The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world when she set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, on 10 April 1912. Four days into the trip, on 14 April 1912, she struck an iceberg and sank, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

An Olympic-class passenger liner, the Titanic was owned by the White Star Line and constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland (now Northern Ireland). She set sail for New York City with 2,223 people on board; the high casualty rate when the ship sank was due in part to the fact that, although complying with the regulations of the time, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people. A disproportionate number of men died due to the women and children first protocol that was followed.

The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, and designed to compete with the rival Cunard Line's Lusitania and Mauretania. The Titanic, along with her Olympic-class sisters, the Olympic and the soon-to-be-built Britannic (which was to be called Gigantic at first), were intended to be the largest, most luxurious ships ever to operate. The designers were Lord Pirrie, a director of both Harland and Wolff and White Star, naval architect Thomas Andrews, Harland and Wolff's construction manager and head of their design department, and Alexander Carlisle, the shipyard's chief draughtsman and general manager.Carlisle's responsibilities included the decorations, the equipment and all general arrangements, including the implementation of an efficient lifeboat davit design. Carlisle would leave the project in 1910, before the ships were launched, when he became a shareholder in Welin Davit & Engineering Company Ltd, the firm making the davits.

Construction of the RMS Titanic, funded by the American J.P. Morgan and his International Mercantile Marine Co., began on 31 March 1909. The Titanic's hull was launched on 31 May 1911, and her outfitting was completed by 31 March the following year. Her length overall was 882 feet 9 inches (269.1 m), the moulded breadth 92 feet 0 inches (28.0 m), the tonnage 46,328 GRT, and the height from the water line to the boat deck of 59 feet (18 m). She was equipped with two reciprocating four-cylinder, triple-expansion steam engines and one low-pressure Parsons turbine, which combined drove three propellers. There were 29 boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that made possible a top speed of 23 knots (43 km/h; 26 mph). Only three of the four 62 feet (19 m) funnels were functional: the fourth, which served only for ventilation purposes, was added to make the ship look more impressive. The ship could carry a total of 3,547 passengers and crew.


For her maiden voyage, Titanic carried a total of 20 lifeboats of three different varieties:

The lifeboats were predominantly stowed in chocks on the boat deck, not connected to the falls of the davits. All of the lifeboats, including the collapsibles, were placed on the ship by the giant gantry crane at Belfast. Those on the starboard side were numbered 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 and 15 from bow-to-stern, while those on the port side were numbered 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16 from bow-to-stern. The emergency cutters (lifeboats 1 and 2) were kept swung out, hanging from the davits, ready for immediate use while collapsible lifeboats C and D were stowed on the boat deck immediately in-board of boats 1 and 2 respectively. Collapsible lifeboats A and B were stored on the roof of the officers' quarters, on either side of number 1 funnel. However there were no davits mounted on the officers' quarters to lower collapsibles A and B and the both of them weighed a considerable amount empty. During the sinking, lowering collapsibles A and B proved difficult as it was first necessary to slide the boats on timbers and/or oars down to the boat deck. During this procedure, collapsible B capsized and subsequently floated off the ship upside down.

At the design stage Carlisle suggested that the Titanic use a new, larger type of davit, manufactured by the Welin Davit & Engineering Co Ltd, each of which could handle four lifeboats. Sixteen sets of these davits were installed, giving the Titanic the ability to carry 64 wooden lifeboats—a total capacity of over 4,000 people, compared with the Titanic's total carrying capacity of about 3,600 passengers and crew. However, the White Star Line, while agreeing to the new davits, decided that only 16 wooden lifeboats (16 being the minimum required by the Board of Trade, based on the Titanic's projected tonnage) would be carried (there were also four folding lifeboats, called collapsibles), which could accommodate only 1,178 people (33% of the Titanic's total capacity). At the time, the Board of Trade's regulations stated that British vessels over 10,000 tons must carry 16 lifeboats with a capacity of 5,500 cubic feet (160 m3), plus enough capacity in rafts and floats for 75% (or 50% in case of a vessel with watertight bulkheads) of that in the lifeboats. Therefore, the White Star Line actually provided more lifeboat accommodation than was legally required.

The regulations had made no extra provision for larger ships since 1894, when the largest passenger ship under consideration was the Cunard Line's Lucania, only 13,000 tons. Sir Alfred Chalmers, nautical adviser to the Board of Trade from 1896 to 1911, had considered the matter "from time to time", but because he thought that experienced sailors would have to be carried "uselessly" aboard ship for no other purpose than lowering and manning lifeboats, and the difficulty he anticipated in getting away a greater number than 16 in any emergency, he "did not consider it necessary to increase [our scale]".

Carlisle told the official inquiry that he had discussed the matter with J. Bruce Ismay, White Star's Managing Director, but in his evidence Ismay denied that he had ever heard of this, nor did he recollect noticing such provision in the plans of the ship he had inspected. Ten days before the maiden voyage Axel Welin, the maker of the Titanic's lifeboat davits, had announced that his machinery had been installed because the vessel's owners were aware of forthcoming changes in official regulations, but Harold Sanderson, vice-president of the International Mercantile Marine and former general manager of the White Star Line, denied that this had been the intention


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 (being two days before new moon), and the sky was clear. Captain Smith, in response to iceberg warnings received via wireless over the preceding few days, had drawn up a new course which took the ship slightly further southward. 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 adjusted the engines (he either ordered through the telegraph for "full reverse" or "stop" on the engines; survivor testimony on this conflicts).[40][41][42] The iceberg brushed the ship's starboard side (right side), buckling the hull in several places and popping out rivets below the waterline over a length of 299 feet (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.

Wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were busy sending out CQD, the international distress signal. Several ships responded, including Mount Temple, Frankfurt and Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, but none was close enough to make it in time. The closest ship to respond was Cunard Line's Carpathia 58 miles (93 km) away, which could arrive in an estimated four hours—too late to rescue all of the Titanic's passengers. The only land–based location that received the distress call from Titanic was a wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland.

From the bridge, the lights of a nearby ship could be seen off the port side. The identity of this ship remains a mystery but there have been theories suggesting that it was probably either the SS Californian or a sealer called the Sampson. As it was not responding to wireless, Fourth Officer Boxhall and Quartermaster Rowe attempted signalling 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 had fired back an angry response, "Shut up, shut up, I am busy; I am working Cape Race", referring to the Newfoundland wireless station. When the Californian's officers first saw the ship, they tried signalling 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 master of the Californian did not wake her wireless operator until morning.

Lifeboats launched

The first lifeboat launched was Lifeboat 7 on the starboard side with 28 people on board out of a capacity of 65. It was lowered at around 00:40 as believed by the British Inquiry. Lifeboat 6 and Lifeboat 5 were launched ten minutes later. Lifeboat 1 was the fifth lifeboat to be launched with 12 people. Lifeboat 11 was overloaded with 70 people. Collapsible D was the last lifeboat to be launched. The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats with a total capacity of 1,178 people. While not enough to hold all of the passengers and crew, the Titanic carried more boats than was required by the British Board of Trade Regulations. At the time, the number of lifeboats required was determined by a ship's gross register tonnage, rather than her human capacity.

The Titanic was given ample stability and sank with only a few degrees list, the design being such that there was very little risk of unequal flooding and possible capsize. Furthermore the electric power plant was operated by the ship's engineers until the end. Hence Titanic showed no outward signs of being in imminent danger, and passengers were reluctant to leave the apparent safety of the ship to board small lifeboats. Large numbers of Third Class passengers were unable to reach the lifeboat deck through unfamiliar parts of the ship and past barriers, although some stewards such as William Denton Cox successfully led some groups from Third Class to the lifeboats. As a result, most of the boats were launched partially empty; one boat meant to hold 40 people left the Titanic with only 12 people on board. With "Women and children first" the imperative for loading lifeboats, Second Officer Lightoller, who was loading boats on the port side, allowed men to board only if oarsmen were needed, even if there was room. First Officer Murdoch, who was loading boats on the starboard side, let men on board if women were absent. As the ship's list increased people started to become nervous, and some lifeboats began leaving fully loaded. By 02:05, the entire bow was under water, and all the lifeboats, except for two, had been launched.

Final minutes

Around 02:10, the stern rose out of the water exposing the propellers, and by 02:17 the waterline had reached the boat deck. The last two lifeboats floated off the deck, collapsible B upside down, collapsible A half-filled with water after the supports for its canvas sides were broken in the fall from the roof of the officers' quarters. Shortly afterwards, the forward funnel collapsed, crushing part of the bridge and people in the water. On deck, people were scrambling towards the stern or jumping overboard in hopes of reaching a lifeboat. The ship's stern slowly rose into the air, and everything unsecured crashed towards the water. While the stern rose, the electrical system finally failed and the lights went out. Shortly afterwards, the stress on the hull caused the Titanic to break apart between the last two funnels, and the bow went completely under. The stern righted itself slightly and then rose vertically. After a few moments, at 02:20, this too sank into the ocean.

Only two of the 18 launched lifeboats rescued people after the ship sank. Lifeboat 4 was close by and picked up five people, two of whom later died. Close to an hour later, lifeboat 14 went back and rescued four people, one of whom died afterwards. Other people managed to climb onto the lifeboats that floated off the deck. There were some arguments in some of the other lifeboats about going back, but many survivors were afraid of being swamped by people trying to climb into the lifeboat or being pulled down by the suction from the sinking the Titanic, though it turned out that there had been very little suction.

As the ship fell into the depths, the two sections behaved very differently. The streamlined bow planed off approximately 2,000 feet (609 m) below the surface and slowed somewhat, landing relatively gently. The stern plunged violently to the ocean floor, the hull being torn apart along the way from massive implosions caused by compression of the air still trapped inside. The stern smashed into the bottom at considerable speed, grinding the hull deep into the silt.

After steaming at 17.5 knots for just under four hours, the RMS Carpathia arrived in the area and at 04:10 began rescuing survivors. By 08:30 she picked up the last lifeboat with survivors and left the area at 08:50 bound for New York

Investigations into the RMS Titanic disaster

Before the survivors even arrived in New York, investigations were being planned to discover what had happened, and what could be done to prevent a recurrence. The United States Senate initiated an inquiry into the disaster on 19 April, a day after the Carpathia arrived in New York.

The chairman of the inquiry, Senator William Alden Smith, wanted to gather accounts from passengers and crew while the events were still fresh in their minds. Smith also needed to subpoena the British citizens while they were still on American soil. This prevented all surviving passengers and crew from returning to the UK before the American inquiry, which lasted until 25 May, was completed.

Lord Mersey was appointed to head the British Board of Trade's inquiry into the disaster. The British inquiry took place between 2 May and 3 July. Each inquiry took testimony from both passengers and crew of the Titanic, crew members of Leyland Line's Californian, Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia and other experts.

The investigations found that many safety rules were simply out of date, and new laws were recommended. Numerous safety improvements for ocean-going vessels were implemented, including improved hull and bulkhead design, access throughout the ship for egress of passengers, lifeboat requirements, improved life-vest design, the holding of safety drills, better passenger notification, radio communications laws, etc. The investigators also learned that the Titanic had sufficient lifeboat space for all first-class passengers, but not for the lower classes. In fact, most third class passengers had no idea where the lifeboats were, much less any way of getting up to the higher decks where the lifeboats were stowed.

SS Californian inquiry

Both inquiries into the disaster found that the SS Californian and her captain, Stanley Lord, failed to give proper assistance to the Titanic. Testimony before the inquiry revealed that at 22:10, the Californian observed the lights of a ship to the south; it was later agreed between Captain Lord and Third Officer C.V. Groves (who had relieved Lord of duty at 22:10) that this was a passenger liner. The Californian had warned the ship by radio of the pack ice because of which the Californian had stopped for the night, but was violently rebuked by the Titanic's senior wireless operator, Jack Phillips. At 23:50, the officer had watched this ship's lights flash out, as if the ship had shut down or turned sharply, and that the port light was now observed. Morse light signals to the ship, upon Lord's order, occurred five times between 23:30 and 01:00, but were not acknowledged. (In testimony, it was stated that the Californian's Morse lamp had a range of about four miles (6 km), so could not have been seen from the Titanic.)

Captain Lord had retired at 23:30; however, Second Officer Herbert Stone, now on duty, notified Lord at 01:15 that the ship had fired a rocket, followed by four more. Lord wanted to know if they were company signals, that is, coloured flares used for identification. Stone said that he did not know and that the rockets were all white. Captain Lord instructed the crew to continue to signal the other vessel with the Morse lamp, and went back to sleep. Three more rockets were observed at 01:50 and Stone noted that the ship looked strange in the water, as if she were listing. At 02:15, Lord was notified that the ship could no longer be seen. Lord asked again if the lights had had any colours in them, and he was informed that they were all white.

The Californian eventually responded. At 05:30, Chief Officer George Stewart awakened wireless operator Cyril Evans, informed him that rockets had been seen during the night, and asked that he try to communicate with any ships. The Frankfurt notified the operator of the Titanic's loss, Captain Lord was notified, and the ship set out for assistance.

The inquiries found that the Californian was much closer to the Titanic than the 19.5 miles (31.4 km) that Captain Lord had believed and that Lord should have awakened the wireless operator after the rockets were first reported to him, and thus could have acted to prevent loss of life.

In 1990, following the discovery of the wreck, the Marine Accident Investigation Branch of the British Department of Transport re-opened the inquiry to review the evidence relating to the Californian. Its report of 1992 concluded that the Californian was farther from the Titanic than the earlier British inquiry had found, and that the distress rockets, but not the Titanic herself, would have been visible from the Californian.

Possible factors in the sinking

It is well established that the sinking of the Titanic was the result of an iceberg collision which fatally punctured the ship's front five watertight compartments. Less obvious however are the reasons for the collision itself (which occurred on a clear night, and after the ship had received numerous ice warnings), the factors underlying the sheer extent of the damage sustained by the ship, and the reasons for the extreme loss of life.

Construction and metallurgy

Originally, historians thought the iceberg had cut a gash into the Titanic's hull. Since the part of the ship that the iceberg damaged is now buried, scientists used sonar to examine the area and discovered the iceberg had caused the hull to buckle, allowing water to enter Titanic between her steel plates.

The steel plate used for the Titanic hull was of 1 to 1½ inch (2.5 to 3.8 cm) thickness. A detailed analysis of small pieces of the steel plating from the Titanic's wreck hull found that it was of a metallurgy that loses its ductility and becomes brittle in cold or icy water, leaving it vulnerable to dent-induced ruptures. The pieces of steel were found to have very high content of phosphorus and sulphur (4× and 2× respectively, compared with modern steel), with manganese-sulphur ratio of 6.8:1 (compared with over 200:1 ratio for modern steels). High content of phosphorus initiates fractures, sulphur forms grains of iron sulphide that facilitate propagation of cracks, and lack of manganese makes the steel less ductile. The recovered samples were found to be undergoing ductile-brittle transition in temperatures of 90 °F (32 °C) for longitudinal samples and 133 °F (56 °C) for transversal samples, compared with transition temperature of −17 °F (−27 °C) common for modern steels: modern steel would only become so brittle in between −76 °F and −94 °F (−60 °C and −70 °C). The Titanic's steel, although "probably the best plain carbon ship plate available at the time", was thus unsuitable for use at low temperatures. The anisotropy was probably caused by hot rolling influencing the orientation of the sulphide stringer (defect) inclusions. The steel was probably produced in the acid-lined, open-hearth furnaces in Glasgow, which would explain the high content of phosphorus and sulphur, even for the time.

Another factor was the rivets holding the hull together, which were much more fragile than once thought.[108][109] From 48 rivets recovered from the hull of the Titanic, scientists found many to be riddled with high concentrations of slag. A glassy residue of smelting, slag can make rivets brittle and prone to fracture. Records from the archive of the builder show that the ship's builder ordered No. 3 iron bar, known as "best"—not No. 4, known as "best-best", for its rivets, although shipbuilders at that time typically used No. 4 iron for rivets. The company also had shortages of skilled riveters, particularly important for hand riveting, which took great skill: the iron had to be heated to a precise colour and shaped by the right combination of hammer blows. The company used steel rivets, which were stronger and could be installed by machine, on the central hull, where stresses were expected to be greatest, using iron rivets for the stern and bow. Rivets of "best best" iron had a tensile strength approximately 80% of that of steel, "best" iron some 73%. Despite this, the most extensive and finally fatal damage the Titanic sustained, at boiler rooms No. 5 and 6, was done in an area where steel rivets were used.

Rudder construction and turning ability

Although the Titanic's rudder met the mandated dimensional requirements for a ship her size, the rudder's design was hardly state-of-the-art. According to research by BBC History: "Her stern, with its high graceful counter and long thin rudder, was an exact copy of an 18th-century sailing ship... a perfect example of the lack of technical development. Compared with the rudder design of the Cunarders, the Titanic's was a fraction of the size. No account was made for advances in scale and little thought was given to how a ship, 852 feet in length, might turn in an emergency or avoid collision with an iceberg. This was the Titanic's Achilles heel." A more objective assessment of the rudder provision compares it with the legal requirement of the time: the area had to be within a range of 1.5% and 5% of the hull's underwater profile and, at 1.9%, the Titanic was at the low end of the range. However, the tall rudder design was more effective at the vessel's designed cruising speed; short, square rudders were more suitable for low-speed manoeuvring.

Perhaps more fatal to the design of the Titanic was her triple screw engine configuration, which had reciprocating steam engines driving her wing propellers, and a steam turbine driving her centre propeller. The reciprocating engines were reversible, while the turbine was not. According to subsequent evidence from Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, who entered the bridge just after the collision, First Officer Murdoch had set the engine room telegraph to reverse the engines to avoid the iceberg, thus handicapping the turning ability of the ship. Because the centre turbine could not reverse during the "full speed astern" manoeuvre, it was simply stopped. Since the centre propeller was positioned forward of the ship's rudder, the effectiveness of that rudder would have been greatly reduced: had Murdoch simply turned the ship while maintaining her forward speed, the Titanic might have missed the iceberg with metres to spare. Another survivor, Frederick Scott, an engine room worker, gave contrary evidence: he recalled that at his station in the engine room all four sets of telegraphs had changed to "Stop", but not until after the collision.

Orientation of impact

It has been speculated that the ship could have been saved if she had rammed the iceberg head on. It is hypothesised that if Titanic had not altered her course at all and instead collided head first with the iceberg, the impact would have been taken by the naturally stronger bow and damage would have affected only one or two forward compartments. This would have disabled her, and possibly caused casualties among the passengers near the bow, but probably would not have resulted in sinking since Titanic was designed to float with the first four compartments flooded. Instead, the glancing blow to the starboard side caused buckling in the hull plates along the first five compartments, more than the ship's designers had anticipated.

Adverse weather conditions

The weather conditions for the Atlantic at the time of the collision were unusual because there was a flat calm sea, without wind or swell. In addition, it was a moonless night. Under normal sea conditions in the area of the collision, waves would have broken over the base of an iceberg, assisting in the location of icebergs even on a moonless night.

Excessive speed

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”. At the time of the collision it is thought that the Titanic was at her normal cruising speed of about 22 knots, 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. It was thought that any iceberg large enough to damage the ship would be seen in sufficient time to be avoided.

Insufficient lifeboats

No single aspect regarding the huge loss of life from the Titanic disaster has provoked more outrage than the fact that the ship did not carry enough lifeboats for all her passengers and crew. This is partially due to the fact that the law, dating from 1894, required a minimum of 16 lifeboats for ships of over 10,000 tons. This law had been established when the largest ship afloat was RMS Lucania. Since then the size of ships had increased rapidly, meaning that Titanic was legally required to carry only enough lifeboats for less than half of its capacity. Actually, the White Star Line exceeded the regulations by including four more collapsible lifeboats—this gave a total capacity of 1,178 people (still only around a third of the Titanic's total capacity of 3,547).

In the busy North Atlantic sea lanes it was expected that in the event of a serious accident to a ship, help from other vessels would be quickly obtained, and that the lifeboats would be used to ferry passengers and crew from the stricken vessel to its rescuers. Full provision of lifeboats was not considered necessary for this.

It was anticipated during the design of the ship that the British Board of Trade might require an increase in the number of lifeboats at some future date. Therefore lifeboat davits capable of handling up to four boats per pair of davits were designed and installed, to give a total potential capacity of 64 boats. The additional boats were never fitted. It is often alleged that J. Bruce Ismay, the President of White Star, vetoed the installation of these additional boats to maximise the passenger promenade area on the boat deck. Harold Sanderson, Vice President of International Merchantile Marine, rejected this allegation during the British Inquiry.

The lack of lifeboats was not the only cause of the tragic loss of lives. After the collision with the iceberg, one hour was taken to evaluate the damage, recognise what was going to happen, inform first class passengers, and lower the first lifeboat. Afterward, the crew worked quite efficiently, taking a total of 80 minutes to lower all 16 lifeboats. Since the crew was divided into two teams, one on each side of the ship, an average of 10 minutes of work was necessary for a team to fill a lifeboat with passengers and lower it.

Yet another factor in the high death toll that related to the lifeboats was the initial reluctance of the passengers to board them. The most notable being Lifeboat #1 with a capacity of 40, launched at 00:40 with only 12 people aboard. This was partly due to at the point of launch, Titanic did not appear to be in imminent danger and hence passengers were likely to be reluctant to leave the apparent safety of the ship. The idea that the ship was unsinkable is unlikely to be the reason of the low utilisation of early life boats



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