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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Titanic: The New Evidence

Just before New Year, various media stations advertised an upcoming documentary with "new" evidence for a coal bunker fire theory called "Titanic: The New Evidence."  The coal bunker fire on the Titanic was an actual event that we've known about since the disaster.  But years ago, a theory came out that the fire caused damage which caused the Titanic to sink.

Coal bunker fires were not uncommon at the time and the only way to get them out was to empty out the coal chute.  It started in Belfast, but since they didn't have the manpower at the time, they were unable to get it out until they were staffed up in Southampton.  As soon as the voyage was underway, they began to attempt to get it out.  Since Boiler Room No. 1 was not in use, stokers assigned to that area were reassigned to getting the fire out in Boiler Room No. 5.  They had between 8 and 10 men working shifts the entire time to get it out with a hose spraying water in the hopes of controlling the fire and/or speeding up the process of getting it out.  By Saturday April 13th, they were able to empty the chute.  When they got the fire out, Lead Fireman Barrett who was supervising reported it to Chief Engineer Bell.  Bell said to leave it alone because the builder's men wanted to inspect it.  By "builder's men," he meant the Guarantee Group which was a group of men that built the Titanic in Belfast and were selected to join Chief Designer Thomas Andrews on her maiden voyage to makes sure things went smoothly and make notes about how they could improve the next ship.  From what Fireman Charles Hendrickson said, the bulkhead was warped.  While it's unclear what the Guarantee Group thought of the bulkhead since none of them survived the sinking, it seems they weren't too concerned because Hendrickson was ordered to brush it off and rubbed black oil on it to make it look more ordinary.  On the evening of April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg and the impact extended past Boiler Room No. 6 into the coal bunker for Boiler Room No. 5.  

Now let's get to the documentary.  The first bit of evidence is one of the newly discovered Kempster photographs of the Titanic which you can view below.    
Photo credit:  http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/02/europe/titanic-fire-new-picture/

As you may be able too see, there is a smudge on the hull just above the waterline.  The documentary claimed it was just outside of Boiler Room No. 5/6.  Some people have said the smudge is more adjoining the 3rd class accommodations.  The photograph was taken either just before or just after the fire started.  I am no expert, but I believe it would have taken a longer lasting blaze to cause that.

The host and proponent for this theory, Senan Malony, then brought up Fireman John Dilley's account which he gave and was published in a newspaper on April 27, 1912.  Newspapers weren't known for reporting what witnesses said and were known to exaggerate on details.  The account had several errors which makes the account not too reliable.  Even still, that was the account that was used since it talked about how the captain and crew tried to keep the fire a secret from the passengers.  In response to that, one has to ask why the passengers would need to know at all.  Plus, we know that the Guarantee Group which were technically passengers on board were made aware of the fire.  

Another point Senan made was that the warping of the steel was severe and the company just quickly covered it up.  He conveniently did not mention the fact the Guarantee Group inspected it or how the surviving firemen with one exception who saw the damage didn't believe the damage had an impact on the ship's sinking.  The only exception was the John Dilley account which again should be taken with a grain of salt.  

The one that really grabbed headlines was the claim that the Titanic was pushed passed the brink of no return because of the warping.  As said above, the warping was not that severe.  People today do not give the Titanic's steel and rivets enough credit.  Design flaws are extremely popular when it comes to the Titanic.  The fact was that she was built with adequate materials for the time period.  In the future, I have no doubt they will find design flaws in how we build things today.  According to Mark Chirnside who is one of the foremost historians on the physical aspects of the Titanic, that is very unlikely.  

Finally, I would like to address the claims that the White Star Line tried to cover up the coal bunker fire in America and that Lord Mersey tried to cover it up in the British Inquiries.  It is true that White Star Line chairman J. Bruce Ismay attempted to get the crew back to England before they could testify in America.  But I seriously doubt he would attempt to cover up a coal bunker fire which by the admission of Lead Fireman Frederick Barrett was not uncommon.  Ismay had other motives including avoiding a lengthy inquiry and probably trying to put the matter behind him as fast as he could for the good of the surviving crew and the company.  Regarding the claim Lord Mersey intentionally covered it up, Barrett and Hendrickson were both asked at the British Inquiries if the fire influenced the sinking and both said no.  Lord Mersey therefore likely deemed it as a good enough answer for them to move forward and focus on the actual events on the sinking.  

In conclusion, "Titanic: The New Evidence" took the coal bunker fire which was controlled and taken care of and completely blew it out of proportion into a bigger, more sinister tale through grand assumptions and cherry picking certain things in survivors' accounts to support the theories and claims.  This theory isn't even new.  It was first suggested years ago and was discredited.  It has been resurrected with a new bow on top and branded as new.  Discoveries regarding the Titanic sell headlines and this theory has sadly been picked up by nearly every major news organization without them even making the attempt to verify the truth of the claims.

If you want to read the accounts, here is a link to the accounts of the coal bunker fire.


If you wish to view the documentary, you can watch it here:


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