Newly discovered Titanic photos offer clues to why it sank so quickly
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or never watched the romance between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet unfold on screen, you know about the Titanic. Big boat plus a thick chunk of ice equals a broken boat and floating bodies. There’s nothing else to blame except for an unfortunate interaction in the ongoing battle between man and nature. But is there more to the story? Do we dare ask how a ship — believed to be “unsinkable” — ended up at the bottom of the ocean while going full speed in an iceberg field? Something’s not adding up. New evidence suggests that there might be a much bigger story behind the demise of the Titanic, evidence that hasn’t come to light until now — 106 years later.
1. Queen of the ocean
There was nothing quite like the RMS Titanic. The first supercruise liner, the Titanic was dubbed “Queen of the Ocean” and was said to be one of the wonders of the world. It’s safe to say that the Titanic was a big deal.
In fact, it was so big that a new shipyard had to be built just so they could build her. The site became the Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast and took up an equivalent of four city blocks. It was the birthplace of both the RMS Titanic and sister ship RMS Olympic. Building ships at such a multitude were not just risky, but pricey.
2. White Star vs Cunard
White Star Line chairman and managing director J. Bruce Ismay was under tremendous pressure to turn the company around. The White Star Line was struggling to compete with its competitors and were trying to keep their heads above water as they placed their bets in the transatlantic shipping wars. The competition was brutal.
Main rivals such as Cunard Line boasted and advertised how their ships were the fastest and most luxuriant ocean liner services in the world. Ismay seethed. Though Cunard Line had speed, White Star Line was going for size and opulence, and Ismay’s ideas were gargantuan. However, there were also drawbacks.
3. Cutting corners
Chief designer Thomas Andrews oversaw the construction and design of the RMS Titanic. As he rolled out his plans for a luxurious cruise liner, Ismay delivered the news that every designer dreaded hearing: budget cuts. Ismay wasn’t talking small cuts either, they were significant changes that would later change the shipbuilding standards.
Ismay was on a tight budget. The company was tanking and wanted his monolithic ships out on the water as soon as possible with little cost as possible. Andrews argued there would be corners Ismay couldn’t cut, such as steel quality and the number of lifeboats. Ismay dismissed his concerns. Little did he know, his flippant disregard to quality would end in catastrophe.
4. The National Coal Strike of 1912
Unconcerned with the budget, it was during the completion of the Titanic that the country was under a fierce coal strike. The National Coal Strike of 1912 led hundreds upon thousands of workers to engage in industrial action. Their strike was caused by unfair wages provided by coal shareholders. As coal stocks plummet, so did their wages.
But when the stock rose, there was little to no change in compensation. Due to the labor conflicts, the White Star Line was under tremendous pressure — and the pressure mounted. It was because of the coal strike that would affect Ismay’s budget plans. The price of coal was on the rise.
5. New evidence
It’s plausible that the ripple effect of the National Coal Strike of 1912 affected the price of coal. Strikes usually equate to a higher market value of the product, and with Ismay’s budget, it spelled disaster. The 2017 documentary Titanic: The New Evidence and book Titanic: Why She Collided, Why She Sank, Why She Should Never Have Sailed by Sean Molony, suggested that one of the reasons that contributed to the sinking of the Titanic was fuel shortage.
The documentary claimed that the only rational explanation to push at full speed in an iceberg field was because ship needed to conserve fuel. To slow the ship down, only to speed it back up, took more coal burning than a ship running at a continuous speed. In other words, the ship was going at top speed because they didn’t have enough fuel to slow and then speed up. Budget cuts.
Unfortunately, the budget cuts did not end there. Think of the Titanic as a banana. On the outside, it looks like the thickness of the peel would protect the soft fruit inside. In reality, its easy to peel, and just as easy to crush. That was the Titanic: deceptively strong and formidable on the outside, but internally weak and soft. The proof was in the pudding — when RMS Olympic struck the Royal Navy’s HMS Hawk.
Not only did the HMS Hawk leave a gaping hole in the ship’s bow, but left cracks beyond the puncture. The steel was substandard, and any engineer looking at the damage could easily tell that faulty metal on a ship is like building Fort Knox out of tissue paper. It will tear easily. Did Ismay care? Nah. When steel workers advised Ismay that it’s best to use “special” steel, he responded haughtily and informed the steel company that “ordinary” steel would suffice. This, however, does not compare to what came next.
7. Is ignorance really bliss?
Is this luxury ship sounding luxurious to you? It sounds horrifying to think that passengers would board a ship without knowing their safety could be jeopardized. What was more shocking, is not just the faulty materials that constructed the ship, but what happened inside.
In 2017 a photo album was discovered in an attic that held never before seen photographs of the Titanic before its maiden voyage. Titanic expert, author, and journalist Senan Molony in the documentary Titanic: The New Evidence had the honor of seeing the photos and called them “…the Titanic equivalent of King Tutankhamen’s tomb.” As he spoke to photo album owner, Titanic enthusiast Steve Raffield, Molony discovers something extraordinary and could change Titanic’s history.
8. A closer look
When Raffield purchased the discovered photo album, he never expected to find a small anomaly that could rock Titanic’s history. He explained as he flipped through the album, he saw something odd in one of the photographs. At first, he thought it was a glare caused by a cast reflection or damage in the photo.
Upon further inspection, Raffield blew up the photos and realized there was a 30-foot scorch mark on the Titanic’s haul. He looked at other photographs and sees the same mark in the exact same spot and knew he found something substantial. The mark hovered over one of the boilers; it was a burn created from inside the ship. What does that mean?
Since the Titanic was a massive ship it would come to no surprise that the coal bunkers — the areas designated to store the ship’s coal — would be just as enormous. According to Titanic: The New Evidence the coal bunkers were three stories high and house 1.5 tons of coal. This, however, was not the problem.
The problem was when the coal was stored, something heated the coal reserve and sparked what no fireman or furnace worker wanted to hear. The coals caught fire and the Titanic began to burn. The Titanic was burning from the inside and there was no sign of it burning out.
10. The eye-witness
You’re probably thinking that the fire was only a setback. That sooner or later, the Edwardian version of firemen and their dalmatians came on board and extinguished the fire before the ship set sail across the Atlantic, right? It would not just be dangerous, but unethical if they didn’t. Wrong.
The fire was mentioned in the official inquiry if 1912, but nothing was done. John Dilley was an eye-witness to the Titanic‘s coal fire, an engine room worker, he saw what was happening first hand and his accounts are chilling. Dilly reports, “There were hundreds of tons of coal stored there. We made no headway against it … we didn’t get the fire out … from the day we sailed, the Titanic was on fire …”
11. Battling the inferno
Eleven men combated the coal bunker fire, but it wasn’t enough. The fire continued to burn when it departed from its port from Belfast to Southampton, where it would receive over 2,200 passengers ready to board and take sail across the Atlantic. None of the passengers knew there was a fire burning in the ship — in fact Ismay made sure no one knew.
Not only was the company’s reputation on the line, but his reputation was on thin ice. The fire pushed the launch continuously until Ismay had enough. Can you imagine? Wealthy investors were watching one delay after another, and the last thing the White Star Line wanted was an excuse for investors to turn their attention (money) away. They decided for the Titanic to set her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912 — fire or no fire.
12. Buying class
Biting his nails, Ismay gambled that his cruise ship would be a phenomenal success. He spared no expense in lavishing the Titanic with luxury interior designs and spacious rooms for the first class. Ismay wanted his potential investors to be impressed by the materialism. It was “go big or go home.”
A first-class ticket on the Titanic cost up to $2,560, which is an equivalent of $61,000 USD today. A first-class ticket could get you a three-bedroom suite with two wardrobe rooms, a bath, and a drawing room. Ismay didn’t skimp out on his first-class meals either. He really knew where his priorities were.
13. Eating luxury
In 2012 a rare Titanic menu sold at auction for $160,450: a lunch menu for $102,000 and a dinner menu containing a 12-course luncheon sold for $58,000. On the menu were dishes like foie gras-stuffed eggs, turtle soup, and Sussex capon (a breed of chicken).
For dinner, according to Time, the menu served ten courses including oysters, salmon, chicken, lamb, duckling, and squab, and beef. It’s safe to say that the wealthy were very much taken care of. However, the glamour couldn’t cover up what was burning inside the walls beneath the Titanic‘s deck, and it was coming to a boiling point.
14. Smoke under the rafters
Okay, big deal, there was a fire. How is that relevant to the ship sinking? As the story goes, an iceberg sunk the ship, not a fire. Truth. An iceberg was the main reason why the Titanic sank, but it was only one part of a larger, more complex equation.
Senan Molony thought so too and asked, what kind of damage could an internal fire do? Molony sought out a consultant to answer his question and approached coal fire specialist Guillermo Rein who gave a chilling revelation. His answer: The coal had been on fire days before anyone could find a flame, and his explanation makes you see coal a lot differently.
15. What can possibly go wrong?
Rein reveals to Molony that the coal might have been on fire days, if not heated for weeks before the Titanic left for Southampton. He says it doesn’t take much. When heat is trapped in a bed of coal it spreads and branches until it begins to smoke. It didn’t take long for the coal to catch fire and it would take days, if not weeks, for someone to notice.
By the time someone senses it, it’s too late. Once a fire starts to burn, it’s extremely hard to put out. With that much quantity of coal, the fires can burn anywhere between 1,000–2,000 degrees Fahrenheit — the equivalent of molten lava. That melts metal — including steel.
16. The ninth circle
Let’s put everything in perspective, shall we? A fire in the engine room is burning between 1,000–2,000 degrees in a metal compartment or a bunker. Besides said bunker is one of the ship’s bulkheads — the ship’s watertight compartments — so if the ship took on water, the water would only fill in the designated compartment.
When fire as hot as the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno puts continuous heat and pressure on steel, the metal became brittle and weak. No longer will it hold upon impact; it was very prone to shattering. The bulkhead that was most affected was not just a dime a dozen, but it was the last stronghold before reaching the boiler room. If the fourth bulkhead leading to the boiler room was damaged, nothing would protect the furnaces. What the fire lead to was disastrous.
When the Titanic left Southampton, the fire was still burning in the coal bunker. However, it was slightly mitigated with a few shovels and manpower. It was enough to push back the flames and make repairs. unfortunately, the fire — still burning — warped the metal around the ship’s boiler room’s bulkhead.
It looked like a buckled wave of metal, and between the welding seam of the water-tight compartment, was a breach: a hole. All the crew could do was make a patch repair and cross their fingers that they could get the Titanic to port. To their dismay, the breach would promise dire consequences.
18. Running on fumes
The only way the fireman and furnace workers could lessen the coal fire was to shovel away the coal. Where do you move coal? Why the furnaces of course! And because it was assumed that the Titanic was low on fuel, feeding the furnace until the ship was at full speed was a requirement.
As stated previously, more coal would slow down or speed up the ship rather than keeping it at a consistent speed. With the furnaces burning hot, the ship was racing across the Atlantic at top speed (23 knots) and straight into an iceberg field. It was only a matter of time before an inevitable disaster struck.
19. Disaster over the horizon
Though there were several warnings of icebergs in close proximity. The crew navigating the ship didn’t want to stop in fear of being stranded in the middle of the ocean. Rumor has it that the captain, Captain Edward John Smith, was pressured to keep the ship at top speed.
With the rate the ship was going he had two options: The first was to ignore the iceberg warning and hope that his crew could avoid the towering iceberg or two, risk slowing and burning through whatever coal reserves Titanic had. Neither were great options, but as they say, the rest is history.
20. Down she goes
Chaos finally struck on April 14, 1912, when the Titanic collided with an iceberg 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship sunk in two hours and forty minutes. Out of the 2,200 passengers, only 706 people survived. The ship sank quickly — too quickly.
There could very well be a plausible explanation: the fire. The iceberg struck the starboard side of the ship and scraped along the hull. It tore like tissue paper and the water quickly filled the water compartments. The water gurgled in and filled the bow of the ship. Thankfully the compartments held. However, it wouldn’t last.
21. Just use duct tape
The fourth compartment groaned under the weight of the Atlantic as it pressed against the brittle and weak steel. It was the last barrier before the water could reach the engine room. The patch held as long as it could, but like a duct-taped bumper, it wasn’t meant to ward a significant amount of stress.
In a wash of green and foam, the water breached the last stronghold of the ship’s walls and the ocean began to wash through the engine room. A torrent of ice-cold water flooded the engine room and filled the compartment at an alarming rate. According to Molony, the outcome could have been significantly different.
22. The letdown
Molony observed that if the bulkhead held, the Titanic could have stayed afloat double the amount of time, which would have been enough time for the Titanic to send out an SOS to the RMS Carpathia. Thousands could have been saved and lived happily ever after. But, as we know, that’s not what happened.
The event shook the world as news spread that the world’s largest ship had sunk. Among the survivors was none other than the biggest schmuck of the bunch — J. Bruce Ismay. Although Ismay survived the catastrophe, another awaited for him back on land. He would endure a second trial, this time, in court.
What was the first thing Ismay did after enduring the traumatic event? He sent a telegram. Shortly after the Titanic sank, an inquiry — a private investigation — was held. Ismay was shaking in his boots and sent a telegram for all the hired fireman who worked the Titanic to scatter inland. He conveyed their presence was not needed for the inquiry.
When Ismay was put on trial, he claimed that all the fireman on the Titanic had perished in the Atlantic. The telegram was noted. However, what came next was disturbing. The most tragic event of the century was about to be blown out of proportion. Justice would not be served.
24. Mersey me
The high court judge who ruled over the inquiry was named John Charles Bigham, aka Lord Mersey. When presented evidence that a coal fire was burning below the decks of the Titanic, Lord Mersey waved off the evidence as irrelevant and was recorded to have looked impatient and seemed to want to get the investigation over with.
More evidence revealed that out of the 160 firemen hired to embark with the Titanic‘s maiden voyage, only 8 stayed on. They basically looked at the fire, turned and said “nope.” Still, Lord Mersey dismissed the claims. His ruling was infuriating. Not much could have been done despite the incriminating evidence.
25. The verdict?
In the end, Lord Mersey closed the case and concluded that the reason the Titanic sank was an accident due to excessive speed and collision. The case was over, and it set the tone for the story of the Titanic for the remainder of the century.
But then the missing photos were discovered. Upon reading all the evidence he possessed, the fire, the budget cuts, and the events that lead to the sinking of what was once the “Queen of the Ocean,” Molony was baffled. He was left to question why such an important detail was ruled out of the Titanic‘s sinking? Could this solve the Titanic‘s hidden mysteries? Molony thought so.
It’s suspicious that such important evidence such as the coal fire could be overlooked. It seems a little too convenient that Ismay was not held responsible for the fire when it may have played a role in the Titanic‘s sinking.
The case was still ruled “accidental” and was dropped. Of course, there were repercussions on the White Star Line’s part. Of those that did survive the sinking, the majority of which were upper-class passengers, filed for compensation for loss of property. One woman by the name of Charlotte Drake Cardeza filed for the loss of her wardrobe with an estimated worth of around $177,000.00 — $4.2 million today. At least there was some justice.
27. The cost of cutting corners
Fearing the White Star Line would go bankrupt, J. Bruce Ismay risked the lives of over 2,200 men, women, and children for money. He left the ship vulnerable, and not just by fire, but by the multiple budget cuts he encouraged. Each cut was like frayed thread on an unraveling sweater.
Not only did Ismay cut corners with the metal used in the construction of the ship and in the ship’s fuel, but he also cut back on the number of lifeboats on board. Every shortcut Ismay took in the construction of the Titanic was exposed and were all a part of the ships sinking and tragedy.
The ship was doomed from the very beginning. The RMS Olympic‘s collision with the HMS Hawk should have been a warning of what was to come. The testimonies and reports should have sufficed to send the ship back to the harbor to make the proper repairs. Unfortunately, safety was not on Ismay’s mind.
The White Star Line gambled and lost horribly. Today, historians are still investigating the new evidence presented from Steve Raffield’s album. However there is a silver lining from the negative outcome of the Titanic‘s sinking — you can be grateful that we have laws for cruise ships today.
29. Silver linings
Many changes have been made in regards to maritime safety years following the sinking of the Titanic. One of these regulations enforced stricter and more rigorous ice patrols in the North Atlantic. Rules regulating on-board radios were introduced (since the Titanic used Morse code to signal any nearby ships) and required that the standing crew onboard monitor the radios in case of an emergency.
Then in 1914, two years after the Titanic tragedy, the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was formed, creating a single, global maritime standard. Finally, in 1915, it was mandated that there would be enough lifeboats onboard passenger ships.
30. Lesson learned
In the end, the sinking of the RMS Titanic was a bitter and tragic event that ended the lives of over a thousand passengers, most of which were immigrants who looked forward to a new life in the United States. They would never reach its shores, but instead, remain under the Atlantic’s frigid waters until its rediscovery a quarter of a century later.
Does it lessen the blow to know the truth about why the Titanic sank? Not really. We can’t change the past, but we can learn from mistakes. Molony delivered crucial evidence that altered the way we viewed the Titanic tragedy. Thankfully, with new observation, we can strive for improvement.