|To find out more details about my new paperback book on the Titanic and the Californian, including ordering details, please look here.|
Or were they?
One oft mentioned, but little researched incident, occurred at precisely the time that the Titanic was found. The London "Sunday Observer" newspaper had run an article stating that the Titanic had been found. As Dr.Ballard says in his book, "The Discovery of the Titanic";
"[on September 1st], When I called Woods Hole to give them the good news [about the Titanic having been found], I was met with a jolt. The guard who answered the phone informed me that the press had been calling all morning wanting details of our Titanic discovery. Apparently, there'd been a story in the Sunday London Observer. If that was true, then the paper had gone to press at about the time we'd found the ship. Impossible. Or had someone been eavesdropping on our radio conversations between the van [control room] and the bridge?"
And that was it! No word of explanation, and the matter was dropped by Ballard. However, that was not the end of the matter....
The discovery of the Titanic by Ballard and his team seemed like an unquestionable fact, and the niggle over the "Observer" was a scarcely mentioned piece of spurious noise in the data. But all that changed when I joined a Titanic mailing list c.1995, and was faced with the claim that the wreck had been found by a rival team many years previously. The source of this claim was researcher Steve Anderson. Although I have been unable to unearth the mailing list archives, he did provide the same information to another forum. This is a partial resume of the salient information, with spelling mistakes etc. included:
"TWO WORDS ONLY: "SOLLIS PROJECT" 1977 / ROYAL NAVY RECORDS OFFICE. This information will be declassified in 2027. Then we shall all now the truth.
I won't comment any further on this, as you my old friend are now in for a heap of S***, as the last time I mentioned the SOLLIS PROJECT, The Ballard lovers and a certian organization flamed me off the boards. The old timers will remember this.
What was Bill Tataum IV doing in the wreck area with a Deep Sea Underwater Camera in 1979? Ask your friends about this, and who supplied the camara? You might find out something really interesting. And then use your brain and you will find out why certian parties are really mad over this."
(The Late Bill Tantum (sic) was a massive Titanic enthusiast who had teamed up with Dr.Ballard in the late 1970s to find the wreck: see "The Discovery of the Titanic".)
I had placed the following appeal for information on the Encyclopedia-Titanic message boards based on my knowledge of what was discussed in the mid 1990s:
One of the many posts that [Steve Anderson] wrote was about the discovery of the Titanic before WHOI/IFREMER's 1985 expedition. According to Mr.Anderson, some years before, a group of people, probably US Navy were doing some experiments with a sonar in the wreck site area when they found a large ship in two pieces sitting on the ocean floor. Anderson would also be told by Bill Tantum's widow that Bill had been shown an image of the Titanic's stern many years before the Ballard find. The story is that a camera package was lowered into the sea and managed to get just one picture before breaking down.
I was able to ascertain that the Titanic Historical (THS) Society had been bequeathed Tantum's files, but I received a "sorry we can't help" when I asked if they had information regarding a pre-1985 discovery of the wreck. Robert Gibbons, a founder member of the society had said that, ""Bill Tantum told me in 1978 that Dr. Ballard had been told the location of the wreck of the Titanic by Navy personnel who had located it with a secret sonar system."
Eventually, I was delighted to received a reply from Steve Anderson. This is the main extract from his message:
"In 1977 the British were conducting top-secret tests of new deep-sea underwater sonar equipment, which was to be used in locating and detecting Russian nuclear submarines. It is now a known fact that these Russian nuclear submarines were hiding in the deep waters off the North Atlantic coast around New Brunswick and Greenland.
During one of these top secret tests in 1977, of the new deep underwater sonar two very large metallic objects were located in the "general" vicinity and "depth" were Dr. Ballard located the wreck in 1985.
During the height of the cold war the United States and the British didn't want the "Russians" to learn how sophisticated our new deep-sea underwater sonar equipment had become. So information on this possible discovery of the "Titanic" was keep "Classified".
It is highly suspected that this 1977 classified information became known to Dr. Ballard and "Cadillac" Jack Grimm. In October 1977, where were Dr. Ballard and Bill Tantum IV of THS they were trying to raise money for an expedition to locate the Titanic in this general area.
In October 1977, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution under the direction of Dr. Robert Ballard, sent the "Alcoa Seaprobe" to 41 40; N, 50 01"E [sic-W] this so called "Titanic" expedition had to return due to equipment failure and a shortage of funding.
In 1979 Seawise & Titanic Salvage were conducting an expedition testing deep-sea underwater photography within the same location of the 1977 British sonar hit [note].
In 1979, Robert Gibbons, (one of the original founder's of the Titanic Historical Society) planed an expedition to search within the same general location. However Gibbon's isn't able to raise the necessary funding to complete this expedition.
In 1980 "Cadillac" Jack Grimm (Whom I had the pleasure of talking with several times over the years prior to his death) mounted his first expedition and was out in the same location with a magnetometer, searching for hits. If I remember correctly he located fourteen targets before having to return from the expedition due to bad weather. [note]
In 1981 "Cadillac" Jack is back on another expedition and checked out 13 of the 14 targets and claimed he had found the "Titanic," and this story was picked up by the worldwide press as front page news. However, due to the technology of the early eighties the images from the second Grimm Expedition had were just to poor to prove this fact. [note]
In reviewing the Grimm Expedition information and the current wreck location as found by Dr. Ballard. Jack Grimm's expedition passed right over the wreck. And the location of the fourteenth sonar target was within a tenth of a mile of were the ship was actually located.
Keep in mind this basic fact the bow and the stern are a quarter of a mile apart, and the debris field is over a mile and a half wide in some spots. In Jack Grimm's opinion he found it in 1981, and in my opinion he was damm close. [note]
In 1983, Jack Grimm was back in the area again for a third try too follow up on his prior sonar hits, and prove he had found Titanic as he claimed however, bad weather and high seas stopped his efforts. If the weather had been better in my opinion we would be talking about Jack Grimm and not Dr. Ballard.
Now to go into the expedition conducted by Dr. Ballard this was really run by the United States Navy. The United States Navy in 1985 during the height of the cold war wanted to show the Russian's just how good our new deep-sea sonar and imaging technology really was. So after Dr. Ballard located and imaged a few of the United States navies lost Nuclear submarines, he was sent out to "locate" the Titanic and show the Russian's that we could find any nuclear submarine at any depth that they might lose.
However, the United States Navy used the location of the "Titanic" and the reporting of it in the worldwide press to show up the "Russians" and rub their face in the fact that we have the technology and you don't. Then to top this fact that we can find anything, the Navy went on step further: We can take a manned submersible to the location of this wreck and any depth and recover what ever the hell we want.
Now, if you remember back to August, 1985 many [sic] of the major British newspapers ran a story that Dr. Ballard had found the wreck a whole day [sic] before, Dr. Ballard actually located it and broke the news worldwide. Also the United States Navy and British Navy just so happened to be conducting war game maneuvers in the general area were Dr. Ballard was searching, which in theory was really a front to assist Dr. Ballard and confuse the hell out of the Russians, as to what was really going on out there. (We did search for two of our downed nuclear submarines during this expedition also). [note]
The summary of this theory came to light, and was told to me by a friend who worked on The Queen Elizabeth 2 with four crewmembers of the British destroyer who originally conducted this test of the new deep-sea sonar back in 1977. These four sailors all told the story, and stated that there is a "classified" sonar image that they all saw at this time. However, more convincing is the fact that one of these crewmembers was one of the British sonar technicians that conducted these tests back in 1977. He stated that this sonar image was of two large metallic objects on the ocean floor about 1/2 mile apart in 12,500+- feet of water, within the exact area of the North Atlantic were Dr. Ballard found the wreck. And that this image is now classified top secret in the British Navel Archives.
In my tons of paperwork I have, many more details but I would have to locate it in storage, I have the original name of the Top Secret Project I want to say SOLARIS or POLARIS and the name of the British destroyer.
However, individuals other then myself, have contacted the British government about this "classified" project and the true mission of the said destroyer and have been told in writing that this information is "classified".
Under the British Freedom of Information act this information is subject to be declassified around the year 2027.
So maybe in 2027 we will know who really found the Titanic in 1977."
In ensuing messages, the name of the project was variously spelt "Sollis", "Solaris" or "Polaris". I did receive the following wonderful information from Jon Hollis, who had been Steve's source of information on the QE2 (Jon sadly passed away in 2007):
"Yes Ann Tantum told me more than once that somewhere in her husbands files was a fuzzy picture of the "Bow" of the Titanic taken back in the 70's but she could never locate it.
I had heard that Ballard when he was out there in the 70's was testing a new RCA Camera and that they got one picture before the camera froze up. The camera was sent back for a re build and then went to the Galapagos for more testing. Guess who was in charge of that expedition. Seems they lost some equipment like a bargeload including so it is said the camera in question.
Now you may know that I worked closely with Congressman Jones on The Titanic Memorial Act and testified with Ballard and Grimm along with NOAA and the State Department at the hearings. It is interesting to read the transcript of Ballards report about recovery. Not too long after that I had the Consul General of Canada at my place and we arranged for lunch with Ballard at Woods Hole. I told the Consul about the possible 1970's find and told him I would try to get more information. So, at lunch when Ballard was nibbling away I decided to hit him right between the eyes. I Said, "Bob A direct question for you. Was September 1985 the very first time you photographed the Titanic or was it not?" Silence and looks could kill. We finished lunch in a reserved state and when the Consul and I were driving home he said" Well you got him!"
Now when I was working on the QE2 and doing presentations as well one voyage I had at my table a Royal Navy Officer and his wife. The officer was now stationed on QE2 in the medical department. One night at dinner we started discussing shipwreck and TItanic and about Ballard maybe seeing it before 1985. The officer leaned over to his wife and whispered and she nodded yes. This is what he told me.
Seem back in the 70;s he was on the H.M.S. Hecate and they were testing very sophisticated submarine detection equipment of the Grand Banks. At about 50' X 41' the got an image of a large shipwreck at about 12,300 feet broken in 2 parts separated by a little over a third of a mile or just under a quarter mile.Of course the mission and testing was all very hush hush so it never went public. He did tell me he would try through his contacts to purloin a copy of the image for me but alas was not able to do so. So,,did perhaps Ballard as a Navy man get wind of this and have the position back in the 70's after all and know where the Titanic was all the time and just used the French to waste time and use up all the allocated time and funds that the Government allowed him. According to Jean-Lui [sic - Jean-Louis] Michael of Ifremer it was Ballard that told them in which direction to do their scanning. "
A fascinating story, and one that begs to be researched. A picture of the HMS Hecate is presented at the top of this piece.
However, meandering back to the Observer story...:
To many Titanic enthusiasts, the matter of the Observer newspaper and its wreck discovery precognition had been a tantalising niggle, and new information was finally proffered by a 1999 documentary, "The Battle for Titanic". Although the main thrust of the documentary was the legal and moral battle over the salvage rights to the wreck, a few tantalising scraps of information were offered by the TV programme.
The author of the original Observer piece was a journalist called Alan Road. He said that his main source of information was a salvage engineer called John Pierce, who told him that the Titanic had been found and to call a number in the Admiralty to confirm this story, which Alan did. The Observer then ran the story. The press were initially unable to confirm the story and many were dismissive; indeed, one British newspaper ran a story on September 3rd, saying that "yesterday" Woods Hole had been besieged with telephone calls from around the world and a weary operator at the site was unable to verify the news. The news was apparently officially confirmed sometime on September 2nd.
The Observer newspaper breaks the news on September 1st, 1985.
If this story was true, it meant that the British Admiralty knew well in advance that the Titanic had been found! Preposterous, surely?
Alan offered a few other nuggets: he said that he had since learned (presumably from Mr. Pierce) that an Oberon class submarine had been trailing the Knorr since she left the Azores a few weeks previously. He also told the show that, when the wreck was found, there were multiple Gin and Tonics drunk in the Admiralty that night.
Dr.Ballard confessed in that TV show to still being perplexed by the incident, joking that maybe psychics were employed by the Admiralty. However, the matter stood. The Observer, and Alan Road knew well in advance that the Titanic had been found. Or was just about to be. How could this be...unless they knew in advance where it was all along, and had indeed been trailing the French-American team?
Thanks to John Gau Productions, who had made "The Battle for Titanic", I managed to trace Alan Road. Now retired, he was very knowledgeable and friendly, and told me what he knew. He said that an impending house move had forced a lot of his papers (including those relating to the Titanic) to be placed into storage, but that they would be unearthed one day.
This is what he told me:
The source of most of Alan's story was Mr.Pierce. He was described as a "jack of all trades", and a keen inventor, and had made a lot of money by allowing the coal board to remove coal from a seam under his farm in Wales. John had previous experience of salvage - he possessed the Lusitania's bell, for instance, and had raised the Greenpeace ship "Rainbow Warrior" after it was sunk by French secret service agents in New Zealand in 1985. Mr.Pierce had (it was said) delivered "a torpedo" (sonar device?) to New York at some point in the past.
John had a fascination with the Titanic and had performed water tank experiments with a large model. Furthermore, he had salvage plans for the Titanic; in the same way as the Rainbow Warrior was raised, Mr.Pierce planned to rivet large bags around the ship's hull, which housed special crystals. Upon contact with water, the crystals would somehow form enough lift to raise the Titanic's hulk.
Alan's first contact with Mr.Pierce was a few years previously (ie. before 1985). The Observer newspaper had just acquired its first computer which was being used for pensions etc., and John wanted to use it to determine the location of the wreck. This was for an expedition run by ...someone... Anyway, John, who had, and still has close links to the Admiralty, got a position, which turned out to be within "walking distance" of the actual wrecksite. Interestingly, the "mastermind" behind the use of the Observer's computer was Ray Hartley, a descendant of the Titanic's band leader, Wallace.
Between then and 1985, the Royal Navy had been incensed by a comment from the US Navy that Britain "had a third rate Navy". This led, allegedly, to the covert trailing of the Knorr expedition, to humiliate the Americans to show that "anything you do, we can do"; the choice of British newspaper was no accident: the name "Observer" was to let the US know that they had been "observed". That explains why many Gin and Tonics were drunk that night (!)
John Pierce had, apparently, given the Admiralty his information regarding the Titanic's location, something that doesn't quite fit in with other assertions. He did, according to Alan, have connections with the Admiralty. Anyway, I digress...
On Friday evening, August 30th, 1985, just as the Sunday Observer was being completed, Alan received a call from Mr.Pierce saying that "they had found it" and gave Alan a telephone number at the Admiralty in Bath to call. The news was confirmed by codeword that John had provided; something like "The Weather is Clear" or some such Cold-War style mumbo jumbo. Alan rang Woods Hole to see if the news was true, and was told something along the lines of "No, heard nothing [from the expedition], but funny you should be ringing now." What that means is unknown!
Anyway, by 6pm on Saturday, August 31st, there had been no official word, and the paper was due to go to the printers for the delivery the next day. A make or break decision was made: to run with the story, or ditch? Bravely, the editors decided to run it, but opted to use slightly conservative, non-committal language. The London Times remonstrated with the Observer, denouncing it as untrue - until the story was confirmed later on.
I must backtrack slightly. The 1985 American led portion of the Titanic discovery expedition had performed its search operation in a style akin to "mowing the lane". You trailed the sensors above the sea bed in east-west stretches that were about 1 mile apart. The Titanic was found towards the end of line no.9 at about 1am (approx. 4am London time) on 1st September 1985. When Alan first heard the news, it was evening on August 30th, or afternoon in the North Atlantic, the expedition was still performing line 5, or 2.5 miles south of the wreck site. This is still some distance from the wreck, and there was no guarantee that Titanic would be found that weekend. Perhaps someone wanted to break the news on Sunday, when there was no regular newspaper service, "just in case". If so, they were extremely lucky to get the timing right. As we now know, the expedition was due to end four days later, wreck or no wreck, and the weather was deteriorating.... And there is another factor to consider, which may be relevant; each "line" took approximately 7-9 hours to perform, based on timing estimates from Ballard's book. On August 30th, there was a minor mutiny when members of the crew thought that a previously observed feature on the sea floor was the wreck and to ensure morale was maintained, Ballard decided that another line would be performed to make sure. Were it not for this, the Titanic could have been found in the afternoon or evening of August 31st, or the time when "The Observer's" presses would be running for the Sunday edition. If the wreck had been found on the 31st, the Observer could be proclaimed as simply reporting news rather than predicting it and no one would be any the wiser that the paper had been tipped off well in advance.
Sometime after that (although Alan was not sure of the exact date), he had been rung up by an ex-Naval rating from Portsmouth, who was a cook (he believes!) on a ship a few years previously. His story was that the radar (sic- presumably sonar) operator on the ship was ill and Alan's source took over the console when an enormous wreck appeared on the scope. "What was that?" Alan's source asked and the captain replied nonchalantly," Oh, its probably the Titanic". Alan's contact had seen a fellow ship-mate a few years later in Portsmouth and the two made eye contact and nodded to each other, but never spoke, something that the contact is kicking himself about now!
A few other bits of information: when I mentioned the Hecate, Alan reacted immediately "Yes, thats it!" The name had stuck in his mind too, because, like myself, he was unsure about its pronounciation - Hecate or Heca-tee? Also, Alan feels that his person is the same one that Jon Hollis mentioned. The name sounded familiar anyway.
We jump forward in time to the popular Artefact Exhibition at Greenwich in 1994. The exhibition had a blow-up of Alan's original observer story on the wall, and Alan took the opportunity to ask the National Maritime Museum's curator about this curious Titanic episode. The curator (Dr.Kentley?) was extremely interested and established contact with Lord Lewin of the Admiralty, who had opened the exhibition with Titanic survivor Milvina Dean, but was told that the story was untrue. Alan noted that Lord Lewin has since died.
To summarise, I believe Alan 100%. I believe he did get an advance tip off from the Royal Navy, and that he spoke to someone who claimed to have seen the wreck pre-1985. But a journalist is only as good as his sources...
One last point. I registered on the ServicePals website and asked for personnel on the Hecate in 1977 to get in touch. One did - John McDonald, Radar and Navigators Yeomen at that time. He says:
"Sorry to put a damper on the great tales that you heard,but I was on the Hecate from nov75 to sep78 and I can assure you that nothing of the sort happened. The Hecate is used purely for surveying using a kingmatic plot situated on the bridge there is also sonar which would be operated by a seaman like myself and as there`s at least 24 seamen onboard we would be really struggling if we put a cook on sonar eh!Anyway the Hecate during my time was out in the gulf for the best part and never during my time did we survey north of France.Other ships perhaps might know something ie Hydra, Hecla, Herald."
In response, Jon Hollis's mate, who I was now in contact with (and who McDonald above remembers very well), says this story is simply untrue: he had served for two years aboard Hecate, and all the charts of the survey were taken to to Naval Survey Department at Taunton. The Hecate had apparently spent a few weeks survey in the region of the Titanic in 1977/8 (the time when Jon's mate, a member of the medical staff, was on board). Jon's friend said that he "had the oportunity of surveying the wreck on the chart recording paper."
Sadly, Naval Records have served to completely dismiss this whole story: not only, according to them, was the Hecate NOT in the North Atlantic in 1977 and 78, but, in their words, "Royal Navy and Royal Marine Operations 1964 - 1996, published by the Maritime Strategic Studies Institute as their Paper No 1 (published 1999) makes no reference to any RN Ship or Submarine operation in the North Atlantic in either 1977/78 or 1985." Presumably this did not include the 1985 NATO exercise "Ocean Safari" that was seen by the Knorr team on September 1st 1985, as it was probably just "passing over" the wreck area.
Also, there was no record of an operation or project called "Sollis" or "Solaris" (the latter name did crop up a few times, but in an IT context). Recent queries about "Sollis" in Parliament revealed nothing at all (see here). But was the date of 1977 correct? An article published here suggests that the Hecate passed over the Titanic wreck in 1980. This is ripe for further research, but of most interest is that the fact that John Bibby's account confirms that all the staff had to take shifts manning the PDR Sonar - tying in nicely with Jon Hollis' friend who was a doctor and had to perform a shift on the device!
I managed to contact Commander Chris Gobey, the C/O of the Hecate at the time and this is what he says; "We were engaged at the time on a classified geophysical survey for defence purposes. We had state of the art geophysical survey systems including gravimeters, magnetometers, Precision Depth Recorders (PDR) etc embarked. Preparatory Data provided by the UKHO for any survey was the archived wreck list for the given area of work. The wreck location and survey aspects of these geophysical surveys were at a lower level of priority than the geophysical aspects. Wrecks in the deep ocean present no danger either to surface vessels or to dived submarines. Our discovery of what we assessed as the Titanic was really an incidental to the major geophysical thrust and requirements of that particular survey. The standard proceedure for the reporting of wrecks and indeed the entire survey results would have been followed and all records from the survey would have been rendered to the UKHO...The reason we had to utilize non specialist hydrographic surveyors on the PDR was twofold. First, we had insufficient numbers of specialists onboard - quite typical in survey ships then. The second reason was to ensure that a cross section of the ships company had a direct involvement in the purpose of the ship and what we were doing so as to create and foster interest and enthusiasm for what we were doing. The Officer of the watch, overseeing the conduct of the ship and the survey operations, was always a qualified Hydrographic Surveyor."
And later, he says, "You asked how I can be sure that what we saw on the PDR was the Titanic. From the sea surface several thousand metres above a wreck using remote sensing devices normally operating at much lower frequencies than the ideal for detailed discrimination and resolution, one can never be entirely certain."
The word "Sollis" does not register with Gobey's memory, it must be said. The Hecate's log books are
deposited at the National Archives, and a friend did some searching for me. By a tedious process
of elimination the only year that fits with Gobey's recollections is 1979. That is the only year
between 1977 and 1980 that she was in the North Atlantic. My friend reports:
"July 12th 1979 HMS Hecate set off for St. Johns Newfoundland in order to survey ground. She arrived at St. Johns on the 14th July 79 and according to the ships log, spent the remainder of July and August surveying the ground around St. Johns. August log shows that on the 29th August 1979 the vessel was at sea anchor at Hare Bay St. Johns. In the July and August logs there is no mention of any unusual large objects being spotted on the ocean floor. The logs are very standard and mundane.
HMS Hecate left Newfoundland to head for Gibraltar where she arrived on the 14th September 1979. Ships logs show that she spent the rest of the year Sept/Oct/Nov/Dec in the Mediterranean visiting Funchal/Madiera, Lisbon, and Oporto before arriving back at Devonport dockyard on the 13th December 1979 and was in dock then up to 31st December 1979."
I contacted the Royal Navy Historical Branch but they have no record of any wrecks being found during the Hecate's voyage, or any information that was passed to the Americans. The UK Hydrographic Office has refused to release the sonar plots acquired by the Hecate, saying that: "The data from HMS Hecate forms part of a long-term on-going programme of data gathering. We believe it to be exempt from disclosure under regulation 12(5)(a) of the Environmental Regulations Act 2004, in that release of the data at this time would adversely affect international relations between the UK and another State. Under the same regulation, we believe that release of the data would also adversely affect defence, in respect of the capability, effectiveness or security of any relevant forces."
There we must leave the official record with its tantalising hints of post Cold-War intrigue. What can the ship have been up to, 30 years ago and in international waters, that warrants such paranoid security restrictions? They further claim that the Hecate did not survey within a set of coordinates specified by myself (a 4 mile box containing the location of the wreck). For what it is worth, this author does not believe that the Hecate found the Titanic, and that an off-the-cuff comment that a mysterious object was the Titanic, rapidly became regurgitated and spread as fact.
Other professionals do not doubt Gobey's account. Commander Paul-Henri (PH) Nargeolet (who used to work for IFREMER, and is a veteran of dozens of salvage trips to the wreck) is one such person. He told his story to the French journalist Frank Jubelin for an article in "Sciences et Avenir" in 2001. In the article, it is alledged that, in 1978, "an English oceanographic ship detected a large boat in two pieces, on the Atlantic ocean floor. It was the time of the cold war and the British and American navies were using the Atlantic to help detect Soviet nuclear submarines. The wreck which had been located in a future patrol corridor which left the American coasts and went on the side of Mourmansk (error in translation ?). This wreck, whose site from now on was clearly identified, was reproduced consequently on the secret charts of Royal Navy. Its co-ordinates and the fact that it was in two pieces, meant that it could be only that of one ship: Titanic. The British navy maintained the secrecy: Titanic constituted an ideal hiding-place for the strategic submarines. Such a metal mass could, indeed, hinder the enemies' means of detection. During the preparation phase of the search, Robert Ballard knew this information and the secret charts where the wreck appeared. Did Robert Ballard let the French team be misled at the beginning of the search, before giving instructions influencing the discovery of the wreck by the American team? Did he want to gain sole credit for the discovery?"[note]. Doubts had been raised about how the US portion of the 1985 expedition had been run and his changing opinion on salvage.[note].
In 2004, Ballard mounted an expedition to the Titanic wreck and his anti-salvage sentiment was widely reported. It was too much for Nargeolet, who felt compelled to speak out to defend the reputation of his late friend, George Tulloch. The relevant portion of Nargeolet's letter is as follows:
"Perhaps the greatest illusion you have perpetuated in the media is how Titanic was discovered. Your account is quite selective, Bob. Important facts have been omitted, information the public deserves to know. In 1977, the HMS Hecate, a hydrographic ship of the British Royal Navy that was mapping the “nuclear submarine road,” found a “wreck of a big ship in two parts.” You had this information prior to your 1985 expedition. On July 10, 1985, at 1:13 p.m., in the first hours of your expedition on board Le Suroit, the navigation transponders were deployed and a large echo was seen on the 12 kHz Edo Western echo sounder. This echo looked like a wreck. The information and the “estimated” position were recorded by the navigation officer on duty in the control room and by the officer on watch in Le Suroit’s logbook. According to the officer of the ship who was on the bridge, you decided to ignore this information. A few days later, the second SAR sonar track began. A large “magnetic anomaly” popped up on the Leti magnetometer, independent from the SAR sonar. The anomaly was in the same area as the one that the echo sounder found on July 10. The two Leti engineers operating the magnetometer were positive something big had been found. Once again, you rejected this essential information. Could it be that you wanted to orchestrate the discovery so that your new equipment could be used to find the wreck? Doing so would have justified the expedition."
I managed to trace PH and this is what he said: "I spoke to Franck Jubelin who is a brother of one of my best friend; He was writing an article for Science et vie Junior... In 1978 an oceanographic ship from the British Navy was mapping south of Grand Banks (Newfoundland) for the nuclear submersibles. They found a "big ship in two part". They didn't mention directly the Titanic name. I had this information from the doctor who was on board the ship, unfortunately I don't remember the name of the ship, but I have a fax some where. This information (the big ship) went of course to the US Navy. The US navy and the British Navy exchange information about the nuclear sub road mapping. I think Ballard who is a US Navy reserve Officer got this information from his friend Admiral ??, he was the head of the Navy in 1984. When Ifremer, which was in charge of drawing the research area (Patrick Lardeau), proposed to Ballard this area in which the "big ship in two part" was, Ballard said ok. Something very strange, when I was with George in London in 1994 for the opening of the Titanic exhibition in the Maritime Museum of Greenwich we meet a journalist who wrote an article about the discovery of the Titanic. He agree with us Ballard knew the position of the wreck because he receive the information the Friday before the day of the discovery, the Titanic was found early on Sunday morning September 1. The journalist (??) had to give his article in the late Friday to be published on Sunday. It was a big newspaper, Sunday time of the time. I think in archive it is not very hard to find this article and the name of the reporter. I have also this article some where! An other detail about Ballard, he ordered an helicopter for the Sunday morning to transport the picture to Newfoundland. There is no way he ordered an helicopter the same day (the trip was very long and the helicopter had to make a stop over for refueling on a gas platform). He ordered the helicopter one or two days before, why? if he didn't know where was the wreck. He never said anything about that to Ifremer. When they started the research they started exactly where was the wreck, with the golf stream the Suroit drifted and they wait before to put down at the right altitude (180 meters) the SAR and the magnetometer. The magnetometer detected a huge anomaly during this time. Only the two engineers in charge of the magnetometer believe it was something big, all the other people thought it was too early and the equipment not enough deep t was right for the sonar but not for a magnetometer. I talk to this two guy and they knew it was the wreck. Two months later when they come back with the Knoor at this place they found the wreck.
I never heard about a submarine trailing the team in 1985. If I was a sub Captain I would never do that. It is very dangerous for a sub to be close from a ship who trail equipment in deep water. It is against all the safety rules. Even with the Nautile we have to dive very far and up the stream with any cable going down from a ship, like an ROV or a sonar. May be a sub crossed the zone by mistake, it is their road. That happened to me in 1994, Ifremer forgot to alert the French Navy about the expedition and a US Navy nuclear sub cross the diving zone. After this incident I always inform myself directly the US Navy of any deep diving expedition."
Interesting that his source of his Hecate information was the ships' doctor; it seems that he is the source of all the information about this alledged discovery of the Titanic. Also of note is that the journalist Nargeolet was in contact with was almost certainly Alan Road. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to trace M.Lardeau via IFREMER.[note]
In subsequent discussions with PH, he corrected himself on a few matters with the benefit of information gleaned after 2004: "I had also some confirmation about the Hecate, but I had also an other information saying the ship was in a different area. May be the date was wrong. I'm not sure about 1978 or 1979. About Ballard it is true he was not on board during the first part of the Suroit survey. I got a wrong information from the executive officer of the Suroit. I doubled check with the Captain... I know now from the Suroit crew that Jean-Louis Michel and Bob Ballard were in contact all the time during the survey... The engineer from the LETI, his name is Le Mercier, told me talking about Michel and Ballard,"they" don't want to go back to the area where "we had the magnetic anomaly". The LETI is the French organization which built the nuclear resonance magnetometer towed by the side scan sonar, the SAR, during the survey. According to Le Mercier, "They" say this anomaly is a "pink [??] elephant" as the sonar and the magnetometer were not yet at the right altitude from the bottom and it was the beginning of the survey. But it was exactly where the Titanic is ! A magnetometer doesn't need to be at a specific altitude. The side scan sonar map didn't show the wreck during the survey, the signal was probably too small. The final map, after replay, but after the expedition, shows some echo of the wreck. Each time I tried to talk to Ifremer staff who were on board the Suroit, Jean Jarry, Bernard Pillaud even JL Michel, (all retired from Ifremer now) I got different stories. My feeling is they all feel a little guilty because they don't trust the magnetometer and Le Mercier. I hope a day all this people would stop lying and eventually say the truth."
PH also confirmed that the "helicopter ordered in advance" story was not true either. But it is interesting that the "large anomaly on the sea floor" rears its head. A few days afer the discovery, it was mentioned in several contemporary newspapers that Le Suroit began work on June 28th and that "Those on board ... were almost sure they had pinned down the Titanic but [they] had to be certain, and the agreement prevented making any statement. The cameras of the American ARGO system came in the past few days and confirmed the discovery." The 'Agreement' was called 'White Star' and was signed in June 1985, and outlined the property rights to any salvage rights to any any items recovered under both French and American law. Tom Dettweiler partially confirmed this story; he had been hired by Dr Ballard to be the field team leader in the search for the Titanic and according to him, "the original survey area was defined by Dr. Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel for the French (IFREMER) to cover using their SAR search system. The plan was that we (Woods Hole) would then follow-up with the ARGO system to document the Titanic once it was found. IFREMER was unable to cover the entire search area in the time allotted and did not find the Titanic, leaving us the task of both finding and documenting with ARGO (supplemented by the ANGUS still camera system)." Dettweiler was dismissive of the claims that the Titanic had been found prior to 1985 and asked what would have been the point in surveying such a huge area? Furthermore, he said that, "Ballard had access to classified data sets such as SAS maps (strips of precision bathymetric data collected by the US Navy). However I can speak with authority and experience on the capabilities of the sonar systems in use at that time, and although they may have been able to see something identifiable as a possible shipweck, it could just as easily be geology, and certainly could not be identified as Titanic or even a Titanic like ship."
Dettweiler also advocated caution with regard to the French claims as there was still a lot of sour grapes over the 1985 discovery at IFREMER and that people still harboured bad feelings.
I eventually learned the name of Bernard Pillaud of IFREMER, who was one of those carried ashore in the helicopter, and I asked him about the claims above. He says that he and his colleagues
had no knowledge of the Hecate, and he is certain that the man in charge of the historical file and the definition of the search area (Lardeau) did not use the Hecate in his data (this was before I obtained log data which removes the ship from the area of the Titanic in that time frame). Pillaud was in charge
of the monitoring of the SAR and the magnetometer but "was not responsible for the conditions which led
them to forget about the object found early" in the French phase of the search. But Pillaud is certain
that they did detect the wreck, but failed to identify it as such; he learned this a long time afterwards
as he was away from IFREMER from April 1986 to March 1993. As for the helicopter, he told me, to the best of his knowledge, "[it] was supposed to take pictures of the KNORR in her search operations. I don’t know when this helicopter flight was planned, but I think it was only by chance that this flight took place 2 or 3 days after the discovery, when a full set of pictures of the Titanic and a copy of them were available." This "discovery"
occurred very close to the start of the French phase of the search expedition.
How ironic that the discovery could have been made in July rather than September. The original French map was saved by Joseph Coïc, a navigator on Le Suroit, and has been displayed occasionally; at a talk, Coïc states that the search began at the northern-most tip of the search area and proceeded down the eastern edge, leading them right to where the wreck lies. If it were not for the current putting them off-track, and the insistence of personnel on Le Suroit, the wreck would have been found within days, if not hours of the start of the expedition. In correspondence to me, he says that Jean-Louis Michel and Robert Ballard did not attach any importance to the anomaly.
On the Alan Road/Observer newspaper front, I contacted salvage expert John Pierce, who still claimed in 2002 to be involved with the Royal Navy, and having his finger in many pies (!). He possesses an encyclopedic knowlegde of all thing related to the Navy, the military, the sea, the cold war, Titanic, etc. Indeed, John, despite being in his 60s, has just finished a stint in the Foreign Office. He is also a keen inventor and has taken out patents on some very intriguing items.
This is John's story:
Many years ago (and the date wasn't specified), the Royal Navy wanted to know if it were possible to find lost submarines, and were performing lots of tests on the Lusitania wreck on such matters as cutting into the hull, attaching items to the hull, electrolysis of seawater etc. to test the feasiblity of various ideas. Jack told me that, at some point (and he didn't mention the year), proof had been found of munitions (shells etc.) on the Lusitania and they were removed.
This plan to find and lift submarines ultimately went by the wayside following the end of the cold war c. 1993 , as it wasn't felt that it wasn't necessary anymore. However, with this interest in deep salvage, and successful tests on the Lusitania, interest turned to the Titanic c.1980. John was treated with a mild amount of derision, one of his colleagues saying "Its gone forever".
Jack was allowed access to the Observer Newspaper's new computer, which he determined was useless for the task and instead opted to find out the Titanic's position by hand - using dead reckoning. He used information such as Boxhall's CQD position, how far the lifeboats could have rowed, the direction of currents (knowing that the wreck site was likely on the border of the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Current), how much the clocks had been retarded during the westward passage and the location of nearby ships. He obtained a lot of useful information from Wyn Craig Wade's book "Titanic: End of a Dream". When the location of the wreck site was finally revealed (officially), John said that he was only 50 yards off. John wrote this information down in a letter to Alan Road c.1983, which is now in storage, pending Alan's house move.
John told Dr.Marty Klein and Terry Snyder, of the USAF (their expertise was locating downed aircraft with sonar) c.1983 of his computations, and in January 1985, Marty contacted John to tell him that a French/American expedition to locate the Titanic wreck would be underway that year - the calculated wrecksite was kept hidden from the French, presumably to make them waste their time in the search, John felt. However, in conversation with me, Marty dismisses this story, and is suspicious of John's claims and his story (amongst others): incidentally, the two had met, but many years before.
One of Johns' colleagues, Ferris Morton, in the Admiralty (who, according to "The Observer" of 15/9/85, was the Royal Navy's chief salvage operator and expressed an interest in raising the wreck, post-discovery) was a bit unsure about the calculated wreck location: he asked "Have you got it right?", to which John replied in the affirmative. Morton replied, "If you haven't, I've never heard of you". It was Ferris that was Alan Road's 1985 Admiralty source in 1985 that confirmed that the wreck "had" been found before it had been done so. Seemingly sure of John's calculated wreck site, they knew that the ship would be found in the next few days.
John also said something about the Oberon class submarine that was trailing the US portion of the expedition: apparently he had a hand in setting it up. Although John can't remember the name of the sub, he knows that it had been specially outfitted for totally silent running, using a pump rather than a screw for propulsion and fitted with transducers, so no-one knew it was there. The French were apparently incensed when they found out they were being trailed, but it all comes down to the US dismissal of the Royal Navy years beforehand (remember the "third rate navy" quote?). The British wanted to show the U.S. up, and their response to this covert shadowing was "If this was World War 3, you've just lost it!" as John memorably told me.
John also dismissed the story that Titanic had been found by the British before the 1985 find. He said that he would certainly have heard about it, being involved in many different intelligence and salvage areas, and having access to Naval Records. John was also dismissive on the grounds that sonar technology was incapable of performing such an operation c.1977, although I have heard differently.
Oddly, John makes no mention of any of these facts in an interview for the Smithsonian magazine, conducted by reporter Joy Waldron in 1986.
For some years, this whole matter rested in limbo without fresh information, until May, 2005 when I started receiving correspondence from Mr.Douglas Faulkner-Woolley, via Bob Pryor, another Titanic researcher. Mr.Faulkner-Woolley who has plans to salvage the Titanic wreck under his company "Seawise and Titanic salvage" (or variations thereof), provided me with a copy of his book "Titanic - One Man's Dream". There were a few sections in the book that relate to this "early" Titanic discovery. On page 42, Mr.C.H.Betts relates his impressions of Mr.Faulkner-Woolley:
"I asked [Douglas] what was his opinion of Dr.Ballard stating that he was the first to locate where the Titanic was resting, and his reply to that was that Doug had found the location years before it was ever reported by Dr.Ballard ... this information was used for their own gain and they made plenty of it." [note]
On page 87, under the heading "Commander Grattan R.N. Story", a few further details were provided. The salient sections are below:
"Commander Grattan claims to know the exact position of the Titanic." [note].
"By going back to the information collected soon after the disaster and by checking bits of evidence against each other, he has produced a 'search area', a short distance from the official position of the wreck."
"Then [Commander Grattan] says, he obtained 'a certain piece of information' which proved that a large hull is present in the area. He gives no more details ... but it is possible that he has been given advice by military sources."
It should be noted that these two sections are undated, but Mr.Betts account is clearly after the discovery of the wreck, whereas Commander Grattan's must be before; indeed, if the article is true, this was even before Jack Grimm's Titanic searches. The article goes on to say that Commander Grattan's team were planning to use unmanned, remote controlled submarines to photograph the vessel, inside and out.
Faulkner-Woolley sent me a photocopy from "Now!" magazine of October 19th, 1979 (which he incorrectly labelled as the "Khaleej Times"
without a date)
and, I was able to obtain the above quotation in full. The article discusses Grattan's
approach to determining the wreck's location; arguing for a retardation of the Titanic's
clocks by about half an hour which would reduce the distance run (and hence offset the true position by "11 miles"), and certain other factors such as differing speed estimates (which would give a maximum error of four miles)
of the ship, Grattan determined his estimate of the ship's true location. The article says that Grattan suggests that the real location was as much as 15 miles east of the official position and it quotes him as providing a new location of of 41o40' N, 50o 3'W; (this is actually only 11.7 statute miles, or 10.2 nautical miles away from the official SOS location). The magazine continues:
"Grattan was, therefore, already proposing that the search area should be based on his new position. However, during his odyssey, [collating data and interviewing experts to determine a new location] he received a stunning piece of information which not only confirmed that his calculations were basically correct but also that there was a large wreck next to his reassessed position. "Being that there are no other known wrecks in the area," he says, "it is a reasonable hypothesis that it is the Titanic." It is a piece of good luck that the major convoy battles of World War II took place to the north and east of the position and the wrecks that litter the American coast from the slaughter by the U-Boats of inshore shipping all lie far to the west. The Titanic is the only large wreck known to lie in that area.
Grattan, a graduate of "The Silent Service," refuses to reveal precisely how he came back his information but he makes teasing reference in his study to "press reports which have indicated that a sonar screen to detect submarines approaching the eastern sea-board of the US had been constructed the whole length of the continent. Furthermore, the loss of two US nuclear submarines and a Russian G class nuclear submarine attracted considerable publicity over the last 15 years.
"It would have been a happy coincidence indeed if the subsequent search for these vehicles and others, or any ocean floor surveys had been conducted in the area associated with the Titanic. In the event some significant supporting evidence has been found."
The October 1979 Edition of "Now!" Magazine; click for a larger version
In further information provided to me, Mr.Faulkner-Woolley has provided a "Titanic Salvage Timeline". The entries for 1978 and 1979 say:
Sollis Survey on Titanic.
Alledged 6.5 million pounds from Blundell.
Now Magazine runs Story, Golsmith.
Meeting with J Grimm and P Slade in New York
Fathom Line and Commander Gratton [sic]
reveal secret information to American
Govenment [sic] on Titanic's exact location.
Meetings with Daily Mirror, Clive Cussler &
Phillip Slade, programme revealed in film Raise
"Now!" magazine's reporter Christopher Dobson reported in the above mentioned article that Commander Grattan, then 44, was the Royal Navy's senior diving expert, and that he had scientifically determined the wreck's location, and that this information would be kept secret by "Now!" until after the proposed expedition by the Seawise and Titanic Salvage company, mooted for early Summer 1980. The article didn't mention the 'certain piece of information' mentioned in Douglas's book.
With thanks to the Royal Navy, who agreed to forward a letter to Commander Grattan, I managed to establish contact. Sadly, the flow of information was not very forthcoming. In fact, Commander John Grattan comes across as very pompous; someone who thinks that the Titanic story can provide glory, but when he is not to be the focus of that glory, he loses interest. He also dismisses the quote above as hype.
Perhaps we should be more cautious, as Grattan, during his time with The Seawise and Titanic Salvage Co Ltd, also claims to have "established an accurate position [for the Titanic] some 22 miles [sic] from her accepted watery grave"; he also indicates that this study "was passed over to Bob Ballard who did a brilliant job, as the world now knows, in finding and photographing her." I should remind the reader of similar claims made by Mr.Pearce, above.
In emails to me, Commander Grattan refused to discuss details about a possible pre-1985 Titanic discovery.
The only illuminating piece of information from Commander Grattan relates to his opinion of John Pierce, with whom he had had some sort of prior contact; Seawise and Titanic Salvage directors' minutes taken on 21st April, 1980 reports that "Mr.Grattan had also been approached by Mr.Pearce and his recommendation was to steer clear of [Mr.Pierce]". This was after Pearce had propositioned the group with a plan to raise the Titanic and wished to find backing. Following this initial contact, a check had been done on Mr.Pearce but the impression was people were "not particularly impressed" by him.
Interestingly, the minutes of the same date also discussed one Jack Grimm and his imminent expedition to find the Titanic; the group were under the opinion that although Grimm had funds, he had little knowledge of the location of the wreck. There was a discussion that Seawise approach Grimm and that a letter offering their knowledge of the location of the Titanic be sent. Whether this done or not, I don't know. Even if it was done, I am not sure if the advice was ever followed and the "location" explored.[note]
Update: A possible new lead came to light in an exhibit created by Southampton University students for the 2007 95th anniversary of the disaster. One small snippet noted that, in 1980, the RV Hudson had unearthed a 180 metre long object in the general area of the wrecksite. This information had been printed in a St.Johns (Newfoundland) newspaper in 1985. Needless to say, I was determined to find out more.
Thanks to the public library of Newfoundland, I was provided with the following information, from the Evening Telegram newspaper September 4, 1985 (Volume 106, No. 129) on page 2: Click here. I managed to trace Dr.Gordon Fader, as mentioned in the article, and this is his story:
"In 1983, Gordon Fader, P. Geo., a marine geologist with the Geological Survey of Canada at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and a member of the Undersea Feature Naming Committee that later approved the naming of Titanic Canyon (the location where the ship lies) was testing a new piece of deep water survey equipment.
A year earlier, he had been given information from the Canadian Navy on areas of seabed to avoid in order to prevent equipment being lost during equipment trials. During this research, the (civilian) naval keeper of wrecks, the late Joe May, gave Gordon Fader the coordinates of a large wreck on the Grand Banks that Joe thought could be the Titanic, which he though might have drifted into the shallower water of the Grand Banks. The information had been uncovered by an oil company doing survey work a few months earlier.
The equipment was tested on the 1983 cruise from the Research Vessel CCGS Hudson, but did not go to the area where the Titanic was later found. On a following cruise Fader went back to the area on the Grand Banks to check the feature on the seabed, having obtained a sidescan image of the sonar trace collected by the oil survey vessel. This trace was well to the north of the Titanic's eventual location and couldn't be found; Gordon Fader thinks it was a Russian submarine on the Grand Banks at the time of the sonar scan.
The French IFREMER team came to visit the Bedford Institutes team shortly afterwards and asked to borrow the cable from the deep tow piece of gear to assist in their own search for the Titanic. "
It seems that the mention of the Pisces submersible was a red herring as it could not dive to the reported depth of the Titanic; it could only reach 1000 feet.
Update : Acting on a hunch, I contacted the UK Hydrographic Department to see if they knew of any vessels that had conducted surveying operations in the area of the Titanic's wrecksite. The information they provided is fascinating as they had access to quite a number of data from other countries:
"Based on a quick review of the curator’s survey indexes and our digital records there was a survey done on the 8th of July 1980 (although it’s also listed as February 1985 elsewhere) by the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences which seems to pass closest to that location. It was a passage sounding that was done for ‘scientific research’ by the vessel RRS Discovery. It looks like they ran a course that drew a figure 8 over the very location that is reported as being the wreck site. It might be worth following up on, but unfortunately we don’t have any more data on that survey ourselves.
Looking at a larger area we’ve records of the two of our vessels passing nearby; one in 1937, HMS Challenger, but it’s unlikely they’d have been able to gather the detailed sort of data required. Then later another cruise passed close by in the 1970s and made passage soundings as well. Neither appears to have passed close enough to have made any discoveries.
We also have on record that various USGS and Woods Hole Bathy surveys were done in that area in 1959, 1963 and 1964. These were Oceanographic Cruises. Unfortunately I don’t have the exact locations these surveys were undertaken nor by which vessels, but they were known to have passed close by.
The only other survey I can see is in 1970 by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Again I am not sure exactly where this survey took place as the information in the curators survey indexes doesn’t give any details.
In 1967 CSS Baffin, a Canadian Hydrographic Office vessel passed nearby.
In 1972 RV Dawson, this time for the Geological Survey of Canada, passed that location.
And finally in 1984 RV Robert D Conrad passed near that area, doing a US Survey, led by Dr J Austin for the Lamond Doherty Earth Observatory."
Most of the survey are not available for easy perusal, but the British Oceanographic Data Centre did have information on the RRS Discovery voyage of 1980 (the 1985 mission mentioned above seems to be faulty information as the ship was not in the area of the Grand Banks that year).
The 1980 survey report does not mention having unearthed any ship wrecks, as the trip was to survey the ocean floor using the GLORIA (Geological Long Range Inclinal Asdic) sonar system and a few other pieces of equipment. A chart of the survey is included below:
The black triangles represent the date of deployment of sonobuoys, and the legends denoted thus: "00/191" indicates the ship's position at a zulu time and day: "191" indicates the 191st day of the year, or July 10th. As far as our discussion is concerned, between day 202 and 204 (July 21st and 23rd), the Discovery was engaged in a confusing zig-zag of courses. As the mission report says, on day 202 at 1.40Z (Zulu), the ship's course was altered to 90 degrees to cross the "Tail of the Grand Bank" sedimentary basin, and 1 hour and 20 minutes speed was reduced to 5 knots when the ice zone was entered. Ice was not the only hazard of the mission; fog was an almost always present companion, and for 55% of the trip, visibility was less than 0.1 nautical miles, curtailing the time that the equipment could be deployed.
The sedimentary basin was crossed at 10am (Zulu) on day 202 and the course was changed to 171 degrees to traverse from the shelf edge to the "J" anomaly ridge, which runs from slightly south of the Titanic wrecksite and extends in a south-westerly direction. Between 2320Z (202) and 2400Z (203), "a detailed survey was made of a series of channels and mud-waves adjacent to the 'J' anomaly ridge." Thick fog once again appeared late in the evening of day 203 necessitating retrieval of equipment. My attempts to obtain geological survey plots have been unsuccessful.
|What is interesting is the expanded plot of the Discovery's course. This seems to have been on day 203, and as can be seen, the ship passed right over the top of the wreck, whose position is denoted by the red cross. The definition of the plot is not too great, but the UK Hydrographic Department told me that Discovery did a "figure of eight" over the wrecksite. The dense track plot as shown above covers not only the true wreck site but the area where the wreck was believed to lie (41 46 N, 50 14 W) and those with such a mindset could convince themselves that the ship was searching all possible avenues in the area for the ship. Logically, it seems to be too much to suggest that the Discovery was deliberately searching for the Titanic, but had the scientists on board seen something that warranted further study? It is impossible to know. Between the 21st and the 24th, GLORIA was in constant deployment, but the magnetometer was only in use for a brief 1 hour period on the evening of the 23rd, just before midnight. What a shame it wasn't in use for the whole voyage, but then, it does seem to have suffered from software problems.|
So, if someone knew of the Titanic's wrecksite pre-1985, who was it? It doesn't seem to have been the British. If it was the French, why did they not go to it immediately in 1985? Enquiries to the Canadian archives have been fruitless due to their tardiness. The American National Archives was helpful, but did not shed any light on this matter: "These charts date from the 1830’s to the 1980’s and focus primarily on islands and coastal areas in the Pacific Ocean, as well as Central and South America. There is very limited coverage of the North Atlantic Ocean. The charts are arranged by geographic location, not latitude and longitude. In your previous request, the time frame and number of charts were small, so it was possible to examine any charts listed under Atlantic. The number of charts predating 1950 is too large to conduct a comprehensive search with the time we are allotted for each research request, although a sampling of our four volume finding aid, produced no results for the North Atlantic." The number of nations who could perform a survey at such a depth is limited, but it is hoped to explore these possibilities in the near future.
...and so our story has come to an end. Or has it? In the Xlibris on-line resume of Nelson Christian Smoot is this inocuous statement:
"17 Jan-30 Mar 75 USNS Dutton - NLant (survey TITANIC for Bob Ballard, Azores Platform, Atlantic Voyageur"
Other documents provided minor additions or modifications to this (e.g. "found TITANIC for Bob Ballard..." in another CV, and "[we performed] the initial site survey over the sunken TITANIC for Bob Ballard" which was printed in the journal "Himalayan Geology" Vol.22 (1), 2001 (pp 65-80).
It is known that Ballard had access to sensitive topographic maps based on secret SASS (Sonar Array Sounding System) equipment. The maps were too accurate to be routinely accessed as they were "part of the navy's burgeoning submarine ballistic missile program and not available for civilian use." Ballard's autobiography provides more details:
"After several months of secret meetings ..., the navy agreed to join Project FAMOUS and map the site with its two classified survey ships, the Bowditch and Dutton. Those vessels had been working the ridge the year before and earlier that summer, and we now had the first 'sanitized' but amazingly detailed SASS maps with a promise of more to come."
Ballard was later to state that he could access these maps to demonstrate his thesis that submarines could hide in the gullies and ridges at the bottom of the sea; he even managed to get these hitherto secret charts designated as "Unclassified" when he asked for print-outs of the hypothesised underwater battle zone.
Naturally I wanted to learn more and managed to contact Smoot. He told me, "Bob apparently had already figured out where the TITANTIC lay. We were leaving the yard in the States going to our OPAREA [Operations Area] and he had gotten permission from somewhere for us to run a pattern over a particular spot. We did, and the ship showed up on our sonar and, I think, the magnetics equipment." Although Smoot was not part
of Ballard's crew, he later provided more illumination; "We were told before we sailed that we were to take a quick look at this site for Ballard on the way to our OPAREA. I don't think Ballard had any influence at all on what we did other than to put a bug into someone's ear. Whatever, the man must have had some kind of pull. He at least suspected that was the site of the Titanic or we would not have wasted our time at $50,000.00/day."
Smoot said that the maps he helped to generate would be impossible to obtain today "even for Admirals" but this is not stopping me and inquiries are proceeding. But what he said was interesting; Ballard must have had some "pull" to divert a mission to look for a wreck that was, arguably of zero strategic important to US security. His CV says that between July 1974 and 1976, he was as Assistant Scientist at Woods Hole; he had left the Navy some years before. And Ballard was indeed involved with "Project FAMOUS," the French-American expedition to map the mid-Atlantic Ridge in 1973 and 1974. But was Ballard's directive to survey the wreck in 1975 a lucky guess like the Jack Pierce computations a decade later, or did he have access to data submerged even further back in history? This author has tried many times to obtain copies of the Dutton's logs and survey maps without success so far. While the majority of the logs have been deposited without restriction at the US National Archives, the records for the period of interest are still classified. The Department of the Navy (Military Sealift Command) performed a diligent search for records relating to the Dutton for the first quarter of 1975 but found nothing. They told me that records of this type are retired to the WNRC (Washington National Record Center) when 4 years old and destroyed when 30 years old (that is, 2005).
Where all this will lead is anyone's guess. As usual, any information or leads will be gratefully received.
I intend this page to be a living document, updating it as and when new information comes to light. Hopefully this matter will one day be resolved, but until then, who knows?
One final mystery...widely reported in Titanic books, but never explained is the mysterious role of the British salvage vessel "Help".
Mentioned a few times in the press of the day, the New York Times of August 1st, 1953 is typical; a story from London the previous day
revealed that the "Help" was reported to be using heavy explosives "in the North Atlantic roughly over the spot where the Titanic sank."
Diligent efforts could determine nothing about the nature of the ship's activities, which were first reported from Halifax. The ship
was being operated by Risdon Beazley Ltd, a Southampton salvage concern, on long term charter from the Admiralty. The Admiralty knew the whereabouts of the ship but would not comment, neither would the company. The head of the company, Risdon Beazley said that if they commented some foreign salvage company might attempt to begin salvage operations in the area.
Oft repeated, but never analysed...is the story true? "Titanic: Destination Disaster" said that the "Help" was trying to obtain echo profiles of the Titanic and even gave a co-ordinate where the ship was operating: 43.65N 52.04W. This is too far away from the wrecksite to obtain acoustic survey data. The co-ordinate is even more ludicrous when one considers that some claim that the "Help" was using explosives to blast into the ship itself.
I contacted Roy Martin, who worked for Risdon Beazley Ltd between 1964 and 1981, and was its General Manager from 1975-79. He has co-authored a book on the history of the salvage firm and he says, "Help was nowhere near the Titanic site, in 1951/2 she was off Nova Scotia. The Beazley ship that was on the Grand Bank in 52/3 was the Twyford, she was on the western edge of the Bank looking for the wreck of the British ship Empire Manor. She located the bow section, but it was upside down and, at that time, they had never salved cargo from a wreck like that. I don't think that she fired any charges, though the Help was using explosives to cut up the Empire Kingfisher further south. The Canadian press got hold of the story and put it out that RB [Risdon Beazley] was searching for a gem studded edition of Omar Khayyam from the Titanic. Droxford salavged most of the gold from the Empire Manor in 1973."
This would seemingly clear this matter up; the "Help" nor indeed any ship of the day would be able to salvage anything from a wreck so deep as the Titanic. And the position of 43.65N 52.04W is indeed on the western edge of the Grand Banks as Mr.Martin states. It is very close to the position of the Empire Manor as given in Wikipedia, though there is a 1 degree error in the longitude; perhaps someone got their numbers confused?
1. Allegedly, as this was Douglas Faulkener-Woolley's group and his claims are overblown, as we shall see later.
2. Grimm claimed prematurely that he had found the wreck, but presented no evidence and his scientific team failed to back him up.
3. A claimed photograph of a propeller blade taken during this voyage was probably a rock or outcrop on the ocean floor.
4. c.2000, the "Titanic Ship of Dreams" exhibit in Orlando had a claimed sonar plot from a Grimm expedition which they claimed showed the wreck. However, having seen the plot personally, the distance between bow and stern was too great, and the orientation of the wreck pieces was east-west and not north-south. Despite my best efforts to find out more about this plot, my inquiries failed despite friendly correspondence with the exhibit managers. Of some interest is the fact that there is a letter in the archived Walter Lord papers in London, where a correspondent says that Grimm claimed that the wreck is pointing south. No proof of this statement was given in the remainder of the correspondence.
5. There was great publicity a few years later about the use of the Ballard conceived deep sea photographic rigs to find and photograph the wreck of the lost submarines Thresher in 1984 and Scorpion in 1985. This led to the documentary "Titanic: The Final Secret" in 2008, even though the subject matter wasn't new!
6. It should be noted that Faulkener-Woolley is using and exploiting the information contained in this page to support his claim that his company, under the "SOLLIS project" banner, found the wreck in the 1970s and hence support his assertion that he is solely legally allowed to perform salvage work on the wreck. He also claims that the Hecate found the wreck, despite the contrary evidence presented above, and despite it being inconceivable that the Royal Navy would allow one of its own vessels to be used for private search and salvage work.
7. Incidentally, Grattan believed that the Titanic was in one piece, so we must question the veracity and source of his data.
8. It might be providential to mention that a member of Grimm's 1980 expedition claimed to know where the Titanic was. He was Michael Harris, director of "International Expeditions," a Tampa, film company. In the February 1980 issue of the magazine/newspaper (?) "Soundings, Harris "says he not only knows where the ship is, but has a picture of the bottom near where the wreck lies...He is sure he knows where it is, but won't divulge how he came about the information except to say that a company he is associated with took the photos. The photograph shows the water is crystal clear, there are no rocks... " etc. While this latter section is clearly a description of the under water test images from 1978, one is mystified why the 1980 expedition didn't go straight to the wreck rather than spending weeks meandering aimlessly. It seems fair to conclude that Harris's comments were simple bluff and pomposity.
9. Many have speculated that Ballard's motives for finding the Titanic were driven by ego and the desire for self publicity. In his ghost-written "The Discovery of the Titanic" and in his biography, Ballard says that he was contacted in 1977 by an outfit called Big Events who "knew how to turn a publicity gimmick into a profit. One of their big success had been buying up old cables from the Golden Gate Bridge, chopping them into small pieces, and selling them as souvenirs. I soon discovered that their goal for the Titanic was to turn her into paperweights. Our preliminary negotations didn't last long."
This is certainly not how Joe King, the Vice President/Producer, and Spencer Sokale, his compatriot at Big Events remembered this. While they certainly did acquire portions of cable of the Golden Gate Bridge, there is no mention in them ever intending the same fate for the Titanic. Their plans, which started in 1976, were simply to photograph the ship to make a documentary. King and Sokale elicited the help of Clive Cussler and Bob Clark of the Canadian Broadcasting Company; Clark had assembled "quite a bit of research about the Titanic's position, condition and the feasibility of conducting an expedition to find and photograph it." The next step was to elicit the help of people with "impeccable credentials in Oceanography" to assure investors that the expedition could be done, and this entailed a trip to Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The organisation was cool to the idea and the Big Events duo thought that they had "made a poor purchase" until they met Ballard, who "said it could be done ... [he] seemed to have Woods Hole in the palm of his hand." This was in late March 1977. A congress with Ballard, National Geographic cameraman Emory Kristoff, King, Sokale and Dr.Fred Spiess at the latter's work place (the Scripps Institute of Oceanography) in May 20th was tense, due to "friction between Ballard and Spiess... [with] Ballard [not acting] diplomatically."
By May 21st, Ballard and Big Events had made a verbal agreement where he would receive a percentage of the profit from the venture, with him providing equipment in return for the research they had collected on the Titanic. By summer, after more conversations with Ballard and with Cussler hired to write a film treatment, time had been blocked on a major Woods Hole vessel and a number of directors had been contacted. The only thing lacking was Woods Hole's official committment, which relied on funding, "and a budget and report from Bob [Ballard]." Two months later, a contract with the "[Titanic?] Historical Society" had been drawn up (presumably Bill Tantum IV ?).
But then things went cold on Big Events. Captain R.P.Dinsmore, the Chairman of the Facilities and Marine Operations Deptartment at Woods Hole informed King and Sokale on 25th August that they would not be able to respond to their request to use the Alcoa Seaprobe and other facilities. It seems that Woods Hole "want[ed] no part of Titanic" but Ballard says that he would pursue the technical end, leaving Sokale and King to follow funding leads. Eventually, no agreements were signed, Ballard didn't want his position at Woods Hole compromised, asked for the water not to be muddied, and said that Big Events should let things calm down and he'll try further. As Sokale and King wrote, "Bob's star seemed to have set at Woods Hole and they wanted no part in the expedition." In the meantime, Big Events contacted other possible purveyors of equipment, like Global Marine, who said they could do the task, but these other groups did not fill Sokale with confidence. Why did Woods Hole suddenly become very hostile to the Titanic expedition? There is a disturbing explanation.
Sometime after the beginning of October 1977, Ballard used the Alcoa Seaprobe to try and locate and film the Titanic; the mission was a disaster and equipment was lost at sea. The Big Events team knew something of this; "We have only recently found out that Ballard has been working on his own to conduct a Titanic Expedition ... we know for a fact that he had used our research and several of the people we brought in the deal at the outset." At this time, Big Events again wrote to the Chairman of Woods Hole asking for ship time, but this too was declined.
Big Events seemed to be floundering, but by mid May 1978, astonishing news was received from Bill Tantum: Ballard had formed a company called Seaonics International with Tantum, Kristoff and Alan Ravenscroft, a film producer. A meeting of 40 people, including potential investors, was held on the Sea Probe. But a short time later, Ballard denied to Big Events that there had been a partnership. A month later, Ballard's expedition was at sea checking on the turbidity of the water in the vicinity of the wreck. In a last volley of messages, Captain Dinsmore informed Big Events that while supplying equipment and men to Ballard was acceptable, sponsorship was not.
And nowhere in any of this was the mention of the Titanic being cut up into chunks. It seems that Ballard was serenaded by Big Events but once Sokale and King had outlived their usefulness, they were dispensed with; in the meantime, Ballard used the research and people that Big Events had gathered. As quoted in The Washington Post (18/10/78), Big Events said, "All of a sudden, we're being shafted." Ballard remembered things differently; he had been working on the Titanic since 1972 but says that when Sokale "couldn't produce anything" there was no reason to include him in the group because "I can't believe he's going to make any future contribution." The newspaper made one telling comment, namely that the Seaonics people being anxious that a potential money making film come out of the expedition, "were put off by the casual, nonscientific style of [Big Events]." Ballard did not want a sensationalistic point of view, as he said, but King said that all he wanted was to make some money and show people a good time; he even offered, with his tongue in cheek one imagines, to rename "Big Events" to "Distinguished Scientific Events." Ironically (and perhaps hypocritically), Ballard was to have as much luck finding funding for the next few years as "Big Events" - that is, none at all.
One final addendum: The National Geographic magazine of August 1986 ran an article by the afore mentioned Joy Waldron about the various searches for the wreck. She wrote, "At one point [Robert Gibbons] proposed to look for the liner with a TV camera system that could be lowered to the ocean bottom from a ship. The project would have cost $500,000. 'The society decided to back one of Robert Ballard's projects instead,' Gibbons recalls somewhat ruefully." Murphy is reported to have dug up a lot of information on this 1978 National Geographic/THS/Ballard expedition and it is a shame that none of it made it into the final article, especially as the THS had denied any involvement with the expedition. Perhaps the THS were not officially connected with the expedition, but only peripherally through Tantum's involvement with Seaonics and Ballard? For the record, Gibbons told me that the 1978 was in June and he termed it "the Evergreen expedition" with Emory Kristof and another soon-to-be-familiar name in the Titanic world, Ralph White; Gibbons said they dropped a 'boomerang' camera and only managed to get a couple of slides before the camera malfunctioned; one of the pictures showed a brittle star on the bottom. The purpose of the drop was to photograph the camera weight hitting the bottom and seeing how deep it sank into the silt.
10. Dr.Ballard's position on salvage has changed considerably over the years. on October 29th 1985 before the Full House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries, he appeared to discuss the "Titanic Memorial Act of 1985" and this is what he said; "Since many beautiful artifacts lie outside the ship itself, scattered over the rolling alpine-like countryside around it and are vulnerable to crude and damaging salvage attempts, I am proposing to both our Government and the Government of France that any future revisits to the TITANIC which would involve the deep diving submersibles of our two countries, or any country, for that matter, dedicate a portion of their diving time to carefully recording and recovering a those delicate items lying outside the hull of the ship itself. The artifacts recovered should be used to create a museum for the countries which join the U.S. and France in setting TITANIC aside as an international memorial. I further propose that no attempt be made to harm the ship itself or retrieve items from its interior compartments. The interior compartments, we hope, will be documented in detail using remotely controlled vehicles which can be operated from nearby manned submersibles. This footage will provide the public with an opportunity to tour Titanic's interior like a guided tour through an untouched pyramid."
The following year, Ballard even joked about obtaining a wine bottle for his own private collection, and without even once mentioning that it was unconscionable to disrupt a wrecksite, he said "I think I'm not going to do it. We're going to see (laughs)." It was only later that his anti-salvage stance became prominent and he even rewrote history when he was interviewed for the 1990s 4 hour long Arts and Entertainment documentary where he said he had always likened the wreck site to the Badlands and Gettysburg and that he and Jean Louis Michel were so touched by the site in 1985 that they both vowed not to desecrate it.
So what happened?
We turn again to reporter Joy Waldron who had found out about the expedition in the summer of 1985 - and it wasn't easy getting confirmation of the rumour. But this she did and she phoned up Ballard at WHOI but his secretary refused to put her through even though Joy said she had confirmation of the Titanic story. 15 minutes after she hung up, Waldron's phone rang again - it was Ballard's media entertainment lawyer, Michael Levine, who was on vacation in Bermuda and he emphasized it was very important she drop the story because the expedition's fund raisers, the US Navy, would be very unhappy if the news leaked out. This was the first time Waldron had heard that the private expedition was being underwritten by the taxpayer. For leaking the story, Waldron was declared persona non grata and Ballard later refused to talk to her. This also raises other questions; why does a scientist on an expedition to test new equipment desire the need for "an entertainment's lawyer"? In 2013, Levine told me, "My job was very simple - find funding for a camera crew on the mother ship as the expedition was not about looking for the Titanic but we had to be ready in case they found it." This did not jibe with Waldon's contemporary article of Levine's heavy-handed demands. He did not remember the interaction with her and said, "As I have indicated, I believe that the US Navy and the French Government funded the 1985 expedition but it did have other purposes unrelated to the Titanic." (Waldron's resultant article can be found here.)
Eventually, I traced Joy and she told me, "As you know, the whole reason Ballard didn't want the expedition known until after the fact was 1) because he was comingling Navy money and Woods Hole grant money (that's not legal) for an expedition where he sought to gain privately, a) by selling the media rights to Canada, which he did, and b) he attempted to sell artifacts to both the Smithsonian and the Greenwich Maritime Museum; and 2) he wanted the PR thrill of announcing a "surprise" find of the Titanic, because before he sailed, the official party line was "we're testing US Navy equipment -- and it happens to be in the area of the Titanic!". Both institutions told him they did not traffic in artifacts, and so he soon got the message and became "Mr. Preservationist" and initiated the PR story of "the Titanic is a sacred shrine and should be preserved as a monument to those who died." I personally interviewed the directors of both those museums and they told me of Ballard's attempts to engage them in receiving artifacts."
As for Ballard profiteering from the discovery, the "New York Times" of September 11th, 1985 stated that Ballard was the president of Deep Ocean Search and Survey Inc. of Woods Hole, which was developing, making and selling similar advanced undersea vehicles for profit. The company was founded in 1983 and had already sold two low-technology undersea vehicles similar to the Angus, the Argo's predecessor and was drawing up plans to sell versions of the underwater system to the Federal Government, foreign governments and private industry. "The top price might be $10 million to $15 million for a full-blown system with every bell and whistle," said a company spokesman. The article went on to say that this was part of a trend in which researchers were using public funds to develop products that are later sold for private gain...The Navy says it has no qualms about the selling of the submersibles; "There is no impropriety at all," said Capt. Brent Baker, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon. "As mandated by Congress, the Government traditionally encourages scientists to use the technology that they develop, even though the financing is by the U.S. Government. The only restriction is if there is information or technology that is classified."
11. Dutch researcher Edward de Groot obtained a copy of a French report and faxed it to Walter Lord, and while the author of the document is not known, de Groot says that "Dardeau" or "Lardeau" appears on the top copy, a name he was unfamiliar with.
The report discusses the historical evidence used to determine the 1985 search area. The final few paragraphs of the report
are interesting and is dated on or soon after October 25th 1984: "I am far from at ease because I am waiting for Bob Ballard to appear from a meeting." This was a French-American meeting which would agree cooperation between the US and France in 1985. The author continued,
"we have agreed with Bob to meet one another here to discuss historical examination that I am about to close. I shall
have less than two hours to convey to him my deeprest conviction , for tonight he leaves for the US. It is not unknown to me that he already has his own ideas and that his do not comply with my own conclusions." The author of the report had prepared diagrams on transparent sheets which when overlaid, showed a "sector" in which to search. Expecting some hostility, the author then notes, "Bob is easily convinced. I am surprised about it..."
As suspected, this "report" makes no mention of the Hecate, just 1912 ships.
Click here to go up a level.