False. It has recently been claimed that a photograph from a recently discovered album in Belfast shows smoke damage or soot on the outside of the hull of Titanic.
It is true that a coal bunker fire had started in Belfast on Titanic at her “E” watertight bulkhead, and that this burned for four days, before eventually being extinguished by Titanic’s crew on Saturday 13th April 1912, only one day before her fatal collision with an iceberg.
But a careful comparison of the plans of Titanic with the photograph shows that the mark on the photograph appears at Titanic bulkheads “C” and “D”, not “E” where we know from witness testimony the fire actually was:
The smudge on the photograph is in fact exactly that: a smudge on the photograph. Professional photograph analysts call these ‘artefacts’, as they do not relate to what was actually seen at the time. This smudge was most likely caused during the development of the glass plate negative, which was used to take photographs at this time.
Indeed, many photographs of Titanic from this period include ‘artefacts’ of various types. Unfortunately this one was conflated with the true story of the bunker fire on Titanic, as it made a convenient visual ‘hook’ for this story, and was a TV-friendly way to discuss the bunker fire.
In fact the fire did slightly damage Titanic’s WTB “E”, but this was not a critical factor in the sinking, where a single open porthole had a much greater impact on the speed of Titanic’s sinking. And there were dozens of open ports on Titanic as she slipped beneath the waves.
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