No. 21, Whole No. 1153, 25 May 1912, p. 1096-1097.

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