|© PA archive. Did fire first destroy the doomed Titanic?|
The doomed vessel, which measured more than 880ft long and 100ft tall, went down with the loss of more than 1500 lives on April 15, 1912 during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York .
However fresh evidence that the Titanic’s hull may have been crippled by a massive blaze that burned unchecked for almost three weeks immediately behind the spot where it was later pierced.
The claim was made by journalist and Titanic expert Senan Malony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the disaster.
He used little known photographs taken by the Titanic’s chief electrical engineer before it left Belfast shipyard to identify 30ft-long black marks along the front right-hand side of the hull.
Mr Malony said: “We are looking at the exact area where the iceberg stuck, and we appear to have a weakness or damage to the hull in that specific place, before she even left Belfast”.
Experts subsequently confirmed these were likely to have been caused by fire damage, as a result of hundred of tonnes of coal catching fire due to “self-heating” in a three-storey-high fuel store behind boiler room six.
Twelve men battled to bring the resulting conflagration under control, but it was still raging days later - as temperatures of between 500 and 1000 degrees Celsius.
Ship’s officers were reportedly under strict instruction from J Bruce Ismay, president of the company that built the ship, not to mention the desperate situation to any of the Titanic’s 2,500 passengers.
The vast majority of these - some 2,000 men, women and children travelling third class - were crammed below decks, far from the mahogany-lined luxury enjoyed by Benjamin Guggenheim and Lady Astor above.
Unusually, the ship was even reversed into its berth in Southampton to prevent passengers from seeing the marked side, Mr Molony will claim in a documentary, Titanic: The New Evidence, to be broadcast on Channel 4 on New Year’s Day.
Mr Molony said: “The official Titanic inquiry branded [the sinking] as an act of God. This isn’t a simple story of colliding with an iceberg and sinking. It’s a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence.
“Nobody has investigated these marks before. It totally changes the narrative. We have metallurgy experts telling us that when you get that level of temperature against steel it makes it brittle, and reduces its strength by up to 75 per cent.
“The fire was known about, but it was played down. She should never have been put to sea.”
There are also suggestion that, despite warnings of icebergs, the Titanic was travelling faster than was advisable as stokers and firemen sought to dispose of burning coal by putting it in the only place available to to them - the furnaces powering Titanic’s massive engines.
“There are aspects of this saga that have never been adequately explained,” Mr Molony said.
David Hill, former secretary of the British Titanic Society, told The Times: “There certainly was a fire. It set sail on Wednesday and they didn’t get it out until the Saturday, so it must have been a big one.
“Was it a life-changer? It’s my personal opinion that it didn’t make a difference ”.
Did a coal fire sink the Titanic?
Did an intense fire on board R.M.S. Titanic lead to one of the worst disasters in maritime history?
A new documentary by author and journalist Senan Molony suggests the emergence of pictures hidden in a forgotten album for a century prove that the supposedly unsinkable passenger ship was weakened by a smoldering coal fire even before it left on its catastrophic maiden voyage.
Titanic, which at the time of its sinking in 1912 was the biggest ship afloat, hit an iceberg in the north Atlantic on the night of April 14 and went down with the loss of about 1,500 lives. Some 700 people survived.
Molony said the existence of a fire inside one of the coal bunkers is well documented -- but its significance underplayed.
In the documentary Titanic: The New Evidence, broadcast on the UK's Channel 4 on New Year's Day, Molony reveals pictures taken in early April 1912 shortly before Titanic started its trans-Atlantic voyage. They show a mark on the White Star ocean liner's starboard side near the seat of the fire, and the point of the collision.
"The anomaly is exactly the place where it struck the iceberg," he told CNN.
Molony said his research suggests the intense fire in one of the coal bunkers, which were three storeys high, reached temperatures of around 1,000 degrees, warped the bulkhead steel and made it brittle.
"The bulkhead was not worthy of the name. It completely compromised the ship and led to an accelerated sinking -- Titanic couldn't stay afloat long enough for an effective rescue," he said.
Molony said the pictures were taken at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by John Westbeech Kempster on the first two days of April 1912 -- just over a week before it sailed, bound for New York City.
In the documentary he describes the pictures as "the Titanic equivalent of Tutankhamun's tomb."
He told CNN that they were contained in an album which had been put up for sale at an auction in England at the time of the centenary in 2012.
Why did Titanic speed up?
The pictures immediately stirred his interest. The journalist who is political editor of the Irish Daily Mail had been interested in the Titanic story since he was a child.
After the discovery of the ship on the ocean floor in 1985 he researched and wrote a book about the Irish passengers on board.
"I'm really excited about some new evidence," he told CNN. "I've always been fascinated by why it [the Titanic] sped up towards an ice field."
He said his investigations suggest that workers in the boiler room may have been trying to clear the burning coal bunker -- and that the only place to put the coal was in the ship's furnaces, which would have made Titanic steam on at a higher speed.
Not everyone is convinced of the argument.
David Hill, former secretary of the British Titanic Society, told The Times newspaper: "There certainly was a fire. Was it a life-changer? It's my personal opinion that it didn't make a difference."
Story 'very much alive'
In a statement sent to CNN, the convention officer for the British Titanic Society Nikki Allen, said the documentary had "ignited discussion around the world."
"The program and its contents is certainly welcome," she said.
"It will enable us to encourage healthy discussion among our membership so that they can decide for themselves on information placed before them so as to inform their own opinion.
"Most satisfying to us, as I'm sure to other like-minded societies is the reaction to Senan Molony's presentation. It clearly shows that although the Titanic sank with great loss of life almost 105 years ago, the story of the vessel and her passengers and crew is still very much alive, for which we are grateful."
Titanic doomed by ice -- and fire?
A deadly combination of ice – and fire – share collective blame for the sinking of the Titanic, according to a group of experts who believe a massive below-decks blaze weakened the hull so massively that an iceberg had no problem cutting a gaping hole through it.
Journalist Senan Molony studied rarely-seen photographs of the doomed luxury liner before it left Belfast shipyard and, along with several experts, identified 30-foot-long black marks along the hull likely caused by the massive on-board coal fire, The Independent reported.
The black marks are located just behind where an iceberg penetrated the Titanic late at night on April 14, 1912.
“We are looking at the exact area where the iceberg stuck, and we appear to have a weakness or damage to the hull in that specific place, before she even left Belfast,” Molony said in a documentary broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 on New Year’s Day.
Though the fire – which raged at 1000 degrees and resisted attempts by a 12-man crew to extinguish it – was previously known about, the black marks that likely resulted from it were only recently uncovered.
Researcher Ray Boston in 2008 said the Titanic was probably traveling so fast on the night it sank because of the fire. Though the fire started about 10 days before the ship departed, it continued to burn in coal bunker six of the ship throughout the ill-fated voyage, according to testimony from a stoker who survived the sinking. The stoker told an inquiry that many workers believed fireboats in New York harbor would eventually need to be called upon to help extinguish the fire.
“But we didn’t need such help,” he said, according to The Independent. “It was right under bunker number six that the iceberg tore the biggest hole in the Titanic.”
Boston said “inevitable explosions” would have resulted from the fire and the owner of the ship hoped to reach New York and unload the passengers before they occurred. So the ship sailed speedily through icy waters with lookouts posted in a single location – and struck an iceberg.
“This isn’t a simple story of colliding with an iceberg and sinking,” Molony said. “It’s a perfect storm of extraordinary factors coming together: fire, ice and criminal negligence.”