Captain David Brown, who teaches at the Maritime Academy of Toledo, believes that Titanic stoker Frederick Barrett’s actions on the fateful night contribute more to the ship’s demise than previously thought. Barrett had been sent down to reconfigure the bilge pumps. However the valve quickly filled the boiler room with water causing the downward tilt to become severe and catastrophic. Brown does not believe the gash doomed Titanic as previously thought, nor does he believe that water rose over the bulkheads until human intervention made it possible. He believes Barrett hid that fact to avoid being labeled as the one who sank Titanic. Brown argues that until that valve was opened, Titanic was not sinking and that this singular act not occurred the ship would not have sunk.
Frederick Barrett survived and gave accounts of what happened when the iceberg struck. He was in boiler room 6 at the time, felt the impact of the collision, and heard the sound of it as well. However his account given to the British enquiry and then given to Walter Lord (for A Night To Remember) is not the same. As noted at Encyclopedia Titanica entry on Barrett:
According to the account given in A Night to Remember when water suddenly began to gush through the forward bulkhead Shepherd urged Harvey and Barrett to get out but Harvey rushed to save his colleague, the last thing Barrett noticed as he clambered up the escape ladder was the two engineers disappearing under a torrent of ice cold water.
Barrett’s testimony to the British enquiry does not mention this scenario and actually indicates that Shepherd had already been carried to another compartment before that in which he was injured became flooded and therefore Barrett could not have seen him as he made his escape. The truth remains a mystery.
Barrett also contributes to the Coal Fire Theory. During the British enquiry, he described a coal fire in one of the bunkers. Lord Mersey pressed him on this as to whether the bulkhead that gave way (which forced him to evacuate) was due to the coal fire. Barrett said it “would be hard to say.”
Brown also believes Titanic captain Edward J. Smith got a bad reputation from the sinking. He says that Captain Smith did not ignore the ice peril, instructed officers to be vigilant, and made at least two course corrections based upon ice warnings.
The problem with this theory is that we know slits were cut by the iceberg allowing water to enter multiple compartments. Because of this, the volume of water entering Titanic was fatal. Too much water was already entering causing it to sink at the bow. Keeping the bilge valve closed would make no difference but I will defer to more educated minds to further look into this claim. As for his claims about Captain Smith, the problem is that he decided to speed up Titanic on a moonless night through an ice field. More prudent ship captains stopped for the night rather than taking the risk.