Why did the number 1 funnel collapse

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*Close, but not quite. The Titanic's funnels had a rake of 2 inches in 12 or 9.5 degrees.*


I was hoping you would chime in with the actual figure. Mine was a WAG...I pulled a protractor from my son's school supplies and took an eyeball measurement off that big blue picture hanging on the wall over my desk. Close enough for government work, as we like to say at work. :)

And to think it's guys like me whom the Navy depends upon for its highly sophisticated weaponry. :)


Erik Wood

Hello All,

I have some small experience in this. The STC cables are brought or used to be as some one pointed out they are not used anymore they are brought tight to keep even tenision around the entire stack. As someone also pointed out cables are fitted with extra wire. But basically it is bolted and spot welded to the base of the Sun Deck, Boat Deck whatever the case may be as well as beeing fit into the top side of the boiler casing. So to keep the stack from moving from side to side in heavy weather they attach the guide wires or STC cables to keep it in place. As someone else also pointed out expanison joints for the most part are a thing of the past. I am in now way a naval engineer but I have seen them attach many a stack in my day and I THINK that it is the combination of both the bolts welding and stuff with the guide wires that keep it in place. Now days they just weld and bold and the stack in reenforced into the inside of the exhaust casing.

To be honest I have never really thought on why the ships forward funnel fell. One would think that it was a combination of the internal air, the bending and breaking of the joints and the extreme tension on the aft set of guide wires which I am sure probably snapped. Plus you have the natural downward angle of the ship.

Not that long ago a emergency steam release valve basically exploded and sent part and rather large chunks through the boiler casing and ripped three giant holes in the stack shell cutting in half three of the forward guide wires. The Captain (not me) ordered the ship stopped and the steam taken out of the that stack. The engines then used box patches on the stack and reattached (using mooring cable)cables to the deck.

Just some thoughts and insight.

When the funnel collapsed, it fell forward, sending out a great wave in the water, and crushing the bridge and officers' quarters. This damage is seen on the wreck today.

Since the funnel was of a light construction, it would naturally have flattened out upon impact with the water, as the water would have received the majority of the momentum from the falling object.

So why didn't the collapsed funnel, settle down softly onto the roof of the bridge and remain there, doing little damage?
The fallen funnel would still have been attached to the superstructure by the remaining cables.

If it had continued to settle forward and slide off of the bridge as the bow tilted down, it should have fell onto the well deck and became entangled on the forward cargo cranes, where we should see it today.

But today, we see little damage to the cranes, and no trace of the funnel in the well deck. So what happened to the funnel after it fell? What destroyed the bridge?

I think this is one possible explaination. Its based solely on my own imperfect understanding of all the facts and details of shipbuilding and of the construction of Titanic, and mostly on my vivid imagination. So take it for what its worth.

2:10am April 15th, 1912. The funnel is standing upright, but under increasing strain as the ship tips forward to an angle of about 20 degrees nose down. This puts the funnel at a true tilt angle of about 10 degrees relative to the surface of the water. The support cables aft and abeam the base of the funnel are taught but the ones forward of the base are slack.

Sea water is flooding the ship's superstructure from above C deck through windows and open doors, spilling into the cabins of A deck and B deck and washing down the stairways to meet the water coming up from below. The bridge is submerged under about 15-25 feet of water, and the base of the forward funnel is awash in about 5-10 feet of water. Second Officer Lightoller is struggling to get free from the air vent where inrushing water has pinned him against the vent screen.

Then, something happens. Some occurance that is yet unknown. Whatever it is, it causes a violent rush of air up the boiler casing and out through the vents, freeing Lightoller. It also causes damage to the boiler casing walls in the upper decks and rattles the forward funnel violently. This causes the aft support cables to snap.

The funnel now is supported only by its weakened base of thin metal. Its tilted forward at about 15 degrees. As the base of the funnel is further submerged the water pressure increases until the sides of the funnel implode. This implosion creates a buckle, or weak spot that serves as a pivot point for the funnel to twist on. Sort of like when you cut down a tree. You cut the base away and create a pivot point which guides the direction of the fall.

The funnel's top leans and falls almost straight forward as it is guided by the remaining support cables. On its way down, the support cable running from the top of the funnel to the forward mast is given slack and then powerfully snapped tight as the funnel finally hits the water. The mast is jolted backward by this tug and buckles at the base on the forecastle. Yet it remains standing for a few moments supported by its own support cables and the marconi antenea.

The funnel smashes into the water. Its internal framing is destroyed on impact and all the pipes inside the funnel are torn apart from their fittings.

The impact of the funnel into the sea displaces the water between the surface and the roof of the bridge below with emense force. While the funnel never directly contacts the bridge at impact, the force of the displaced water beneath it crushes the roof of the bridge and splayes out the walls. Anything inside the wheel house is completely destroyed.

The wreck of the funnel sinks onto the wreck of the bridge and comes to rest. The funnel is still attached to the ship by a few shards of metal at the base of the funnel and by the remaining 6 support cables.

Water whirlpools into the open hole left at the base of the collapsed funnel. Eventually filling the boiler casing along with the rest of the forward sections of the ship.

As Titanic sinks further, its tilt angle increases until the stern of the ship breaks away and the bow section then drops to almost 90 degrees nose down. When this happens, the forward funnel trys to slide off the ship but is held on by the support cables. It slides around on top of the bridge area. It mows down both wing bridges as it moves around.

The second funnel has now broken away and smashes the top of the grand staircase, destroying the dome and making an opening for the remains of the grand staircase to wash out of the ship as it sinks.

As the bow section begins to plunge down to the bottom the lighter funnels try to drift away from the ship but are held by the remaining support cables.
The funnels drag along the top of the ship for a moment or two when the final cables snap and they are swept clear of the bow section by the rushing water currents.

The main mast is swept aft by the rushing water and falls down against the crushed port wing bridge. Where is stays to this day.

The remains of the funnels are never found, so far as I know, although the steam whistles are discovered in the debris field and recovered.

This theory is 99% speculation. But I think it fits the evidence that we see at the wreck site. It also explains the paradox of damage to the bridge area when it was submerged. The Funnel did not directly destroy the bridge. The force of the water, displaced by the funnel falling caused the bridge enclosure to explode outward.
This theory also covers the damage to the roof of the grand staircase. Both areas were destroyed and both are directly forward of the two forward funnels.

Yet the initial event that caused the forward funnel to break its support cables so early is unknown. What was it that caused the aft support cables to snap? I speculate that they should have remained intact until the bow section broke away. For them to snap so early indicates that something else happened to cause them to fail.
The collapse of the forward funnel happens immediately after Lightoller is blasted free of the boiler vent by an explosion of air as he describes it. That leads me to think that there was a bubble of hot air somewhere below in the ship that finally burst free and exited the ship upward through the boiler casing. That could easily cause serious damage to the funnel. So I point to that event as the key to the failure of the aft cables. Of course I could be wrong.
For all I really know the funnel could have collapsed because people swimming in the water over the bridge tried to climb up the forward sides of it to get out of the water and overloaded it until it fell. Who can tell for sure.

Anyways, my final thought on this is that when the forward funnel fell, it didn't just vanish. It was still an active participant in the destruction of the ship. When the funnel fell, it caused changes to occur. Is this when Capt. Smith finally perished, when his cabin was laid flat by the impact forces? Was the log book blown out of the ship to be lost in the ocean? What would have happened to Mr Lightoller and the rest on the overturned collapsible if the funnel had not fell with such force?

Some things seem almost to defy reason when considering Titanic. Like the ship's wheel mount. How is it that it survived when everything else around it was flattened? Why is the forward mast still attached and not utterly swept away? Why do the forward cranes show almost no damage when only two decks above them is devastaion?
Questions beget more questions.

Titanic, ship of questions.



A well-thought scenario, but I have some questions:

Where did you get the number of 20 degrees of bow trim when the forward funnel fell? The Hackett-Bedford analysis puts it at somewhere between 8-12 degrees.

Why do you say the funnel stays snapped early?

Why do you call the line running from the funnel to the forward mast as a support cable? I was not aware that that cable was used for support of either the mast or the funnel and therefore would have had any major impact on the mast when the funnel collapsed.

Why should the forward funnel remain on the ship any longer than the three remaining funnels?

I do agree with you that the falling funnel (or the pressure transmitted through the water) damaged a high-interest area of the ship and therefore could have been the end for some of the more well-known personages.

Sparks, I checked the THS website last night and they do have the title available. It's a 64 page book, but very highly regarded from what I've heard. I'll have to get it.

That 100,000 pound sterling price tag for the job you mentioned must have caused some faces to go white on the Cunard-White Star Board of Directors. Not much of a surprise though. she was pretty well worn by that time.

Michael H. Standart

I don't agree with the idea that the funnel fell when the ship was at 8-12 degrees of downward tilt. 12 degrees is just not enough to offset the 10 degrees of counter tilt inherent in the funnel design enough to cause catastrophic failure. Unless something else exagerated the stress or contributed to the structural weakening of the funnel mounting.

I think the funnel support cables snapped early when compared to the other three funnels that held in place until the very end.

Regarding the support cable connecting the top of the funnel to the main mast, I see a cable running between them on the ship's blueprint and without additional information I called it a support cable. I don't know that it is anything else but for stability of the main mast. And when the funnel fell, it no doubt gave a gigantic tug at that cable. Probably it snapped it, and possibly it also damaged the main mast as a result.
We know the main mast is fallen back across the bridge area and it fell from a buckling point at the base of the mast. Something must have yanked on the mast to get it to bend. I just speculate that it was the funnel falling.

The forward funnel shouldn't hold tight to the ship any longer than the rest, but it fell much sooner than the rest. So something was different about it.

Thanks for the questions!

Yuri Singleton

Your answer to the first question is why I don't believe the funnel fell of its own weight.

I believe the forward funnel stays held until the funnel was swept off its base. I see no proof that the forward funnel stays snapped prior to the collapse of the funnel's base (uptake).

The line running from the forward funnel to the mast was not for support of either funnel or mast. It was merely a means of rigging arc lamps for illuminating the cargo-handling area of the forward well deck. When the funnel collapsed, the line probably snapped with no effect on the mast.

The forward funnel fell first because the upper intake collapsed due to the differential pressure acting upon it. The reason why the forward uptake was the first to collapse is because it was the first to be submerged.

At least, that's how I see the situation.


You're right about the funnel cables. They may not have snapped before the funnel base collapsed. Somehow I just had it in my mind that the cables had to snap free first before the thing could fall. But if all the cables did hold, even after the base collapsed, then why did it fall directly forward? It should have just crumpled down onto itself right?

Thanks for the clarification of the line running from the funnel to the mast. I'd never have thought of it being a light rigging. For all I know it could just be a clothes line for the crew.
A wire for lights would probably not be high tension cable and so it probably did just snap off harmlessly.

Here's a question: If the funnels were watertight enough at the base to cause an implosion due to water pressure when submerged, then why didn't they fill up with water when it rained? There must have been some way of draining out rain water. I'd really like to know more about the funnels' internal structure. I know they weren't just hollow chimneys. They were full of pipes and duct work I think. Right?

Thanks for the response!


jacqueline hall

Former Member
I don't know whether this is of any use but in part of a statement given by my grandfather he says "Before I dived of the ship the forward boilers burst and blew up the forward funnel.
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