Just about everyone on the planet has heard the story of the ill-fated ocean liner, The Titanic, or at the very least has seen the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. So, we all know what sunk the great ship – or do we.
A new documentary – has revealed that there were many problems aboard the ship that may have doomed her long before she struck that fabled iceberg. Mainly, a coal fire that likely had been burning since the moment the “unsinkable” ship left port in England!
According to the History Channel, Irish journalist Senan Molony argues in his documentary “Titanic: The New Evidence,” the hull of the ship was compromised weeks before its tragic voyage. In the film, which aired on History, Molony argues that while the iceberg certainly dealt the ship her deathblow, it was an extraordinarily stroke of bad luck, that the iceberg may have struck in the exact spot where the hull had been weakened by a coal fire that blazed in the depths of the ship prior to disembarking.
As described in the film, Molony, examined photos and eye-witness testimonies to determine that a fire spontaneously lit inside one of Titanic‘s coal bunkers and severely weakened a segment of the ship’s hull.
“The ship is a single-skin ship,” Molony said. He means that while modern ships contain two hulls, Titanic, like other early twentieth-century vessels, had only one. Such a structure typically made for a weaker vessel, but in the Titanic‘s case it proved fatal. The bunkers where the crew stored engine coal was located next to the hull. The heat from the fire transferred directly to the ship’s metal structure.
The “ah-ha” moment for Molony came when he discovered a trove of previously unknown photographs. Four years ago he purchased them from a descendant of the engineering chief of Harland and Wolff, the Irish company that built the Titanic.
He was shocked when he saw a thirty-foot-long black streak documented on the outside of the ship’s hull, very near to where the iceberg struck its blow.
A Fire On Board
At first, Molony thought the streak was just a reflection. But, upon further examination he belived that the streak was scorching — caused by a fire in one of Titanic‘s three-story-tall coal bunkers.
Molony assembled the facts in his own timeline in order to create a new narrative. He argues that the fire began as early as three weeks before the Titanic launched its voyage but was ignored due to pressure to keep the ship on schedule and fears of bad press. Britain ruled the seas but was facing increased pressure from Germany and others for the valuable immigrant trade.
An article from the New York Tribune published shortly after Titanic survivors made landfall in the United States corroborates this theory. The article read in part:
Stokers Agree Blaze Was in Progress from Time of Leaving Southampton Till 2 P.M. Saturday
Every stoker who was interviewed declared that the Titanic was afire from the time she left Southampton until Saturday afternoon at 2 o’clock. This story was first told by an officer of the ship, who requested that his name be withheld, saying that all the men had been warned not to talk about the disaster.
The article went on to say:
“Immediately we began to work on the fire, and it took us until Saturday afternoon to extinguish it. We were compelled to dig out all the coal from these sections. In my opinion this fire played no small part in the disaster, for when the bow was stove in[,] the waters readily tore open the watertight bulkheads, behind which had been the coal. If the coal had been still in the second and third sections when the vessel struck the iceberg it would have probably helped the bulkhead to resist the strain.”
This account was one of the first explanations of the Titanic‘s sinking — it was even mentioned by British officials in their official inquiry in 1912. But the narrative was downplayed by the judge who oversaw it, Molony said in his film.
“He was a shipping interest judge, and, in fact, he presided at a toast at the Shipwright’s Guild four years earlier, saying ‘may nothing ever adversely affect the great carrying power of this wonderful country. So, he closes down efforts to pursue the fire, and he makes this finding that the iceberg acted alone.”
Not Everyone Buys Titanic Documentary’s Account
While Molony’s theory is plausible, and is backed by evidence, not everyone is buying it. There have been many conspiracy theories surrounding the doomed ship, and theories as exotic as it being sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat or fell victim to an Egyptian Mummy’s curse that was being shipped onboard. But, none of these hold as much credence as the well-researched story presented in Molony’s film.
Conventional wisdom still holds that the iceberg is the main culprit. “A fire may have accelerated this. But in my view, the Titanic would have sunk anyway,” Dave Hill, a former honorary secretary of the British Titanic Society said, offering his opinion on the film.
Molony believes that his version holds up due to the shakiness of the original inquiry’s findings. The same inquiry stated that the Titanic had sunk intact, while it was found later to be broken in half on the sea floor.
“Just because an official finding says it, doesn’t make it true,” Molony says.