On March 7th, 2012, I anxiously attended Bruce Bramfitt’s talk on the metallurgy of the Titanic. The presentation, which was reported as the cover story of last week’s Oredigger, did not meet my expectations. It contained several significant errors – errors which were unfortunately passed along in Ian Mertz’s cover story. I cannot compete with Dr. Bramfitt’s knowledge on the topic of metallurgical engineering, but I have devoted years of study to all things having to do with the Titanic saga. The bottom line is, Dr. Bramfitt may be an expert on steel, but he doesn’t know much about the Titanic.
First, the collision with the iceberg occurred on April 14th, not April 15th as reported in the Oredigger.
Second, Captain Smith was well aware of the danger posed by the ice in his path. Contrary to popular belief, Smith did alter course after receiving the ice warnings by traveling along what was known as the ‘southern route’ and by delaying the scheduled course change from 242º to 266º for thirty minutes.
Third, Titanic was not running at “maximum speed” at the time of the collision. Among Titanic experts, the most agreed upon estimate of the collision speed is 22.5 knots (25.89 miles per hour). This estimate comes from the testimony of Titanic’s Second Officer, Charles Lightoller. When he came on watch at 6:00 pm on the evening of the 14th, he noted that the engines were making “75 revolutions,” which corresponds to a speed of 22.5 knots. However, only 24 of Titanic’s 29 boilers were lit that night – she could have been going faster.
Forth, the binoculars had not been left off the ship. When lookouts Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee began their watch, the binoculars could not be found. They were most likely in a locker in Charles Lightoller’s boat deck cabin. Experts suggest that even if Fleet and Lee had found the binoculars, it would not have made a difference given the difficult conditions for spotting icebergs that evening, (no wind, no moon, and black ice).
Fifth, Bramfitt and Mertz commented on the oft-repeated criticism of the height of the watertight bulkheads. The criticism I am referring to goes something like this: “The watertight bulkheads only went up to E-deck…they should have gone up to the boat deck…that way, water would not have spilled over their tops like water in an ice cube tray.” This sentiment is ridiculous. If the watertight bulkheads had extended through the decks above E-deck, submarine-style steel doors would have had to be fitted throughout all of the bisected cabins and passageways. Construction of large public spaces such as the Grand Staircase and First Class Dining Room would not have been possible.
In this year of the Titanic centennial, we can be expected to be bombarded with Titanic documentaries, books, movies, and more. Most of these media will contain dozens of technical errors. The Titanic disaster is one of the most misunderstood tragedies in history. Remember, the Titanic disaster happened because there were not enough lifeboats for everyone on board – end of story. As scientists and engineers, we, the Colorado School of Mines community, should commit ourselves to the pursuit of the accurate, technical truth, not only in the Titanic disaster, but in all important engineering and scientific issues.