Conspiracy theories surround almost all major events in history. The sinking of the Titanic is no different. The RMS Titanic, built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, Ireland for The White Star Line was launched 31 May 1911.
It was towed to a fitting-out berth where the construction was completed on 2 April 1912. The maiden voyage was scheduled for 10 April 1912 from Southampton, England with stops at Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland to pick up more passengers. It was then on to the open sea, heading for New York.
Just before midnight on 14 April 1912, the ship hit an iceberg that caused enough damage for all of her watertight compartments to be filled with water, and the ship sunk within two hours and forty minutes.
Many reasons for the cause of the collision with the iceberg were brought forward, including an unsafe speed due to the insistence of White Star Line’s chairman, J. Bruce Ismay, who is reported to have directed Captain Edward Smith to increase speed in order to set a record for the trip.
Other reasons include the fact that the lookouts in the crow’s nest had no binoculars and did not report seeing the iceberg in time to change the course of the ship, and that the sea was so calm the usual indications of small wave action at the base of icebergs was not observed.
Of 2,224 passengers and crew, about 1,517 were lost mostly due to the shortage of lifeboats installed on the supposedly “unsinkable” ship. At the same time the Titanic was being built, the White Star Line was building another ship very similar to the Titanic.
The sister ship, the Olympic, was the first of three luxury liners built by Harland and Wolff for White Star, the third being the HMHS Britannic.
The two ships were almost identical other than changes made to Titanic’s A deck promenade which included a steel screen with sliding windows to provide more shelter on the forward half. Another major difference was a reduction of the B deck promenade to allow room for more cabins.
The Olympic began her maiden voyage on 14 June 1911 on the same route Titanic would later take, and it arrived successfully in New York on 21 June 1911. On the Olympic’s fifth voyage she collided with British cruiser HMS Hawke on 20 Sept 1911 near the Isle of Wight.
Olympic suffered two large holes in her starboard side causing two of her watertight compartment to flood and damage to the propeller shaft. The ship was able to return to Southampton under her own power.
Author Robin Gardinier has suggested one of the most controversial conspiracy theories to date. It is his opinion that the ship that sunk in the North Atlantic Ocean that April morning was not the Titanic, but was the Olympic. In his book Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?, Gardiner claims that the Olympic was disguised as the Titanic and purposefully sunk as an insurance scam.
Due to the fact that the collision with the HMS Hawke was blamed on the Olympic by the Royal Navy inquiry, the White Star Line was inundated with legal fees, the cost of repairs and revenue lost while the Olympic was being repaired.
Lloyd’s of London, the insurance company used by the White Star Line, allegedly refused to pay the claim which not only caused a delay in repairs, but also delayed the maiden voyage of the Titanic.
According to Gardiner, the White Star Line, in order to recoup some losses in revenue, disguised the Olympic as the Titanic by swapping out the parts of the ship that had the Titanic’s name attached. The seacocks were supposed to be opened to cause the ship to slowly take on water while the crew and passengers were to be offloaded to several ships stationed nearby.
Some of the author’s reasoning is based upon the fact that the Titanic’s sea trials took only twelve hours while the Olympic’s trials lasted two days. Gardiner also claims the Titanic’s testing did not include bringing her to full speed because as the disguised Olympic the repaired hull could not withstand high speed.
Gardiner claims that First Officer William McMaster Murdoch who was on the bridge, but not technically on duty, was one of the high-ranking officers who was aware of the ruse and was watching for rescue ships.
Gardiner further maintains that the ship did not hit an iceberg, but one of the rescue ships trying to conceal itself in the darkness. It is his belief that an iceberg was not capable of the damage that reportedly sunk the ship.
During the hours of the sinking a ship off to the distance, the Californian, apparently saw distress rockets fired by the sinking ship but did not respond because the flares were not the correct color as coded for ships in distress, instead assuming the rockets were fired in celebration.
In Gardiner’s opinion, it was the concealed rescue ship that fired the rockets and the Californian, not expecting rockets, failed to rendezvous. Gardiner further maintains the Titanic continued on to service the White Star Line for twenty-five more years under the guise of the Olympic.
While Mr. Gardiner’s book became a best seller, the majority of those who reviewed the book on Amazon.com felt it was badly written and so farfetched that it was nearly impossible to be taken seriously.
Dr. Robert Ballard, the oceanographer who discovered the wreck at the bottom of the ocean also believes that the ship he found was in fact, the Titanic.
The website http://www.williammurdoch.net goes into great detail as to why Mr. Gardiner’s theories are not possible.
As with any historical event that has left unanswerable questions, conspiracy theories abound.
The only solution is to do as much research from reputable sources as possible and make one’s own decision while keeping in mind former NASA astronaut Colonel Jerry Ross’ statement, “Conspiracy theories are fun for those working on them, but are a waste of valuable brain power.”