As a fore note, the nature of this article does not regard the absurd conspiracy topic of a "switch" between Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. I am here to discuss a little known fact in depth, regarding visual media of the Titanic herself. Specifically, the Titanic in motion images. Since the legendary sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, multiple newsreels, motion pictures, documentaries and television news outlets have shown archival motion footage claimed or hinted at to be the Titanic. But in reality, there is only one set of archival footage that truly shows the Titanic. Before I go in depth with this subject, I would like to provide an example. In this case, a newsreel showing common footage thought to be that of Titanic. Please evaluate what you observe in this example and based on what you see, determine which archival footage is truly the Titanic.
Yes, the above video did contain material of the real Titanic, but I will reveal the answer as to what scenes were of the Titanic later. In most scenes, the ship hinted at to be the Titanic is in fact her identical sister ship Olympic. Titanic and Olympic are impossible to differentiate to the untrained eye. A good indication would be the promenade deck. On Titanic, the forward section of the promenade deck is enclosed and weather proof, consisting of small glass windows rather than the usual large openings further aft. Olympic on the other hand has no such feature. The entire promenade deck is completely open to the elements. Depending on the year of filming, Olympic may also display more lifeboats along her boat deck helping to further differentiate the sisters. Even motion pictures have played this trick. For example, the 1958 British motion picture "A Night To Remember" shows archival footage of a four funneled steamship leaving Southampton. The ship shown is not Titanic and is in fact two other vessels. The first, believe it or not, is the Lusitania, TItanic's competitor and victim of the controversal 1915 disaster. The second ship displayed is the Lusitania's half sister, Aquitania. A good question is, "Why would a famous ship like the Titanic, not have more motion footage made of her?" The answer is interesting. Note that Titanic is classified as an Olympic-class liner and not a Titanic-class liner. This is because Olympic was intended to be the dominant ship of her class. In fact, most of the pre-1912 claims made in newspapers and the media of Titanic being "unsinkable" were in truth more often than not applied to Olympic, the outrageous claim then being applied to Titanic later as both were nearly identical sister ships constructed to the same set of blueprints.
Olympic's keel was laid in 1908 and Titanic in 1909. Upon completion of Olympic's hull in 1910, the ship was painted a bright dove white, where Titanic was painted a greyish black. The difference in hull color was due to Olympic being the ship of the pair that was to recieve the most media attention, as dictated by her owners the White Star Line. Minute details to help display the mammoth size of the vessel such as portholes and entry doors better showed up on the primitive cameras of the era if the hull was a lighter color as opposed to being un-noticeable from a far distance should the hull be a darker color. Most of the construction film used in Titanic films and documentaries is in fact Olympic. Being the first of her class to be completed, Olympic embarked on her maiden voyage in May 1911. The film commonly mistaken as Titanic leaving Southampton is in fact the Olympic departing New York City on her return maiden voyage to Southampton. But what of the footage showing detailed features such as the shot of Captain Edward J. Smith doing his rounds on the ship's bridge? That is also Olympic. Captain Smith was originally the master of the Olympic and was transferred to the Titanic upon the latter ship's completion. In short, the newsreels and media were more focused on aiming their cameras at Olympic due to her not only being the first of her class and very likely being White Star's designated press ship. As she was the first vessel of her class in service, Olympic was the ship which built up the reputation and fanfare of the Olympic-class with her boastful luxuries and safety features.Titanic was well recieved herself when she was completed in 1912. Most of her admiration and reputation had already been built up by her sister ship and due to both ships being nearly identical in appearance, it was likely the newsreel personnel thought it redundant and unecessary to film what they considered the same motion footage a second time. However, one person or institution seemed to beg to differ. In early 1912, a newsreel cameraman arrived at Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland where Titanic was still under construction. The ship had only just recieved her upper superstructure, masts and four iconic funnels. This is where the only known existing footage of Titanic herself finally comes into play.
In the newsreel special by the British Pathe I showed previously, this set of film was titled as "Titanic preparing to depart Southampton". In reality this was moving images showing Titanic in her later stages of construction, months after launching in Belfast. Allow me to summarize what is taking place in the video. Scaffolding and wooden supports are seen all over the Titanic. The long canvas tubing dangling from her starboard prow are toilets for the workmen to use while constructing the ship. Walking along her decks are the various workmen carrying out their usual shipyard duties. The hull still retains its launch coat of paint, not yet having been given its final coats of paint as shown in later photographs. The funnels are also unpainted, likely the bare steel is what's showing. Also, the enclosed promenade section has not been added yet. It was installed upon a last minute request by White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay near the last stages of Titanic's fitting out. If you pay close attention, the third funnel is emitting exhaust. This could be either from engine tests, boiler tests or the Titanic preparing to move under her own power. Watching this film gives off mixed feelings. Most of the moving images we ever see of Titanic herself is at the bottom of the Atlantic, more displaying the remnants of something that once was and no longer truly is. This film, although short and not showing Titanic in service, gives off more of the feeling we are in the presence of history, something alive and something of legend. Titanic is being displayed in a single piece, partially operational and in her natural environment, helping any viewer turn what has only been seen or heard of in legend into reality. It's a confirmation that Titanic is not just the subject of popular movies and literature, but was truly a real vessel once interacted with by real human beings. Such a valuable artifact is extremely fortunate to be in our possession, as the film was nearly lost forever inside a garden shed in England. These moving images of Titanic are priceless, irreplacable, majestic, spine chilling yet inspirational. A true portrayal of the Titanic in life rather than after death is the best way of being able to partially experience or better understand the true ship and what she was for us and future generations to come.