When did the Titanic sink?

When the Titanic sank in 1912, it shocked the world. The limits of human innovation have been cruelly displayed with the destruction of such a technically remarkable vessel.

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But a conspiracy theory that has crept online in recent years, most recently on Reddit, begs the question: Was it really the Titanic who sank?

We know. It sounds crazy. But support us.

Everyone seems to agree on one fact: a ship really sank in the icy waters of the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, and about 1,500 passengers aboard that ship died. The plot simply suggests the Titanic was hardly the technical marvel that the ship’s parent company, the White Star Line, had promised.

Instead, the White Star Line swapped ships for the voyage from Southampton to New York and the ship billed as the top of the range Titanic was actually an older ship: the Olympic. Also, according to the conspiracy theory, the whole accident was an insurance scam gone wrong.

JP Morgan and the Golden Age of Big Ships

The British White Star Line had fierce competition in England and around the world. Locally it had a fierce rivalry with the Cunard Steamship Company, Ltd., which in 1906-1907 sent on its maiden voyage the largest passenger ships in the world at the time, the Lusitania and the Mauritania.

To compete with the Lusitania and its companion, White Star Line, entered a war of giant ships. The company was no stranger to such battles, but Cunard’s Lusitania and Mauritania had surpassed White Star’s so-called “Big Four” ships in top speed. This time, the company had additional support.

By 1902, White Star had become a property of the International Mercantile Marine Co. (IMM), a holding company backed by famed financier JP Morgan. With Morgan’s permission, White Star President J. Bruce Ismay began work on what came to be known as the Olympic-class ships. If they couldn’t match the speed of the Lusitania, Olympic-class ships would outclass Cunard ships: they would be even bigger and more luxurious. Three ships are commissioned: the Olympicthe Titanicand the British.

Olympic titanic built
The Olympic and Titanic are built side by side.

Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty ImagesGetty Images

The Olympic was the first to be built and, as the line’s namesake, was considered the lead ship. Her maiden voyage was widely advertised and her first voyages were unqualified successes. But on only her fifth voyage, the ship ran into serious trouble.

On September 20, 1911, while crossing a military ship, the Hawkethe Olympic makes an unexpected turn. Caught off guard, the two ships crashed. The Olympic was able to limp back to port, seriously injured. A lawsuit later held the White Star Line responsible for the incident.

torn olympic shell royal navy
The tearing of the shell of the Olympic after the Hawke incident.

Kirk and Sons of Cowes/Heritage Images/Getty ImagesGetty Images

The plot begins

All of the above is generally accepted as fact. The Olympic crash is where the paths diverge.

After the crash, conspiracy theorists claim, the Olympic was an economic disaster. The lawsuit meant that repairs would not be covered by insurance and that he was not drawing money as he sat around the docks. Thus, the company made a change: its second newly built ship would take the name Olympicwhile his old damaged vessel would be reassigned to be the Titanic.

Finally, the real Olympic (now secretly working like the Titanic) would be scuttled in a crash from which the White Star Line could collect an insurance payment worthy of a brand new ship – all while the ship originally built as the Titanic would have lived. The only thing that ruined the plan was an iceberg.

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Other conspiracy theorists claim more nefarious reasoning for the sinking: JP Morgan was behind the switch, eager to use an inferior ship to drown his enemies on board.

jp morgan titanic
Titanic’s powerful owner, far-right banking magnate JP Morgan, is at the heart of many conspiracy theories.

Historica Graphica Collection/Heritage Images/Getty ImagesGetty Images

Proponents of either theory point to a number of clues: the Titanic did not allow public scrutiny before its voyage for fear it would be discovered by experts like Olympic disguised, say theorists. And then there are the portholes. A recent popular Reddit post examines photos of Titanic under construction and Titanic on his first trip, and finds the second photo strangely changed and close to the Olympic.

There are a plethora of other details. For example, separate claims point to the argument that Olympic lies at the bottom of the sea instead of the original Titanic.

The plot does not hold water

Titanic researchers Steve Hall and Bruce Beveridge have published a book on the subject, Titanic or Olympic: which ship sank? They also helped write other books of Titanic history, including Titanic: The Magnificent Ship. Both take the porthole argument directly.

“The Olympic“, they write, “like the Titanic, was originally fitted with the same 14-porthole arrangement on the port side of her forecastle, but two additional portholes were later fitted; they were there in March 1912.”

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Historian Mark Chirnside has also devoted considerable time to the question of why, exactly, the change would be made. In 2005 he considered the insurance argument – ​​that the ship would be intentionally sunk to claim the insurance benefits. Quoting Ismay, “the Titanic ‘cost $7,500,000’ – and was insured ‘for $5,000,000, I understand.'” This is backed by IMM US Vice President Philip AS Franklin, who confirmed that police in insurance was $5 million.

“Had there been a conspiracy, one would expect the insurance policy to be changed to cover the full value of the vessel,” Chirnside writes. “In fact, White Star could only expect to recover two-thirds of the ship’s value.”

Closely examined, none of the Olympic/Titanic claims can withstand the phenomenal effort that was required for the change: the two ships were not exactly identical. The Titanic had a “unique cafe and expanded a la carte restaurant“, Chirnside writes, and has been edited based on the company’s previous experience with the Olympic.

That’s not all. It “is simply impossible to pass off a one-year-old ship as a new one,he says, pointing out a number of small differences between the two, including “additional steel plates that were fitted to the bedplates of Olympic’s” added in 1911, and still there on later inspections in the 1920s and 30s. When the Titanic was investigated by the British Chamber of Commerce, no such plate was found.

It’s not that the Titanic or owner JP Morgan were above suspicion – Morgan demonstrated phenomenal power over the United States during his lifetime, almost single-handedly solving the banking crisis of 1907. (In this case, the of the titanic the sinking would prove to make IMM Morgan’s rare financial failure, going bankrupt two years later.)

But in this incident, there was physical evidence that Morgan was changing the monetary system. No concrete evidence of Titanic conspiracy resists the evidence presented by historians.

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