The Breakup and the Stern Section Why did it even founder


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Oct 28, 2000
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Time...time...time. It is not just a matter of o'clock hour. Time can be measured in three different ways with regard to this discussion: 1.) o'clock time (hour); 2.) duration; and, 3.) chronology.

One admission at the outset: 1912 pocket timepieces lacked the accuracy of today's quartz movements. Most gained or lost within a minute or so a day. But, every watch and clock on the ship had to be reset at least once a day during the voyage. This resetting increased the likelihood that most timepieces ticked within a minute or so of one another.

Let's start with o'clock hour. Sam has presented an excellent grouping of recollected o'clock times for the sinking. They center around the generally-accepted 2:20 a.m. time. But, are they accurate enough for forensic examination of events during the breakup? Let's examine them.

The most curious is Annie Robinson. She claimed 2:20 a.m. but with an important codicil. She said her watch showed "altered time," but she did not specify how it was altered. We cannot compare the real reading of her timepiece with her correction to see if the math was done properly. So, her claim is inadequate to be useful in forensics. It must be considered an artifact of the Titanic story and not a hard fact.

The times quoted by Mrs. Thayer, Daisy Minahan, and Lawrence Beesley must also be questioned because they are not the personal experiences, but what courts of law call "hearsay." None of these people actually recorded their quoted o'clock times themselves. They all got the 2:20 a.m. from an unidentified second party. Without examination of those second party timepieces, we must to discount these time claims as more likely having been memories gained aboard Carpathia than first-hand experience in lifeboats. This confines these memories to the category of artifacts and prevents them from being hard fact for use in reconstructing the breakup.

Pitman, mentioned by Sam, is one of two officers who claimed to have read personal timepieces. Just out of curiosity, I acquired a modern pocket watch with a dial similar in visual characteristics to a 1912 gentleman's timepiece. It is virtually impossible to read the dial even in what I would call modern "city darkness," which is full of light pollution. At night in mid-ocean without a moon...I totally discount any claim of reading a personal timepiece unless it is accompanied by additional information about where the light to see the dial came from.

One o'clock time stands up to all of this. Boxhall claimed he had both a lamp and a timepiece. His o'clock time of the sinking was 2:20 a.m. So, in Boxhall's timing of the sinking we seem to have the hard fact we seek. But, nothing can be accepted at face value. Every detail must be checked for hidden errors.

We can check Boxhall's time against the stopped timepieces carried by other survivors and victims who found themselves in the water as the ship sank. The earliest such time was 1:27 a.m. on postal clerk March's stopped timepiece. March seems to have changed his timepiece to April 15th hours, which when converted to April 14th time equals 2:14 a.m. Halfway between is 1:50 a.m., which was the time in the crew's bridge hours shown on the stopped timepiece of ship's barber Weikman.

We know Weikman washed off when the front of the boat deck went under, so it is likely that is when March went in as well. The March/Weikman timepieces do not establish the time of sinking, but rather the moment when water came over the forward end of the boat deck at 2:14 a.m.

Of course, 2:14 a.m. was not the sinking. Rather, it was the moment when water came over the front of the boat deck. That event took place some minutes prior to when the taffrail disappeared. So, the March/Weikman stopped timepieces do not argue against Boxhall's 2:20 a.m. time of the sinking and may even support it.

Robert Norman's watch was found stopped at 2:20 a.m. on his body. This stopped timepiece seems to substantiate the Boxhall claim.

Trouble for Boxhall's claimed time of the sinking shows up on the stopped timepieces of Col. Gracie and Jack Thayer. Both showed 2:22 a.m. — two minutes after Boxhall's time. Agreed, the accuracy of 1912 mechanical timepieces would allow for a minute or two difference, but there is more to this story. Both Thayer and Gracie got wet when water was only in way of funnel #2. Much of what is now the "bow section" and all of the "stern section" of the ship was still above water.

The disappearance of the ship was still some measurable duration in the future when the Gracie and Thayer timepieces stopped. Yet, these timepieces had continued ticking until after Boxhall's testimony had the ship already sunk.

More trouble for the Boxhall o'clock time of the sinking came from the stopped timepiece of Austin Partner which showed 2:25 a.m. This problem of Boxhall's 2:20 a.m. time being too early for the sinking is corroborated by Beesely's testimony that the ship disappeared at 2:30 a.m. This testimony is hearsay and not admissible as hard fact in this discussion, but it does raise curious possibilities.

Duration is something else to consider. The stopped timepieces coupled give a duration of 11 minutes measured from when March/Weikman were washed off the boat deck to when Austin Partner went into the ocean and his timepiece stopped. If Beesley's hearsay is considered, this duration rises to 16 minutes.

While Boxhall's 2:20 a.m. as the time of the sinking was close enough to be accurate for general conversation, it quite obviously not precisely correct. The fourth officer seems to have pegged the "disappearance" of the ship about one-third of the way into the duration of the whole event.

My suggestion is that he measured time for when the lights were extinguished and Titanic's dark shape merged into the dark night on a dark ocean. Looking at the artifact times, they support Boxhall's 2:20 a.m. reading. If the artifact times contain any authentic record of that night, it is probably not the time of the sinking, but the time when the ship went dark.

(Reminder: A white iceberg is not expected to be seen more than a quarter mile, or less than two of Titanic's shiplengths away on a moonless night. You certainly can not ask inexperienced observes to see a black hull on a dark night at any greater distance.)

So, the o'clock time data available indicates what would be expected — that the breakup was not instantaneous, but occurred over a duration of many minutes. And this brings up the hardest aspect of time for humans to grasp. Our minds do not have built-in clocks by which to measure duration. Even trained radio announcers have difficulty estimating time spans as short as 30 or 60 seconds. Instead, they rely on digital clocks and stopwatches. One person's "just a second" is another's "it seemed a lifetime." Stress, cold, and other factors greatly influence our ability to estimate time.

Having shown that the facts do not contravene a supposition that the breakup began prior to 2:20 a.m. and continued for some duration after that moment, we now realize the importance of chronology: what happened first, second, etc. If events of the breakup occurred over time, then to understand those events we must put them in proper sequence.

Cause must always come before effect. It is possible to "prove" some event did not happen by simply affixing the wrong sequential position to it. Likewise, a non-existent event can be created in similar fashion.

How long did Titanic float after the initial breakup? The answer is unknowable. I threw out the suggestion of up to 20 minutes based on testimonies about the length of time the screaming continued in the dark, and upon the 16 minute span from March/Weikman to Beesley described above.

However, duration is the hardest part of time for humans to estimate. How long would even 30 seconds seem to a woman listening to her widowhood coming across the water? Do we really want to ponder this question?

-- David G. Brown
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>They were far from being what you would call watertight, let alone airtight.<<

Indeed. More like weathertight for anything up on deck and passenger/crew tight for any of the openings down below. That was really all that was regarded as necessery.
 

Will C. White

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Let me see if I have this right, they were using wood frame canvas coated hatches in the spring on the open Atlantic? We dogged down tighter than that on my uncle's old fishing boat, and we were in port every night by dark. I'm having a hard time believing the hatches were that flimsy-sounds as if a set of big rollers could punch them in. WILL
 
Jun 10, 1999
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And, it it believed by some, that an unsecured forward hatch cover was detrimental in the loss of Edmund Fitzgerald, in that dispersed flooding became a deterant to her buoyance.

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
Jun 10, 1999
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Michael S. said - "The hatches on deck weren't that flimsy".

And yes, the TITANIC wreck will attest to that, forward of the fore section, a section of laden debris, rests the forward hatch cover. In remarkably good condition, a testament to it's strength, considerig it's departure from the cargo hold. (SEE: "Ghosts of the Abyss").

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 

Tad G. Fitch

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Dec 13, 1999
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Hello David, how are you? I hope that you have been doing well.

You wrote:
"Pitman, mentioned by Sam, is one of two officers who claimed to have read personal timepieces. Just out of curiosity, I acquired a modern pocket watch with a dial similar in visual characteristics to a 1912 gentleman's timepiece. It is virtually impossible to read the dial even in what I would call modern "city darkness," which is full of light pollution. At night in mid-ocean without a moon...I totally discount any claim of reading a personal timepiece unless it is accompanied by additional information about where the light to see the dial came from."

David, I understand what you are saying here and agree that it would have been difficult to see details after the Titanic's lights went out, particularly with the only source of light being starlight.

However, I disagree that a person couldn't possibly read a watch or see details such as that. The survivor accounts indicate that it was possible for people to see details of what was going on in the lifeboats, recognize people in the water and in the lifeboats, etc. See the eyewitness accounts of those on Collapsible B, of those who struggled in the water, etc., for example.

In fact, there are passenger accounts which claim a personal timepiece was read as well. One lady mentioned the time of the sinking based on a watch contained in a pendant around her neck.

I will leave the discussion about whether the generally accepted time of the sinking is correct or not to you guys as that is a separate issue, but I do disagree with the notion that it would be impossible to read a watch at night. The eyewitnesses statements are in disagreement with that.

Kind regards,
Tad
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Seeing in the dark:
15446. (Mr. Raymond Asquith.) Did you have the lamps taken up? - Yes. The Chief Officer told me to find the lamp trimmer. I did find him after a little trouble. I really forget where I found him. He was on the boat deck working amongst the men. I told him to take a couple of men down with him and fetch the lamps, and he was afterwards seen to bring the lamps along the deck and put them in the boats.
15447. Do you know how many lamps were put into how many boats? - No, I do not know.


17779. How many lamps did you bring up? - Fourteen.
17780. Were they all full of oil? - All full of oil.
17781. And properly trimmed? - All brought up alight. I lit them myself.
17782. Did you supply them yourself to a good many boats? - Yes.
17783. You did not put those 14 yourself, as I understand it, all into the boats? - No.
17784. But they were there for the use of the boats? - They were there for the use of the boats.

Mr. JONES. I got the collapsible boat on the port side ready. I got my own boat, No. 8, ready. An officer sent me for a lamp, and as I was going forward there was a man coming with two or there lamps in his hand. I went back again, and this No. 8 boat was there, all swung out, and there were about 35 ladies in it. I jumped in the boat.

Senator SMITH. Did you have a light on your boat?
Mr. HAINES. Yes, sir; I had a lamp there, a little pocket lamp.
Senator SMITH. Was the lamp lighted?
Mr. HAINES. Yes, sir.
Senator SMITH. Did you have any provisions on your boat?
Mr. HAINES. Yes, sir.
Senator SMITH. Did you have water?
Mr. HAINES. Yes, sir; biscuits and water, sir.

"But this was not our only hope of rescue: we watched
all the time the darkness lasted for steamers' lights, thinking there
might be a chance of other steamers coming near enough to see the
lights which some of our boats carried.But this was not our only hope of rescue: we watched
all the time the darkness lasted for steamers' lights, thinking there
might be a chance of other steamers coming near enough to see the
lights which some of our boats carried."

Regarding the ability to see the outline of the ship after the lights went out:

11512. Head downwards? - Head down, and that is the time when I saw her lights go out, all her lights. The next thing I saw was her poop. As she went down like that so her poop righted itself and I thought to myself, "The poop is going to float." It could not have been more than two or three minutes after that that her poop went up as straight as anything; there was a sound like steady thunder as you hear on an ordinary night at a distance, and soon she disappeared from view.

Mr. BULEY. Settled down; yes, sir. She went down as far as the afterfunnel, and then there was a little roar, as though the engines had rushed forward, and she snapped in two, and the bow part went down and the afterpart came up and staid up five minutes before it went down.
Senator FLETCHER. Was that perpendicular?
Mr. BULEY. It was horizontal at first, and then went down.
Senator FLETCHER. What do you mean by saying she snapped in two?
Mr. BULEY. She parted in two.
Senator FLETCHER. How do you know that?
Mr. BULEY. Because we could see the afterpart afloat, and there was no forepart to it. I think she must have parted where the bunkers were. She parted at the last, because the afterpart of her settled out of the water horizontally after the other part went down. First of all you could see her propellers and everything. Her rudder was clear out of the water. You could hear the rush of the machinery, and she parted in two, and the afterpart settled down again, and we thought the afterpart would float altogether.
Senator FLETCHER. The afterpart kind of righted up horizontally?
Mr. BULEY. She uprighted herself for about five minutes, and then tipped over and disappeared.
...
Senator FLETCHER. Were there lights on that half part?
Mr. BULEY. The lights were all out. The lights went out gradually before she disappeared.
Senator FLETCHER. Notwithstanding the darkness you could see the outline of the ship?
Mr. BULEY. Yes, sir; we could see the outline of the ship.
 

Will C. White

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Apr 18, 2007
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Michael C.-As to the "Big Fitz", I assume you mean the most forward of the hatches. As I recall those ore boats tended to work in the middle and loosen the hatch clamps. The last thing they needed was an overload in the center of the ship. As to Titanic's hatches, I'll check 'Abyss'-thanks. WILL
 
Jun 10, 1999
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Correct Will, the most forward hatches, and it was an unsecured hatch as you mention. BTW, it was during A MIR submersible dive, that sub occupant/historian Ken Marschall, first sighted the hatch cover.

Michael Cundiff
NV, USA
 
Aug 10, 2002
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Hello all:
Titanic's #1 weather deck hatch cover was a solid piece of steel. Built especially strong to with stand the conditions on the raised fore deck. Hatches # 2 & 3 had steel beams supporting wooden boards, covered with several layers of tarps, all well secured around the edges. They were the standard arrangement on ships up until WWII.
Regards, Charlie Weeks
 

Will C. White

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Apr 18, 2007
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OK, now I have a picture in my head of the hatches-thanks! These boards, were they called battons, or am I cross-wired again? WILL
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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Hi Charlie!

Remember them well. Here's some facts for anyone who might be interested:

Portable hatchway beams were fitted inside the hatch coamings (sides) to form a framework for portable wooden hatch covers to rest on. They also helped to restore some of the lost transverse (cross-ship)strength due to cutting the ship's cross deck beams to make the hatch opening. Hatch covers were made of solid pine wood. They averaged about 8 feet long, 18 inches wide and at least 2.5 inches thick. They had their ends protected by galvanised steel bands. To cover the hatch opening, the boards were laid in rows fore and aft across the hatch opening with 3 inches of each end resting on a beam. A third beam supported them in the middle.
The hatch beams were not all the same. There were two kinds - a 'King' beam and an ordinary
beam. The ends of the hatch boards rested on a'king' beam. It had a vertical flange fitted on it's top surface which divided successive rows of hatch boards. The boards had a recessed steel bar on the top surface at each end which acted as a handle.
When the boards were all in place, it was recommended that they were covered by three tarpaulins - two good good ones with and older one on top (it would protect the ones below from objects being placed on the hatch top.
When the tarpaulins were put in place, they were laid to overlap the hatch sides. They were then folded back (inward) and tucked at the ends - much like the old way of making a bed with sheets and blankets.
When all this was done, the hatch bars - long flat pieces of steel about half an inch thick and two inches wide were laid on a ledge situated on the outside of the hatch side. They were arranged with their sides vertically against the folded down edges of the tarpaulin.
All along the ledge in question, there were situated at intervals, short, vertical, steel plate brackets. These were angled-in toward the hatch side. To secure the hatch cover in place, hard wood tapered wedges hammered between these plate brackets and the hatch bar.

Believe me this was a very efficient way of making a hatch watertight. Except for an exceptionally heavy sea - the hatches seldom ever leaked. Often, deck cargoes of timber would be piled on top of such hatches without detrimental effect.

Anyone interested - I can make a few rough sketches!
 
Aug 10, 2002
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Hi Jim:Your description is exactly as I remember it. What you called ordinary hatch beams, we called Queen Beams as opposed to the King Beams. The Problem was they were labor intensive to open or close. They also weren't as strong as metal covers.
Regards,
Charlie
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
That's the name! 'Queen Beams' we did the same.

We had old steam winches which had to be in double gear before we could lift the beams in and out. I ended up 3 months in a plantation hospital on a tiny island in the New Hebrides because of one of the 'King' variety. I was passing the hatch when the local crew boys were unshipping one. They had the winch in single gear and the beam was suspended on a wire bridle. The damn thing ran away with the weight and the beam landed on my left leg - still suffer from it to this day.
The most damning thing was though; I was just 18 years old and had been promoted to 3rd.Mate from Apprentice just two weeks previously. I was more upset about losing a pay increase of,from 85 pounds/year to 31 pounds /month (being a Scotsman).

In 1952 I joined a ship with the new MacGregor Steel hatch covers. We all thought we had died and gone to heaven!
 
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