Friday, 13 April 2018

The Story of the Titanic is Powerful Enough Without Convoluted Conspiracy Theories

Spend any amount of time on YouTube and you will soon discover a realm of paranoia and distrust - a world of conspiracy theories beamed onto the screens and into the minds of the young and credulous the world over. Some of these are hilariously daft, such as those surrounding the ‘Flat Earth’ concept. Others are fascinating yet overwhelmed by strange flourishes and out-of-this-world explanations, such as the Mandela Effect. Still more are fun exercises in lateral thought that tend to collapse under even the lightest scrutiny, though this doesn’t tend to affect their popularity. In this category I think you can confidently place the most famous conspiracy regarding the RMS Titanic.
Differences in deck A and B layout

This theory has it that the disaster was an insurance scam involving a switch between the slightly older yet almost identical RMS Olympic and the brand new Titanic. Some conspiracy advocates leave it at this - a strangely unexplained and seemingly pointless swap - but other, more sophisticated types tend to point to the Olympic’s collision with the HMS Hawke in 1911 and the idea that this fatally compromised the ship, leading to the White Star Line (owned by JP Morgan’s massive financial empire) deciding to cut their losses and gain insurance money back from a disaster that would lead to a pay-out (the Hawke collision didn’t, you see, as it was partly the fault of the Olympic’s crew). So far so logical, if you are happy to accept that a large maritime company that made its money from safely ferrying human beings across the Atlantic would risk losing its reputation and thousands of lives in such a manner. So, the story goes, the Olympic and Titanic were swapped, with the damaged Olympic being the one to hit an iceberg and sink in April 1912 and the spanking new Titanic to go on to lead an active life until being scrapped in 1935. It’s a tempting idea, isn’t it? Simple, effective and most importantly indicative of evil inhabiting the upper echelons of society.

But the slightest scrutiny destroys the theory. Any small amount of knowledge of the ships leaves the theory completely dismantled and untenable. For the theory to hold water, the two ships would need to have their accoutrements (name plates on both the ship and other paraphernalia) swapped without attracting much attention. They would also need to have any physical differences swapped too - and this is where things go wrong. For sisters, the Olympic and Titanic had significant structural differences, especially on decks A and B. The Olympic’s A deck was entirely open as a promenade deck, the whole way around the superstructure, whereas the Titanic’s A deck was enclosed for the forward half of the superstructure in order to squeeze in more super-posh suites with their own private promenade deck space. This was quite easily observed, even from a distance, and was the main difference between the two ships.
B deck was likewise significantly different, with the Olympic having uniform, evenly spaced windows (for the most part) and the Titanic having very muddled and chaotic window placement - this was a result of differing room layouts, again trying to squeeze further First-Class accommodation into the ship. Importantly, these two differences were not easy to swap. In fact rearranging the window on B deck would have taken months and would have been extremely obvious to anyone in Belfast watching the construction, and there simply wasn’t time to do such complex and expensive work.

The starboard screw of the Titanic wreck with '401' clearly embossed.

Furthermore, the wreck itself has given us lots of proof that the ship quietly rusting on the sea floor, two and a half miles down, is the Titanic. The ship’s hull number when it was being constructed by Harland and Wolff was assigned as 401; Olympic was 400. This number was stamped on lots of key elements of the ship, including the bells, ship’s wheel and screws (propellers). One photograph of one of the ship’s half-buried screws clearly shows the number ‘401’ inscribed into the bronze.

On top of this hard, physical evidence there are lots of other problems with the theory, including the one that is always problematic for any major conspiracy - secrecy. How such a desperately cynical and devastatingly catastrophic act as purposely causing a passenger liner with 2,200 souls aboard to sink in the middle of the Atlantic could manage to go unnoticed or without any whistle-blowing is frankly inconceivable. There is a great deal more I could add, and I am sure plenty of people will continue to disagree and will believe the conspiracy, but I feel that as we get to the 106th anniversary of the sinking at 2.20am on Sunday 15th April, it would be a good idea to remember that the poignancy and power of the story of a great ship brought low by grim happenstance is enough on its own, and any cheapening of that legend should be scrutinised fully to avoid tarnishing the memory of those lost for no reason.