RMS Titanic was a passenger liner that struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, and sank on 15 April 1912. She hit the iceberg four days into the crossing, at 11:40 pm on 14 April 1912, and sank at 2:20 am the following morning, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history. The largest passenger steamship in the world, the Olympic-class RMS Titanic was owned by the White Star Line and constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. She set sail for New York City on 10 April 1912 with 2,223 people on board. The high casualty rate resulting from the sinking was due in part to the fact that, although complying with the regulations of the time, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people. A disproportionate number of men died due to the “women and children first” protocol that was enforced by the ship’s crew. Titanic was designed by experienced engineers, using some of the most advanced technologies and extensive safety features of the time. Adding to the ironic nature of the tragedy is the fact that the liner sank on her maiden voyage. The high loss of life, the media frenzy over Titanic’s famous victims, the legends about the sinking, the resulting changes in maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck have all contributed to the enduring interest in Titanic.
Main article: Olympic class ocean liner
Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, in the UK, and designed to compete with the rival Cunard Line’s Lusitania and Mauretania. Titanic, along with her Olympic-class sisters, Olympic and the soon-to-be-built Britannic (originally named Gigantic), were intended to be the largest, most luxurious ships ever to sail. The designers were Lord Pirrie, a director of both Harland and Wolff and White Star, naval architect Thomas Andrews, Harland and Wolff’s construction manager and head of their design department, and the Right Honourable Alexander Carlisle, the shipyard’s chief draughtsman and general manager.[note 1] Carlisle’s responsibilities included the decorations, equipment and all general arrangements, including the implementation of an efficient lifeboat davit design. Carlisle would leave the project in 1910, before the ships were launched, when he became a shareholder in Welin Davit & Engineering Company Ltd, the firm making the davits.
Size comparison with the Airbus A380, a bus, a car, and an average-sized human
Construction of RMS Titanic, funded by the American J.P. Morgan and his International Mercantile Marine Co., began on 31 March 1909. Titanic‘s hull was launched on 31 May 1911, and her outfitting was completed by 31 March the following year. Her length overall was 882 feet 9 inches (269.1 m), the moulded breadth 92 feet 0 inches (28.0 m), the tonnage 46,328 GRT, and the height, from the water line to the boat deck, 59 feet (18 m). She was equipped with two reciprocating four-cylinder, triple-expansion steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine, each driving a propeller. There were 29 boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that made possible a top speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). Only three of the four 62 foot (19 m) funnels were functional: the fourth, which only provided ventilation, was added to make the ship look more impressive. The ship could carry a total of 3,547 passengers and crew.
Two steam-powered steering engines were installed, with one in use and one kept in reserve; the engines could be slid away and disengaged when not required. A quarter-circle rack-and-pinion drive was connected to the short tiller through stiff springs, to isolate the engines from any shocks in heavy seas or during fast changes of direction. As a last resort, the tiller could be moved by ropes connected to two steam capstans.
Titanic‘s sea trials took place shortly after she was fitted out at Harland & Wolff shipyard. The trials were originally scheduled for 10.00 am on Monday, 1 April, just nine days before she was due to leave Southampton on her maiden voyage, but poor weather conditions forced the trials to be postponed until the following day.
Aboard Titanic were 78 stokers, greasers and firemen, and 41 members of crew. No domestic staff appear to have been aboard. Representatives of various companies travelled on Titanic‘s sea trials, including Harold A. Sanderson of I.M.M and Thomas Andrews and Edward Wilding of Harland and Wolff. Bruce Ismay and Lord Pirrie were too ill to attend. Jack Phillips and Harold Bride served as radio operators, and performed fine-tuning of the Marconi equipment. Mr Carruthers, a surveyor from the Board of Trade, was also present to see that everything worked, and that the ship was fit to carry passengers. After the trial, he signed an ‘Agreement and Account of Voyages and Crew’, valid for twelve months, which deemed the ship sea-worthy.
Titanic on her way after the near-collision with SS New York. On the left can be seen Oceanic and New York.
The vessel began her maiden voyage from Southampton, bound for New York City on 10 April 1912, with Captain Edward J. Smith in command. As Titanic left her berth, her wake caused the liner SS New York, which was docked nearby, to break away from her moorings, whereupon she was drawn dangerously close (about four feet) to Titanic before a tugboat towed New York away. The incident delayed departure for about half an hour. After crossing the English Channel, Titanic stopped at Cherbourg, France, to board additional passengers and stopped again the next day at Queenstown (known today as Cobh), Ireland. As harbour facilities at Queenstown were inadequate for a ship of her size, Titanic had to anchor off-shore, with small boats, known as tenders, ferrying the embarking passengers out to her. When she finally set out for New York, there were 2,240 people aboard.
John Coffey, a 23-year-old stoker, jumped ship at Queenstown by stowing away on a tender and hiding amongst mailbags destined for the shore. A native of the town, he had probably joined the ship with this intention, but afterwards he said that the reason he had smuggled himself off the liner was that he held a foreboding about the voyage. He later signed on to join the crew of Mauretania.
Captain Edward J. Smith, captain of Titanic
On the maiden voyage of Titanic some of the most prominent people of the day were travelling in first class. Among them were millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madeleine Force Astor, industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim, Macy’s owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, Denver millionairess Margaret “Molly” Brown (known afterward as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” due to her efforts in helping other passengers while the ship sank), Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturière Lucy (Lady Duff-Gordon), George Dunton Widener, his wife Eleanor, and son Harry, cricketer and businessman John Borland Thayer with his wife Marian and their seventeen-year-old son Jack, journalist William Thomas Stead, the Countess of Rothes, United States presidential aide Archibald Butt, author and socialite Helen Churchill Candee, author Jacques Futrelle and his wife May and their friends, Broadway producers Henry and Rene Harris and silent film actress Dorothy Gibson among others. Banker J. P. Morgan was scheduled to travel on the maiden voyage, but cancelled at the last minute. Travelling in first class aboard the ship were White Star Line’s managing director J. Bruce Ismay and the ship’s builder Thomas Andrews, who was on board to observe any problems and assess the general performance of the new ship.
Main article: Timeline of the sinking of RMS Titanic
Further information: Ship floodability
Route and location of RMS Titanic
On the night of Sunday, 14 April 1912, the temperature had dropped to near freezing and the ocean was calm. The moon was not visible (being two days before new moon), and the sky was clear. Captain Smith, in response to iceberg warnings received via wireless over the preceding few days, had drawn up a new course which took the ship slightly further southward. That Sunday at 1:45 pm,[note 2] a message from the steamer Amerika warned that large icebergs lay in Titanic‘s path, but because wireless radio operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were employed by Marconi, and paid primarily to relay messages to and from the passengers, they were not focused on relaying “non-essential” ice messages to the bridge. Later that evening, another report of numerous large icebergs, this time from Mesaba, also failed to reach the bridge.
At 11:40 pm, while sailing about 400 miles (640 km) south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, lookouts Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the ship. Sounding the ship’s bell three times, Fleet telephoned the bridge exclaiming, “Iceberg, right ahead!”. First Officer Murdoch gave the order “hard-a-starboard”, using the traditional tiller order for an abrupt turn to port (left),[note 3] and adjusted the engines (ordering through the telegraph for either “full reverse” or “stop” of the engines; survivor testimony on this conflicts).
The ship made its fatal collision at an estimated 37 seconds after Fleet sighted the berg. The iceberg scraped the ship’s starboard (right) side, buckling the hull in several places and popping out rivets below the waterline over a length of 299 feet (90 m). This opened the first five compartments (the forward peak tank, the three forward holds and Boiler Room 6) to the sea. Captain Smith, alerted by the jolt of the impact, arrived on the bridge and ordered a full stop. Within ten minutes of the collision the five forward compartments were flooded to a depth of 14 feet (4.3 m). As seawater filled the forward compartments, the watertight doors shut. However, while the ship was designed to remain afloat with the first four compartments flooded, the collision caused flooding of the six forward compartments. The water-filled compartments weighed down the ship’s bow, allowing more water to flood the vessel, accelerated by secondary flooding as regular openings in the ship’s hull became submerged. Additionally, about 130 minutes after the collision, water started pouring from the sixth into the seventh compartment over the top of the bulkhead separating them. Following an inspection by the senior officers, the ship’s carpenter J. Hutchinson and Titanic’s shipbuilder Thomas Andrews, which included a survey of the half-flooded two-deck postal room, it was apparent that the Titanic would sink. The lifeboats were ordered to be readied and a distress call was sent out. Andrews estimated the ship had an hour to an hour and a half, and said that the pumps would only keep the Titanic afloat for a few extra minutes. The pumps could only cope with 2,000 tons of water per hour, but that quantity was flooding into the liner every five minutes. Before the clock hit midnight the forward third-class sections were beginning to flood. At 00:05, 25 minutes after the collision, Captain Smith ordered all the lifeboats uncovered; five minutes later, at 00:10, he ordered them to be swung out; then, at 00:25, he ordered them to be loaded with women and children and then lowered away. At 00:50, 4th Officer Joseph Boxhall fired the first white distress rocket.
Photograph of an iceberg in the vicinity of RMS Titanic‘s sinking taken on 15 April 1912 by the chief steward of the liner Prinz Adalbert who stated the berg had red anti-fouling paint of the kind found on the hull from below Titanic‘s waterline.
Wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride began sending the international distress signal “CQD”, which was received by several ships, including Mount Temple, Frankfurt, Virginian and Titanic‘s sister ship, Olympic. Despite assurances that they were on their way, none of the vessels were close enough to reach the liner before she sunk. The closest ship to respond was Cunard Line’s Carpathia 58 miles (93 km) away, which would arrive in an estimated four hours—too late to rescue all of Titanic‘s passengers. The only land–based location that received the distress call from Titanic was a wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland. Phillips, on the advice of Bride, also used the new “SOS” distress call, in addition to the traditional CQD, as SOS had successfully been used to summon help for the White Star Liner SS Republic which sunk in 1909 after colliding with the liner SS Florida. Additionally, many of the responding liners did not fully comprehend the seriousness of the collision. As late as 1:30 am, a full 90 minutes after the first CQD was sent out, Olympic radioed her sister asking if they were steaming to the south to meet her, while the Frankfurt continually asked a frustrated Phillips for more details.
From the bridge, the lights of a nearby ship could be seen off the port side. The identity of this ship remains a mystery but there have been theories suggesting that it was probably either SS Californian or a Norwegian sealer called the Samson. As it was not responding to wireless calls, Fourth Officer Boxhall and Quartermaster Rowe attempted signalling the ship with a Morse lamp and later with distress rockets, but the ship never appeared to respond. Californian, which was nearby and stopped for the night because of ice, also saw lights in the distance, but its wireless was turned off for the night. Just before the Californian‘s wireless operator had gone off-duty at around 23:00, he attempted to warn Titanic that there was ice ahead, but he was cut off by an annoyed Jack Phillips. Occupied with sending backlogged passenger messages, Phillips fired back an angry response, “Shut up, shut up, I am busy; I am working (the Newfoundland wireless station) Cape Race”. When Californian‘s officers first saw the ship, they tried signalling her with their Morse lamp, but never received a response. Later, they noticed Titanic‘s distress rockets in the sky above the ship’s lights, and informed Captain Stanley Lord. Even though there was much discussion about the mysterious ship, which to the officers on duty appeared to be moving away, the master of Californian did not wake her wireless operator until morning.
Sinking of the Titanic by Henry Reuterdahl, drawn based on radio descriptions.
The first lifeboat launched was Lifeboat 7 on the starboard side with 28 people on board out of a capacity of 65. It was lowered at around 12:45 am as believed by the British Inquiry. Lifeboat 6 and Lifeboat 5 were launched ten minutes later. Lifeboat 1 was the fifth lifeboat to be launched with 12 people. Lifeboat 11 was overloaded with 70 people. Collapsible D was the last lifeboat to be launched. Titanic carried 20 lifeboats with a total capacity of 1,178 people. While not enough to hold all of the passengers and crew, Titanic carried more boats than was required by the British Board of Trade Regulations. At the time, the number of lifeboats required was determined by a ship’s gross register tonnage, rather than her passenger capacity.
Titanic had ample stability and sank with only a few degrees list, the design being such that there was very little risk of unequal flooding and possible capsize. Furthermore the electric power plant was operated by the ship’s engineers until the end. Hence Titanic showed no outward signs of being in imminent danger, and passengers were reluctant to leave the apparent safety of the ship to board small lifeboats. Moreover, large numbers of Third Class passengers were unable to reach the lifeboat deck through unfamiliar parts of the ship and past barriers, although some stewards such as William Denton Cox successfully led groups from Third Class to the lifeboats. As a result, most of the boats were launched partially empty; boat 1 meant to hold 40 people left Titanic with only 12 people on board. With “Women and children first” the imperative for loading lifeboats, Second Officer Lightoller, who was loading boats on the port side, allowed men to board only if oarsmen were needed, even if there was room. First Officer Murdoch, who was loading boats on the starboard side, let men on board if women were absent. As the ship’s list increased people started to become nervous, and some lifeboats began leaving fully loaded. By 2:05 am, the entire bow was under water, and all the lifeboats, except for two, had been launched.
Around 2:10 am, the stern rose out of the water, exposing the propellers, and by 2:17 am the waterline had reached the boat deck. The last two lifeboats floated off the deck, collapsible B upside down, collapsible A half-filled with water after the supports for its canvas sides were broken in the fall from the roof of the officers’ quarters. Shortly afterwards, the forward funnel collapsed, crushing part of the bridge and people in the water. On deck, people were scrambling towards the stern or jumping overboard in hopes of reaching a lifeboat. The ship’s stern slowly rose into the air, and everything unsecured crashed towards the water. While the stern rose, the electrical system finally gave way causing the lights to go out. Shortly afterward, the stress on the hull caused Titanic to break apart between the last two funnels, and the bow went completely under. The stern righted itself slightly and then rose vertically. After a few moments, at 2:20 am, it also sank.
Only two of the 18 launched lifeboats rescued people after the ship sank. Lifeboat 4 was close by and picked up five people, two of whom later died. Close to an hour later, lifeboat 14 went back and rescued four people, one of whom died afterward. Other people managed to climb onto the lifeboats that floated off the deck. There were some arguments in some of the other lifeboats about going back, but many survivors were afraid of being swamped by people trying to climb into the lifeboat or being pulled down by the suction from the sinking Titanic, though it turned out that there had been very little suction.
As the ship fell into the depths, the two sections behaved very differently. The streamlined bow planed off approximately 2,000 feet (609 m) below the surface and slowed somewhat, landing relatively gently. The stern plunged violently to the ocean floor, the hull being torn apart along the way from massive implosions caused by compression of the air still trapped inside. The stern smashed into the bottom at considerable speed, grinding the hull deep into the silt.
After steaming at 17.5 knots (32.4 km/h) for just under four hours, RMS Carpathia arrived in the area and at 4:10 am began rescuing survivors. By 8:30 am she picked up the last lifeboat with survivors and left the area at 08:50 bound for New York.