The year was 1912.
About2208 passengers and crew boarded the largest luxury ship afloat at the time,the RMS Titanic. Yet, only 705 passengers arrived safely.1 So, what happened tothe other 1503 people aboard the ship? They were all killed as a result of thesinking of the Titanic, whether it was directly or indirectly caused by theshipwreck. The Royal Mail Steamer Titanic was built as a result of fierce competitionbetween the White Star Line and the Cunard Line who had built the Britannia andLusitania.2 The Titanic wasone of three ‘Olympic Class’ ships built by the White Star Line at the Harlandand Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. All three of the majestic vessels wereindustrial wonders, and the Titanic was finished after three years of work.
OnApril 10, 1912, the Titanic sailed away from Southampton, England, on its 5503 km 3 voyage across theAtlantic Ocean to New York City, New York. There was a wide array of passengersincluding millionaires, emigrants, teachers, and silent movie stars, alllooking to travel to the western world. It can be seen in appendix A that theTitanic made stops in Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland before embarkingfor New York. The ship was making good progress after five days, as it wasstaying on the planned course. On April 11, the Titanic received multiple radioreports of icebergs and Captain Edward Smith plotted a more southerly course.
However, at 11:40 PM on April 14, the lookout sounded the alarm to signify aniceberg spotting. The day had previously not had ideal conditions for spottingsea ice, as the sky had been clear with no moonlight shining onto the sea. Thelookout had sounded the warning much too light and even though the Titanicveered away as quickly as possible, the ship struck the iceberg 40 secondslater and a massive gash emerged in the hull.4 A survivor by the nameof Washington Dodge wrote about the situation in a written statement.
His wordswere, “I retired at 10:30 inserted: P.M. to be awakened about 11:40 by whatseemed to be a violent jar. I had the impression that the steamer had beenstruck on her side with sufficient force to move her bodily in a lateraldirection.”5 After a closer inspection of the possible damage, it wasdetermined by the chief naval architect Thomas Andrews that the Titanic wouldsink in approximately three hours. At the time, six watertight compartments atthe front of the underbody were breached.
The ship had been built to withstandonly four flooded compartments.4 The passengers started to load the twentylifeboats on board the ship, however most of the lifeboats were only halffilled and less than a third of the passengers were able to escape. Most of thesurvivors were women and children as the order to load the lifeboats, “Womanand children first!” As a result of this order, many men had to give up theirspot on a lifeboat and sadly passed away.6 Three hours after the original collision, theTitanic lay at the ocean floor of the Atlantic Ocean, about four kilometersbelow the surface.
The sinking marked the end of the Edwardian Era (asdesignated by British historians and named after King Edward IV7), one of luxury andwealth before the beginning of World War 1 in 1914. After news of the disasterspread, the sinking of the Titanic sparked debate and question because the shiphad been previously deemed as being “built to be unsinkable,” by the White StarLine in a brochure8. Perhaps what is most shocking about the tragedy, is that withcareful analysis, it can be seen that the loss of life could have beenrealistically prevented if not for poor judgement, pride, lack of safetyequipment and failure to heed repeated warnings. The loss of life on April14 could have been prevented multiple ways and at multiple stages during theincreasingly shocking situation aboard the RMS Titanic. Scientists havediscovered new evidence that the metal in the hull was weakened due to anenormous fire that started in the coal room during the building process. Journalist SenanMolony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the sinking of the Titanic,studied photographs (Appendix B) taken by the ship’s chief electrical engineersbefore it left the Belfast shipyard.
Maloney said he wasable to identify 30-foot-long black marks along the front right-hand side ofthe hull, just behind where the ship’s lining was pierced by the iceberg. Hesaid, “We are looking at the exact area where the iceberg stuck, and we appearto have a weakness or damage to the hull in that specific place, before sheeven left Belfast” 10. This evidence can be connected back to the statement made by theWhite Star Line, “The Titanic was built to be unsinkable.”8 This may actually holdto be true as the ship may have been virtually unsinkable before the firehappened. I If a fire had happened, the metal could have been replaced, orstrengthened to hold better against the force of the iceberg.Even if the disaster could not have been prevented before the embarkation,it could have been stopped while the ship was sailing. Historians argue thatthere should have been different reactions to multiple warnings and evensightings of the danger to come. These claims are very agreeable once explanationsare made.
As mentioned previously, numerous warnings of incoming ice wereradioed to the Titanic. These came from nearby ships and one of them was the LaProvence. Their warning was, “We passed in sight of icefield and bergs inlatitude 41.30 north, longitude 49.00 to 50.00 west.
Icefield about sixty milesin length.”11 Captain Edward Smith could have paid much more attention and careto these repeated warnings and possibly even slowed down or stopped the ship towait for daylight. However, some would counter that Captain Smith did take thenecessary steps when he changed the ship’s course to be more southerly, and heposted lookouts to watch specifically for icebergs. The problem with thisargument is that neither of these strategies worked.12 A lookout did spot theiceberg but it was too late as the Titanic was travelling at its maximum speed.The 1997 film Titanic implied that the ship was attempting to break atransatlantic speed record at the request of J.
Bruce Ismay, the president ofthe White Star Line. Many historians have agreed that this is false and J.Bruce Ismay has denied the theories as well. Although, Captain Smith shouldhave reacted differently, the radio operators of other ship should havepassed on the warnings with much more force and urgency. An example of this isthe SSS Californian.
Her captain stopped the ship to wait for daylight due todanger of ice. The wireless operator signaled this to the Titanic. The problemwas that the message came right at the time that Senior Wireless OperatorJack Phillips was attempting to get through a number of passenger messages hehadn’t been able to send off earlier (because the set had been broken earlierand Titanic hadn’t been in range of the nearest wireless station, CapeRace, Newfoundland). The Californian’s signal broke in over the top ofPhillip’s broadcast and was very loud in his headphones because the ships wereso close. Phillips replied with anger, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m working CapeRace!” Although this was not the only warning Titanic received, it happenedless than ten minutes before the collision, so it might possibly have made adifference if Phillips had been paying more attention and had relayed itpromptly to the bridge.13 Also, the officer on watch, William Murdoch, was not givenbinoculars as they had been taken by another officer by mistake. Therefore, he could not see the iceberg from a distance.
Although, oncethe iceberg had been spotted, Murdoch could have reacted differently intrying to avoid a collision. One factor that might have helped is if he hadn’tordered “Full Astern (reverse)” as he attempted to steer around the iceberg.14 Once the message wasreceived at the engine room the engineers had to spend a few moments gettingthe ship’s enormous engines to respond and switch to reverse. If the Titanichad not been slowing down as she approached the iceberg but instead continuingat full speed, she might have been more maneuverable, able to turn harder andavoid the iceberg entirely.
Some would argue that this is only speculation andcannot be proven. In this case, any chance is better than no chance, and ifthat strategy might have worked, the Titanic should have attempted it. Finally, a few things could have been changed after the Titanic collided withthe iceberg to prevent the massive loss of life.
First of all, even thoughthere were 2208 people sailing on the Titanic, there were only 1178 lifeboatseats available, which is just over half the number of people. What isperhaps even more shocking is that the law at the time required just 962lifeboat seats.1 It is quite disturbing that it the law would allow 1246 lives tobe taken away in which in the actual disaster, many more were killed. Even ifthe Titanic sunk, almost all the lives should have been saved if the law hadbeen different. There is the argument that changing the law is a very extensiveprocess, and there would have been no way to know that a disaster of thismagnitude could have happened. However, this fault in the system should havebeen recognized and changed before the Titanic even departed.
Also, only 706 ofthe 1178 available lifeboat seats on 20 total lifeboats were filled leaving 472spots open.15 Eventhough multiple reasons can be presented about how the sinking of the RMSTitanic could have been prevented, there are also reasons to suggest that thisclaim is unrealistic. They state that there are too many factors that had to beexact or right. However, this argument can be debunked because if one of thethings mentioned above had been different, many, if not all, of the lives couldhave been saved.
Some people believe that the technology and resources at thetime weren’t enough to save the RMS Titanic, however it is clear that even ifthe actual ship couldn’t have been saved, the lives aboard it should have been.Also, it is worth noting that the private officers were paid by the number ofmessages they distributed, and not by the hour. Therefore, it was in SeniorWireless Operator Jack Phillips’ best interest at the time to be more concernedwith taking care of passenger messages rather than other incoming information.If this had been different, he may have heard the warnings and possiblyprevented the disaster. Inconclusion, the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the loss of life could have beenrealistically prevented, either before the departure, during the time when theship hit the iceberg, and even after it had already started to sink. Eventhough the sinking of the Titanic is not the worst shipwrecked disaster in theindustrial age in terms of loss of life, it is one of the most recognizable andwell known ones. It serves as a reminder about what can actually go wrong, evenwhen it seems that nothing possibly can.
Fortunately, the world has learnedfrom this tragedy in 1912 and laws meant to promote safety aboard passengerships have been instituted since then. This disaster in the middle of theAtlantic Ocean on April 14, 1912 should serve as a reminder that no matter howperfect a situation seems, anything can go wrong, so the best thing to do issimply prepare.