It's a story of fire and ice

Titanic: The New Evidence, which debuted Saturday on the Smithsonian Channel, focuses on the many possible contributing factors to the Titanic‘s demise — many of which have been speculated about for more than a century. Now, in this hour-long doc, Irish journalist Senan Molony — who's spent 30 years researching the disaster — presents new evidence in the form of previously unseen photos of what was once the largest man-made object on Earth. This research casts doubt on long and commonly held beliefs about the sinking of the Titanic and answers questions, including: Why was the ship picking up speed if it they had been warned of icebergs ahead? And why, when it should've been able to stay afloat long enough for a nearby ship to reach it, did the Titanic suddenly plunge beneath the waves?

Read on for the fascinating claims made in Titanic: The New Evidence.

1. A mysterious mark on the side of the ship might be key to its tragic end
The recently discovered photos show a strange, diagonal black mark on the hull of the ship. A collaborator of Molony's first believed the mark was just a reflection of the water, but an examination of the photos revealed the more than 30-feet long mark remained in place. Here's where it gets weird: If you blow the image up to get a closer look, the mark follows the line of the hull plating and is in the exact area where the iceberg later struck the ship. The doc posits that the Titanic was damaged and weakened before it even left its dry dock in Belfast, Northern Ireland. But what does the mysterious mark mean?

2. There may have been a fire below deck on the Titanic before it set sail
It has always been known that the ship suffered a fire — it was even mentioned at the official inquiry in 1912 but authorities concluded it played no role in the disaster. Molony has always been aware of the fire, too, but says it was downplayed and he disregarded it until the new evidence in the photos made him go back to eyewitness accounts. In one, a fireman — whose job it was to keep the ship's boilers fed with coal — told a journalist that there was a massive fire in one of the ship's coal bunkers. The massive fire was discovered the day the Titanic prepared to leave Belfast for Southampton, before it began its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, the doc claims.

3. The fire allegedly was never put out
The standard procedure for coal bunker fires was to dig out all the burning coal before the fire spread. With the coal bunkers towering three stories high, putting out the blaze was no simple task. The doc says 12 men fought it, but they made no headway against the hundreds of tons of coal stored there — thus, the Titanic was on fire the day it set sail. No one on board was told about the fire and the firemen were allegedly under strict orders to keep it quiet. The fire had also most likely been blazing since the coal had been loaded into the bunkers three weeks before, but hadn't been detected.

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4. The fire was in the prime place to cause catastrophic damage later
The bunker coal was stacked against the ship's hull and a water-tight internal division called a bulkhead. The bulkheads are one of the ship's major protections that divide the hull into discreet, water-tight compartments so that water is stopped from flooding the whole ship in the event of a breach. Both the hull and the bulkhead — critical parts of the structure — were exposed to temperatures of up to 1,000 degrees Celsius and became dented and warped as a result, the doc claims.

5. Allegedly aware of the fire, the owners of the Titanic forged on regardless
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company Star White Line was losing business to shipping rivals, and the chairman, Thomas Ismay, was under pressure to turn it around. He commissioned three new super ships that were 50 percent bigger than any other ship to be built. These required new docks to be built — a costly endeavor. To save money, according to the doc, Ismay amended the chief architect's plans, reducing the dimensions of the steel and number of lifeboats. The effects of cost cutting were apparently evident when the Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, collided with HMS Hawke and suffered a huge hole to the hull. The filmmakers claim that the damage shown in the newly unearthed photos makes it clear that the steel used wasn't strong enough. Because of the damage to the Olympic, the prop shaft and propeller from the Titanic were transferred to the Olympic in a bid to get it back to sea sooner. This pushed the Titanic behind schedule. Any delay in the Titanic‘s departure would cause too much embarrassment in the press and damage White Star's finances irrevocably, and so fire or no fire, the Titanic would set sail on time, as the theory goes.

Credit: Universal History Archive/Getty Images

6. The Titanic wasn't picking up pace to break records and become the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic
It has long been believed that part of the reason the Titanic sank was because it was recklessly racing to cross the Atlantic faster than any ship before it, meaning it couldn't change its course and avoid colliding with the iceberg. However, the documentary states that that was never a possibility for the Titanic — it simply wasn't a fast enough ship. Rather, three days into the voyage, the fire had spread and was now in more than one bunker. To get rid of the smoldering coal, the firemen were shoveling it into the engine's furnace. The extra fuel in the furnace accelerated the ship's speed, barreling it head first into an ice field, despite warnings to slow down, according to the filmmakers.

7. Even if they could've slowed down, they might not have chosen to
It just so happened that here was a miners' strike during the building of the Titanic. This meant there was a shortage of fuel on board the Titanic. While there was just enough coal to carry the ship to New York, there wasn't enough to waste on slowing down and then speeding up again, so the ship didn't have enough reserves left to do anything but maintain its pace and stick to the same route, the doc claims. The danger of hitting an iceberg was less prominent a threat than the danger of running out of fuel and damaging White Star's reputation. "Against the higher risk of embarrassment they chose to go with the lower risk of catastrophe," says Molony. "They gambled."

8. The fire played a deadly role in the final hours of the disaster
The collision with the iceberg punctured the forward starboard side of the hull, but the ship initially held firm and stayed afloat. There should have been enough time for a nearby rescue vessel to reach the Titanic. Despite the fact that the ship was designed specifically with bulkheads so that it could withstand damage, the fire had heated the steel to such a high temperature that it only retained a quarter of the strength it would've had at room temperature, according to the film. That meant that a gradual buildup of water was strong enough to cause a crack, and then the brittleness of the metal allowed the crack to spread, allowing a torrent of water to crash through it and pulling the ship down at a more rapid pace, the film claims. More than 1,500 men, women, and children drowned in the Atlantic Ocean when the ship sank.

9. The chairman of White Star allegedly took preemptive action to cover up the truth
After he boarded the rescue ship, Ismay allegedly sent telegrams ahead to New York to stop the truth from getting out. He used the code word "yamsi" (his name backward) in his telegraphs and was very adamant that he wanted the firemen who survived the sinking brought back to England as quickly as possible, presumably to keep them quiet, the doc claims.

The filmmakers explain that Lord Mersey, a commissioner of the British Inquiry and a patron of the ship builder's guild, didn't bother to call on 57 serving firemen to give evidence and disregarded the evidence of those that did appear, ultimately concluding that the disaster was an "unavoidable accident." He made no mention of the fire.

  • Movie
  • 194 minutes