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How Did the Titanic Really Break Up?

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Hello, everyone!

I’m a member of the Marine Forensics Committee, and author or co-author of three peer-reviewed papers on the “Titanic”. My most recent paper, “The Breakup Of Titanic – A Re-Examination of Survivor Accounts”, was presented at the First International Marine Forensics Symposium on April 4.

Working with Roy Mengot (with whom I co-authored one paper), I’ve been gathering evidence to support a reconstruction of the breakup of the “Titanic” that differs somewhat from the one you may have seen in movies or in other publications. The most important stages in our reconstruction are illustrated here:

In our reconstruction, the failure began in the ship’s bottom structure, when the ship was at an angle of about 17 degrees. The failure spread across the breadth of the ship, then upward; it also spread forward and aft, probably along lightly riveted longitudinal seams, forming two separate pieces of the double bottom.

When the ship’s stern section came back down into the water, buoyancy forces took over the job of holding up that part of the ship, so the breakup stopped for a little while. At that point, the two halves of the ship were held together by the uppermost strength decks, and by the double – thickness side shell plating. The outlines of the two double bottom pieces that broke away from the ship are indicated. The deckhouse is shown opening up at the aft expansion joint – but the split in the deckhouse was an effect, not a cause, of the hull break.

As the bow continued to flood, and as water poured into the engine room (which would have been opened to the sea when the bottom gave way), the bow section pulled down on the forward end of the stern section. The angle between the two pieces of the hull decreased – as if the ship were a giant paper clip that was first bent, then straightened out. At some point in this process, the two sections broke apart completely.

The breakup was not symmetrical. The “Big Piece” (a large piece of the ship’s side, recovered in 1998) came from the starboard side – it had no counterpart on the port side. The after part of the ship is known to have listed to port fairly suddenly – so the starboard side may have failed first, leaving the flooded bow section to pull down on the port side of the stern section until the two parts separated completely. This left the stern section to float on its own, eventually standing nearly vertical in the water, then finally disappearing below the waves.

That’s our reconstruction. Now, let’s look at how it was developed, and why we believe that it’s closer to what actually happened than any other model proposed to date.

These ideas began to take shape when I first saw the photos of what were then called the “Missing Pieces”. Looking at the way the keel bent at the ends of those pieces, I was sure that it was shaped by compression. Also, the remaining edges looked too clean to have been formed by multiple twists and bends – those pieces looked like they failed first, not last.

The “Big Piece” seemed to be the other important piece of the puzzle. It seems to have failed along three distinct edges. After years of puzzlement, I realized that the “Big Piece” must have formed part of the temporary hinge about which the stern section bent, first downward, then upward. Such a sequence of loads and ship motions could have created the piece as we see it today (Any attempt to say how each edge broke would be pure speculation – but if the ship broke from the top down, we would be able to explain how only one of the edges formed. Once the ship split in two, there would be no forces remaining that could produce the other edges.).

Any understanding of the sinking has to take into account the “Titanic”’s riveted construction. My first paper on the “Titanic”, published in 2003, gave me some insights into the behavior of the riveted joints. I realized that because of the way the hull was riveted together, the bottom was not as strong as most investigators believed. And because of the way the uppermost strakes (strips) of plating were constructed, they had much more strength than most investigators have given them credit for.

The high stresses around the deckhouse expansion joints – previously believed, even by the Marine Forensics Committee, to have been the starting point for the breakup – turned out to be a “red herring”. The deckhouse was made of lightweight plating, and carefully constructed so as NOT to share in the structural loads on the ship. (I recently rediscovered an old printout of a photo from the Discovery Channel website – no longer available online – which clearly showed that neither edge of the “Big Piece” was aligned with the deckhouse expansion joint.).

Roy and I did our groundwork. We made calculations. We created a computer model of a portion of the bottom structure, and identified potential weak spots. We compared our reconstruction with survivor testimony and the condition of the wreck.

We had help from other members of the Marine Forensics Committee (formerly the Marine Forensics Panel) – especially from its chairman, Bill Garzke. As I mentioned earlier, this is the same body that was once a leading advocate of the theory that the break started in the upper portion of the hull – but they gave us their full support.

We first presented our work informally at a session of the 2007 SNAME Annual Meeting. We developed it into a formal paper, which was presented at a local section meeting in New York in 2009. It was published in 2010 as “The Breakup Of Titanic – A Progress Report From The Marine Forensics Panel (SD – 7)” in SNAME’s journal, “Marine Technology”. (The reconstruction given here includes a slight change in the later stages of the breakup, to be presented in more detail in my new paper at the Symposium, but the main features have not changed.)

In professional circles, our work has not been challenged. I was expecting all kinds of objections to be raised during our presentations – we did not get even one. But in some circles, the “top down” breakup model remains in vogue.

According to an article on the History Channel website, our work will be challenged in a documentary to be aired on the anniversary of the sinking.

To get some insight into the views of those who continue to believe that the breakup started at the upper edges, I would recommend a visit to the website of Parks Stephenson, perhaps the most influential advocate of a top – down break. The URL is:

Does it matter which version goes into the next generation’s history books? Well, it matters to me as a professional. It may be a bit of a stretch to call this a paradigm shift, but it does have many of the characteristics of one – and engineers, like scientists, must always be prepared to deal with new evidence that may force us to discard our previous concepts and embrace new ones.

But we also hope that in the absence of such evidence, our work will be respected. If there is to be a debate over the validity of our work, we hope that it will take place in open scientific and professional forums, and that the outcome of the debate will be determined in the best tradition of scientific inquiry.

There is even more at stake in this particular case. The legacy of the survivors is, in a sense, on the line. If our reconstruction is substantially correct, then the survivors’ testimony (with a few exceptions) turns out to have been quite accurate. There will, of course, still be some conflicts to resolve, but those conflicts will be easier to understand.

On the other hand, if a “top down” breakup goes into the history books, the survivors will be forever remembered as people who let the stress of the situation blind them to what was happening before their eyes.

Some of my colleagues have suggested that there may be some sort of middle ground – some way to combine elements of both breakup models. If there is such a middle ground, I would gladly stand on it – but at the moment, I don’t see any more middle ground here than there was between, say, Kepler and Copernicus.

I’ve had my say. Now it’s your turn. You are the jury. What part of the evidence would you like to see in more detail? What will your verdict be?

Richard Woytowich About the Author: Richard Woytowich is a Professor in the Computer Engineering Technology department at New York City College of Technology. Previously, he was a Senior Engineer with the American Bureau of Shipping. Other previous employers include Gibbs & Cox, Inc., a naval architecture and marine engineering firm. He holds a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from The Cooper Union, a Master's in mechanical engineering from Columbia University, and a Master's in science education from New York University. He is a licensed professional engineer in New York State, and has been a member of the Marine Forensics Committee (formerly the Marine Forensics Panel) for over 10 years.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 31 Comments

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  1. 1. marineng1024 9:01 am 04/10/2012

    This aspect of the sinking may also be of interest to psychologists. To what extent is our understanding of eyewitness testimony influenced by our own mental image of the event? How does the testimony of these witnesses compare with eyewitness testimony in other cases?

    Link to this
  2. 2. na73x 9:00 pm 04/10/2012

    I am not a naval architect or any such profession; I do have a better than average understanding of physics and hydrodynamics. I question how the breakup could have started at the bottom. With the bow uder water and the stern rising, I would think that the keel would be under compression not tension. Would the pressure of 15,000 tons of steel on the keel force it to buckle and, thereby, start the rupture as stated herein? I just can’t follow the logic. While I wasn’t there, the top down approach can be logically explained and the wreck seems to support this hypothesis. The bottom up approach? Can this be repeated experimentally? Inquiring minds want to know.

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  3. 3. marineng1024 12:33 am 04/11/2012

    Thanks for your question!
    Yes, the keel was under compression. If you watch the History Channel video, “Titanic’s Final Moments – Missing Pieces”, you’ll see broken portions of the keel, bent in an S shape. I can only attribute this to compression – I can’t imagine the multiple bends and twists shown in the most popular reconstructions leaving the keel in that shape.
    Most structures are stronger in compression than in tension, but not Titanic. Her bottom plates were not laid end to end in true “butt joints”. The ends of her plates were bent a bit, overlapped, and riveted together, forming what were called “butt lap” joints. So all the loads, compressive or tensile, were transmitted from plate to plate by rivets in shear. A typical riveted joint was about half as strong as the plate.
    In contrast, the uppermost “strakes” of plate were made of two thicknesses of one – inch plate, heavily riveted together (as you can see in photos of the ship). The “Big Piece” came from that part of the hull. It didn’t break at the riveted joints – it broke right through the plate, like a single piece of two – inch – thick steel. It was as close as any riveted structure can come to developing 100 percent of the strength of the steel (vs. about 50 percent for the riveted joints in the bottom).
    The stresses I calculated at the upper decks were higher than in the keel, but only by about 20 percent – not enough to overcome that two – to – one strength advantage. And our plans tell us that the point where the two bottom pieces broke was also the end of a sloping section of tank top plating. The slope formed the transition between the extra – deep double bottom under the engines and the double bottom under the rest of the ship. This created a stress concentration, further weakening the bottom at that point. So while intuition tells us that things are more likely to fail in tension, that intuition doesn’t work in the case of Titanic. I doubt that anyone will build a replica to test this, but another team of engineers made a more detailed model and came up with similar stress values.
    You can see the full details of the research that Roy and I did, but probably not for free. Our work was published in the January 2010 issue of “Marine Technology”, the journal of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME), and is available on their website. If you have any further questions, I’d be glad to answer them to the best of my ability.
    -Rich Woytowich

    PS Butt lap joints appear to have been quite common. In a true butt joint, a steel strap has to be placed across the joint, and riveted to both plates. The joint is smoother, and it is stronger in compression, but it costs more – and needs twice as many rivets. True butt joints were more likely to be found in naval ships.
    Readers in the New York area can see an example of the construction techniques of that era at the South Street Seaport Museum, where the bark Peking is docked. She was built in Germany in 1911, with much the same arrangement of shell plates and riveted joints as Titanic. Most of her hull plates are also joined with “butt laps”.

    Link to this
  4. 4. Joe/Ct 12:56 am 04/11/2012

    What would have happened if the Titanic did NOT try to alter course? Might she have survived with just a “bloody nose”? An interesting thought…….

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  5. 5. Bear_the_Schnauzer 1:10 am 04/11/2012

    Mr. Woytowich,

    What everyone agree upon is the bow flooded and the front of the ship settled deep in the water. As the bow began to accelerate downward, this imposed a massive moment on the ship and much like snapping a wooden ruler, the ship broke in two. Since I do not have access to computational tools for modeling I am not in the position to argue whether the ship broke top-down or bottoms-up. My understanding of the physics would put a tensile force on the top of the ship and a compression force on the bottom. I concur with a compression, some of the plate musty have buckled leading to yet more water entering the ship.

    Much attention has been given to the bulkheads which “did not go high enough.” I have a untested, thought-theory about the bulkheads. If the ship did not have the bulkheads at all then the entire ship would have flooded more or less evenly. Yes, the bow would be flooded more, but you would not have had the massive weight of six bulkheads of water directly at the front of the ship pulling it straight down. If the ship flooded more evenly, it would have slowly settled deep in the water much like a loaded oil taker does or one of the submersible “rescue” ships. I am not contending Titanic would not have sank. Rather, with as huge of a ship as Titanic was, I’m hypothesizing it would have taken rather longer for her to sink than by flooding six forward bulkheads, putting the ship into a steep nose down attitude, breaking it in two. Flooding the entire ship would have eliminated the massive moments in the middle of the ship and I hypothesize the ship would have sank in one piece.

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  6. 6. marineng1024 1:27 am 04/11/2012

    Most people I’ve talked to say that she would have survived. I can’t say that I disagree. But I have this nagging thought. She wasn’t built with “crumple zones” like a modern automobile. And we know that many of her rivets had quality problems (in addition to the fact that riveted joints rarely approach the full strength of the plates). So I’d be afraid that the impact might open up riveted joints in unexpected parts of the ship. Maybe that wouldn’t have happened – but if I were on watch, I don’t think I would have bet the ship on it.

    If she were a modern welded ship, I don’t think there would be the same risk. But if she were a modern welded ship, the iceberg impact probably would not have opened all those compartments to the sea. It might not have opened ANY compartments to the sea. The collision might just have been the equivalent of a “fender bender”.

    The riveted joints that opened up were made with only two rows of wrought iron rivets. Further aft, there were three rows of steel rivets in each joint. That part of the ship was not opened up by the collision (although First Officer Murdoch’s maneuvers may have had something to do with that, too).

    So many “what ifs” with this ship. If any one of the things that went wrong that night had gone right, all those lives would not have been lost.

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  7. 7. marineng1024 1:36 am 04/11/2012

    I’m an engineer, not a naval architect – they’re the folks who know how to do flooding calculations. I’ve heard discussion of this question, though. If I remember correctly, the flooding slowed down as the forward compartments filled. If those forward compartments had NOT been allowed to fill – if that water had been allowed to spread throughout the ship – the flooding would not have slowed down, and the ship would have taken on more water in a shorter time. Perhaps another reader is more knowledgeable on this point, and can answer more authoritatively.

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  8. 8. sculptingman 1:34 pm 04/12/2012

    This reconstruction is still incorrect.
    The forces acting on the Stern were not its weight pressing downward- it was the force of buoyancy pushing upward. At the point of failure, there was still some air in the forward sections of the ship providing a small amount of compensating buoyancy, but the deep midships section, already heavy with engines and boilers and coal, was rapidly adding weight with water, dragging the stern section, which still was filled with air, deeper and deeper as more and more of the ship’s load was being held at the surface by the buoyancy of the stern, alone.
    At every point until she sank, she had to be displacing enough water to hold up her weight, and the weight of the water she was shipping.
    The break occurred in the portion of the hull fully Under water, with the beam action of the ship’s hull being bent UP at the stern section by its buoyancy. Expansion joints in the superstructure did not transfer compression loading, reducing her beam depth at this point, and her bottom separated under Tension- not compression. She folded Down amidships, Up at either end- her black prow just re-surfacing as recounted by the eyewitness Thayer.
    Upward folding of the stern section explains the massive, wedge shaped destruction of the upper aft superstructure adjacent to the break. That the break moved down, below water, also explains why so many witnesses thought her still in one piece as she went down.
    the forward section then filled from the broken end amidships, swung down and sheared loose from the stern, imparting a slow spin that swiveled the stern 180 degrees over the spot the forward section had occupied before sinking. This, too was accurately described by eyewitness Thayer, and, had it been credited, would have predicted that the stern section would be found facing the opposite direction.
    Given the state of the wreckage, as found, it is clear that any reconstruction of events that does not jibe with Thayer’s account is most likely wrong. But Any reconstruction suggesting that the stern broke off of its own weight is simply oblivious of the fact that the most powerful force acting on a ship taking on water, but still at the surface, is not gravity, it is stress created between gravity and buoyancy, which is more than twice the force of gravity alone.

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  9. 9. sculptingman 1:42 pm 04/12/2012

    PS- by this I mean that the weight of the water filled portion of the ship can pull underwater an air filled portion of the ship that displaces far more than the weight of the air filled portion, itself. At some point, the amount of buoyant upforce on the stern section must exceed the weight of the all the steel in the stern section by many times. This force greatly exceeds the force of gravity acting on the suspended section of the stern.

    Link to this
  10. 10. marineng1024 3:17 pm 04/12/2012

    Thanks for posting!

    Roy and I based our work on calculations of the ship’s weight and buoyancy done by two naval architects, Hackett and Bedford, in 1996. Those calculations show the stern portion of the ship coming up out of the water, so that NO buoyancy forces would be acting on the after part of the ship. Unfortunately, I seem to have omitted showing the waterline in my first illustration. It would be in roughly the same place as in the second illustration. These calculations have been confirmed by other experts, including a team who built a completely new computer model of the ship. They presented their work at the same symposium where I presented mine. All the results point to the ship breaking in an upside – down V shape, as shown in my second illustration. The major difference which we are trying to resolve is whether that break started at the upper edges of the hull or in the bottom structure.

    The difference between my sketch and the situation you describe demonstrates just how important a person’s mental picture of an event can be. If you picture the ship still in the water over her whole length, then the relationship between weight and buoyancy would be more like what you describe. But we’re quite sure – and survivor testimony concurs – that the after part of the ship was completely out of the water when she broke in two.

    Most investigators do not believe that the sketch by Jack Thayer is accurate. The bow was so full of water that it is hard to imagine it coming back up above the surface. But it is possible that he did see something floating where the bow used to be – I’ll try to recreate it with puncutation marks:

    * Aft end of bow section
    * *
    * *

    The angle is exaggerated a bit to avoid making the lines too long – if word wrap breaks the lines, the illustration won’t work.

    This is something that I’ve thought about before, but I never bounced the idea around with any of my colleagues. So please consider it to be just a preliminary idea – it could easily wind up in the recycle bin. To determine whether it is possible, someone would have to do flooding calculations for the bow section alone – as it would be after the breakup – to see whether there would be any point at which a part of it would come out of the water.

    I’ve always assumed that the bow section broke away from the stern by pulling DOWN on it, as shown in my third illustration. It’s possible that the bow section could have pulled UP on it instead.

    PS In looking at the wreck, it’s hard to separate damage that may have occurred during the sinking from damage that may have occurred when the wreck hit the bottom, and from damage that may have occurred due to deterioration over the years. I do see how the aft end of the bow section droops – but I don’t see plates bent out of shape in a way that would suggest that the bow and stern sections came back together. My third illustration is recent – earlier versions showed some interference between the bow and stern portions of the deckhouse. I was always a bit unsure of that. The new illustration does not show any interference there. But that’s a point that is open to clarification if new data emerges.

    So please keep thinking. And thanks for posting!

    Link to this
  11. 11. marineng1024 3:22 pm 04/12/2012

    Oops – the online editor didn’t show the punctuation marks properly. I’ll try another way, using dashes to space things out. The asterisks represent the upper edge of the ship:

    * Stern
    ———–*———-* Aft end of bow section
    ________________*____________* Waterline
    ——————————————–* Bow

    Link to this
  12. 12. marineng1024 3:24 pm 04/12/2012

    That’s not perfect, but it’s a bit better. What I’m trying to suggest is that Thayer may have seen the aft end of the bow section, and thought that it was the bow itself. It was a dark night – it’s hard to be sure.

    Link to this
  13. 13. marineng1024 1:17 pm 04/15/2012

    OK – it looks like I get to make the thirteenth comment.

    Today, of course, is the anniversary of the sinking. I hope everyone who reads this found a way to commemorate the day.

    But the investigations continue. I came across this report, from the very highly respected Ship Structure Committee:

    In the report, naval architect Roger Long and others who did analyses of the Titanic (for two History Channel shows) present details of their work that were not shown on TV.

    For me, the most significant part of the report is the statement that the edges of the double bottom pieces appear to have failed in tension at the tank top (the inner part of the double bottom), while the bottom itself appears to have failed in compression.

    This pattern is used to support a top – down breakup model. But it also fits our bottom – up reconstruction.

    In our reconstruction, the bottom structure is first loaded in compression – but when the stern comes down into the water, that load is removed. As the stern begins to rise again, the loads on the bottom structure become tensile.

    Knowing the direction of the loading at the time of each failure does affect our reconstruction in a minor way. My computer model of the bottom showed high stresses in the tank top, leading me to think that the failure originated there. If those plates failed in tension, not compression, then I’ll have to look more closely at the bottom plating.

    And in a way, knowing how the edges failed actually strengthens the case for a bottom – up break. In our reconstruction, the failure is “self – limiting” – the keel bends, and plates fail, only until buoyancy forces take over the job of holding up the stern section. The keel is shortened JUST ENOUGH for this to happen. And the upper parts of the hull, acting as hinges, keep the initial bend relatively straight. That’s how the keel appears today.

    If the uppermost decks and shell plates were not there to act as a hinge, the bottom failure might not have been so neat. Indeed, the keel might not have bent in an “S” shape at all.

    So tonight, we should see what the History Channel will say.

    Science works best when ideas are challenged – theories are refined, or replaced if necessary, and the end result is a better understanding of the situation. Everyone who has posted here has contributed to the process – you have my thanks. If you have a question or idea, but have been shy about posting it, please don’t be.

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  14. 14. Angathas 4:47 pm 04/15/2012

    Your article discusses the testimony of the survivors being on the line. Yes, we should take into account that a certain number of survivors witnessed the ship break apart. But I don’t know how they could witness the break-up starting at the bottom. That section was in the water. How could it be visible to them? When the bottom break-up finally reached the top, then the survivors would’ve seen that and naturally think that it had started at the top.

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  15. 15. GaryKay 8:56 pm 04/15/2012

    After watching every conceivable special and documentary on the Titanic including the recent correction by Cameron and a board of specialists indicating that the break was just ahead of the third stack and not just behind as depicted in the Cameron movie… All sources do come to the final conclusion in that after the bow broke away, the stern did fall back level onto the water where she sat briefly before tipping forward and sinking almost straight up with the props and rudder in the air. It is said that Captain Smith and White Star officials said that with the water tight compartments, the ship could be cut into 3 cross sections and each section would stay afloat (providing all compartments were sound and not breached).

    All compartment doors were closed, so my question is why did the stern not stay afloat after the the bow broke away and the stern fell back level to the water’s surface?

    Just a question that has haunted me for a long time and I would like to see if anyone can offer a reasonable answer. All I know is I don’t have one.

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  16. 16. marineng1024 2:16 am 04/16/2012

    That’s the whole point! Many survivors did NOT report SEEING the ship break apart. (Former English teacher’s note – that’s not the same as saying that they saw the ship go down WITHOUT breaking apart!) But they DID report HEARING various sounds. If the ship broke from the top down, and even ONE person in a lifeboat saw it, that person would surely have alerted everyone else in the boat. But a bottom up break would be much harder to see – and a few people might honestly have believed that the ship went down intact (although that’s another story – one for psychologists, perhaps). So I maintain that the absence of detailed descriptions by survivors, in and of itself, supports the idea that she broke from the bottom up.

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  17. 17. marineng1024 2:25 am 04/16/2012

    The aft end of the aft “missing piece” (of the double bottom – as photographed by the 2005 expedition) extended under the reciprocating engine room, so that compartment would have been opened to the sea. I don’t know whether the stern section would have remained afloat in that condition – but the survivor testimony, which stated that she only floated like that for about five minutes, strongly suggests that there was a pathway for flooding of spaces further aft. Unlike the bow, the stern section did not have hours to fill with water – it almost certainly sank with large volumes of air trapped in many of the compartments, resulting in the crushing of those compartments on the way to the bottom. The details remain to be determined.

    Link to this
  18. 18. marineng1024 3:09 am 04/16/2012

    Well, the History Channel show is over now. They did a lot of good work – the map of the debris field will be very valuable. I’d like to know more about the piece of side shell plating with the 90 degree bend. Is it a port – side counterpart to the “Big Piece” (which came from the starboard side)? Some survivors reported that the stern started to rotate before going under – the bend in that piece of shell plating might tell us how that happened.
    Knowing that large chunks of the middle of the ship exist is also reassuring. The notion that a ship could “shatter” like glass never sat well with me.
    There were a number of points that I’d take issue with, but I’d rather focus on the positive aspects.
    The show did not end the debate over the breakup. The pieces that I saw were at least as compatible with the bottom – up breakup model presented here as they were with any top – down breakup model. I still believe that our bottom – up reconstruction will prove to be a better fit with the survivor testimony and the condition of the wreck.
    As with many discoveries, the new images raise at least as many questions as they answer. In one conversation with colleagues, I likened the four stages of the breakup that are shown in my illustration to four still frames excerpted from a movie. The rest of the story needs to be filled in. It looks like this will be a more involved process than I had hoped it might be.
    Maybe before the 200th anniversary….

    Link to this
  19. 19. marineng1024 1:49 am 04/18/2012

    Or maybe sooner….
    Until I saw the History Channel’s virtual reassembly of the ship, I had no way to know what aspects of the damage were caused by the breakup, or by the impact on the sea bottom, or by the action of corrosion and microorganisms.
    But seeing the way the damaged midsection formed a V, and knowing that something remained of the portions of the ship that filled up that V, gave me some new insight.
    What could cause damage like that? The weight of components that had lost their support? Maybe. But then why did the forward part of the bow section keep its shape so well?
    Then it hit me. The double – thickness plating that (in our reconstruction) kept the pieces of the ship together would have been under a huge tensile load. The loads in the two halves of the ship would not be aligned with each other – there would be an angle between them. The components along the length of the ship would cancel – but the perpendicular components would ADD.
    You can act this out with a lump of modeling clay and a piece of string. Put the clay on a table, and drape the string over the clay. Then, keeping the ends of the string low to the table, make the string taut. Keep pulling. With any luck, as the string is pulled tight, it will cut through the clay.
    The doubled plate would have acted like that string.
    I set up a one – page website so that you can see how this insight changes my reconstruction of the sinking:

    I don’t have any calculations to support this idea – just an instinctive feeling that it would take a LARGE force (larger than just unsupported weight) to cause those chunks of the ship to break away, coupled with some knowledge of the upper strakes of hull plating.

    But my intuition is that this is at least a reasonable explanation of how all those pieces got to lie down there.

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  20. 20. FlorenOrion 2:09 am 04/18/2012

    I wonder what ever happened to so many eyewitness testimonies, as recorded by Lawrence Beesly in his book, among other sources, which clearly state that there was a huge explosion during the sinking?

    In some commentaries of the time, it seemed that the conclusion was that some of the boilers exploded when they came in contact with frigid sea water. In any case, it is very hard for me to imagine such a calamitous structural failure of the ship. It seems to me that the damage to the midship section, along with the state of the aft section of Titanic, which is basically destroyed, may suggest that some kind of an explosion contributed to the ship breaking up in half.

    Buoyancy alone does not seem to explain the degree of tension and compression forces acting to split the ship in half. There is NO point of leverage along the keel at any given length from aft, so that the lever effect of the aft raising from the water may not explain the breakup.

    If indeed the tension and compression forces were great, so it is that an object of that magnitude in the water seems by logic that it should tend to balance and equate these forces without any friction with the surface.

    The ship would probably be moving downwards deeper under the waves, rather than breaking up as if the ship was subjected to a definitive lever and point of great difference in buoyancy.

    In other words, evidence points to the fact that there WAS AN IMMENSE EXPLOSION that tore the ship apart. It is very hard to imagine any real working prototype or model that would replicate this type of structural failure due to differences in buoyancy between sections of the ship.

    Is there any other ship in history that ever broke apart like this?

    Let us know sheepishly believe these myths. Titanic is still a mystery and there is much more to the sinking than a pure coincidental turn of events, which resulted in a profound political victory for a group of men that certainly benefited from the passing away of John Jacob Astor and Mr. Guggenheim in particular.

    Conspiracy theory apart, has anyone actually replicated a break-up of any type of steel super structure due to differences in buoyancy?

    Just a thought!

    Should we ignore testimony from survivors at to the explosion?

    As the Senate and British inquiries did?

    Again, has any other ship ever broke apart in a similar manner?

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  21. 21. FlorenOrion 2:12 am 04/18/2012

    I wonder what ever happened to so many eyewitness testimonies, as recorded by Lawrence Beesly in his book, among other sources, who clearly state that there was a huge explosion during the sinking?

    In some commentaries of the time, it seemed that the conclusion was that some of the boilers exploded when they came in contact with frigid sea water. In any case, it is very hard for me to imagine such a calamitous structural failure of the ship. It seems to me that the damage to the midship section, along with the state of the aft section of Titanic, which is basically destroyed, may suggest that some kind of an explosion contributed to the ship breaking up in half.

    Buoyancy alone does not seem to explain the degree of tension and compression forces acting to split the ship in half. There is NO point of leverage along the keel at any given length from aft, so that the lever effect of the aft raising from the water may not explain the breakup.

    If indeed the tension and compression forces were great, so it is that an object of that magnitude in the water seems by logic that it should tend to balance and equate these forces without any friction with the surface.

    The ship would probably be moving downwards deeper under the waves, rather than breaking up as if the ship was subjected to a definitive lever and point of great difference in buoyancy.

    In other words, evidence points to the fact that there WAS AN IMMENSE EXPLOSION that tore the ship apart. It is very hard to imagine any real working prototype or model that would replicate this type of structural failure due to differences in buoyancy between sections of the ship.

    Is there any other ship in history that ever broke apart like this?

    Let us not sheepishly believe these myths. Titanic is still a mystery and there is much more to the sinking than a pure coincidental turn of events, which resulted in a profound political victory for a group of men that certainly benefited from the passing away of John Jacob Astor and Mr. Guggenheim in particular.

    Conspiracy theory apart, has anyone actually replicated a break-up of any type of steel super structure due to differences in buoyancy?

    Just a thought!

    Should we ignore testimony from survivors at to the explosion?

    As the Senate and British inquiries did?

    Again, has any other ship ever broke apart in a similar manner?

    Link to this
  22. 22. marineng1024 11:26 am 04/18/2012

    No, we should not ignore survivor testimony – but the breaking of all that steel would sound an awful lot like an explosion.
    I have not seen any evidence from the wreck site suggesting that anything EXploded. There is plenty of evidence that portions of the ship – especially in the stern section – IMploded. As the ship sank, compartments with trapped air in them would be crushed by increasing water pressure. This is one likely explanation for the severe damage to the stern section. (The bow sank almost intact because it had time to fill with water.)
    A computer model that I made of a portion of the ship’s bottom structure shows that there WAS a point that could serve as a starting point for the breakup. The illustrations posted here are not detailed enough to show it. The height of the inner bottom was increased under the reciprocating engines, and tapered to its “normal” height forward and aft of the engine room. The bottom pieces broke apart at the end of the taper.
    No other ships were built quite like the Titanic and her sister ships. She met the legal requirements for strength that were in effect at the time, but did not go much beyond them. Aside from government agencies like the British Board of Trade, there is another set of requirements that ships are not REQUIRED to meet, but usually do. They are written by groups called “classification societies”. In Great Britain, Lloyd’s Register of Shipping performs that function. The White Star Line decided not to ask Lloyd’s Register to “class” the Titanic. See their website for more information:

    Essentially, most investigators agree on most of the major elements of the sinking. This blog is about one of the remaining areas of disagreement – where did the breakup begin? I think we’re getting closer to understanding that.
    And the survivor testimony is definitely NOT being ignored. But it needs to be corroborated by the physical condition of the wreck and, if possible, by engineering analysis.

    Link to this
  23. 23. FlorenOrion 2:33 pm 04/18/2012


    Thank you for your thoughtful comments. All I am trying to say is that it is hard to understand how a steel super-structure would break up due to what I comprehend to be differences in the buoyancy between the aft and bow compartments. In addition, you say that there is no physical evidence for an explosion, however the entire midship section was completely detached from the ship and the damage to the steel may be evidence for such an event. In the recent documentaries by the History Channel and National Geographic, a point was made to find and analyze these missing sections. They reportedly were found far East from the wreck and it show a very violent force acting upon them.

    My question: Is it physically possible for a 45,000 ton ship to be torn in half ONLY by the kinetic forces generated by the flooding and the resulting sinking by the bow first? The theory that the aft was raised beyond 19 degrees has been debunked and it seems that the explanation for the tear, resulting from some type of “lever” acting upon the keel and the super-structure does NOT seem consistent, precisely with the wreck and the resulting destruction of the midship section.

    Why was the double-bottom detached and found so far from the wreck?

    Many thanks and congratulations on your excellent research.

    Warm regards,


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  24. 24. marineng1024 8:19 pm 04/18/2012

    Yes, it’s possible for a ship to break up just because of the way it’s loaded. The officers of modern cargo ships have to know the strength characteristics of their vessels, and plan out the distribution of the cargo so that the ship won’t be overstressed. These days, they get help from modern electronics.
    When the Titanic was built, ship designers and builders did not have very much experience with large steel ships. The rules for designing large passenger ships were still evolving. Not so many years before Titanic, iron (rather than steel) was commonly used in shipbuilding. (South Street Seaport has the Wavertree, built of iron in 1885.) The newness of steel construction was probably a factor in the builders’ decision to use iron rivets in parts of the ship – they knew that their riveters had decades of experience with iron rivets. At that time, the steel rivets had to be driven by a special machine, which the shipyard had little experience with.
    The fact that the Titanic was the largest (in tonnage) ship built up to that time is significant, because it means that the designers did not have the benefit of service experience with similar ships – experience that would tell them where rivets often needed replacing, or where cracks tended to form.
    Every time there is a major shift in technology, there are risks. During World War II, when welding was starting to replace riveting, some ships broke in two without any apparent cause – the investigations resulted in improvements in construction. There were problems with the first jet airliners – and occasionally, there still can be a problem where aircraft are used in situations that they were not designed for. We all know about the disasters that cost the lives of two space shuttle crews. Maybe the most significant thing that we can learn from our investigations of the Titanic is that the need for extra caution when introducing new technology goes back farther than we would like to admit – and many people wonder whether we’ve actually learned that lesson.

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  25. 25. FlorenOrion 12:12 pm 04/19/2012

    A profound lesson indeed. It seems that there are two paths of evolution that we must develop in harmony as a civilization: the technological progress track and the philosophical or psychological progress path. In many instances, including as you correctly point out, humanity has made leaps of progress in technological terms, but may have stalled or delayed our understand of the meaning and uses of that technology. It may be that even today our technological progress exceeds our understanding and certainly exceeds our maturity and ability to give meaningful service to that technology. Clear examples may be found in many fields of science, including the complicated issues posited by advances in genetics and molecular engineering, which leave us unable to respond with the necessary maturity and profound responsibility that such technologies demand.

    Titanic is certainly a profound lesson and a micro-cosmos of ourselves as a civilization. The elements of the tragedy are strings of our own souls and perhaps our fascination with the ship, its passengers and the ordeal of its sinking, is a call from our own soul trying to make sense and understand the pull and tug between technology and moral and philosophical progress. It has been a long time since we make real intellectual progress of the sort that our technology has experienced.

    When will we experience another humanistic renaissance? Are we too far ahead in the technological path and too slow and complacent about the real progress of our psychological and philosophical development?

    Wonderful lesson if we can truly learn from Titanic.

    Warm regards and indeed, what an excellent analysis and blog!

    Link to this
  26. 26. marineng1024 11:47 am 04/20/2012


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  27. 27. marineng1024 12:15 pm 04/20/2012

    In all the excitement surrounding the 100th anniversary and the unveiling of so much new information about the ship, it took me until now to realize that I’d left out one important statement. I mentioned that I’m a member of the Marine Forensics Committee – I’m thankful for all the support I’ve received from the Committee as a whole, and from many of its members. But I neglected to say that the opinions I express here are just my own – they don’t necessarily represent the views of the whole Committee (or of my employer, or of any other group that I’m associated with). We tend not to seek publicity, so this is the first time I’ve published anything about my work outside of professional society journals. I’m thankful to the editors of Scientific American for giving me this chance. I can’t think of a better place in which to present these ideas to you, the readers.
    Yesterday, I visited Pier 54 in Manhattan, where the Carpathia put the survivors ashore. There were some floral bouquets and other memorials left by visitors the previous day to commemorate the anniversary of the Carpathia’s arrival. It was a moving tribute. I’m hopeful that with all the new information we’ve uncovered, and all the analyses we’ve performed, we’re finally coming close to understanding just what those survivors lived through – and what so many of their shipmates did not.

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  28. 28. supernaut 10:18 pm 03/8/2013

    This breaking in two of a large steel ship, which was slowly sinking from the gradual taking on of water, with no damage sustained at the point the keel snapped, seems to be unprecedented, and I havn’t heard of any simliar occurrence.

    We would have to assume that the design or build of the ship was faulty.

    Most of us are accustomed nowadays to seeing spectacular footage of vessels from every epoch, rediscovered decades and centuries after their demise, which are, as far as I can recall, nearly always lying on the seabed with their keels intact.

    Is it entirely coincidental that the wreck lying at the bottom of the Atlantic broke it’s back close to, if not *precisely* where the Olympic sustained serious damage from the underwater ram of RMS Hawk?

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  29. 29. amiteshpandey_sunny 11:41 am 07/23/2013

    Meticulous work. Thumbs up for debunking all the myths
    @ Richard Woytowich

    Link to this
  30. 30. charlie b. good 6:59 pm 09/6/2013

    As I remember, one of the surviving Titanic officers after being rescued drew his interpretation of the ship sinking. His drawing showed the Titanic broken completely in two pieces with the bow and stern both pointed toward the sky. If he was correct, that would mean the two complete hull sections shown in the last History Channel Titanic special came loose for what ever reason and fell from the ship, causing the ship to break from the top down. Everything I have read about how the ship sank have agreed that the ship seemed to be sinking very slowly, but then almost instantly sank very quickly. Even the original official accounts which said the ship sank intact reported the ship was sinking slowly, but then sank quickly.
    To me, this explains why the “Break” on both sections of the Titanic are crushed on the top decks, but relatively intact on the lower decks. Two sections of hull coming loose and falling from the ship would cause the ship to “Break”, or as I believe, the ship did not break, the Titanic collapsed in half. This would result in the drawing showing both bow and stern pointed skyward simultaneously.

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  31. 31. charlie b. good 7:29 pm 09/6/2013

    Correction: I think the Titanic broke from the bottom up, not top down which caused the crushing collapse of the top decks of the stern section.

    Link to this

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