Nobody knows for sure. Nobody can know until evidence is turned up at the wreck site, but I wouldn't expect that any time soon. About all that I personally feel safe in assuming is that the power wasn't deliberately turned off.
In the meantime, I would think that a broken steam main is as good a guess as any.
Personally, I think the power went out because the Titanic had reached the point where her structural integrity failed. You'll noticed that she broke in half shortly after the power failed, so it was probably due to the dynamos being wrenched from their moorings or being impaired in some other way as the ship broke up.
According to the books I've read, the Titanic's power went off 2 minutes before the sinking because the engineers working down in the bowels of the ship who had no hope of saving themselves, stopped. They did however keep the power on until then.
Just out of curiousity, what books would those be? since none of the engineers engaged in keeping the power up and running lived to tell the tale, I'd be interested to see how the authors came to their conclusions.
Also, I have heard that the engineers evacuated the engine rooms a few minutes before the actual sinking. Could this be why? It seems to me they must have just left the electricity running unchecked until something happened which they were not there themselves to monitor and caused something like a blown fuse in a house. That has always been my theory, but I am not all that familiar with these sort of things, so I was wondering what you thought of this, because it seems to me that this is a confusing subject. I do however agree with Parks, a steam line seems to be the only plausible answer I've heard.
I place full blame for the collision on Phillips
not relaying the Mesaba or the Californian`s ice messages to the bridge. He was just plain negligent. It also appears than no officer ever visited the radio shack between watches for news, nor did Boxhall that fateful night when he stepped off the bridge for a few moments. Finally, it is insufferable that Lightoller should have warned the lookouts to keep a sharp lookout for ice then not left them his binoculars for just that purpose.
My research has convinced me that Phillips treated the Mesaba message exactly as Marconi Co. instructions and Postmaster-General regulations required him to do. If he had determined on his own the priority of the message, he could have risked an official reprimand.
For the Mesaba message to have been immediately forwarded to Captain Smith, one of two things should have happened:
- The Mesaba operator should have attached the MSG prefix to the message.
- The regulations for handling messages dealing with ships' navigation should have been changed before the Titanic disaster forced the change.
To me the issue is moot, anyway, because I believe Captain Smith knew reasonably where to expect to run into ice. I won't use that as rebuttal, however, because it is simply my opinion.
Phillips was not negligent. He conducted his duties exactly as he was required to do. His exemplary performance highlighted the errors inherent in the regulations. That's why he earned a memorial and the regulations were re-written immediately after the disaster. Have you looked at what the Mesaba operator failed to do?
I'm not going to reiterate the argument about why the issue of the missing binoculars is a red herring. There's plenty of discussion in this forum's archives that covers that argument, if you are willing to look for it.
Lawrence, having stood underway lookout in low visability conditions, I can tell you from first hand experience that binoculars are not at all useful for searching, and the tunnel vision imparted by same is in fact, a signifigent handicap. I quickly learned not to use them, relying on my eyes to do the searching. I only used binoculars to identify a target/object/contact after I spotted it.
To support what Parks said, the bridge officers were not unaware of the ice reports and already had instructions to be on the lookout for same which they passed on to the lookouts. If you wish to read their full testimony at both inquiries, click on The Titanic Inquiry Project.
I am in agreeance with Parks and Mike (there's a big surprise). Mike covered the bincoulars well so I don't need to tread there.
In addition to what Parks said, Titanic was in a new era, wireless was a fairly new inovation on ships (at the time not all of them had them). Titanic's officers not going into the wireless shack is a mute point in two ways:
1. The information that Smith had was enough to plot it out and give him a pretty could estimate of where the ship was and going to be and what action he could take to avoid the majority of ice.
2. I believe (I could be wrong) the operators where instructed to bring important messages directly to the bridge.
Boxhall himself said he was aware that messages had been received and that he saw them plotted on Smiths chart.
Going back to the issue of the engineers: is there any evidence (from the inquiries, etc) that they they made it to the boat deck? My impression has always been that no one remembered seeing them that night.
There are a few accounts from surviving engine/boiler room staff that place several of the engineers topside during the latter stages of the sinking. Among those named were Chief Bell and William Farquarsen, the second engineer. One has to wonder if any of the engineers remained below until the end if the two highest ranking among them had departed for the boat deck. In addition, the bodies of at least four engineering officers were recovered - Chisnall, Jupe, and two whose identities remain unknown (bodies 139 and 257).
Perhaps steam and smoke had made its way back and the engineers may have been suffocated prior. The combination of coal dust, smoke and lack of ventilation would have been a deadly cocktail for disaster [than there would be no one to reset the breakers] When you think of the angle of the ship towards the end, it would have been near on impossible for an individual to remain upright either way.
After the stern had submerged, there was a pale of smoke above where the ship sank.
Additional, there may have been a tilt / safety mechanism that simply shut the whole shoot match down. An indication of that could have been the spike / flash of the lighting just before they went off for good.
There was witness testimony to the fact that clickers had exploded out of the third funnel before the lighting failed.
A broken steam main however seem the likely cause. The stern boilers would have been stocked to their maximum and the stokers would have than went for their lives. If the safety valve had been chocked, the pressure would have reached critical and exploded.
The Bell sighting was from a newspaper account if I recall correctly. Unfortunately I don't have said article or any of it's publication details so I'm not in any position to back up that claim at the moment.
Farquharson on the other hand is from a more readily available source, Fred Scott's BoT Testimony:
5706. I want you to tell me with regard to the engineers you saw on the deck, when did they come up? - They came up just after I did.
5707. How long was that? - It was 20 minutes past 1 when I left the engine room.
5708. How long before you climbed down the falls to the boat? - I should say about half-an-hour.
5709. Were all the boats launched then? - No; all barring two.
5710. Which of the engineers did you see? Can you tell me their names? - Mr. Farquharson. I do not know the names of the others.
If the engineers did abandon the engines and generators, the most likely cause of the power was probably a combination of the stresses being placed on the hull and the sea-water that was creeping into the boiler rooms.
I work on a Steam Railway as a volunteer in Britain, so I am very familiar with the workings of steam engines (a steam railway is a little different to a ships engines, but it is the same principle). If seawater had come into contact with the boilers, the resulting explosion would be catastrophic. Witnesses say the power went out just as a large rumbling sound was heard.
This may be because the boilers, (having come into contact with water at 10 degrees!) exploded, causing the generators to stop.
The stresses on the hull no doubt helped to destroy the power supplies, as mentioned above.
I am not saying that this is historical fact, but it is what I beleive happened, based upon my of knowledge of steam, and ships engines, and of the sinking.
I just wanted to contribute to this discussion, and I hope that this post will be considered,
Of the 29 boilers on board, the 5 from boiler room 1 are accounted for: its possible they were never lit. The 5 from BR 2 are still in the bow section. The condition of the other boilers is unknown, but if a water + boiler explosion occurred, then it would be seen on the wreck, and we see nothing like that.
When I first saw A Night to Remember, my father (remembering World War II) explained that when sea water came into contact with a ship's boilers they typically exploded - as seen on several old news films, notable the sinking of The Royal Oak. That is why the Titanic blew off steam after the collision, as shown in the film and as remembered by witnesses such as Laurence Beesley and Violet Jessop (who referred to the firemen "dropping the fires"). Assuming that all of the steam had been exhausted there would have been no explosions. The lights would have remained on because of the ship's emergency generator and battery systems; I think there is something about this elsewhere on the site.
>>This may be because the boilers, (having come into contact with water at 10 degrees!) exploded, causing the generators to stop.<<
I'm afraid there's no evidence whatever that the boilers exploded. In point of fact, the boilers in both the debris field (Which may not have been on line) and the boilers visible in what's left of Boiler Room 2 (Which almost certainly were on line) are intact.