Gerhard Schmidt-Grillmeier reviews a through investigation of the various expeditions to the Titanic wreck site since 1985.
Russian author Eugene Nesmeyanov (Jenya) from St Petersburg is a researcher on Titanic and maritime matters. His father was a senior officer of the Soviet Baltic Fleet and influenced his son’s interest in the history of Titanic. This is the author’s second book. The first one “TITANIK” (in Russian only) was published in St Petersburg in 2014.
Forewords to the new book were written by well-known Titanic authors Dr James P. Delgado and George Behe.
The sinking of the Titanic more than 106 years ago sent shock waves around the world. But the remembrance faded over the decades (there were two World Wars!) until J. Negulesco’s film Titanic (1953) and, even more so, the book A Night to Remember, written by Walter Lord (1955), raised the public interest again.
Titanic has become a symbol of the end of an era – but is also a symbol (as Delgado writes in his foreword) of the beginning of a new era in efforts to explore the unknown depths of the ocean.
In 21 chapters E. Nesmeyanov discusses the different aspects of the discovery of the engineering marvel of her epoch.
The book starts with a review of the films, which were made one month after the disaster. The first motion picture Saved from the Titanic appeared in the United States starring Dorothy W. Gibson who had survived the sinking. There are no known copies. The second film was produced in Berlin in June 1912 In Nacht und Eis. There is a complete summary of the different films which were produced until the 1950s and of the early literary works about the ship, the first of which, written by the Irish author Alexander Bell Filson Young, appeared in May of 1912.
The second chapter deals with the “Secret Navy Mission”. The research carried out by the author on the aftermath of the discovery of the wreck in 1985 is amazing. He covers all the aspects of the deep water expeditions between 1985 and 2010 including the co-operation of American, French, Canadian and Russian explorers. Especially interesting is the political situation (Cold War) and the interest of the U.S. Navy in the technology to find sunken submarines.
Dr Robert D. Ballard an oceanographer from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was a pioneer of the use of deep-diving submersibles. He was thrilled by the idea of finding the wreck of the Titanic. Ed Kamuda the founder of the Titanic Historical Society provided him with the necessary information available at this time. Ballard’s enthusiasm to find the wreck was not dampened by the failure of Texas oil millionaire Jack Grimm, who found an object on the ocean floor which he mistakenly thought could have been part of Titanic.
The U.S. Navy wanted to develop the technology to find the wrecks of sunken submarines. As a cover for this Ballard gained permission in 1984 to search for the wreck of the Titanic, which was located between the wreckage of the sunken submarines.
In July 1985 together with a French team from IFREMER (Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer) the second expedition started in a wall of silence to avoid “media circus”. The French team on board the Le Suroit was searching the sea bottom with the new SAR sonar system. They had covered about 80 percent of the search area leaving the American R/V Knorr to explore the rest.
On 1 September 1985 one of the Titanic’s boilers was found. Argo a visual imaging vehicle was used for scanning the search field. The Navy seemed to be upset with the result. Ballard was told he should have looked for the Titanic and not to find it!
One could say the cold war and the competition between the world powers USA and USSR both in deep-sea and space exploration helped, as a side effect, in finding the famous wreck.
The author describes the next expedition of 1986 – nine months after the discovery of the wreck. Alvin a research submersible together with the imaging system Argo came into operation. Dr Ballard placed a plaque on Titanic’s stern in memory of the souls who perished.
Ballard was a strong supporter of the need for protection and scientific exploration of the Titanic wreck which led to the US Titanic Memorial Act of 1986.
IFREMER and sponsoring partners signed an agreement in 1987 in Paris that salvaged artefacts must be put on public exhibitions and could not be sold.
Nesmeyanaov describes the vehicles used for the dives: the DSV Nautile and ROV Robin, the Soviet DSV Mirs 1 and 2 and the recovery of numerous objects which were lying around the liner’s debris field. Some of the objects are described in detail, like the Bell, Major Peuchen’s Wallet and the Titanic Cherub. The book explains the worldwide controversy about the salvaged treasures and the issue of mortal remains. The important role of the Russian ship Keldysh and the Mirs and the shooting of underwater scenes are intensively described.
In 1994 the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, UK displayed artefacts. Then there is James Cameron’s film Titanic. The construction of the film studio on the Baja California peninsula and the making of the film in 1996-97 are described in detail.
In August 1996 the eights Titanic expedition was organised by RMS Titanic, Inc. in collaboration with IFREMER. Engineers and scientists from five countries explored the “anatomy of a disaster”. The break-up and final sinking, the ship’s submerged and damaged hull is explained. He describes the attempts to raise The “Big Piece” (part of the steel skin) and the discussion about the quality of the steel used in the Titanic. Very interestingly he discusses the scientific riddle of the “Iron Tears of Titanic” – the rusticles and the underwater life around the wreck.
In 2001 James Cameron and his Russian-American team of deep-sea explorers produced the 3D film Ghosts of the Abyss, which gained worldwide attention. It shows the fast decaying remains of the former luxury liner.
The author gives a full account of the amazing results of the 2004 expedition Return to Titanic, resulting in the photomosaic of the wreck and also of the underwater archaeology expedition of 2010 and the sonar map.
The book is beautifully produced with many photographs, illustrations and graphics depicting aspects of the searches, including people involved, the ships and instruments used, the submerged Titanic and items found in and near her.
There is no other book about the Titanic which gives more details about the efforts to explore the remains of the ship – written in a fascinating and detailed way. This excellent book seems also to be a tribute to Walter Lord whose book “A Night to Remember” has influenced Eugene Nesmeyanov’s scientific interest in the Titanic.
The History Press
The Titanic Expeditions: Diving to the Queen of the Deep: 1985–2010
By Eugene Nesmeyanov
Hardcover - 300 pages – published 2018