What “Exactly” happened to the Titanic?
At first glance, this may appear as a question with a conspicuous answer. We can say that RMS Titanic was a ship that had an unfavourable day and reached the gateways of hell due to an intimate nudge from a chunk of ice. But clearly, this reasoning is not very credible.
Do you really think that a 52 thousand ton ship that’s 230 m long, 25 stories high with bleeding-edge design for its time, and which took 2.5 years to build, would fall prey to a 100 feet iceberg that is lighter than water? …well, though, it's true there are many other perspectives in which you can view this mishap and end up getting startling results.
The Engineers’ perspective
Honestly, if you ask an engineer about the Titanic now, he would proclaim that it was bound to sink well before it even saw the iceberg. To comprehend this claim, we need to understand an important physical process in Material science called “Ductile to brittle transition”.
Ductile — brittle transition
In simple terms, all metals have the characteristic to deform before fracturing. So this generally visible surface deformation is an early indication of material failure. But under some circumstances, metal would not deform and would rather behave like a piece of glass; this leads to the catastrophic failure of the material without any deformation. This phenomenon is called ductile to brittle transition. It generally occurs when ductile materials with a specific composition are exposed to low-temperature conditions for prolonged durations.
Now, if we look at the case of Titanic, we will find that the majority of the ship, especially the hull, was constructed out of steel plates and held by wrought-iron rivets. To be more specific, it had a 26,000-ton hull and used 3 million rivets. Unfortunately, both these materials are prone to ductile-brittle transition.
History narrates that the Titanic was sailing in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic for about 4 days before the accident. So naturally, the sub-zero temperature gradually weakened the hull and made it extremely vulnerable to any impact. To add to this plight, the Titanic was capable of exerting immense momentum due to the weight and speed at which it was travelling. All these factors conjointly contributed to the tragic end.
To ascertain this claim, metal pieces from the wreckage were procured and examined; all of them showed a smooth flat fractured surface indicating a brittle fracture. Furthermore, the survivors also proclaimed they heard a loud noise like breaking china dishes during the incident; this observation also supports the claim as the sound generally resonates like breaking ceramics.
The conspirators’ perspective
No matter how much science explicates, there will always be a conspiracy looming around every mishap. Titanic was obviously no exception. There are few facts about Titanic that would actually make you rethink the fundamental cause of this tragedy.
After all a “disaster” is defined not by the destruction of an object but rather the termination of life.
The concealed fire accident
There is evidence that stated that, well before the departure of Titanic on April 10th, a fire wreaked havoc and weakened the hull. The fire was said to have blazed for a week before its departure, but due to commercial reasons, it was concealed. If this is true, there is a possibility that it would have contributed adversely during the crash.
The cancelled lifeboat drill
Even though the entire crew was oblivious of their fate yet to come, it is still a mystery why they were ignorant of the possibilities. The drill, which could have saved many lives, was called off by captain Edward Smith for some unknown reason. The drills were aimed to prepare passengers to be physically and mentally strong during adversity.
Less than 25% of third-class passengers survived
Getting an opportunity to board the Titanic was a luxury many people could never afford. Nevertheless, the Titanic had its fair share of “Third class” passengers, mostly found dispersed on the ocean floor than on land. Out of 2,223 passengers, only 705 survived, and the majority of them were from first class.
The Titanic could carry 64 lifeboats but had only 20 onboard.
The Titanic offered veranda cafés, a smoking room, a restaurant, a dining saloon, a reading and writing room, a gymnasium, Turkish baths, squash courts and even bicycles, electric horses for exercise. Somehow people felt these amenities were far more important than lifeboats. This one observation is more than enough to convince people that the mishap was more than just a “Fateful incident.”
The lifeboats were only half-filled when they were deployed
To cater to the convince of exclusive passengers, the lifeboats were not incommodious; only 28 people boarded the first lifeboat, which was only deployed after one hour had elapsed after the crash. The original capacity of the lifeboat was to accommodate 65 people. This reluctance during a critical moment cost a lot of lives.
The presence of SS Californian
One of the biggest conspiracies to date is the presence of SS Californian. This was a large ship that was believed to be just 21 miles from the stricken Titanic. However, there is no evidence which states that it attempted to rescue the people. This exact location is not an assumption and was confirmed by the Californian captain himself. Any initiative by this ship to rescue the Titanic would have been a worthy deed that would have rewritten history.
The miscellaneous perspectives
Beyond every other claim, there are still some wild theories that keep popping up. These claims generally emanate from random sources. Nevertheless, they could be scientifically true. Here are the two most interesting theories
Optical illusion at sea
The historian Tim Maltin felt that rare atmospheric conditions would have created a veil over the iceberg on the fateful night of the mishap due to super refraction. The main reason such an idea came into play was that the time between sighting and crashing was 37 seconds. It is impossible to ignore such a large object without a plausible reason.
There are also claims which state that 6 MSG (Masters’ Service Gram) warnings were sent to the Titanic potentially alerting it of the iceberg. All of which were ignored.
Very recently, there have been some interesting developments. Some scientists proclaim that on the night of April 15, 1912, there was a solar flare. This cosmic phenomenon has the ability to hamper magnetic compasses and could have led the titanic astray because magnetic navigation was predominantly used in those times. This claim can also be true as during the night of the crash; auroras were witnessed. Though auroras are common in the Northern Hemisphere, they appear to be more exaggerated during solar flares.
What can we understand from all this?
Clearly, there is still a lot of mystery revolving around this incident. But it’s always an enlightening experience to dig deep into such issues and formulate possible solutions.
No matter how hard we try to seek the answers, the fact that is embedded in history is that the “Unsinkable” ship that took 2.5 yeast to build eventually sank to the dark depths of the ocean within 2 hrs 40 min. The best that we could do is always stay open to learning new lessons from old mistakes such as this; after all, it’s our greatest teacher!
Titanic will undoubtedly be bequeathed as the most classical tragic story for generations to come.