The sinking of the Titanic has inspired many urban legends

Many alternative stories to the sinking of the superliner Titanic have been put forward. The accepted reason for the sinking, which resulted in the death of 1,503 passengers and crew, is that the ship struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM on 14 April 1912, buckling the hull and allowing water to enter the ship’s first five watertight compartments (one more than the Titanic was designed to survive), and sank two hours and 40 minutes later. Hypotheses which have been suggested as the cause of the disaster include unsafe speed, an insurance scam, an ice-pack rather than an iceberg, and even a curse on the ship by the Unlucky Mummy. Further theories rose after a journalist had a heart attack whilst on board the 2012 commemorative cruise that followed the same journey 100 years later.[1]

Pack iceEdit

In 2003, Captain L. M. Collins, a former member of the Ice Pilotage Service published The Sinking of the Titanic: The Mystery Solved proposing, based upon his own experience of ice navigation and witness statements given at the two post-disaster enquiries, that what the Titanic hit was not an iceberg but low-lying pack ice. He based his conclusion upon three main pieces of evidence.

  1. At 11:30 pm on the night of the sinking, the two lookouts spotted what they believed to be haze on the horizon, extending approximately 20° on either side of the ship's bow, despite there being no other reports of haze at any time. Collins believes that what they saw was not haze but a strip of pack ice, 3–4 miles (5–6 km) ahead of the ship.[2]
  2. The ice was variously reported as 60 feet (18 m) high by the lookouts, 100 feet (30 m) high by Quartermaster Rowe on the poop deck, and only very low in the water by Fourth Officer Boxhall, on the starboard side near the darkened bridge. Collins believes that this was due to 'an optical phenomenon that is well known to ice navigators' where the flat sea and extreme cold distort the appearance of objects near the waterline, making them appear to be the height of the ship's lights, about 60 feet (18 m) above the surface near the bow, and 100 feet (30 m) high alongside the superstructure.[3]
  3. A ship such as the Titanic turned by pivoting about a point approximately a third of the ship's length from the bow, with the result that with her rudder hard over, she could not have avoided crushing her entire starboard side into an iceberg were such a collision to occur, with the result that 'the hull and possibly the superstructure on the starboard side would have been rent. In all probability, the ship would have flooded, capsized, and sunk within minutes.'[4]

Coal fireEdit

Ohio State University engineer Robert Essenhigh released a theory in November 2004 that claims a coal fire led indirectly to the iceberg collision.[5] He claims a pile of stored coal had started to smoulder, to get control over that situation, more coal was put into the furnaces, leading to unsafe speeds in the iceberg-laden waters.

Essenhigh states that records prove that fire control teams were on standby at the ports of Cherbourg and Southampton because of a fire in the stockpile, and that such fires are known to reignite after they have been supposedly extinguished. He suggests that the Titanic actually set off from Southampton with one of its bunkers on fire, or that a spontaneous combustion of coal occurred after the ship left port. Such fires were a common phenomenon aboard coal-fired ships and one of many reasons why marine transportation switched to oil in the early 1900s. It is similarly theorised that such a bunker fire was responsible for the explosion of the USS Maine in 1898, by setting off her powder magazines.[6]

Gardiner's Ship That Never SankEdit

One of the most controversial[7][8] and complex theories was put forward by Robin Gardiner in his book, Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?[9] In it, Gardiner draws on several events and coincidences that occurred in the months, days, and hours leading up to the sinking of the Titanic, and concludes that the ship that sank was in fact Titanics sister ship Olympic, disguised as Titanic, as an insurance scam.

Olympic was the older sister of Titanic, built alongside the more famous vessel but launched in October 1910. Her exterior profile was nearly identical to Titanic, save for small detailing such as the promenade deck windows. These were not glazed in Olympic. In Titanic, the front half of the promenade deck was fitted with smaller glazed windows to protect passengers from spray.

On 20 September 1911, the Olympic was involved in a collision with the Royal Navy Warship HMS Hawke in the Brambles Channel near Southampton. The Hawke was inexorably drawn in by Olympic's giant propellors and collided with her rear starboard side causing extensive and fatal damage to the liner - both above and below its waterline. (HMS Hawke was fitted with a re-inforced 'ram' below the waterline, purposely designed to cause maximum damage to enemy ships). As is the case where a Royal Naval vessel is involved in any incidents, an immediate enquiry was organised by the Admiralty. Not surprisingly, as she was a Royal Navy vessel - the "Olympic" was held to blame, despite numerous eye-witness accounts to the contrary. This had dire consequences for both the "Olympic" and its owners, 'White-Star Lines' and set in motion Gardiner's theory. As 'Olympic' was found to blame in the collision, White-Star's insurers (Lloyds of London) refused to pay-out on the claim. (which, according to Gardiner, had damaged the central turbine's mountings and the keel). The White Star's flagship would also be out of action during any repairs, and the Titanics completion date would have to be delayed. All this would amount to a serious financial loss for the company. Gardiner proposes that, to make sure at least one vessel would be earning money, Olympic was then converted to become the Titanic. Gardiner states that few parts of either ship bore the name, other than the easily removed lifeboats, bell, compass binnacle, and name badges. Thus, Gardiner believes the Titanic spent 25 years in service as the Olympic.

Gardiner uses as evidence the length of Titanics sea trials. Olympics trials in 1910 took two days, including several high speed runs, but Titanics trials reportedly only lasted for one day, with no working over half-speed. Gardiner says this was because the patched-up hull could not take any long periods of high speed.

Gardiner suggests the plan was to dispose of the Olympic to collect insurance money. He supposes that the seacocks were to be opened at sea to slowly flood the ship. If numerous ships were stationed nearby to take off the passengers, the shortage of lifeboats would not matter as the ship would sink slowly and the boats could make several trips to the rescuers.

Gardiner maintains that on 14 April, Officer Murdoch (who was not officially on duty yet) was on the bridge because he was one of the few high-ranking officers who knew of the plan and was keeping a watch out for the rescue ships. One of Gardiner's most controversial statements is that the Titanic did not strike an iceberg, but an IMM rescue ship that was drifting on station with its lights out. Gardiner based this hypothesis on the idea that the supposed iceberg was seen at such a short distance by the lookouts on the Titanic because it was actually a darkened ship, and he also does not believe an iceberg could inflict such sustained and serious damage to a steel double-hulled (sic) vessel such as the Titanic.

Gardiner further hypothesizes that the ship that was hit by the Titanic was the one seen by the Californian firing distress rockets, and that this explains the perceived inaction of the Californian (which traditionally is seen as failing to come to the rescue of the Titanic after sighting its distress rockets). Gardiner's hypothesis is that the Californian was not expecting rockets, but a rendezvous. The ice on the deck of the Titanic is explained by Gardiner as ice from the rigging of both the Titanic and the mystery ship she hit. Researchers Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall took issue with many of Gardiner's claims in their book, Olympic and Titanic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy.[7] Author Mark Chirnside has also raised serious questions about the switch theory.[8] There is also evidence that Gardiner's theory is not true. When parts of the wreck were recovered, the construction number 401 was found on all of them. 401 was the Titanic's construction number, the number of the Olympic was 400. However after Olympic's collision, she was fitted with temporary repairs and many of Titanic's parts already stamped with the number 401 were fitted to Olympic.


The Titanics mummy curse is an urban legend, possibly based on a Priestess of Amen-Ra who lived in 1050 B.C.[10] According to legend, after the 1890s discovery of her mummy in Egypt, the purchaser of the mummy ran into serious misfortune. The mummy was then reportedly donated to the British Museum where it continued to cause mysterious problems for visitors and staff. The mummy was eventually purchased by journalist William Thomas Stead, who dismissed the claims of a curse as quirks of circumstance. The legend claims that he arranged for the mummy to be concealed on the underside of his car for fear that it would not be taken aboard the Titanic because of its reputation. He reportedly revealed to other passengers the presence of the mummy the night before the accident.[10]

Official records state that the British Museum never received the mummy, only the lid of its sarcophagus (which is on display at the museum and known as the "Unlucky Mummy").[11] Additionally, except during war and special exhibits abroad, the lid has not left the Egyptian room.[12]

Closed watertight doorsEdit

Another theory involves Titanic's watertight doors. This theory suggests that if these doors had been opened, the Titanic would have sunk on an even keel and therefore, perhaps, remained afloat long enough for rescue ships to arrive. But this theory is far from reality for two reasons: Firstly, there were no watertight doors between any of the first four compartments, thus it was impossible to lower the concentration of water in the bow significantly. Secondly, Bedford and Hacket have shown by calculations that any significant amount of water aft of boiler room No.4 would have resulted in capsizing of the Titanic which would have occurred about 30 minutes earlier than the actual time of sinking.[13] Additionally, the lighting would have been lost about 70 minutes after the collision due to the flooding of the boiler rooms.[13] Bedford and Hacket also analysed the hypothetical case that there were no bulkheads at all. Then, the vessel would have capsized about 70 minutes before the actual time of sinking and lighting would have been lost about 40 minutes after the collision.

Later, in a 1998 documentary titled Titanic: Secrets Revealed,[14] the Discovery Channel ran model simulations which also rebut this theory. The simulations indicated that opening Titanic's watertight doors would have caused the ship to capsize earlier than she actually sank by more than one half hour, confirming the findings of Bedford and Hacket.

Expansion JointEdit

There is a theory that one of the two Harland and Wolff's expansion joints in the Titanic caused her to split in half. This is the reason that they changed the design of the expansion joints in their later ship Britannic. [15]


  1. Titanic Curse Continues; Memorial Cruise Turns Back after BBC Journalist has Heart-Attack
  2. L.M. Collins (2003). The Sinking of the Titanic: The Mystery Solved". Souvenir Press. p. 16. ISBN 0-285-63711-8. 
  3. Collins, 17–18
  4. Collins, 24–25
  5. Geological Society of America and Robert H. Essenhigh (November 2004). "Coal Fire Theory". Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  6. Uss Maine
  7. 7.0 7.1 Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall (2004). Olympic & Titanic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy. Infinity Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7414-1949-1. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mark Chirnside (2006). "Olympic & Titanic – An Analysis of the Robin Gardiner Conspiracy Theory" (PDF). Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  9. Robin Gardiner (1998). Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?. Ian Allan Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7110-2633-9. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 "Everything But the Egyptian Sinks". Snopes. Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  11. Kamuda, Edward (August–October 1994). "The Titanic Mummy Legend". Titanic Commutator 18 (2): 24–25 
  12. Robert Hardman (20 November 2006). "Hi Mummy I'm home!". Daily Mail. Retrieved 4 October 2008. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Hacket C. and Bedford, J.G. (1996). THE SINKING OF THE S.S. TITANIC – INVESTIGATED BY MODERN TECHNIQUES. The Northern Ireland Branch of the Institute of Marine Engineers and the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, 26 March 1996 and the Joint Meeting of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects and the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, 10 December 1996
  14. Titanic: Secrets Revealed (1998) at IMDb

External links Edit

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