Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler

Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler

by Brad Matsen


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Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler by Brad Matsen

After rewriting history with their discovery of a Nazi U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, legendary divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler decided to investigate the great enduring mystery of history's most notorious shipwreck: Why did Titanic sink as quickly as it did?

To answer the question, Chatterton and Kohler assemble a team of experts to explore Titanic, study its engineering, and dive to the wreck of its sister ship, Brittanic, where Titanic's last secrets may be revealed.

Titanic's Last Secrets is a rollercoaster ride through the shipbuilding history, the transatlantic luxury liner business, and shipwreck forensics. Chatterton and Kohler weave their way through a labyrinth of clues to discover that Titanic was not the strong, heroic ship the world thought she was and that the men who built her covered up her flaws when disaster struck. If Titanic had remained afloat for just two hours longer than she did, more than two thousand people would have lived instead of died, and the myth of the great ship would be one of rescue instead of tragedy.

Titanic's Last Secrets is the never-before-told story of the Ship of Dreams, a contemporary adventure that solves a historical mystery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780446582049
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: 10/06/2009
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 665,032
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Bradford Matsen is the author of Descent: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss as well as many other books abou the sea and its inhabitants. He was a creative producer for the television series The Shape of Life, and his articles have appeared in Mother Jones, Audubon, and Nature, among other publications. He divides his time between Seattle and New York City. John Chatterton and Richie Kohler contributed to the research of Titanic's Last Secrets, as they did for Robert Kurson's Shadow Divers, the 2005 Book Sense Nonfiction Book of the Year.

Read an Excerpt

Titanic's Last Secrets

The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler

By Brad Matsen
Copyright © 2008

Titanic Partners, LLC and Brad Matsen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-446-58205-6

Chapter One HISTORY

A late-night highway phone call was the beginning of it. When John Chatterton's BlackBerry chirped, he was northbound on the New Jersey Turnpike with the cruise control set at seventy-two, eighties rock on the radio, and a box of fried chicken thighs on the seat next to him. He was staying awake on pure willpower after a long day, knowing that waking up the next morning with his wife on the coast of Maine would be a hell of a lot better than waking up alone in a motel room.

As much as he liked being home, Chatterton had no complaints about the time he was spending on the road. He had always seen his life as an album of before and after pictures. Before Vietnam, after Vietnam. Before his first wife, after his first wife. Especially, before U-869, and after U-869. Since 1997, when Chatterton and Richie Kohler had identified a U-boat they'd found off the coast of New Jersey, exploring shipwrecks was no longer just Chatterton's obsession, it was his job. He and Kohler were the stars of a PBS documentary and a television series, Deep Sea Detectives, diving and getting paid generously to do what they loved to do.

Since the U-boat, there had been other before-and-afters in Chatterton's life, but the shocker was cancer. A squamous cell carcinoma had announced itself as an odd ripple in the familiar terrain of his neck on an otherwise ordinary morning shaving at the bathroom sink. That discovery had propelled Chatterton into the world of Big Medicine, which offended him even more than the cancer, but four years after the numbing litany of chemo, surgery, and radiation, he was still alive.

Chatterton picked up his BlackBerry as the sodium-vapor glare of the turnpike rest area north of Newark flashed by on his left.

John, it's David Concannon. Got a minute to talk?

For you, lots of minutes, Chatterton said.

Concannon was a lawyer in Philadelphia who had hired Chatterton as an expert witness in a lawsuit involving the death of a scuba diver. It had been dragging on for more than a year. One of the skills Chatterton had picked up after U-869 was interacting with clients without being disingenuous or getting too close. Concannon wasn't a friend, so Chatterton didn't really know him, but he had checked the lawyer out before agreeing to work with him. Concannon was big on the Explorers Club, went to meetings, was the president of his chapter in Philly, and was one of the club's lawyers. Concannon ran a company that gave advice to explorers putting expeditions together. He seemed like a nice enough guy.

So, I've got an idea for you, Concannon said.

Chatterton was used to this part of life after U-869, too. Everybody had an idea for Deep Sea Detectives. The premise of the series was simple: Every shipwreck presented a mystery; he and Richie Kohler solved it. Chatterton listened to people who called him with ideas because some of them panned out, and some were just good stories.

Let's hear it, Chatterton said.

The Big T, Concannon said. The words hung in cellphone space.

The Big T? Chatterton couldn't figure out what Concannon was talking about.

Titanic, Concannon said, breaking the awkward silence. He went on to say that he had been an adviser to an expedition in 2000 that had been picking up Titanic artifacts for a museum exhibit, and something had been nagging at him ever since. At the end of his last dive in a Mir research sub, he saw ribbons of steel that looked like they had been peeled from the bottom of a ship. Scattered around them, there was debris-shoes, suitcases, trunks-that might have come from a cargo hold. Concannon had talked about the ribbons of steel with others who had been to the wreck of Titanic, but none of them had seen anything like them.

Where are the pictures? Chatterton asked.

No pictures, Concannon said. It was at the end of a five-hour dive and we were out of video tape.

What about stills?

No stills. I shot some, but the film wasn't advancing in the camera. Chatterton's bullshit detector went off. It wasn't just the coincidence of both video and still cameras going kaput at the same time. Things like that happened. Something in the lawyer's voice-a little too much eagerness, maybe-put Chatterton on alert. At the same time, Concannon's story presented him with a classic reward-versus-risk situation. As the potential reward increased, greater risks-whether of life or money-became more and more tolerable.

No underwater mystery in the world upped the stakes like Titanic. After countless ill-fated voyages of ships, it was the most famous wreck of all. Almost a hundred years after Titanic sank, it still captivated people everywhere. When Chatterton and his wife, Carla, were touring Asia on motorcycles, they took a break in a village whose residents rarely saw Westerners, and stood against a hut for the shade. It had no door, so Chatterton stole a glance inside. A single room, no furniture, dirt floor. The only thing on the wall was a three-by-five-foot poster of Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, with Titanic steaming head-on between them.

Chatterton knew only the outlines of Titanic's brief life and unforgettable death. The ship was as long as four city blocks, as wide as a freeway, and as tall as a nine-story building. The Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast built it. The White Star Line owned it. J. P. Morgan owned the White Star Line. Titanic hit an iceberg on its maiden voyage, and sank a couple of hours later in the early morning of April 15, 1912. People were still arguing about exactly how the ship sank. It had been built with watertight compartments, which should have kept it afloat until help arrived. But they didn't. There were only half enough lifeboats for the 2,200 passengers and crew, and many lifeboats were less than full when they were launched. More than 1,500 people died. Chatterton believed there were three kinds of history: what really happened; what most people think happened; and what people in power wanted future generations to think happened, which is 90 percent of the history in books.

Concannon was still talking.

John, I saw something that might make a difference in what the world knows about how that ship sank, he said. I can take you right to it. I wrote the coordinates in my notebook.

Who else has seen these ribbons of steel? Chatterton asked.

Concannon told him that neither the sub pilot, Anatoly Sagalevich, nor the other man, one of the expedition leaders, paid any attention to them.

Why not? Chatterton thought. What he said was Let me think about it, Dave.

Concannon told Chatterton he needed a decision right away. The Russians who owned the mothership, Keldysh, and the two Mir subs were provisioning for the whole summer of Titanic charters that very week. They had to know if Chatterton wanted the last slot of the year in August. Concannon sounded like a telemarketer trying to close a deal.

Chatterton said he would be in touch and hung up.

There was something not quite right about Concannon, but another voice was telling Chatterton that if he and Kohler found out what had happened to Titanic, their discovery and identification of U-869 would pale by comparison.

Without taking his eyes from the road, Chatterton punched his speed dial to call Kirk Wolfinger, a documentary filmmaker with whom he had been working since the U-boat movie. In 1996, Wolfinger had been scouting for a good story about World War II German submarines and running into one crackpot after another. At the same time-an insane coincidence-Richie Kohler called Nova to ask if the series producers might be interested in the U-boat that he and another diver had found but not yet identified. Nova referred him to Wolfinger. Wolfinger said U-boat leads were like UFO sightings, so how about some proof? A week later, Kohler showed up at the Nova office in Boston carrying a dinner plate.

This came from a submarine off the coast of New Jersey, Kohler said. Nobody suspected it was there before John Chatterton and I found it. Nobody knows why the sub was there. We intend to find out. Kohler flipped over the plate, revealing the swastika embossed on the bottom. We do know it was a Nazi U-boat.

The Nova boss actually gasped. We'll do it, she said.

Four years later, "Hitler's Lost Sub" aired on PBS; a literary agent in New York put Chatterton and Kohler together with a writer who turned their story into a bestselling book; and Wolfinger, Chatterton, and Kohler parlayed "Hitler's Lost Sub" into Deep Sea Detectives.

Kirk, my man, Chatterton said when Wolfinger answered the call. What do you know about Titanic?

What do you have there, John? A sunken treasure story? How about a conspiracy theory that it didn't really sink? Wolfinger said.

Very funny, Chatterton continued. Anyway, this guy-his name is Concannon-says he went to the wreck in a submarine and saw pieces of steel that looked like they had been peeled from the bottom of the ship. Didn't you do something on Titanic?

Wolfinger told Chatterton that he had made a film about Titanic's sister ship, Britannic-which sank after hitting a mine during World War I-and had learned a lot about Titanic in the process. The American and British investigations into the Titanic disaster took testimony from hundreds of surviving crew and passengers. Half of the survivors seemed to be either lying or describing what they had imagined when they were in shock. Some said the boilers exploded; some said they didn't. Some said the stern of the ship rose high into the night sky before plunging straight down; some said it sank without a ripple. The Americans concluded that Titanic had hit the iceberg, flooded, and sunk in one piece. The British said about the same thing. Both blamed only the captain. In 1985, when Bob Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel found Titanic on the bottom in two widely separated pieces, they proved that the official conclusion that it had sunk in one piece was wrong. The current theory, Wolfinger said, was that the ship sideswiped the iceberg and tore a gash about three hundred feet long in the hull. The bow flooded, the stern rose at a thirty-five- or forty-five-degree angle, and the ship broke and finally came to rest on the bottom in two big pieces. A lot of people disagreed with all or part of that scenario.

Chatterton interrupted: "Who's a lot of people?"

Wolfinger laughed. When he was researching Britannic, he had dipped into the subculture of men and women he called Titaniacs-model builders, artists, the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers forensics panel, complete amateurs with too much time on their hands, lunatics, and conspiracy theorists-who endlessly debated the events of the early morning hours of April 15, 1912. They argued about everything from the color of the drapes in the second-class smoking room, to the number of rivets in the ship, to the possibility that everything after the moment of impact was one big cover-up.

The real questions revolved around the extent of the damage from the iceberg, the flooding of the ship, and why it went down so fast. One faction thought that if the ship had grounded on part of the iceberg instead of sideswiping it, the bottom of the hull could have ripped open, which would explain why Titanic sank so fast. The first rescue ship, Carpathia, got there a couple of hours after Titanic went down. If Titanic had stayed afloat for just a little longer, fifteen hundred people who died screaming in the frigid North Atlantic would still have been alive when help arrived.

At that moment, Chatterton crossed the point of no return. He could not believe that the real story of the world's most notorious shipping disaster was still his to tell. If there was even a fifty-fifty chance that Concannon's ribbons of steel really were pieces of Titanic's bottom, he had to do everything within his power to find them. Chatterton was dead sure that Richie Kohler would agree with him.

The fallout from U-869 had spun Richie Kohler out of the comfortable orbits of running his glass contracting company, holding his family together, and diving on shipwrecks when he had the time and money. After "Hitler's Lost Sub," he had tiptoed into the world of television with Chatterton, not entirely sure it was a reasonable way to make a living, but willing to give it a try. A few episodes of Deep Sea Detectives convinced Kohler that he couldn't make enough money at it to support his family, so he said the hell with it. He had gotten a divorce, had married again, and was raising his two children. He couldn't take the chance of losing his glass business. Then the book about U-869, Shadow Divers, became a bestseller, and Kohler had enough money in the bank to gamble on diving for a living again.

The changes in Kohler's life after U-869 weren't only about making a living. Just before he and Chatterton finally put the pieces of the puzzle in the right places to identify the U-boat, Richie Kohler-formerly known as the Tonnage King-was transformed. His two-story house on a suburban lane in Brick, New Jersey, is a museum of portholes mounted on varnished wood plaques, china etched with shipping-line crests, silverware, crockery, bottles, sextants, gauges, chronometers, helms, wheels, engine telegraphs, compasses, binnacles, bells, and builder's plates. Loot. But the exploration of U-869 had the unintended consequence of transporting Kohler into the lives of the men who died on the sub, and his motivation for exploring wrecks changed forever. He still craved the thrill of surfacing with an artifact from a sunken ship, but people had become more important to him than loot.

Deep Sea Detectives was in its third year, and he and Chatterton were thriving together even though they didn't necessarily get along all the time. They never had. Chatterton was ten years older than Kohler. Maybe that was the chasm that separated the two men; maybe it was that each of them had gotten used to filling up a room on his own. Kohler and Chatterton were like a couple of big dogs of different breeds rescued from the pound by a generous family and installed in the same nice house with plenty to eat. They were never really going to enjoy each other's company, but each of them knew he was better off steering clear of the other's food dish than sitting in a cage waiting for the needle.

Kohler always answered his phone when he saw it was Chatterton calling.

So, this guy just called me, Chatterton began without introduction. A lawyer named David Concannon ...

He talked for five minutes, shouted, really, as he usually did when he was excited. Ribbons of steel. No film. Kirk says maybe a documentary deal but nothing for sure. We have to decide soon. Might mean we each have to put up $100,000 or so. Nobody knows why that ship sank so fast. Lots of theories. We're wreck divers, right? Titanic is the wreck to end all wrecks.

What if this lawyer is totally fugazy, John?

I've been thinking about that. I can't come up with a good reason to figure he's making it up, Chatterton said.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if we push all that cash into the pot and come up empty, it won't just be the money we're losing. We fall on our asses, a lot of people are going to know about it.

I hear you, Richie.

How long do I have to think about it? Kohler asked.

Chatterton picked up the hesitation in his partner's voice. He had a deep respect for Kohler's caution, not only because Kohler had kids, a family business, and a new wife, but also because Chatterton knew himself to sometimes err on the side of impulse.

We won't actually start writing checks for a couple of weeks.

Okay, Kohler said. Let's do whatever's next.


Excerpted from Titanic's Last Secrets by Brad Matsen Copyright © 2008 by Titanic Partners, LLC and Brad Matsen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Titanic's Last Secrets: The Further Adventures of Shadow Divers John Chatterton and Richie Kohler 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With Titanic Last Secrets, Brad Matsen, author of the acclaimed Descent: The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss, once again shows why he is one of the most gifted, accomplished writers on anything to do with the sea. In tackling history's most famous ship disaster, he accomplishes what I thought was impossible-telling us something new about the Titanic. The revelations are not only new but cumulatively downright sensational, rendered all the more so by new physical evidence and analysis that rewrites the history of the ship's last moments and resolves a lot of troubling questions that have until now been unresolved. The early focus of Matsen's well paced narrative are divers John Chatterton and Ritchie Kohler 'of Shadow Divers fame' who in the summer of 2005 dove the Titanic in search of clues that might explain how the ship sank in such a shockingly short time, less than three hours after striking an ice berg. In a largely unexplored debris field far from the ship's stern, the pair find two large intact sections of the Titanic's bottom, bottom-up on the ocean floor. The discoveries provide a wealth of forensic data supporting a theory that the Titanic actually broke up on the surface at a shallow angle before sinking. Seamlessly shifting the narrative back and forth from past to present, Matsen does a terrific job of painting a fresh and fascinating portrait of the doomed ocean liner and the principal characters whose hubris, greed, corruption, deadly cost-cutting and sheer folly led to the construction of a weak ship. Moreover, Matsen's modern-day archival investigations reveal the Titanic's builders knew the vessel's lethal shortcomings and covered them up, abetted in the aftermath of the sinking by the British government. It all make for a fast-moving entertaining read full of suspense and surprising turns. Titanic's Last Secrets belongs on the bookshelves of every mariner and armchair sailor. Granted, Matsen's conclusions are sure to be debated-even mocked-by 'Titaniac' buffs whose numbers are legion the world over, but this is as it should be. As the New York Times editorialized shortly after the new sinking theory emerged, 'There is really no getting over the Titanic, as least not where the human imagination is concerned.' Highest recommendation. John Grissim, founder Marine Watch and author, The Lost Treasure of the Concepcion and Pure Stoke
ViscountWesley More than 1 year ago
Sadly, a provocative discovery - two large sections of Titanic's keel with bottom facing upwards - has been approached with little, detailed forensic explanation. The "big-deal" discovery is not revealed until one has read through a drum-role of too-cute, personal asides about the mission before finally getting down to the purported Last Secrets. Nor are the secrets all that secret. Arguments have been put forward for years as to how the Titanic broke up - top down or bottom up. All in all a highly commercialized book, written with enough padding to flesh the pamphlet-sized new information into a book. Disappointing, and thinly explained, this work could have been much improved by the inclusion of top specialists in metallurgy and buoyancy expertise with some serious use of graphics to illustrate the book's conclusion. There was some compelling evidence discovered, but poorly explained or substantiated. Chapter on Wee Man, aka historian Thomas McCluskie was insulting. A man of Tom's accomplishments and recently inducted into the Order of the British Empire by the Queen, his physical handicap has not affected his keen intellect.
NEMO More than 1 year ago
The idea and premise for the book were very interesting. The book started out very cool - with the THEORY of the Titanic being "grounded" on the iceberg, and what that could've meant to the fast sinking time.

The author then weaves a story starting with the owners and shipbuilders that is VERY interesting! Reads like Walter Lords epic tale.

Then unfortunately, the book kind of ends. Perhaps this is because it is how it was in reality, but it was disapointing to not have some of the questions not answered. You'd have to read it to understand, but as much as I liked the first 2/3rd's of the book, the end left me empty and looking for resolution.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having just read this book cover to cover in 2 sittings, I can heartily recommend it for both Titanic buffs as well as the casual reader. Matsen tells this tale with fresh eyes and new facts and keeps the pages turning. I won't be one of those reviewers who give away all the good details before you read the book, but I will say there are twists and turns in this often told story that made me think of Titanic in a whole new light. Five Stars!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book was a great overview of the history and details behind te making of the Titanic and the inquiries that took place after the sinking. The secrets that this book revealed were marginal at best
InTheBookcase More than 1 year ago
The book covers 2 big points of interest: (1) Details concerning the building and architecture of Titanic, historical facts pertaining to the men in charge, such as Pirrie, Ismay, Smith and others. (2) The findings and revelations of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, famous wreck divers. As many books as I've read about "The Unsinkable Ship", I still learned more from this book yet. The two divers usher forth their own discoveries about the wreck by drawing conclusions from historical accounts and measuring it against what they've personally seen at the site of the shipwreck. CONS: As a note to the discerning reader, there are a few instances of vulgar language used in the story. Had I not found this content in the book, I would have given it a 5-star rating.
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RebelGirl More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It gave a new twist on the ship's demise with scientific data.
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oswald More than 1 year ago
I loved this book it starts with whitestar and still continues even after they describe the sinking. They took alot of time and research to explain everything. Before I read the book I only knew about Titanic from the movie other than it sank and alot of people died. I now know alot about what happend.
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Jenn0710 More than 1 year ago
New information sheds light on the greatest maritime disaster. Interesting and informative, filled with never before heard testimony!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked the book but they really didn't go in depth about how the ship sank.