Could the stern have floated?

Dec 4, 2000
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Jonathan -- you surmise correctly. All of the so-called "scientific" studies of the sinking and breakup are built upon flawed data. The locations of the flooding and the rates of ingress do not match the real-time experiences of survivors on the ship. The modern computer models are based largely upon the numbers created by Edward Wilding. However, Wilding plainly "cooked the books" to make his numbers acceptable to Lord Mersey. He said so in his testimony.

Engineers are not historians, so in a way they can't be faulted for getting their history wrong. However, both reports have too much flooding too early in the two forward holds and boiler room #6. They also assume water overtopping the bulkheads was the cause of the disaster when a cursory read of the tesimony shows that all of the primary flooding was upward--through the bottom--until secondary flooding became a problem. For instance, it would appear that boiler room #4 had water a foot deep over the stoker plates prior to the time when boiler room #5 was abandoned. Water in #4 could only have come up through the bottom, as two survivors testified.

However, even if we could know to the gill how much water came aboard per microsecond, that would not give us any meaninful answers about the actions of Titanic from the final breakup to sinking. An intact ship has relatively predictable reactions to flooding and stability. But, at the breakup Titanic turned from a ship into so much floating scrap. There are no calculations that can accurately predict the trim angle, list, righting moment, or metacentric height after the hull broke apart.

The boilers in boiler room #1 probably were cast out by the breakup. I have not heard of any boilers from foward of the break being found. However, the pattern of coal on the bottom suggests that the forward section went bow-high at some point on the way down. This allowed a comet's tail of coal to pour out onto the sea bed.

The stern section aft of the break did not contain boilers, so discussion of angles to which boilers might be retained in their mountings is not germane. One thing certain, however, is that the huge reciprocating engines remained tight to their beds and in position, except where broken apart by the tearing apart of the hull.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Tom Pappas

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I think my comment may have been misconstrued. That's what I get for being pithy.

The remark about two minutes on the clock face was to point out that if the boilers would actually fall out at twelve degrees, they could be expected to do so in a very light swell (by North Atlantic standards).
 
Jan 5, 2001
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I am kind of confused here. Rather than waste all of the little time I have this morning, who is your question addressed to Jonathan? I can't make sense of much of it, likely as not due to tiredness.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
Wow, this is a really old thread, so sorry if I'm a bit late to the party here.

To answer your question if the stern could float by itself - hypothetically yes, but practically no. The reason I say hypothetically is because many large ships have broken into two pieces with both or at least one of the two staying afloat (Baltimore class cruiser USS Pittsburgh, the SS Pendleton and SS Fort Mercer).

However they were made much differently than the titanic in that they were assembled in parts made separately that came together only when the skeleton of ship's hull was completed at the shipyard. Titanic was made piece by piece, meaning plates had to overlap with rivet construction as well as the fact that there were no exact pressure points where the ship was weak overall aside from the individual rows of rivets, which are small in the grand scheme of the ship's size.

That means when it broke it was an ugly break that bent bulkheads and everything in the vicinity. That does not mean it could not happen but does make it highly unlikely, especially once you factor in the weight of the engines in the belly of the ship and superstructure balancing on what little was left of the now structurally unstable vessel.
 
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mitfrc

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There is actually one ship of similar method of construction and era of construction, and size, as Titanic, which broke in two with extreme violence and had a section remain afloat for a substantial length of time afterwards--HIJMS Fuso.
 

mitfrc

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Here's an introductory coverage of Fuso's loss:

FUSO

There is at least some circumstantial evidence that Fuso's stern even remained underway for ten minutes after she blew up. But there is certainly good evidence that she floated for more than an hour, possibly for slightly more than two hours. I am tempted to work on article trying to analyze all of the details and differences of the construction and design of the two ships and compare the circumstances of damage -- because I believe doing so will explain why it was impossible for Titanic's stern to remain afloat.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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The difference was that the Fuso was a warship which benefited from the lessons learned in the First World War and was subdivided to be able to survive intense battle damage or stay afloat long enough to evacuate the crew.

The Titanic was not designed that way.
 
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mitfrc

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One can make that statement with veracity, though it simplifies the torturous design history of the class, which is certainly a product of Edwardian engineering--but was massively rebuilt twice in the 20s and 30s. However, Japanese damage control was highly deficient by WW2 standards and their take of WW1 lessons spotty. Audacious also demonstrates serious fundamental failures in the detail design of capital ships which in some respects left their stability deficient relative Titanic.

I suppose what I am thinking about is trying to explain, systematically, the details, so that people interested in learning can understand what those differences are and how design methodology really goes to the heart of why so many pet theories and suggestions are meaningless. I remain aghast that anyone took seriously the suggestion that opening the watertight bulkheads could have kept Titanic afloat for longer...

I also suppose Suevic another important educational data point, but I am not sure if a detailed report of her salvage is available. It's also rather clear that her intentional bring dynamited in two was insufficiently kinetic to damage the after portion--rather intentionally! But that gets into the why again.
 
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Dec 2, 2000
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I study design histories and I'm trained in damage control. I am extremely aware of the problems. We could have ourselves quite the time going over this in detail but it would miss the point that the subdivision and building standards for a merchant vessel are very different from that of a warship. The latter is designed to take a lot of abuse, the first is not.

Not that the purpose made designs always work out in practice. The Audacious was an example of that. Great when dealing with shellfire at the level or even from above, but not so swift when eating a torpedo.

As often as not, it isn't even the design which is at fault as it is the operational practices. The Britannic learned this the hard way when Iceberg Charlie parked the thing on a mine. It would have floated so much better if the watertight doors had been closed! ;)
 
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mitfrc

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Well, that's true for the entire Titanic disaster; I mean, the best way to save more lives would have been to fully load the lifeboats by mustering people on the boat deck and forgetting the gangways, because the boats were rated for it. But the lack of adequate operational practices meant nobody remembered the boats were rated for it, and so they sent a team below to the gangways which may have brought the end about a few minutes earlier and ended up costing several hundred people their lives by failing to fully load the boats.

Speaking of which, one article I will post that I've been working on for a bit is an operational engineering analysis of how many lifeboats, based on the best available documentation of the historical performance, that Titanic could have successfully launched. The bottom line is that there was no point in fitting more than 32 as not even the lines could be cut in time for more assuming the first priority was launching; and only 26 - 28 could have been properly launched. I look forward to posting it for critique and commentary, though. I know a lot of work in the past has correctly assessed that Titanic could have never put enough boats in the water; but I think I might be the first to try and actually use process engineering to quantify the number, and if not, I'd really love to see who did. Kind of a divergence, I grant, but this topic doesn't have much more to it unless someone else really, really wants to understand the exact structural reasons the stern didn't float.
 
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SmileyGirl

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I study design histories and I'm trained in damage control. I am extremely aware of the problems. We could have ourselves quite the time going over this in detail but it would miss the point that the subdivision and building standards for a merchant vessel are very different from that of a warship. The latter is designed to take a lot of abuse, the first is not.

Not that the purpose made designs always work out in practice. The Audacious was an example of that. Great when dealing with shellfire at the level or even from above, but not so swift when eating a torpedo.

As often as not, it isn't even the design which is at fault as it is the operational practices. The Britannic learned this the hard way when Iceberg Charlie parked the thing on a mine. It would have floated so much better if the watertight doors had been closed! ;)
It’s such a shame Titanic was not built like a warship :(
 

mitfrc

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It’s such a shame Titanic was not built like a warship :(
I doubt Fuso's stern would have floated for two hours when she was commissioned in 1915; coal scuttles made water-tightness almost impossible in Edwardian warships, and there was a relaxation of requirements in ships after Dreadnought (which the Japanese largely duplicated) due to the difficulty of operations with the extreme level of watertight subdivision that was successfully obtained in the Lord Nelson class and Dreadnought. Normally for civilian ships, the gold standard is Great Eastern; if Titanic's subdivision had been carried out on the same level as Great Eastern she would have easily survived, the full double hull being the most obvious example of why, no ship splitting in two required. But Great Eastern was a dysfunctional black hole for money to be poured into as a liner, and part of it was that the lavishness of her internal subdivision actively hindered her operation and her passenger carriage.

And, as an aside, let's say Titanic's stern had floated as long as Fuso's did at Surigao Strait? Carpathia's lights would be sighted 1 hour and 10 minutes into a 2 hour clock; she would be alongside 20 minutes before the stern sank, and she would be incredibly unlikely to rescue more than a few hundred additional souls as a consequence. Rostron took risks but there are no risks to take here; it wouldn't be a risk but a matter of fact that any ship lashed to Titanic's rapidly settling stern would be dragged down with her. He would have to use boats, and then stand in with nets once the stern sank. Most of those on the stern would still perish.

It's all quite silly, really, though Suevic shows how the stern of a liner really could float and be brought into port. But the number of incidents like this are incredibly small. Though there was one freighter on the Great Lakes which broke in two during a storm and then the stern, still under power, rammed the bow! That one was one in a million...
 

Kyle Naber

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Because the stern sank, does that mean the double bottom failed when the stern was already being pulled down? If the double bottom separated when the stern was in a near horizontal position, would it still have sank due to its port list?
 
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SmileyGirl

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I doubt Fuso's stern would have floated for two hours when she was commissioned in 1915; coal scuttles made water-tightness almost impossible in Edwardian warships, and there was a relaxation of requirements in ships after Dreadnought (which the Japanese largely duplicated) due to the difficulty of operations with the extreme level of watertight subdivision that was successfully obtained in the Lord Nelson class and Dreadnought. Normally for civilian ships, the gold standard is Great Eastern; if Titanic's subdivision had been carried out on the same level as Great Eastern she would have easily survived, the full double hull being the most obvious example of why, no ship splitting in two required. But Great Eastern was a dysfunctional black hole for money to be poured into as a liner, and part of it was that the lavishness of her internal subdivision actively hindered her operation and her passenger carriage.

And, as an aside, let's say Titanic's stern had floated as long as Fuso's did at Surigao Strait? Carpathia's lights would be sighted 1 hour and 10 minutes into a 2 hour clock; she would be alongside 20 minutes before the stern sank, and she would be incredibly unlikely to rescue more than a few hundred additional souls as a consequence. Rostron took risks but there are no risks to take here; it wouldn't be a risk but a matter of fact that any ship lashed to Titanic's rapidly settling stern would be dragged down with her. He would have to use boats, and then stand in with nets once the stern sank. Most of those on the stern would still perish.

It's all quite silly, really, though Suevic shows how the stern of a liner really could float and be brought into port. But the number of incidents like this are incredibly small. Though there was one freighter on the Great Lakes which broke in two during a storm and then the stern, still under power, rammed the bow! That one was one in a million...
Thanks for the info :)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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It’s such a shame Titanic was not built like a warship :(
There would have been little point in doing so. There are a lot of problems with dealing with the sort of watertight subdivision you see on a warship, not the least of which is training the crew to set it properly and keeping them trained. With a warship, you have a crew aboard long term with a relatively low turnover rate. This makes is relatively easy to get them up to the acceptable standards and keep them there. Even then, from the time a given unit starts it's workups to combat readiness, it still takes a year or more to get them up to par.

A merchant vessel rarely has any sort of permanent cadre and has a very high rate of turnover since. The guy who is there now wasn't there for the previous voyage and won't be there for the next. Since customarily, crew signed for the voyage and that was it, that makes it extremely difficult to keep people around who are fully trained on every single fitting (And there are thousands...literally thousands!) which has to be set properly!
 
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mitfrc

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No, it's okay, none of this is obvious. Take for example bringing the pipes forward from the shaft alley to, IIRC, Boiler Room 4, where they actually re-opened watertight doors on the Titanic. That would have been impossible on Great Eastern or Dreadnought, because there were no watertight doors. Just solid bulkheads. You would have to move the equipment up to the main deck and back down--which is fine with the huge crew of a warship and no consideration for the layout of public spaces, because there are none, and damage control is a critical function. But none of that is true for a liner (which then explains part of why Great Eastern didn't make money). Note that as equipment got better, in particular oil firing of boilers, this was progressively mitigated.
 
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SmileyGirl

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Thanks. I know this is a thread about the stern but just a quick question. After Titanic sank, they extended Olympic’s double bottom and the bulkheads. So if these had been done on Titanic, would she most definitely have stayed afloat with the damage sustained? Thomas Andrews wanted these things done didn’t he but he was ignored, is that right? Apologies if this has been discussed, I’m new and it’s going to take ages to read everything!
 

mitfrc

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It is correct that Olympic was subjected to a very substantial reconstruction. As for Andrews, he is reported to have wanted a double-hulled ship or at least a double bottom extended higher up the hull, and the bulkheads extending to B deck, you are correct. But it is very hard to say what impact this would have had because so much of the problem in a circumstance like Titanic's is in terms of progressive flooding, which is the intrusion of water into undamaged spaces through failed glands, pass-thru seals, and the fitness and seal of bulkhead doors and especially coal scuttles. So when the watertight doors closed, did they actually close, or did the collision derange them? So, it's very difficult to say, because so much evidence is circumstantial, how much the Titanic's situation would be improved. I think it would have definitely been improved, but enough to save the ship? Or enough to keep her afloat until multiple vessels were carrying off passengers the next day? And if saved, under her own power, or towed to Halifax after being evacuated of passengers?

I do however believe Olympic and Britannic were the safest passenger ships in the world in 1915. And look what happened to Britannic.
 
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SmileyGirl

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Thanks very much. If only to have stayed afloat for another 2 hours! I wish we had the answers. Yes, of course, poor Britannic. Those three ships didn’t have much luck at all did they!