Comparative structural integrity of Britannic Titanic and Lusitania


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Most of you are probably aware that when one compares the wrecks of the Lusitania, Titanic, and Britannic, the Britannic is in the best shape, with Titanic a distant second, and with Lusitania not even there.

Now, I know that there are allegations to the effect that the British purposefully destroyed the wreck of the Lusitania as a cover up, of sorts, or that she was damaged by submarine depth charges during wartime, or that the topedo did her in worse than the others - - but generally, in my view, the Olympic class ships seemed to have survived in better shape. Any thoughts?
 
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Rolf Vonk

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Hi Jan,

Seems interesting! Does it also has something to do with the seawater or the sealife at the different places? I don't know how big their influence at the wrecks is?

Second point were I was thinking at is that the size of the Olympic-class ships and the Lusitania is also different. I don't know if the two big ones are far more solid than "little" Lusitania.

Another point may be the damage to the ships during sinking. That could also explain a big part of their shape.

As a last thing I want to add the fact that we dispose over two Olympic-class wrecks, but only over one Lusitania. When Mauretania was also a wreck, it may have had another look or shape than Lucy. Than the comparision between the wrecks would be more fair.

Greetings Rollie
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Thanks for the feedback, Rollie. Certainly, the salinity at various depths can be a factor. But then, the Britannic and Lusitania are at about the same depth, I think.

The size probably influenced the structural integrity of the components, i.e., greater size requires more reinforcement. On the other hand, the Lusitania was purportedly designed based upon a British warship, so it would seem that to the extent the warship's design permeated her construction, she would be a stronger ship. Additionally, Lusitania was much narrower amidships than Titanic or Britannic.

Certainly, the ship damage prior to sinking is a big factor. Lusitania was torpedoed, and there was an internal explosion, as well. I've been to a site on the internet that shows a present status of the Wilhelm Gustloff wreck, in the Baltic Sea. This ship, like Lusitania, was torpedoed (but I think by 3 torpedoes, not 1). Like Lusitania, it's hull lies on its side, collapsed.

Your right, too, about having two Olympic class ships to use for comparison, but only one Cunard ship.

What a shame that Olympic and Mauritania were dismantled, and scrapped. Both ships would be worth a small fortune today.

I guess what surprises me is that Lusitania is in such extremely bad condition vis-a-vis the other wrecks, i.e., as Dr. Ballard described her, she's a pile of "junk."
 
Hi Jan, when one considers the condition of the wrecks, it helps to remember that massive secondary explosion which followed the warhead of the torpedo going off. The section of the Lusitania where the ammunition was supposedly stowed was sufficiently intact that we can be certain that nothing cooked off there. However, throw in the possibility of either a coal dust or a boiler explosion, and you end up with truly major structural damage either way. Now factor in a sinking ship with substantial damage where the bow hits the bottom first, leaving the rest of an already damaged hull unsupported. With bending loads like that, something is going to break. The consequences may not be obvious for years until you see what sections of the hull collapse the fastest as time and salt water corrosion do it's thing.

Then you have other factors to consider, such as salinity, higher water temperatures, and the fact that divers have been poking around the wreck for decades who have certainly left their mark. Unlike the Titanic and the Britannic, the exact location of the Lusitania was known. 85 years is plenty of time for some real mischeif.

I'll hacve to check my source material, but if memory serves, the framing of an Olympic class liner was only three feet apart and the hull plating was an inch thick. That makes for a pretty rugged structure in it's own right.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
R

Rolf Vonk

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Hi there,

I agree with Micheal about his points.

Michael told about the since long known location of Lusitania. That might have been one of the reasons for more poking by the wreck since years.
I have one question about that. I remember reading once that when RMS Titanic incorporated took the shipbell of Titanic from the forward mast during a dive, they damaged the crewsnest so much that it collapsed.

When that's true, it would be a very good example of the serious wreckdamage caused by divers.

BTW: Was the whole structure of Lusitania built for warduties? I thought it were only the decks for carrying weapons.

Greetings Rollie
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Hi Rollie, there would have been some substantial beefing up of the structure not only to support the weight of the guns, but deal with the recoil as well. I have some deck plans of the very similar Mauratania (Thank you very much, Shipbuilder) and the sectioning seems more appropriate for a warship as well...(For example, the coal bunkers being located along the sides instead of in transverse comparments such as on an Olympic class liner.)...but this has some limitations as well. The intent was to use these ships as auxilary cruisers to hunt down enemy merchent ships, not slug it out with a dedicated warship. As they wouldn't have survived long against a cruiser, they were expected to use their speed as protection against same.

While the coal bunkers could be closed off, I can't say that this would have been all that practical as the boilers needed a constant supply of it to keep going. This calls for keeping access open constantly, with the black gang going to and from the bunkers with coal one wheelbarrow at a time, and for damage control, that's worthless. The torrent of water blasting in after a hole has been blown in the side would have made sealing the doors impossible.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
R

Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hi Michael,

Thanks for your information! I don't have any deckplans of Mauretania or Lusitania. Is there a site were i can find them? That would give me the opportunity to search for more "warship elements" in the design.

I believe both ships were unsuitable as cruisers, because they just eated up coals. Is that the reason to make a troopship of Mauretania?

Greetings Rollie
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D

Dean Manning

Guest
Hi everyone,

Just a couple of thoughts concerning the state of the ships mentioned. First, the tattered condition of the Lusitania could partly be caused by her steel. This is just speculation on my part, but if her steel had the same ductile to brittle transition temperature as the Titanic's, then it's possible that the 40 degree water caused the steel to be brittle. Also, I don't think that both the Lusitania and the Britannic had nearly as much of their sterns lifted out of the water creating the colossal shear forces and bending moments that the Titanic suffered. The reason I think that is because both the Lusitania and the Britannic had their watertight compartment doors open, which allowed the flooding to be much more even that in the case of the Titanic's. I think the Lusitania broke in half simply due to brittle steel and impulse forces suffered when she hit the bottom.

like I said before, just some speculation on my part...

regards

-Dean
 
Rollie, I found a set of Lusitania deckplans offered on The Titanic Historical Society's website and ordered them today. The Mauratania plans I have come from a reprint of The Shipbuilder artical on that ship in Mark Warren's The Shipbuilder Vol. 1. While these ships were broadly similar, there were some substantial differences, so I want to have both sets for reference.

In regards to the Lusitania's fuel efficiency compared to a warship's, it's actually like comparing apples with oranges. Ton for ton, the Lucy was likely more efficient. In fact, steam turbines were chosen over reciprocating engines at least partly for that reason...but she was a BIG ship. Larger then most battleships of the day. Irrespective of that, fuel efficiency is very much a secondary consideration in warship design. Combat capabilities come first.

As to the Mauratania, the reason she was used as a troopship was because she could carry a lot of troops.

Dean, I think you might want to recheck the wreck photos of the Lucy when you get the chance. She settled to the bottom on her starboard side, but without breaking in two insofar as I can see. (If you have photos or site diagrams proving otherwise, I'd love to see them.) It looks to me as if the ships structure slowly caved in on itself over time as corrosion and diver molestation did it's work.

In regards bending loads, I'm thinking; bow settles onto the bottom...the water is reletively shallow there...and a lot of the ships mass bears down on that as she settles. So what supports what's still out of the water and sticking up in the air? The bending loads may not have been as substantial as what Titanic suffered, but perhaps still enough to overstress some of the frames and hull plates to the point where structural failure at least gets a head start. Corrosion of the metal and the weight the structure can no longer support does the rest.

Thoughts? Comments?

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
D

Dean Manning

Guest
Hi Michael,

you may want to check out this page:

http://www.pbs.org/lostliners/lusitania.html

It's part of a larger page about lost liners. There is an article about the Lusitania written by Bob Ballard. In it he states:

"The hull is in two torn and twisted pieces, a sad echo of its former glory. It is probable that the bow section tore free of the rest of the ship when it hit bottom."

It's an interesting article, and it hits on some of the points you made above.

In regards bending loads, I'm thinking; bow settles onto the bottom...the water is relatively shallow there...and a lot of the ships mass bears down on that as she settles. So what supports what's still out of the water and sticking up in the air? The bending loads may not have been as substantial as what Titanic suffered, but perhaps still enough to overstress some of the frames and hull plates to the point where structural failure at least gets a head start. Corrosion of the metal and the weight the structure can no longer support does the rest.

You could most definitely be right. For some strange reason I was thinking that the bow hit at such and angle that no significant length of the stern came out of the water.

With regards to the bow being torn, it really doesn't surprise me. Given the fact that the bow was filled water when it went down, it had a ton of momentum when it hit the sea floor. Also, I think that the ship actually suffered shock damage twice, the first time when the bow hit, and the second when the ship landed on it's side, which may partially explain why the hull had collapsed to somewhat less than it's former width.

In any case, I have to go. I'll definitely think more about this and share any thoughts. In the mean time, comments?

-Dean
 
G'Day Dean...interesting article, and that painting of the wreck clearly shows the split which was found on the dives. (A Ken Marschall work which explains the high quality), but the history discussed begs the question of whether the split was caused by impact with the sea floor, or the abuse the wreck has been subjected to over the decades.

That note about the unexploded depth charges around the wreck is decidedly unsettling...and I hope sometime in the near future, the British government sends in some people to deal with them. Divers still visit the site and those explosives are one helluva nasty accident waiting to happen.

Since were picking at nits, perhaps we should think in terms of four shocks; the torpedo exploding, the more violent secondary explosion, impact of the bow with the bottom(Which probably caused the split due to bending loads), and the last when the ship landed on her side. If the hull hadn't collapsed to half of it's width then, you can be certain the depth charges finished the job.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dr. Ballard says that the Lusitania is broken up like Titanic, as follows:

"The great hull had been torn open during the sinking, the fracture occurring between the third and fourth funnels. The bent hull now forms a shape like a gigantic bomerang on the seabed. The break had occurred in about the same general darea as that on the Titanic, around where the huge dining room and first-class lounge had been located. The great open areas of such rooms on these ships were never meant for such stress. Most of the hull seemed to be smooth, but the sonar returns from the superstructure painted a chaotic picture of destruction and confusion."

Here's a picture of the Lusitania, in New York, from my collection.
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J

Jason Bidwell

Guest
Jan,

Could you provide a link to the site you mentioned about the wreck of the Wilhelm Gustloff? It sounds darn interesting.

Thanks,
Jason
 
Jan, nice photo there...and why doesn't the location of the break surprise me? Those great wide open spaces are quite the Achillies Heel.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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