Titanic’s below-decks crew saved 100s of lives

Heroic officers and laborers kept Titanic afloat and illuminated as long as possible.

On April 1, PBS telecast Saving The Titanic, an hour-long dramatization / documentary that tells the story behind what happened below decks a hundred years ago as the Titanic was sinking. I loved every minute of it, so I’m happy to discover that PBS has placed the entire hour-long program online for viewing. I’ve watched it twice, because it’s loaded with engineering detail that I missed when it was broadcast.

Saving The Titanic website with movie
drawing by MechNrowman

A good friend of mine who’s a Titanic expert confirms the detail. The 300 foot long “gash” from the iceberg was more like a dent, which stressed the hull’s steel plates and their rivets. Eventually many rivets failed. The ship would have remained afloat, barely, if the wound had been just a few feet shorter. The breach of the fifth watertight compartment sealed her fate.

Titanic stern and rudder
Note man standing beneath central propeller

As with most disasters, Titanic’s sinking was the result of more than just one event or bad decision: a coal mining labor strike meant that inferior grade coal was stored in her bunkers. Heat from resultant bunker fires degraded the hull’s steel plate temper. If the forward watertight bulkheads were just one deck taller, Titanic would have remained afloat. According to my friend, stopping the engines when the bridge first saw the iceberg was the wrong move; the rudder was aft of the central propeller (of three propellers) and benefited from the propeller’s wash. The ship would have turned faster with the central propeller turning and probably would have avoided the iceberg.

Communication with the bridge ended with the last Slow Ahead command. Below decks crew only knew that the hull had been breached and that their job was to keep the ship afloat and powered up. They did that by re-routing seawater, coal, steam, and electric current for hours until Titanic’s last few minutes. Saving The Titanic tells these heroes’ story.

  • Update, December 2015: PBS has removed free access to the hour-long version of this movie. D’oh! I prefer the shorter hour-long version because it dispenses with much of the social catholic/protestant rivalry , which in my opinion distracts from the story. Vimeo hosts a seven-minute preview of what you’re mssing.
Visit my website: http://russbellew.com
© Russ Bellew · Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA · phone 954 873-4695
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