New Evidence Discovered at the Wreck of the Titanic
When it was first launched, the RMS Titanic was seen as a breakthrough in marine engineering. The uniquely designed vessel was thought to be indestructible. However, it ended up being a tragic lesson in hubris (the specific type of pride that goes before a fall). Nowadays, we remember the Titanic as a ship beset by massive misfortune in the early part of the 20th century.
Divers have been visiting the Titanic for decades, exploring the eerie hallways and cabins of the ship to unlock its secrets. For the last 14 years, nothing particularly remarkable was found, but all that changed recently. A haunting truth about the wreckage was unveiled by the crew of the Limiting Factor mini-sub. Read on to learn about these new secrets from the depths of the ocean.
The Titanic’s Short Journey
On April 10, 1912, The magnificent Titanic departed from the waters of Southampton, England, carrying thousands of passengers from all classes of society and hundreds of ship staff. Indeed, there were enough workers to run a small city!
After a short stop in Cherbourg, France, the Titanic continued her voyage to Queenstown, Ireland. More passengers came aboard the ship, and then the captain set a course for New York. At this time, excitement levels were high, and no one had even the slightest inkling of what lay ahead.
Despite its massive size, the Titanic was brought down by a single iceberg. The gargantuan vessel sank 12,500 feet to the ocean floor that now serves as a deathbed for the hundreds of people who were trapped on board.
Even among those who escaped the sinking ship, around 1,500 lost their lives to the freezing waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The ship that was once called “unsinkable” was consumed by the ocean, and what was supposed to be a memorable voyage became its final one.
The icy Atlantic waters flowed through every hallway and cabin of the maiden ship. The steel supports of the Titanic were irreparably damaged by the iceberg collision, and there was nowhere to go but down.
Although it was a threatening situation, the captain and crew might have managed the incident if only they had been able to restrict the flooding to the four bow sections of the ship. Unfortunately, the water invaded five of the ship’s compartments, leading to the tragic conclusion of the Titanic.
Olympic-class Ocean Liners
Planned and made truly magnificent by wealthy businessmen were three Olympic-class Ocean Liners. The RMS Titanic was one of those three. It was launched second to Olympic and before Britannic. Indeed, the Titanic seemed like a sure thing at that time.
Just like the Titanic, the Limiting Factor mini-sub traveled miles away from its home and dove into the depths of the sea. Though it didn’t suffer the same fate as the Titanic, its crew did witness a haunting truth about the once sought-after ship.
The Largest and Most Luxurious Liner
When competitors try to steal your shine, you have to find a way to outclass them. That was the ethos of J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line Company. He decided to level up the business by rebranding their ships as big and lavish enough for the first-class market.
Harland and Wolf built White Star Line ships, but unlike other ships of their kind, the construction of the Olympic vessels took much longer, so everyone naturally assumed that they truly were of premium quality.
Construction of the “Unsinkable” Ship
Her massive size came with many impressive details. Engineering and constructing this ship took a long time – and for good reason! In March 1909, Harland and Wolf started the job at a shipyard in Belfast. Amazing though this may sound, the ship’s structure contained 2,000 steel plates, each weighing three tons, with dimensions of six by thirty feet.
Working on the gigantic vessel was neither easy nor safe for employees. During its construction, 246 workers were reported as having injuries, while eight people lost their lives.
What’s Inside the Titanic?
As promised, rich people were assigned to the first-class cabins and facilities, enjoying the fanciest experience aboard. Roasted duckling, pâté de foie gras, and peaches in Chartreuse jelly were among the sumptuous dishes they could enjoy in Café Parisien. Some other classy facilities they enjoyed were the gym, the swimming pool, and a Turkish bath.
Although their facilities differed greatly, third-class passengers also got to enjoy a unique voyage. Considered necessities now, electricity, heating, and running water were amongst the privileges these passengers were treated to at the time.
An Enormous Ship
As a magnificently huge ship, the Titanic had some stunning dimensions and characteristics. With four huge propellers powered by 29 boilers, this ship weighed 52,310 tons! It measured about 175 feet from its bottom to its highest point and 880 feet from bow to stern!
Her dimensions are proof that she is more than just an unusual ship. This queen of the ocean accommodated around 1,355 passengers and 885 staff on her first and last voyage, making her a moving city on the waves.
The Titanic tragedy was an unforeseen event for both the passengers and the White Star Line company. Sixty-four wooden lifeboats were supposed to be available to accommodate the passengers and staff on board. The launching gear was there, but sadly, the lifeboats were not.
Because no one had seen this tragedy coming, she only had 20 lifeboats on her maiden voyage – enough to hold 1,178 people. According to British Maritime Regulations at the time, ships weighing above 10,000 tons were obliged to load only 16 lifeboats, meaning that White Star Line company did not break any rules.
A Bad Omen?
The Titanic was launched on the River Lagan in Belfast, Ireland, on May 31, 1911. One hundred thousand people witnessed her become the largest man-made object to float on the water. With the help of 22 tons of soap and animal fat, the enormous ship slid into the river within 62 seconds!
Right from the launch, tragedy was in the air. Shipwright James Dobbin was helping to take the timber supports away from the ship. Several heavy blocks of wood fell on him, and he died from his injuries two days after.
After sliding into the River Lagan, the ship had yet to set sail. However, the construction of the Titanic was nearing its end, with just a few interior designs left. This was the time when they added intricate details to the ship’s interior.
Aside from the interior design, the great four funnels were the final touches necessary for the ship’s safe sail. One funnel was responsible for the kitchen’s ventilation, and three others were for the fumes coming out of the ship’s engine.
Why Did They Think the Titanic Was Unsinkable?
To decide if it was ready to sail, they put the ship through trials in the Irish Sea for eight days, starting from April 2, 1912. As expected, the ship was deemed ocean-worthy and ready to embark on a historical voyage with thousands of passengers and crew on board.
The Port of Southampton was the ship’s point of origin. While sailing on the Eastern coast of America, it stopped briefly at Queenstown and Cherbourg to pick up additional passengers.
The People Behind the Titanic
Around 885 staff were on the maiden ship. Sounds like a lot, right? Given the vast dimension of the ship, it needed a large workforce to handle all the operations inside the majestic ship. Led by senior captain of White Star Line, Edward Smith, the Titanic was set for the most luxurious voyage.
Sixty-six of them were on the deck, 325 were the ship engineers and their assistants, and the remaining 494 comprised chefs, cleaners, printers, fishmongers, laundry-men, and other crew responsible for treating guests to the finest on-board experience.
The Titanic departed on her voyage, carrying a total of 1,317 paying passengers. They were men, women, and children of all ages, all hoping to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The overwhelming majority were in third-class, with around 284 in second-class and around 324 in first-class.
While this seems like a large number, it was nothing compared to the ship’s intended capacity of 2,453 passengers! Why did places on the Titanic not sell out, given its fame and popularity?
Some Passengers Backed Out
Only 1,317 passengers joined the Titanic on its doomed maiden voyage. However, this was not the original number of people who were supposed to sail. Before the Titanic launched, there were debates and protests about the ship’s coal consumption in the UK.
Many travelers had a last-minute change of mind and canceled their plan to join the sought-after voyage. Nobody anticipated the tragedy, and many innocent lives were lost, including the richest people of that time.
A Remarkable Ship with Remarkable People
The ship was bathed in luxury and populated by some of the richest people in town. On the voyage with his wife, Madeleine, was the very wealthy John Jacob Astor IV. There was also Benjamin Guggenheim, an American tycoon, with his mistress Léontine Aubert and her maid, chauffeur, and butler.
Leontine and Madeleine survived, but sadly, the others did not. Among the casualties were Macy’s department store owner, Isador Straus and his wife, and Harry Molson, a Canadian politician and businessman.
Cowardice or Luck?
Bruce Ismay survived the freezing tragedy. How? He was able to join the others on the ship’s last wooden lifeboat. For this reason, he was called a coward. Was it cowardice or just his privileged luck? The owner of White Star – J.P. Morgan – was supposed to join the voyage but canceled his plans at the last minute. Lucky!
For some, however, heroism comes naturally, and this was proven by Thomas Andrews, the Titanic’s designer. He chose to help others, putting his life on the line to do so. As a result, he was among those who did not survive.
The Start of the Frozen Menace
At around 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, a crewman named Frederick Fleet noticed an iceberg in the vessel’s path. The solution seems simple – steer the ship away – but there wasn’t enough time to correct course. The ship wasn’t able to avoid the iceberg collision, and the breached bow started to sink into the water.
The whole ship was in turmoil, and nobody was guaranteed safety. None of the crew had dealt with a situation like this before, so no one knew quite how to respond.
How Did the “Unsinkable” Titanic Sink?
As the ship continued to plunge into the water, third-class passengers in the steerage were trapped inside, and many froze to death. At 2 AM, the water flooded the ship’s deck, and in 10 minutes, the Titanic had gone into the depths of the ocean.
It was an unexpected misadventure, and questions as to why this happened were quickly raised. Reports say that the ship was going faster than normal, while the captain, who sadly lost his life too, was not attentive enough to icebergs.
Crazy Ideas for Retrieval Operations
It was to the knowledge of everyone that many of the passengers belonged to the top class of society. Of course, with the benefit of wealth, their relatives were willing to fund a search operation to recover the casualties. The diving technology at the time was not advanced enough, but other ideas surfaced.
The dropping of bombs to make the bodies resurface was deemed impossible because nobody knew precisely where the ship was. Another idea that cropped up in the 1970s was to use a huge magnet to pull up the whole ship and use balloons to carry it after that. Insane, right?
Earliest Visit to the Maiden Ship
Argo was the first sub ever controlled by a remote, and it was also the first to visit the Titanic wreckage 70 years after the sinking. As time passed and technology advanced, the remote control subs were replaced by manned subs.
At 12,500 feet, the Limiting Factor Team was the first to see the once magnificent Titanic after the last expedition in 2005. They brought back some fascinating stories along with pictures in incredible 4k resolution. Another impressive thing they had brought off-shore was their haunting discovery.
The Limiting Factor Team
The August 2019 expedition was not a simple matter of dropping the sub 12,500 feet and then driving it around the ship. The Limiting Factor team included skilled divers and experts. After all, great discoveries require great people.
The team had five divers, and Victor Vescovo – the founder and CEO of Caladan Oceanic – was one of the divers. Of course, the venture wouldn’t be complete if no experts were joining the team. Rob McCallum, the lead planner, and Parks Stephenson, the Titanic expert, completed the group.
The Fascinating Titanic Discovery
The stunning remains of the magnificent ship were filmed with cameras that exceeded the quality of any that had gone down before them. They discovered that the “captain’s bathtub,” a popular artifact spotted on previous missions, can no longer be seen at the location. Why?
Crew member (and founder of Triton Submarines) Patrick Lahey mentioned in his statement that it was truly fascinating to see the once majestic vessel come into view in the murky depths. It is now home to a variety of marine species.
The Titanic Returns to Nature
After decades under the ocean exposed to saltwater, bacteria, and ocean creatures, “the Titanic is returning to nature,” as Stephenson told the BBC in 2019.
Stephenson’s statement was backed by expedition scientist Clare Fitzsimmons. She explained that many artifacts were being eaten away by “rusticles” – bacteria that are eating up the steel structure of the ship. Unfortunately, rusticles turn into dust over time, and soon enough, the Titanic will just be a part of our memory.
What Is Happening to the Oil from the Titanic?
The Titanic could be a disaster for nature too. Like other ships, it needed a lot of oil, and if the remainder of this oil leaks out, marine life surrounding that wreckage could be hugely affected.
The Titanic is turning to dust, but its oil reserves are not. Scientists are now thinking of a solution to solve the inevitable oil leak that will occur when the Titanic erodes more. Accelerated by being soaked underwater, this could happen at any time within the next few years.
Sunken Ships Harm Marine Life
Another ship in a similar predicament captured the attention of scientists – a German vessel called the Franken. It was meant to be a cargo ship, but due to the high demand for U-boats at the height of WWII, construction of the Franken was delayed for two years.
With the Nazis having invaded Denmark, the Germans had to move the Franken to Burmeister and Wain shipbuilders, a business based in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, where the ship saw its completion.
A Vessel to Support the War
In March 1942, the Franken received its commission and became an oil tanker and a carrier of supplies for some of the German Navy’s ships. It was finally finished after a few years of delays, and it got to work without a moment’s delay.
The Franken supplied German ships like the Prince Eugen, a heavy cruiser battleship operated by the German Navy. It also serviced the utility ships that served as minesweepers and torpedo boats, delivering fuel and supplies.
The Franken Towing Service
Another interesting fact is that the Franken was among five Dithmarschen tankers and supply ships built by the Germans. They were built to support naval warfare vessels, and they carried munitions and much-needed supplies.
The Franken was more than just a cargo ship. It could also tow ships that were badly damaged, bringing them to safety. This included everything from warships and destroyers to the small vessels used by the Germans as they fought the Russians.
One “Hel” of a Trip
With the war still raging on, the Franken sailed from two ports. One was in He – a small town on the Hel Peninsula in Poland. The Germans renamed the place Hela following their invasion.
Hel was one of the last stands Poland made against the German takeover. 3,000 Polish soldiers stood their ground here before succumbing to Nazi tyranny. The Germans blasted the peninsula with torpedoes just before the Polish surrendered, turning it into an island.
Men of Courage Stood Their Ground
Even after the loss of the peninsula, Polish soldiers continued to fight for their country. In fact, they fought off the Nazis for almost a week before eventually giving up. It was a valiant effort, but the Nazis sadly overpowered them in the end.
The German occupation of Hel was a strategic one. They used the beautiful seaside town as a base for training the crewmen who operated their U-boats. Hel had the conditions the Germans needed, so they saw their invasion as crucial. After all, controlling a U-Boat isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Plenty of training is needed.
The Beginning of the End for the Nazis
The Franken sailed from two ports, with one situated near the port of Hel. Gdyni was a quiet port before the German occupation. Not much has happened there, and it was of no great interest to anyone. Still, the Germans insisted on renaming it “Gotenhafen.”
With all the chaos going on, the Baltic Sea became one of the most prominent locations of WWII. The USSR – often referred to back then as the “Red Army”– dominated the Nazis, pushing them away from Russia and the other Baltic countries.
Running Won’t Save You
The Russians intercepted the fleeing Germans with their submarines and aerial weapons. This was possible because the Soviets had invaded countries the Germans thought they had their grasp. It was a huge blow against the Germans and could well be one of the major reasons they lost the war.
The German Navy was left with the single option of evacuating its soldiers and civilians using Estonian waters. As they traversed these waters, they were bombed by Russian aerial war vehicles while torpedoes were launched from submarines deep under the ocean.
Was Sinking the Franken a Huge Mistake?
Following a series of German losses to the Russians came the bombing of the Franken tanker. On April 8, 1945, the Franken met its end at the port of Hel. It was taken down by a Russian aerial assault on the location.
The Franken misfortune was devastating for the crew members and their families. Forty-eight sailors died as the Franken sank under the force of the bombing. It came to rest on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
The Danger Is Yet to Come
Weeks following these events, on May 7, the Nazis announced their surrender. This meant that the war was finally over. However, the results were devastating as multiple vessels were sunk in the Baltic Sea. 30 U boats, three German Destroyers, and one Russian destroyer, to be precise.
After everything settled, people forgot about these merchant vessels. They were left to lie in peace at the bottom of the Baltic Sea for decades. But today, experts are extremely bothered by the threat these ships pose.
The Depths of the Baltic Sea
It is no surprise that after years of resting at depths of 160 to 250 feet in the waters of the Baltic Sea, the sunken Franken was already disintegrating. Its bow now rests around 2,600 feet away from the other parts of the shipwreck. Germany’s Baltic Sea Conservation Foundation sent an expedition to check on the ship’s current state.
In April 2018, the LITERAL and the IMOR – both Polish dive vessels – dove down for a lengthy 13-hour exploration to get to know and understand the structure of the Franken.
The Danger of the Collapsing Franken
In 2018, Olga Sarna, president of MARE Foundation – an organization involved in marine conservation – told The Sun how much of a risk the disintegrating Franken is. Sunken ships deteriorate due to the effects of salt and bacteria over time.
The shipwreck’s location and the ocean currents in that area put it at an elevated risk of deteriorating altogether in the murky depths. If immediate action is not taken, the Franken could cause devastation to marine life.
Saltwater and Fuel Tanks Are a Bad Combination
For almost 75 years, the Franken has resided at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. What could possibly go wrong? As mentioned, saltwater plays a big role in the disintegration of sunken ships. When exposed to saltwater, tanks have a degrading rate of 0.39 inches every decade.
For the Franken, this is not good news. The tank walls were, by best estimates, around half an inch thick, and by now, its tanks have likely deteriorated more than a quarter of an inch. Can you imagine how near it is to collapse?
Why Are Experts Worried About the Collapse of the Franken?
Remember, the Franken is not just an ordinary ship but a cargo ship from WWII. After the Soviets bombed the ship, extensive fuel remained inside as it sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Today, the ship is said to be still carrying 800,000 gallons of fuel at the very least.
Considering the possible harm it may bring, why did they not take action before the situation got worse? The answer was simple: retrieving the ship will cost too much money while offering little to no return of value.
Take Action or Suffer the Consequences?
After the Second World War, the Franken was in the Polish government’s custody. In April 2019, Benedykt Hac from the Gdańsk’s Maritime Institute talked with Deutsche Welle. In their conversation, he emphasized how expensive it would be for the Polish government to raise the Franken. He gave a rough estimate of $9 million to $23 million if the retrieval operation happens today.
That certainly isn’t cheap! Nor will this expenditure have any appreciable financial benefit for the government or any businesses involved. However, it would be of great value to environmentalists, scientists, and locals. In this case, which value should everyone consider?
The Effect of the Sunken Fuel Tanks
Sarna explained the potential effects of the spill in her conversation with The Sun. Without a doubt, when the Franken fuel load spills into the Baltic Sea, the whole region will suffer the consequences. Marine life will likely perish when this happens.
If it is light fuel, it will quickly get into the bays and beaches, which will cause a great disadvantage to the Baltic region’s tourism industry. If this happens, the whole region will be closed and will suffer serious economic issues. With sunken ships like the Titanic and Franken, there are still many decisions left to be made in order to avoid the environmental threats these ships pose to our marine life.