The following article was published in the
2006 (Vol. 30 / No. 173) issue of The Titanic Commutator,
the official journal of the Titanic Historical Society, Inc.
Copyright © 2006, Titanic Historical Society / Parks Stephenson
Questions Than Answers, Part 2
by Parks Stephenson
In the previous issue Simon Mills gave The Titanic Commutator readers a unique look behind the scenes of The History Channel/Lone Wolf Documentary Group (THC/LWDG) documentary, "Titanicís Final Moments: Missing Pieces" (TFM:MP). As Simon indicated, the 2005 findings may not represent the last word on the break-up and sinking of Titanic, but they are crucial to any discussion or debate regarding same. My intention with this article is to describe a break-up and sinking scenario that is based upon the same evidence shown in TFM:MP but arrives at a slightly different conclusion.
Simon has already described the evidence and analysis that resulted in the break-up and sinking scenario highlighted in the televised documentary. Dive footage of the debris was provided to Titanic visual historian and artist Ken Marschall who painstakingly created the five-view architectural drawings shown in Part 1 of this series. This resource material was provided to an international team of analysts recruited for this project by LWDG. Each member of the team had a minimum of two weeks to examine the material before convening at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) during the first week of December 2005 to discuss initial impressions. Roger Long, with his experience as an accomplished naval architect, led the round-table discussion to draw together the team's analysis and develop a plausible break-up and sinking scenario. Roger's lack of familiarity with the particulars of the Titanic disaster was considered an asset by the LWDG producers, who sought a fresh, unbiased perception of the evidence.
With his experience in the design and construction of ships, what Roger saw in the debris was a ship that had broken while at a shallow trim angle, with a cantilevered stern nowhere near the height as has been traditionally depicted. A more complete description of Roger's theory was described in the previous Commutator. It was this hypothesis that was described and debated at WHOI.
Any attempt to reconstruct exactly what happened during that night so long ago is a risky proposition, at best. The foundering of Titanic is one of the most thoroughly documented maritime disasters of all time, but the volumes of information regarding the event can often be contradictory and interpretation of the evidence is rarely accepted without challenge. It has often been stated that "Steel doesnít lie," meaning that the wreckage itself should reveal unimpeachable truths, but as we were to discover during our deliberations at WHOI, sometimes the seemingly benign "steel" speaks different languages to different people. Looking at the same evidence, I came to a conclusion that differed from Rogerís.
Before the expedition sailed in August 2005, Simon had recommended me to the LWDG team because of my work with Dave Brown on the grounding theory. As Simon explained previously, the expedition failed to find any evidence that might relate to a grounding, but I had other experience that the producers felt could be of benefit to the post-expedition analysis effort. A short summary of my qualifications may help to explain my role. I received formal training in naval architecture at the U.S. Naval Academy where I graduated with a degree in Naval Science. Currently I am employed as a naval systems engineer and volunteer as an associate member of the Marine Forensic Panel (MFP), chaired by William Garzke and sponsored by the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. Practical experience as a forensic analyst came during James Cameron's 2001 and 2005 Titanic expeditions and I dove on the wreck itself in Mir 1 just two weeks before the History Channel expedition put to sea. I have a collection of steel plans from the Harland & Wolff archives that I have used to create computer-generated (CG) reconstructions of portions of Titanic's structure, including one of Boiler Rooms Nos. 5 and 6, the first and most accurate of its kind. I have also spent quite a bit of time studying the crew's descriptions of the break-up and sinking to include the human element in any forensic analysis.
Listening to Roger's proposed break-up analysis, I considered his scenario through the filter of my own experience. What he described happening to the ship's structure as she sank seemed logical overall, but there were some characteristics of his scenario that conflicted with my own sense of what the eyewitnesses described.
The first area where Roger and I differed was on the manner in which the bow section flooded. There has never been a full and complete flooding survey performed on a Titanic model, and this production did not have the funding to perform its own. The best survey available was one performed by C. Hackett and J.G. Bedford in 1996 for the Royal Institution of Naval Architects (RINA). The RINA flooding model appears to have been based from ship's plans rather than a dynamic computerised model, which was evidently not available at the time. The MFP had used the same model as a basis for the development of a break-up and sinking situation in their 1997 final report on the 1996 RMST/IFREMER expedition, so we considered it a mature enough model upon which we could build certain assumptions. Roger concluded from this model that the bow had enough buoyancy remaining at the time of the break-up to keep it at a shallow trim angle of approximately 10 degrees. This would influence the subsequent mechanics of his break-up and sinking theory. I felt that the RINA model underestimated the flooding; therefore, I saw less buoyancy in the bow. With a more negative bow, I saw the hull rotating around its centre of buoyancy — and subsequently failing — at a much greater angle. Without any empirical means to challenge the RIMA model, my set-up would be almost entirely theoretical. I did not have time to formulate an alternative position on the break-up and sinking during our WHOI deliberations...that would have to wait until I could develop my own model against which I could test various options. With only a few weeks before both the show's deadline for submission of new material and the Christmas holiday, what would I be able to put together?
During the 2003 documentary, Ghosts of the Abyss, I provided historical advice to the CG artists contracted to produce the 3D models used in the film. After the film wrapped I taught myself how to use the animation software and began building my own 3D models. I have yet to develop any true animating skills, but it occurred to me that a CG model of Titanic might serve well enough to both work through and illustrate my proposed version of the break-up and sinking. I didnít have time to build my own CG model of Titanic, so I gained permission to "borrow" a proprietary CG model from Earthship Productions for the purpose of this exercise. Using a combination of the RIMA report and a collection of eyewitness testimony as a guide, I manipulated the model to approximate what I thought the ship would have been doing at certain times throughout my proposed scenario.