When arranging a tour around the United States I had decided to cross on the Titanic. It was rather a novelty to be on the largest ship yet launched. It was no exaggeration to say that it was quite easy to lose one’s way on such a ship.
– Lawrence Beesley, Titanic survivor
From the time Titanic departed Southampton on 10 April, The passengers and crew were experiencing remarkably sensible weather. From April 10th to the night of April 14, she was experiencing relatively mild temperatures of around 50° F to 60° F or 10° to 15° C, light to moderate winds and mostly rain free skies.
A second, much more potent cold front, with brisk North-West winds of 20 knots lurked to the west. Titanic would reach that on the morning of April 14. Obviously, for the season, the air mass was quite cold.
As dawn broke on Friday 12 April. Titanic was well out into the Atlantic Ocean. Since departing the Irish coast – the evening before, The vessel had covered 386 miles at a steady 21 knots, encouraged by the fine, calm clear weather that was expected to continue over the next few days. Most of the passengers were becoming increasingly admiring towards the new ship. The way she was behaving, the total absence of vibrations, the smooth travel and her overall stability. White Star Line seems to have spared no expense toward the comfort of its passengers. For which Second Officer Lightoller would comment: “ we are not out to make a record passage; in fact the White Star Line invariably run their ships at reduced speed for the first few voyages”.
Top left – First Class Lounge. Top right – Third Class Cabin
Bottom left – B Deck. Bottom right – Boat Deck
Passenger, Science teacher Lawrence Beesley commented that the wind was very cold, generally too cold to sit out on deck to read or write, so many spent a good deal of time in the library. Beesley also commented on the way the ship was slightly listing to its port side. The Purser explained that likely coal had been removed from the starboard side. The excess starboard side coal consumption was most likely the result of the coal bunker fire that had been smouldering in her forward coal bunker since the end of her sea trials in Belfast. By Friday the 12 April, the Firemen or Stokers had bought the fire relatively under control.
The Marconi wireless operator, Harold Bride and John (Jack) Philips had relayed numerous messages to Captain Smith from other vessels, congratulating them and good luck on Titanic’s maiden voyage to New York. Congratulatory messages were included from the Empress Of Britain and SS. La Toutaine. Each message had also contained warnings and advice about icebergs. The southern most location for ice came from the French liner SS.Toutaine, giving a latitude of 42° S, which is roughly, the Latitude of Chicago. Ice warnings in the Atlantic are not uncommon and are expected in April.
In the evening, the Marconi wireless equipment ceased to operate. Bride and Philips would work well into the night and the next morning trying to locate the problem.
As the evening and night progressed, vessels were reporting their encounters with ice all along the North Atlantic shipping lanes.
Coal Bunker Fire
As Titanic sank beneath the surface of the North Atlantic, many myths surfaced regarding the fire in her coal bunkers. These myths also mention different bunkers the coal was smouldering in.
The story of the coal bunker fire is true. Coal in Titanic’s forward coal bunker No. 10 on the side of boiler room No. 6, was smouldering definitely from the time shortly after she left Southampton. Though, some testimony at the board of inquiries after the disaster, claim the fire was actually burning after she left Belfast. The coal smouldered for 4 days. No one else except the crew in the bowels of the ship knew of the coal bunker fire onboard. The passengers were enjoying the voyage of their lives. The fire continued until the smouldering coal was finally removed on April 14. As reported to Captain Smith, by Chief Engineer, Bell at 10.30am. Earlier in the day that she collided with the iceberg and the day before Titanic sank.
Captain Smith requested Thomas Andrews to survey the area of the coal fire, fearing the heat may have damaged the steel hull and severely compromised the watertight bulkheads. Andrews reports, the fire is extinguished but, the bulkhead that forms part of coal bunker No.10 is showing signs of heat damage.
A smouldering fire in coal bunkers onboard coal fired ships were not regarded as a hazard, they were merely regarded as a nuisance. Coal fires were not uncommon and were difficult to locate, as the base, or the seat of the smoulder might be under tons of coal. In the event of a coal fire onboard liners, it was customary to let them smoulder, until the seat of the blaze was visible, then draw the coal out from the confined space, disposing of the smouldering embers into the furnaces.
Many schools of thought exist to the present day, surrounding the coal bunker fire: when it was finally put out, which some accounts say it was on the Saturday 13 April, Some claim it was on the Sunday 14 April, another claiming the coal was still smouldering at the time Titanic collided with the iceberg, with the incoming water from the popped rivet seam finally extinguishing the fire. For instance, testimony at the British Inquiry from Leading Fireman, Charles Hendrickson, who joined Titanic at Southampton, having served previously on White Star Lines, Oceanic, claims: “It took us right up to the Saturday to get it out”. Frederick Barrett, also claims the fire was finally put out on Saturday. Fireman J. Dilley claimed the collision with the iceberg on the Sunday 14 April finally extinguished the fire: “No, sir, we didn’t get that fire out, and among the stokers there was talk, sir, that we’d have to empty the big coal bunkers after we’d put our passengers off in New York and then call on the fireboats there to help us put out the fire.”
“But we didn’t need such help. It was right under bunker No. 6 that the iceberg tore the biggest hole in the Titanic, and the flood of water that came through, sir, put out the fire that our tons and tons of water had not been able to get rid of”.
Over the decades, some publications and stories around the coal bunker fire suggests it was common knowledge among passengers and crew of Titanic, after she departed Southampton on April 10. Testimony from Fireman Dilly claims: “The stokers were beginning to get alarmed over it, but the officers told us to keep our mouths shut—they didn’t want to alarm the passengers.”
Second Officer Lightoller testified at the British Inquiry from question number 15640:
“14640. Have you at any time heard anything about a fire?
Lightoller – In a coal bunker?
Lightoller – No.
- In the ordinary course of things would a matter of that sort be reported to you as an Officer?
Lightoller – No, not if it was slight, or I may say unless it became serious.
- Would it be reported to the Captain?
Lightoller – Very probably.
- Whose particular duty would it be to see that any fire occurring there was put out?
Lightoller – The Engineer’s.”
2nd Officer Lightoller is claiming that he was not aware of a coal bunker fire, unless it was serious enough to warrant senior officers having their attention drawn to a problem below decks. Lightoller was the only senior Officer to survive the Titanic sinking, so it must be assumed the smouldering coal was never regarded as a serious threat to the vessel. It is how-ever known the ships Captain Smith was aware of the smouldering coal. But, he did not recognise it as a threat to the overall safety of the vessel under his command.
Not much information exists as to the cause of the coal bunker fire onboard Titanic. It is believed how-ever that Spontaneous Combustion played a major part as the cause. An interesting comment by Fireman Dilley, in a statement, said: “The fire started in bunker No. 6. There were hundreds of tons of coal stored there. The coal on top of the bunker was wet, as all the coal should have been, but down at the bottom of the bunker the coal had been permitted to get dry.”
“The dry coal at the bottom of the pile took fire, sir, and smouldered for days. The wet coal on top kept the flames from coming through, but down in the bottom of the bunker, sir, the flames was a-raging.”
Contrary to Dilly’s comment regarding wet and dry coal stored together. Today in the 21st Century. A website from the U.S. Department of Energy, states: “Spontaneous combustion has long been recognised as a fire hazard in stored coal. Spontaneous combustion fires usually begin as “hot spots” deep within the reserve of coal. The hot spots appear when coal absorbs oxygen from the air. Heat generated by the oxidation then initiated the fire.”
In addition, a 1941 edition of A Modern Marine Engineers Manual – Volume I, states: “Coal should not be taken on board wet if it can be avoided, and care should be taken to keep it dry in the bunkers, as moisture sometimes causes a rapid and dangerous generation of heat and gas, which may result in spontaneous combustion. Before decks are washed down after coaling, the bunker plates should be replaced and made tight, to prevent water from getting into the bunkers.”
Is it any wonder that coal bunker fires were common onboard coal fired vessels, if it were common practice to store wet and dry coal together in coal bunkers, as Fireman Dilley states?
In November 2004 Robert Essenhigh, an engineer from the Ohio State University, put forward a theory. Essenhigh claims the coal bunker fire led indirectly to the ship’s collision with the iceberg. He claims a smouldering pile of coal led to the decision to gain control of the fire was to shovel more coal into the furnaces. Thus leading to Titanic’s excessive speed in iceberg-laden waters.
Essenhigh states that records prove that fire control teams were on standby at the ports of Southampton and Cherbourg because of a fire in the stockpile, and that such fires are known to reignite after they have been supposedly extinguished. He suggests that the Titanic actually set off from Southampton with one of its bunkers on fire, or that a Spontaneous Combustion of coal occurred after the ship left port. Such fires were a common phenomenon aboard coal-fired ships and one of many reasons why marine transportation switched to oil in the early 1900s.
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Titanic covered 519 miles between noon Friday and noon Saturday 13 April.
Laurence Beesley remembered that at lunch on Sunday, many of the passengers were remarking how they were enjoying the progress of the vessel. Comparing her against the other, faster Trans-Atlantic steamers, Titanic’s slower motion also meant far less vibration and that made this voyage the most comfortable ride they had ever experienced on any steamer between the UK and America. The faster ships often presented a screw-like motion as they bore through the waves, as distinct from Titanic’s straight up and down motion.
Captain Smith began his daily inspection of the ship at 10.30am. During the engine room inspection, Chief Engineer Bell advised Smith that the fire in coal bunker 6 had finally been extinguished and also reported the bulkhead and coal bunkers’ signs of heat damage. A fireman was ordered to rub oil over the heat damaged areas.
The coal dust and the heat in the boiler rooms was a stark contrast to the freezing temperature up on deck as hour after hour the hot, backbreaking labour down in the bowels of the ship continued.
The morning of Sunday 14 April, dawned fine, with a smooth sea and a moderate south-easterly wind. Titanic, however, sailed through a front later in the morning, that marked a change in the weather, with brisk northwest winds of 20 knots.
Temperatures continued to drop from a relatively mild 55° F to about 50° F by mid-day. The temperature continued to fall throughout the afternoon and into the night. By 7.30pm the temperature was down to 33° F. By 10.30pm, it had dropped to 4° F below freezing and in order to prevent subfreezing temperatures hundreds of miles at 41° N at sea, the air mass temperature was very cold.
The ship that never sank
The story of Titanic, though heavily laden with myths and folklore since April 1912, just would not be quite complete without the obligatory conspiracy theory.
Conspiracy theories always contain the mandatory government cover-up, the hundreds and thousands of other people involved, who for some reason do not ever come forward to reveal the truth. These people are always the co-conspirators who are sworn to secrecy. No matter how far back in history the conspiracy is supposed to exist, no one ever comes forward to reveal the dastardly scheme. For the hundreds and thousands of people involved in the original conspiracy in 1912 – over one hundred years since – there must be additional tens of thousands who are aware of the original secrets. Still, no one ever comes forward to reveal the apparent truth. Conspiracy theories are never anything more than just conjecture and unsubstantiated claims.
One such theory is that Titanic did not strike an iceberg and sink on April 14 1912. According to the conspiracy, it was RMS Olympic that sank, leaving Titanic to survive and continue through to 1937, when the vessel was supposedly scrapped.
Repairs to Olympic, after her collision with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke, posed problems for White Star Line and the Olympic-Class liners owners, The International Mercantile Marine Company, owned by J P Morgan, because the specialist marine insurance company, Lloyds of London, refused to pay out for the damage received to Olympic.
Olympic was sent for repairs to Harland and Wolff in Belfast. The workers were sworn to secrecy and patched up the damage, knowing the vessel would, probably not survive a sailing to New York. The great plan was set in motion to switch the identity of the two ships, then set other ships in a predetermined location to rescue the passengers and crew, while the supposed new ship sank to the bottom of the ocean.
Two main theories exist as an explanation for what happened next. One theory describes a German U-Boat sinking the vessel with a torpedo, in a vein attempt to initiate World War 1. Another claims White Star Line colluded with a German U-Boat Captain to sink the ship.
Another theory suggests Titanic actually struck an ice field, instead of a single berg, while the other suggests she did hit an iceberg. Most conspiracy theories usually have many variations, depending on who is actually telling the story. Titanic’s conspiracy theories are no different.
The newest theory is one authored by Robin Gardiner in 2012, suggesting Titanic was swapped with Olympic then collided with another ship, which was blacked out to hide itself, until sea valves were opened, allowing Olympic to sink slowly, allowing this other darkened ship and the close by Californian – which was also involved in the dastardly deed, under secrecy of course – to rescue all passengers and crew. But things went wrong, resulting in the loss of over 1500 passengers and crew.
Lack of evidence has nothing to do with the theories. Conspiracy theories persist without viable evidence to support the claims. No surviving passenger or crew member noticed a torpedo slamming into the side of Titanic. All surviving passengers and crew recounted what they were doing and where they were at the time Titanic struck the iceberg. Not one recounted the vessel striking another ship.
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Titanic had covered 546 miles between Saturday and Sunday morning. Early morning risers enjoyed a sunny stroll along the promenade and boat decks, as the peaks of water were shining like diamonds as the early morning sun shone on the surface of the ocean. Even though the breeze was chilly and invigorating, Captain Smith had planned a Lifeboat drill for all passengers and crew for that day but, because of the chilly temperature outside and so Sunday services could be conducted, he chose to delay any lifeboat drill until Monday 15 April 1912.
Smith and Ismay had earlier discussed the possibility of increasing the ships speed to increase on Monday 15 April from a steady 21 knots to a maximum speed of 24 knots, to test her performance. Then gradually reduce the speed again to 21 knots. Both Smith and Ismay had tentatively agreed on this move prior to departing Queenstown on 11 April, they had subsequently realised that increasing the speed would place greater demands on the new engines, which could cause serious damage to the ships new engines.
Church services were conducted for the First class passengers by Captain Smith, while Father Thomas Byles conducted a Catholic Mass in the Second Class Lounge, then another Mass for the Third Class passengers. Afterwards the passengers continued to enjoy the facilities onboard the ship, such as the Reading and Writing rooms, reading in the ship’s Libraries, relaxing in the sun or perhaps trying out the electric horse in the Gymnasium, or enjoying the heated swimming pool or Turkish bath. Whatever they personally chose, they were having the time of their lives. Colonel Archibald Gracie later stated:
“I enjoyed myself as if I were in a summer palace on the seashore, surrounded by every comfort”.
Top left – First Class gymnasium, reading and writing room.
Bottom – First Class grand staircase, heated Swimming pool
Rev. Mr Carter, a Church Of England clergyman had asked the ship’s Purser if he could use the saloon in the evening, as he wanted to hold a hymn sing-a-long. The purser had given his consent. Mr Carter spent the afternoon preparing for the 8.30pm start.
Captain Smith did hear some good news after the morning church service, during his daily inspection of the ship. He was informed by Chief Engineer Joseph Bell, that the fire in the number 6 starboard coal bunker had finally been extinguished. Coal bunker 6 had been smouldering for the past two weeks, since Titanic’s sea trials in Belfast. Smith had been concerned about the fire and was considering the strong possibility of asking the New York Fire Department to assist in extinguishing the fire before Titanic’s return voyage on April 20..
As the day wore on, Titanic was sailing into ice fields that were attributed to an extremely mild winter, causing large numbers of icebergs to drift off from the west coast of Greenland.
For the first time in 14.000 years, the moon was closer to Earth. Coinciding with the closest annual approach to the sun of Earth’s orbit, which caused exceptionally high tides that may have resulted in a greater number of icebergs than usual, reaching the north Atlantic shipping lanes, via the Labrador currents. April 1912 was an exceptionally heavy month for icebergs, with the bergs flowing further south into the North Atlantic than in any other year on record. In fact, April 1912 held this record until 1972.
The Labrador Current is a cold current in the North Atlantic Ocean, which flows south from the Arctic Ocean, along the Labrador coast, passing around New Foundland and continuing south along the south coast of Nova Scotia. In both Spring and Winter, the Labrador current transports icebergs from the glaciers of Greenland southwards into the trans-Atlantic shipping lanes.