The Titanic: An Ill Fated Voyage
More than a century has passed since the largest ever built luxury steamship in its time, the RMS Titanic came to a catastrophic end when it had an unexpected collision with an ice berg on its maiden voyage from Southampton to the port of New York on April, 1912 instead it had reached its final resting place in a deep sea grave. More than 1,513 people lost their lives out of nearly 3000 people on board. It wasn’t something which couldn’t have been prevented. As we go on this article we will get into how the titanic was built and the timed events that led to the event which outraged the world. It later inspired writers and Hollywood film makers to create a tribute to the titanic probably the most tragic accident after the Hindenburg disaster. The most famous was the 194 minute version by James Cameroon which portrayed a love story while showing the fateful disaster of the titanic. A crisper version was presented in a book by author Joseph Conrad which is much more straightforward with the occurrence of the events.
Construction of the RMS Titanic
The idea of the titanic was first conceived over an intimate dinner in 1907 by J. Bruce Ismay, The head of British white star line, who followed his Father’s footsteps in his interest for luxury star liners and Lord Pirrie, who was the chairman of Harland and Wolff ship builders. This was meant as a competition to the other famous star liners Mauretania and the Lusitania. They believed that they could build bigger and better ships. The titanic was originally a part of a trio of ships “The Britannic”, “The Olympic” and “The Titanic”.
Ismay and Pirrie wanted all the ships to be built to on a common theme. The designs scaled the ships one and a half times the size of the Lusitania. The ship was built 268.8 meters long, 28.2 meters wide weighing in at 45,000 tons. It required innovative engineering to bring this idea into reality. Steam turbines were powered by reciprocating engines which were nearly four stories tall. It was coupled with three rotors (two three blade rotors with 7.2 meter diameter and one four blade rotor with a 5.2 meter diameter at the rudder). This massive power house produced enough horse power to drive it at a speed of 24 knots. The body of the ships required especially composed steel to hold such massive weight but still stay afloat in the water.
Interesting Fact: The ship needed three smokestacks to function but instead Ismay and Pirrie added an additional fourth to add symmetry to the design. The additional smokestack was later purposed by the engineers to be used as a ventilation system.
The Olympic was finished first in 1911 and then came the Titanic in 1912 after the toiling efforts of 11,000 construction men and 10 gigantic cranes (construction site called the “Great Gantry”) which could lift workers and material to the height of the deck.
Aboard The Titanic
After the construction of the titanic in 1912, it carried a price tag of 7.5 million U.S dollars (in 1912). It reflected all the qualities that the proprietors had wished it to be; big, posh, fast and safe ship. It was more of a floating luxury hotel more than a boat. For something in the twentieth century it was unlike what the travelers had ever seen in their lives. It raised the benchmark in luxury cruise line. The Titanic’s designers put in every effort to make the titanic a pleasant experience to the eyes. In fact the fact that the presence of lifeboats which could be an eye sore, was reduced to just 16 along with 4 collapsible boats which proved fatal in the end.
Fatal Flaw: The 16 life boat plus the four “Engelhardt” collapsible boats could accommodate only 1,178 people when the ship’s capacity was well over 3,000.
The Designers while trying to highlight the royal luxury to the upper class also ensured that it could even deliver to a royal experience to the poorer class by providing a third class for the reason that there were many immigrants hoping to settle in the USA. The third class consisted of provided private, enclosed rooms having a sense of luxury in its own.
The first class mainly consisted of wealthy industrialists and their families. The second class consisted of business men and clergy members while the third class consisted mostly of European immigrants. In fact the titanic saw its maximum share of passengers in the third class exceeding 700 members which was more than the first and second class combined.
1. First and Second Class: $2,500-$4,500 (Rs.25, 00,000 to Rs.45, 00,000 in today’s economy).
2. Third Class: $35 (Rs.35, 000 in today’s economy).
1. Total Passengers: 2,208
A. First class: 329
B. Second class: 285
C. Third class: 710
2. Crew and Officers: 899
The Voyage of Doom
The largest passenger steamship ever to be built, The Titanic set sails on April 10th, 1912 from Southampton, England after arriving from its construction in Belfast. It had a grand departure as the public came in large numbers to witness this giant. It made stops at Cherbourg, France and Queensland, Ireland before setting full steam ahead towards its ultimate destination, New York, on its maiden voyage.
Interesting Fact: The Titanic had only six to seven hours of testing before its actual maiden voyage. It was not even tested in its maximum speed capacities.
The titanic encountered its fair share of bad omens on its voyage. Firstly there was a fire in one of the bunkers which was eventually put out by the crew by hosing the blazing coal which was shoveled aside. The captain and engineer declared that it was nothing that the beast can’t handle and gave a green signal to undergo the voyage. After leaving the Southampton dock it very nearly missed a collision with an American liner, the “S.S. New York” which is considered one the worst omen that a ship can face on its maiden voyage.
It was roughly four days later on April 14th, the weather outside was numbingly cold (the water temperature was -2.20 Celsius). The titanic was equipped with a Marconi wireless communication system which was relatively new in the time. At noon on that day, Titanic operators received cautionary messages reporting of large ice floats ahead. Later at 5.35pm they received a message directly in the Titanic’s path just 30kms away. Finally, at 11.40pm they received a message from a vessel named the Californian saying them that they were stopped and surrounded by ice. The control staff decided to ignore the message and carried on forward. The captain wasn’t worried about the ice since the entire Titanic team thought of it as an indestructible force, practically a Goliath made of steel. What he was worried about was setting record breaking speeds and hence sped ahead for it was a clear and moonless night.
Design Flaw: The titanic was equipped with watertight doors in the lower compartments which would lock the water in case of a leak which added an additional safety feature to the Titanic making it unsinkable (or so they thought). The watertight bulkheads although preventing water to pass through the individual sections did not prevent water from spilling into one compartment from the other.
The crew at the observation port had sighted the foretold iceberg right ahead and sounded the alarm and alerted the bridge of the situation. First officer William M. Murdoch took a full 37 seconds before shutting the engines and dropping the watertight doors in the lower compartments followed by turning the ship’s forward section away from the iceberg so that the impact is done on the side. The ship did not have enough time to bring the vessel to a halt. The ship needed 800 meters in order to bring it to a halt but the iceberg was just about 275 meters away. As viewed from the top it seems as though the maneuver had worked, but a protruding fragment of the ice below the water had ripped the lower section of the Titanic. The impact was almost undetected and could have passed for the rumbling caused by the machines. When Thomas Andrews, lead designer of the RMS Titanic examined the hole and announced the worst feared statement that the ship would sink, no question about it. He estimated that the titanic would stay afloat for another hour and a half.
Half an hour past the contact with the iceberg, there began a largely disorganized and haphazard evacuation with the lowering of the first lifeboat. The capacity of the lifeboat was 65 but the first one went in at 28. Many lifeboats followed which were barely full. According to the evacuation law women and children were given priority to board the life boats, but sadly the death toll was more in the women and infant section.
- Bruce Ismay (White Star Line) who was aboard the Titanic helped all the women and children he could find and later got onto a collapsible when there weren’t anyone else left in his vicinity.
- Thomas Andrews, chief designer of the Titanic was last seen in the first class smoking lounge staring blankly at a painting of a boat on the wall.
- One of the wealthy passengers, Jacob Astor IV boarded his wife onto the boat stating that she was pregnant, on asking permission to accompany her, he was denied. They kissed goodbye as the boat lowered.
- An elderly man Isidor Straus who was offered a seat on an account of his age refused the seat to help other depart. His wife who couldn’t leave him alone stayed along. They both retired to their cabin and perished together.
- Benjamin Guggenheim and his valet went to their rooms dressed in their formals, came out onto the deck and said, “We are dressed in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”
At 2.20am, April 15th the Titanic, which was almost perpendicular, descended into the North Atlantic Ocean with its lights still a glow. A vessel named Carpathia which had received distress messages from the Titanic at midnight came around to collect the survivors from the lifeboats after itself had pushed full steam ahead avoiding all the ice floats in its path. There were only 712 of them recovered from 14 lifeboats. The survivors were transported to New York, their final destination. White Star line had conducted a search in the area recovering about 320 bodies which were frozen and bloated.
The World Reacts
It had just dawned on the world that the unsinkable ship had sunk. King George V issued a public statement of condolences after the tragic event and the British parliament conducted an inquiry into the accident. The US senate had also opened an investigation into the accident. With many inconsistent statements from the survivors, both the US and the British concluded that the major cause for the accident was the inadequacy of evacuation equipment on board the RMS Titanic. Today with use of science, scientists are able to go deeper on what had happened on that fateful night by simulation based on data recovered from survivor accounts and the deep sea remains.
May their souls rest in peace.