The Titanic was an Olympic-class passenger liner owned by the White Star Line and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland. For her time, she was the largest passenger steamship in the world.
On the night of 14 April 1912, during her maiden voyage, Titanic hit an iceberg and sank two hours and forty minutes later, early on 15 April 1912. The sinking resulted in the deaths of 1,517 people, making it one of the most deadly peacetime maritime disasters in history. The high casualty rate was due in part to the fact that, although complying with the regulations of the time, the ship did not carry enough lifeboats for everyone aboard. The ship had a total lifeboat capacity of 1,178 persons even though her maximum capacity was 3,547 people. A disproportionate number of men died also, due to the “women and children first” protocol that was followed.
The Titanic used some of the most advanced technology available at the time and was, after the sinking, popularly believed to have been described as “unsinkable”. It was a great shock to many that, despite the extensive safety features and experienced crew, the Titanic sank. The frenzy on the part of the media about Titanic’s famous victims, the legends about the sinking, the resulting changes to maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck have contributed to the interest in and fame of the Titanic that continues to this day.
In her time, Titanic surpassed all rivals in luxury and opulence. She offered an on-board swimming pool, a gymnasium, a Turkish bath, libraries in both the first and second class, and a squash court. First class common rooms were adorned with elaborate wood panelling, expensive furniture and other decorations. In addition, the Café Parisien offered cuisine for the first class passengers, with a sunlit veranda fitted with trellis decorations.
The ship incorporated technologically advanced features for the period. She had an extensive electrical subsystem with steam-powered generators and ship-wide electrical wiring feeding electric lights. She also boasted two Marconi radios, including a powerful 1,500 watt set manned by two operators working in shifts, allowing constant contact and the transmission of many passenger messages. First class passengers paid a hefty fee for such service. The most expensive one-way trans-Atlantic passage was $4,350 (which is more than $80,000 in today’s currency).
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 and the sky was clear. Captain Smith, in response to iceberg warnings received via wireless over the preceding few days, altered the Titanic’s course slightly to the south. That Sunday at 13:45, a message from the steamer Amerika warned that large icebergs lay in the Titanic’s path, but as Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, the Marconi wireless radio operators, were employed by Marconi and paid to relay messages to and from the passengers, they were not focused on relaying such “non-essential” ice messages to the bridge. Later that evening, another report of numerous large icebergs, this time from the Mesaba, also failed to reach the bridge.
At 23:40 while sailing about 400 miles south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, lookouts Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the ship. Fleet sounded the ship’s bell three times and 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), and the engines to be put in full reverse (although a survivor from the engine room testified that, as he recalled, the indicator of the telegraph had moved to “stop”, and only after the impact). A collision was inevitable and the iceberg brushed the ship’s starboard side, buckling the hull in several places and popping out rivets below the waterline over a length of 299 ft (90 m). As seawater filled the forward compartments, the watertight doors shut. However, while the ship could stay afloat with four flooded compartments, five were filling with water. The five water-filled compartments weighed down the ship so that the tops of the forward watertight bulkheads fell below the ship’s waterline, allowing water to pour into additional compartments. Captain Smith, alerted by the jolt of the impact, arrived on the bridge and ordered a full stop. Shortly after midnight on 15 April, following an inspection by the ship’s officers and Thomas Andrews, the lifeboats were ordered to be readied and a distress call was sent out.
From the bridge, the lights of a nearby ship could be seen off the port side. Not responding to wireless, Fourth Officer Boxhall and Quartermaster Rowe attempted signaling the ship with a Morse lamp and later with distress rockets, but the ship never appeared to respond. The Californian, which was nearby and stopped for the night because of ice, also saw lights in the distance. The Californian’s wireless was turned off, and the wireless operator had gone to bed for the night. Just before he went to bed at around 23:00 the Californian’s radio operator attempted to warn the Titanic that there was ice ahead, but he was cut off by an exhausted Jack Phillips, who snapped, “Shut up, shut up, I am busy; I am working Cape Race”. When the Californian’s officers first saw the ship, they tried signaling her with their Morse lamp, but also never appeared to receive a response. Later, they noticed the Titanic’s distress signals over the 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 Californian did not wake her wireless operator until morning.
On 15 April 2012, the 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic is planned to be commemorated around the world. By that date, the Titanic Quarter in Belfast is planned to have been completed. The area will be regenerated and a signature memorial project unveiled to celebrate Titanic and her links with Belfast, the city that had built the ship.
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