Explorer started the hunt for the Titanic in the navy as psychological warfare

  • Robert Ballard found the Titanic in September 1985 with support from the US Navy.
  • The hunt for the Titanic was the cover for a secret Navy mission to investigate two wrecks of submarines.
  • It was also part of a psychological warfare game that the United States was playing with the Soviets, Ballard revealed in a new book.

The man who found the Titanic did so with the help of the US Navy, and he got that much-needed support in part by convincing the Navy that finding the wreckage “would drive the Soviets crazy”, reveals famous explorer Robert Ballard in the new book “Into The Deep”, which was co-authored with investigative journalist Christopher Drew.

During his famous career, Ballard discovered the wrecks of the Nazi battleship Bismarck, the US aircraft carrier Yorktown, and the US patrol torpedo boat PT-109 (commanded by Lieutenant Jg John F. Kennedy). But its most recognizable discovery is the British liner Titanic which sank in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, ending more than 1,500 lives.

Robert Ballard, who found the Titanic

Robert ballard

Boris Spremo / Toronto Star via Getty Images


This famous discovery of September 1985 was supported by the US Navy, which offered its support for two reasons.

The search for the Titanic was a cover for a top-secret Navy mission involving the use of underwater systems to explore two submarine wrecks. And Ballard convinced the service that his discovery would play in a psychological warfare game with the Soviets in the last years of the Cold War, “Into the Deep” says.

Naval Vice Admiral Ronald Thunman, a senior submarine officer, first told Ballard his dream of finding the Titanic was crazy, but he eventually agreed to let the Persistent Explorer be added to the mission. of the Navy and to pursue the lost passenger ship using any time and funds remaining after examining the two wrecks.

“You can do whatever you want, but you have to do it on time and within the limits of the money, and that’s it,” Ballard recalled, telling the officer. The search for the Titanic has become a cover for the underwater investigation.

Although he was sort of given the green light to search for Thunman’s Titanic, Ballard wanted the support of Secretary of the Navy John Lehman. He decided to leverage Secretary and President Ronald Reagan’s thinking on psychological warfare to get that endorsement as well.

Reagan and Lehman were eager to take on the Soviets more aggressively, and part of that included shaking them up psychologically, specifically making them believe that the United States had capabilities beyond their own.

Ballard, then a Navy reservist, invited Lehman, who had been behind Ballard since a talk he gave on submarine warfare, to an underwater excursion in an exploration and research submersible while watching what Ballard described it as “the underwater battlefield”.

Thousands of feet below the surface, it has repeatedly pitched to search for the Titanic.

“The president really wants to play with the spirit of the Soviets,” Ballard reminded the Secretary of the Navy in a paraphrased conversation presented in his memoir, “to make them think we can do a lot more than we are capable of.”

“Let me find the Titanic,” the explorer said, explaining that with the equipment in his possession, especially a few robotic submersibles, he was sure he could find it in two weeks.

“I’ll find it, then we’ll make it public,” Ballard told Lehman, “Show videos of the robots roaming the ballrooms. It’ll drive the Soviets crazy. They’ll think that if we’re ready to publicize this ability, imagine what our Navy is doing in secret. “

Lehman agreed to pass the recommendation on to Reagan, who the Secretary of the Navy said responded, “Absolutely, let’s do it.

The RMS Titanic's port forward railing sits in 12,600 feet of water about 400 miles east of Nova Scotia, pictured August 10, 1996, as part of a joint science and recovery expedition sponsored by Discovery Channel and RMS Titantic.

The forward railing of the RMS Titanic sits in 12,600 feet of water about 400 miles east of Nova Scotia, pictured August 10, 1996, as part of a joint science and recovery expedition sponsored by Discovery Channel and RMS Titanic.

Reuters


“May God bless these found souls”

The hunt for the Titanic ocean liner was the public face of a secret Navy mission to explore and take photos of the wrecks of the USS Thresher and USS Scorpion, which sank with all hands in 1963 and 1968 respectively. They were among the deadliest underwater disasters and those that the US Navy has studied extensively for answers.

Ballard temporarily reverted to active duty status so that it could be read in classified documents for missions. He wrote in his book that “the Navy investigation was my real mission.” The search for the Titanic, while a priority and a longtime dream for Ballard, came in second.

Sailing aboard the research vessel R / V Knorr, Ballard obscured the true mission of his crew.

“Given the highly confidential nature of the mission, the Navy would only let me tell those in need status to know what was really going on,” he explained. “We told everyone that we are testing equipment for the Navy.”

“I wanted to do a great job for the Navy, but I was also constantly thinking about how to find the Titanic,” Ballard wrote. It turned out that the investigation of the submarine wrecks would prove beneficial in locating the Titanic.

The Thresher and the Scorpion both had debris trails nearly a mile long. While some believed the Titanic sank in one piece, there had been eyewitness testimony from survivors that it had shattered, leaving a trail of debris like the submarines that imploded.

“I visualized the ship not only breaking in half, but falling to the bottom, with the heaviest pieces heading downward and the lightest ones drifting with the current, just as I had seen with Scorpion and Thresher. “Ballard wrote.

“It went like a movie in my head and all of a sudden it was clear as a bell,” he said. “I shouldn’t be looking for the ship. I should be looking for the debris trail. A mile-long trail would be easier to find than an 833-foot ship.”

Professor Robert Ballard, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, points to his images of the Titanic wreck which is part of the exhibit in the Belfast Building, Northern Ireland on Saturday April 14, 2012 Ballard and his team discovered the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985.

Professor Robert Ballard, professor of oceanography at the University of Rhode Island, highlights his images of the Titanic wreck which is part of the exhibit in the Belfast Building, Northern Ireland on Saturday April 14, 2012. Ballard and his team discovered the wreckage of the Titanic in 1985. (AP Photo / Peter Morrison)

AP / Peter Morrison


Ballard and his team arrived in the area where the Titanic is believed to have sunk in late August 1985 and deployed Argo, a video camera sled towed by a vessel designed to operate in deep water that had just explored the wrecks of the Thresher and the Scorpio. , to sweep the ocean floor.

Late one night after several days of searching for the Titanic, the team stumbled upon the debris field, discovering a large metal cylinder over 15 feet in diameter.

“It was there, one of the 29 boilers that created steam for the Titanic’s engines,” Ballard wrote in his book. “It was a signature piece. We had found the debris field, about 12,500 feet deep. Bull’s eye!”

Using the Knorr’s onboard sonar, Ballard and his team detected an object 100 feet high north of their position. They moved to where the object was detected and deployed Argo to scan what turned out to be the wreckage of the Titanic.

“We were slowly drifting. The Titanic was unfolding to us,” Ballard said of when the ship’s hull appeared. “No one was blinking. Our eyes were drying out because we weren’t going to close them for a nanosecond. It was like ‘Oh my God!’ kind of moment. “

As the submersible passed over the hull, “everyone blew up,” he said. “We had done it.”

In notes written about where the Titanic sank, Ballard wrote: “It is a quiet, peaceful and appropriate place for the rest of the remains of this greatest of marine tragedies. May it remain so forever, and may God bless these found souls. ‘


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