FIRE IN COAL BUNKER

Jim Currie

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Regarding the issue of damage that the fire in Stokehold No. 9/Coal Bunker W (forward, starboard side coal bunker of No. 5 Boiler Room) may have caused to Watertight Bulkhead E between Boiler Rooms 5 & 6 I'm of the opinion that very little in the way of damage was sustained. Over the past year I've picked up a part time hobby of blacksmithing and have learned a little about the physical properties of metal especially when exposed to high heat. Mild Steel was used to form the shell plating which essentially made up the hull, bulkheads and subcompartmental partitions that formed rooms like the Coal Bunkers. Mild Steel has a very low carbon content. Steel with high concentrations of carbon is desirable because it's stronger and harder than mild steel. However, during the forging process steel alloys with higher carbon particle content has to be put through a heat treatment known as annealing . This is a process of allowing high carbon steel to slowly cool over several hours until room temperature once removed from the forge. If one where to remove a bar of high carbon steel from the forge and then suddenly quench it in water or even allow it to cool to room temperature with no annealing process it would become as brittle as glass. Since mild steel was used in the construction of Titanic's hull, bulkheads, and miscellaneous partitions there was no danger of brittling. You can heat and quench and heat and quench and heat and quench mild steel multiple times and it really doesn't cause the sorts of structural weaknesses many have speculated about Bulkhead E. Sure you can heat mild steel or any type of steel to white hot temperatures for too long and totally ruin the metal, but those conditions weren't reached.

I feel beyond a shadow of doubt that the wave of "green foam" and whatever else witnessed by 2nd Engineer Harvey and Fireman Fred Barrett in No. 5 Boiler Room as they were attempting to attach a set of non-collapsible "wandering hoses" to the bilge or ballast pump located at the central aft end of that compartment was Coal Bunker W's hatch door finally giving way. The immense pressure from the rising seawater of which it wasn't designed to hold back simply blew open allowing the flooded coal bunker to violently rush out into the main Boiler Room area of the compartment. The event was enough to cause both men to drop what they were doing and make their way up the escape ladder. In retrospect, probably the best thing to have done would have been to allow the ingress to pour through the open hatch door onto the Tank Top where it could then easily have been pumped out by the compartment's dedicated bilge pump previously mentioned. There were no drains to allow the ingress of seawater collecting in Coal Bunker W (or any Coal Bunker for that matter) from emptying into the main part of the Boiler Room where it could have been removed. Having said this it wouldn't have mattered one bit to the survival of Titanic.

BELOW: The situation at the time of final evacuation of No. 5 Boiler Room around 1:15 AMish...

View attachment 44962
You are correct, Robby. A great deal of nonsense and pontification has been written about the bunker fire in Titanic's bunkers.

For a start off, it was caused by spontaneous combustion...a process which does not happen instantly but is due to chemical reaction which takes place over a number of days. Here is the process:
Oxidation occurs when oxygen reacts with coal.
"The oxidation process produces heat. If the heat is dissipated, the temperature of the coal will not increase.
If the heat is not dissipated, then the temperature of the coal will increase.
At higher temperatures the oxidation reaction proceeds at a higher rate.
Eventually a temperature is reached at which ignition of the coal occurs. "

Ignition does not necessarily mean "bursting into flames". That will only happen if there is additional free oxygen. In 99% of cases, ignition occurs deep within the heap and is simply a hot glow. The trick is to keep air from it as long as possible.

The first sign of SC is usually localized heat. If the heating continues, the steel will eventually glow to a dull red colour. However, heat dissipates due to conduction by the surrounding steel-work, the hot -spot remains local and the steel temperature seldom gets above 649 C. Since Steel does not change it's molecular structure until it reaches 724 C, only localised distortion will take place. The danger from IC is not failure of the steel but ignition of adjacent inflammable materials such as cargo or more coal.
SC could never have been located, as has been suggested, at the shell plating...side of the bunker. Simply because any heat generated in the coal would have been carried away by a great heat exchanger called the ocean.
The daft notion that a black smear on the external surface of the hull was evidence of the fire is just that...daft. The claim was that a black smear on the outer hull was proof of the fire. The position of the smear in question was too high and to far forward and was probably a shoulder contact with a fender in the dry dock.
The top of the coal heap in the full bunker piled against WT Bulkhead "K" was at the water level in way of frame No.41... midway between funnels 1 & 2 Any SC fire in that heap started after the coal was loaded and would have been at a much lower level. It would not have started until the boilers were fired up and the bunker space started to heat up

I have seen many ideas on these pages but don't seem to remember anyone asking how the fire in the bunker space was originally discovered.
As I pointed out above, localized heat from an SC fire would turn steel cherry red. Since an SC by its very nature is buried, the only way it could have been discovered was by a very obvious smell of smouldering coal and a localised area of heat above the coal surface. This would not have been detected immediately but several days after the bunker was filled and the boilers were fired up.

As for distortion?

As I pointed out, the heat from an SC in a ship compartment... if occurring against a steel bulkhead...will dissipate by means of conduction. The effect on the structure depends on the structure itself.
The WT Bulkhead of a ship is very heavily strengthened by an increase in the plate thickness at its base and by closely spaced, heavy steel frames extending from top to bottom. In this instance the thinner parts...bulkhead plating... would heat up quicker and expand between the heavier frame. The result would be a bulge in the bulkhead plating between the frames... a "ding" as it was known as.
 
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Mar 22, 2003
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This is what we wrote about this BR 5 'deluge ' in our book: Report Into the Loss of the SS Titanic:

As a leading fireman, he was asked to remain below to open a manhole plate on the starboard side so the engineers could get at some valves in the piping system. Being thick with steam from all the water that was thrown onto the fires in the furnaces, Assistant Second Engineer Jonathan Shepherd did not see the open manhole and fell in and broke his leg. Barrett and another engineer, Herbert Harvey, lifted Shepherd out and carried him aft to the pump room where they attended to him as best they could for a while. About 15 minutes later, according to Barrett, “a rush of water came through the pass - the forward end, a space between the boilers where we walk through…I never stopped to look [where the water came from]. I went up the [escape] ladder. Mr. Harvey told me to go up.” When Barrett was asked if it could have been a bunker bulkhead at the head of the compartment that gave way, he replied: “I have no idea on that, but that is the bunker that was holding the water back.”

By the way, the bunker bulkheads had very small drain holes where they met the tank top. Any buildup of water such as from a fire hose being used would slowly drain out onto the tank top in the stokehold. They did however tend to get clogged up with coal.

Continuing with what we wrote:

Taking into account the capacity of the transverse bunker space and allowing for some remaining coal, a build up of about 440 tons of sea water could easily have filled that space between the tank top and F deck if gone unchecked. We know that water was seen falling down the first class staircase from E deck onto F deck as early as 12:50am by steward Joseph Wheat; a location that was a good 60 feet aft of where watertight bulkhead E, between No. 5 and 6 boiler rooms, was located. There very well could have been sufficient down-flooding into that forward cross bunker to create a sufficient pressure head even with water draining out of 4 very small drain holes at the bottom of the bunker bulkhead, especially if any coal or debris still remained in the bunker to impede the flow through those holes onto the plates of the tank top. The bunk doors on the bulkhead were not designed to be watertight, nor designed to hold back a large force pushing against them. If water had reached a height of just 10 feet over the stokehold plate level in the bunker by that time, it would have created a total force against each bunker door of about 3 tons. These bunker doors slid in thin channels that were only ½ inch wide. If a bunker door gave way as a result of a pressure head of about only 10 feet, the velocity of water that would come bursting out of the bunker would be close to 25 feet per second, easily creating “a wave of green foam coming tearing through” into the walk space between the boilers. If it were the main watertight bulkhead between the two boiler rooms that failed, Barrett would not have had time to reach the escape, let alone hear engineer Harvey order him up.


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Scott Mills

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There is ZERO evidence to back up this kind of speculation.
Sam, that, ultimately is the problem. There is zero evidence other than statements given by Barrett, whose testimony is at direct odds in many cases with other crewmen, about the goings on in related to both Titanic's actual damage, and attempts at damage control by her engineering crew. This is why this sort of speculation happens, because baring any physical evidence it is very difficult to take the word of an unreliable narrator who we can no longer cross examine.

I am pretty open to a lot of things having happened in the boiler rooms that night, and the only thing I know for certain is that I do not trust Barrett's testimony with enough certainty to eliminate any number of possibilities because at this point, in my mind at least, all of it is speculative. Even the established historical narrative.
 
Mar 18, 2008
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Sam, that, ultimately is the problem. There is zero evidence other than statements given by Barrett, whose testimony is at direct odds in many cases with other crewmen, about the goings on in related to both Titanic's actual damage, and attempts at damage control by her engineering crew.
Which ones?
 
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As the man who started the idea I should be explaining how it came about. But, for a few days I can't see due to eye surgery. Sam may be disappointed that it was very successful surgery, just I can"t tell what key is which for a few days.

-- David G. Brown
 

Mike Spooner

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If I read this right coal bunker W had the capacity of 365 tons. However Titanic leaving Southampton with 5892 tons on board. About 11% down from maximum capacity 6,611 tons. Apply the same figure of 11% from coal bunker W 365 tons = 325 tons.
Does Titanic need this coal for the crossing? Take away 325 tons from 5892 tons = 5,567 tons. Then looking at Olympic coal consumption figures.
20 knots 630 tons per day. 5,567 tons = 8.8 days sailing
21 knots 710 tons per day 5,567 tons = 7.8 days sailing
22 knots 800 tons per day 5,567 tons = 6.9 days sailing
22.5 knots 900 tons per day 5,567 tons = 6.1 days sailing
One can see Titanic coal on board is more than required by quite a large mount.
Any fire needs three things: 1. Combustion material Coal. 2. Air for Oxygen. 3. Heat. Without one of them you do not have a fire.
Now comes my question? Was it possible to poor cold water into the bunker with the bunker doors closed restricting the mount of oxygen entering. Leaving the coal ruined for use but left to dry out for the return crossing?
 
Mar 22, 2003
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I am pretty open to a lot of things having happened in the boiler rooms that night, and the only thing I know for certain is that I do not trust Barrett's testimony with enough certainty to eliminate any number of possibilities because at this point, in my mind at least, all of it is speculative. Even the established historical narrative.
Perhaps there never was a rush of water in BR 5? Perhaps Barrett made it all up for dramatic effect? But what I could say is that there are many parts of his story that do check out when cross checked with other accounts or with analysis, including the rise of water in BR 6 and the observed trim of the vessel at that time. It's all document in Ch 6 of the book of cited.
 

Jim Currie

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The deck of the bunker seems to have been 2 feet below the level of the boiler room floor plates.so why would there be drain holes at boiler room floor plate level?

Barratt also said:
"Q. This tear went a couple of feet past the bulkhead in No. 5. How were you able to keep the water from reaching? - A. It never came above the plates, until all at once I saw a wave of green foam come tearing through between the boilers and I jumped for the escape ladder.


How high was the "wave of green foam"? He used the expression "foam"...not water. You all assume he was describing something like a tsunami.
 

Seumas

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The sad thing about all this tiresome, distracting coal bunker nonsense is that some folks really do know that the bunker fire did not cause the ship to sink.

However, their bloody minded determination to see evil plots and cover-ups in every nook and cranny of the Titanic disaster makes them want the coal bunker fire to have played a major role in the ships sinking and the death of 1500 innocent people so they cling to it in the hope something will one day turn up.

I'm rather astounded to read the comment earlier about surviving crew's testimony being completely untrustworthy with the sinister implication of bribes or threats behind it.

I guess the authors of the magnificent "On A Sea of Glass and "A Centennial Reappraisal" all need to go back to the drawing board then considering how they use a significant amount of the crews testimony and recollections. Em, no. What a ridiculous idea.

Even just supposing (in la-la-land) that the surviving lads and lassies among the crew did get their mouths stuffed with enough cash to keep them quiet in 1912 or were threatened "you'll never work again" if they didn't keep things under wraps. It's only human nature that someone would still have talked eventually.

In 1958, dozen's of surviving crew, now mostly working class OAP's, could have made themselves a tidy packet - with the release of ANTR at the cinema's and worldwide interest in the ship once again - by going to the big London newspapers and spilling the beans that they had been bribed or threatened to cover up evidence regarding the Titanic disaster and so had others .......... but they didn't. For there was simply nothing to cover up.

Even Frank Prentice, who told some very tall tales about the sinking never went that far. And the last of all the crew, Sid Daniels, had absolutely nothing to lose when interviewed near the end of his life, he could have revealed this alleged mass bribery and intimidation to the world. But he didn't ..... because it never happened.

So for that reason, I'm can't take this "the crew were all liars" guff seriously.
 

Jim Currie

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The deck of the bunker seems to have been 2 feet below the level of the boiler room floor plates.so why would there be drain holes at boiler room floor plate level?

Barratt also said:
"Q. This tear went a couple of feet past the bulkhead in No. 5. How were you able to keep the water from reaching? - A. It never came above the plates, until all at once I saw a wave of green foam come tearing through between the boilers and I jumped for the escape ladder.


How high was the "wave of green foam"? He used the expression "foam"...not water. You all assume he was describing something like a tsunami.
PS. Just saw Sam's post containing the bunker bulkhead plan. The drain holes were, as I suspected, located at the base of the bukhead on the tank top. These were to ensure that any moisture from "sweat" was removed. Before bunkering commenced, they would have been plugged tight-shut. The last thing needed in a coal bunker was an accumulation of water of any kind.
Through-ventilation would be avoided at all costs and only surface ventilation would have been allowed and kept to a minimum . Coal
would have been kept above door level and level across the bunker as much as possible. This to avoid unnecessary movement which might affect the vessel's trim took place. Temperature above 77F within the bunker was dangerous.
 
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Jim Currie

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If you want to know what caused the smudge markd on the starboard side of Titanic, how's this for size?
eb024-titanicpostar.jpg

or.........
titanic-leaving-southampton-with-tugs-assisting.jpg

What do you think the bow fenders of these two would have done to the paintwork?
 
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Bob_Read

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This so-called “smudge” was identified in a couple of photos on the Kempster album but in this photo from the same album, where did it go? Do tugs cause photo artifacts?
1FA3119A-7890-42D9-9FB5-8EB9A0B6C929.png
 
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This so-called “smudge” was identified in a couple of photos on the Kempster album but in this photo from the same album, where did it go? Do tugs cause photo artifacts?
It is only on 2 photos in the album which is most likely a reflection caused by shadow and light. In the book "Titanic Unseen" by Molony he himself had "....expert opinion suggests the mark is a causeway reflection". Of course this changed in the so called documentary done later.....
 

Mike Spooner

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If you want to know what caused the smudge markd on the starboard side of Titanic, how's this for size?
View attachment 44975
or.........
View attachment 44976
What do you think the bow fenders of these two would have done to the paintwork?
Add to the tug rubbings on the paintwork. The Olympic and Titanic entering the Thompson dry dock three times each with tug assistant. There must of been paintwork damaged and touch up paint to follow.
 

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