The RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic was a highly sophisticated and very luxurious ship of its time. It was famously labelled as “The Unsinkable Ship”. The ship went down in the North Atlantic on April 15, 1912, after its collision with an iceberg. Over 1500 people died onboard. Since then, Titanic has been the subject of numerous books, articles, and of course the superhit feature film “Titanic”.
The Construction of the Titanic
RMS Titanic was developed in the environment of immense competition. The White Star Line shipping company was in an intense competition with a venerable British firm Cunard. They already had 2 remarkable ships known for their luxurious services and sophistication. Mauretania of Cunard began operation in the year 1907 and soon set a record for having the fastest average speed of 27.26 mph while crossing transatlantic zones. It held this record for 22 years straight. Cunards rolled out more masterpieces which were deemed largest in their time.
White Star Line, too, wanted to roll out some ambitious projects ans so the work on Titanic began in 1909 at Belfast. On May 31, 1911, Titanic’s hull was fully constructed. Over a hundred thousand people attended its launch. At that time, it was the largest ever moving object made by man. Next year, thousands of workers were employed who built the decks of the ship, installed the 29 giant boilers and construct its luxurious interiors.
Titanic Had Design Flaws
Despite the grand and advanced design, which were deemed state-of-the-art model at that time, Titanic had inherent flaws. The ship had 16 watertight compartments that could be simultaneously operated by a switch. These compartments were the main reason Titanic was deemed ‘unsinkable’. However, these compartments design was faulty. The wall separating the compartments were just a few feet over the water line and did not touch the ceiling. As a result, when the ship collided with the iceberg, the water poured from one compartment to another and flooded the ship.
The other reason Titanic turned out to be a big misfortune was the lack of lifeboats onboard. Titanic only had 20 lifeboats, which to its full capacity could only save 1178 people. This means only a third of people (sources differ on the total number of passengers to be either 3,327 or 3,547) on board could be saved.
Passengers Spread on the Titanic
Titanic had about 2,240 passengers or ‘souls’ on board. In those times, people who were tragically taken down with a ship were labelled as souls. Most of the people were wealthy industrialists, high-ranking officials, celebrities, and dignitaries. Included in them is also J. Bruce Ismay and Thomas Andrews, the managing director of White Star Line and the builder of ship respectively. John Jacob Astor IV was the wealthiest passenger on board.
Other key passengers were industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s owner Isidor Straus, and heiress Margaret “Molly” Brown. She was nicknamed “unsinkable” for helping the survivors keep up their spirits amidst tragic chaos.
The second class mostly comprised of those who were employees to the luminaries in the first class. These included journalists, tourists, academics, and others. These were people who would take a first-class ticket on other ships.
The passengers in the third class formed the largest group on Titanic. They were over 700 in number. That was more than the passengers combined on the other two classes. It was the third-class passengers; the White Star was deriving most of its profit from. To bring more people from that class on board, Titanic assured better amenities to them than any other ship would’ve given in those times.
Titanic Began Sailing
Titanic departed from Southampton, England for its maiden voyage on April 10, 1912. It made stops at Queenstown, France, Cherbourg, and then set sailing for New York. However, the Titanic didn’t leave without encountering some bad omens. Titanic narrowly avoided a collision with S.S. New York of American line when it left the dock of Southampton. Ship superstitions render this as the worst omen a ship could encounter on her first ever voyage.
There were some other oddities as well. A small coal fire broke out on Titanic’s bunkers before the departure. However, it was quickly hosed down. It was not so uncommon to have such a situation in those times. It was alarming, nonetheless. The Chief Engineer and the Captain after assessing the situation rendered the possibility of any serious damage unlikely. Stokers continued their operation. Some Titanic experts believe that fire must’ve gone uncontrolled later which would have then influenced their decision to go at full-speed. And, such fast speed must be the reason they couldn’t avoid collision with the iceberg in time.
Titanic Met the Disaster
Titanic was receiving reports from other ships concerning ice on April 14, 1912. However, the giant ship was sailing on calm seas and a pleasant sky. Later, the same day a lookout reported seeing an iceberg right ahead. They immediately called the bridge and rang the warning bell. The engines were on full astern and the vessel took a sharp turn. However, since the speed of the ship was high, Titanic couldn’t make a clean escape. It grazed the ice mass, which resulted in a sprinkling of ice fragments on the ship’s deck. Lookouts got relieved seeing no collision. However, the damage was serious below the waterline. The jagged line of the iceberg made a gash on the ship’s hull. Five compartments had already been filled with water when Thomas Andrews and Harland toured the ship for assessing the damaged areas. The bow of the ship was alarmingly pitching downwards, and thus facilitated the pouring of water from one compartment to the next.
Andrews made quick calculations and discovered that Titanic only had only an hour and a half or maybe slightly more before it would sink. Gauging the tragic situation, the captain called for help through wireless mediums and ordered that the lifeboats get loaded.
Lifeboats Came to Rescue… of a Few
The lowering of the first lifeboat began over an hour later after Titanic collided with the iceberg. The evacuation was carried out amidst sheer chaos and disorganized methods. The lifeboats were already fewer in number, yet the boats were filled way below the capacity they could handle. Despite being tested for 70 people, the first boat left only with 28 people. Underfilling continued for more boats, some leaving only with a handful of passengers. As per the laws of the sea, children and women needed to be boarded first on the boats. Men were only given a chance if no woman or children were around. Still, many victims turned out to be children and women only, owing to the haphazardness and disorderly procedures. Despite the calculation made by Andrews, Titanic floated for about 3 hours. During these three hours, the ship witnessed everything from true altruism to heinously selfish acts. Some gave up their spot on the boat for loved ones or for those who were more vulnerable. Men bid goodbye to their families, consoling themselves the separation is for a little while.
All the luminaries of Titanic acted in their own way to the tragic mishap and now they’re part of the Titanic legend. The White Star managing director Ismay abandoned Titanic on a boat amidst the grave trouble. The ignominy of surviving while several other died would stay with his name forever.
Titanic’s chief designer Thomas Andrews didn’t take a lifeboat. He was last spotted staring at a wall painting on the ship. Astor got a seat for his wife on a lifeboat, claiming she was pregnant. However, he was refused a seat for himself. He kissed her goodbye.
Isidor Straus was offered a seat on the lifeboat. However, he refused any special treatments. His wife Ida chose to stay back with him. Both died together in their personal cabin.
Benjamin Guggenheim came to the deck dressed in formal evening attire and famously said “We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”
Molly Brown helped in loading the boats and was the last to leave. She even insisted to turn back to survivors. However, crewmen didn’t accede, fearing the people could swamp the boat.
on April 15 at about 2:20 am, Titanic got almost perpendicular, standing in the sea and dove into the ocean with many of its lights still aglow. Cunard’s Carpathia received Titanic’s distress call during the midnight and rushed to help at full speed. On the morning of the 15th, it collected the passengers from all the lifeboats. There were only 705 survivors.
After the Sinking
Several boards of inquiry conducted exhaustive hearings in order to investigate the sinking. Dozens of interviews were taken and consultation with maritime experts was also done. Every minute details from the construction of the ship to conduct of crew was considered.
Even the news of Titanic’s sinking was met with huge disbelief. They couldn’t believe how the unsinkable can sink, taking over 1,500 people down with her.
Titanic now lies as a wreck in two main pieces about one-third of a mile away from each other. They now lie 12,500 feet deep with roughly 370 miles south-southeast off Newfoundland’s coast. There are many preserved interiors in the ship with bow still being recognizable. However, the stern is in utter ruins. There’s a debris field around the wreck due to the items that got thrown out of the ship while it was sinking. Many have proposed to bring the Titanic back to the surface. However, it is too fragile to sustain the rise. Now a UNESCO convention protects it.