On April 15, 1912 at 2:20 in the morning, the fateful voyage of the RMS Titanic came to an end as the grandest ship of her time sank to the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean.
The story is a familiar one, but many of the details are not so commonly known. In remembrance of those that endured such a horrific event, and those who lost their lives to it, we want to ensure that the Titanic is remembered, especially today, 100 years later.
The RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) Titanic was built by White Star Line, a company known for their large and luxurious steamships. In fact, they were one of the two main corporations striving for dominance in their industry. The RMS Titanic was the largest ship to be made at her time. In fact, some of her engine components have still never been outdone in relation to size.
The Titanic was created as the final statement in luxury, elegance, and oceanic transportation. Many people of the time felt that they had gotten beyond the point where ships could be sunk. While the oft-heard statement that “Even God could not sink the Titanic,” is generally assumed to be falsely attributed to the ship’s builders and captain, the Titanic was often termed as “unsinkable”.
In the month prior to the maiden voyage of the Titanic, there was a great reduction in the availability of coal due to the economy and strikes. White Star Lines cancelled a number of their other ships’ voyages in order to accommodate the Titanic and ensure she had sufficient fuel to make her journey. Many of the passengers from the other ships were moved onto the Titanic to make their way to New York.
The common practice of the time was to christen a boat before embarking on its first trip. In fact, this practice is often done today and, for many, is considered a necessity for the safety of the boat and crew. In a boat’s christening, a bottle of champagne or wine is released and swings on a rope until it hits into the ship. If the bottle does not break on its first swing, it is considered a bad omen. However, the White Star Line did not believe in christening their boats, feeling that it was an unfounded superstition, and as such, the Titanic was never christened.
The Titanic departed from Southampton, England on April 10, 1912 to much hoorah from the media and the hundreds of thousands that had come to see the ship off. The suction created by the ship was so vast that it actual broke the ropes holding the S.S. New York to the dock and nearly caused a collision between the two. Ironically, if a collision had occurred, it may have prevented the tragedy of the Titanic from occurring four days later.
Although traveling on the Titanic was exciting and highly coveted, the titanic was over 1,000 short on its capacity, which later turned out to be a blessing. The ship only carried lifeboat seating to accommodate 1,178 people. Although this has received a great deal of condemnation as we look back on the event, White Star Lines actually provided more lifeboats than were required by the maritime laws and the British Board of Trade’s regulations. In fact, only 962 seats were required. With 2,240 people on board, about half could have had a place in the lifeboats, if the lifeboats were filled to capacity. If the ship had been carrying its maximum load of 3,300 people, the lifeboats would have been able to hold only one third of those on board.
The ship was making good time and was sailing almost full speed ahead, potentially in order to make headlines, especially considering the ship’s fame already. However, sailing full speed was not an uncommon practice at the time. Also, the Titanic didn’t initially expect any difficulties as the ice was generally not so far south at that time of year, and shouldn’t have posed a problem. However, the Titanic did receive a number of warnings regarding ice on their course, but these warnings were either ignored or left unreported.
At approximately 11:40 PM on Sunday, April 14, 1942 an iceberg was spotted and the alarm bell on the ship was sounded. The captain ordered that the ship be reversed and turned in an effort to miss the iceberg. However, the side of the ship collided with the iceberg, causing a 300 foot hole to be dug through the metal of the ship’s hull. This area of the ship contained “watertight” compartments, which were watertight except for one major flaw: they were open at the top, allowing water to spill into neighboring compartments. If four of the compartments had filled with water the ship would have stayed afloat and awaited rescue. However, five compartments filled and the ship began to sink.
At first, the captain and crew had no idea that a large hole had been created by the iceberg. In fact, it wasn’t until over an hour later when the ship had lowered noticeably and the captain had toured the damaged area that the order to load the lifeboats was given. Unfortunately, the lack of belief that a ship such as the Titanic could be sunk led to a severe lack of training in case of such an emergency. Chaos ensued upon the ship, and lifeboats were sent out woefully under-filled. The first lifeboat went out with only 28 aboard, although the capacity was set for 65. Some went out with a mere handful of passengers, women and children generally being boarded first.
The Titanic continued to sink further into the ocean, causing the stern of the boat to begin to rise into the air. The pressure and strain of this weight was too much for the ship, which broke in half between the third and fourth funnels (smoke stacks). The bow of the ship, now separated from the stern, plummeted toward the ocean floor. The stern of the titanic, after falling backwards from the momentum of breaking apart from its bow, came nearly vertical before beginning its rapid decent into the depths. By 2:20 AM, April 15, the Titanic was gone.
Over 1,500 people died in the tragedy of the titanic. Most died of near-immediate hypothermia due to the freezing Atlantic temperatures. If the life boats had been filled to capacity, approximately 500 more lives could have been saved. Instead, only 705 people survived the ordeal. Of those, the last living survivor, Millvina Dean, died in 2009. She was only 9 weeks old when the Titanic sunk.
Because of the poor methods of communication in those days, it was first reported that the Titanic had in fact hit an iceberg, but that it remained afloat and was being towed to harbor with all passengers safe onboard. Several hours later when the misinformation was corrected, the public found it difficult to believe that the “unsinkable” ship had been sunk.
Although many attempts were made, it wasn’t until July 14th, 1986 (74 years later) that the Titanic’s remains were rediscovered. The Titanic had been believed to have sunk in one piece. It wasn’t until it was discovered in two pieces, separated by nearly half a mile, that the truth was discovered. Because the bow had already filled with water before it broke from the stern and sank, it retained much of its momentum and withstood the pressure of the deep waters, burying itself between 50-60′ deep in the ocean floor. The stern had not had time to fully fill with water and was crushed and mangled by the intense water pressure. The ruins of the titanic lie over 12,600 feet (2.33 miles) below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
We take a moment today to remember those lost in this tragedy, and the many individuals who grieved over friends and family that would never come home. We recognize our own mortality, realizing that even an “unsinkable” ship is susceptible to the strength of nature and the corrosion of time and the elements. We honor those that gave their lives to see others survive the tragedy. Stories abound of people giving comfort to others in this greatest time of need, giving up their seat in lifeboats in order to save others and of rallying the spirits of those that survived. Our world has seen so many tragedies, but we must never forget. We must always remember.
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