Editor’s note: we are publishing this article on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912
Vol. CVI, No. 17, April 27, 1912
In the long list of maritime disasters there is none to compare with that which, on Sunday, April 14th, overwhelmed the latest and most magnificent of the ocean liners on her maiden voyage across the Western Ocean. Look at the disaster from whatever point we may, it stands out stupefying in its horror and prodigious in its many-sided significance.
"Titanic" the Last Word in Naval Architecture.
The "Titanic" stood for the "last word" in naval architecture. Not only did she carry to a far greater degree than any other ship the assurance of safety which we have come to associate with mere size; not only did she embody every safeguard against accident, known to the naval architect; not only was there wrought into her structure a greater proportionate mass of steel than had been put into any, even of the recent giant liners; but she was built at the foremost shipyard of Great Britain, and by a company whose vessels are credited with being the most strongly and carefully constructed of any afloat.
Unusual Strength of Construction.
To begin with, the floor of the ship was of exceptional strength and stiffness. Keel, keelson, longitudinals 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 great strength—spaced at frequent and regular intervals throughout the whole length of the vessel. Tying the ship's sides together were the deck beams, 10 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 watertight 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.
Watertight Compartments and Pumps.
As a further protection against sinking, the "Titanic" was divided by 15 transverse bulkheads into16 separate watertight compartments; and they were so proportioned that any two of them might nave been flooded without endangering the flotation of the ship.
Furthermore, all the multitudinous compartments of the cellular double bottom, and all the 16 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.
The watertight compartments were divided up by bulkheads (heavy dark lines in the image) that ran across the ship from side to side. Unfortunately, as this drawing from 1912 shows, the bulkheads did not rise up high enough to stop water from spilling over the top of them as the Titanic settled into the ocean. Some of these bulkheads are only 10 feet above the waterline. Credit: Scientific American, April 27, 1912
Size as an Element of Safety.
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.