Boiler explosion


Adam Eickholt

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My apologies, I admit to being a complete novice as to the forensics of Lusitania's loss. I wasn't aware the condition of the starboard side of the wreck was known so well as to have ruled out damage to the holds.

I had formed the (apparently erroneous) impression the torpedo damage was considerably forward of Boiler Room #1 from Fireman Madden's testimony that water did not begin to enter that compartment until 2 or 3 minutes after the explosion(s).

http://rmslusitania.info/pages/engineering_crew/madden_thomas.html

Adam
 

Mike Poirier

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I think the second explosion, which happened a few minutes before she sank, was equally devastating.
Olive North described the bridge being blown up. Thomas Sandells said that the part of the starboard side seemed to break away, Sarah Lund said the final when the final explosion occured, the ship seemed to fly to pieces. etc....
 
Dec 2, 2000
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This is what Madden said (According to The Lusitania Resource):

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(Branson): Where do you think the explosion came from?
(Madden): I thought it came from the forward end on the starboard side, from the forward side of the starboard boiler.

Doesn't look like he's talking about a cargo hold to me. As to the condition of the Lusitania, the wreck has been pretty thoroiughly gone over. If there had been an explosion in the hold, you would expect the plating there to be bent outwards to reflect this.

It isn't.

If a thermite like reaction had happened, you would expect to see evidence of this in hull plating which would show signs of melting and reforming.

Where is it?
 

Adam Eickholt

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^ Undoubtedly, to someone behind the point of the explosion and on the port side of the ship, it would appear to come from forward and to the starboard when such a person gives their estimate of where the explosion originated. I'm disinclined to rely on a witness’ estimate based solely on sounds they heard as particularly exact in the absence of other factors such as the individual’s having had some firsthand experience in having been torpedoed, special training, etc. This may simply be a point of difference in methodology between you and I.

Anyway, that's why I was relying more heavily on the portion of his testimony as to what he actually observed (i.e. how long until he witnessed water entering the boiler room). Now, I understand that in such an event time may appear to move slower to a person who was actually there, but a statement of an interval of a full “2 to 3 minutes” still struck me as a significant elapse of time before flooding began in that compartment. This lead me to believe the torpedo had possibly hit the side of the Cross Bunker ahead of Boiler Room #1, perhaps even damaging the adjacent cargo hold.

Now, as to the "thermite theory," since you raised that point again, the reason I was asking about the merits of it in my earlier post is because I wanted to know more about the scientific merits of the theory and how well they’ve been explored. Thus, my question as to whether its merits have been examined further. Questions had come to mind such as: Does such a reaction actually occur? Do we know more of the circumstances necessary to trigger such a reaction? And what precisely is a thermite reaction like, is it in fact explosive in nature, or is it more a melting and burning event?

With regard to the condition of the starboard hull plating in that region of the ship, as I stated in my second post, I was unaware its condition was known so well as to have ruled out any signs of melting that a thermite reaction would have caused. I had thought with the wreck lying on its starboard side, and with the ship having collapsed some on top of it, that such info was unknown.

I would hope you appreciate, as someone new to this discussion, that I would be taking a holistic approach and considering all suggested causes of Lusitania’s rapid demise and weighing their pros and cons. And with the aluminum powder question, I happened to start my analysis with 1.) was there actually aluminum powder on board (is this documented), and 2.) what conditions are necessary for its ignition. I mistakenly read your earlier post as indicating interest in exploring possible ignition sources for aluminum powder and thus I mentioned Kevin’s thesis that all that is required is high heat + rust for possible collegial discussion and more input on that matter.

Regards,

Adam
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Adam, I don't have the manifest handy, but the presence of ammunition aboard isn't exactly a state secret. That information came out befor the Lusitania even made it to the other side of the ocean. I don't recall seeing aluminium powder in the list of ammunition carried, but I do recall such incidentals as rifle cartrides, gun cotton (That might be worth looking into) and artillary shells, which BTW, didn't even have explosive filler so there's no help there. There really wasn't a lot there and as small as the cargo space was on an express liner so any ammunition would be competing with other general cargo for space.

The best descriptions I've seen of the secondary explosion was that it was a deep rumbling event. The sort of thing that you would expect to see happen if a number of steam lines burst in a random order. As to the wreck, obviously an internal survey is impossible. It's barely within reach for tech divers and the Royal Navy using the wreck as a practice target for ASW training during the Second World War didn't help matters at all. The hull is fairly well crushed and what Depth Charges didn't cave in, sheer time and decay have moved in to finish the job. (Watch out for the unexploded depth charges close to the wreck!) Still, the wreck has been extensively photographed and thoroughly enough that Ken Marschall has been able to do some very accurate renditions of it.
 

Adam Eickholt

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^ Thanks for all the information, Michael!

Since I obviously need to get a better grasp of the events and descriptions of the sinking, I'm going to bow out of this thread. I'll probably start with that Bailey and Ryan book you recommended in another thread if I can find a copy.

Regards,

Adam
 

Noel F. Jones

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May 14, 2002
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Manifest:

"....That information came out befor the Lusitania even made it to the other side of the ocean."

My understanding is that the vessel was cleared outwards on the strength of the main freight manifest as rendered to the custom house before departure but that those items which could categorise as disputatious war materiel were shipped on a supplementary manifest rendered after the vessel's departure. The custom of the port allowed such opportunism (if such it was) at the time.

And that President Wilson subsequently ordered the complete manifest to be sequestrated and consigned to the White House cellar where it resided as a 'mystery package' for several years.

One of his successors, whose name escapes me, resurrected it on taking office.

I don't recall the source for this but no doubt someone else can confirm.

Noel
 
Sep 22, 2003
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The Vessel in Question The Lusitania Was Carrying Munitions. None of the Munitions However were Explosive, Except w/ the Possibility of the Aluminum Powder, though even that is questionable as I've Learned from Talks w/ some people.

I personally think the cause 2nd Explosion was either an Ash Ejector or Funnel Uptake, Either way i Don't Think a Boiler Exploded, but that the boiler suffered from Severe damage.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I'll probably start with that Bailey and Ryan book you recommended in another thread if I can find a copy. <<

You might try a used bookseller if you can. That way, you can get a reasonable price. Barring that, you could always try Alibris, Amazon.com, or the AbeBook Network. Just be aware that if any of these sources have a copy of this book, that they know the value of the work. You'll be forking over some bucks for it! If you just wish to borrow a copy, interlibrary loan is the way to go.

Whatever you do, stay away from Colin Simpson's work unless you want to do some comparative studies of it alongside other works. Unfortunately, Simpson has been at the heart of a lot of misinformation on the subject, and which Bailey and Ryan went to some pains to rebut.

>>My understanding is that the vessel was cleared outwards on the strength of the main freight manifest as rendered to the custom house before departure but that those items which could categorise as disputatious war materiel were shipped on a supplementary manifest rendered after the vessel's departure.<<

That's the point Bailey and Ryan made. The end result was the same. The authorities knew then what the ship was carrying and scarcely batted an eyelash at it. I'll have to do some more checking, but I think it was FDR who ordered the contents of the Mystery Package released, but I could be wrong.
 
May 10, 2005
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I believe a boiler explosion is highly unlikely. As Diana Preston points out in her book "LUSITANIA", Thomas Madden and Frederick Davis were both stokers who escaped from Boiler room No.1 and survived the sinking. Had there been a boiler explosion, they would not have survived. In addition, I believe a steam line explosion is unlikely for the same reason.
There exists a strong piece of evidence that SOMETHING in the cargo hold exploded. Many survivors reported seeing a large amount of wooden wreckage in the water, mostly BARRELS and CRATES.
Where else could such items have come from other than a large hole in the ships hull in the region of the cargo hold? These items were seen BEFORE the ship went under and thus were not the result of the break-up of the hull on the bottom of the sea.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>There exists a strong piece of evidence that SOMETHING in the cargo hold exploded. Many survivors reported seeing a large amount of wooden wreckage in the water, mostly BARRELS and CRATES.<<

And your source for that is...???

Bear in mind that there's nothing all that remarkable about having all kinds of debris being scattered into the water in the wake of an explosion, and it doesn't nesseccerily come from the cargo hold. Think of the storerooms and the like where spare parts and supplies would be kept that have nothing to do with the cargo. Ships have all kinds of spaces set aside for just that reason.
 
Jun 10, 2004
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>>Where else could such items have come from other than a large hole in the ships hull in the region of the cargo hold? These items were seen BEFORE the ship went under and thus were not the result of the break-up of the hull on the bottom of the sea.<<

That kind of general detritus could have come from anywhere. Such items could well have been stored on parts of the decks and come loose as the ship heeled, or been blown out of storage areas by the blast of the explosion, coming up out of the depths of the ship and finding open air.

I've never come across any compelling evidence of an explosion in the holds. There could have been a steam pipe failure that did not result in all personnel in the boiler room being killed. I assume the steam circuit would have had emergency shut-off valves that would have limited the venting of steam. The most devastating explosion of all would have been the torpedo warhead itself - the two men you mention managed to survive that.

I don't understand the need to embellish this event with intrigue. Her design made her critically vulnerable to torpedo damage, as Weddigen's destruction of three British heavy cruisers with similar design features had already demonstrated. Being a big ship did not, per se, make her safer from torpedo attack than the average tramp steamer. Ship designers did not understand how to protect ships from underwater attack - at Jutland, the most serious damage to a British battleship (not battlecruiser, note) was a single torpedo that severely damaged a super-dreadnought (don't recall which one). Yet in the same battle, super-dreadnought HMS Malaya went under a torrent of heavy shellfire and came through it with only minor damage to the ship, although more than a hundred crew killed. The (brand-new) British battleship HMS Audacious was sunk by a single mine. Basically ship design was caught well off-guard by under-water attack. I expect even modern warships are pretty vulnerable to a torpedo or mine exploding directly beneath the hull.
 
May 3, 2002
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I am sure I have said this elsewhere but it warrants repeating here.

it is known that the torpedo was set to run at a shallow depth, 10 feet below the surface. If this were to hit anywhere aft of the bridge then it will penetrate in to the area of the Orlop Deck. This is the upper third of the longitudinal coal bunker. Beyond the bunker wall are the tops of the boilers. At this level is an array of steam pipes of varying diameters.

On impact the torpedo would have penetrated to explode in the bunker. Witnesses in the #1 boiler room saw "things blowing about" just before the lights went out. I the immediate line of fire lie the steam pipes. My money is on those lines being ruptured. I think there were boiler explosions on the Lusy but not in this boiler room. That occurred when #3 downflooded and two passengers were sucked into the funnel to be blasted back out.
any thoughts on this?

martin
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I expect even modern warships are pretty vulnerable to a torpedo or mine exploding directly beneath the hull.<<

They are. An underwater mine explosion in the Persian Gulf was sufficiant to damage one of the Ticonderoga class cruisers operating there so the vessel needed drydocking to make right, and this was from a mine lying on the bottom. The frigate Samual B. Roberts was nearly broken in two by a close encounter with a contact mine that exploded beneath the engine room.

>>Ship designers did not understand how to protect ships from underwater attack<<

As far as I know, nobody has really ever solved the problem, and it wasn't for lack of trying. This was a special concern for battleships and battlecruisers with numerous schemes built into new construction in the interwar years. Unfortunately, few of them worked and some tended to make the problem even worse in terms of compromised longitudinal stability. What this means in practical terms is that flooding would occur mostly on one side with the end result being the ship turning over befor going down.

Modern torpedos are designed to explode just beneath the hull so that the resulting gas bubble literally lifts the ship out of the water and breaks her back. As the warheads are extremely powerful, the only real defence against this sort of attack is to hope and pray that the decoys actually work. If they don't, you're screwed!

>>I don't understand the need to embellish this event with intrigue.<<

Oh I understand it even if I don't agree with it. People just have a very difficult time believing that a single torpedo could do fatal damage to a very large ship. This in spite of the fact that there are numerous examples in actual combat of a single weapon doing just that, and even to some very large well protected warships. Lusitania was but one such victim, but hardly the only one.
 

Tom Lear

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>>I don't understand the need to embellish this event with intrigue.<<

Interesting parallel with the JFK assassination here - a lot of people simply can't believe that a single man coming out of nowhere, acting alone, could strike down the leader of a superpower.

Trying to embellish on other's more technical commentary would be redundant, BUT, to tie in to the reference above: interesting how people need to assume an explosion of ammunition in the cargo hold, or at least some kind of "powerful secondary explosion" was the culprit for the Lusitania's demise, rather than a single torpedo.
 

Adam Eickholt

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Michael H. Standart wrote:

Oh I understand it even if I don't agree with it. People just have a very difficult time believing that a single torpedo could do fatal damage to a very large ship.

To build on this thought, it’s not merely the sense of strength the sheer size of the liner suggests, but also the relatively low explosive yield of the primitive torpedo that struck her that makes it seem like such a mismatch. Remember, just the day before, Schwieger was forced to expend two of his valuable torpedoes in order to inflict enough damage to send the small steamer Centurion (5850 grt) to the bottom.

Not any less important are Schweiger’s own comments on the Lusitania sinking in his war diary:

Torpedo hits starboard right behind the bridge. An unusually heavy explosion takes place with a very strong explosion cloud (cloud reaches far beyond front funnel) The explosion of the torpedo must have been followed by a second one (boiler or coal or powder?)

The fact that Schweiger himself, an experienced U-Boat skipper who’d seen his torpedoes detonate against vessels many times before, found the explosion that wracked Lucy to be “unusually heavy” and was convinced an additional second explosion had taken place is very compelling evidence.

And here we are, 90 years later, still debating those possible causes Schweiger posited in his war diary: “boiler or coal or powder?”

Adam
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>And here we are, 90 years later, still debating those possible causes Schweiger posited in his war diary: “boiler or coal or powder?” <<

Which is debatable in itself. Mismatched or not, that single weapon for some reason was more then the Lusitania could survive. It's a shame that the wreck has become so badly mangled over the years. I'll bet a modern and thorough hands-on forensics investigation would be quite interesting.
 
Sep 22, 2003
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Michael S.

This Thread refers to our Postings From

March 13, 2005 - 10:17 pm to March 15, 2005 - 1:26 am

I have Recently Had a conversation w/ someone whom I consider to a highly knowledgible on the subject, and was told that Aluminum Powder is HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE and is used in HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE weapons, and was giving a good listing of incidents involving aluminum powder.

if you wish for more info the source contact me privately.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Jesse, what I said was that aluminium powder is not explosive in and of itself and I've seen no documented evidence which would indicate otherwise. I'm well aware of it's use in explosives. The BLU-82 Fuel Air Explosive weapon (Known also as the Daisy Cutter) uses as it's explosive a 16,000lb aqueous solution of aluminium powder and ammonium nitrite in a polysterene soap binder and produces blast over pressures of 10,000psi. This weapon was used extensively in Vietnam to clear away jungle to make helicopter landing zones and also in the first Persian Gulf War.

The key here is the dispersion of the powder in the air to produce a "mist" that I'm willing to conceed would certainly be explosive.

If you have links to documented sources which would indicate that aluminium powder contained in barrels would explode under the conditions known to exist on the Lusitania, and that the torpedo would have effected this in the area where it was stored...if any was aboard...I'd be willing to consider it and even revise my opinion.

It would also help if somebody could provide documented evidence that aluminium powder was even on board the ship to begin with. If it wasn't there in the first place, then it really wouldn't matter if it could go off with the punch of a nuke since it's absence would render it a non-factor.
 
Sep 22, 2003
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In my view there is lots proof that Aluminum Powder was on board, anyone can look for themselves through the numerous listings of her cargo for that voyage in Books, Newspapers, Archives, Etc,. Also refer to Patrick O'Sullivan's book "The Lusitania".

As for Aluminum Powder being Highly Explosive. I have talked to numerous people on the subject and have read alot about it.
 

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