|Owner||White Star Line|
|Home port||Liverpool, England|
|Shipyard|| Harland & Wolff Shipyard|
Belfast, Northern Ireland
|Type|| Ocean liner|
|Authorized||July 31, 1908|
|Keel laid||March 22, 1909|
|Launched||May 31, 1911|
|Status|| Sunk after iceberg collision|
April 15, 1912
|Draft||34 ft. 7 in.|
|Speed|| cruising:21 knots |
|Passengers|| 1,317 (maiden voyage)|
R.M.S. Titanic was a luxury passenger liner which sank after striking an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, while on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 passengers and crew. This disaster has been the subject of films, plays, literature, and scientific scrutiny.
Titanic was built to sail the highly-competitive North Atlantic route by White Star Line. Its chief competitor was Cunard, whose vessels recently garnered attention for their speed and luxury. Designed and built by the Belfast firm Harland and Wolff, Titanic was at the time of her launch and outfitting the largest ship afloat: its gross tonnage was 46,329 tons, and displaced 66,000 tons fully-laden; it was 882.5 feet long and 92.5 feet across the beam. For safety it was built with a double-bottom hull, which was further divided into sixteen watertight compartments, which would not affect the ship's stability if four were flooded.
British merchant vessels normally fly the Red Ensign. However, as the captain and at least 12 crew were members of the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR), a special warrant was issued to fly the Blue Ensign.
Titanic left Southampton on April 10, 1912, picking up additional passengers at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, before heading out into the Atlantic.
A later investigation showed that the ship had failed to follow all safety procedures. Besides traveling through dangerous waters at high speed (after receiving repeated warnings concerning the presence of icebergs), the Titanic also had aboard an insufficient number of lifeboats for the passengers and crew.
On April 14, the Titanic's wireless operators received seven iceberg warnings, but the ship continued sailing through the North Atlantic at 23 knots. Conditions were clear and the water was calm, which should have helped the lookouts spot an iceberg well in advance.
At 11:40 p.m., while sailing 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the ship, and alerted the bridge, calling "Iceberg, right ahead!" First Officer William McMaster Murdoch ordered the engines stopped and reversed, and ordered the tiller hard to starboard. The large ship could not slow down and turn quickly enough and its starboard side hit the iceberg, resulting in a long scrape below the waterline.
The collision ruptured six watertight compartments on the starboard side, resulting in flooding of the bow, eventually flooding each watertight compartment. Water levels in the bow reached as high as 14 feet just 10 minutes after the impact with the iceberg.
At midnight, Captain Smith was informed that the ship was so badly damaged that it would stay afloat for just two more hours. Smith ordered radio distress signals sent and for deckhands to begin loading lifeboats. Wireless operator Harold Bide began sending the standard CQD distress call, before switching to the newer SOS. Contrary to popular myth, Titanic was not the first ship in history to send the SOS distress signal.
The crew quickly began loading lifeboats, but at far less than capacity. The first lifeboat was launched with just 26 people on board, despite having room for 65. By the time the last lifeboat left the ship, 1500 people remained on board.
As the lifeboats disembarked, the bow continued filling with water and the stern of the ship was slowly lifted out of the water. Witnesses in lifeboats recalled seeing the stern lift to almost a 45-degree angle above the water before snapping in two between the third and fourth funnels and sinking at 2:20 am on April 15. The 706 survivors were rescued by the Cunard liner Carpathia, which was more than 50 miles away when it first heard the distress calls; she arrived some eighty minutes after the Titanic went down.
Several of the wealthiest and most prominent persons in the world were passengers on the Titanic for its prestigious maiden voyage. To their credit, they voluntarily went down with the ship and died rather than take a spot on a lifeboat from others. Men allowed women and children to go first in filling the lifeboats, and the men in second class sacrificed their lives in greater percentage of all.
Third-class passengers accounted for the bulk of the dead. Due to the size of the ship, many steerage passengers were unable to reach the deck to board lifeboats. There were also reports that crew members actively prevented steerage passengers from reaching the deck. Accordingly, death rates clearly differ between class. Evey child traveling in first class survived the sinking, while only 34 percent of third-class children did. Two percent of first-class females drowned, while over half of third-class women did not survive.
A full passenger list is available that highlights who survived and who did not.
Prominent Americans who went down with the ship included Mr. Benjamin Guggenheim, of the family that donated the Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art in New York City, Major Archibald Butt, a military aide to President Taft, and Colonel J. J. Astor, whose great grandfather was the wealthiest American prior to the Civil War. Colonel J. J. Astor was an inventor and science fiction writer who helped build three great hotels in New York City: the Astoria (now the Waldorf-Astoria), the Knickerbocker, and the St. Regis.
Inquiries conducted in both Great Britain and the United States determined a number of factors which contributed to the loss of the ship and passengers.
The watertight compartments were designed without capping at the top; water filling the six ruptured compartments pulled the bow of the ship down far enough that water spilled over the top of the next compartment in line. Titanic also had 16 standard lifeboats and 4 collapsibles, with enough combined space to carry 1,178 passengers, far short of the 2,224 persons aboard; many of the lifeboats were lowered down the side only partially filled with passengers (many of those remaining on board initially believed the ship to be "unsinkable"). Although the number of lifeboats was determined to be inadequate, the Titanic had in actuality exceeded the British Board of Trade's lifeboat regulations, which had been written down for much smaller ships.
Inquiries also revealed a fatal design flaw in the ship's vaunted watertight compartments. The compartments were essentially cubical, so required watertight seals on all six sides in order to remain watertight. However, the compartments were open at the top, which meant that as one compartment flooded, it would spill over into the next, filling that up, and so on, much as one might fill an ice cube tray. The ship was also designed to be able to stay afloat with any five compartments flooded. The iceberg ruptured the first six compartments, essentially dooming the ship.
Both inquiries also determined that part of the blame for the high loss of passengers rested with Captain Stanley Lord of the liner Californian, which was stopped for the night by an ice field some twenty miles from Titanic. The board members alleged that Californian could have aided Titanic had its radio operator been on duty after 11:00 pm, and able to hear its distress signals. Indeed, it was determined that officers on the bridge of the Californian had seen distress lights from what they considered to be a "large passenger steamer", keeping under observation until the lights vanished after 2:00 am, but doing nothing further than that.
Another theory involved a pre-existing coal fire which erupted aboard Titanic; the Titanic's speed was due to its attempts to use the fiery coal before it ran out; the routing through the icebergs was due to concern that the coal would run out before reaching port (leaving Titanic stranded at sea, a potentially embarrassing event for its maiden voyage). The coal fire, though, purportedly weakened the structure, causing the ship to split open (whereas, had there been no coal fire, it may not have sunk).
Of the passengers who went into the water, only six were pulled out alive, and only by efforts of surviving officers in several boats going through a sea of bodies. Hypothermia killed the remainder, as the water was about 29 degrees Fahrenheit. Many of those who perished came from wealthy, prominent families in Europe and America, among them the heirs to the Straus fortune and the owners of Macy's department store in New York City. The disaster also had its heroes, such as the ship's band assembled on the stern in order to keep remaining passengers calm; and the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown, who forcibly took the tiller away from a rowboat crewman and forced everyone in her lifeboat to go back for people in the water.
As a result of the loss of Titanic, in 1913 the first International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea was opened in London, England. Among the rules drawn up were requirements that each voyage hold lifeboat drills; that every ship have lifeboat space for each person on board; and ships maintain a 24-hour radio watch. The International Ice Patrol was also created to keep watch on North Atlantic sea lanes and give ships adequate warnings of icebergs found. The United States Congress also passed the Wireless Ship Act in 1912; it stipulated that all vessels carrying more than 50 people and traveling more than two hundred miles off the coast carry a wireless capable of at least a 100-mile range.
The wreck was found on September 1, 1985 at 41°46′ N 50°14′ W, under 13,000 feet of water, by an American/French team led by Dr. Robert Ballard of Woods Hole Institute and Jean-Louis Michel of Ifremer. Remote submersibles photographed the wreckage, which was in two pieces lying upright, confirming some witness accounts of the ship breaking in two at the surface. Further explorations by Ballard and Ifremer could not find evidence of a long gash caused by the iceberg and cited on the original reports; instead it was postulated that a series of rivet popping combined with separation of seams and brittle fracturing in the hull plating allowed the water to rush in.
In Popular Culture
Books and novels have been written about the Titanic ever since its infamous sinking. The most well-known of these novels is A Night to Remember. In 1997, director James Cameron produced the highest-grossing film in history, Titanic. However, this film is inaccurate in several areas. For one thing, it depicted the men on board as cowardly. In real life, most of them willingly stood aside while the women and children got into the lifeboats. In the film, they had to be held back at gunpoint, and two were killed. It also showed an officer shooting himself in the head. It also depicts Captain Edward Smith dying in the wheel room. This also is inaccurate, because several survivor accounts actually mention him swimming in the water, encouraging those clinging to a nearby capsized lifeboat before drowning.
The Titanic sinking was also eerily foreshadowed in an 1898 novel by Morgan Robertson, entitled The Wreck of the Titan. In the novel, a large, luxurious and "unsinkable" ocean liner called the Titan strikes an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The ship is carrying too few lifeboats, so many passengers drown or freeze in the ocean. The book is noted for its many similarities to the Titanic, including the name, the maiden voyage in April, the iceberg collision, the nautical position of the sinking (400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland) and the lack of lifeboats.
Olympic and Titanic were virtually identical. For Britannic many changes to the design were made, because of the sinking of Titanic.
RMS Olympic was the only ship of this line of vessels which had not sunk and which was eventually dismantled in 1935.
- Ballard, Robert D. The Discovery of the Titanic Warner Books, New York, (1995)
- Butler, Daniel Allen. Unsinkable: The Full Story of RMS Titanic, Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, PA (1998).
- Collins, L. M. The Sinking of the Titanic: The Mystery Solved Souvenir Press, London (2003)
- Gardener, R & van der Vat, D The Riddle of the Titanic Orion, London (1995)
- Kentley, Eric. Discover the Titanic, DK Inc, New York (1997)
- Lord, Walter. A Night to Remember, Bantam, New York (1997).
- Lynch, Donald and Marschall, Ken. Titanic: An Illustrated History, Hyperion, New York (1995)
- Marcus, Geoffrey. The Maiden Voyage, Buccaneer Books, New York (1991)
- Pellegrino, Charles R. Her Name, Titanic Avon, New York (1990)
- Wade, Wyn Craig. The Titanic: End of a Dream. Penguin Books, New York (1986)
- Wels, Susan. Titanic: Legacy of the World's Greatest Ocean Liner, Time-Life, New York (1997)
- United States inquiry
- Great Britain inquiry
- Titanic Historical Society
- Titanic essays and links
- Titanic Archive
- RMS Titanic, Inc The official Titanic archive.
- Titanic Home at Atlantic Liners.
- Titanic News Headlines
- Encyclopedia Titanica