Do these photos unveil what really caused the Titanic to sink?

(USA TODAY) -- Do forgotten photos unveil what really caused the Titanic to sink?

Titanic author and researcher Senan Molony puts forth a strong case that long-forgotten photos from Titanic’s Chief Electrical Engineer, John Kempster might prove the theory that a fierce fire onboard the Titanic contributed to the “unsinkable” ship’s demise. In Titanic’s Fatal Fire, which premieres at 8 p.m. ET April 15 on the Smithsonian channel, Molony details many of the decision’s made by the shipbuilders to finish the Titanic on time, despite signs the ship might not have been fit for the sea.

Here are four remarkable things we learned from Molony about the photos and the show, which premiere’s on the 105th anniversary of the ship’s perilous journey.

The photos were in an attic for decades

A descendant of Kempster brought an album of old photos of the Titanic to an auction house in 2012, according to Molony. 

"The auction house intended breaking up the individual pictures into single lots, meaning they would have been dispersed," Molony said. "A collector somehow heard about the find, however, and approached the dealers."

Photos show mark on Titanic where a fire was burning

Two of the photos show a 30-foot-long dark mark on the ship's starboard side, directly in front of where boiler room six would have been located, an area where there was a massive fire, according to show.

The area where the mark is located is also where the ship hit the iceberg, leading experts to believe the fire might have damaged the area, allowing the iceberg to cause further damage than it might do if the area wasn't compromised.

The fire on the Titanic was massive, and likely should have kept the ship from sailing

The day the Titanic left Belfast for Southampton, England, a massive fire was found in one of the coal storage bunkers. Typically firemen aboard the ships dug out the burning coal before the fire spread, but the Titanic's coal bunkers were three-stories high making it impossible to quickly deal with the massive flames.

While the fire was glossed over during the British Inquiry following the ship's sinking, Molony found a New York newspaper article featuring John Dilley, who was a fireman onboard the ship.

The firemen were told not to tell passengers or talk about the fire, which according to the Dilley burned the first few days of the voyage. “From the day we sailed the Titanic was on fire," according to the Dilley.

Molony said research suggests the coal fire was burning at over 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and may have warped the steel and made it brittle. The Titanic was designed to sink slowly enough that other ships could reach it and save passengers onboard, but the damage from the fire likely accelerated the ship's sinking.

The British Inquiry following the ship's sinking got a lot wrong

After the ship sank, an inquiry into what went wrong was held, but some key aspects of the ship's demise were downplayed or incorrect.

"Everyone accepted [the British Inquiry's] claim that the fire did not play a major part, even though the inquiry also denied that the ship broke in two (she did!) and claimed that her sinking was caused by a 300-ft gash made by the berg," Molony said, adding "Sonar imaging of the wreck on the sea floor shows there was no such long gash. It had to be something else that caused her to sink in so short a time, two hours and 40 minutes."

Molony said the Board of Trade marine inspector, Maurice Clarke told the inquiry that the fire had been concealed from him. He had the power to withhold the ship from sailing and likely would have based on another case involving another transatlantic liner.

"The fact that [the British Inquiry] suppressed consideration of an uncontrolled fire should therefore not surprise – particularly since some of the judicial makeup of the Titanic Inquiry had previously ruled in 1910 in the case of the Cairnrona ... that she should not have gone to sea with a spontaneous coal fire in her bunkers," he said.

According to Molony, the Cairnrona people were killed in an explosion onboard the ship.

"The Cairnrona suffered an explosion, loss of life and panic," he said. "The finding was circulated to all shipping companies – but Titanic sailed anyway, two years later, with her coal in worse condition."

The Titanic likely sped up because of the coal fire

Molony said Titanic investigators believe workers in the boiler room were likely trying to remove coal from the boiler with the fire and had no choice but to burn it in other furnaces, which would have sped up the ship.

He said the Titanic's speed was yet another inconsistency following the ship's sinking.

"The Titanic was doing nearly 23 knots at time of impact, whereas the White Star Line told the English press four days before she sailed that the Titanic would do no more than 20 knots in order to economize coal in light of the recent coal strike," he said.

© 2017 USATODAY.COM


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