ADVERTISEMENT
This article is from the In-Depth Report The Titanic: 100 Years Later

From the Archive, 1912: Wreck of the White Star Liner Titanic

How the world's greatest steamship went down with 1,600 souls



Scientific American, April 27, 1912

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

Scientific American
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.

And so, for many and good reasons, the ship's company who set sail from Southampton on the first and last voyage of the world's greatest vessel believed that she was unsinkable.

And unsinkable she was by any of the seemingly possible accidents of wind and weather or deep-sea collision. She could have taken the blow of a colliding ship on bow, quarter or abeam and remained afloat, or even made her way to port. Bow on, and under the half speed called on by careful seamanship, she could probably have come without fatal injury through the ordeal of head-on collision with an iceberg.

The One Fatal Peril.
But there was just one peril of the deep against which this mighty ship was as helpless as the smallest of coasting steamers - the long, glancing blow below the waterline, due to the projecting shelf of an iceberg. It was this that sent the "Titanic" to the bottom in the brief space of 2½ hours, and it was her very size and the fatal speed at which she was driven, which made the blow so terrible.

The Climax of Seventy-five Years Development.
The “Titanic,” with the sister vessel “Olympic,” set the latest mark in the growth of the modern ocean liner toward the ship one thousand feet in length. The “Britannia” of 1840 was 207 feet long; the “Scotia” of 1862 was 370 feet and the "Bothnia" of 1874, 420 feet long. The "Servia" in 1881 was the first ship to exceed 500 feet with her length of 515 feet. In 1893, the "Campania" carried the length to 625 feet; and the first liner to pass 700 feet was the "Oceanic," whose length on deck was 704 feet. The "Mauretania" was 10 feet short of 800 feet; and then with an addition of nearly 100 feet the "Olympic" and "Titanic" carried the over-all length to 882½ feet; the tonnage to 46,000 and the displacement to 60,000. The indicated horsepower of the "Titanic" was 50,000, developed in two reciprocating engines driving two wing propellers and a single turbine driving a central propeller. The ship had accommodations for a whole townful of people (3,356, as a matter of fact), of whom 750 could be accommodated in the first class, 550 in the second, and 1,200 in the third. The balance of the company was made up of 63 officers and sailors, 322 engineers, firemen, oilers, and 471 stewards, waiters, etc.

Warned of the Iceberg Peril.
When the "Titanic" left Southampton on her fatal voyage she had on board a total of 2,340 passengers and crew. The voyage was uneventful until Sunday, April 14th, when the wireless operator received and acknowledged a message from the "Amerika," warning her of the existence of a large field of ice into which her course would lead her toward the close of the day.

Full Speed Through the Ice Field.
The "Titanic" had been running at a steady speed of nearly 22 knots, having covered 545 miles during the day ending at noon April 14th; yet, in spite of the grave danger presented by the ice field ahead, she seems to have maintained during Sunday night a speed of not less than 21 knots. This is made clear by the testimony of Mr. Ismay, of the White Star Line, who stated at the Senate investigation that the revolutions were 72 as against the 78 revolutions which gave her full speed. She could make about 22½ knots at full speed, and 72 revolutions would correspond to about 21 knots.

The Captain Takes a Chance.
How such an experienced commander as Captain Smith should have driven his ship at high speed, and in the night, when he knew that he was in the proximity of heavy ice fields is a mystery which may never be cleared up. The night, it is true, was clear and starlit, and the sea perfectly smooth. Probably the fact that conditions were favorable for a good lookout, coupled with the desire to maintain a high average speed on the maiden trip of the vessel, decided the captain to "take a chance." Whatever the motive, it seems to be well established that the ship was not slowed down; and to this fact and no other must the loss of the" Titanic" be set down.

Had the “Titanic” been running under a slow bell, she would probably have been afloat to-day.

The Fatal Blow.
There were the usual lookout men at the bow and in the crow's nest, and officers on the bridge were straining their eyes for indications of the dreaded ice, when the cry suddenly rang out from the crow's nest, "Berg ahead,” and an iceberg loomed up in the ship's path, distant only a quarter of a mile. The first officer gave the order "Starboard your helm." The great ship answered smartly and swung swiftly to port. But it was too late. The vessel took the blow of a deadly, underwater, projecting shelf of ice, on her starboard bow near the bridge, and before she swung clear, the mighty ram of the iceberg had torn its way through plating and frames as far aft as amidships, opening up compartment after compartment to the sea.

Thus, at one blow, were all the safety appliances of this magnificent ship set at naught! Of what avail was it to close water-tight doors, or set going the powerful pumps, when nearly half the length of the ship was open to the inpouring water. It must have taken but a few minutes' inspection to show the officers of the ship that she was doomed.


Left: A very stout electrically operated bulkhead of the general type installed in the Titanic. Right: All the watertight doors could be closed automatically from the bridge. Credit: Scientific American, April 27, 1912

Half Speed Would Have Saved the Ship.
And yet that underwater blow, deadly in its nature, would scarcely have been fatal had the ship been put, as she should have been, under half speed. For then the force of the reactive blow would have been reduced to one-fourth. The energy of a moving mass increases as the square of the velocity. The 60,000-ton "Titanic," at 21 knots, represented an energy of 1,161,000 foot-tons. At 10 knots, her energy would have been reduced to 290,250 foot-tons. Think of it, that giant vessel rushing on through the ice-infested waters, was capable of striking a blow equal to the combined broadsides of the twenty 12-inch guns of the “Delaware” and “North Dakota,” each of whose guns develops 50,000 foot-tons at the muzzle!

Work of One Million Foot-tons of Energy.
Little wonder is it that the ripping up of the frail 3/4-inch or 7/8-inch side plating and the l0-inch frames of the "Titanic" had little retarding effect upon the onward rush of the ship. So slight, in proportion to the enormous total energy of the vessel, was the energy absorbed in tearing open the hull or the bottom, or both, that the passengers were scarcely disturbed by the shock.

Newton's first law of motion "will be served."

But had the speed been only one-half and the energy one-fourth as great, the ship might well have been deflected from the iceberg before more than two or three of her compartments had been ripped open; and with the water confined to these, the powerful pumps could have kept the vessel afloat for many hours, and surely until a fleet of rescuing ships had taken every soul from the stricken vessel.

There is remarkable unanimity of testimony on the part of the survivors as to the slight nature of the shock; and this, coupled with the universal confidence in the unsinkability of the vessel, and the perfect quiet of both sea and ship, contributed no doubt to the marvelous absence of panic among the passengers.

The Call for Help.
The wireless again, as in the case of the "Republic," proved its inestimable value. The collision occurred at 11:40 Sunday night in latitude 41.16 north, longitude 50.14 west. The call for help was heard by several ships, the nearest of which was the "Carpathia," which caught the message at 12:35 A.M. Monday, when she was 58 miles distant from the "Titanic." Setting an extra watch the captain crowded on all speed, reaching the scene of the disaster by 4 A.M.

The Mockery of the Boats.
Meanwhile, with the ship sinking swiftly beneath them, there remained as a last hope for that hapless multitude the boats. The boats! Twenty in all, with a maximum accommodation of say 1,000 for 2,340 human beings!

A Blot on the British Board of Trade.
For years the British Board of Trade, renowned the world over for the jealous care with which it safeguards the life of the individual, has been guilty of the amazing anomaly of permitting the passenger ships of the vast British merchant marine to put to sea carrying boat accommodation for only one out of every three persons on board. The penalty for such unspeakable folly, we had almost said criminal and brutal negligence, may have been long delayed; but it was to come this night in a wholesale flinging away of human life, which has left a blot upon this institution which can never be effaced! Had the regulations called for the boat accommodation demanded by the German or our own government, every soul on board the "Titanic" could have been transferred and picked up by the rescuing ship.

Sun Parlors Versus Safety.
We can conceive of no other motive than that of commercial expediency, the desire to reserve valuable space for restaurants, sun parlors or other superfluous but attractive features of the advertising pamphlet and the placard, for this criminal reduction of the last recourse of the shipwrecked to so small a measure.

No practical steamship man can claim that the provision of boat accommodation for the full complement of a ship like the "Titanic" was impracticable. The removal of deckhouse structures from the boat deck of the ship, and the surrender of this deck to its proper uses, would give ample storage room for the sixty boats, more or less, which would be necessary.

Plans for a Full Complement of Boats.
We present on the front page a study of this problem, in which the number of boats on the "Titanic" has been raised from 20 to 56 and the accommodation from about 1,000 to about 3,100. The boats are carried continuously along the whole length of the boat-deck rails, and between each pair of smokestacks two lines of four boats each are stowed athwartship. The chocks in which these boats rest are provided with gunmetal wheels, which run in transverse gunmetal tracks, countersunk on the deck. As soon as the boat at the rail is loaded and lowered, the next boat inboard is wheeled to the davits and loaded, ready to he picked up and swung outboard as soon as the tackle has been cast loose from the boat that has been lowered. This method has the great advantage that if the ship has a heavy list, practically the whole of the boats can be transferred to the low side of the ship.

Is a Man Worth More Than a Sheep?
"But," says the shipping man, "all this means heavy top weights, the loss of valuable space, and heavy costs for installation and maintenance;" to which we reply, in the words of a certain venerable book, "By how much, then, is the life of a man worth more than that of a sheep!"

Light Out of Darkness.
Never, surely, in all the annals of human heroism, was there written a chapter at once so harrowing and inspiring as that which was gathered by the press from the pitiful remnant of that night of sacrificial horror. We turn from its heartrending story with a new sense of the God-like within us, and an exultant faith in the eternal uplift of the human race.

How the Great Ship Went Down.
Piecing together what the survivors witnessed from the boats, it is easy to understand the successive events of the ship’s final plunge. The filling of the forward compartments brought her down by the head, and, gradually, to an almost vertical position. Here she hung a while, stern high in air, like a huge, weighted spar buoy. As she swung to the perpendicular, her heavy engines and boilers, tearing loose from their foundations, crashed forward (downward); and, the water pressure increasing as the sank, burst in the so far intact after compartments. It was the muffled roar of this “death rattle” of the dying ship that caused some survivors to tell of bursting boilers and a hull broken apart. The shell of the ship, except for the injuries received in the collision, went to the bottom intact. When the after compartments finally gave way, the stricken vessel, weighted with the mass of engine and boiler-room wreckage at her forward end, sank, to bury herself, bows down, in the soft ooze of the Atlantic bottom, two miles below. There, for aught we know, she may at this moment be standing, with several hundred feet of her rising sheer above the ocean floor, a sublime memorial shaft to the sixteen hundred hapless souls who perished in this unspeakable tragedy!

Share this Article:

Comments

You must sign in or register as a ScientificAmerican.com member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Give a Gift &
Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now! >

X

Email this Article

X