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An essay by Jeffrey R. Charles, written in two parts
for the American Cultures class at Estes Park High School
Part 1 completed 10 January, 1975
Part 2 completed 14 March, 1975

plus more recent analysis of:

How Construction of the Titanic Influenced Her Sinking;
Whether Selective Counterflooding Would Have Delayed Her Sinking;
Whether the Titanic Really Broke Apart at the Surface

Copyright © 1975, 1998 Jeffrey R. Charles. All Rights Reserved.


Background and Introduction

Following this introduction is an essay about the Titanic which I wrote for an 11th grade high school assignment in 1975. The assignment was to write about virtually any subject which influenced history here in the U.S. I chose to write about the Titanic because I had strong interest in the subject at the time, so this was one of the few writing assignments that I actually enjoyed drafting. Following the essay is a more recent analysis of how construction of the Titanic influenced her sinking.

I first became aware of the Titanic disaster after seeing it portrayed on the premiere episode of "The Time Tunnel" in the late 1960's. After seeing this show, I looked up "Titanic" in our 1966 World Book Encyclopedia and quickly became fascinated by the subject. I later checked out books from the library and became more informed - and more interested. Not long thereafter, I watched the movie "A Night to Remember" when it was shown on television. After that, I saw the movies "Titanic" (the original) and "The Unsinkable Molly Brown", but "A Night to Remember" stood out as the best of these, even though there were some errors in it. I'd also heard there was a movie called "The Countess of Rothes" which covered the Titanic, but I never saw it, if it really exists.

There are a number of fascinating things about the Titanic disaster: The sheer magnitude of the loss of life; the relatively long amount of time it took for the Titanic to founder accompanied by the fact that there was no way to save her; the fact that she did not capsize; the fact that she sank within sight of another ship (the Californian) which may have been only 10 miles away; the fact that some ice warnings were ignored due to distractions from frivolous wireless traffic; the role short tempers on the part of some wireless operators may have played in preventing some ships from assisting; the lack of binoculars for the lookouts; the lack of red distress rockets; and the pivotal role her sinking played in bringing about change in maritime regulations: No longer would people be fooled into thinking a ship was unsinkable; no longer would a ship carry too few life boats; no longer would icebergs only be discovered and reported by chance encounters; and no longer would a ship's radio be manned only on a part time basis.

What is most amazing is that these common sense precautions were not taken until after the Titanic disaster. Sound engineering principles dictate that no metal ship can be unsinkable and that you can't put 2206 people into lifeboats designed to hold a total of 1178. It is fortunate the Titanic was not filled to her capacity of 3295 persons (2435 passengers and 860 crew members) or the loss of life could have been nearly twice as high as the already staggering total of more than 1500 souls - more than the population of some small towns. Even today, many companies entrusted with our safety in transit will insist that there is no need for governments to impose minimum safety standards. The answer to this is that the Titanic did comply with what few standards there were at the time, though just barely. Regulations did not require enough lifeboats, so there were not enough lifeboats, even though common sense dictated that there should be enough for everyone.

When I was in the sixth grade, my parents gave me an antique book about the Titanic for Christmas. It was "Sinking of the Titanic - Thrilling Stories Told by Survivors", by Jay Henry Mowbray, and it was published in 1912! It was made up mostly of survivor accounts of the sinking and testimony from various inquiries which were held soon after the sinking. It was fascinating. I was surprised to learn that, even in 1912, it was known that the ocean was over two miles deep in the area where the Titanic sank.

In addition to reading about the Titanic, I really wanted to have a model of it. When I scoured local hobby shops for a model of the Titanic, I was surprised and disappointed to find that no models were available. No one made a model of the Titanic - one of the most famous ships in history! In the summer after I finished sixth grade, I built my own model out of wood. It was only 9 inches long, but at least it had some resemblance to the Titanic, though it was far from an exact match.

By the time I was in the seventh grade, I had many questions about the Titanic which were not addressed in any books I had read. Most of these had to do with the way the Titanic sank. I was hard pressed to see how the ship could stay afloat more than an hour if she indeed had the reported 300 foot gash in her side. To me, it seemed that in order for the Titanic to survive 2 hours and 40 minutes, her design must have been almost adequate to survive the flooding of 5 compartments with a 300 foot gash (the pumps were effective in the 6th, at least for a while); or, her wound would have to be something less drastic than a continuous gash.

I was also curious if measures could have been taken to save more lives on the Titanic. One thought that occurred to me was that the crew could counterflood one or a few of her rear water tight compartments in an attempt to delay (though unfortunately, not prevent) the descent of her bow. I had also wondered why the Titanic did not try to make a run for the Californian, which was estimated to be within 10 miles (less than an hour at half speed) away. The crew probably had their reasons, but it seemed to me that it would be practical, particularly if the Titanic traveled in reverse in order to avoid ramming additional water into her forward wound. I even thought about whether it would have been possible to move the Titanic back toward the iceberg it had struck and use the lifeboats to ferry passengers to it or other icebergs, where they could stay relatively dry (though admittedly quite cold) until help arrived. Some of these possibilities may seem reasonable and others may seem ridiculous, but hey, I was only in the seventh grade when I thought of this stuff!

The counterflooding scenario may or may not seem plausible in 1998, particularly due to recent prominence of the theory that the Titanic broke in two at the surface. If she did break at the surface, then counter flooding would have been ineffective because it could have caused the Titanic to break in two sooner than she would have otherwise; however, there are a number of reasons why I still am not completely convinced that she broke up at the surface. The counter flooding scenario and the issue of whether the Titanic broke up at the surface will be covered in later sections.

When I was in high school, the school library obtained a book about the Titanic which I had not seen before. It was "The Maiden Voyage" by Geoffrey Marcus. This book had a large number of photos of the Titanic and also included an folded insert showing detailed plans of her upper decks. Soon thereafter, I looked for a copy of it at book stores, and even though it had been published only a few years before in 1969, none of the stores I checked with could get it. In the mean time, I checked The Maiden Voyage out of the school library multiple times, read parts of it multiple times, and copied some of the pictures in it, all while still hoping I could buy a copy some day. I never did find a copy of The Maiden Voyage, but one can hope that hype created by the 1997 movie "Titanic" will cause it to become available again.

I also wanted a poster of the Titanic, but none were available. I eventually made a two by four foot poster print of the Titanic from a photo I had taken of one of the pictures in The Maiden Voyage. I shot the copy photo with Panatomic-X film and developed it with Beseler Ultra-Fin FD3 developer to get good sharpness. The print was made in a makeshift "darkroom" I set up in the basement of our house. Making the print was not an easy task for a high school student, but I had a good print on the second try. The first one had become fogged when our furnace came on and light from it fell on the photographic paper before it was developed. I later mounted the "Titanic" print on Masonite and allowed it to be used in various class rooms at school for a couple of months.

By 1975, I still could not find a model of the Titanic, so I set out to build another model from scratch. Plans of the Titanic from the books A Night to Remember and The Maiden Voyage allowed me to build a small but relatively accurate model by laminating shaped pieces of wood. My brother later made me an aluminum sand casting from this 11 inch long wood model. Even though the cast model is solid metal, it floats just as well as the real Titanic! Later that year, I learned that Entex was making a 30 inch long, 1/350 scale plastic model of the Titanic. I scraped together almost $30 of my hard earned money ($1.36 per hour from stocking groceries) and bought one. Other model manufacturers later began producing models of the Titanic, but all of them were 1/600 scale or larger. I wanted to get a small plastic model about the size of my scratch built model - similar to the old "Table Top Navy" warship models that used to be available.

Following high school, I continued to have some interest in the Titanic. The Titanic was a good looking ship, having an appearance far more balanced than many other ships. For her day, the Titanic was also extraordinarily well designed and built, and she would have survived mishaps that had sunk many other ships. It is even possible that the Titanic could have survived being torpedoed in the same way as the Lusitania (though obviously not in the same way as her sister, the Britannic), and even if it happened that she would not survive such a torpedo hit, she probably would have stayed afloat far longer than the mere minutes it took for the Lusitania to founder. The Britannic stayed afloat almost an hour after being struck. Many developments first implemented on the Titanic and the Olympic have been incorporated into modern ships. Ships still sink, but not as often as they would if they lacked features such as water tight bulkheads.

When things were being thinned out at my grandparent's house in 1976, I was given an old Autumn 1956 copy of a "News from Home" magazine which had been in their house. In it was an article about the sinking of the Andrea Dorea, a passenger ship which sank after being rammed by the Stockholm on the foggy night of July 25, 1956. In this article, I learned that the Titanic's sister ship, the Olympic, had apparently remained in service up to 1934, when she had rammed the Nantucket lightship not too far from the site of the Andrea Dorea collision. This 1934 collision did not sink the Olympic, but she was scrapped after White Star merged with Cunard about a year later.

I never did join the Titanic Historical Society, though I considered it on several occasions. I was intrigued by the occasional but increasing articles about people who hoped to find and raise the Titanic, but I questioned speculation that the Titanic's luxurious interior may have been remarkably well preserved from decay due to its two mile deep resting place.

I remember where I was in the fall of 1985, when I first heard Dr. Robert D. Ballard and his team had found part of the Titanic - a boiler, I think. I was at the McGrath's house in Scottsdale, Arizona for a meeting of a few members of the Saguaro Astronomy club. Comets Halley and Giacobini-Zinner beckoned outside (comet Halley was then visible with a large aperture telescope) but I stayed glued to the television almost continuously while the local news reported the event. I kept watching until the coverage on Nightline was over.

After the discovery, other expeditions visited the Titanic. Unfortunately, some of these expeditions looted her even of externally visible highlights such as the crow's nest bell on her forward mast. One can hope that the international community will act in order to cause such looting (at least of externally visible features) to stop. Personally, I think it would be a good idea if certain shipwrecks were treated in a way similar to a national park, or in the way the international community handles Antarctica. This could preserve them for future generations.

The Titanic has now been visited for the purpose of making two motion picture productions. It will only be a matter of time before technology allows objects such as the Titanic to be visited by tourists and researchers alike.* Before this happens, rules need to be in place which will allow her to be visited but not disturbed. Otherwise, the Titanic, much like some parts of the petrified forest in Arizona, may be picked clean by human scavengers. There needs to be something left for people to see.

* Only a few months after I wrote this comment about tourists visiting the Titanic, a European company announced that it will be offering such trips. Therefore, this is no longer a mere hypothetical situation.

The Titanic (at least certain features) should be spared so future visitors will be able to see more than just her hull, boilers, and deck plates. Some try to justify looting of the Titanic by promulgating a claim that everything left of her will collapse in on itself within the next 10 years or so; however, there is no consensus that the wreck (particularly the bow section) will really collapse that soon.

On the afternoon of December 30, 1997, I watched the James Cameron film "Titanic" at the legendary Cine Capri theater in Phoenix, Arizona. It was nice to finally see full motion color renderings of the ship. Titanic was the last film ever to be seen at the Cine Capri, and people lined up for hours to see it. The land owner wants to build an office building in its place - one that will join the partly vacant office buildings already in that part of Phoenix. Sadly, after the last showing of Titanic at the Cine Capri on January 4, 1998, this grand theater, like the Titanic, met its end.

It is sobering to consider what may have happened if the Titanic had not sunk or if her sinking had not resulted in great loss of life. If there had been no Titanic disaster, would ships without enough lifeboats still be sailing the seas today? Would there have been an even worse accident in later years (in terms of loss of life) to give the world a wake up call to the issue? A collision at sea between two large ships having inadequate lifeboat capacity could have easily killed more than 4000 people. This could still happen if both ships took on a severe list early on and the water was too cold or rough.

In 1956, the Andrea Dorea was only able to launch half of her life boats due to her list and she sank with many of them still on board. The fact that it took her 11 hours to sink, other ships were nearby, and the sea was relatively calm and warm allowed most of the people on board to be saved. If other ships had not reached her in time, up to half of her passengers could have been lost. Launching the lifeboats empty from a listing ship and subsequently loading them may still spare many people, but they could easily suffer injury or severe exposure in accidents related to getting to the boats by rope ladders or being transferred from other boats.

Today, many of us may dismiss the possibility of a large disaster at sea, even though a disaster is still possible. In recent years, several cargo ships have been lost in the Pacific during storms; possibly due to their having inadequate hatch covers, but there has not been a big international uproar about it because the crews of these ships were relatively small. A worst case scenario for a modern day passenger ship would be where it capsizes and sinks in cold waters so quickly that its life boats cannot all be launched and assistance by aircraft or ship cannot arrive in time. Is such an accident unlikely? Yes. But then, it was also unlikely for a ship to have nearly 1/3 of her length opened to the sea by an iceberg...

Life also has other hazards. While an accrued loss of life equivalent to the loss on the Titanic occurs in air disasters every few decades, much more loss of live occurs in automobile accidents and gang related shootings. Far too many of us just accept the risk and do little or nothing toward seeing that it is lowered. This should change. Whether it is a shooting or a travel related disaster, the cause for some of this loss of life is often the same - greed. A shooter may go to jail or be executed, but an influential travel executive or investor who causes a compromise in safety is often only slapped on the wrist.

The "MGY CQD" essay I wrote in 1975 follows. Call letters for the RMS Titanic in wireless communications were MGY. CQD is a distress call which was still used in 1912, though it was in the process of being replaced by the now familiar expression "SOS".

The following essay was written at a time when computer based word processors were not available. The assignment had to be typed or written in ink, but our family could not afford a correcting typewriter. White-out was not permitted either, so a typing error meant starting a new page over. As a result, it literally took me several evenings and weekends to write the essay. (Our school sometimes placed a greater emphasis on decorum than on content. While decorum has its place, I could have produced substantially more content if ink had not been required.) Accordingly, the few errors discovered after the document was typed were not corrected, and I only got a C on the assignment. These spelling and typing errors have been corrected in the following copy of the essay.

There are many references cited at the end of this document. Obviously, only those published prior to 1975 could have been utilized for the essay. Most references were only used to obtain facts and figures, so they were not quoted outright. The few quotes are of statements or actions by the Titanic's crew. All of these were taken from the books A Night To Remember and The Maiden Voyage. Rather than using footnotes as in the original essay, references will be identified immediately after each quote. A Night to Remember will be indicated by "(NTR...)" and The Maiden Voyage will be indicated by "(MV...)". Since A Night to Remember has been revised and printed many times, references to it will be by chapter rather than by page number.

The introduction and construction analyses in this document are nearly half as long as the original essay, yet almost all of this newer material was typed on the afternoon and evening of January 21, 1998 with a modern day word processor program. This shows the dramatic contrast in productivity between a typewriter and a modern word processor, at least for a typo-prone person like myself!

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MGY CQD, Part 1: Birth of a Giant Completed 10 January, 1975

It was autumn of the year 1879. The Guion liner Arizona, the largest ship afloat, was steaming westward over the north Atlantic. At the position 41 degrees north, 50 degrees west, she struck an iceberg head-on, causing severe damage to her bow. She made water rather slowly, so she was just barely able to creep into Halifax harbor. In later years, a number of ships struck icebergs and foundered. Due to a lack of communications, some ships would just leave port and never be heard from again.

When ships began to use Guglielo Marconi's new wireless systems in 1895, it was found that many of these "disappearances" were probably due to collisions with icebergs. Shipping gradually increased, and with more ships and more routes, icebergs became an increasing hazard to navigation. Most shipping companies took special precautions to avoid icebergs at sea, but one company took relatively few precautions for avoiding this danger. This was the White Star Line, and they were due to suffer for this some years later.

In 1899, the White Star Line and the Cunard Line were the two top rivals in the transatlantic merchant shipping service. The White Star Line had just taken first place again upon launching the Oceanic. In the following years, she would be succeeded by four more ocean liners like herself, the Celtic, Cedric, Baltic, and the Adriatic. These ships were the largest afloat at the time, and their luxury was far beyond what had previously been imagined possible to be manifest on a ship.

In 1907, the Cunard Line took a giant step. This was the production of the Mauretania and the Lusitania. These two great ships were not only the largest (31,000 tons gross register) but they were also the fastest, with a top speed of 25.5 knots. These large ships were in great demand, and the Cunard line's profits increased as a result.

At once, the White Star Line took up the challenge. Construction was begun on a titanic ocean liner in December, 1908. Her gross register would be nearly 46,000 tons and she would displace 66,000 tons. Her name was the Olympic. The Olympic was by far the largest ship in the world. Her luxury was beyond any other ship. It was anticipated that the Olympic would be in such great demand that another equally large ship would be needed.

When the Olympic was launched in October 1910, construction was well underway on a sister ship. She was built from the same plans as the Olympic, with only minor structural modifications and a slightly heavier gross register. She was "882-1/2 feet long, 92-1/2 feet wide, and 175 feet high" (NTR, facts) from her keel to the top of her funnels. Her luxury would be even greater than the Olympic's. This new ship had Turkish baths, a swimming pool, a 20 x 30 foot squash racquets court, plush carpeting, and more. Her most impressive features were a cellular double bottom and a lower hull which was divided into 16 watertight compartments. Because up to four of these compartments could be flooded without sinking the ship, she was labeled as being "unsinkable". On this great new ship's bows, in letters of gold, was the name "TITANIC". A third ocean liner, even larger than the Titanic, was to follow. This would complete the White Star Line's new level of service.

On May 30, 1911, the relatively empty 26,000 ton hull of Titanic was launched at Harland and Wolff ship yards in Belfast. She was a triple screw vessel. Her two wing screws were driven by quadruple expansion reciprocating engines. Her center one was driven by a revolutionary new low pressure turbine engine. The Titanic's total horsepower was rated at 50,000, while she could do 55,000 horsepower if pushed.

J. Bruce Ismay, manager of the White Star Line, was confident that his Cunard rivals would have a long way to go if they were to catch up. What he did not know was that when Cunard took the lead again, their lead would be quite permanent. Even though its ships were not as big as the Titanic, the Cunard Line had plenty going for it. Not one life had been lost as a result of Cunard's shipping, while the White Star Line had lost 547 souls with the sinking of the Atlantic off Nova Scotia back in 1873.

On April 1, 1912, the Titanic left Belfast for her trials. During this trial, a probable top speed for the Titanic was established and a couple of her lifeboats were lowered and rowed around, possibly to comply with minimum evacuation drill requirements. That is all that was ever done in the way of a lifeboat drill. All cabins were checked to see if life belts had been placed in them. It was determined that the Titanic had well over the amount of life saving equipment than was required by the current, though outdated, regulations. The regulation merely states that all British ships "over 10,000 tons gross register must carry sixteen lifeboats" (NTR, chapter 7) of a specified minimum capacity, that there must be one life belt for each person on board, and that the life belts must be in the ship's cabins.

These regulations were very outdated. The largest ship afloat when they were drafted was only 11,500 tons, gross register. The minimum lifeboat capacity in this regulation was 900 persons. The gross register of the Titanic was 46,328 tons, some four and a half times larger than the size mentioned in the regulation. By some accounts, the Titanic had a capacity of nearly 3,500 persons, over three times the number that the lifeboats on board could save, should the ship founder! She carried 16 wooden lifeboats (two of which were small) and four collapsible lifeboats. These 20 boats would only hold a maximum of 1,178 persons.

On the morning of April 10, 1912, the Titanic was about to set out on her maiden voyage to New York. As she was about to leave Southampton, the dock was crowded with newspaper reporters and the relatives and friends of passengers on board. Even though she was as large as her sister ship, the Olympic, many remarks were made as to the "titanicness" of the Titanic. Many wondered what her top speed would be on the open sea. Near noon, the gang ways were cleared and pulled ashore, then the Titanic's two wing screws were set into motion. The ship's great hull gave a slight shudder and began to slowly move forward. Then she rounded the corner into the river Test and slowly moved toward the sea. People on the dock were now about to witness what could have been a serious accident.

MGY CQD, Part 2: Voyage into History Completed 14 March, 1975

Two liners, the New York and the Oceanic, were moored alongside each other just outside the entrance of the dock. As the bow of the Titanic came near with that of the New York, suction caused by the motion of the Titanic dragged the New York away from her berth. The sudden strain snapped her mooring lines, and her stern began to drift outward. Captain Smith stopped the Titanic's engines just in time, for, as she glided through the water, the New York's stern cleared the Titanic's port quarter by only a few feet.

After about an hour long delay, the Titanic began to move forward again, but this time, the Oceanic strained at her mooring lines. The lines held, but she did not stop straining at them until well after the Titanic had passed by. Once clear of the port, the Titanic sailed for Cherborg, France without incident, arriving at dusk. Here, more passengers boarded, then the Titanic set out for Queesntown, on the southern coast of Ireland, arriving off Roche's Point about noon on April 11. Here, passengers were brought from shore in tenders. The Titanic departed in the afternoon and sailed into the open sea. Just before nightfall, Ireland was nearly invisible in the distance. The night passed without incident.

The Titanic was now out to sea on her maiden voyage, sailing to New York. The date was April 12, 1912. The Titanic would try for high speeds on most of the voyage and her crew planned to go for a speed record on Monday, April 15. The Titanic was the prize of modern technology, and her existence gave men a great pride in what they could do. Man wanted to subdue nature, and many felt that the Titanic was an excellent start. After all, wasn't the Titanic UNSINKABLE?

At 4:00 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, 1912, the Titanic was nearing a point in her course known of as "the corner", where she would change her course from southwest to west-northwest. She was scheduled to make this turn at 4:30, but, to avoid icebergs which had been reported a few hours before, it was determined that she would make this maneuver at 5:15.

By 8:30 p.m., icebergs had been reported very close to the Titanic's course, but none were reported to be directly in it. Icebergs had been reported directly to the north and south of the Titanic's position, and more reports were coming in. A few other reports had been missed while the wireless operators were distracted by various tasks. In spite of the numerous iceberg reports, no extra lookouts were posted and the 22-1/2 knot speed of the Titanic was not slowed significantly.

By 9:00, the sea temperature had begun to drop, from 31 degrees F. at 8:30 to 28 degrees at present. Near 10:00, the lights of another ship were reportedly sighted off the Starboard bow. As the other ship came closer, she began to signal the Titanic with her Morse lamp. "She was the Rappahannock, and she had gone through a maze of icebergs only two hours before and received severe damage to her rudder." (MV) The message was received by the Titanic, but no precautions were taken to avoid the possible danger, now no more than 40 miles ahead of her. One can only wonder why.

Since 8:30, the Titanic had been inside a massive parallelogram like array of icebergs, with a large group of icebergs directly in her path. Her speed was still 22.5 knots, about the highest speed she had ever achieved.

At 10:00, the lookouts on watch in the crow's nest. Fleet and Lee, the new lookouts, were informed that icebergs may be encountered between 11:00 and 11:30, and to inform the bridge at once if it became hazy.

At 11:00, Captain Smith retired to his room and told officers on the bridge to inform him if anything might be wrong.

The sea was glassy smooth and there was no moon. At 11:30 p.m., lookouts Fleet and Lee had all hatches forward of the crow's nest closed so there would be no light to blind them as they searched for icebergs. They had seen no icebergs and continued to search the blackness in front of them. They had only half an hour left on duty. The seemingly oily surfaced sea made it almost impossible to even see the horizon.

The temperature of both the sea and the air had significantly dropped. Things were tense on the bridge. With icebergs reported in the area, one could not expect to just miss them all by mere chance. In spite of this, the speed of the titanic still was not reduced.

It was almost 11:40 p.m. The already dangerous conditions were getting worse. It was starting to get hazy. Lookout Fleet was straining to see what could lay ahead. Then, he saw it. At first it appeared blacker than the black sea, and it appeared to be approaching rapidly. He quickly phoned the bridge; "Something right ahead!"

The darkness grew before him, covering stars near the horizon. Soon, it was as like a wall of black before the Titanic. The titanic still had not turned, and light from the ship began to light up part of the icy surface before her. It was clearly an iceberg. Fleet could now see its irregular surface, much of which he could tell was white in spite of the low illumination. It looked as if the Titanic would strike it head on, when, at the last moment, the titanic turned to port and her bow appeared to shoot into the clear. But it was not over yet. Almost immediately, there was a slight jar, followed by a grinding noise of about ten seconds duration. The iceberg slipped by the Titanic's starboard side, but several tons of ice fell onto the forward well deck.

The captain came rushing out of his room, saying; "Mr. Murdoch, What was that?"

Mr. Murdoch Replied; "An iceberg sir. I hard-a-starboarded and reversed the engines, and I was going to hard-a-port 'round it but she was too close. I could not do any more. I have closed the watertight doors." (MV, page 129)

Fourth Officer Boxhall left the bridge to try and find out the extent of damage received by the Titanic.

The great vessel gradually lost her headway, and at last lay motionless in the dark, still water under the glittering stars. (ibid., page 130)

Boxhall returned to the bridge at 11:50 and told the captain the situation; the iceberg had torn open the first six watertight compartments, and now, only 10 minutes after the collision, the first two already had fourteen feet of water in them. Captain Smith went into the wheel house to check the list the ship had taken. The commutator showed that the Titanic was listing 5 degrees to starboard.

The chief officer came onto the bridge and asked the captain if he thought the damage was serious. "Certainly." was the reply. "I'm afraid it's more than serious." (ibid.)

Captain Smith went to the wireless shack and told senior operator Jack Phillips to stand by to send out a call for assistance. He then went back to the bridge and summoned Thomas Andrews, who had designed most of the Titanic. Mr. Andrews could determine if the ship would sink.

Andrews and possibly the captain went below to check the damage. On F deck, the sea was already flowing over the No. 1 hatch. Farther aft, the mail room and the squash rockets court were both flooded.

Still farther aft, in the sixth compartment, there was more flooding. The damage had only extended a few feet into this compartment, and the pumps were already gaining on the incoming water. Still, the first five compartments were hopelessly flooded, and, since the transverse bulkheads did not extend up to the deck head of F deck, the weight of the water in the forward compartments would pull the bow of the Titanic down far enough that the top of this bulkhead would be lower than the sea outside the ship. This would allow the sea to eventually pour over the top of this bulkhead, fill the sixth compartment, and the process would repeat itself until the ninth compartment was filled. The Titanic would then attain an upright position (stand on end), and at that point, she could not possibly float for long. It was inevitable. It was apparent that the Titanic was doomed. Andrews gave her 1.5 hours to live.

Andrews returned to the bridge. There, he met J. Bruce Ismay, the ambitious manager of the White Star Line. Mr. Andrews informed the captain Smith and Ismay of the situation. Captain Smith then issued orders to lower the lifeboats with "women and children first." He then got the ship's position from Boxhall; latitude 41 degrees, 46 minutes north; longitude 50 degrees, 14 minutes west; then ordered him to take the information to the wireless shack.

Immediately, Phillips began to send out a distress message. He used the international distress signal, CQD, followed by MGY, the Titanic's call letters.

In five minutes, the first response came in from a German ship, the Frankfurt. A few minutes later, a Cunard Liner, the Carpathia, replied. Soon, replies from several ships had been received, including one from the Olympic, the ill-fated Titanic's sister ship.

From the bridge, the lights of another ship were sighted off the starboard bow. They were clearly from a small ship. She was stopped also, and was within about 10 miles of the Titanic. Though the Titanic had been sending distress calls for 20 minutes, the small ship did not respond. She was the Californian. It seemed as if this ship was the only hope for rescuing all the people on the Titanic. Other than that, the Carpathia, now 40 miles to the southeast, was the closest. Titanic did not have enough lifeboats, so the only way everyone could be saved was if a ship arrived before she sank.

Still the call went out; "MGY CQD... Position 41 deg. 46 min. N., 50 deg. 14 min. W. Require Immediate Assistance. We have collided with Iceberg. Sinking." (ibid.)

By 12:45 a.m., the sea had claimed a good 30 vertical feet of the Titanic's bow and her stern had begun to rise out of the sea. Most of the lifeboats on the port side had been lowered. If the rest of the boats were properly handled, over 1000 people could be taken off of the foundering Titanic.

The captain ordered that rockets be sent up. Soon, there was a loud hiss and a white glow shot skyward, exploding with a large, bright flash of light. Seven more of these would be sent up.

By 1:30 a.m., it began to be clear that the Titanic was beyond the point of no return. The sixth compartment was nearly pumped dry when the sea came pouring over the top of the compartment's forward transverse bulkhead. The titanic.s bow then took a slight but ominous plunge, and her stern rose even higher. The dark sea was now only a few feet from the forward well deck and would soon cover it up.

at 1:55, the bow of the titanic took another gradual plunge, submerging her entire foredeck. The sixth compartment had filled and was overflowing into the seventh. Captain Smith knew that the end was near and that the sea's entry into the ship would now be much faster due flooding through the large windows on C deck, which could not take the water pressure. He went to the wireless shack and told the two operators "Men, you have done your full duty, you can do no more." (NTR, chapter 6) "It is time that you abandon ship. For now, it is every man for himself." (MV) They could not do much more because the power was failing. They stayed until about 2:10 a.m., only 10 minutes from the end.

By 2:00, all 16 of the conventional wooden lifeboats had been launched. Two of the four collapsible boats were gone, and several men were trying to launch the remaining ones. At 2:05, the boat on the port side was finally launched. Only a few minutes later, the bridge was submerged, presumably along with the captain.

At 2:10, junior wireless operator Harold Bride arrived at the collapsible boat to starboard. Phillips had gone aft. Bride helped the men launch the lifeboat. They finally got it off the deck, but it fell into the sea upside down. They then leaped from the Titanic and swam toward the overturned lifeboat.

The sea had now begun to race up the Titanic's decks, and her stern was slowly rising out of the water. Her decks were getting steeper and steeper. The Titanic was at about a 45 degree angle when her lights went out. She went on to stand on end, and held that position for some 30 seconds. Then, it is said that there was a loud roar from inside the ship as many heavy objects broke loose and crashed downward. The upended stern of the titanic settled back some, ten she began to plunge under the black surface of the sea. Here she was, the prize of modern technology, the "unsinkable Titanic", on her death plunge. Within seconds, the last of her stern disappeared beneath the sea. Then, "MGY" was silent forever, along with some 1,500 people.

So ended the Titanic tragedy. So began her noted place in history.

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Analysis of How Construction of the Titanic Influenced Her Sinking

Prior to the Olympic and the Titanic, few if any ships had effective means to prevent sinking due to a breach in the hull. Many ships had internal bulkheads in their lower hull, but these bulkheads were not typically built to be water tight. If the hull was damaged, the ship would sink unless it took on water slowly enough that it could be repaired, run aground, or make port. Obviously, it was advantageous if a ship had pumps that could stay ahead of the incoming water or at least pump out enough to materially delay her sinking.

The Olympic, the Titanic, and many subsequent ships implemented a new concept: watertight bulkheads with remotely controlled watertight doors. The Titanic had 15 watertight bulkheads which produced 16 consecutive watertight compartments. These compartments were designed to isolate a damaged area from the rest of the ship. Watertight bulkheads can also reduce listing, thereby allowing more time for orderly evacuation should the ship sink. Obviously, this can also reduce the risk of a ship capsizing.

In most collision accidents, damage to a ship's hull is limited to a few dozen feet of its length. If a ship includes watertight compartments, the compartment(s) open to the sea will simply fill up with water until the internal water level matches the water level outside. Since the weight of the water causes the ship to lose some of its buoyancy and sink down to a degree, the bulkheads have to extend a substantial distance above the ship's normal water line if they are to do any good. Otherwise, the weight of the water inside the ship will cause at least the flooded part of the ship to sink down until the "new" water line is above the top of the bulkheads, thereby allowing water to fill the affected compartments and spill over the bulkheads into adjacent compartments.

There is a limit to the number of watertight compartments which can be filled before a ship sinks, no matter how high the bulkheads are. Eventually, a point is reached where even the deck of the ship sinks underwater, and few ships are designed to float with part of their deck or superstructure under water. The bulkheads in the Titanic were not particularly high. A few extended up as far as E deck, but most only went as high as F deck. This was only some 20 feet above the normal water line, meaning that the Titanic would sink if internal water caused her to sink down even a modest distance. Accordingly, the Titanic could only stay afloat if up to three or four of her watertight compartments were flooded.

The maximum allowable number of flooded compartments depends on which ones are flooded. The Titanic could float with her first four compartments flooded; however, the fore peak is a relatively small compartment so she could only survive the flooding of any three of the four compartments immediately behind it. Any more flooding, and the bow would sink low enough that the compartments would fill up and water would spill over the top of a bulkhead and into a previously dry compartment, progressively filling the compartments farther back. Since at least the first five compartments in the Titanic were flooded, the sea had a decided advantage. Titanic did not have a chance.

Would Counter Flooding Rear Compartments Delay Her Sinking?

When a ship sinks due to damage at one end, the damaged end obviously sinks down. In the case of Titanic, her bow was pulled down by the flooding of her forward compartments. Fully two thirds of her length was undamaged, but once her upper decks on her bow were under water, the sea could enter through cargo hatches, doors, and many other large openings. As her bow went down further, windows for unflooded areas well below the rising water line became subject to implosion from increasing water pressure. This rapidly increased the rate at which the Titanic sank.

By some reports, only ten or twenty minutes elapsed between the time the sea covered her forward deck and her final disappearance beneath the surface. In a sense, two thirds of her interior were lost to the sea without a fight - all in mere minutes by flooding through her upper decks. Therefore, it is safe to say that she may have remained afloat longer if her forward deck and superstructure could have been kept above water for a longer period of time, provided of course that all of her port holes were closed! From what is now known about the damage to the Titanic, even one open port hole near the water line could have caused the Titanic to sink as much as 5 minutes earlier than she would have otherwise. There may have been a way to do delay her sinking, though the technique may at first seem counterproductive.

I first thought of the technique in 1970, when I was in the seventh grade. I was fascinated by how the Titanic was able to survive for two hours and forty minutes in spite of the number of compartments that were flooded. At age 12, I obviously was not using advanced scientific techniques to work the problem, but even the modest stuff I was doing was enough to learn from. Using punctured hulls from plastic ship models with added bulkheads inside, I experimented by repeatedly modifying them and observing them as they sank. Surface tension effects on smaller models can be minimized by adding alcohol or a photographic chemical called "Photo Flow" to the water and/or applying it to the model itself.

In performing these tests, I learned other things that may have been applicable to the sinking. For one thing, I had found that once a model began to upend, it typically proceeded to a more or less perpendicular position without much delay. This contradicted the way the sinking had been shown in the movie "A night to Remember", which had portrayed that the Titanic lingered at a 45 degree angle and plunged downward while in that attitude. Since it seemed almost impossible to cause a model to sink in the way Titanic had been shown to do in the movie, I concluded that the movie was probably incorrect in its portrayal of that part of the sinking. My conclusion also seemed to be consistent with the majority of survivor accounts. In spite of learning about this aspect, I was unable to satisfy myself either way as to the bigger question of why it took the Titanic so long to sink; however, I did come up with some thoughts about how many more passengers may have been saved.

By examining drawings and experimenting with models, I determined that the Titanic may have stayed afloat for as much as an additional hour or two (somewhere between 3.5 and 5.5 hours total) if her crew had deliberately counter flooded one or a few of her rear watertight compartments. Counterflooding would take advantage of temporary buoyancy amidships to reduce the longitudinal slope of the ship. This in turn would have tended to level the Titanic and slow the descent of her bow, thereby delaying entry of the sea through the forward cargo hatches and the large (and comparatively delicate) windows and other openings on and above C deck. It may have also kept the top of the bulkhead between boiler rooms 5 and 6 above the water line for a longer period of time.

Counter flooding would delay the sinking, but it would not have saved the Titanic. Once she sank low enough, the sea could still spill over from one bulkhead into another, so she would still sink. Delaying her sinking is important because a delay of even an hour or two could have led to more lives being saved. The Carpathia arrived at the scene by 4:00 - just 1 hour and 40 minutes after the Titanic sank.

In the ideal scenario, water from the front compartments would be pumped into the rear ones in order to minimize the amount of water that would have to be admitted through scuttle valves (if any were present) or holes made in her rear compartments. This would minimize the total amount of water entering her hull. In most scenarios, the amount of water admitted to the stern could be substantially less than that filling the bow, since the ship does not have to be completely level to materially delay the sinking. Allowing some slope may also minimize the amount of stress on the hull.

Absolute leveling would only become advantageous just before the water line approached the large openings and windows on C deck, but even then, there would be advantages to allowing some slope; the most obvious being that one end of the ship could be used as a refuge until the very end. Implementing effective counter flooding measures would not have been easy, particularly since many precious minutes were lost before anyone on board even realized that the Titanic would sink.

A fascinating thing about the Titanic is that it took so long for people to realize that she was going to sink. In many ships of that day, it was obvious that they would sink within 5 or 10 minutes of a collision. The Titanic had a bit of list shortly after the collision, but it was a good 20 minutes before even Mr. Andrews realized she would sink, and close to an hour before many of the passengers grasped the fact, in spite of their having been told.

Being an engineer myself, I have always been fascinated about how Mr. Andrews handled himself. Of all the people on the Titanic, he was probably the first to realize that the ship was doomed, and that he was doomed as well. Many of the ship's passengers could not initially imagine that such a large and seemingly secure ship would sink right out from under than, but as an engineer, Mr. Andrews knew it would happen, and he would not be given to false hopes of survival. If counterflooding does prove to work, Mr. Andrews cannot be faulted for failure to try it, since such a concept was almost unheard of in his time.

After some of my young junior high contemporaries heard about my counter flooding concept, the Titanic caught their imaginations. Some began talking about the subject, but a few of them did not seem to think about it very realistically. One person asked me why the Titanic could not have been saved by just having everyone grab a chair and run to the stern in order to counterbalance the weight of the water in the front. Apparently she did not appreciate how insignificant the weight of 2200 people and chairs would be when compared to the 66,000 ton displacement of the Titanic, but hey, she too was only in the seventh grade! At least she was beginning to work the problem. A lot of people did indeed go to the stern as the Titanic was sinking, but they did so to stay out of the cold water and prolong their own lives. Of course, this did not materially delay the sinking of Titanic herself.

It is important to note that counterflooding of discrete compartments is an entirely different concept than just leaving the watertight doors open. Some studies have shown that merely leaving the water tight doors open could lead to the ship capsizing after a couple of hours, but one it its greater disadvantages is that it does not allow any real control over the flooding.

Counter flooding only selected compartments can allow compartments containing systems required to provide power for lighting, etc., to remain unaffected for a relatively long period of time and preserve the lateral leveling attributes of watertight compartments. Limited and controlled counterflooding would not have capsized the Titanic, at least until a time substantially later than when she actually sank. Compartments near the stern (such as 14 and 15) are not as wide as those in the center of the ship, so they tend to laterally confine the water and prevent it from shifting to one side where it can reinforce a tendency to list or capsize.

Even though I first thought of counter flooding the Titanic when I was in the seventh grade, I still believe it may have been a useful technique. Monday morning quarter backing won't bring anyone back from the deep, but counter flooding is still an interesting subject for further study. I have not given the matter much attention since I was in high school, but I hope to eventually have time to revisit it. It is an interesting engineering problem that I would enjoy exploring further.

Did the Titanic Really Break Up at the Surface?

The counter flooding scenario may or may not seem plausible in 1998, particularly in light of the recently emphasized theory that the Titanic broke in two at the surface. If she did break up at the surface, then counter flooding would have been ineffective because it could have caused the Titanic to break in two sooner than she would have otherwise; however, there are a number of reasons why I still am not completely convinced that she broke up at the surface.

Only about half of the survivor accounts mention that the Titanic broke in two, and some of these include obvious inconsistencies or errors such as that moonlight illuminated the scene (it was near new moon) or that the point of the bow temporarily returned to the surface after she broke in two (which would be almost impossible). Some of these survivors claim to have identified people on the Titanic such as Captain Smith, John Jacob Astor, and Major Archibald Butt - and to have done so from a lifeboat which may have been more than 100 yards from the ship. Some who gave accounts had been drinking alcohol, which would almost certainly lead to inaccuracy. The sinking of the Titanic was traumatic for all concerned, so these people cannot be faulted for having different accounts; however, I tend to question the overall accuracy of accounts which include these errors and claims more than accounts which do not include such errors. I have not formally compiled and analyzed all of the factors from every recorded account, but such a probability matrix is a project I have considered doing.

Reports of the Titanic breaking up on the surface also vary as to when she broke up. Some say 20 minutes before she sank, others say two minutes. Some say the bridge was just going under water and the decks were still level enough to walk on when she broke in two; others say it did not happen until she was inclined at nearly a 60 degree angle. One thing that many accounts agree on is that there were a series of explosions below the vicinity of the third funnel in the few minutes before the Titanic foundered. This could have been a boiler explosion. Such an explosion could be violent, but it would probably lack sufficient force to cause such catastrophic structural failure of the hull.

Other reports tell of the stern settling back to a shallower angle just before the Titanic took her final plunge. This does not mean that the Titanic broke in two, but it also does not mean that she didn't. Settling back of the stern could be explained by water flowing into a new compartment or by separation of a completely submerged part of the ship; however, the latter would undoubtedly have caused the stern section to temporarily bob upward. I'm not claiming that the Titanic definitely sank intact. I'm merely stating that the jury should still be out on the matter.

Conditions supporting a breakup at the surface would include the fact that the intact bow section only accounts for about half of the ship and that a substantial portion of the ship immediately behind the center is widely scattered. Many of these missing or scattered parts of the hull are in front of the area that one would expect to fail purely due to implosion. Only the rear 1/3 to 1/4 of the ship would have contained large volumes of air when the last of the stern went under water, and there is a lot of damage far in front of this area.

These are about the only factors that seem to contradict separation after the Titanic was below the surface but said factors are very significant. They would seem to indicate that a breakup occurred at the surface; or that a completely submerged section of the ship may have separated while at least part of the stern was still above water. The fact that the White Star Line built the Britannic (a later and slightly heavier sister ship of the Titanic) with additional reinforcements around the second class staircase area could also lead one to infer that the Titanic may have broken in two at the surface, since a breakup at the surface is the only condition in which her break up could have been witnessed by survivors.

Other aspects of the wreck would seem to indicate that the Titanic broke up after she was below the surface or would at least be consistent with either position. Arriving at a reliable conclusion will require a great deal of analysis. If the Titanic did not break in two at the surface, the condition and location of her stern section could be explained by an implosion which could occur after the central part of the Titanic was well under water. When the last part of a ship sinks beneath the surface, its hull can still contain a vast quantity of air - a volume about as great as its original displacement* - and water pressure a few hundred feet below the surface may very well be sufficient to bring about structural failure as it rushes in at an increasingly fast rate at lower and lower depths. This inrush of water does not always result in implosion, but each ship is different. In addition, implosion could explain why a substantial portion of the Titanic seems to be missing; implosion could result in more scattering of the shipwreck than a mere breakup at the surface would. It could also explain the miserable condition of the stern.

* Excluding comparatively minor variables relating to water temperature and mineral content, the volume of air remaining in a ship when the last of it sinks beneath the surface is roughly equal to its original displacement, minus (the volume of its structure and contents divided by the specific gravity of said structure and contents). The length of the Titanic is sufficient to cause substantial pressure to exist on parts of her submerged structure even while part of the stern is still above water, but implosion after the stern submerged may be more likely, owing to the dynamics of her increased rate of descent at that time.

Many of the discovered ships which sank due to bow or stern damage went down in water so shallow that the sea bottom prevented the ship from upending and plunging down unimpeded. When the bow hits the bottom before the entire ship is underwater (as in the case of the torpedoed or mined Britannic, the heavier sister ship of the Titanic), the descent of the stern is much slower and little or no implosion of the structure results. This could explain why the condition of the Titanic is far different from that of the Britannic, which sank in much shallower water.

It is highly unusual for a ship to break up in a section of its hull that was not previously weakened by other factors. While I have not exhaustively researched other ship wrecks, I am not presently aware of any other ship that broke up in this way without having been subjected to explosives or severe shock first. The Titanic as a whole was not subjected to an excessive degree of either of these forces.

Ships that have been torpedoed or mined can break up, but this is usually due to weakening by the initial blast. Some torpedoes are actually designed to break a ship's keel by creating a sudden void under the hull rather than being based the conventional approach of merely blowing a hole in the side of a ship. This sudden change in force, accompanied by shock from an explosive (a real explosive, not a boiler) is far more likely to cause structural failure than gradual stress caused by cantilever prior to a ship upending.

It is said that the Titanic did have some built-in structural weakness near her third funnel, but it is unlikely that this alone would have caused her to break up on the surface. If it did, it would indicate a serious design flaw, since such a weakness could cause problems in rough seas, even if the so-called weak area was intended to "flex" with the waves as some say it was.

An additional point is that metals used in the Titanic's day are said to have been relatively brittle by today's standards. In regard to this, it would be interesting to learn if anyone has compared metal from the shipwreck to metal from that era that may still exist at the shipyard site. More particularly, it would be interesting to know whether or not current analysis of existing shipyard metal accounted for the measurable (though probably small) amount of work hardening in the metal that may have resulted from thermal cycling and storage over the years. Work hardening of metals due to age and thermal cycling is well known in the aerospace industry, and such work hardening can even influence the suitability of some existing metal stocks for some critical modern day applications. This effect was not really quantified until within the last 30 years or so. Failure to compensate for this factor could mean that metals used in the Titanic were slightly less brittle than some may think.

If the Titanic did break in two and the metal was brittle, the initial separation probably would have been a complete and there would be no connecting structure of sufficient strength to cause the bow to "pull down" her stern. Assuming that her stern was not pulled down by a partially disconnected bow, it is unlikely that her stern would upend again so quickly, owing to its watertight compartments.

The stern would also have to be in relatively good condition just prior to sinking if it was to upend and linger for any time at all before plunging beneath the surface; and the stern lingering in an upended position for several seconds is common to almost all accounts of the sinking. Lingering in an upended position would be unlikely in the event of a breakup at the surface, since such a breakup would probably stress the stern and cause many hull breaches due to sprung plates, etc. Further, if the structure of the stern had failed on the surface enough to account for its present condition, it would *not* have upended and a lot of people would have been killed or thrown from it at the instant she ship broke. As for the matter of damage to a separated stern section from implosion, most of said damage would have probably been confined to its rear third rather than its entire length.

Another factor is that if the stern section was separated when it upended, it is unlikely that so much of it would have projected above the water. Compared to the area it encloses, the rear section of the stern is relatively heavy owing to narrowing of the hull below the waterline and its cantilevered poop deck. It would take a lot of weight to lift this out of the water. Further, the weight of the overhanging stern would have tended to cause a separated stern section to capsize.

It is possible that doors in the Titanic's rear watertight compartments were reopened prior to her final sinking. This could allow a separated stern section to sink on its own without capsizing laterally, though it would still take some time for it to do so. I would imagine that the final status of the watertight doors could be determined by examination of the wreck, provided the collapsed condition of the stern makes access to the lower bulkheads possible. Such an expedition would certainly be interesting!

Another useful expedition would be to investigate the matter of whether or not the bulkhead between boiler rooms five and six collapsed, and if so, whether a coal fire could have contributed to the event. There seems be a lot of debate over whether the bulkhead collapsed. Some accounts say that the bulkhead collapsed, but just as many say that it did not. One thing is for sure: If it did collapse, the party would have pretty much been over in regard to trying significantly delay the sinking of the Titanic.

It may be possible to observe the disposition the bulkhead area by entering the shipwreck through the hull breaches caused when the front of the ship hit the ocean floor. Here, a robotic craft of flexible optical probe could be used. In the case of a robotic craft, there would be many advantages to autonomous or wireless (rather than tethered) operation. This could be facilitated by installing a series of control relays in the wreck. In the case of an optical probe, it could be moved and steered by a remote control craft or be steered with a mechanism similar to that used in a sigmoidoscope.

It would also be interesting to image parts of the Titanic with some unique wide angle optics for which I have patents pending. (Unfortunately, most of these optics have not yet been prototyped). The optics cover nearly the full sphere around themselves in a single image, even under water, and their robust design could even facilitate use at great depths, making it possible to obtain immersive virtual reality images of parts of the Titanic! I expect to eventually post information specifically relating to this application of my optics, with the hope that some researcher, etc., will want to use them to image (but hopefully not scavenge) the Titanic.

We may never know what really happened during the sinking of the Titanic, but it is interesting to look at her sinking from an engineering standpoint, since doing so can shed light on commonly held ideas and maybe even lead to better ship designs in the future. It is hoped that those officially charged with investigating whether or not the Titanic broke in two on the surface will revisit the issue, sans all assumptions which may have been based on movies, TV shows, public opinion, or initial impressions from her condition on the ocean floor.

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Illustrations (under construction)

List of some illustrations envisioned for this document:

Bibliography with Added Publications and Links About the Titanic

For fellow Titanic buffs, here is a list of some material about the Titanic:

Printed Material:

Motion Picture and Multimedia:
Titanic Web Sites:
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Essay section of document created: 10 January, 1975
Introduction and construction analysis created: 21 January, 1998
Document converted to HTML: 21 January, 1998
Document last modified: 2 May, 1998
Newest links added: 6 February, 1998
Detailed description of air volume in the Titanic when she sank and remarks about the "Titanic. Secrets Revealed" show added: 3 April, 1998.

Copyright © 1975, 1998 Jeffrey R. Charles. All Rights Reserved.

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