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the sinking of the titanic story of an unsinkable ship

The Sinking of the Titanic
The Dramatic Story of an Unsinkable Ship



Titanic, a Painting
The Titanic, called an unsinkable ship, met disaster and sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, bound for New York, April 15, 1912. The story of the Titanic is about an exceptional ship with glamorous people, tragic mistakes, heroes and villains, and the dramatic last hours at sea. It is the story that inspired a blockbuster movie and still lives 100 years later in the imagination of people everywhere. What really sank the Titanic? Here's what happened.


Edward J. Smith
Captain of the Titanic
The Titanic was built by the British White Star Line, under chariman J. Bruce Ismay, to be the biggest and most luxurious passenger ship of the seas. The cost was $7.5 million, an astounding amount in its day, financed by banker J.P. Morgan. Its sister ship, the Olympic, built at the same time was an exact replica of the Titanic. The ship was built at shipyards in Belfast Ireland by Harland and Wolff, who had already built 150 ships at the time.The young architect of the Titanic was Thomas Andrews, During construction, Andrews was overruled by management when he requested 36 more lifeboats, double hull and extended watertight bulkheads.


Thomas Andrews
Designer of the Titanic
The Titanic was designed to be a magnificent vessel for its day, powered by 29 steam boilers, each with 3 or more furnaces burning coal. Topside, the four funnels inclined forward were smokestacks. 22 feet in diameter, to handle smoke and soot from the boilers. Laborers shoveled coal round the clock from the 600 ton stockpile, in furnace heat so intense they could only work 4-hour shifts. The steam powered three engines with an output of 15,000 horsepower each, which in turn powered 3 propellers that moved the ship. The Titanic was 882 feet long and 92 feet wide. She traveled at 21 knots per hour and could carry 46,328 tons.


Grand Staircase on the Titanic
Life aboard the Titanic was sumptuous. First-class passengers paid $4,350, which was $100,000 in today's dollars, to take the 8-day trip on a ship nicknamed The Millionaire's Special. They enjoyed the grand staircase, Cafe Parisien, first-class dining saloon, four elevators, luxurious parlour suites, first-class lounge, gymnasium, squash court, first-class staterooms, Turkish baths, smoking room and hospital with operating room. First-class facilities were midship, where passengers were less likely to get seasick. The parlour suites, only 4 of them available, had wardrobe rooms, private baths, fireplaces and private promenades, telephones, heaters and call bells for the steward.


Parlour Suite on the Titanic
The first-class dining saloon on the Titanic was 114 feet long and could serve more than 500 diners. To alert passengers when meals were being served, a bugler strolled the decks playing The Roast Beef of Old England.

The first-class dinner menu was a gourmet feast. At the final meal, April 14, 1912, passengers were served an 11-course dinner that included salmon, lamb in mint sauce, and pâté de foie gras. There also were a few other items on the menu, like hors d'oeuvres, oysters, consomme, cream of barley, filet mignon, sauted chicken, stuffed vegetable marrow, roast duckling in apple sauce, sirloin of beef, green peas, creamed carrots, boiled rice, varieties of potatoes, punch romaine, roasted squab with watercress, asparagus vinaigrette, and celery. Desert included Waldorf pudding, peaches in Chartreuse jelly, chocolate & vanilla eclairs and French ice cream. Naturally a different wine was served with each course. At the conclusion, fruits and cheeses were offered along with coffee and cigars, port and whiskey.

The majority of the Titanic passengers traveled third-class in the lowest quarters, called steerage. They were mostly immigrants starting a new life in America. In third-class, passengers slept on bunk beds six to a room, Only two bathtubs were available for all 710 passengers in third-class. But that was no problem, because many poor people believed frequent bathing could make you sick. Dinner in third-class on that last night of the Titanic consisted of rabbit pie, baked potatoes, bread and butter, jams and tea. Rats were plentiful in the storage rooms, because they were able to board the ship at the dock by climbing the mooring cables.


Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet
stars of the1997 movie Titanic
By the fourth day, the ship had reached the North Atlantic where it was customary to see icebergs floating loose from the Arctic. On April 14, the Titanic received six wireless messages from other ships warning of ice in the area. The wireless operators on the Titanic were so busy with messages for the passengers, that only 2 or 3 of the warnings were forwarded to the ship's captain. The last of the messages, from the Californian in the area, said that their ship was stopped and surrounded by ice, but no officer on the Titanic saw this message.

Captain Smith did change the ship's course slightly southward, but he maintained full speed, and posted no extra lookouts. The two lookouts up in the crow's nest did not have their binoculars because the key to the storage locker had been accidentally removed from the ship. The captain mentioned to an officer that it was hard to detect icebergs when the ocean was calm and there was no moon.

At 11:40 p.m. the watch in the crow's nest sounded the bell and called "Iceberg straight ahead". It was a huge iceberg, perhaps 400 feet long and 100 feet high and about 500 yards away. They tried to turn the ship, but 37 seconds later the Titanic collided sideways with the iceberg. The iceberg pierced the hull, buckled the hull plates and popped rivets, so that five of the watertight compartments in the hull were flooded. Passengers were awakened by the impact.


John Merivale in the 1958 Film
A Night to Remember
Distress messages from the Titanic were sent to ships in the area, rockets were launched and the Morse lamp was used to signal. The closest ship, the Californian, a cargo ship about 15 miles away, did not received the distress messages because her wireless operator was asleep. Providentially, on the Carpathia the wireless operator was listening to messages as he prepared for bed, and received the call for help from the Titanic. The Carpathia, a passenger ship owned by Cunard Lines, commanded by Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, raced to the scene from 58 miles away, and arrived 3 hours later.

The crew launched lifeboats from the Boat Deck, the uppermost deck of the Titanic. For 2200 people, passengers and crew, the Titanic had lifeboats for 1,178, which was more than British Board of Trade laws required. The lifeboats had oars and water, but supplies, lamps, compasses and food were stored in lockers on the ship. Unfortunately, a scheduled lifeboat drill had been cancelled earlier that day.

It was all confusion on the Boat Deck. Women and children were loaded in the boats, but were unwilling to part from husbands and fathers. Passengers in their bed clothes did not want to leave the ship for the dangers of a small boat lowered by ropes down into the ocean. Because Captain Smith failed to sound a general alarm, some third-class passengers did not realize the danger until it was too late. Third-class passengers also did not know the way to the Boat Deck, and many didn't speak English.

With the weight of the water taken on, the ship tilted forward. The bow was submerged and panic broke out. The Fifth Officer fired three warning shots when passengers tried to leap into Lifeboat 14 as it was being lowered to the ocean. Then Captain Smith released his crew from their duties and said "every man for himself." Thirteen minutes later, the ship's electrical system failed and all lights went out.


The Titanic Sinks
From the lifeboats out in the dark, passengers could watch the ship go down, bow first, while the stern rose up straight about a hundred feet into the air almost perpendicular to the water, with the propellers visible. Under the strain, the Titanic cracked in two with a piercing noise at 2:20 a.m. The rear half stayed afloat five minutes and then sank. Passengers in the lifeboats set out to rescue people from the water wherever they could.


Unsinkable Molly Brown
Among the heroes and heroines of the night was passenger Molly Brown in Lifeboat 6, an American human-rights activist and philanthropist. Quartermaster Robert Hichens was the man at the wheel when the Titanic hit the iceberg. While in charge on Lifeboat 6, he behaved shamefully. He refused to go back to the site to rescue people from the water, even though the lifeboat, with room for 65 passengers, carried only 28. Molly Brown grabbed the tiller from him, and with women at the oars, returned to rescue the others. Her story was portrayed by Debbie Reynolds in the Broadway musical Unsinkable Molly Brown.

Violinist Wallace Hartley directed the Titanic's eight-man orchestra. In an attempt to calm the passengers, he and the band played on while the ship sank. They did not survive. Legend has it their last song was "Nearer, My God to Thee."


Survivors in Lifeboat D
Approach the Carpathia
At 3:30 a.m. the Carpathia arrived at the site and rescued passengers from the lifeboats. 710 people, only 32%, survived. 1,514 were lost in the cold Atlantic and probably died of hypothermia. The Carpathia arrived in New York Harbor three days later with the survivors of the Titanic.

Many people, distinguished and ordinary, perished that night. Chairman Ismay escaped on a lifeboat. Captain Edward J. Smith, who made the fateful decision to maintain speed in a field of icebergs, went down with the ship. Architect Thomas Andrews was aboard and went down with his ship. Financier J.P. Morgan was scheduled to sail also, but cancelled for business reasons at the last minute. Of the dogs on board, only 2 were rescued. White Star Lines sent ships to the site to recover bodies.

Investigations into the sinking of the Titanic were held in the United States and in Great Britain. They faulted Captain Smith for failing to reduce speed, and for the confusion on board. They blamed the lack of lifeboats, the cancelled lifeboat drill, and the failure to sound a general warning. In particular, they cited the captain of the Californian who did not respond to visual distress signals as required by International law. Experts also believe the ship would have survived if it had hit the iceberg head-on.

Changes were made as a consequence of the sinking of the Titanic. Ships are required to have lifeboats with space for all passengers, and wireless operators are to be on duty around the clock. Ship design was improved. The International Ice Patrol was established to monitor icebergs and to break up ice. Fortunately, not a single iceberg accident has happened since then.


Robert Ballard with ROV Hercules
But the Titanic lay undisturbed on the ocean floor for seven decades until Robert Ballard discovered it. He led an expedition in August 1985 that used a submersible sled and remote control camera to photograph the wreck 13,000 feet underwater. Rather than a long gash in the hull, they found a series of thin gashes caused by the iceberg, along with fracturing and separation of the seams of the hull plates. There is speculation that low-quality steel or weak rivets used in construction were responsible for the sinking of the Titanic. Since then the ship has been explored often and many artifacts recovered. Now the Titanic is covered by rust-coloured formations, called rusticles, left by iron-eating microorganisms that are consuming the wreck.


ROV Hercules Explores
the Bow of the Titanic 2004
One hundred years later, the sinking of the Titanic still fascinates people. Beside the newspaper accounts at the time, there are countless books, histories and first-person narratives. In Washington, D.C., a memorial designed by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney was erected to the memory of those who perished on the Titanic. Two movies were based on the tragedy: A Night to Remember in 1958 starring Walter Lord; and Titanic in 1997 starring Leonardo Dicaprio and Kate Winslet and directed by James Cameron. The theme song from Titanic, My Heart Will Go On, sung by Celine Dion, became a blockbuster hit. Artifacts from the ship have been exhibited on world tours. Popular Titanic museums are open in Branson, Missouri, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and Orlando, Florida. Tourists can also visit the site of the wreck.

Curiously, the 1898 novel Futility by Morgan Robertson seemed to foreshadow the Titanic sinking. This novel describes the disaster of a fictional ship called the Titan, which was also an 800-foot passenger liner that hit an iceberg on its starboard side in April and sank with great loss of life due to insufficient lifeboats.

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