Skip to main content

CR3 #98: Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Bradford Matsen

This is the most recently written book I've read about Titanic, and it frankly blows up all previous theories of how and why the great ship sank.

In the mid-2000s, Richie Kohler and John Chatterton--known for their previous wreck diving work and their television show exploring underwater wrecks--were contacted by a man who had been on a recent journey to the Titanic's wreckage. He claimed that he had seen some interesting debris--"ribbons of steel" on the sea floor that might provide new information about how the ocean liner sank the way it did. The divers arranged for an expedition out to the remains with a Russian group of submersibles. What they found revolutionized the way that they thought about the way the sinking occurred.

Basically, they found large intact pieces from the bottom of the ship. When closely examined, the way these pieces were broken suggest that instead of the ship breaking in two because it was tilted 45 degrees up out of the water, it may have only had to be tilted 11 degrees before it snapped in the middle and sank. This theory explains some of the mystery that has persisted for years about the sinking itself. The fact that the ship was not tilted far up in the air, but rather only slightly up may explain why so many passengers either didn't believe there was any danger (and thus refused to get in the lifeboats) or never even left their cabins before the ship went down. It also explains why the ship sank so quickly--other large ships that had experienced major accidents at sea had managed to stay afloat for hours or even days.

Another revelation is proved by a gentleman who worked for many years at the shipyard where Titanic was first built. He worked in the archives, and had access to many of the internal documents and memos regarding the construction of not only Titanic, but of her older sister ship, Olympic and her younger sister, Brittanic. What he discovered was that the company--and the designer, Thomas Andrews--knew that there were flaws with the ships' designs. The Olympic had serious issues with her hull during her first voyages that required emergency repairs, and these flaws led to changes in the Titanic's design. Unfortunately, not enough changes were made. The engineers at Harland & Wolff calculated after the sinking that the ship had broken up on the surface, not as it went down. They never shared this information, however, in order to save the business.

The book follows Kohler and Chatterton's expedition to Titanic, then takes several chapters to discuss the men who financed and built the great ship. It provides a very different view of White Star Line owner Bruce Ismay, who has been portrayed as the villain of the tragedy for many years. Those chapters are written in more of a historical fiction style (though the author has provided copious notes at the end of the book to explain where he has gotten his facts). It's an odd tonal shift, but I did enjoy finding out more about the process of shipbuilding at the time, and the financial maneuverings that led to production of the giant ships.

The book finishes out with Kohler and Chatterton diving the wreckage of the Britannic (which sank after hitting a mine during WWI), trying to prove their theories. All three ships were made from the same original plan, but Andrews tried to fix flaws that showed themselves on Olympic when putting together the Titanic. The divers figured that the engineers at Harland & Wolff probably made changes to the design of Brittanic to fix the flaws that had brought down the Titanic, so they wanted to look at Brittanic's wreckage and compare the areas they suspected had caused the problems with the Titanic. What they found seems to confirm their ideas that Harland & Wolff had quietly discovered Titanic's fatal errors, and attempted to correct them on Brittanic.

The book is fascinating, and despite the minor issues I had with structure, it is an amazing read for someone who is as interested in the Titanic disaster as I am. The author did a great job showing where he found his information and digging up useful facts. In general, it was a really interesting book that gave me a whole new perspective on the sinking.

Comments

Jen K said…
This sounds really interesting - I might have to pick it up. There are just way too many books I want to read and not nearly enough time.

Popular posts from this blog

CR3 # 17: Mount Misery by Samuel Shem

Mount Misery is the sequel to Samuel Shem's first book, House of God (review here). It follows Dr. Roy Basch as he leaves the House of God and moves to psychiatric hospital Mount Misery to begin his psychiatric residency. Unfortunately, it turns out that psychiatrists are just as crazy, confused, and often detrimental as medical doctors. As Dr. Basch cycles through the various sectors of the hospital (talk therapy, admissions, Freudian Analysis, drug therapy) he is horrified to discover that it seems everything he is being taught is not only wrong, but potentially dangerous. He begins to fall into terrible patterns of behavior, mirroring the problems his patients are having. Each area is worse than the last, with one doctor who thinks the best way to treat is to be aggressively hostile, one who cares only about insurance premiums and efficiency, one who treats with silence and "regression," and one who thinks the only viable treatment is to pump every patient full of exp…

CBR9 #2 - Southern Gods

I've had Southern Gods on my TBR list for so long I no longer remember why I put it there. Was it a recommendation from Amazon? From Goodreads? Did someone I know recommend it? Did it cross my path as a "If you liked __________ then you'll like this too!"

Maybe I heard it through the grapevine?

I only know that recently, I happened to come across it on my wishlist and decided to go ahead and splurge on it.

I'm glad I did.

In 1951 Memphis, war veteran and leg-breaker-for-hire Bull Ingraham gets a new assignment: a record company has lost one of their employees somewhere. Early Freeman set off to deliver new records to radio stations, and has seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth. His boss at Helios Records is anxious to find him...and also anxious to find a mysterious blues musician whose music can do terrible things to the living -- and to the dead.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, Sarah Rheinhart leaves her abusive husband and returns to her family home, where …

CR3 #30: The First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

I saw the movie of The First Wives Club before I read the book. It's a cute chick flick, in which scorned women take comedic revenge on their former spouses. They become better friends and everyone winds up happy in the end. I was somewhat surprised (though not much--the differences between film and literature are often wide) at how different the book was--I am used to changes in plot or small character changes (combining two characters into one, or perhaps changing to a more pleasant ending) but the major change here between novel and movie was the tone.

The story is basically the same; After a close friend's suicide, three middle-aged female friends get together and beginning reviewing their lives. They realize that much like their late friend, they have been screwed over by the men in their lives--the men used them to get to their high social and financial positions, then screwed them over both personally and financially. The three women decide to use their wits and their co…