Substandard Rivets and Binoculars


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Apr 16, 2007
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It's my understanding that part of Titanic's problem was/is the fact that the rivets used on the curved areas of the hull were made of wrought iron instead of steel because the machine used to install the steel rivets would not fit/conform to the curved areas of the ship. Also the iron rivets they used on the curved areas of the hull were #3 iron bar (wrought iron)rivets instead of stronger #4 iron. This fact along with the fact that officer Fleet testified that he did not have binoculars while in the lookout nest because they were locked in a locker by 2nd officer Blair who had left the ship before it left port with the key to said locker thus preventing officer Fleet from being able to see the iceberg in time and thereby making the cause of this disaster completely human error? Not even human error of those actually on the ship but human error by the ships builders and 2nd officer Blair.
Does anybody agree with me or am I way off base?
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Does anybody agree with me or am I way off base?<<

You're off base, but don't feel bad about it. These issues are so deeply ingrained into the Titanic legend that a lot of so-called documentaries and pop histories persist in trotting them out even after they have been long discredited.

The issue with the rivets is misleading. That's not to say that they were the best of the best but they were quite adaquate for their intended purpose. Whether or not steel rivets would have held up any better is debatable. The blunt reality is that when you run a 52,310 ton ship into a mass of ice of the same or greater weight at 22 knots, you will have sheered rivets, as well as buckled plates and split seams.

The binoculars issue is simply misdirection, and this much was understood in 1912. Experienced lookouts seldom use the things even when they do have them. The restrict your field of vision severely and are extremely difficult to scan with even for experienced hands.

I had them when standing low visibility watches during my Navy service and I learned very quickly not to use them. I did better scanning with the naked eye and used binoculars to identify a target only after seeing it.
 

Dave Gittins

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Further to Michael's wise words, the key business is a recent media beatup. On the passage from Belfast to Southampton, Blair saw fit to lend the lookouts the second officer's binoculars. I suggest he did this because many ships might be seen in the Irish Sea and there were lights to find. At Southampton a seaman saw they were returned to a locker in the second officer's quarters. If Blair took a key ashore, it was only for the crow's nest phone. There is testimony that a box in the crow's nest, where binoculars could be kept, was open from the start. The second officer's glasses would have been in Lightoller's hands, just as intended.
 
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>>the key business is a recent media beatup.<<

That National Geographic thing last night is one of the culprits in repeating this legend. Forget checking out what information has been exchanged here. These producers need to check out the inquiry transcripts. The whole binoculars business was investigated and dismissed as irrelevant back in 1912.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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>>These producers need to check out the inquiry transcripts. <<

Unfortunately, that's not the way they work. In many cases they might interview some people who have established a reputation telling or writing Titanic stories and don't bother to cross check anything they say against others who may be as, if not more, knowledgeable in the field.
 
Apr 16, 2007
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Thank you all for your responses. After reading them I now see that no matter what the rivets were made of, she still would have sunk, it might have taken a bit longer but the end result would still be the same.
Oh yeah, so much for National Geographic...I guess they just want ratings instead of presenting all of the facts.
 

Jim Currie

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Gordon,

I'm interested in your remarks about curved plates and etc. I can sympathise with National Geographic to a certain extent. Riveting was a time consuming method of construction and was complicated in that different rivet shapes,forms and configuration were used in different parts of a ship. The subject is a three-part story in itself - never mind the physics and metallurgy involved.
If any patent riveting device was too difficult to use or might not join as desired, they resorted to the old way - i.e., they heated the rivets in a special brazier near the work site. They then chucked the almost white-hot rivet to where it was needed. A 'catcher caught it passed it to a 'hauder' (holder) who held the red-hot rivet in a pair of long nosed rivet tongs and placed through the rivet hole. Thereafter it was brute strength with heavy welder's mallets - one each side. These guys had an incredible rhythm which was unmistakable. They had to work quickly as well as accurately before the rivet cooled. Rivets were not parallel sided nor were the punched rivet holes. After the rivet head was flattened and the joint was tight, the plate edge was usually caulked by a 'Caulker' to make the joint water tight.
By Titanic's time, they had riveting down to a fine art. Don't believe all that's written by these whizz kids and scientific pundits. They had clever clogs in those days as well!
 
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