RMS Titanic

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800px-RMS Titanic 3

The Titanic.

The RMS Titanic was designed to compete with rival company Cunard Line's Lusitania and Mauretania, luxurious ships and the fastest liners on the Atlantic. Titanic and her Olympic class sisters, Olympic and the then upcoming Gigantic, were intended to be the largest, most luxurious ships ever to operate (The planned name Gigantic was changed to Britannic after the disaster). Titanic was designed by Harland and Wolff chairman William Pirrie, head of Harland and Wolff's design department Thomas Andrews and general manager Alexander Carlisle, with the plans regularly sent to the White Star Line's managing director J. Bruce Ismay for suggestions and approval. Construction of the Titanic, funded by the American J.P. Morgan and his International Mercantile Marine Co. began on March 31, 1909. Titanic No. 401 was launched two years and two months later on May 31, 1911. Titanic's outfitting was completed on March 31 the next year.

Titanic was 882 feet 9 inches (269 m) long and 92 feet 6 inches (28 m) at the beam. She had a Gross Register Tonnage of 46,328 tons, and a height from the water line to the boat deck of 60 feet (18 m). She contained two reciprocating four cylinder, triple-expansion, inverted steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine. These powered three propellers. There were 25 double-ended and 4 single-ended Scotch-type boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that made possible a top speed of 23 knots (43 km/h). Only three of the four 63 foot (19 m) tall Funnel (ship)|funnels were functional; the fourth, which served only as a vent, was added to make the ship look more impressive. Titanic could carry a total of 3,547 passengers and crew and, because she carried mail, her name was given the ship prefix Royal Mail Ship (RMS) as well as SS (Steam Ship).

The Titanic was considered a pinnacle of naval architecture and technological achievement, and was thought by The Shipbuilder magazine to be "practically unsinkable."

Titanic had a double-bottom hull, containing 44 tanks for boiler water and ballast to keep the ship safely balanced at sea (later ships also had a double-walled hull). Titanic exceeded the lifeboat standard, with 20 lifeboats (though not enough for all passengers). Titanic was divided into 16 compartments by doors held up, i.e. in the open position, by electro-magnetic latches which could be closed by a switch on the ship's bridge and by a float system installed on the door itself.

Unsurpassed Luxury

Grand staircase

The Grand Staircase of the Olympic: Similar to the Titanic's first class section.

For her time, Titanic was unsurpassed in luxury and opulence. She offered an onboard swimming pool, a gymnasium, a Turkish bath, libraries for each passenger class, and a squash court. First-class common rooms were adorned with elaborate wood panelling, expensive furniture and other elegant decorations. In addition, the Café Parisien offered superb cuisine for the first-class passengers with a sunlit veranda fitted with trellis decorations.

The ship was technologically advanced 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 wireless Marconi radio sets manned by operators who worked in shifts, allowing constant radio contact and the transmission of many passenger messages.

Even third-class accommodation and common rooms were considered to be as opulent as those in the first-class sections of many other ships of the day. Titanic had three elevators for the use of first-class passengers and, as an innovation, offered one lift for second-class passengers.

The crown jewel of the ship's interior was her forward first class Grand Staircase, between the forward and second funnels. Extending down to E-Deck and decorated with oak panelling and gilded balustrades, it was topped by an ornate wrought-iron and glass dome which brought in natural light. On the uppermost landing was a large panel containing a clock flanked by the allegorical figures of Honour and Glory crowning Time. A similar but less ornate staircase, complete with matching dome, was located between the third and fourth funnels.

Comparisons With the Olympic

The Titanic was almost identical to her older sister Olympic but there were a few differences. Two of the most noticeable were that half of the Titanic's forward promenade A-Deck (below the lifeboat deck) was enclosed against outside weather, and her B-Deck configuration was completely different from the Olympic's. The Titanic had a speciality restaurant called Café Parisien, a feature that the Olympic did not receive until 1913. Some of the flaws found on the Olympic, such as the creaking of the aft expansion joint, were corrected on the Titanic. The skid lights that provided natural illumination on A-deck, were round, while on Olympic they were oval. The Titanic's wheelhouse was made narrower and longer than the Olympic's.[1] These, and other modifications, made the Titanic 1,004 gross tons larger than the Olympic.


The first-class passengers for Titanic's maiden voyage included some of the richest and most prominent people in the world. Among them were millionaire John Jacob Astor IV and his pregnant wife Madeleine; industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim; Macy's department store owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida; Denver, Colorado millionaire Margaret "Molly" Brown; Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon and his wife, couturiere Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon; streetcar magnate George Dunton Widener, his wife Eleanor and their 27-year-old son, Harry Elkins Widener; Pennsylvania Railroad executive John Thayer, his wife Marion and their 17-year-old son, Jack; journalist William Thomas Stead; Charles Hays, president of Canada's Grand Trunk Railway, with his wife, daughter, her husband, and two employees; the Noël Leslie, Countess of Rothes|Countess of Rothes; United States presidential aide Archibald Butt; author and socialite Helen Churchill Candee; author Jacques Futrelle,and their friends, Broadway theatre|Broadway producers Henry and Rene Harris; writer and painter Francis Davis Millet; pioneer aviation entrepreneur Pierre Maréchal Sr.;[2] American silent film actress Dorothy Gibson, White Star Line's Managing Director J. Bruce Ismay (who survived the sinking) and, from the ship's builders, Thomas Andrews, who was on board to observe any problems and assess the general performance of the new ship.

Among the second-class passengers was Lawrence Beesley, a journalist who wrote one of the first-hand accounts of the voyage and the sinking. Father Thomas Byles was a Catholic priest on his way to America to officiate at his younger brother's wedding.[3] Also in second-class was Michel Navratil, a Frenchman kidnapping his two sons, Michel Marcel Navratil and Edmond and taking them to America.

Both J.P. Morgan and Milton S. Hershey[4] had plans to travel on the Titanic, but canceled their reservations before the voyage.


On the night of 14 April/15 April 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, with great loss of life. The iceberg created 6 "deformations" the longest being 39 feet. The holes were 10 feet above the keel. The gaps suggest that the iron rivets snapped off creating the narrow holes that allowed water to rush in at an estimated 7 tons per second.[5] The United States Senate investigation reported that 1,517 people perished in the accident, while the British investigation has the number at 1,490. Regardless, the disaster ranks as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the best known. The mass media|media frenzy about the Titanic's famous victims, the legend is about what happened on board the ship, the resulting changes to maritime law, Walter Lord's 1955 non-fiction account A Night to Remember, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985 by a team led by Robert Ballard and Dale Shivkumar, Sr. have sustained the Titanic's fame.

The Break-Up

For seventy years after the disaster, it was believed that the Titanic had sunk intact. Although there were several passengers who insisted that the ship had broken in two as it sank (including Jack Thayer, who even drew a set of sketches depicting the sinking), the inquiries believed the statements of the ship's officers and first-class passengers that it had sunk in one piece.

In 1985, when the wreck was discovered by Robert Ballard and his crew, they found that the ship did in fact break in two as it sank. It was theorized that as the Titanic sank, the stern rose out of the water. It supposedly rose so high that the unsupported weight caused the ship to break into two pieces, the split starting at the upper deck. This became the commonly accepted theory.

In 2005, new evidence suggested that in addition to the expected side damage, the ship also had sustained damage to the bottom of the hull (keel). This new evidence seemed to support a less popular theory that the crack which split the Titanic in two started at the keel plates. This proposition is supported by Jack Thayer's sketches.

Long-term implications

Main article: Changes in safety practices after the sinking

Alternative Theories and Curses

Main article: Titanic myths


The conclusion of the British Inquiry into the sinking was “that the loss of the said ship was due to collision with an iceberg, brought about by the excessive speed at which the ship was being navigated”.[6] At the time of the collision it is thought that the Titanic was at her normal cruising speed of about 22 knots,[7] which was less than her top speed of around 24 knots. At the time it was common (but not universal) practice to maintain normal speed in areas where icebergs were expected.[8] It was thought that any iceberg large enough to damage the ship would be seen in sufficient time to be avoided. After the sinking, the British Board of Trade introduced regulations instructing vessels to moderate their speed if they were expecting to encounter icebergs. It is often alleged that J. Bruce Ismay instructed or encouraged Captain Smith to increase speed in order to make an early landfall, and it is a common feature in popular representations of the disaster. There is no evidence for this having happened, and it is disputed by many.[9]

Use of SOS

The sinking of the Titanic was not the first time the internationally recognized Morse code distress signal "SOS" was used. The SOS signal was first proposed at the International Conference on Wireless Communication at Sea in Berlin in 1906. It was ratified by the international community in 1908 and had been in widespread use since then. The SOS signal was, however, rarely used by British wireless operators, who preferred the older CQD code. First Wireless Operator Jack Phillips began transmitting CQD until Second Wireless Operator Harold Bride suggested, half-jokingly, "Send SOS; it's the new call, and this may be your last chance to send it." Phillips, who perished in the disaster, then began to intersperse SOS with the traditional CQD call.

Titanic's Turning Ability

The Titanic had triple-screw engine configuration, with reciprocating steam engines driving the wing propellers, and a steam turbine driving her centre propeller. The reciprocating engines were reversible, while the turbine was not. When Murdoch gave the order to reverse engines to avoid the iceberg, he inadvertently handicapped the turning ability of the ship. Since the centre turbine could not reverse during the "full speed astern" manoeuvre, it simply stopped turning. Furthermore, the centre propeller was positioned forward of the ship's rudder, diminishing the turning effectiveness of the rudder.

Had Murdoch reversed the port engine, and reduced speed while maintaining the forward motion of the other two propellers (as recommended in the training procedures for this type of ship), experts theorise that the Titanic might have been able to navigate around the berg without a collision. However, given the closing distance between the ship and the berg at the time the bridge was notified, this might not have been possible.

Additionally, Titanic experts have hypothesized that if Titanic had not altered its course at all and had run head-on into the iceberg, the damage would only have affected the first or, at most, the first two compartments. The liner SS Arizona had such a head-on collision with an iceberg in 1879, and although badly damaged, managed to make St John's, Newfoundland for repairs. Some dispute that Titanic would have survived such a collision, however, since Titanic's speed was higher than the Arizona's and her hull much larger, and the violence of the collision could have compromised her structural integrity.

Legendary Titanic Band

Some events during the Titanic disaster have had a legendary impact. One of the most famous stories of Titanic is of the band. On 15 April, Titanic's eight-member band, led by Wallace Hartley, had assembled in the first class lounge in an effort to keep passengers calm and upbeat. Later they would move on to the forward half of the boat deck. Band members had played during Sunday worship services the previous morning, and the band continued playing music even when it became apparent the ship was going to sink. None of the band members survived the sinking, and there has been much speculation about what their last song was. Some witnesses said the final song played was the hymn "Nearer, my God, to Thee." However, there are three versions of this song in existence. It is notable however that its most probable the British version was played, (as in the film, A Night To Remember) causing a young Eva Heart to run out of church some months after the sinking, when she recognised the same version of the hymn from that night. Hartley reportedly said to a friend if he was on a sinking ship "Nearer, My God, to Thee" would be one of the songs he would play. Walter Lord's book popularised wireless operator Harold Bride’s account that before the ship sank, he heard the song "Autumn" (a hymn similar to the former but contains the maritime line about "mighty waters").[10] It is considered Bride either meant the hymn called "Autumn" or "Songe d'Automne," a popular ragtime song of the time. Others claimed they heard "Roll out the Barrel."

Hartley's body was one of those recovered and identified. Considered a hero, his funeral in England was attended by thousands.

Faults in Construction

Though the topic is seldom discussed, there is some speculation as to whether Titanic was constructed by methods considered sufficiently robust by the standards of the day. In the documentary series Seconds from Disaster, this was investigated further. Rumoured faults in the construction included problems with the safety doors and missing or detached bolts in the ship's hull plating. This may have been a major contributing factor to the sinking and that the iceberg, in part with the missing bolts and screws, eventually led to the demise of Titanic. Possibly, if the watertight bulkheads had completely sealed the ship's compartments (they only went 3 m above the waterline), the ship would have stayed afloat.

However, Titanic's hull was held together by rivets, which are intended to be a permanent way of attaching metal items together, whereas bolts can be removed and would require periodic tightening unless the nut and bolt are welded after being screwed together. Welding technology in 1912 was in its infancy, so this was not done. While issues with Titanic's rivets have been identified from samples salvaged from the wreck site, many ships of the era would have been constructed with similar methods and did not sink after becoming involved in collisions. There was a claim that the rivets of the Titanic had not been properly tempered, leaving them brittle and sensitive to fracture in the infamous collision. [11]

Although sealing off the watertight bulkheads with watertight decks would have increased the survivability of a vessel such as Titanic, it would have by no means ensured the survival of a ship with as much underwater damage as Titanic sustained in her collision with the iceberg; it was a big iceberg. Even if the compartments themselves had remained completely watertight, the weight of the water would still have pulled the bow of the ship down to the point where decks above the watertight deck would have been below the waterline. The ship would then have flooded via the portholes and sunk anyway. It should also be noted that watertight decks would have hampered access to the lower sections of the ship and would have required watertight hatches, all of which would have had to be properly sealed to maintain the barrier between the incoming water and the rest of the ship. As the increased survivability that such watertight decks would have offered is questionable, they are generally considered to this day to be impractical in merchant vessels (though some military vessels, which are exposed to much greater risk of flooding by virtue of being targets for enemy mines and torpedoes, do feature such decks).

RMS Olympic, built to almost identical specifications by the same builders as Titanic, was involved in several collisions during the course of her operational lifetime, one of which occurred before Titanic sank; and Olympic's hull was modified to protect her from flooding in a fashion similar to her ill-fated sister's. None of these collisions threatened to sink the ship, suggesting that the Olympic-class liners were built to be sufficiently tough and did not suffer from slipshod construction.

It has also been learned that when the ship was built, the front suspension joint was very strong. But the aft suspension joint was not, and the aft suspension joint was where the ship broke in two. This means that if the aft suspension joint had not been as weak, then the ship may not have broken in two.


Main article: Wreck of the RMS Titanic

Comparable Maritime Disasters

Titanic was at the time one of the worst maritime disasters in history, a comparable loss of life having never happened before on the heavily travelled North Atlantic route. It remains the worst civilian maritime disaster in British history. The biggest civilian maritime disaster in the Atlantic Ocean up to that time had been the wreck of SS Norge off Rockall in 1904 with the loss of 635 lives. However, Titanic's death toll had been matched or exceeded a number of times outside the Atlantic. The explosion and sinking of the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River in 1865 claimed an estimated 1,700 lives. 1904's General Slocum disaster, involving a steamship circling Manhattan, took over 1,020 lives. Two years after the Titanic disaster, a Canadian liner, the Empress of Ireland sank in the Saint Lawrence River with 1,012 lives lost, after colliding with the Norwegian coal freighter Storstad. The ratio has been repeated with the sinking of the RMS Lusitania and the RMS Leinster,[12] both by German U-boats in World War I.

In January 1959 Hans Hedtoft, a Danish liner sailing from Greenland, struck an iceberg and sank. Hans Hedtoft was also on its maiden voyage and was boasted to be "unsinkable" because of its strong design. In 1987, the MV Doña Paz, sank in the Philippines after colliding with the oil tanker Vector and catching fire and claimed between 1,500 and 4,000 lives. In 2002, a Senegalese government-owned ferry MV Joola capsized off the coast of Gambia, resulting in the deaths of at least 1,863 people.

The worst maritime disasters happened during World War II. The RMS Lancastria sank during the evacuation from Dunkirk in June 1940 with the loss of over 4,000 lives. This remains Britain's worst maritime disaster. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff on 30 January 1945 after being hit by three Soviet torpedoes, with an estimated death toll of over 9,000, remains the worst disaster in shipping history in terms of loss of life in a single vessel. The SS Cap Arcona (which, ironically, had stood in for Titanic in the 1943 film version of the tragedy) was sunk by the Royal Air Force on 3 May 1945, with an estimated death toll of more than 7,700. The Goya was sunk with an estimated 7,000 dead, again by Soviet submarine on 16 April 1945.

The Titanic was not the only White Star Line ship to sink with loss of life. RMS Tayleur sank after running aground in Ireland on its maiden voyage in 1854. Of its 558 passengers and crew, 276 were lost. The White Star Line had also lost RMS Atlantic on rocks near Nova Scotia in 1873 with 546 fatalities, and the SS Naronic in 1893, probably in an iceberg collision near the Titanic's position, with the loss of all 74 aboard. Three years before Titanic, on 24 January 1909, another White Star Line passenger liner, RMS Republic sank 50 miles off the coast of Nantucket killing six people. Titanic's sister ship Britannic sank in the Mediterranean while serving as a hospital ship during World War I, after hitting a mine. Thirty-four people died when two of the ship's lifeboats were lowered before the engines had come to a total stop, and the boats were sucked into a still turning propeller.

Popular Culture


In Nacht und Eis (1912)

The sinking of Titanic has been the basis for many novels describing fictionalized events on board the ship. Many reference books about the disaster have also been written since Titanic sank, the first of these appearing within months of the sinking. Several films and TV movies were produced the first being In Nacht und Eis as early as 1912. Others include the 1996 tv. miniseries starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and the 1997 film Titanic, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, which was a critical and commercial hit, winning eleven Academy Awards and holding the record for the highest box office returns of all time.

The book A Night to Remember, was made into a movie in 1958 and was also transformed into Titanic The Musical, with a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston. The musical ran from 23 April 1997 to 21 March 1999 and won five Tony Awards for 1997, including Best Score, Best Book, and Best Musical. The production originally starred Michael Cerveris, John Cunningham, David Garrison, Victoria Clark, Brian d'Arcy James, Jennifer Piech, and Martin Moran.

Living Survivors

There are no survivors of the Titanic still living, following the death of Millvina Dean in May 2009.

Recent Survivors' Deaths

  • Millvina Dean (2nd February 1912 – 31st May 2009)
  • Barbara West Dainton (24th May 1911 – 16th October 2007)
  • Lillian Asplund (October 21, 1906 – May 6, 2006)
  • Winnifred Vera van Tongerloo (née Quick) (January 23 1904 – July 6 2002)
  • Michel Marcel Navratil (June 12 1908 – April 18 2001)
  • Eleanor Ileen Shuman (née Johnson) (August 23 1910 – March 9 1998)
  • Louise Laroche (July 2 1910 – January 28 1998)
  • Edith Eileen Haisman (née Brown) (October 27 1896 – January 20 1997)
  • Eva Miriam Hart (January 31 1905 – February 14 1996)
  • Beatrice Irene Sandström (August 9 1910 – September 3 1995)

100th Anniversary

Main article: 100 Years of Titanic


  1. [1]
  2. Maréchal, a director of the Voisin Frères and Louis Paulhan aircraft companies, was travelling to America on Paulhan's behalf, to negotiate the French manufacturing rights to Glenn Curtiss’s float planes.Latitude 41 (publication of Association Française du Titanic) No. 23.
  3. Encyclopedia Titanica
  4. Hinkle, Marla, "Behind The Chocolate Curtain." The Morning News, February 8, 2004.
  5. TModel-12sqft-PDF.
  6. Final Report of the British Board of Trade Inquiry
  7. British Inquiry - Testimony of JG Boxhall -Fourth Officer - ss "Titanic", Q15645
  8. British Inquiry – Testimony of G Affeld, Marine Superintendent Red Star Line Q22583 & Q25615/16
  9. Paul Louden-Brown "The White Star Line; An Illustrated History 1869-1934"
  10. "Gospel Song Lyrics" (with hymn "Autumn"),, webpage: EIMcom-hymn: hymn "Autumn" contains lines "Hold me up in mighty waters, Keep my eyes on things above..."
  11. Seconds from Disaster, Sinking of the Titanic, documentary, aired on National Geographic Channel
  12. Roy Stokes, Death in the Irish Sea: The Sinking of the RMS Leinster (Chester Springs, PA: Dufour Editions, 1999)


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