Back in 1912, when the RMS Titanic sunk on the 15th of April, everyone wanted to know what had happened to the world’s biggest, and supposedly unsinkable, ship. The only surviving senior officer was Second Officer Charles Herbert Lightoller, and he reported that the ship had struck an iceberg. Not only did Lightoller confirm it was an iceberg, but it was also the passengers and crew had testified before the Senate that the disaster was caused by ice. However, this year, 2017, is the 105th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, and there are a lot of new documentaries about the disaster are coming out. One documentary, which is called Titanic: The New Evidence, is about a newly discovered cause of the sinking, and while everyone has always thought it was ice, this investigation of the sinking is now claiming a fire may have had more to do with it than previously thought. Was it really a fire that caused one of the greatest maritime disasters in history?
The Fire Aboard the Titanic
Titanic: The New Evidence talks about the fact that the ship was on fire. What happens with coal is that when it is moved around, the very motion can inadvertently start a fire, and also, coal is known to burst into flame, called spontaneous combustion. The fire began in the coal bunker close to boiler room number 6, and been burning for two weeks before the ship left Southampton on April 10th. The coal was slowly being shifted out of there, and being used in the boilers, and finally on the 13th, the crew that had been fighting it told Captain Smith it had been put out.
How was serious was the fire? While the two inquiries into the disaster kind of down played the fire, the question has to be asked just how serious it got. There was a crew of 12 men that battled the blaze, and while some days it was nothing more than a small blaze, there were others where it raged out of control. Some of the men who testified at the inquiries reported that the fire had gotten so hot that the bulkhead glowed red. Once the fire was extinguished, an inspection of the bulkhead showed that the metal was actually descried as wavy and clearly warped. How did the bulkhead get treated? Apparently, in order to hide the fact it was damaged, one of the crew simply smeared black oil on it to make it look like the rest of the bulkhead. Was the bulkhead truly damaged and what effect would it have on the ship the night of the sinking?
The Night of April 14, 1912
April 14, 1912 was a Sunday, and it was freezing cold as the sun began to rise. Though the passengers were out on deck, they did not linger due to the extreme cold. The temperature never got very high, and when sunset came, the officers were all aware that things were only going to get colder. By the time Second Officer Charles Lightoller turned his duties over to First Officer William Murdoch, he had already let the crew know to keep on eye on the temperature of the fresh water supply. Murdoch took over the bridge, while Lightoller turned into his warm bunk and went to bed. Up in the crow’s nest, Fleet and Lee were freezing, but kept their eyes locked on the horizon. At 11:40 pm, Fleet sees something up ahead, telephones the bridge, and the ship tries to go around the iceberg. Murdoch tried to avoid disaster, and when Captain Smith got to the bridge, his orders were grim. Smith had Thomas Andrews evaluate the ship, and he gave the ship, at the most, two hours to go. Now the question that was probably in the minds of both Smith and Andrews was, would the fire that had been burning for so long now play into the sinking of the world’s biggest ship?
A new documentary came out called Titanic: The New Evidence, and in it, the fire that was put out on April 13th is talked about. The investigation focuses on the fire having damaged a bulkhead, but the question it tries to answer is, did this fire have anything to do with the sinking? The fire began 14 days before the Titanic even set sail, and while appearing fine on the surface, a crew of 12 men had been doing all they could to try and get the fire under control. In the second part of this posting, the question will be answered as to whether the bulkhead was weakened by the heat and fire.