Open water tight doors doomed Lusitania


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Jan 7, 2002
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On the Discovery Channel this weekend, a Shipwrecks special dismissed the notion that a coal bunker explosion was what caused Lusitania to sink quickly. The special suggested since the watertight doors were frozen open, and portholes were open, thats waht caused her to sink so quickly.

I dont believe it!! I believe it was indeed a coal bunker explosion..


Tarn Stephanos
 

Adam Leet

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I once thought it was a coal explosion, but the more I learn about the incident, the less logical that explanation sounds. Consider that the Lusitania was at the end of her voyage. Her bunkers were nearly empty, and any coal dust in the bunkers is likely wet and grimy from condensation, as it would get pretty cold (the bunkers were next to the outer skin.)

I've heard a while back about the possibility of a steam pipe burst being a contributing factor to the second explosion. Other than that, I don't know.


Adam
 

Noel F. Jones

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Kapitanleutnant Walthur Schweiger of U-20 reported he only fired one torpedo. He also reported that the resulting detonation was 'unusually heavy'. From the Lusitania's perspective there were two explosions in quick succession, both reportedly showing effects external to the vessel, indicating that the second explosion also blew out the shell plating.

On the matter of condensation inhibiting the precipitation of coal dust, only one surface of the bunker compartments was shell plating and could therefore be assumed cooled by the external seawater; the compartments were otherwise bounded by tank top, deckhead, transverse w/t bulkhead and the starboard internal longitudinal w/t bulkhead, this last pierced by the coal-passing apertures fitted with w/t doors. These would necessarily have been open at the time to work the ship. The compartments would therefore have been exposed to stokehold temperature and can therefore be assumed largely free of bulkhead condensation.

It is therefore entirely feasible that the shock wave of the torpedo explosion could instantaneously have precipitated an explosive mixture of coal dust and air. This could in turn have been ignited by a flashback from the furnaces, the communicating doors into the stokeholds being open.

The main steam pipe from the boilers to the stop valve would be near the centreline of the vessel, shielded moreover by the longitudinal w/t bulkhead, and therefore it is unlikely for it to have been damaged by the torpedo explosion. There were other adjacent steam lines, to ash ejectors etc. but any pressure released therefrom would hardly account for damage to shell plating.

NFJ
 
May 3, 2002
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Tarn,

I tend toward steamline damage. This explains the rapid loss of power. A recent dive expedition located the telegraph indicators being in FULL AHEAD position. 3rd Engr Little mentions the bridge ringing down FULL ASTERN and then a short time later back to FULL AHEAD.

I do agree with you in being sceptical about the WTDs not being open as Thomas Madden reports under cross examination in the Mersey inquiry. The warping of the bulkhead prevented the manual override from being able to reopen the door.

Martin
 
Jan 7, 2002
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If the watertight door theory as being the cause for a quick sinking is correct, - then Lusitania and Britannic died the same death- sinking quickly due to open watertight doors and portholes...


Tarn Stephanos
 

Erik Wood

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I think the big hole made by the torpedo had some effect. Remember that when a structure is jarred by an explosion or some other force that the structure around it is weakened. So it could be that the doors where not left open, it could be that they didn't close because they couldn't. Just a thought not based on fact.

The internal workings of a ship are not designed to withstand explosions. The Lucy may be an exception as she was made for Cunard but with government money. Either way the a hole caused by an explosion could have (in my opinion did) weaken the structure around the entry point, which could have lead to doors not closing and water being allowed to free fall.

Another question is, there must have been a lot of water entering the ship for it to sink in under 20 minutes. How much could she hold in a wounded state???
 
Jan 5, 2001
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A note here Tarn -- in Britannic's sinking the crucial watertight door between boiler rooms #5 and #4 closed correctly and prevented water penetrating further aft. Surely the portholes had more to do with the flooding aft of this bulkhead.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
May 3, 2002
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Upon rereading my post it appears ambiuous with ref to WTDs. I don't believe that they were left open hence Madden's reference.

However...

Erik's discussion of secondary damage suggests that that the framing could have been warped enough to admit water. Diane preston refers to this in a late chapter in her book which analyses the forensics of the sinking.

the URL leads to an online version of this chapter.
http://www.lusitaniabook.com/appendix.php

Any further thoughts please...

Martin
 

Erik Wood

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I have always wondered about the Lucy sinking. More to the point what was that second explosion and why did it only take 20 minutes of the ship to sink??

At first glance it would appear to me that the torpedo was the cataylst for the sinking. The torpedo caused something else (i.e. coal, ammunition, magic pixy dust) to go boom. That second boom seems to be the deciding factor in whether Lucy floats or sinks.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Noel said; "On the matter of condensation inhibiting the precipitation of coal dust, only one surface of the bunker compartments was shell plating and could therefore be assumed cooled by the external seawater;"

Hi Noel, that one surface is really all it takes. Consider also that the bunkers were seperated from the machinary rooms by the bulkhead plating and would tend, like any adjacent space, to be generally cooler then the machinary room itself. I've seen this often enough for myself. It wouldn't be much of a problem for condensate to form at all. I've seen condensate form in some ver yhot spaces on a ship too. All it really takes is enough humidity along with a variance in temperature and you've got condensate. Sometimes a lot of it.

Erik, I've seen the secondary explosion described as a deep rumbling explosion which in my mind doesn't point to anything as violent as a coal dust explosion. My sense is that it was more like steam lines bursting. Not much of a shock there when you have an overgrown firecracker going off in your side. It'll definately break more then the hull plating.
 

Erik Wood

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I wonder if steam lines exploding has really been explored?? If I recall rightly though it was said the second explosion whas much more violent then the first.

I agree that it wasn't a coal dust explosion. But that leaves the door open to other possibilities. If the torpedo and accompanying explosion caused by it broke through the shell plating it no doubt did frame damage. Check Edward Wildings testimony in regards to Titanic. He mentions very specifically what can happen when the shell plating is messed with.
 

Dave Moran

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Dear Captain Wood,

Apologies, but I seem to be dogging your heels today, please don't take it personally. As a captain, you might be able to answer a thought that occurs to me - would you, on the bridge of Lusitania, have been able to recognise what sort of explosion has occurred within the bowels of your ship - would you have been able to tell the difference between coal dust explosion and massive stem-line rupture ?

Or would it have been too far away/ too indistinct/ not your first worry ? Basically, what I'm trying to determine is how aware Turner would have been of the damage to his ship, particularly given her sudden list and other impressions he might have had ? Answers welcome, if you have the time and the inclination.

Thanks and warmest regards

dave
 

Erik Wood

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Well the sudden list would have been an immediate indicator that something was very wrong. The secondary explosion (granted I have hinsight)would be another indicator that it's time to get people off the ship until it can be stablized.

The next question I will answer the best I can, a steam line explosion and coal dust explosion would most likely be something that could be identified. Having gone through a couple steam line ruptures I know what they sound like and feel like. I would imagine that if it was coal dust after the explosion the air would have been filled with it. Both via the stack and out the damaged section.

The steam explosion would have been more like thunder and then a sudden and constant hiss and rumble until the system was either shut off, or all of the steam was released.

On the bridge of container ship I once heard the main steam line break. It was a sudden and very short bang, accompanied by a slight shudder (like rubbing up against a pier). The Chief Engineer then "dumped" the steam through stack so there was roar, as I went below (off the bridge to the deck below) I could hear the loud hissing.

I would imagine that a coal dust explosion would be far more violent then steam lines breaking. Another possiblity is a boiler exploding due to the cold water. I am not exactly sure of the validity of that but it might be a possibility.

So I would imagine that Turner would have been able tell the difference between the two.

Did he have contact with his Chief Engineer?? If he did then his Chief probably gave him the best picture of the damage that he could.

On a side note, if it was a steam rupture, remeber that a steam hole the size of a pin head can cut off the arm of a man at full pressure. Plus if that pipe popped it could have done some other internal damage.

This is of course all speculative but interesting.
 

Erik Wood

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I have been doing some thinking on this subject and although the topic seems to have been abandoned I am going to post any way if for no other reason then to see that I can type.

I can't help but think that the doors whether open or closed played a fairly insignificant role in the actual foundering of the ship. I think it is more likely that the secondary explosion (whatever caused it) did the fatal damage and the intial torpedo did some but managable damage.

That begs the ever fasicnating and highly debated question.....what was the secondary explosion??

Boiler? Steam lines? Coal Dust? Ammunition? 2nd or third torpedo?

I think we can (or at least in my mind until shown otherwise I will) rule out Coal dust. Steam lines and boilers I think will be hard to prove but equally hard to discount. That would involve exploring the engine spaces of the wreck (or what's left of it).

I am rather surprised that Dave Brown or Dave Gittins really haven't sounded in on this topic.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I think we can rule out a second torpedo as well. The U-20 only had three aboard at the time and Kapitanleutnant Schweiger had orders to retain two for the trip home.

Unfortunately, I don't think anyone will ever explore the engineering spaces in the sort of detail that would be needed for this sort of investigation because of the near totally colllapsed condition of the wreck.
 

Erik Wood

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When I talked with Bill Sauder he said the condition of th wreck is pretty bad. I believe that he mentioned that exploration of the wreck in the engineering spaces will pretty much be in impossible.

It looks as though we will never know. I will say this. The conversation I had with Bill was great and he is a nice guy. One that I would love to meet in person sometime.

If the wreck was in better condition I might consider making the Lucy my next project.
 

Adam Leet

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I would imagine that even if Lusitania were reasonably intact compared to her actual state, it would still be difficult to examine the boiler rooms effectively, given years of corrosion, and the likelihood of considerable damage down there.

As it stands, though, it's almost like exploring an imploded building. :/

Didn't Greg Robertson make a drawing of Lucy depicting her the day after the sinking?


Adam
 
May 3, 2002
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If a 2nd torpedo had hit the ship where they thought it had, between the 2nd and 3rd funnel the ship would have rapidly turned turtle with almost total loss of life. I have read that the Captain's handbook recommended abandonment should the list exceed 22 degrees.
Here is what I reckon would have happened (see attachment)

Martin
34739.png
 

Erik Wood

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Adam makes some good points. Titanic is upright and they are still having hard time doing some good exploring in her boiler rooms.

I doubt the second torpedo. If it went off we might be talking about the Mystery of the Lucy.
 

Dave Moran

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It may be unrelated to the accident but when I look at plans, drawings and photos of Lusitania time and again she reminds me of the destroyers being built by the Royal Navy at the time writ large.

She has the same proportions, long thin hull, knife edge bow, counter stern with exposed rudder, four massive funnels. When one considers that the ship and her sister were intendede for possible use as naval auxiliaries I cannot escape the feeling that this is not a co-incidence. It looks to me as if she was based on current naval design practices.

Now, one othere thing we know about warships built in the 1900s was that they were hideously vulnerable to underwater damage ( cf Aboukir, Hogue, Cressy sunk in 1914 ). HMS Cobra broke up in the early 20th century - she was a high speed destroyer and appears to have hit an underwater object - and she looked rather like Lucy

At the time there was the suspicion that in order to build destroyers optimised for speed their scantlings were too light, and thus they could break apart under the right sort of impact. I wonder if this caused so much damage to Lusitania - was she too lightly built ?

You're objections and other feedback would be most welcome...
 
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