The Writings of Michael J. Bowler

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Could All of Titanic's Passengers Have Been Saved?

Posted by Michael J Bowler on September 2, 2012 at 4:05 AM

            Having been fascinated by the Titanic disaster for most of my life, I ‘ve read a great many books and articles on the subject. In writing my novel, "A Matter of Time," I sought to make the Titanic portions as accurate as I possibly could. Despite placing some fictional characters aboard the ship, I strove to portray the real historical figures, like Captain Smith, Jack Phillips and Thomas Andrews, with as much truth and accuracy as possible. As you may or may not know,Titanic brushed alongside an iceberg that essentially punctured her hull below the waterline for a full three hundred feet, on the starboard side near the bow. A design flaw within the watertight compartments caused her to sink. But,there was a way to save probably all the passengers and crew that was never attempted, or to the best knowledge of historians, even discussed.

            The builde rof Titanic, Thomas Andrews, was aboard her for the maiden voyage, to gauge her strengths and weaknesses. The ship was considered “practically unsinkable” due to the watertight compartments designed to contain seawater should the ship strike something and damage her hull. But the builders, and designers, envisioned a head-on collision, or perhaps another ship ramming Titanic from the side. They never imagined an iceberg, or anything, ripping a 300-foot gash across the first five watertight compartments beneath the waterline. Each compartment had watertight doors and bulkheads to contain the incoming seawater. The design flaw was the bulkhead between the fifth and sixth watertight compartments – it only rose as high as E Deck (not all the way to the top deck.) Thus, once those first five compartments flooded, the water spilled over that not-high-enough bulkhead into the seventh compartment and then into the eighth, and so on. Titanic effectively became an ice cube tray, with water spilling over into each successive compartment and dragging her down. She was pulled down by the head, and once this process accelerated, there was no stopping it.

            What neither Andrews nor Captain Smith even considered doing was the following: they could have opened the watertight doors separating these compartments and allowed water to fill the entire bottom portion of the ship. If they had done this, Titanic would not have been pulled down by the head, but would have sunk on an even keel, with only twelve square feet open to the sea all night. The aft (rear) engine pumps could have been activated, likely keeping the ship afloat indefinitely, or at least long enough for the rescue ships to arrive.

            No one knows why this wasn’t tried, since both men went down with the ship. Perhaps the sheer shock of such an impossible event stunned Andrews to the point that this option never came to mind. Alas, had he thought of it, Titanic would not likely be the worst maritime disaster in history because the loss of life would’ve been slight, or perhaps no one would have been lost at all!

            I utilize this knowledge within my book for a character who comes from the future, who must decide whether or not to inform the Captain of this possibility, and, in so doing, change history forever. You’ll have to read the book to discover what he chooses.


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Reply Steve
2:32 PM on September 20, 2012 
Yes. Anyone reading this site should read your book to find out what happens. Its a terrific read--well researched, informative and a lot of fun.

But as for the tragedy of the Titanic: flooding the hold wasn't the only opportunity missed for saving the great ship's passengers. The steamer Californian had just navigated the ice flow that eventually sank the Titanic, and had stopped for the night. Its captain, Stanley Lord, didn't want to try to continue at night. They sent a warning to the Titanic about the ice bergs.

When the Titanic struck the ice berg and began sinking, the men on night watch on the Californian saw the distress flares. Three times that night they awoke the sleeping Lord, and three times he told them to NOT respond in any way. Only at daybreak did Lord decide to go to the Titanic's last known position. Another ship, the Carpathian, from a position much further away, had already arrived and was picking up the last of the Titanic survivors when the Californian arrived.

The Californian was only ten miles away. Had Lord gone to the Titanic's aid when the distress flares were first sighted, hundreds of lives would have been saved.
Reply Michael J Bowler
3:01 PM on September 20, 2012 
As the Californian was not part of my book, I did not mention this element in my posting. The actions of Captain Lord that night have been the subject of controversy since 1912, and that topic is an entire cottage industry unto itself. Lord has many supporters who claim evidence that shows the ship Titanic signaled that night was not, in fact, the Californian. As far as my reading has taken me, I believe it was, but I have not read in depths any of Lord's defender's and examined their reputed evidence.

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