Titanic: A Whale of a Tale, part III
Insurance Fraud: The Ship That Never Sunk
By Richard Ravarino
Click HERE for Part I – The Peculiar Case Of The HMS Titan
Click HERE for Part II – J.P. Morgan, His Detractors and The Federal Reserve
One chilling aspect of the Titanic disaster that is rarely talked about are the 173 victims that are interred in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Before the survivors had even reached New York, ships from Nova Scotia left port to help with the retrieval of the bodies. Truly, for months after the disaster, wreckage from the Titanic (including cabinetry, children’s toys and even body parts) washed ashore here. Today there is a small museum and three cemeteries where the Titanic’s victims were buried.
Ironically, there is even a “J. Dawson” interred here, that director of the 1992 film “Titanic” James Cameron says is pure coincidence to his title character from his movie, “Jack Dawson”, but fictional stories aside (the headstone actually belongs to a Joseph Dawson, a coal trimmer who worked aboard Titanic) there is much evidence to support that the entire disaster was unnecessary and may represent one of the largest cases of insurance fraud in the 20th century and it is this angle, which will bring our story to a close.
Harland & Wolff, the Titanic’s builder, was actually in charge of building three ships for the White Star Line, in order of production: the Olympic, the Titanic and the Brittanic. Two (Titanic and Brittanic) of the three ships were tragically sunk by 1916, but for our purposes here, we are concentrating on Harland and Wolff’s first two ships – the Olympic and Titanic, built in quick succession and as some would believe (pun intended), switched at berth.
The Incidents with the O.L. Hallenbeck Tug & HMS Hawke
The RMS Olympic was the first to roll off the line, in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Captained by veteran Capt. Edward J. Smith, a veteran of the White Star line and some 26 years of naval service, was known for being a bit of a “cowboy”, often going too fast for conditions and he had a history of alcoholism. Regardless, he was a very knowledgable seaman and considered the best White Star had to offer. The Olympic was a crowning achievement. It was the largest passenger liner ever in 1911 when she first went into service, but her history includes a total of five collisions. The first of these was leaving port in New York, on the return crossing of her maiden voyage. It was a stern collision with a tug, the O.L. Hallinbeck, which nearly sunk the boat. Unfortunately for the Olympic, it severely damaged the rudder to the point of having bent it into the starboard propeller, which in turn caused a bend in the crankshaft on that driveline, leaving Olympic with a permanent list to port.
Later in 1911, on her fifth voyage, off the coast of the Isle of Wight, the Olympic again was involved in an accident – This time with the HMS Hawke. The two ships were on a parallel course and according to findings of the Royal Navy, the Olympic’s excessive speed in port, along with her large displacement caused a cavitation in the water surrounding Olympic, which created a suction drawing the Hawke into her wake. When the Hawke collided with the Olympic, it first ripped a hole in her bow. She was fitted with an underwater battering ram, meant to cause severe damage to enemy boats. She bounced off of the faster Olympic after cutting a hug hole in her bow, then collided again with her stern. The Royal Navy found White Star Line guilty for their part in the collision, which meant that the White Star line’s insurance claim for the accident would be denied.
She was patched up in Southampton, over the next 14 days after the collision, where temporary repairs were made to patch her up for a voyage back to Belfast. Once there, she needed to be fully drydocked -it was only then the full extent of the damage became clear, the repair in England had proven a failure. The stern was heavily flooded and the steel plates below the waterline had moved. For that to happen, the hull had to flex to tear the rivets out like it had.
Where the hull was flexing at that point, there can only be one reason – her back had been broken. It was a death sentence for the ship. Harland & Wolff, have always denied the damage was this extensive, but recently diagrams have been released of the damage that show a full four bow bulkheads had been ripped open and the stern had an additional three that had been compromised. Ironically, these were on the same port side of the ship, where the iceberg allegedly struck Titanic early in the morning of April 15th. “it’s a coincidence” says author Robin Gardiner, “And I don’t like coincidences. This left the Olympic little more than a couple hundred thousand pounds of scrap iron.”
After the collision with the HMS Hawke and the refit in Belfast, the heads of the White Star line were panicked. Their flagship, the Olympic, was looking to be a complete loss – insurance wouldn’t cover the damage and the only way to fix her properly was to cut her in two and strip her down and literally remove her spine. This would have had a gargantuan cost and White Star, already on the hook for over $7 million dollars, for the building of Olympic and Titanic, didn’t have the money necessary to cover the cost.
Their only way out, was to quietly switch the ships and scuttle the Olympic.
Even today, the most common kind of marine fraud, is to swap the ships. It has happened throughout modern insurance history. By staging an accident, they could then claim the full insurance on the Olympic. And then the Titanic, masquerading as the Olympic, could go on and sail the seven seas, recovering money for the White Star line. But as it currently sat, The Olympic was never going to pass another Board of Trade inspection and their next was due in June, 1912.
If they were going to get away with it, they first had to make these ships truly look indentical. Chicago investigator and former police officer Bruce Beveridge has chronicled the history of the Olympic. At the time of her launch in early 1911, the Olympic showed a porthole pattern on her folksail deck of five evenly spaced portholes, but on Titanic they were grouped with a pattern of two portholes, a single porthole, and then another pair. By April 1st, 1912, the photographic record shows the Olympic had somehow been retrofitted with this same porthole pattern. In early March, before the launch of the Titanic, The Olympic was brought into drydock to have a propeller replaced. What should have only taken only two days, ended up taking over a week and it was at this point many believe that the switch had taken place.
While they were rushing to fix the Olympic and finish Titanic, they were a number of times they were switched, in and out of drydock, as there was only one drydock big enough to handle both ships. So over a period of March 1st to the 6th, it would have been extremely easy to switch the names on the hulls in the cover of darkness.
No one would have questioned it, as the Olympic were repaired and the Titanic was set for its initial launch. On March 7th, the ship the White Star Line called the Olympic sailed out of Belfast. Three weeks later, the ship they called the Titanic was ready for her maiden voyage.
As far as identifying features that would have had to be switched too, none of the China, nor the silverware were specific to either ship. They only had the graceful company logo of “White Star Line” emblazoned across their finish so from this standpoint, the only thing that needed to be changed were the names on the hulls, the lifeboat, lifebelts and paper goods – The stationary, menus and souvenir items in the shops.
From this point forward realize, that when I mention the “Titanic”, I’m actually talking about the “Olympic”.
The Titanic was been put through her sea trials, Monday morning, April 2, 1912, which normally took a full two days to complete, but in the case of Titanic, they were done after the morning of the first day. According to Gardiner, “They were done in time for lunch! She was never brought up to full speed, she was never put through any serious maneuvers at all and the trials were so superficial, the inspectors glaringly failed to notice that right under their noses, there was a coal bunker fire burning below decks. This is an established fact chronicled by the Belfast daily news. It was burning from the moment Titanic left port in Belfast. But as far as the inspectors were concerned, they were looking at a brand new ship. They had seen the plans, it was just like the other ship and they happily signed off the certificate of sea worthiness and went off to lunch with the directors of the White Star line. . . All the while the coal fired raged in coal bunker #10. It is said, because they knew the ship’s planned sinking was imminent, that they just piled a large heap of coal over the top of the fire as “Titanic” steamed off for Southampton and sealed the bunker.
More frightening to sailors than sea monsters, or icebergs, is a fire at sea and after the supposed switch of Titanic and Olympic, and the initial voyage to Southampton, the entire crew of boiler-men and coal stokers walked off the job, save two.
As Great Britain was in the midst of a coal strike this was unheard of, as over 20,000 sailors had been put out of work by the strike. As hundreds of ships sat in dock, without the coal needed to take them to sea, the locals all commented that these men “must be daft!”, to leave the job at this time.
Last Minute Cancellations
Not only were the workers reluctant to stay on board, but 55 of the ship’s first class passengers also didn’t make the voyage (many of them close personal friends of the ship’s owner, J.P. Morgan). Even Morgan himself failed to make the trip where he was supposed to conduct business with Isador Strauss, John Jacob Astor IV and Margaret Brown, to name a few, on the new proposed legislation for the new U.S. central bank. Just an hour before Titanic’s launch from Cherbourg, France, Morgan requested his travel trunks unloaded along with several bronze statues. Morgan had promised publicly to make the maiden voyage but was among a sudden epidemic of flu, that cast about the first class passengers.
However, at least in the case of Morgan, this was discovered to be a ruse as just the next day, Morgan was spotted by a New York Times reporter, in quite cheery spirits with his mistress in the South of France. Others had told the line, they had made other arrangements to stay in Europe longer or switched ships. As a matter of fact, it is not commonly known that when the Titanic left port from Southampton, she was less than 2/3rds full, with her capacity for 3,000 passengers, she left port with only 2,326 souls aboard.
For this conspiracy to play out, certain people had to be brought on board. Undoubtably, Captain E.J. Smith was told of the plans to scuttle the ship, the only piece of the puzzle missing, was a rescue vessel: Enter Captain Stanley Lord, Captain of the Passenger/Cargo ship, the Californian.
She was another ship owned by the White Star line and Morgan. She would sail into position and wait for the Titanic’s rescue flares to light the night’s sky, swoop in and save the day, as the Titanic burned and sank.
This is not to mention that she had been stuck in port for over a month with no coal and seemingly no chance of getting any.
Miraculously, she steamed out of port early on the morning of the 13th, fully loaded with the coal necessary to make the journey to New York, but made more mysterious because ship’s manifests show that she left dock almost completely empty, except for 3,000 woolen sweaters and blankets. She was dispatched at flank speed to the mid-Atlantic, where she suddenly stopped, until the night of April 14th, where Captain Lord was expecting a visitor.
The Night of The Disaster
It was a cold, clear, starlit night with no moon. Visibility was practically zero, due to lack of moonlight and the seas were extremely calm, which didn’t help when it came to spotting icebergs. The wind usually provided a dead giveaway for icebergs, because you could see waves breaking at their base. On this night the water was as still as glass.
When the ship struck the iceberg, it would seem that chaos ensued among the ship’s officers. The emergency procedures seemed to be stilted. The first CQD (S.O.S.) did not go out for over 35 minutes, due to passengers cable’s being transmitted first. The first distress flare didn’t go up for 45 minutes and the first lifeboat wasn’t even launched, until 1:25 minutes after the striking the iceberg. Was this because the officer’s had been notified by the Captain, of their impending rescue?
Either way, it appears they wasted way too much time and this caused a far more critical loss of life than was necessary. Especially since the first lifeboats were loaded into the water nearly empty, exasperating the problem of the lifeboat shortage.
Some say because Captain Smith was expecting rescue and was just keeping up appearances, others say that when Titanic had turned to miss the iceberg, it had thrown her off course to the point that the Californian was over the horizon from where Titanic came to rest, but the record shows they were only 14 miles apart.
Captain Lord himself, ignored the signal flares thinking it was reveling party-goers on another ship, as the Titanic was dispensing white and blue signal flares, not red as was expected of emergency situations. To further complicate the situation, his radio officer had fallen asleep on the job and never received Titanic’s CQD.
That night 1,621 souls were lost to the icy waters of the North Atlantic. Early on the morning of April 15th, the Carpathia arrived and managed to save only 705 survivors of the worst naval disaster in modern history.
After the Disaster
700 of the 900 crew of the Titanic went down with the ship. Once back in Belfast, all surviving crewmembers were housed in a dank, small warehouse. They were held under armed guard for over a day. Not allowed to return to their families, until they could be debriefed. Officials of both the White Star Line and a senior member of British Parliament dressed the men down, taking no chance that any of these men would speak about what had happened, anything they had seen, or anything they knew. In short, they were read the riot act and threatened within an inch of theirs and possibly their family’s lives.
Holes in the Story
In fairness to the historical record, Morgan Robertson’s book, was just a book. . . A book written seven years before the Titanic was ever drafted. The information on Morgan and Astor’s positions on the Federal Reserve is very thin and lends to hearsay and rumor. Granted, both of these “conspiracies” are fraught with holes and may just lend to fanciful stories. But in the case of the Olympic/Titanic switch “conspiracy”, there is much deeper evidence to support these theories. The collisions of the Olympic are public record. She would be involved in three more before she was retired in 1936. The fire is also well documented, in the days following the Titanic disaster, many of the rescued crew did talk and the papers were full of talk about the coal fire. Further, the men did walk off the job in Southampton, in the middle of a coal strike. What did they know, that the passengers didn’t know, save the 56 first class passengers (including Morgan) who canceled in the last 48 hours before launch? And what of the chaos on board the Titanic before she sank, but shortly after striking the iceberg? These were seasoned sailors. They knew how to properly evacuate a ship. . . So what were they waiting for? With ship’s designer Thomas Andrews on board, they knew within 15 minutes of the strike with the iceberg, that the wound was fatal.
All of this said, in 1998 a dislodged piece of the Titanic’s hull was brought to the surface. This gigantic piece weighed some 17 tons and had a unique porthole design, when Alexander Carlisle, a Belfast designer from the era took a look at the original plans, he couldn’t find the porthole pattern in the general plans, for the line of Olympic class ships. But when he turned to the specific plans for the Titanic, there they were: Amidships, roughly 4 decks above the waterline. The smaller inner portholes of this pattern were thought to have been for the bathrooms, as they were small enough to have only been useful for venting. But Gardiner maintains that these could have easily been retrofit, the same as the portholes on the folksail deck.
Another glaring inconsistency is the starboard propeller of the wreckage, at the site, can clearly be seen to be marked with a “401”. This was Titanic’s ship number at Harlan & Wolfe and it isn’t likely to have ended up on the Olympic. However, it is a documented fact that a month before Titanic was finished being built, that Olympic came into port for exactly for this reason: To have her starboard propeller replaced and keep in mind this was the second time. After the collision with the O.L. Hallenback, Olympic had already used her spare starboard propeller. Could it be, for ease sake, they simply mounted the Titanic’s propeller to the Olympic? According to Beveridge the answer is an emphatic “No”, but once again Gardiner has his doubts. “They didn’t tend to make multiple back-up propellers, as ships of this size weren’t typically involved in accidents, like the accident prone Olympic!”, Gardiner exclaims.
According to Beveridge, “Despite the fact that they had changed a great number of things about the Olympic, to make her look more like Titanic, this is one point that simply doesn’t hold up. No two ships had exactly the same outdrives – This is why Titanic’s propellors would be marked with a 401, so they weren’t accidentally placed on ship 400 (The Olympic). There is a good chance they would have never fit.”, Beveridge concluded.
According to Gardiner “Of course its possible!” he says, “When Olympic came back to port she was there for over a week and that was to change out a propeller that should have only taken two days. Olympic had already ruined one starboard propeller in a 1911 collision with the Hallenbeck. It destroyed a second in her collision with the Hawke. Olympic was already running on her spare starboard screw when she put into drydock. Having to utilize Titanic’s spare, could account for why this operation took them three times as long to fit this new propeller”, exclaims Gardiner.
Many questions may never be answered, but this story is one that deserves to be told and as is often the case with “conspiracy theory”, the reader can decide what to believe.