The breakup of the hull


Mar 16, 2012
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If there is already a thread about the mechanism and sequence of the breakup of the hull, I haven't found it yet, so here goes ...

For many years I have been interested in just what went on when the Titanic's hull broke in two, and I have read various theories on the matter, although have not until now been confident that I really understood what went on. But the recent release of the "sonar map" of the Titanic's debris field on the ocean floor supplied a final piece that, to me, unlocks the mystery.

We have known for over twenty-five years that the hull indeed broke into two major sections while at or near the surface, and the position of the boilers and other heavy debris pretty much pinpoint just where that happened (although the bow segement somewhat "glided" to the north after the breakup and the stern section may have slid a bit to the west). But the monkey wrench in the works was the recognition in 2005 that two double bottom segments (from around Boiler Room 1) were near one another a few hudred yards northeast of the boiler field. It seemed possible that these segments might have glided together to such a position from the breakup point, although the coincidence of both ending up in the same location was a little hard to swallow. The nature of the damage observed on these double bottom pieces appeared to indicate that they failed under compression, i.e., favoring the so-called "bottom-up" model of the hull breakup (starting at the bottom of the hull and then propogating upwards).

But what I found especially puzzling in the whole matter was that the map of the debris field published in Ballard's "Return to Titanic" indicated two distinct and physically separated regions of lightweight debris on the ocean floor, one made up of coal and dishes and the other of coal, dishes, tiles, and plaster. I could not envision how two such fields could readily be produced by the hull breaking up.

On the new sonar map another interesting major piece of debris is shown: a "deckhouse" (really, the structure at the base of the third funnel) lies on the ocean floor near the two double bottom pieces. I had had a hard time accepting that the two bottom pieces could have "glided" there from the breakup point, but could not accept that a third piece, the deckhouse, had done the same.

Looking at the distribution of the heavy debris (boilers, double bottom pieces, deckhouse) and of the lightweight debris (cal and dishes), suddenly I saw the pattern I had been missing for so many years: there were TWO areas of heavyweight debris each matched with its own companion area of lightweight debris (shich drifted several hundred yards south during its descent to the ocean bed).

So, my current theory is that the hull breakup occured in two phases. First, the was a collapse of the hull bottom at Boiler Room 1, causing two double bottom pieces to fall more or less straignt down to the ocean floor. This permitted the stern section to somewhat bend back until it was again supported by the water, This nessessitated the superstructure above Boiler Room 1 opening up (at the base of Funnel Three). Funnel Three collapsed and carried the superstructure near it, again falling straight down to the ocean floor. The rupture of the hull bottom released coal from the bunkers forward of Boiler Room 1 into the sea and possibly dishes from the Third Class galley, while the destruction of the superstructure around Funnel Three, containing the Officers' Mess and Pantry, added more dinnerware to the mix, creating an area of lightweight debris several hundred yards south of the bottom pieces/deckhouse heavy debris area.

However, the bow section was not wholly detached from the stern at this time, and the whole ship drifted over the next few minutes a few hundred yards to the southwest. In the meantime, water was pouring into the ruptured hull, adding a great deal of additional weight to the center of the ship.

Finally, the strain became too much and the bow section tore completely off, releasing the boilers into the sea, accompanied by a cloud of coal, sihes, tiles, and plaster from living accomodations torn apart. The boilers fell straight down, and the lightweight debris was pushed by underwater currents several hundred yards to the south, creating the pattern of two heavyweight debris areas matched to two lightweight debris areas.

And now I wait eagerly for next month's History Channel special on the sinking of the titanic as revealed by the debris field evidence so the experts can point out all the ways I am wrong.
 
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Mar 16, 2012
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Just a followup to my original posting in this thread: I have now read the April 2012 National Geographic issue that contains some great photographic images from the expedition that produced the debris field sonar map I mentioned. And the article describes the conclusions of a 2-day roundtable by Titanic experts about how the ship broke up. Their conclusion, as presented in the Natl Geo article, is not wholly in accord with what I proposed. But for the time being at least I am sticking to my guns. Perhaps significantly, I have one piece of important information perhaps not availble to the roundtable. The interactive portion of the article as found on the Natl Geo web site shows as "unidentifed" a substantial piece of Titanic wreckage found near the two known pieces of double bottom hull found in earlier expeditions (these are hundreds of yards northeast of the stern section of the wreck and the nearby heavyweight debris field (including the single-ended boilers from Boiler Room No. 1). But the sonic map data (apparently to be used for the History Channel special next month) shows this "unidentifed" piece as actually being the superstructure deckhouse at the base of Funnel No. 3. I do agree with the roundtable that the hull broke fully in two directly above where the boilers were found, but this requires an explanation of how the double bottom sections and the Funnel 3 Deckhouse ended up so far away (and together with one another). I think that it is too big a coincidence to ask for all three pieces to happen to "glide" to the same location. Instead, I think it is far more likely that the double bottom and deckhouse pieces detached first from the hull in the initial phase of a breakup (depositing the three pieces in one location) and that a few minutes later, after the ship had drifted some hundreds of yards to the southwest while still on the surface, the final, complete breakup happened, spilling out the boilers and an enormous amount of other debris, asubsequently the separated bow and stern sections of the hull sank to the bottom of the ocean. The National Geographic roundtable reconstruction contended that the double bottom was the last part of the hull to fully tear apart(the article presents a dramatic picture, quite literally, of the hull rupturing from the top down), leaving the bow section for a short time to hang below the stern section as if on a hinge. If this were the case, then I am somewhat perplexed as to how the boilers were supposed to fall out; it seems to me that if the Natl Geo reconstruction sequence was accurate, then the boilers would have been more likely to drop further inside the hull (towards the bow) rather than to drop separately to the ocean floor. (And that reconstruction does not really explain how those double bottom pieces came to rest so far away, except through hydrodynamic effects. But why close together?)

So, again, I await with interest at what conclusions will be presented in the History Channel special next month. I am prepared to be proven wrong as to what the exact sequence of events was, but I want to see the hard evidence.
 
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Paul Lee

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Aug 11, 2003
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I did a study of what witnesses saw when the ship broke up ( my webpage needs Java to run, but its a free download http://www.paullee.com/titanic/sinking.php - you can play around with the settings ). If its like an analysis done on another website, the graphics of the sinking show a selective (mis)use of evidence, particularly the picture that shows the Titanic with a heavy list to port, which no-one apart from Joughin remembers (and his account is contradicted by an early statement in which he says that he jumped into the sea rather than ride the stern into the sea). Although further away, I believe the lifeboat occupants presented more of a consistent story about the break-up and sinking. Sadly, flashy graphics and controversial findings without foundation sell magazines, books and TV shows but do little else for those who seek historic truth!
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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I thought the map was pretty amazing for what it was, although I couldn't help but wonder how much other debris is laying down there undocumented....like the four funnels. I wonder if they could survive 100 years of subzero temperatures down there, or if they were made of such light metal that it disintegrated by now.
 
Mar 16, 2012
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I must thank Dr Lee who provided me a year ago through the good offices of George Behe the locations of the two double bottom hull sections relative to the stern, information that first set me thinking along these lines (although it took the recent debris field sonar map , combined with the debris map in Ballard's 2004 "Return to Titanic", to make the picture clear, at least in my mind).
 
Mar 16, 2012
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I couldn't help but wonder how much other debris is laying down there undocumented....
The 2010 RMST survey that generated the sonic debris map apparently covered the whole area where we can expect stuff to be, but of course we do not know what may have disintegrated entirely (they found what seems to be part of at least one funnel) or what may have been covered up by drifting sand -- apparently one of the surprises is how much movement of material on the bottom there is, sometimes with large dunes generated.
 
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Adam Went

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I saw an article on the map and the upcoming Nat Geo piece in the paper today - while it is absolutely brilliant and cutting edge technology, one can't help but thing that since the salvagers have had their grubby mits all over the site for the past 27 years and all of the time that has elapsed for nature to take its course before and after that, that the map will always be somewhat.....incomplete. No doubt it gets all of the major stuff and is a valuable addition but it's just a shame that more couldn't have been done sooner.

As for the breakup of the hull, it's quite possible that it was a gradual process throughout the sinking. The collision with the iceberg itself may even have triggered weak points.
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Iowa, USA
I saw an article on the map and the upcoming Nat Geo piece in the paper today - while it is absolutely brilliant and cutting edge technology, one can't help but thing that since the salvagers have had their grubby mits all over the site for the past 27 years and all of the time that has elapsed for nature to take its course before and after that, that the map will always be somewhat.....incomplete. No doubt it gets all of the major stuff and is a valuable addition but it's just a shame that more couldn't have been done sooner.
With all the expeditions that have been sponsored and carried out after 27 years, I'm actually surprised that only NOW we know there was a third piece down there. How much other stuff is down there we don't know about, and if it's true that there are rolling underwater sand dunes, what has been covered up while laying undiscovered for 73 years?
 

Paul Lee

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Hi Jake,
If you mean the two double bottom fragments, they were known about since (at least) 1994 when they were shown in a Discovery channel documentary. Roy Mengot on the titanic-model.com forum indicates that the other new find, the deckhouse under the 3rd funnel, was imaged during the 1985/6 WHOI survey as he saw it during his research when creating his wreck model; he's one of the few to have actually seen all the images and video.
 
Mar 16, 2012
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Where in the debris field was the "Big Piece" found? And now supposedly there is a larger "Bigger Piece" of the hull spanning a number of decks; anyone know where that is located in the debris field?
 

Jake Peterson

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Mar 11, 2012
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Hi Jake,
If you mean the two double bottom fragments, they were known about since (at least) 1994 when they were shown in a Discovery channel documentary. Roy Mengot on the titanic-model.com forum indicates that the other new find, the deckhouse under the 3rd funnel, was imaged during the 1985/6 WHOI survey as he saw it during his research when creating his wreck model; he's one of the few to have actually seen all the images and video.
So, why did it take so long to let the public know there was a 3rd piece? Just curious. My guess would be to hold off on the inevitable sightseers to the site, just like with the first two pieces. As I understand it, the Crow's nest is all but destroyed now.
 
Mar 16, 2012
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Or it may be that it is extremely difficult to adequately coordinate sightings of particular pieces of debris made by different expeditions over the years, piecing together images that may be a dozen yards apart or half a mile. This requires an extraordinary amount of meticulous work, pulling together bits of information from numerous sources. It is not enough just to catch a glimpse of something; to adequately map it out requires that the scan locations be precisely known and correlated to everything else. For the most part, these debris pieces are found with the equvalent of a small flashlight in a very large field in the darkness of a moonless night. When things are finally pieced together -- and I consider the lightweight debris to be as significant as the big, heavy, dramatic pieces -- only then the whole picture is literally revealed and new understandings possible.
 
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Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Hi Jake and all,

There's an old documentary somewhere (so old that when I saw it, I was hiring it out on VHS tape) which documents the attempt to raise the "big piece" many years ago. When the ship was discovered, for a long time the sole concern was the wreck itself and the immediate surrounding areas, not what bits of twisted, ruined, half-hidden debris was lying hundreds of metres away.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Ava Terry

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Mar 27, 2012
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I've been reading Titanic First Accounts and just wondering when did she break up?Most eyewitnesses saw Her go down in one piece.I'd always heard she broke before she sank.Forgive my ignorance on this subject but since reading those survivor stories I've gotten a new interest in Titanic.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I've been reading Titanic First Accounts and just wondering when did she break up?Most eyewitnesses saw Her go down in one piece.<<

Actually, that's not entirely accurate. The witnesses who spoke to this were fairly diverse in their opinions on the matter and there were a substantial number who testified or gave sworn statements to the effect that the ship broke up. Jack Theyer was the most well known, but a lot of crew spoke to this when giving depositions to the U.S. Senate inquiry.

Bill Wormstedt wrote an outstanding article on this which may be accessed at The Facts - What did the Survivors See of the Break-up of the Titanic? by Bill Wormstedt (Introduction) :: Titanic Research
 
Mar 16, 2012
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I've been reading Titanic First Accounts and just wondering when did she break up?Most eyewitnesses saw Her go down in one piece.I'd always heard she broke before she sank.Forgive my ignorance on this subject but since reading those survivor stories I've gotten a new interest in Titanic.
When you look back at the testimony of the witnesses at the US and British Inquiries, only 4 testified that she went down intact while 13 or 14 said the ship broke in two. But the accounts that she went down in one piece came from surviving officers and seemed so convincing that both Inquiry boards accepted that version over the more numerous reports to the contrary (and there were early accounts outside the official inquiries that showed a similar division of opinion). In hindsight, it seems evident that many of the witnesses who testified to a breakup were actually in a better position to see than those who thought the ship sank intact. And of course now we have the evidence of the broken hull itself. Back in 1985 it came as a major shock to most people when Ballard discovered that the hull had broken in two (Ballard himself was surprised by that discovery); until then. most Titanic students envisioned the ship sitting intact in almost pristine condition on the ocean floor.

It seems quite clear that the ship broke apart just moments before actually sinking, but there are some who believe that the final separation of the bow from the stern did not occur until the whole ship had slipped beneath the surface. The exact sequence of events and whether the hull ruptured from the bottom up or from the top down has been a matter of debate for the past couple decades. As we gain a better understanding of the pattern presented by the debris on the ocean floor, the better we are able to understand what happened.
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Chet!

In 1912, they had not perfected the art of welding ship's steel plates together to form a water tight seal.

She hull plating of Titanic was joined in several ways by rivetting. This would either be by overlapping plate edges and through rivetting or bringing the plate edges (butts) together then joining them by locating an overlapping, narrower steel strap plate over the adjacent edges,then through rivetting the whole arrangement.
To make the joints water tight, they would use a caulking tool. This was a sharp hardened steel chisel-type tool. The cutting edge of the tool was located against the exposed plate edges about a quarter inch from it's edge nearest to the adjacent plate then hammered to form a deep 'v' notch. The edge material nearest the adjacent plate was thus forced over and hard against the adjacent plate surface and created a water tight joint. Originally this was done by hand but later they used hand-held pneumatic hammers to do the job!

Hope this helps.

Ard.
 

ChetB

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Thank you so much, I have always been fascinated with anything about the Titanic.And I really feel fortunate to have found this forum.
 
Mar 16, 2012
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I have seen the NGS documentary "Titanic: The Final Word with James Cameron", with my interest focused on what his panel of experts would conclude about the breakup sequence. And as much as I admire and respect the people involved, I think they missed (and dismissed) crucial evidence. There is some discussion of the significance of the large piece of deckhouse debris from the base of Funnel 3 being found in close proximity to the two large double-bottom pieces off to the east of the main stern wreckage. Yes, something of a plausible explanation is provided for the two bottom pieces being close together (they were still attached to one another when they broke off the stern after the great breakup, hydroplaned off in that direction, then broke apart from one another before hitting the ocean floor), but the presence of the deckhouse debris is left essentially unexplained. The panel admits that its geometry is wrong for hydroplaning and it should have dropped basically straight down (like the boilers); the best they could come up with was that it got spun off to one side as the stern was twirling down from the surface and then the deckhous pieces ended up near the double-bottom pieces by coincidence (although Cameron earlier on in the documentary had jokingly said that there is no such thing as coincidence). And moreover, the panel did not discuss the significance of the distribution of coal as it was pushed by currents south of the wreck. According to Bob Ballard's 2004 debris map in "Return to Titanic", the coal was primarily found in two separate fields. As I pointed out in the posting starting this thread, it certainly appears to me that these two separate coal debris fields are connected (same distance and direction) with two separate heavy debris fields: the area with the double-bottom and deckhouse pieces, and the area with the boilers. For me, this creates a clear picture of a hull rupture occuring in two stages: first, a partial rupture which detached the double-bottom pieces and the funnel 3 deckhouse structure (plus some coal) and -- after the still more-or-less intact hull had drifted on the surface for a few minutes more -- a second and complete hull rupture that ripped the Titanic into separate bow and stern sections and dumped massive amounts of debris, including the boilers, into the sea, with everything then sinking to the ocean floor.
 

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