RMS Titanic

The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time of her launching, and was marketed as being "unsinkable". Her builders hoped that she would dominate the transatlantic ocean liner business. She struck an iceberg and sank on April 14, 1912 during her maiden voyage. The sinking resulted in great loss of life and ranks as one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters.

Table of contents
1 Construction
2 Maiden voyage
3 Aftermath and consequences
4 The rediscovery of Titanic
5 The 'Titanic Curse'
6 The Titanic in Fiction
7 External Links
8 Other maritime disasters

Construction

She was built in the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She was the second ship of the Olympic-class liners of the White Star Line Company built in that shipyard, but was the largest and most prestigious passenger liner of the day. The Titanic was 269 meters (882 1/2 ft) long, 28 meters (92 1/2 ft) wide, and 56 meters (185 ft) tall. Although she enclosed more space and therefore had a larger displacement rating, her hull was exactly the same size as her elder sister Olympic. The ship had 899 crewmen and was built for up to 3,300 passengers. Because she carried mail, she was also called RMS Titanic (RMS standing for Royal Mail Steamer).

She was considered a pinnacle of technological achievement, and with her 16 watertight compartments she was thought to be unsinkable. At the ship's launch, one employee was quoted as saying, "Not even God himself could sink this ship." [1]

Maiden voyage

The ship began her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City on April 10, 1912, with Edward Smith as its captain, first stopping at Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (known today as Cobh), Ireland, to take on more passengers. On the night of April 14 she struck an iceberg. The iceberg dented the hull several times, popping the rivets along the starboard side below the waterline and flooding the first six watertight compartments. As it turned out, although the 16 watertight compartments were watertight from each other, the tops of each compartment were not watertight, so that once the forward compartments filled up, the water spilled over the top into the other compartments, sinking the ship.

The Titanic sank at 2:20 the next morning. There had been enough lifeboats on board for barely half the passengers and crew. In this tragedy -- the worst maritime incident during peacetime -- only 711 people from a total of 2,223 survived. (These numbers are approximate. No Titanic passenger list is known to be entirely accurate.) Among the victims were some famous people: Benjamin Guggenheim, Isidor Straus, John Jacob Astor IV, Jacques Futrelle, Francis David Millet, and Charles Hays. Famous survivors included Margaret Brown (thus becoming known as the "Unsinkable" Molly Brown) who kept order on her lifeboat and assisted with the rescue efforts.

Captain Lord of the SS Californian, which was called on for help, is sometimes accused of not responding quickly enough. The 711 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 relatively few dead bodies recovered, 150 were brought to the search-and-rescue operations center in 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 another of Titanic's sisters, the HMHS Britannic.

Aftermath and consequences

The sinking was one of the first times the internationally-recognized Morse code distress signal, SOS (dididit dadadah dididit), was used, transmitted by Chief Marconi Officer John George Phillips. The Californian, like virtually all ships at that time, 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. It also provided a commentary on human nature, as modern examination of the evidence showed that inferior grades of materials were fraudulently substituted in the construction of the ship. Contributing also to the loss of the ship was a casual, careless attitude of the crew, due to overconfidence in its "unsinkability."

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.

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.

The rediscovery of Titanic

The wreck was finally located on September 1, 1985 by a joint American-French expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. It was found at a depth of 3,800 meters, at 41° 43' 55" N, 49° 56' 45" W, near Newfoundland. The ship broke in two large pieces, which lie on the bottom a few hundred meters apart, separated by a debris field. Scientists believe that the heavy water pressure in the forward compartments began to break the ship down the middle as the bow section filled with water and sank first while the stern remained buoyant before sinking later.

Dr. Ballard and his team did not bring up any artifacts from the site, considering it to be tantamount to grave robbing. Under international maritime law, however, the recovery of artifacts is necessary to establish salvage rights to a shipwreck. In the years after the find, the Titanic has been the object of a number of court cases concerning ownership of artifacts and the wreck site itself. Many artifacts have been salvaged and are now permanently on display at the maritime museum in Greenwich, England.

See also: Casualties of the RMS Titanic sinking

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 sectarianism towards catholics. (Harland and Wolff did have a record of hiring few Catholics; whether that was through policy, 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).

The Titanic in Fiction

The story of the Titanic has been the basis for many novels.

The Titanic has featured in a large number of movies and TV shows, most notably -

The most widely-viewed is undoubtedly the 1997 film, titled simply Titanic, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.

The story was also made into a Broadway musical that ran from 1998 to 2000.

There have also been computer games made about it or based around it:

  • Titanic: Adventure Out of Time

External Links


Other maritime disasters

The worst maritime incident in history, in terms of loss of life in a single vessel, is recognised as the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff by a Russian submarine in 1945 in which between 5000 and 7000 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 8000 people died.

However in June 1940, RMS Lancastria (actually HMT Lancastria by the time of the sinking) evacuating troops and civilians from France, was sunk by German aircraft. The death toll is estimated at anything between 4000 to 9000. The true figure will remain unknown until secret British Government papers are released to the public in 2040.


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