At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York.
Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people.
Now, a new documentary released on Netflix-style platform History Hit dispels some of the common beliefs about the Titanic’s sinking.
One claim made about why the ship sank is that members of the ship’s watch did not have binoculars on the fateful night and so did not spot the iceberg quickly enough.
But Mr Maltin, the author of three books on the Titanic, argues that if the crew had had binoculars they would have taken longer to warn of the iceberg.
Among the other claims, which are all debunked below, are that Captain Smith was reckless by sailing too quickly, that the ship was poorly built and that poorer passengers in third class were locked below deck.
At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people. Now a new documentary released on Netflix-style platform History Hit dispels some of the common beliefs about the Titanic’s sinking
Captain Smith was reckless by going too fast
The judge who led the British inquiry into the Titanic disaster, John Charles Bigham, 1st Viscount Mersey, wrote in his journal that the ship was travelling at ‘excessive speed’ and there was ‘no reduction of speed’ in the icy environment.
However, Mr Maltin said that ‘every captain’ who testified at the inquiry said they would have ‘done the same thing’.
‘The night the Titanic sank it was actually extremely clear and they were keeping a very sharp lookout,’ he said.
‘They knew they were getting into the ice region, but critically they believed they could see the ice in time.’
It has also been suggested that Captain Smith may have been drunk or was not even on the ship’s bridge when it hit the iceberg.
But Mr Maltin said that while Captain Smith did dine with passengers at around 7 or 8pm, he was on the bridge ‘the whole time’ when the ship hit the ice at 11.40pm.
Debunking the Myths of the Titanic hears from the world-leading expert about the disaster, Tim Maltin
Among the other debunked myths is the claim that Captain Edward Smith was reckless by sailing too quickly
‘In fact, his suite of rooms, his navigating room and his chaise lounge area and his bedroom area are actually part of the bridge. He was always on the bridge,’ he said.
‘And he had left instructions to be called immediately if anything happened.
‘And in fact, as soon as they went full astern and he heard the ship starting to stop, he came straight through and he was there.
‘But he was working out positions and he was alert and around the bridge the whole time.’
Mr Maltin also said that Captain Smith was the Commodore of the White Star Line and had captained all their flagship vessels.
He was also popular with the crew, who ‘loved sailing under him’.
Instead of seeking out a life boat himself, the Captain chose to help women and children get to safety, Mr Maltin said.
The ship was poorly constructed
It has previously been claimed that the Titanic’s hull was held together by second-rate rivets, meaning that part of it was weak and so vulnerable to being torn open by the iceberg which sealed its fate.
Science writer Dr Richard Corfield made the claim in 2012 and said the answer for why she sank could be found partly ‘within the science of the Titanic’s construction’.
But Mr Maltin hit back against this claim, saying the vessel was ‘one of the best built ships in history’.
He said: ‘She was so well built. I have been lucky enough to go and see a huge 40-ton piece of the Titanic and just the scale of it and size and the weight of it, is utterly incredible.’
The White Star Line had famously claimed the Titanic was ‘unsinkable’.
It has previously been claimed that the Titanic’s hull was held together by second-rate rivets, meaning that part of it was weak and so vulnerable to being torn open by the iceberg which sealed its fate. But Mr Maltin hit back against this claim, saying the vessel was ‘one of the best built ships in history’. Pictured: The ship in Belfast shortly after being constructed
Mr Maltin said the reason for this was that the ship could actually have been ‘sliced in to three pieces and each piece would’ve floated.’
‘She was also designed to float even with the first four watertight compartments flooded and she was designed to float even with a collision at the point of two watertight compartments,’ he said.
But he said the ship was not designed for the ‘side swipe disaster’ which saw the iceberg hit the vessel at an angle after its crew took avoiding action.
He said the iceberg ended up doing ‘a little bit of damage along 200ft of Titanic’s length.’
‘That Dan was five watertight compartments and she could sail with the first four flooded but not the fifth one,’ he added.
And even though the ship did sink, Mr Maltin said she did so ‘on an even keel’ and it took two and a half hours.
By contrast, he highlighted the example of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which ‘rolled over much more quickly’ during the disaster in 2012 off the coast of an Italian island.
‘So actually you could say Titanic was safer than modern ships are today,’ Mr Maltin claimed.
The crew didn’t have binoculars and so could not spot the iceberg in time
Before the Titanic left Southampton, there was a reordering of the officers – with Henry Wilde coming over from the RMS Olympic with Captain Edward Smith.
As a result Second Officer David Blair left the Titanic and it is thought he took the key to the cabin with him, which would have given officers access to a binoculars case.
Speaking to presenter and fellow historian Dan Snow, Mr Maltin conceded in the History Hit documentary that ‘there were no binoculars in the crow’s nest that night.’
However, he explained that the best way to detect icebergs at night is with the naked eye.
Speaking to presenter and fellow historian Dan Snow, Mr Maltin conceded in the History Hit documentary that ‘there were no binoculars in the crow’s nest that night.’ However, he explained that the best way to detect icebergs at night is with the naked eye. Pictured: The Titanic’s lookout, Frederick Fleet, who issued the warning about the iceberg
‘That’s because the naked eye has a wide field of vision and that helps the way that we detect objects,’ he said.
‘Whereas, if you’re trying to look through binoculars, it is really hopeless because the binoculars are used to inspect an object you’ve already detected.’
Mr Maltin in fact argued that, had they had binoculars, the crew would have been slowed down in declaring news of the iceberg to the ship’s bridge.
He added: ‘Instead of thinking “is that an iceberg or not” and checking it out with the binoculars, they just rang the bell three times which meant “iceberg, dead ahead”.
Captain Smith then ordered the ship’s crew to take evasive action but was not able to turn quickly enough to fully avoid the ice.
Titanic tipped up and sank horizontally
In the 1997 Hollywood film about the disaster, which stars Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, the Titanic splits in two before the bow (front) tips up horizontally.
However, Mr Maltin said this is not how the vessel actually sank.
Because the iceberg struck the ship near the front on its starboard (right) side, that was were water flowed into the vessel.
It meant that the stern was lifted out of the water and then broke away.
But because it was ‘so well sub-divided’, Mr Maltin said it ‘crashed back down’ on to the water.
In the 1997 Hollywood film about the disaster, which stars Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet, the Titanic splits in two before the bow (front) tips up horizontally
The passengers who were on the stern, which was ‘almost everyone at that stage’ actually then thought they were ‘going to be fine’.
However, because the bow was having a ‘tug of the war’ with the stern as it sank, it did terminal damage to the still-floating rear part.
Mr Maltin said: ‘[It] did so much damage pulling at her keel that the damage to the stern that was caused by the bow was greater than the damage caused by the iceberg.’
Despite the film scenes of the Titanic violently sinking as passengers clung on to its rails, Mr Maltin said the stern in fact ‘sank very quietly’, allowing remaining passengers to swim off it.
One passenger remarked that his head did not get wet as he swam away, Mr Maltin said.
The third class passengers were locked below deck while the others escaped
In James Cameron’s 1997 film, third class passengers are seen being locked below deck beneath huge metal gates.
However, this is not actually what happened.
Mr Malton said: ‘In fact, first class stewards were sent straight down to the third class to tell people exactly where the boats were.’
It is true that there were gates which separated first, second and third class. But this was a legal requirement set by US immigration authorities to avoid the spread of infectious diseases.
‘The law was that no passenger ship could go to America without these gates shut. It was only in a state of emergency that the gates were allowed to be opened,’ Mr Maltin said.
In James Cameron’s 1997 film, third class passengers are seen being locked below deck beneath huge metal gates. However, this is not actually what happened
On the Titanic, the gates were opened as soon as a state of emergency was declared, 47 minutes after the ship hit the iceberg.
Addressing the fact that more third class passengers died than those in second class, Mr Maltin said it was because they ‘did not want to’ get in life boats.
He said that, in 1912, boys were classed as adults from the age of 13, meaning teenagers were only allowed into life boats after women and children had taken their places.
Because poorer families were going to America in search of a new life, they did not want to lose teenage or male members of their family.
‘So you could imagine these women and men with families going to America,’ Mr Maltin said.
‘What you don’t want to do is leave behind your 13-year-old son, your 14-year old son, your 15-year-old daughter.
‘So what they did is they decided they would be better off sticking together.
‘If they were going to leave the breadwinner behind dead in the icy waters of the Atlantic, what hope would there be for the mother on her own?’
Titanic didn’t have enough lifeboats
Much has been made of the fact that the Titanic only had 20 lifeboats, which was enough to carry just over 1,000 of the 2,208 passengers.
However, Mr Maltin said that, because half the lifeboats would have been put out of action by the listing of the ship, the Titanic would have in fact needed to carry twice as many everyone needed if they were to save all souls onboard.
‘The fact is, if you want to have enough life boats on a ship for everyone, you need to have twice as many as everyone needs,’ he said.
Much has been made of the fact that the Titanic only had 20 lifeboats, which was enough to carry just over 1,000 of the 2,208 passengers. Pictured: Some of the Titanic survivors in a lifeboat
‘Every ship almost settles on an uneven keel, it lists to the port or starboard. When it’s listing, half the lifeboats are put out of action.
‘So if the Titanic needed 30 lifeboats, then she actually needed to carry 60 to allow for that eventuality,’ he said.
Because this was impractical, the Board of Trade instead opted to have ‘ships properly built and properly subdivided’, Mr Maltin said.
‘What the authorities said was that any properly subdivided ship could actually carry a limited number of lifeboats in order for the lifeboats to act as a ferry from a stricken liner to get people to nearby vessels,’ he added.
Rudder was too small
It has also been argued that the Titanic’s rudder was too small to effectively manoeuvre the enormous ship.
However, Mr Maltin said it was the same size as the one which was on the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic.
The Olympic remained in service until 1935 and its captain said it had the best handling of any ship he had ever commanded, Mr Maltin said.
The horrific 1912 Titanic tragedy
Constructed by Belfast-based shipbuilders Harland and Wolff between 1909 and 1912, the RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat of her time.
Owned and operated by the White Star Line, the passenger vessel set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on April 10, 1912.
The liner made two short stops en route to her planned Atlantic crossing — one at the French port of Cherbourg, the other at Cork Harbour, Ireland, where smaller vessels ferried passengers on and off board the Titanic.
Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping.
At just before midnight on April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic hit an iceberg while travelling on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. Within three hours, the ‘unsinkable’ ship had slipped beneath the waves of the freezing Atlantic Ocean, killing more than 1,500 people
The Titanic took on water some fifteen times faster than could be pumped out, with the hull damage proving too extensive for the vessel’s watertight bulkheads to keep the flooding from spreading across the liner’s compartmentalised lower decks.
After around two-and-a-half hours, the vessel broke into two sections and sank, each settling to the seafloor around a third of a mile apart.
Around 1,500 people were believed lost in the tragedy, including around 815 of the liner’s passengers.
The ship’s main feature was the Grand Staircase. It was built from English solid oak, and enhanced with wrought iron. The decorated glass domes above were designed to let in as much natural light as possible
At its launch, the luxurious Titanic was the largest ship in the world, and was carrying some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of people from Britain, Ireland, and elsewhere who were seeking a new life in the United States.
Eight Chinese men were on board and six survived, landing in New York three days later aboard the Carpathia, the first ship to arrive at the scene of the disaster.
Under the United States’ Chinese Exclusion Act, the men were transferred 24 hours later to a British steamship and sent to Cuba
Nearly five days into her voyage, the Titanic struck an iceberg at around 23:40 local time, generating six narrow openings in the vessel’s starboard hull, believed to have occurred as a result of the rivets in the hull snapping. Pictured, the iceberg believed to have sunk the Titanic
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