WARREN - It was a combination of fire and ice that sank the Titanic a century ago.
That's the opinion of author and historian Bruce Caplan, who spoke at Packard Music Hall Wednesday as part of the Trumbull Town Hall lecture series.
Caplan believes the ship could have withstood the damage from the iceberg it struck at 11:40 p.m. on April, 14, 1912. No other ship even close to the size of Titanic had been felled by an iceberg before or since, he said.
Tribune Chronicle / Andy Gray
Titanic historian and author Bruce Caplan speaks Wednesday at Packard Music Hall for a Trumbull Town Hall lecture.
The bigger danger may have been a fire that broke out in the ship's coal bunker before the passengers even boarded the ship and continued to burn as it sailed across the Atlantic. Caplan said his theory is that the fire weakened the steel and made the ship more susceptible to taking on water after the accident.
''The fire made all the difference,'' he said.
Caplan found references to the fire in a quickie book that was released only three weeks after the nautical disaster and further research confirmed its existence.
The author / editor of ''The Sinking of the Titanic,'' now in its 18th printing, shared that theory and other anecdotes during his program.
The Titanic carried 2,208 passengers on its maiden voyage, about 1,300 passengers less than its full capacity. However, there were only enough lifeboats to transport 1,178 people. Caplan said there were plans for more lifeboats, but they blocked the ocean view from some cabins and, reportedly, ship owner Bruce Ismay didn't want the obstructed view to cut into what he could charge for those cabins. The top ticket of $4,300 for a luxury cabin would be the equivalent of more than $100,000 today.
Only 705 passengers were saved because many of the lifeboats left at half-capacity because many passengers didn't realize the gravity of the situation.
''They thought it was safer to stay on the ship,'' Caplan said.
He blames Capt. Edward John Smith for the fact that 400 more people weren't saved. Smith should have known within 10 minutes of striking the iceberg how grave the situation was.
''I think Captain Smith had a nervous breakdown,'' Caplan said. ''He didn't behave in the proper way ... He was just in a daze.''
Despite the ''women and children first'' philosophy, Caplan said, eight more men than women survived the sinking of the Titanic (however, a higher percentage of women than men survived). Every child in second class survived, while the highest percentage of fatalities was suffered by men in second class because they were the ones who followed the rules about evacuating the women and children first.
Caplan credited James Cameron's 1997 film ''Titanic,'' which was the top-grossing domestic film of all time until Cameron's ''Avatar'' in 2009, with sparking interest in the disaster and helping sales of his book. While the Jack and Rose love story was fictional, Rose's survival on a floating door is rooted in history. An Asian man still on board after all of the lifeboats had sailed removed one of the ship's doors and created a makeshift paddleboat that he used to get to one of those half-empty lifeboats.
Among those killed on the Titanic was George Wick, founder of Youngstown Sheet & Tube, Caplan said. His wife and daughter survived.