The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time of her launching (although larger ships would soon eclipse her), and her builders hoped that she would dominate the transatlantic ocean liner business. She struck an iceberg and sank on April 15, 1912 during her maiden voyage. The sinking resulted in great loss of life, ranking as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history, and by far the most famous.
For its time the ship was unsurpassed in its luxury and opulence. While not the first ship to offer onboard swimming pools, exercise rooms, baths and elevators, the Titanic pulled out all the stops and offered a level of service never seen before. offered 3 elevators for use of passengers in first class, and as an innovation, it offered one elevator for those in second. Passengers in steerage were still made to take the stairs.
She was considered a pinnacle of technological achievement, and with her 16 watertight compartments she was thought to be well protected from sinking. At the ship's sailing, one employee was quoted as saying to Second Class Passenger Sylvia Caldwell, "Not even God himself could sink this ship".
The ship began her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York, USA on April 10, 1912, with Edward Smith as its captain. When it left its berth, the liner New York nearly collided with the Titanic's hull due to suction. The near collision caused an hour's delay. The ship called at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (known today as Cobh), Ireland,
On the night of April 14 the lookouts spotted an iceberg directly ahead of the ship. One of the lookouts, Fredrick Fleet, sounded the ship's bell three times and telephoned the bridge. First Officer William Murdoch ordered an immediate turn to port. The ship ended up brushing against the iceberg down its starboard side. The iceberg dented the hull several times, popping the rivets along the starboard side below the waterline and flooding the first six watertight compartments. The weight of the water in her bow pulled it just low enough in the water for the sea to spill over the watertight compartments, which were open at E deck.
On the port side, the lifeboats were loaded with women and children only. On the starboard side, men were allowed in, once women were no longer in the area. Consequently, many more people were rescued on the starboard than port side.
Lifeboat 7 left the ship at around 12:45 am. Collapsible lifeboat D left at 2:05 am, leaving just two boats left on the sloping deck, which floated off, one flooded, the other floated off upside-down.
Over a period of three minutes starting at 2:18 AM, events happened very rapidly. First, at 2:18, the #1 funnel broke away and sank, killing several in the water. A minute later, the ship broke in two, the completely flooded bow falling away into the depths. The stern, momentarily freed of the weight of the bow, bobbed back up and momentarily righted itself before beginning its own death plunge at 2:20. There had been enough lifeboats on board for barely half the passengers and crew. In this tragedy -- the worst maritime incident during peacetime -- only 705 people from a total of 2,228 survived. 1,523 perished. Among the victims were the rich and famous: Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor Straus, John Jacob Astor IV, Jacques Futrelle, Francis David Millet, and Charles Hays. Among the survivors was Margaret Brown (thus becoming known as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown) who kept order on her lifeboat and assisted with the rescue efforts, and who later formed a survivors group.
As the ship fell into the depths, the two sections ended their final plunges very differently. The streamlined bow planed off about 2,000 feet below the surface and slowed somewhat, landing relatively gently. The stern, however, fell violently to the ocean floor and smashed into the bottom at high speed, and then was struck full force by the wake of its fall, causing severe damage and grinding the hull deep into the silty bottom. By some estimates, the bow may have landed as much as ten minutes after the stern.
Captain Lord of the SS Californian, which was called on for help, is sometimes accused of not responding quickly enough. He did not respond until many hours after the sinking. The 712 people who did survive the disaster in lifeboats, were picked up by the Cunard Steamship Lines, RMS Carpathia, commanded by Captain Arthur Henry Rostron who was acclaimed for his immediate and decisive action in coming to the aid of the Titanic. Of the 330 bodies recovered, the unclaimed were taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where the majority of them were buried in the Fairview Cemetery.
One crew member, Violet Jessop, survived not only the sinking of the Titanic, but an earlier accident involving her sister ship Olympic, and finally, the later sinking of the other of Titanic's sisters, the HMHS Britannic.
Aftermath and consequences
Despite popular belief, the sinking of the Titanic was not the first (or even one of the first) times the internationally-recognized Morse code distress signal, SOS (... --- ...) was used. The SOS signal was first proposed at the International Conference on Wireless Communication at Sea in Berlin in 1906. It was ratified by the international community in 1908 - some four years before the sinking of the Titanic - and had been in widespread use since then. The SOS signal was, however, rarely used by British wireless operators, who preferred the older CQD code. Titanic's Chief Marconi Officer John George Phillips began transmitting CQD until Harold Bride, the junior wireless operator, suggested "Send SOS; it's the new call, and this may be your last chance to send it!". Phillips then began to intersperse SOS with the traditional CQD call. The signal was picked up by the SS Californian the following morning, as she did not maintain a 24-hour radio watch.
The disaster was a shock to the international community because it proved to some people that man and his technological achievements were inferior to the powers of nature.
Even a century later there are still several myths about the Titanic and its sinking. One is that the rudder was too small and having a larger one may have saved the ship. While a larger rudder may have saved her, the dimensions of the rudder were not legally too small for a ship its size, and in fact the dimensions of the rudder for a ship the size of the Titanic would still be compliant with ship regulations in use today. Had the ship started turning even 5 seconds earlier, or 5 seconds later when the iceberg was spotted, the ship probably would not have sunk. Another myth is that the Titanic alone was deficient in its number of lifeboats. In fact the ship was compliant with British law regulating the number of lifeboats on board, which was based not on the number of passengers but the tonnage of the ship. All other passenger ships at the time were also far short of the lifeboats needed, but the purpose was not to hold all passengers if a ship sank, but as a transfer mechanism from a sinking ship to a rescue ship. The sinking of the Titanic changed this strategy forever. Even if the ship had carried boats for all, they probably would not have saved many more people. During the sinking, the crew didn't have time to launch the boats they had!
Another myth was the myth that the engineering crews stayed at their posts to the bitter end. This myth was unfortunately perpetuated by Titanic discoverer Bob Ballard's book on the ship published in 1988. In reality, all of the engineering spaces were flooded by 1:15 AM (just over an hour before the ship's final plunge) and at the time of the plunge the engineers and stokers were on the poop deck with the hundreds of others still stuck on board with no hope of rescue.
The sinking of the Titanic had an enormous impact on ship construction, and wireless telegraphy. It also led to the convening of the First International Conference on the Safety of Life at Sea, in London, England, on November 12, 1913. The treaty that was produced by the conference, resulted in the formation and international funding of the International Ice Patrol, an agency of the United States Coast Guard, which to the present day monitors and reports on the location of North Atlantic Ocean icebergs that could pose a threat to trans-Atlantic sea lane traffic. It was also agreed in the new regulations that all passenger vessels would have sufficient lifeboats for everyone on board, that appropriate drills would be conducted, and that radio communications would be operated 24 hours a day along with a secondary power supply, so as not to miss distress calls. In addition, it was agreed that the firing of any rockets from a ship must be interpreted as a distress signal.
An often-quoted (but unverified) story states that the person who received the radio distress signal from the Titanic was David Sarnoff, who would become the founder of media giant RCA. The legend (which was willingly promoted by Sarnoff and his supporters) says that he manned his station for three days, relaying messages of the disaster and its aftermath to land-based radio.
See also: Living Titanic Survivors.
The 'Titanic Curse'
When the Titanic sank, claims were made that a curse existed on the ship. One of the most widely spread legends linked directly into the sectarianism of the city of Belfast, where the ship was built. It was suggested that the ship was given the number '3909 04' which, when read backwards in a mirror, was claimed to spell 'no pope', a sectarian slogan attacking Roman Catholics that was (and is) widely used provocatively by extreme Protestants in Northern Ireland, where the ship was built. In the extreme sectarianism of northeast Ireland (Northern Ireland itself did not exist until 1920), the ship's sinking, though mourned, was alleged to be on account of the sectarian anti-Catholicism of its manufacturers, the Harland and Wolff company, which had an almost exclusively Protestant workforce and an alleged record of hostility towards Catholics. (Harland and Wolff did have a record of hiring few Catholics; whether that was through policy or because the company's shipyard in Belfast's bay was located in almost exclusively Protestant East Belfast—through which few Catholics would dare to travel—or a mixture of both, is a matter of dispute.)
Comparable maritime disasters
At the time, the sinking of the Titanic amounted to the worst maritime disaster in history (1,496 dead), but it has since been surpassed.
In terms of loss of life in a single vessel, the worst maritime incident in history is recognised as the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by a Russian submarine in 1945 in which between 5,000 and 7,000 people died. Some recent studies of the disaster concluded that the actual death toll was over 9000.
The worst maritime incident in history, in terms of loss of life in two vessels, is recognised as the sinking of the Cap Arcona and the Thielbek by RAF Typhoons on May 3 1945 in which around 8,000 deportees died.
However on 17 June 1940, RMS Lancastria (actually HMT Lancastria by the time of the sinking) evacuating troops and civilians from Saint-Nazaire, France, was sunk by German aircraft. The death toll is estimated at anything between 4,000 to 9,000. The true figure will remain unknown until secret British Government papers are released to the public in 2040.
In the world of fiction, Morgan Robertson's 1898 novella Futility was found to have many parallels with the Titanic disaster; Robertson's work concerned a fictional state-of-the-art ocean liner called the Titan, which eventually collides with an iceberg whilst en route to New York, sinking in the dead of night with great loss of life. Both the Titan itself and the manner of its demise bore many striking similarities to the eventual fate of the Titanic, and Robertson's novella remains in print today as an unnerving curiosity.
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