If you Google "Titanic coal fire", the results page will be full of articles positing this exact theory. This is neither new, nor correct. Anyone who has studied this event at any length will know it was a death by a thousand paper cuts. Trying to assign ultimate responsibility to a coal fire using a 106-year-old photo showing a black smudge is laughable and shows a fundamental lack of understanding.
The fire in question wasn’t some blazing inferno that many undoubtedly imagine, but rather it was more of a smoldering affair. This fire was in one of many rooms that was built for the express purpose of containing this coal. A fuel source that is known to self-ignite. To say that the fire effected the ship is like saying burning a casserole in your oven will burn down your house. Possible? Technically. Likely? Absolutely not.
Something this article failed to mention was that the fire was put out the day before the Titanic sank. Coal fires were common on large steel ships like the Titanic. The engineers and stokers were prepared for, and ultimately handled the fire. It was part of their job, not some apocalyptic emergency.
As I said above, the Titanic was a death by a thousand paper cuts. Unfortunately, it was a necessary death to give us the marine safety regulations we have today. If any number of things had been just slightly different on the Titanic, it would be a footnote in history and we would be talking about a different ship that would have inexplicably had everything go wrong, including but not limited to an irrelevant coal fire.
What it really doesn't say is that, if there's evidence suggesting additional factors, ignore them and go for the simplest explanation that fits. That's just silly.
It's not always the simplest explanation that is true. It's a heuristic to pick an explanation in absence of more information.
Also it's still just a heuristic and Occam's Razor can get it wrong.
I think you’re glossing over the idea that the burning coals were thrown into the furnace which in turn revved up the engine which caused the Titanic to speed through the Atlantic and right into an iceberg.
To say that the Titanic was careening out of control through the Atlantic Ocean that by all rights should have been devoid of icebergs because some lowly stokers were shoveling coal into a furnace faster than they should have is both simplistic and flat out wrong.
Yeah but the article is saying that's not the real reason it was speeding. It was the coals in the furnace.
They were going so fast because going flat out at or near top speed to make or beat schedule was standard practice for passenger liners of the time, even in the face of sea ice, relying on lookouts to spot icebergs and past experience which showed that even direct impacts generally failed to prevent completing the voyage.
Beyond lifeboat regulations, what other safety improvements resulted from the sinking? Also, why the Titanic versus a previous vessel? (Is it the Titanic or simply Titanic?)
Radio and Distress flare procedures; International Ice Patrol; Ship design changes, including taller bulkheads
Hypothesis: The fire played one final, deadly role in the disaster: the fire-damaged bulkhead gave way, causing the ship to sink, and the enormous loss of life.
Actually: Since the ship was doomed from the moment of the collision, whether or not the bulkhead collapsed was more or less immaterial to the timing of the disaster. Lives were not lost because it allegedly collapsed early.
The article goes on to show that it's far from clear that the bulkhead did in fact fail, and that it's unlikely that the fire would have been intense enough to damage it significantly.
If the documentary claims the ship was only doomed by the failure of the bulkhead in question, then it is in error, but timing of the essence here: if the ship stayed afloat for one more hour, it probably would have made little difference, but an extra two hours probably would have.
The metallurgical discussion of the effect of fire on the bulkhead looks well-grounded to me (though I know little about the matter), but it might be somewhat moot if, as this article seems to acknowledge, the bulkhead may have been deformed beforehand, as a consequence of a bunker fire at some point. I am curious as to whether the strain on the hull, from having the stern lifted out of the water, could have led to (further) damage to the bulkhead, creating the reported rush of water.
Also the link in the article to the documentary is incorrect. Here's the correct link for "Titanic: The New Evidence": https://vimeo.com/198568091
This is by no means extraordinary: coal bunker fires were rather common back in the age of steamships. It was even discussed at the various admiralty inquests into the loss of the vessel.
Why not both? Very high temperatures earlier in the crossing and then very low temperatures in the Atlantic.
Does it? There's certainly materials where damage is made worse by rapid temperature transitions and/or a temperature differential across the material than by temperature extremes in one direction or the other alone.
Excessive heat being bad doesn't mean that excessive cold is good, or vice versa, and neither conflicts with the idea that both together, close in time or simultaneously, aren't worse than either alone.
In the case of the steel in the titanic, the theory is that there was excessive amounts of suphur in the steel, which "coats" the grain boundaries between ferrite crystals in the steel and causes brittle failures. Modern steels add Manganese to counteract this effect. Sulphur embrittlement is worse at colder temperatures, but will not be effected by heating/cooling cycles unless the heating is so intense that you get past critical temperature and recrystallize the steel (~2300 F).
I can’t seem to find the name but there was a town in Texas, coal delivery ship shows up with fire in storage. They dock, open the hatches, fresh oxygen causes the fire to spread. Then other boats catch on fire. Some explode. Throw shrapnel into town. By the time the fires are out, hundreds are reported dead, almost 40% of the town is left homeless.
The story I’m thinking of, the captain knew the coal was burning before he docked, and went into port anyway to try to salvage the cargo. The subsequent explosion was due to material on other boats.
I may have heard about this around the Tianjin explosion but more likely when they were fighting the new coal depots on the west coast, someone brought it up while talking about coal self igniting.
Why would they measure the amount burned in square miles??? How thick? This measurement is meaningless!
94 miles total for the three bores of the Channel Tunnel
120 miles for the Suez canal, finished 149 years ago
51 miles for the Panama canal, finished 104 years ago with steam shovels
Clearly, we can do this.
I think the newer fire, by virtue of its location and having started more recently, is probably a lot more photogenic because of the infrastructure damage it causes.
In terms of death toll, there have been worse shipwrecks in this century.
1987 there was a shipwreck that was 4x as bad as the Titanic (over 4,000 deaths).
In 2002 over 2,000 people died in one (nearly 2x the Titanic)
A 2006 wreck had 1,000 deaths. The same magnitude as the Titanic.
It seems that it is only unthinkable for people who can't use Wikipedia.
21st Century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_maritime_disasters_in_...
20th Century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_maritime_disasters_in_...
1910 -> 1.7 billons
1987 -> 5.0 billons (2.9x)
2002 -> 6.2 billons (3.6X)
2006 -> 6.5 billons (3.8X)
So the 1987 case is still worse after adjusting for the global population.
Coupled with the absurdity of a situation where the ship sinks slowly and people drown due to lack of lifeboats (among other things).
Which leads to my other favorite modern myth that we never built a bigger ship than Titanic since that disaster. It's interesting to point out that very few modern Cruise Ships are smaller than the Titanic.
Hell, I didn't hear about Doña Paz until today, despite being the largest peacetime maritime disaster in history and happening just 2 years after Challenger.
In short, people wanted to believe that we could just go into space and leave all the problems we had and mistakes we made on earth behind. It was a sort-of "salvation". The Challenger was a poignant reminder that this was not the case.
In a village, a murder is the talk of town. In a city, we don't even know.
So, yes; GPs point, while cold and calculating in the way only actuaries can sometimes be, was a fair point nonetheless.
(I agree, it's kinda silly metric.)
There's actually a lot of murders that never get solved.
(from a purely; sociopathic standpoint anyway)
Of course, in reality (at least the American judicial system), punishment is usually based more on other factors, such as motive. So premeditatedly killing an old man because you wanted to steal his stuff is punished more than killing a child purely by accident.
Had this happened in 1919, I think it would have been forgotten already, as it would seem pale compared to WW1. In 1912, people were quite innocent, so this was seen as a big event.
Was WW1, at least in part, something that was allowed to happen before most people had forgotten earlier big wars? Roughly 100 years had passed since Napoleon, after all.
When authors today again consider Titantic to be "unthinkable", what does it mean?
I consider it perfectly thinkable that something in our lifetime will trigger a nuclear war, killing billions of people.
Especially if we start to take global stability for granted.
> Was WW1, at least in part, something that was allowed to happen before most people had forgotten earlier big wars? Roughly 100 years had passed since Napoleon, after all.
There's a little mentioned XIX century war that exacted WW2-scale casualties: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taiping_Rebellion
Also because of this I think it became sort of a shared generational experience. A single, big, widely reported and discussed tragic event, that made people able to recall "what were you doing when you learned about the Titanic" for years to come. Similar to 9/11 for my generation.
That the thip wath not going to think, same ath in the patht?
40 million people died in The Great War, which just ended. And there were world events which killed people on a much larger scale than the Titanic before that.
It's a very modern and naïve viewpoint to think people of years past were "innocent," as if tragedy and large-scale loss of life is somehow a new invention.
Still, my point stands — "innocent" is simply a false way to describe people of that age.
As others have suggested, I would think interest in the Titanic had much to do with the celebrity status of its victims and the ship itself.
There was a strong sense of "That could have happened to me!", especially among the elite.
Imagine how terrified the tech community would be if a major accident at SFO killed 1000 people trying to get on or off flights.
> AC759 reached a minimum altitude of 59 feet (18 m) above ground level, comparable to the 55 ft 10 in (17.02 m) tail height of a Boeing 787-9, two of which were on Taxiway C
But I could be wrong in my interpretation...
I think one of the shocking things about the Titanic is that it was considered to be top of the line and operated in a professional manner. I don't think anyone is shocked that third world countries operate unsafely.
After reading that article not only was such an occurrence not unthinkable, I almost felt like a survivor.
I see what you mean with the bad safety procedures, but now that much better safety procedures are mandated by law and we have radar and real-time weather reports, you could turn that around and say that a disaster with a comparable death toll is even more tragic, given that it's much more easily preventable.
With a great big itheberg.
I think Molony and the author need to do more research on transportation in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Liners were the only way to cross the ocean. If you're in America and need to do business in Europe, you take a ship. The faster that ship gets there, the better.
That's just a matter of your chosen frame of reference.
Clearly we didn't "hit" any issue, but we started experiencing an issue.
Using it as a noun is like saying "before the hit" or "before the issue". "Iceberg" is an adjective describing the type of hit.
I would have thought there would be some valve somewhere that can be opened to vent excess power (steam?) into the atmosphere rather than being forced to drive the propellers faster, is that an incorrect assumption?
The boilers need well distilled water to turn into steam without leaving scaly residue all over the place. During normal operations the steam is routed through engines where it expands and cools and eventually through condensers where it condenses back into water to be fed to the boilers back again.
If they throttled the engines down, the excess steam would have kept gathering, increasing pressure. They'd need to either lower the coal feed rate - which they did not want - or blow off steam . Ability to blow off steam is a safety measure not meant for regular, extended operations. Think "analogue of nuclear reactor SCRAM". It causes loud release of huge unseemly clouds of steam, but more importantly it causes loss of the valuable distilled water for the boilers.
Btw, operations of marine steam powerplants is surprisingly complex and fascinating subject; consider having a look at this WW2-era navy manual  if you ever wonder what it takes to run one such at top power or efficiency.
 perhaps they could route some of the steam directly from boilers to condensers, but I don't think typical condenser installations are capable of directly taking in HP steam
Pretty much everything in Keith Rucker's Vintage Machinery channel is interesting.
Not at all that simple. As already mentioned in the thread, they had limited fuel. Boiling 100s if not 1000s of gallons of water takes more fuel they already don't have.
SWAG: they probably weren't just using distilled water. There was likely some pH additive or other chemical treatment that water uses for a multitude of factors (scaling, corrosion, erosion, foaming, etc etc) that gets lost if you just vent water overboard - lost physically as volatile chemicals are vented or lost logically as new water must be treated.
Also, the boiling process itself is much more complicated than a pot and a fire. To achieve any reasonable amount of efficiency at all requires a multistage process with heat reclamation. If you plan on transiting salt water, the boiling process produces a thick, salty effluent that can be difficult to pump and is strongly corrosive. The weight, complexity, training, parts inventory, etc are all large costs. These are all hard sells for relatively short voyages.
Any ship installation is limited in size, weight, and power, so you carry machines only big enough to produce sufficient supply for normal operations plus a bit of spare capacity. Even if they had a distilling machine(s) on board, they would certainly not be able to supply as much water as they'd be able to boil off in the main boilers.
Also, the apparent ease of distillate production is a bit misleading. In fact, it is a bit of an involved subject, with multi-stage processing, and delicate balances of pressures and the occasional thorough cleaning. At least in the submarine world, that is...
Basically you want to heat up the water only as much as you need to, but later on recover as much as possible of the heat from both the distillate and the condensed discharge. This is helped greatly by maintaining proper pressures at different stages. Otherwise you'd be running exceptionally inefficient process, and at scale & over span of weeks things add up to real numbers.
I suppose a visit to archive.org's collection of old steamship books could yield a definitive answer.
Smoldering coal bunkers had to be a common occurrence on steam ships.
They too try to "debunk incorrect narratives" (as they see it).
Why trust some random non-expert volunteers running a site and their citations (which could be biased).
"If an organization like Snopes feels it is ok to hire partisan employees who have run for public office on behalf of a particular political party and employ them as fact checkers where they have a high likelihood of being asked to weigh in on material aligned with or contrary to their views, how can they reasonably be expected to act as neutral arbitrators of the truth?"
"Except the site specifically tries to debunk incorrect narratives"
"employees who have run for public office on behalf of a particular political party and employ them as fact checkers"
I think we achieved something important here, in spite of it all.
"Facts" are about literal, objective, measurable reality. If it depends on a subjective interpretation and reading between the lines, then it isn't a fact.
In physics, chemistry, math, etc. facts are the order of the day, yes.
But raw facts are few and far between in human affairs and even less so in politics.
When people say something in non-hard-science domains, it more often than not depends on a "subjective interpretation", and depending on their phrasing, hidden motives, and eloquence might also need some "reading between the lines" or some charitable interpretation.
Nerds applying Vulcan-style logic to such claims just confuse matters more.
I don't see Snopes doing that, though. I see them making an argument based on evidence and (in the specific case related the linked article) not even making an absolute claim about it at the end.
The people applying "Vulcan-style logic" are those who dismiss sites like Snopes out of hand as being politically biased, or propagandist, and therefore entirely useless.
Sometimes ya gotta flip the script.
What do you mean you have to spend time engineering it? Just write it the way I imagine it working (but also I can't tell you what I'm imagining, but trust me it's amazing)!
I'm not bitter, I promise.
Or because it makes an otherwise mundane task entertaining.
Cars tend to be able to drive over uneven ground. I'd say that people only used to driving on smooth asphalt underestimate this.
not exactly. Longest hull means highest hull speed.
Unlike the other ships in the class, Olympic had a long career spanning 24 years from 1911 to 1935. " 
The Britannic was sunk by an explosion caused by a naval mine, apparently planted by a WWI German submarine.
And the Titanic... well, we all know what happen to the Titanic, don't we... :-P
EDIT: More wiki-trivia 
* The titanic was 269.1 m long.
* The largest ship these days (the Seawise Giant) is an oil tanker 458.46 m long.
* The largest passenger ship: the Oasis (362 m long).
Ships are frequently pumping out water. They don't need to be 100% watertight.
While boats usually add drainage to the deck, and try to minimize the water that gets "inside" (say in the cabin, or the hollow hull of many small motorboats) not all ingress can be avoided.
Combined with the possibility of anything below the waterline being even slightly less than watertight, and it is not a surprise that a bilge pump of some kind is pretty common equipment on most boats with an electrical system.
If you use long sentences with twists and turns and double negatives, it's rare that such a direct match can be made to a search query, and your article won't be returned.
Even Wikipedia is starting to reflect this.