We all saw Titanic. We know everything we need to about the ship and the event surrounding its demise. Though, now that we think about it, there were some unbelievable parts. Why did we follow that young couple instead of the ship’s crew? Can a human body really bounce off a propeller like that? Has Billy Zane ever played a likable character? We don’t know the answers to those questions, but we can at least present a few real world facts about the ship you probably didn't know.
The bulkheads were watertight but the walls between compartments weren’t
The engineers and shipwrights had built such high-quality watertight bulkheads that they were the beginning of the Titanic’s claim to ironic unsinkable fame. But, while they’d done their due diligence on the bulkheads, the actual walls between compartments were only watertight to a few feet above the waterline. It’s the kind of problem that isn’t actually a problem on paper, because on paper, if the hull ruptures, the crew seals off that section, stopping more water from entering. What wasn’t anticipated was how the weight of water affects a ship. In the Titanic’s case, the ship started to list, which allowed the water to spill over the tops of the compartments, into more compartments, allowing more water into the ship, to allow more water into more compartments.
One of the smokestacks was a fake
Images of the Titanic are inevitably dominated by the four impressive, towering smokestacks in the middle of the ship. Held up next to pictures of ships with only three, two, or, god forbid, one, it’s easy to see why the ship’s name is rooted in the Greek Titan myths. Which is exactly the main point of the fake fourth tower. A ship with four smokestacks is far more affecting than one with fewer. The smokestack wasn’t functionless, as there was some ventilation built into it, but the main reason for its existence was to send a message of wealth, power, and safety.
The ship carried more lifeboats than legally required
Maritime law at the time of the Titanic’s voyage were seriously outdated. For a ship of the Titanic’s size (more than 10,000 tons), the required number of lifeboats was only 16, with a passenger capacity of 990. When the Titanic set sail with 20 boats, enough to carry 1,178 passengers, it was exceeding legal requirements by a significant margin. To put the inadequacy of the law in perspective, on the night it sank, the Titanic was carrying a little more than 2,200 people, meaning even with its over-compliance, only about half the people on board stood a chance of making it off the ship.
Milton S. Hershey (among others) was supposed to sail
Tragedies usually prompt some kind of discussion about celebrities’ close calls. For example, Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane were supposed to be on American Airlines Flight 11, the plane that flew into the North Tower. The Titanic was no different, with a laundry list of high profile potential passengers. Of them, Milton S. Hershey, the chocolatier, has to be the most famous, though where most people were too late or cancelled their ticket, Hershey ended up early for the disaster. He and his wife sailed home on the German ship, Amerika, one of many ships to send the Titanic ice warnings.
Joseph Goebbels made a movie about the tragedy
We don’t know what it means that James Cameron was beaten to the Titanic movie by Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda, but we can take some comfort in the fact that Goebbels’ attempt at a film about the Titanic was a cinematic flop. The movie was an attempt to shame Britain and portray the country as incompetent and greedy (it ends with the superimposed line, “The death of 1,500 passengers remains unatoned for, an eternal condemnation of England’s quest for profit.” A bit on the nose there, Goebbels). Production dragged for two years, from 1941 to 1943, and included the brutal state-conducted murder of the director, Herbert Selpin. When Goebbels finally saw the film in 1943, he realized it wasn’t going to accomplish what he wanted it to. The scenes of destruction, death, and agony would likely remind the German people of their wartime hardship, especially considering that the German war machine of 1943 was much less intimidating than that of 1941. Not to mention there were some obvious parallels to be drawn between the bumbling, selfish leaders on the Titanic and the Fuhrer himself.