By: Jacob Hales
“I know this isn’t scientific, but this ship’s warning me she’s gonna die and take a lot of people with her.”
-Thomas Andrews, Managing Director of Harland and Wolff Shipyards
We are all familiar with the story of the magnificent ocean liner named the Titanic, a presumably unsinkable vessel, that struck an iceberg in the middle of the North Atlantic, ultimately sinking with a tremendous loss of life. Speculations and conspiracies have arisen over the past 30-40 years that have made the Titanic a highly debated topic. But do you know the true story?
In the early morning hours of April 15th, 1912, the RMS Titanic, the largest moving object of its time, sank beneath the bitter cold Atlantic, taking 1,500 souls with her. Only 20 lifeboats were equipped on the ship, enough for barely half the passengers aboard. Of the 1,300 passengers, 710 were steerage passengers, most of whom were immigrants. More than 3 quarters of all steerage passengers were killed in the tragedy. Can you imagine something as big as a skyscraper slipping beneath the ocean in less than 2 hours and 45 minutes?
It was a spectacle to be seen. A massive floating city, complete with lights, music, food, and utmost luxury sailing at a steady speed of 21 knots across the Atlantic Ocean. The ship was divided into 3 classes: first, second, and third. For ticket prices, refer to the diagram below:
The Titanic was ordered to be built by the White Star Line in 1909. She would become the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners, at a length of of 882 ft and weighing over 46,328 gross tons, these liners, according to Bruce Ismay, managing director of the White Star Line, were to be “the largest moving objects ever made by the hand of man in all history.”
Construction began in 1909 at the Harland and Wolff Shipyards in Belfast, Ireland. 14,000 men were needed to build the Titanic and her sister ship, the Olympic, which were built side by side. Iron and steel were welded together using nearly 3 million rivets that held the ship’s massive steel hull in place. After three years, the ship’s hull was successfully launched, and a year later, she was fitted out. Fine woods, gold, silver—only the finest of materials were crafted into the framework of Titanic’s luxurious accommodations and amenities.
On April 10th, 1912, the Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage for New York with 2,200 men, women and children, including John Jacob Astor IV, Isidor Straus, Colonel Archibald Gracie, and renowned sea captain Edward J. Smith. These were only some of the famous passengers and crew aboard.
Icebergs were common for this time of year, which meant the ice warnings were as well. Although an iceberg had never sank a ship as large as the Titanic, extensive safety measures were taken to prevent collisions: a state of the art Marconi wireless room, 16 watertight bulkheads, and a highly trained crew.
On the night of April 14th, the ship was steaming ahead at full speed through the dark and featureless ocean. It was a clear and calm night; a rarity for that time of year. With no waves breaking, icebergs would be particularly hard to spot, especially since the binoculars had gone missing a few days prior. At approximately 11:40 PM, a large shape began to emerge out of the darkness.
“Iceberg right ahead!” called the lookout.
Fear gripped the faces of the men on the bridge.
“Hard to starboard!”
The ship veered sharply to the port side, full astern, but it wasn’t enough. The iceberg scraped along the hull of the ship, punching holes like morse code. A haunting groan rattled through the lower decks. Iron and steel creaking, tearing, and the faint sound of water rushing through the cargo hold. Officer Murdoch ordered the watertight bulkheads to be shut.
Passengers, driven by curiosity, began to flood into the corridors, fearful of what could be wrong with their ship. The crew told lower decks to put their lifebelts on and the upper decks to go out on the boat deck.
The S.S. Californian, a merchant vessel, was less than 5 miles away from the Titanic when she sank. Wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride tried desperately to reach any ships nearby but the Californian didn’t answer. The crew on the Californian believed that the emergency flares from the Titanic were celebratory fireworks and didn’t think it would be necessary to telegraph them.
Ships from as far as 500 miles away headed towards the Titanic even its sister ship, the Olympic. However, the closest ship (second to the Californian) was the S.S. Carpathia, a small Cunard liner captained by Arthur Rostron. They said they could be there in four hours.
20 minutes after the initial impact, Captain Smith was told that the ship had only a few hours afloat. The ship needed to be evacuated, but a problem still stood: the ship only had enough lifeboats for half the people aboard. The truth, they now understood, was no longer avoidable: half of the people on the ship were going to die.
The steam expulsing from the large smoke stacks was ear piercing. Drinks were served and music was played in the first class lounge while passengers waited for further instruction. Panic began to build in the lower decks; passengers scrambled and tried to find a way to the boat decks.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, your attention please! For the time being I shall only require women and children to be seated into the boats!” – Officer Lightoller
Ladies dressed in their finest gowns were crying, ripping their children away from their fathers as tears rolled down their faces. This was the last time they would ever see each other. Children screamed and cried as officers tore them from their fathers and sat them with strangers. Meanwhile, steerage passengers were becoming uneasy. They helplessly rammed through the gates, unaware of the counterproductivity of it all, and preventing themselves from salvation. They began to pile into the lifeboats like, dare I say, rats on a sinking ship.
The first lifeboat was launched at 12:45 in the morning, with only 28 people instead of its maximum capacity of 65. People began to push and shove on the boat deck—time was running out.
As fear engulfed the passengers, the ship’s band played calming dinner music, believing it would soothe the nerves.
One by one, the lifeboats left the ship—half full. Only three were filled to their full capacity. This went against all regulations and maritime law.
“Just then the ship took a slight but definite plunge – probably a bulkhead went – and the sea came rolling along up in a wave, over the steel fronted bridge, along the deck below us, washing the people back in a dreadful huddled mass. Those that didn’t disappear under the water right away, instinctively started to clamber up that part of the deck still out of water, and work their way towards the stern, which was rising steadily out of the water as the bow went down. It was a sight that doesn’t bear dwelling on – to stand there, above the wheelhouse, and on our quarters, watching the frantic struggles to climb up the sloping deck, utterly unable to even hold out a helping hand.”
-Charles Lightoller, Second Officer aboard Titanic
The boat deck was awash, and passengers scrambled towards the back of the ship. The band that had not stopped playing throughout the disaster looked around and saw the terror unfolding in front of them; they weren’t going to stop now. They said their goodbyes and continued to play until the water reached their knees.
The ship was on its last leg as her stern rose above the water and she began to slide beneath the waves. Passengers jumped off the sides into the water below, some were even sucked into the portholes that had been left open.
The once elegant grand staircase filled with water. It flowed over the steps, and washed over the passengers. Some of them had been trapped underneath the ceiling by their lifejackets as the water rose higher and higher. All of a sudden, the glass dome above them imploded and the heavens poured upon their faces; the screaming was unforgettable.
“Striking the water was like a thousand knives being driven into one’s body. The temperature was 28 degrees, four degrees below freezing.”
-Charles Lightoller, Second Officer aboard Titanic
At 2:20 AM, the lights flickered, and an explosion roared across the sea, an enormous crack shot down the side of the ship down to the keel. The two back funnels crashed onto the deck and the stern fell 100 feet onto the people down below. The screams died down as the metal groaned and the back half then rose 300 feet into the air. Never before had anyone seen something so magnificent yet so terrifying as she bobbed like a cork in a sea of darkness. She then, slowly but surely, began to take a final plunge. The words TITANIC LIVERPOOL on her stern were the last things seen as she finally slipped under the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The Titanic was gone. The screams of 1,500 men, women and children could be heard from the lifeboats.
“The sounds of people drowning are something that I can not describe to you, and neither can anyone else. It’s the most dreadful sound and there is a terrible silence that follows it.”
-Eva Hart, Titanic Survivor
“Return the boats!”
“For God’s sake, help us!”
The screams began to die down, the cold water had proven too much for those still clinging on to life.
“The partly filled lifeboat standing by about 100 yards away never came back. Why on Earth they never came back is a mystery. How could any human being fail to heed those cries.”
-Jack B. Thayer, Titanic Survivor
Only two of the twenty lifeboats came back to look for survivors. 5 were pulled from the water, 3 of which survived. 3 people, 3 people out of the 1,500 left to die in the sea.
Captain Rostron ordered to prepare the Carpathia for the 2,200 survivors who were presumed to come aboard. Blankets, tea, and hot soup was made for the survivors. However, at 4 AM, the lookout spotted the lifeboats and was shocked to find that only 700 people had survived the sinking. They boarded the Carpathia one by one as people searched for their loved ones, but most were not fortunate enough to find those they knew.
A few days later, the Mackay-Bennett, a rescue ship, arrived to a dismal scene. Fog with wreckage bobbing in the swells scattered across the seascape.
Amidst the wreckage were tiny white dots: the lifeless bodies of the passengers and crew still wearing their lifebelts. Their skin was cold and bleached by the sun. As if it were a cruel form of amusement for the sea, it dunked their heads up and down in the swells. Bodies were taken from the sea and marked for identification.
In recent years, conspiracies have arisen about the Titanic. The most famous of which is the idea that the Titanic and the Olympic were switched for insurance purposes.
On September 20th, 1911, the Olympic collided with the HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. This created problems for the owners of the White Star Line. Not only would the Olympic have to be taken out of service, but the Titanic’s maiden voyage would have to be pushed back from March 20th to April 10th. This was not possible, due to a lack of funds and a high cost for repairing the ship.
Some believe that those in charge of the White Star Line decided to perform a switcheroo with the Olympic and the Titanic. Afterwards, would sink the Titanic for the insurance money.
There are many holes in this conspiracy, including the fact that even though the Titanic and Olympic were almost identical, they did have clear physical differences. For example, on the Titanic, the promenade deck was enclosed, unlike the Olympic. Refer to the photograph below.
There are also photographs of the Titanic and the Olympic side by side a few weeks before the disaster and photos the day it departed for the open ocean. Some speculate that the ship could have been refitted in secret, but this invalid. The Titanic required 14,000 men to build. How are you going to keep 14,000 underpaid shipbuilders quiet about what would’ve been the greatest insurance scandal in history?
You also have to take into account that the windows of the Titanic match the ones on the wreck. Photos of the Olympic before the collision show that the windows are the same as they were 20 years later when the Olympic was scrapped. (Titanic right, Olympic left)
The ship’s builder and designer, Thomas Andrews, was said to be in on the conspiracy, but this is also incorrect, as he was killed in the disaster. Think about it in a wide aspect. How are you going to refit the two largest ocean liners in the world to look like one another, keep over 14,000 men quiet about the scandal, risk killing your chairman and chief designer, have nearly 1,500 people die in the disaster, and receive compensation for it? It doesn’t make any logical sense. Debunked.
I’m not saying that the conspiracy is impossible. It’s just not likely.
Whether or not the Titanic was actually the famed ship that sank will remain a mystery, but we must never forget the horror, the monstrosity, and the cataclysm that occurred on April 15th, 1912; a day that will forever live in history.
“…there arose to the sky the most horrible sounds ever heard by mortal man except by those of us who survived this terrible tragedy. The agonizing cries of death from over a thousand throats, the wails and groans of the suffering, the shrieks of the terror-tricken and the awful gaspings for breath of those in the last throes of drowning, none of us will ever forget to our dying day.”
-Colonel Archibald Gracie, Titanic Survivor
Lest we forget the 1,500 men, women, and children who lost their lives that fateful night, all of whom had dreams, families, and stories to tell. To this day, not much comes close to such a frightful disaster, and that is why we should never let go of this horrific tale. Never let go…never.