RMS Titanic: Fascinating Engineering Facts


These journals contain stunning images of
the construction of the Titanic and its near identical twin the Olympic. I found these
journals at the University of Illinois Library. The journals, written between 1909 and 1911,
take me back to a time before the Titanic sunk; they give me a new perspective and let
me appreciate the enormity and the scale of the engineering of the Olympic-class ships.
So let me share with you some fascinating details about the Titanic and its twins, the
Olympic and Britannic. The story starts here: in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast
Ireland. This large framework, called a gantry, surrounds the ships as they are built. It
supports the overhead cranes and scaffolding used by workers as they construct the Olympic
and the Titanic. Notice that just beyond the far end of the gantry lies the Belfast Harbor.
Workers will build the Olympic here on the right, and then nine months later, before
the Olympic is finished, they will start, on the left, the Titanic. When completed the
Olympic’s stern, or rear end of the ship, will point toward the harbor. The ship’s
construction starts with its keel, seen here as a long, dark shape. The keel is the backbone
of the ship and gives the ship rigidity. If we look at keel from the land-side we see
the keel blocks that support it. These wooden blocks, typically pine, separate the ship
from the slip—the concrete floor of the gantry. Each keel block stands about five
feet high, so this creates a space under the ship for workers to construct the ship. Workers
built the ship outward from the keel; here they construct the Olympic’s double bottom.
In pink, we see the framework that separates and supports the two bottoms of the ship;
the second bottom, is shown in orange. Its made of steel plates and is sometimes called
the tank top because the double bottom contains 44 water-tight tanks. Most of the tanks carried
seawater used as ballast to balance and add weight to the ship, but some carried freshwater.
In total, the double bottom carried over 5,000 tons of water—or about 1.5 million gallons.
Once they’ve finished the double bottom, workers erect the framing for the hull. From
this view we see the framing for the stern of the ship. Its what a worker would see standing
on the tank top, from the fore and looking toward the aft of the ship— that’s where
the harbor is. Looking closer, we see the rib-like structure and the start of the transverse
frame of the ship. Workers rivet to this frame the hull, which will form the skin. So far,
we’ve watched the Olympic’s construction. In the gantry that ship sits here in the background.
In the foreground lies the keel of its twin, the Titanic. Its construction began nine months
after the Olympic. We see here, attached to the keel, the framework of the Titanic’s
double bottom. Notice this large, claw like mechanism lying on the ground, and these three
hung from cranes. These are hydraulic riveters, which workers used to install most of the
three millions rivets on the Titanic. Here we see the almost complete hulls of both the
Olympic and Titanic. Work inside the Olympic progresses rapidly: the state rooms are being
erected and plumbing is being fitted throughout the ship. To prepare for the Olympic’s launch
workers paint the ship a light gray so it will stand out in black and white photographs,
although they repainted the ship black soon after its launch so that it matched previous
White Star Liners. To ease the slide into the water, the slip was greased with 23 tons
of tallow, oil and soap. And then the order to release the ship was given, the hydraulic
triggers were released, and the ship slide into the harbor reaching a speed of twelve
and a half knots. Notice that the ship is launched backwards. There are many reason’s
for this, but among them is that the stern, the rear, is wider that the bow, so it is
more buoyant. In a mere 62 seconds after launch, the Olympic was afloat. The moment the ship
hit the water is its official launch date, although it was mostly empty. Here it weighs
only about 27,000 tons and so rides high in the water. The draft—the vertical distance
between the bottom of the ship and the surface of the water—is only 18 feet. After it is
completely fitted it will weigh nearly twice that: 52,000 tons. With that additional weight
the Olympic will drop until the water reaches the border painted on the hull—a draft of
about 34 feet. The Olympic cannot move by itself and so a tugboat tows it to the fitting-out
quay where a gigantic crane loads the ship. Here the crane lifts aboard a cylindrical
boiler. The final outfitting—including attaching the propellers—is done in dry dock. And
then, once everything is in place, the Olympic is ready for the sea. Seven months after this
launch the Titanic was launched. I have from this journal a few photos of that event, but
keep in mind the Olympic got the big press because it was first. The Titanic only becomes
of more interest in retrospect. This photograph shows the twins, the Olympic and Titanic.
Although built side-by-side this was the last time they were photographed together. Less
than a year after the launch of these two giant ships, one suffered a collision that
ripped a gaping hole in its side. That ship, was, of course, the Olympic. In September
of 1911 the Olympic departed the Port of Southampton, England, sailing towards the Isle of Wight.
The Olympic turned into the Solent Straight and passed a British warship, the H.M.S. Hawke.
The Hawke’s commander was surprised by the Olympic’s wide turn, but he managed to take
a safe position behind and to the right of the Olympic. The Hawke then increased its
speed to pass the Olympic, but the Olympic’s wake sucked the Hawke inward rapidly; the
Hawke tore a large hole in the Olympic. And below its waterline the damage was even greater.
The bow of the Hawke was completely smashed in. The Olympic limped back to Southampton
where the holes were temporarily patched with wood, before returning to its home dock in
Belfast for repairs. The Olympic’s sibling also suffered a traumatic blow that caused
it to tragically sink. I’m of course talking about the Britannic. The Britannic was the
same size and very similar to the Olympic and Titanic. Although intended to be a passenger
liner, the ship was drafted into military service in World War I as a hospital ship.
While in the Mediterranean it hit a mine or was struck by a torpedo, and sank in less
than an hour. Despite these accidents, the Olympic-class ships were great feats of design and workmanship. Just consider
the propulsion system of the Titanic: the ship had two sets of reciprocating engines.
These engines were fueled by coal, which was stored along the bottom of the ship. Exhaust
gasses from the boiler discharged through these smoke stacks, which are frequently called
“funnels.” Now, they don’t look like funnels until you look at them the right way:
they’re upside down funnels. This cross-section of the Olympic shows the boilers sitting atop
the double bottom. Exhaust from the boilers is funneled up and out of the ship. It’s
well known that the aft-most funnel on these ships is a “dummy”—it was built primarily
for aesthetic reasons—although it did not service the boilers, it was used as a ventilation
and extraction shaft for the engine and turbine rooms. The Titanic needed 4,000 tons of coal
for a trans-atlantic trip, which took twenty-four hours to shovel into the bunkers. Here, in
this photo of the S.S. Minnehaha, coal is being loaded into coal ports on the side of
the hull. Loading coal into the Titanic worked much the same way. This loading left streaks
of coal dust on the hull and so nearly all ocean liners at the time were painted black
to help hide these traces of coal. After the advent of oil fueled ships, lighter colors
became more popular. As the Titanic crossed the Atlantic, 650 tons of coal per day was
shoveled into cylindrical boilers, where it was burned to produce steam. These boilers
were nearly sixteen feet in diameter; this picture shows a single boiler — notice the
two workers beside it. The steam was piped to these reciprocating engines. The engines,
when viewed from the front of the ship, look like this. The orange is the piston rod and
inside the cylindrical casing is the piston. This worker peering out of this casing gives
a sense of engine’s size. Excess steam from these engines was used to drive a turbine
engine. This shows the turbine under construction and without its outer casing. Note the workers
at the top: this is huge. If you look closely you can see that the turbine is made of hundreds
of individual blades. A shaft transfers power from the engines to the propellers. The ones
on the left and the right were powered by the reciprocating engines and each propeller
weighted 38 tons. While the central propeller was powered by the turbine engine. It was
cast as a single piece of manganese-bronze and weighed 22 tons. The outer propellers
were used for tight navigation of harbors, while the central propeller was only used
in open seas. Also, unlike the others, the central propeller could not be driven in reverse,
only forward. Even with this powerful propulsion system the Olympic-class ships were not the
fastest at the time, which was intentional. The White Star Line decided that their ships
should focus on comfort and luxury over speed. It’s clear that the lavishly decorated rooms
on the Olympic and Titanic certainly made the passage more enjoyable, but there were
some hidden design choices that made these ships the pinnacle of comfort for all classes
of service. The ships were steered using these helical gears. Each ship had two sets of both
the spur gears and the beveled gears. These massive gears are nearly six feet across,
made of solid steel and each weigh thousands of pounds. Notice the herring-bone pattern
on the teeth. This pattern allowed a tight engagement of the teeth and resulted in reduced
vibration transmitted to the rest of the ship. Altogether, the gearing on the Titanic weighed
about seven and a half tons. This very large structural piece is called the boss arms,
these arms held the shafts of the outer propellers in place, and because of their size and strength,
they reinforce the hull, which reduces panting. Panting occurs when variations in water pressure,
say the crest versus the trough of the wave, flex the hull inward and outward. Less flexing
results in less vibrations felt by the passengers. These boss arms, also called shaft brackets,
were fitted 20 feet apart at the very aft of the ship. While the Titanic and Britannic
both had tragically short careers, the Olympic triumphed. In it’s lifetime it made over
500 trans-atlantic journeys, carrying over 400,000 passengers, and sailing one and a
half millions miles. It even spent four years as a U.S.-Canadian troop transport during
World War I, earning the nickname “Old Reliable.” After twenty-four years of service, the ship
was decommissioned and scrapped for parts. The Olympic-class ships were absolute marvels
of engineering. I hope its for their revolutionary engineering, rather than their failures that
the ships are remembered. I’m Bill Hammack, the EngineerGuy. I thank my advance viewers
for their useful feedback on a draft of this video. If you’d like to be an advanced viewer
sign up at engineerguy.com/support. Thanks for watching.

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100 thoughts on “RMS Titanic: Fascinating Engineering Facts

  1. “…suffered a gaping hole, I’m of course talking about…” Did every ship during this era suffer big-gaping holes? Or is the Titanic the only ship I know of?

  2. insanely impressive, humans can do some incredible stuff sometimes. Sad iut was scrapped for parts would have been cool to see the last one restored and used today for show, but i understand why it was not.

  3. One little detail I would like to know, is how long would it take to fire up the boilers from stone cold to full steam.

  4. Bill: Less than a year after these ships were launched one suffered a collision that ripped a gaping hole in it's side. That ship was of course…
    Me: The Titanic!
    Bill: The Olympic
    Me: Oh…
    (Moments Later)
    Bill: The Olympics sibling also suffered a traumatic blow that caused it to tragically sink. I'm of course talking about…
    Me: The Titanic!!!
    Bill: The Britannic
    Me: What the hell, BILL!? Stop curving me!

  5. Sink me once, shame on you. Sink me twice, shame on us. Sink me thrice, how are they still allowed to make ships?

  6. Awesome video with some great facts and pictures!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and understanding with all of us.

  7. I knew these ships were big, but I didn’t realize just how big these ships were until I saw the workers standing on the keel. It’s a pity that the steel manufacturing at the time wasn’t as advanced as the engineering that went into these ships. They might still be around today if it was.

  8. What about the other two ships the Gigantic and the Britanic?? If my memory serves there was actually FOUR of these ships built, AND the Britanic was at sea as a hospital ship during World War I, if my history serves me as well!!

  9. JP Morgue scuttled the OLYMPIC which had been keelbent having suffered four collisions and had a listaport, which can even be seen while it, posing as TITANIC sails off for its preplanned sinking. Just like Larry Silverstein who bought the asbestos-laden WTC at deep discount months before it was scuttled, JP Morgue bought White Star Lines and upped the insurance drastically just before the sinking. Aboard were key bankers who opposed the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, murdered. Woodrow Wilson allowed the FRA1913, no doubt influenced by the scuttling which was nothing but a terrorist attack, which charges compounded interest on the loaning of our own damn money right back to us, the biggest crime syndicate in all human history, the profits going offshore to private banker secret shareholders, and that interest is what you pay in your federal taxes, they do not go to infrastructure, that is written into the congressional budget. You pay your taxes on the day memorializing the scuttling of Olympic which made your enslavement of a third of your working life possible; April 15.

  10. Britannic was only sunk by a mine. It was illegal to knowingly sink a Medical ship during WW1 which ie why you see the Britannic with alot of markings that makes it stand out in photos i mean fully white with Green Stripes and Red Crosses made it cleat it was a Medical ship so no German Sub Marine would even attempt. WW1 was brutal but it was one of the last honorble wars in history.

  11. When I clicked on this video, I was expecting an excerpt from a conspiracy-theory level documentary that one might find on the "History" channel, maybe one or two interesting tidbits amidst a bunch of filler, but to my pleasant surprise, this was an excellent video. Thorough, fascinating, and educational. I'd always wondered how these great ships were constructed and how they work mechanically, and this video presented a solid overview of these; the added historical information about the ships was a nice touch also. I knew of the accident with the Olympia, but I had never heard of the Britannic. Thanks for making this. Well done!

  12. Interesting they all either sank, or almost sank. I'm not saying they were doomed, but they might have been doomed.

  13. "One ship suffered a collision which made a hole in its side. That ship, was OF COURSE…."

    Me: THE TITANIC!

    "…The Olympic."

    Illusion 100

    "The Olympic's sibling suffered a traumatic blow, which caused it to sink, I'm OF COURSE talking about…"

    Me: The Titanic?

    "…The Britannic."

    Destruction 100

  14. The Olympic had everything "Olympic" removed and replaced with Titanic logo on everything inc cutlery and all signage. If Olympic didn't sink with the elite onboard then we wouldn't have the privately owned world banks of the Federal Reserve and we wouldn't have the world government we enjoy today

  15. I really enjoyed this video as an old Sailor and was amazed what they were able to accomplish at that time. All brute strength and perseverance of which we have little today. Thanks so much for this.

  16. "…the Titanic and its twin ships, the Olympic and the Britannic." Shouldn't that be "…and its TRIPLETS, the Olympic and the Britannic?"

  17. Thank you for narrating, and colorizing the photos. You made a very informative and pleasant to watch video. I enjoyed the information.

  18. The shear scale of the most mundane parts on a ship just amazes me.
    As a mechanic, I saw a valve from a ship's engine once and it took me a second to realize what I was looking at. The valve on your car is probably about 4 inches long and an inch or slightly more in diameter (it looks like the stand and stem of a wine glass). This valve was 3-ish ft in diameter at the bottom and almost 6 ft long. Whew!

  19. I really enjoyed that – fantastically well presented, well researched and well documented video! 😎 The size of these ships for their time – daunting!!

  20. Hi, I echo other people's comments about the informative nature of your video. It's great and you describe the parts of the ships and the photos well. I particularly like how you've highlighted key areas of the photo to aid the description. I do this in my line of work and it makes things a lot easier to understand visually. Thanks

  21. It's almost exactly how the S.S. Minnow was built. Great video, Bill. Really well done and very informative. Thank you!

  22. Just absolutely brilliant. No b.s No movie references. No armageddon music in the background. This is engineering. Passionate engineering. I loved the drawings. Pure and powerful.

  23. The olympic (,the old relyable) should have been preserved, just as a reminder of the progress we made in shipbuilding and to learn of our mistakes.

  24. so much research but couldn't be bothered to figure out Belfast isn't in Ireland, it's technically in the United Kingdom

  25. I have no respect for the people that worked for the WSL. They were a bunch of money hungry crooks and should have been the only people on board the titanic when it went down. I had family on the lower decks and cant even imagine what kind of hell they went through…

  26. They're launched stern first so the screws, rudder and long, overhanging 'counter' stern aren't damaged. The 'plumb' stem of the bow can slide off the ways and drop straight down without striking anything. My Great Grandfather was a Metallurgist at Harland and Wolff and responsible for casting all her bronze.

  27. You trickster you!!
    "I'm of course talking about…The Olympic"
    "It's sister ship suffered a similar fate which caused it to sink. I'm of course talking about….The Britannic"

  28. While enjoying the titanic, if anyone of you want to learn about Jehovah God and The Bible make sure you contact me please, ok guys.

  29. Thanks for the video. I found it very informative and gave me a new perspective of these ship.

    It was widely thought that the Britannic was torpedoed as there was two explosions. This and the fact the Germans did sink at least two other hospital ships which they claimed was carrying weapons and ammunition but the Red Cross had investigated and had shown this not to be the case. So they had done this before.

    But it is now thought that it was a mine and the second explosion was a fuel air explosion cause when coal dust was thrown into the air by the first explosion and then ignited when mixed with the air. Interestingly when the wreck was dived on the evidence did point towards a fuel air explosion.

  30. Your video was so perfectly informative, the graphics were spot on and your voice was made for this. Thank you!

  31. Man, 16 inch boilers… that's almost a foot and a half! That's huge! lol
    I think you meant to put 16' (feet) not 16" (inches) in the video.
    Really great video though!

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