Dispelling myths - The real reason Titanic didn't have enough lifeboats and other facts.
These interesting tidbits will improve your knowledge of this historic tragedy.
As the world prepares to observe the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, questions still linger over why the ship was lost and if more people could have somehow been saved. Packed with little-known facts, this special article may answer some of those questions and shed light on the mystery that shrouds the legendary ship.
The Titanic disaster remains one of the deadliest maritime disasters in world history (aside from war).
As the largest ship afloat at the time she was famously labeled as "unsinkable" although contrary to belief no official statements were ever made by the owners or designers to this effect.
Notoriously, RMS Titanic carried only 20 lifeboats for over 2,000 crew and passengers. This was because the ship was considered (by design) to be the ultimate lifeboat. Featuring multiple watertight compartments to prevent the spread of flooding, the ship was designed to remain afloat even if several compartments were breached.
Instead of saving lives, the lifeboats were present for ferrying passengers to other ships should anything happen to the ultimate lifeboat - the ship itself.
Tragically, the ship experienced flooding in one more compartment than her design would allow, and other ships did not arrive in time to accept ferried passengers.
April 14, 1912
On the night of April 14, 1912, Titanic was steaming at high speed through dangerous waters. Warnings had been issued that icebergs were present in the area, but for various reasons these were not considered to be a threat to the ship.
At 11:40 PM, lookouts (who were not equipped with binoculars) spotted the fatal berg directly in their path. The combination of an exceptionally calm sea and the lack of binoculars meant there was no time to safely alter course; collision was inevitable. The ship's first officer ordered evasive maneuvers and for a moment, just a moment --the matter remained in doubt, but the Titanic, with her (relatively) small rudder and unable to reverse her engines in time, managed to scrape over a submerged portion of the iceberg.
As the liner slid over the ice, rivets popped and gashes were torn into the frigid (and therefore weakened) steel plates under the waterline. Icy seawater immediately flooded five of Titanic's compartments.
Passengers reported a variety of experiences. Some said they heard a tearing noise, like fabric being ripped, others said they felt only the slightest bump. Many survivors reported nothing with most sleeping through the collision.
Below the waterline, the crew tried valiantly with mixed results, to stem the flow of water. Initial efforts bought time for the captain and officers to assess the situation, but it soon became apparent that the ship was doomed.
Several minutes after the collision, the crew was instructed to rouse passengers to the boat decks with their lifejackets. Since most passengers were unaware of any real danger, they blearily shuffled to the deck, some believing that it was a poorly conceived drill.
. . . - - - . . . / - . - . - - . - - . .
In the "Marconi Room" as it was called, Titanic sent out her first SOS.
Her radio operators sent out the distress call to any who could hear, "SOS.CQD.SOS.CQD." The CQD was the original distress signal that had been standardized in 1904 by Marconi himself. The signal literally meant, "All [telegraph] stations attend, distress!" The SOS was a standardized signal that was adopted in 1906 not for the significance of the letters themselves, but because the pattern would be instantly recognizable to a listener. The letters "SOS" stand for nothing.
Contrary to popular belief, the Titanic was not the first ship to use the SOS distress call. That dubious distinction belongs to the S.S. Arapahoe in 1909.
Titanic was advanced for her time. She was equipped with a state-of-the-art wireless telegraph, but unfortunately most other ships of the time had no such equipment and could not hear the call for help.
The crew also fired distress flares (rockets) and used lamps to signal any nearby ships. None were close enough to arrive in time. One ship, the Californian, observed the flares but did not respond. Subsequent investigation concluded that had the Californian responded, she still would not have arrived in time to save the doomed passengers however, modern historians dispute this. The captain of the Californian lost his post later that year amid the controversy.
Terror and death
As the crew herded reluctant passengers into lifeboats, their abject lack of training and preparation began to show (most of the crew had been recruited only the week before the voyage and none completed a single lifeboat drill). Several boats were launched only half-filled with passengers. And as the ship began to dip forward in the water, passengers and crew soon realized that the danger they faced was mortal.
Panic rippled through the ship, and chaos erupted. It was quickly appreciated that more than half of the passengers onboard would imminently perish.
Below decks, water began to spill over the tops of the watertight compartments and flood through the ship. As the bow (front) of the ship was pulled deeper, seawater was pushed through pipes and began to gurgle up through sinks and faucets. In some areas, water even leaked through the ceiling.
As the situation grew more chaotic, Captain Smith gave his last order, "Every man for himself."
Eventually Titanic nosed down, pulled under by the weight of the water in her compartments and lifting her stern into the air. The uneven distribution of weight created a tear in the ship's midsection between the third and fourth funnel. Rivets popped and survivors reported hearing a horrendous noise as all the cargo in the holds and everything that wasn't bolted down slid forward.
Pop, pop, more rivets blew. As the stern rose higher, survivors rushed towards the rising stern, scrambling to put as much space between them and the frigid water below. The black swirling sea waited to receive them at the painfully lethal temperature of 28 degrees F (-2C).
Although it would remain the subject of debate for years to come, the Titanic did, in fact, split in two before sliding under the waves. Disintegrating under the stress, the stern remained afloat for a few more minutes with the mass of doomed passengers clinging to their final moments of life as it quickly slid under.
It wasn't drowning that killed the victims, but rather hypothermia and cardiac arrest. The water was so cold most passengers were dead within minutes. Only 13 passengers were plucked from the water and saved. Those survivors said the water felt like knives against their skin.
A number of passengers and crew were believed to be below decks as the ship sank. Those that could, probably found air pockets to breathe in the corners of submerged rooms. But their reprieve would be short. The extreme pressure building around them would soon kill those who did not die of exposure to the freezing water as the ship accelerated toward the dark abyssal plain that would become her final resting place.
Initially, news was confused and spotty. The media received reports sent by wireless and imaginative reporters filled in the details. In the morning papers, it was initially reported that the Titanic was being towed to port. Back home, lists of survivors were confused with the missing and many rejoiced their loved ones had survived only to learn afterwards that the reports were mistaken.
Inquiries in both the US and England were immediately launched.
In the days that followed, recovery efforts found only 337 bodies of the more than 1,500 who perished.
The bodies were quickly scattered by winds and currents over hundreds of miles. Lifejackets from the wreck could still be seen by passing ships until June. By then, it is believed that lifejackets failed allowing the last bodies to sink below the waves. Several of the dead were recovered between April and May by various efforts and passing ships. By May, the freezing water and glaring sun had wrinkled and bleached the skin of the dead until many were unrecognizable. They would not be identified until the development of DNA testing almost a century later.
The final survivor of the Titanic disaster, Millvina Dean, passed away in May of 2009 at the age of 97. Dean survived after being wrapped in a sack and lowered into a lifeboat. Despite being followed by historians and enthusiasts, Dean told people that she remembered nothing of the disaster and that she wouldn't want to remember even if she could.
Two more ships, sharing Titanic's design continued to sail. The Britannic and the Olympic were sister ships of the Titanic. The Britannic was ill-fated however, sinking in 1916 after striking a German mine in the North Atlantic. The Olympic continued in service until she was scrapped in 1935.
The Titanic has now spent a century enshrouded by questions and myths. Today, dives of the wreck following its discovery in 1985 have provided many answers to questions that arose following the disaster. As public interest piques this spring, it is worthwhile to honor the memory of those who died with a fair study of the facts that surrounded their final moments.
© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM
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