What do we know about the history of the ship – Titanic? It is not just the movie that has made this disaster a famous lookout, there are various facts and information, still unknown to many. This article will take you back into the 1900s and, in a way, help you understand what it was like, to be a part of the RMS Titanic.
RMS Titanic was the greatest vessel ever built in its time. It was termed the greatest marvel that the human hands could possibly create. Titanic was more than a ship, it was a remarkable creation known for its gigantic size, magnificent speed, and profound luxury. To its parent figures, crew members, and passengers, it was an indestructible body built with the latest technology available back then; it was perceived as an unsinkable ship. Its creators were proud and confident with what they had manifested; competitors envied its creation (and marveled at the same time), and its popularity all across the nation wanted each and everybody to experience what it was to be a passenger on the RMS Titanic. It was believed to be “a virtually unsinkable” vessel, as described in the publications prior to its sinking. It was endowed with the latest safety equipment and technology. Then what was it that led to its disastrous sinking at the dawning hours of April 15, 1912? What was the reason that took the lives of more than 1500 people, coveting the tragedy of RMS Titanic to be one of the most famous and unfortunate maritime disasters in history? To answer these questions, we will have to go back in time, so as to understand what this ill-fated vessel was like … from the time of its inception, to the moment it was doomed.
The “Unsinkable Ship”
✩ The Birth of Titanic
– Why Was It Created
– Features and Facilities
✩ Sea Trials and Voyage
✩ People On Board
✩ Journey and Sinking of Titanic
– Distress Signals
– Last Few Minutes
– Final Sinking
✩ The Aftermath
– Survivors and Victims
– Unexplained Instances
– Ignored Warnings
– New Safety Practices
✩ Discovery of Wrecks
The Birth of RMS Titanic
RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship, and this term prefixed those ships that carried mail under the authority of the British Royal Mail. The RMS Titanicwas built under the tutelage of the British shipping company, the White Star Line. Joseph Bruce Ismay, was the then chairman of this shipping company. The construction task was undertaken by the Harold and Wolffshipyard in Belfast , Ireland. The RMS Titanic was the second ship built under the three vessels of the Olympic-class ocean liners; the first and the third being the RMS Olympic and the HMHS Britannic, respectively.Olympic and Titanic were constructed virtually parallel to each other. The hull of Olympic was laid down on December 16, 1908, followed by Titanic, whose hull was laid down on March 31, 1909. The construction of Titanictook about 26 months and was launched on May 31, 1911 at 12:15 pm.
The Thought behind Its Creation
Years later, in mid-1907, this idea was again brought into the forefront by Joseph Bruce Ismay, and J. Pierpont Morgan, the controller of the International Mercantile Co. (the parent corporation of the White Star Line). The main reason behind considering the proposal dropped years ago, was the White Star Line’s rivalry with the Cunard Line and the German Lines. The former had launched the fastest passenger ships in service back then, namely Lusitania and Mauretania. The German Lines had also launched two ships named Hamburg America and Norddeutscher Llyod. The launching of these ships proved to be a business threat for the White Star Line. Due to the threat arising from this rivalry, chairman J. Bruce Ismay decided to build a giant ship which would not only be known as the biggest ship afloat, but also a quintessential example of the finest waters! Thus, Titanic was ready to be built, transforming a magnificent thought into a marvelous reality.
What Made It Different from the Rest?
Everything about the RMS Titanic was different from its counterparts. Harold and Wolff appointed their best designers to come up with innovative designs of these Olympic-class vessels – the RMS Olympic, the RMS Titanic, and the HMHS Britannic. The people who shared the onus for the design and layout were: Lord Pirrie – director of the White Star Line and Harold and Wolff, Thomas Andrews – the naval architect and the managing director of the design department for Harold and Wolff, Edward Wilding – deputy of Thomas Andrews, and Alexander Carlisle – the general manager and chief draughtsman of Harold and Wolff.
The RMS Titanic was to be the first ship of its ilk … the first ship to be of its mighty size, delivering superior luxury and comfort. The best engine combination and technology was used to come up with a flawless vessel, to make the ship virtually unsinkable. The following are a few features that made this ship different and far superior than the rest.
» Titanic was 882 feet 9 inches in length and had the maximum breadth of 92 feet 6 inches. She stood 104 feet tall and weighed 52,310 tons, when loaded with a draught (draft) measuring 34 feet 7 inches. Building a ship as gigantic as this, proved to be a challenge for the builders, as well. Harold and Wolff, or any shipping company for that matter, had never attempted to make a ship as monolithic as this one. They had to demolish three of their existing slipways and build two large slipways in order to make room for building the largest ship ever.
» The RMS Titanic had 10 decks, 3 engines, 29 boilers, and 159 furnaces. There were 176 firemen employed to shove about 600 tons of coal daily into the furnace. This was necessary to move the gigantic vessel of its size. This was a continuous task which required the firemen to slog round the clock. Also, 100 tons of ash was ejected into the sea everyday.
» Titanic was a technological marvel back then. Its electrical plant had the capacity to generate electricity, much more than a standard city power station in those days. For emergency use, there were two auxiliary generators of 30 KW. There were four steam-driven electric generators with a capacity of 400 KW each. Also, the steam that was released from the reciprocating engines, was moved to the turbine situated at the aft. This was done to condense the exhaust steam into water and store it for reuse.
» Not only this, the RMS Titanic was fully equipped with essential facilities, like waterworks that enabled complete heating and supplying of water to the entire ship, a 24-hour service of wireless telegraph system that served a range of 1000 miles — the most powerful system at that time, insulated ducts to convey warm air throughout the vessel, etc. The first class cabins also had electric heaters fitted in them.
» The RMS Titanic was built keeping in mind that the world ought to speak of its comfort and luxury no end. It could accommodate 739 passengers in the First Class, 674 in the Second Class, and 1,026 in the Third Class. The ship had the capacity to accommodate 3,339 people, including 900 crew members.
» The main aim of the creators of this ship, was to give its passengers the feeling that they are living in a floating hotel rather than traveling on a ship! The interiors were designed keeping in mind the highbrow hotels back then. For instance, the First Class cabins were done in the Empire style. Other interior decorative styles and patterns, like the Renaissance style and the Victorian style, were incorporated in the interiors of the First and Second Class.
» The First Class was offered a variety of facilities, like a swimming pool, squash court, an electric bath, a gymnasium (with the latest equipment available), a Verandah Cafe, etc., to name a few. There was also the facility for all passengers to use the library, telephone system, and avail the benefits of having a large on-board barber shop.
» The Third Class passengers, of course, didn’t enjoy similar comforts as the First and Second Class; however, compared to the other ships, the Third Class passengers were far at ease. There were facilities, like the library, gymnasiums and smoking rooms. Also, a newspaper known as the Atlantic Daily Bulletin was published for the passengers, containing the latest news that was received using the wireless telegraph on the ship.
» Now that we are speaking of the things that made the RMS Titanic different from its counterparts, how can we not discuss the most famous feature of the ship — The Grand Stairway. This stairway was built in the First Class section and descended through the seven decks of the ship. It was covered with a dome made with glass and wrought iron, so that natural light could enter the area. The Grand Staircase was beautifully recreated in the 1997 movie, Titanic. Who can forget those elegant interiors with large wooden panels and gold-plated light fixtures, and, of course, the clock that added to the beauty of it all! This elegantly crafted section of the ship was destroyed during the sinking, and it now lies in the depth of the Atlantic Ocean that explorers use to enter the lower decks in the wrecks of the ship.
Sea Trials and Maiden Voyage
As mentioned earlier, the RMS Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911. Titanic would have been completed way earlier, had the chairman of the White Star Line not introduced some last-minute additions to the design. Experts also say that if the ship had been completed on time, there were chances that its sinking would have not occurred, resulting from the collision with the iceberg. Nonetheless, despite all the delays and trials, RMS Titanic was ready for her sea trial which began on April 2, 1912, at 6 in the morning. Thomas Andrews, Edward Wilding, and a surveyor from the Board of Trade – Francis Carruthers, were present to make sure the ship is fit enough to carry passengers for voyages. The trial started from the Belfast Lough and continued to the Irish Sea. Titanic was tested based on its speed levels, turning ability, and emergency stops. The trial took more than 12 hours to complete and ended at 7 in the evening. The ship was declared perfectly suitable and ready to start with passenger voyages, proving worthy on all the parameters laid down by its creators.
Titanic’s maiden voyage turned out to be its final voyage as well! Her maiden voyage was planned to be a cross-Atlantic journey which would begin from Southampton in England, to Cherbourg in France, to Queenstown in Ireland, and finally reaching New York in the United States. The ship was scheduled to return to England via Plymouth.
On April 10, 1912, Titanic was ready for her very first voyage. The crew had already started arriving from 9:30 in the morning. Reportedly, the Third Class passengers were the first to board the ship. The rest of the passengers belonging to the Second and the First Class, arrived within one hour of the scheduled departure, which was at noon. The entry to the ship was grand in itself. There were stewards that showed the passengers their respective cabins. In fact, the First Class passengers were personally greeted by the Captain of the ship, Edward Smith. Out of the total passengers on board, 922 were known to have embarked the ship at Southampton itself. The rest of them boarded the ship from Cherbourg and Queenstown. The voyage finally began at noon, but unfortunately could never reach its final destination, New York Harbor.
People On Board: Crew and Passengers
On her maiden voyage, Titanic had 885 crew members on board. Let us begin with the captain of the ship. As mentioned earlier, Titanic was the most anticipated ship of all time. It was the largest, the most advanced, and the most luxurious ship ever made. Therefore, Captain Edward Smith was appointed by the White Star Line, as he was the senior most and a highly experienced captain in their corporation. Lieutenant Henry Wildewas appointed as the Chief Officer. The First and Second Officers wereLieutenant William Murdoch and Commander Charles Lightoller, respectively. One interesting (which later turned out to be unfortunate) incident was the replacement of the original Second Officer, David Blair. He was excluded from the crew at the last minute by the White Star Line, to include Chief Officer Henry Wilde, courtesy of his experience and knowledge. It is said that because Blair was asked to leave at the very last minute, he accidentally happened to carry the key to a storage locker along with him. It is believed that the particular locker contained binoculars, the absence of which, was one of the main reasons for the sinking of the Titanic.
The list of the passengers that boarded the Titanic included some of the wealthiest and prominent names of that time. To begin with, the wealthiest person aboard was John Jacob Astor IV, a member of the illustrious Astor family, and also a well-known American businessman. He was accompanied by his second wife, an 18-year-old beauty Madeleine Force Astor. Also, the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, was traveling on the ship along with architect Thomas Andrews, the designer of Titanic. They were present to observe the performance of the ship on her maiden voyage, so that problems, if any, could be noted and rectified. Other notable passengers on board included – famous industrialist, Benjamin Guggenheim; millionairess, Margaret Brown (famously known as the unsinkable Molly Brown); owner of the Macy’s, Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida Strauss; the famous silent-movie actress, Dorothy Gibson; author and journalist, Helen Churchill Candee; the famous first-class Cricketer and businessman, John Thayer with his wife and son; and the survivor who penned his experience in a book, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, to name a few.
Considering the popularity of the RMS Titanic, it was expected that the ship would be packed with passengers on her maiden voyage. However, this was not the actual case. The ship reportedly had only 2,224 people on board, although it had the capacity to carry 3,339. This is because during that time, a national coal strike affected the U.K., thereby causing various unwanted disruptions. Various voyages were canceled, and shipping schedule were delayed due to the lack of coal. Titanic was able to sail only due to the fact that the required amount of coal was acquired from other ships that were tied-up at Southampton. Another reason for the ship to have fewer passengers, was that there were many last-minute cancellations. There were some instances wherein some passengers boarded the ship, but didn’t stay aboard for the entire scheduled journey. The owner of Titanic, J. P Morgan was also supposed to be a part of the maiden voyage; however, he canceled last minute due to some business meeting.
The Ephemeral Journey and Sinking of RMS Titanic
As mentioned earlier, Titanic started her only voyage on April 10, 1912, at noon. A few minutes after her doomed voyage began, she almost escaped a collision with another ship named SS City of New York. As soon as Titanicpassed the SS City of New York, due to Titanic’s hugeness and displacement, a suction effect was created, and the latter ended up snapping towards the Titanic. The collision was avoided by a mere distance of about 4 feet, when Captain Edward Smith ordered his crew to put the engines in ‘full astern’ (reverse the engines with maximum speed). Also, luckily, a tugboat named Vulcan was available at the time, to tow SS City of New York in the opposite direction to avoid an accident. RMS Oceanic, too, was
a victim and a witness of this displacement. This whole incident delayedTitanic’s schedule by an hour. However, the thing to be happy about, was that no one was hurt.
After this nearly-escaped collision, Titanic successfully sailed towards Cherbourg, and then Queenstown to pick up the rest of the passengers. She left Queenstown on April 10, 1912, at 20:00 hours, and arrived at Cork Harbour the next morning at about 11:30 hours. A few passengers belonging to the Second and the Third Class boarded the ship; while a few passengers and one crew member, left the ship unexpectedly. At 13:30 hours, Titanic was ready for a long journey through the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
The first 3 days of the journey were pretty smooth without any disturbances and incidents whatsoever. The weather all throughout the journey varied from being windy to cold, to partly cloudy and relatively warm. However, on April 14, 1912 — the night when Titanic collided with the iceberg — the sky was absolutely clear, the ocean was as calm as it could be, and the weather was extremely cold. It was also a moonless night.
It is said that the North Atlantic had the worst ice conditions that year, as compared to the past 50 years. This was the reason why the formation of icebergs and ice sheets was immense that year. The first warning in relation to the ice conditions was sent by RMS Caronia on the day of the collision at about 9:00 hours in the morning. The second warning was sent by RMS Baltic at 13:42 hours, reporting large field of ice and icebergs. Both these warnings were acknowledged by Captain Smith. They were also shown to the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. However, call it the overconfidence in the unsinkable ship, the ship was not slowed down, and was taken farther south to set a new course.
Various warnings were sent through radio messages to Titanic indicating the presence of large icebergs. The third warning came around 13:45 from SS Amerika, followed by the fourth warning by SS Californian at 19:30 hours. The fifth warning was sent by a steamer named Mesaba at 21:40, and the final warning was sent at 22:30 by the SS Californian. In total, Titanic received 6 warnings on April 14, 1912, two of which were acknowledged by the captain, and the last four, never left the radio room!
Collision with the Iceberg
Although the crew was aware of the fact that ice was present in the vicinity, nobody ever anticipated the collision to be fatal, especially when Titanic was believed to be the most safe and mighty vessel that ever existed. It was past 23:30, and most of the people aboard were off to sleep. First Officer William Murdoch had the command of the bridge, whereas the crow’s nest was occupied by lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee. It was Fleet that first spotted the iceberg at 23:39 and immediately rang the lookout bell thrice. He also informed Sixth Officer James Moody at the bridge that an iceberg was right ahead. Officer Moody then relayed the information to Murdoch, who is believed to have given the order to Quartermaster Robert Hichens to “Hard a’starboard.” Officer Murdoch also ordered full astern. Murdoch told Captain Smith that he wanted to escape the collision, for which he planned to “port around” the obstacle. However, there was very little time to abide by the orders. Also, the mechanism of the ship was powered by steam, which means that it would have taken about 30 seconds to turn the ship and reverse the engines. The change in the direction avoided straight collision with the iceberg; however, the starboard side of the ship scraped with the underwater portion of the iceberg for 7 seconds, causing a huge damage to the plates of Titanic’s hull. According to experts, if First Officer Murdoch would have taken a quick decision, and instead of “porting around,” simply turned the ship while it was moving forward, the collision would have been prevented by a short distance of merely a feet. Nonetheless, the damage was done when Titanic struck the iceberg at 23:40 hours!
After a few minutes, the engines stopped working, and people started to wonder what just happened! Because the collision took place underwater, nobody could estimate the intensity of the damage. All that was visible, were some blocks of ice that fell from the upper portion of the iceberg into the ship’s forward deck. Most of the passengers didn’t notice any sort of bump or collision. However, those on the lowest decks felt the collision almost instantly. The iceberg, in fact, had buckled the plates of the hull and created various narrow openings through which the freezing water of the Atlantic Ocean entered the vessel at the speed of 7.1 long tons per second. The water started to seep into the boiler rooms, the first witnesses of the sight being Second Engineer J.H. Hesketh and Leading Stoker Frederick Barrett. These two gentlemen were in No. 6 boiler room when they were hit by the freezing water of the ocean. They managed to escaped before the watertight door of the respective boiler room was closed. This condition posed a huge threat as there were chances that the boiler rooms would explode due to the combination of cold water and high-pressure steam. Immediately, the boilers were vent down and the fire was extinguished. However, by the time the firemen were done with this task, water had already reached their waist.
Where was the captain of the ship? Well, Captain Smith had sensed the collision, and once the situation was confirmed, he and Thomas Andrews, the designer of the ship, went to the lower decks to check the intensity of the damage. The squash court, mailroom, and the forward cargo holds, had already been flooded. Boiler Room No. 6 was filled with 14 feet of water and now it was making its way and filling up the No. 5 boiler room. The water was pouring into the Titanic fifteen times faster than the vessel’s capacity to pump it out. It didn’t take long for Thomas Andrews to correctly perceive the situation and inform Captain Smith that Titanic would not make it for more than 2 hours and that its sinking was inevitable.
Evacuation of the RMS Titanic, and the Chaos …
Once it was certain that Titanic would not make it to the destination, Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats to be de-creped, and all the passengers were asked to gather at the Boat Deck. This happened at 00:05. Back then, ships didn’t have a public address system; therefore, all the stewards were asked to inform the passengers, by going door to door, knocking each and every cabin. Radio operators were asked to start sending distress calls to seek immediate help. Captain Smith was aware that there were not enough lifeboats to be able to rescue all the passengers. Though, RMS Titanic had the capacity to accommodate 68 lifeboats, each with the capacity to carry 68 passengers on an average; the number of lifeboats actually available were only 20! Why? Well, the White Star Line wanted the passengers to have a better view of the sea from the promenade deck, which could have been interrupted by the large amount of lifeboats. As it is, Titanic was perceived to be an unsinkable ship; therefore, the need for the exact amount of lifeboats was not necessary, according to the White Star Line. However, there were 20 lifeboats, which was still a good number as compared to the minimum requirements according to the British regulations, but sadly, considering the need of the hour, it was clear that the available lifeboats would be able to save only a few, and more than a thousand people would still lose their lives.
Captain Edward Smith was an experienced sailor, commanding some of the biggest and prominent vessels in those times. Icebergs were a common problem faced by sailors; however, many ships still managed to overcome the obstacles and complete their journey with minor injuries. Captain Smith had declared in an interview in 1907, that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Titanic was the mightiest ship ever, with each and every comfort, luxury, and technology; however, now all that was required to save a thousand lives, were lifeboats. The ‘unsinkable ship’ was doomed!
Captain Smith went into a state wherein he was unable to decide the next step and issue orders; he became paralyzed in thought! Each and everything on the ship depends upon the captain’s orders. Because of the state in which Captain Smith was, each and everything became highly unorganized and chaotic. No evacuation orders were issued, no crew was assigned, and no officers were appointed to be in charge of the lifeboats and the evacuation. In fact, the crew members, including the officers, were not informed about the inevitable sinking of the ship. The information regarding the scarcity of lifeboats was also not revealed.
The stewards informed all the passengers to gather at the Boat Deck. The process started around 00:15 hours. A lot of confusion and chaos was observed in this phase, as well. The stewards had their duties assigned to different sections based on the respective class. While the First Class stewards were responsible to take care of the few passengers; there was a lot of responsibility for the Second and Third Class stewards, who had to handle thousands of passengers belonging to these two sections. While the First Class passengers were assisted in each and every possible way, the second-and third-class passengers were left on their own after being informed about the gathering on the deck with their lifebelts on. Not only were the steerage passengers left unescorted, they were also prevented from making their way to the deck. The crew members locked and guarded the barriers that separated these passengers from the elite group. This was done in order to prevent the steerage passengers swarm on the deck and fill the lifeboats. Only a few from this group were able to reach the deck, and even fewer survived. For the rest, the hope for survival had ceased, and all they could do was cry and pray for help, and await death to sweep them away.
Some of the crew members and passengers, especially on the higher decks, failed to respond to the need of the hour, considering that it was a joke; or believing that it was safer for them to be on the ship, rather than to be on the boat exposing them to the freezing cold. One such passenger was the wealthiest man aboard, millionaire John Jacob Astor, who responded with the following words: “We are safer here than in that little boat.” It was J. Bruce Ismay who convinced these passengers to evacuate immediately.
Poor Leadership and Underutilization of Lifeboats
The creators of the RMS Titanic would have never imagined to deal with a situation as this, and this was clearly visible in the resources available for emergency. As mentioned earlier, the boats were only 20 in number! Also, during the voyage, no lifeboat drill was conducted for the people to know what needs to be done. The crew hardly had any experienced seamen or sailors, and the captain was issuing impractical orders due to his indecisiveness. It was Second Officer Lightoller, who suggested the captain to evacuate the women and children first; to which the captain replied with a nod. This happened 40 minutes after the collision, at around 00:20 hours. Officer Lightoller handled the departure of the lifeboats on the port side, while Officer Murdoch took care of the starboard. There was a confusion here as well. Officer Lightoller perceived the orders as women and children only; while Murdoch interpreted it as women and children first. Due to this, various boats were lowered with many empty seats from the port side if there were no women and children in that area. Also, neither of the officers were aware about the capacity of the boats. Therefore, to be on the safer side, they did not fill adequate number of people in the boats to ensure a safe lowering.
Lifeboat No. 7 was the first one to be rowed away at 00:45 hours. It had the capacity to accommodate 65 passengers; however, only 28 passengers were seated on this boat! The next boat was lowered after 10 minutes; lifeboat No. 6 had only 28 passengers on board, with various empty seats and thousands of people waiting on the Titanic for a safe rescue. In this boat, there were a few non-English speaking men that were aboard. Lightoller evicted them before the boat could be lowered, and let the boat go with empty seats. Other boats that were allowed to go without being optimally utilized were: lifeboat No. 2 with 25 people (boat had the capacity of 40), lifeboat No. 3 with 32 on board, lifeboat No. 1 and 8 with 12 and 39 people, respectively, and lifeboat No. 5 with 41 passengers. Also, in lifeboat No. 4 was seated the pregnant wife of millionaire John Jacob Astor. Astor asked Lightoller if he could accompany her as she is in a delicate condition. However, Lightoller refused to do so, and the boat was rowed away with 20 seats empty!
The problem was not confined to the underutilization of boats. Even their lowering posed major threats to the safety of the passengers. Various men and women were trying to jump into the boats from the deck, while they were lowered. This happened when lifeboat No. 14 was being lowered; to control the situation, Fifth Officer Lowe had to fire warning shots in the air. Another problem that occurred was while lowering lifeboat No. 15. This boat almost got positioned over lifeboat No. 13, wherein the latter drifted directly under former because it was unable to release the ropes. Luckily, no one was hurt and the ropes were released in time.
The rest of the boats were filled to their capacity; however, the water that was being pumped out from the ship was flooding into the lifeboats while lowering. Nonetheless, all the boats were safely rowed away. The last lifeboat to leave Titanic was collapsible D at 02:05 hours, it had 44 people on board. Historian Thomas E. Bonsall, had commented: “Even if they had the number [of] lifeboats they needed, it is impossible to see how they could have launched them.” This was because the entire process was highly unorganized due to poor leadership and scarcity of time, as well. Nevertheless, if the available boats were utilized to the maximum, at least 500 more lives could have been saved!
Sending Out Distress Signals for Help!
While the evacuation and chaos was dominant in the vicinity, continuous efforts were being taken to seek help from the nearby ships simultaneously. Radio operators continued to send the distress signal CQD. Radio operator Harold Bride asked his colleague Jack Phillips to also send the newly invented SOS signal saying, “It may be your last chance to send it.” Responses were received by many ships, the closest of all being RMS Carpathia. However, being a slow vessel, it would have taken a minimum of 4 hours to reach Titanic. Distress rockets were being fired continuously to gain immediate assistance from the vessels nearby. These rockets were seen by Second Officer Herbert Stone of SS Californian, which was just 16-19 kilometers away from the sinking Titanic. When Stone informed Stanley Lord, the captain of SS Californian, Lord did not react to the report, and therefore, no action was taken. The last intelligible distress signal was sent at 1:40 hours by radio operator Jack Phillips. This message was sent to the Russian ship SS Birma. Click on the image on your right for a clear view. The message says: “We are sinking fast passengers being put into boats.” The only radio operator of SS Californian, Cyril Evans, had shut down his radio set just 10 minutes before Titanic collided with the iceberg. He had also tried to warn Titanic’s radio operator Jack Phillips about the iceberg, earlier during the day; the warning was avoided and never reached the bridge. Had Evans retired for bed a little later that night, many more lives would have been saved.
RMS Titanic’s Last Few Minutes before Sinking …
The last lifeboat left the ship just 15 minutes before it sank. There were thousands of passengers still aboard, and there was no hope to survive. It is reported that Captain Smith took a final tour of the deck, informing the crew members that “now it’s every man for himself.” During the last few minutes of the ship, before it sank into the depths of the Atlantic, the scenario was this: The band continued to play cheerful tunes and Hymns till that section went under. Although, it is famously reported that the band played the hymn, Nearer, My God, to Thee,, various survivors, including First Class passenger Archibald Gracie, who happened to be next to the band till they played last, claims that the band didn’t play the hymn.
The passengers, certain that they will not make it, gathered in the stern wherein Father Thomas Byles was busy hearing confessions and giving absolution to the hundreds of passengers that were trapped in the ship. It is said that Father Byles refused to enter the lifeboat himself and assisted various Third Class passengers to come towards the boat deck during evacuation. The credit also goes to John Edward Hart, a Third Class steward who organized many trips to take these steerage passengers to the boat deck. Even in his last moments, Father Byles was reciting the rosary, helping other victims find peace through confessions and prayers.
The on-board passengers and crew members were a melange of those who accepted the inevitability of death, and those who were still struggling for survival; or at least hoping for a miracle that could save them from what was clearly ahead — death! One amongst those who had accepted their doomed fate was millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim, an American businessman. Initially, Guggenheim, while helping his mistress and her maid enter lifeboat No. 9, told the maid in German, “We will soon see each other again! It’s just a repair. Tomorrow the Titanic will go on again.” However, it didn’t take him long enough to understand the exact situation! Once he accepted his fate, it is believed that he and his valet removed their life jackets and changed into their best evening wear. They were last seen smoking and sipping brandy in the Staircase, seated in the nearby deck chairs. Guggenheim was heard saying, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” He also sent a message through a survivor for his wife, saying, “Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”
On the other hand, there were people still trying to fight their fate. One of them was Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, who was one of the few survivors, and a major contributor in providing a detailed account of the night RMS Titanic sank. According to him, he was heading to the aft, right after the last lifeboat had left. Only a few minutes were left for the Titanic to sink, and suddenly he saw hundreds of steerage passengers, finally have made it to the deck with immense difficulty, swarming the entire boat deck in hope of rescue. The sight was so agonizing that he couldn’t stand it, and in order to escape from the crowd, he jumped into the water.
The last few minutes, and the ballistic tsuris that people went through before the ship finally sank, was brilliantly portrayed in the 1997 movie by James Cameron. While there were some people calmly awaiting death, there were others who were looking for help; some praying and confessing, others crying in agony asking God for help. While some were holding on to the ship, others jumped into the water and held on to the nearby floating objects. All in all, the sight was heartbreaking for each and everyone. It is difficult to describe the agony of that moment in words …
The Sinking of the RMS Titanic … Many Lives Lost …
At about 2:15 hours on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic started flooding rapidly through the deck hatches. This caused the ship to form an angle, due to which a huge wave was formed, that swept along many people from the lifeboats and ship, into the ocean. One lifeboat Collapsible B, carried Chief Officer Henry Wilde, First Officer Murdoch, Colonel Gracie, Second Officer Charles Lightoller, and radio operator Harold Bride, among the others. Due to the ferocity of the wave, Wilde and Murdoch lost their lives. However, Gracie, Lightoller, and Bride, survived.
Titanic was going through immense stress, and witnesses describe the occurrence of various blasts and explosions. The engines and the machinery of the ship was falling apart, crushing many people on the way. Due to the increased flooding, the forward deck of the ship sank, thereby rising the stern of the ship to an angle of 30-45 degrees. What with the tumultuous tilt, the propellers, too, were exposed! Many of the passengers aboard (nearly 1500), were clinging on to the ship. Witnesses describe the scene deucedly agonizing as there were people falling in bulk into the sea, as the stern of the ship rose high, almost reaching a 90-degree angle. The lights of the ship flickered once, and shortly after, went out! Because of the stress on the keel, the ship broke into halves, splitting in between the third and the fourth funnels. Some witnesses report that the stern of Titanic, after staying in a near-vertical position for a few minutes, rotated on the surface of the ocean, and with a loud bursting noise, at 2:20 am, sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, taking more than 1500 souls along …
Aftermath: Rescue, Survivors, Victims, and Reasons for the Catastrophe
The greatest ship of all time, had turned out to be the ship of great sorrow, taking the lives of 1,514 people, and leaving each and every surviving passenger, deal with the loss of their dear ones. The temperature of the water that night was -2° C; therefore, many people clinging on to the debris of Titanic in the water, also died of heart attacks and hypothermia. After the ship sank, there were many people in the ocean, crying, expecting the nearest lifeboats to help. Many passengers on the lifeboats (with many empty seats), hesitated to go forward to help the people in the water, thinking that they will swamp the lifeboat, which would risk the lives of the people aboard. In lifeboat No. 6 was the unsinkable Molly Brown, as she was famously called, post the sinking. She tried to help those in the freezing water, but was soon shunned by Quartermaster Robert Hichens, who wasn’t willing to go forward being fearful of the consequences.
For about 20 minutes till after the ship sank, cries for help were heard constantly, but because of the freezing temperature, the voices went dim as minutes passed, and soon, all that could be seen were debris of the ship, along with the corpses with their lifebelts on. They all perished due to the cold. However, Officer Lowe, who was the in charge of lifeboat No. 14, made an attempt to take the boat, along with other seamen, to the sinking site to see if someone was still alive. He managed to hear some dim voices, and rescued about 4 men; however, one of them died immediately after.
Even for the people on the lifeboats, survival wasn’t for sure! They were already drenched in water, and with the temperature being so cold, many died in the lifeboats itself. There was no food, no water, no lights, no warmth of any kind. In fact, many people couldn’t stand the whole situation, and losing hope, they voluntarily fell into the water to die. That was one moment, when no one was safe and certain as to what would possibly happen.
Rescue by RMS Carpathia
RMS Carpathia had received the distress call from Titanic around 12:11 am. It sailed through the ice fields, risking its own safety, and reached the site at 4:00 am. What was invisible in the darkness of the moonless night, became clear as soon as the daylight hit the doomed site. All that the crew of Carpathia could see was large fields of ice, and icebergs as huge as 200 feet! There were debris and corpses from the Titanic floating in the midst, and hundreds of people waiting to be rescued to a safer place, with hopes in their hearts that they would still reunite with their loved ones.
The rescue mission took about 5 hours, and by 9:00 am, 710 people were rescued by RMS Carpathia. The people rescued, needed medical assistance, which Carpathia did not have at the moment. Sensing the need of the hour, the captain of Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, decided to take the ship to New York so that the survivors could be taken care of, in an appropriate manner. During the same time, two more ships Mount Temple, and SS Californian arrived around 9:15 am. They continued to look for survivors, but in vain. Carpathia reached New York after 3 days, on April 18, 1912.
Lucky Survivors and Unfortunate Victims
As mentioned earlier, out of the 2,224 people on board, only 710 survived. Approximately 68% of the people perished in the disaster, and those who survived could never move on with their lives normally; the incident left a chasm brimming with lachrymose in their souls. Many lost their loved ones, and many lived with the guilt that due to their helplessness, they could do nothing to save the rest of the victims. One such survivor was Colonel Gracie, who could never get over the ordeal, and died almost eight months after this catastrophe. Another infamous survivor was the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, who boarded a lifeboat (Collapsible C) at 1:40 am. Because he escaped the ship, while there were women and children still on board, he was termed the Coward of Titanic. However, to his defense, Ismay said that when he boarded the boat, there were no women and children around. Nevertheless, his image was damaged beyond repair.
Most of the survivors were women and children. Margaret Brown, Dorothy Gibson, and Lady Duff-Gordon and her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Officer Lightoller, and radio operator Harold Bride were amongst the few fortunate survivors. Another name that I would like to mention here would be stewardess Violet Jessop. Destiny favored her survival, not just once, but twice when she esoterically surpassed the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912, and HMHS Britannic in 1916.
John Jacob Astor ensured that his wife Madeleine survived ; however, in the bargain, he couldn’t survive to see his to-be-born son. On one hand, wherein the husband saved his pregnant wife and died himself, there were Isidor and Ida Strauss, (owner of the Macy’s) who died rubricating their undying love in each other’s arms. It is believed that Isidor Strauss refused to enter the lifeboat while women and children were still aboard. His wife, Ida Strauss also refused to leave without her husband, saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” They were last seen sitting on the deck chairs holding hands.
Similarly, the designer of the ship, Thomas Andrews, did not make any efforts to evacuate the ship, but was seen persuading others to board the lifeboats. He was also seen throwing the deck chairs into the ocean, so that those in the water can float with some support. He was last seen staring at the painting situated in the first-class smoking room, right above the fireplace. The painting was of the Plymouth Harbour where Titanic was scheduled to sail during her return voyage.
Similarly, Captain Smith also perished in the disaster. He didn’t try to save himself, and was last seen on the bridge, seven minutes before the ship sank. Although, according to Harold Bride, he saw the captain diving into the ocean a few minutes before the final sinking. On the other hand, some sources say that Captain Smith had drowned himself voluntarily by entering the flooded wheelhouse. What exactly happened to Captain Smith is still unknown. His body was never found, as was the case with Thomas Andrews.
Some Unexplained Instances
During the analysis of the entire disaster, many unexplained instances came to light, their occurrence to date holding the reins of mystery. Here are a few significant instances elucidated.
» One of the passengers that boarded the ship from Southampton was a Jesuit trainee, Francis Browne. He was the last one to take the pictures ofTitanic. Reportedly, he had become friends with an American couple — millionaires from the First Class — who offered to pay for his return voyage on RMS Titanic. In order to take the permission for the same, Browne telegraphed his superior, and received a reply, “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL.” He left the ship, the next day, April 11, 1912, when the ship docked in Cock Harbor, Ireland.
» Another person who left the ship on the same day as Francis Browne, was a crew member named John Coffey. Coffey was a stoker of the ship, and because he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave the ship, he hid himself in the mail bags that were being transported to the shore. Nobody knows what made him decide to leave the ship.
» The Chief Officer of Titanic, Henry Wilde, who couldn’t survive the disaster, had sent a letter to his sister while he was aboard. The letter stated that he had a queer feeling about the ship. While some sources say that he was drowned in the disaster, there are some who suspect that he committed suicide before the ship sank. What happened to him is not certain, his body was never found!
» Officer Lightoller, one of the few men who managed to survive, said that his survival was nothing, but a miracle of God. In his testimony published in the Christian Science Journal, he said that he sensed the presence of a divine power guarding over him. There were various instances wherein he could have died, but was miraculously saved each and every time. One such instance was when he was nearing the suction created by the sinking ship, and immediately, the forward funnel of the ship fell, throwing Lightoller and other passengers in the lifeboat, 20 feet away from the ship. Also, in spite of the fact that he was dunked into the frosty water till the arrival of Carpathia, he endured no injuries or reactions due to the biting cold.
Due to the instances mentioned above, it is obvious for one to think if there was something supernatural about the sinking of the ship. One of the survivors had also described the catastrophe as “horrifying, mysterious, and supernatural.” Another point to be noted is that, there were many deaths that occurred before the ship set sail. Reportedly, six people died during the construction, two in the shipyard workshops and sheds, and one on the day the ship was launched — a wooden piece fell on him. Also, 246 people were injured while building the Titanic, out of which, 28 people were severely injured resulting in the loss of limbs.
For those who are religious, another point of concern was that this ship was never blessed, or christened. This is because the White Star Line didn’t believe in such practices. In fact, it was their traditional policy of not doing so. While there is no certainty in the fact that the ship was doomed because of this reason, it definitely raises the eyebrows of many people till date.
Analyzing Warnings That Went Ignored
Inquiries by the United States Senate began immediately on April 19, 1912, the next day after Carpathia reached the New York Harbor. The British survivors were asked to remain in the United States till the inquiries were over on May 25, 1912. Soon after, the British Board of Trade began its inquiry into the disaster, which continued from May 2 – July 3, 1912. Various parties, including the survivors of Titanic, crew members of Carpathia, and SS Californian were questioned. The following points highlight the main conclusions of the investigation.
» On the day of the disaster, 6 warnings were sent to the crew of Titanic; Captain Smith failed to take heed of these warnings. Further research confirms that the last 4 warnings, received by the on-duty radio operator Jack Phillips, were never conveyed to the bridge. The final warning was sent by Cyril Evans, the radio operator of the Californian at 22:30. However, Phillips failed to understand the significance of the information as he was busy sending the messages of the passengers. Apparently, the radio set broke a day before the ship collided with the iceberg. This resulted in a lot of pending work, which is why, when Phillips received a warning from Evans, he got irritated and replied: “Shut up! Shut up! I’m working Cape Race.” Officer Lightoller in his autobiography mentioned that when he told Phillips that he doesn’t recall any warnings from Mesaba, Phillips replied, “I just put the message under a paper weight at my elbow, just until I squared up what I was doing before sending it to the Bridge.” Had he been a little quick in conveying the message, a lot of people, including himself, would have been saved.
» Call it the fate of the ship, or the overconfidence of its creators, in spite of being aware of the presence of ice fields, the ship was still sailing at a very high speed of 25 mph (41 km/h), a little less than her maximum speed of 28 mph (44 km/h). Some sources say that J. Bruce Ismay was the one who asked the captain to maintain a high speed, trusting that the ship was unsinkable.
» Another reason was a part and parcel of the trust that the creators had on the ship. The number of lifeboats were only 20, and on top of it all, they were underutilized and poorly handled. The crew of Titanic was not prepared for such an emergency, both in terms of resources and training.
» While the captain of RMS Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, was awarded for his assistance; Captain Stanley Lord of SS Californian, was highly criticized because he and his crew members didn’t assist the Titanic, in spite of being so close to the ship at the time of the disaster! When Captain Lord was informed about the rocket signals, instead of taking immediate action, he asked his crew to check if they were company signals. Also, an ideal step that he could have taken was to wake his radio operator, and try to investigate if the rockets were an indication of distress signals. It was only at 5:30 am, that the radio operator Cyril Evans was intimated about the scenario; however, it was too late by then. Had Captain Lord been a little more concerned about the signals, at least 200 more lives would have been saved. Captain Lord showed no sorrow, or remorse, or even grief regarding Titanic’s loss.
Implementing New Safety Practices Taking Titanic’s Sinking As a Reference
Another guideline that was issued, was that all the rockets signals must be interpreted as a “distress signal” only. This was one major concern as the captain of SS Californian had misinterpreted the rocket signal of Titanic to be a company signal, which was used by many vessels to identify themselves to other ships in the vicinity.
Also, in 1914, an organization known as the International Ice Patrol was started in order to monitor and report the presence of icebergs to the ships sailing in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. This body is run by the United States Coast Guard, and there are 13 countries that fund this organization.
Research also brought various faults in the design of the ships to the forefront. Taking Titanic as an example, various modifications were done to the design of the ships, including Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic. All the ships had double hulls, and their bulkheads were extended to make the compartments of the ship completely watertight.
Discovery of the Wrecks of RMS Titanic
The wrecks of RMS Titanic were discovered after 73 years of its sinking, on September 1, 1985. The credit goes to Dr. Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel, who led a joint expedition for the same. This discovery became a sensational news, and gained a lot of attention worldwide. It now lies 12,500 feet deep, situated 370 miles south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland. As reported by the survivors, the ship did break into two, and the separated portions lie 600 meters apart. It was also observed that the bow section of the ship sank at a very high speed of approximately 25-30 mph. Due to this, it landed at the seabed with great force, and buried itself up to 20 meters in the sediments of the ocean.
When the wrecks were discovered, 5 by 3 miles of the surrounding area was covered by the debris including items of the passengers, and artifacts from the ship. The wrecks included coal, machinery, personal belongings, and shoes and coats of the passengers that sank along with the ship; corpses, probably eaten by the sea creatures. A lot of artifacts lie in various museums across the globe, and are still a major attraction to many.
Thus, the ephemeral life of Titanic became an eternal mark in history. Like the people were eager to be a part of its maiden voyage back then; today, historians and artists are eager to be a part of its mysterious existence in the depths of the Atlantic. The sinking of Titanic resulted in the emergence of new policies for vessels to sail safely on the waters. Although, Titanic’s journey was one of the most short-lived journey of all times, it still continues to live in the hearts of many, even 100 years after its sinking! Titanic is considered to be one of the most popular ships ever made in this world. It was the most anticipated vessel during its creation, the most popular passenger ship during its launch, and the most infamous and shocking disaster when it sank. Even when its wrecks were discovered, it gained worldwide attention, and now, various artists, including writers, painters, and movie makers, continue to keep its memories alive through their creative work. Although, Titanic didn’t make it to its destination, it did successfully made a mark in the minds of many, for centuries to come…