John Eaton, one of the co-authors of Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy said that in the summer of 1907, J. Bruce Ismay and Lord James Pirrie, a partner in Harland and Wolff, met to discuss plans to build two ocean liners that will surpass anything built to date. This simple meeting set off a chain of events that led to the death of over 1500 people less than five years later.
The two ocean liners were to be called the Olympic and the Titanic. A third ship was added to the plans later. The Titanic’s hull plate was laid in 1909 and a little over two years later, Titanic’s 26,000 ton hull is launched at Harland and Wolff’s shipyard. The ship reached a speed of twelve knots when it slid into the water before six anchor chains and two piles of cable drag chains weighing 80 ton’s each brought her to a halt. The White Star Line never christened their ships. Many people still consider this to be a bad omen (Eaton 87-90).
On April 2, 1912, the Titanic set sail from Belfast and completed her sea trials. A small fire started in boiler room 6 that would smolder for weeks in the coal dust of the starboard bunker due to a spark from one of the boilers. Just eight days later, passengers began to board the ship to take the maiden voyage of the huge ocean liner. Shortly after noon on April 10, the Titanic’s’ mooring ropes were cleared and tug boats began to tow her from the dock. According to Colonel Archibald Gracie, a survivor of the wreck and author of the article Out of the Wreck, the movement of Titanic’s’ huge mass in the harbor causes all 6 mooring ropes of the ocean liner New York to snap. The New York began to swing towards the Titanic’s hull, but the tug boat, the Vulcan, managed to catch the New York’s bow and heads off the collision. After some delay, Titanic is towed from the harbor and begins the 24 mile crossing of the English Channel. By Friday, Titanic is well on her way out to the North Atlantic, running at 21 knots (Eaton 105-109).
During Captain Smith’s inspection of the engine room on Saturday morning, Chief Engineer Bell reports the fire in boiler room 6 is finally extinguished, however the bulkhead part of the bunker shows signs of heat damage (Eaton 105-10).
Ton Kuntz, editor of the book Titanic Disaster Hearings: The Official Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation, wrote that one survivor told investigators that Smith and Ismay talked at lunch about making New York a day early and grabbing headlines
The Titanic began to receive ice warnings from other ships in the area. There were reports of large quantities of field ice 250 miles ahead of Titanic. Captain Smith took this message from the radio operators and later showed it to Bruce Ismay. There was another message was received from the ocean liner America that warned the Titanic of icebergs in its path, but this message was not forwarded to Captain Smith.
The Californian later sent a third message warning of ice 50 miles ahead of Titanic. After meeting with Second Officer Lightoller and discussing the unusually calm seas and clear air, Captain Smith retires to his room. Officer Lightoller then cautions lookouts to be careful of ice until morning. The Titanic’s’ speed at this time is 22 knots (Kuntz 270-274).
A heavy ice pack and iceberg warning is received from the Masaba. Wireless Officers Phillips and Bride ignored the message and proceed with sending personal messages from the passengers. Later, Lightoller passed the watch off to First Officer Murdock.
Just a few hours later, Lookout Frederick Fleet rang the bridge by telephone yelling “Iceberg right ahead!” and rang the crows nest bell 3 times. Sixth Officer Moody acknowledges and relayed the message to Murdock, who orders the ship’s wheel turned hard-a-starboard and telegraphs the engine room to bring the ship to a full stop followed by the order full a-stern which would cause the propellers to turn backwards and slow the ship.
The Titanic began to turn slowly to port but struck an underwater piece of the iceberg on the starboard side 12 feet back from the bow. The side of the ship was scrapped for 300 feet along Titanic’s side below the waterline, tearing a hole in five compartments of the ship. First Officer Murdock ordered the wheel turned full to port, trying to corner Titanic around the remainder of the iceberg. He also threw the electric switch closing the water-tight compartment doors. Passengers on the upper decks saw the iceberg as Titanic passed by. Captain Smith arrived on the bridge and ordered Thomas Andrews, Chief Wilde, and Officer Boxhall to go below and inspect the damage (Eaton195-96).
The post office on G deck was flooded, trapping and drowning several workers. Thomas Andrews reported that 5 compartments are flooded to the waterline and advised Captain Smith that Titanic can float with 4 compartments filled, but not 5.
Less than 3 hours later, the lights flickered once and then went out as the electric generators fail. Titanic’s’ hull split from the deck to the keel between the 3rd and 4th funnels. The stern section falls back to the water and then rose up again as the bow broke off and began it’s decent to the ocean floor. The stern section floods and went down, 2 hours and 30 minutes after the collision. (Gracie 895-97). Over 1500 remaining passengers plunge into the icy water.
There are several fields of thought as to what caused the disaster. Many believe that the ship was jinxed from the beginning because it wasn’t christened and because of the bad luck of a near collision at beginning of its maiden voyage. According to Logan Morgan the sinking of the Titanic was mainly caused by unusual weather and human error.
To begin with, the Titanic was on the southern most of the routes that were used by ocean liners. It was highly unusual for that much ice to be found that far south in April. Also the water and wind were very calm, no chance of spotting a breaker against an iceberg which would have made them much easier to spot. Finally there was no moonlight shining on the water; which made the night very dark.
There are also many human errors that were made during that voyage. The lookout’s binoculars had been removed from the crow’s nest and locked in a cabinet in the second officer’s cabin and no one aboard had a key.
The ship received numerous wireless messages alerting them to ice lying right in their path. Some of these were tacked up on the bridge and forgotten, one wound up in Bruce Ismay’s pocket and others never made it out of the wireless room (Kuntz. 301-03)
Bruce Ismay wanted to make a good impression with his new ship and urged Captain Smith to test the speed of the huge ocean liner. So the Titanic was traveling at a much faster speed than it should have been (Eaton 303).
Finally there were too few lifeboats for all the passengers on board and the ship was thought to be unsinkable so many passengers refused to leave the ship for the tiny lifeboats.
In conclusion, many bad things happened during the Titanic’s short maiden voyage from the weather to actions of the crew. Each of these could have been disastrous alone, but a combination of all these factors contributed to a disaster causing the loss of over 1500 lives.