The Last & Only Voyage of the “Unsinkable” RMS Titanic: April 10th – April 15th 1912

By Carly Moran

titanic_clip_image001The Titanic was designed to be the largest ship to ever take to the seas. It took 3 years for the construction of the Titanic to be completed and it cost $7.5 million dollars for the ship to be finished.
Over 3000 men were employed in the building of the Titanic. In the months and even years leading up to the maiden voyage of the Titanic; the White Star Line published numerous marketing materials claiming the ship was “designed to be unsinkable.” Builders of the Titanic had included steel doors that were supposed to have been capable of being shut in 25 seconds or less; thereby enclosing any water that might have seeped in to threaten the safety of the ship and her occupants.
The RMS Titanic, although practically a floating palace, did not have advanced warning systems that we have today. Still, the Titanic had a back up system and it was the six lookout guards whose job it was to stand in the crows nest and keep a vigil look out for passing icebergs or other objects that may cause any harm or any sort of damage.
The history of the Titanic can be traced back as far as the year 1907 when J. Bruce Ismay and Lord James Pirrie, a partner in the firm Harland and Wolff, met at a dinner party during the summer. Plans were made to build two luxury ships, the Olympic and the Titanic each costing one and a half million pounds. Between 1908 and 1909, construction of both ships began in Belfast at Harland and Wolff shipyards. By May 31st 1911, the hull of the Titanic was successfully launched. Then ten months of fitting was to follow. The boat was completed by March 31st 1912 and was due to set sail on April 10th.

It had a gross registered tonnage of 46,329 tonnes, and when fully laden the ship weighed 66,000 tonnes. The Titanic was 882.5 feet long and 92.5 feet wide at its widest point. It was designed and built by William Pierres. It had a double-bottomed hull divided into 16 compartments that were presumed to be watertight. Alas, because four of these could be flooded without endangering the liners buoyancy, it was considered unsinkable.
According to the official report, the weather on the departure day was good. There was a “smooth sea with moderate south-westerly winds”, perfect for the crossing of the voyage. The newspaper report of the time state that “mass hysteria filled Liverpool harbour as the British luxury passenger liner embarked on its long awaited journey to New York”. The captain on board for the maiden voyage was Edward. J. Smith. His career was long and before this voyage he had sailed over two million miles for the White Star Line and they had complete confidence in him, entrusting him completely with the command of their best and newest ships. This was to be his last voyage before his retirement and he seems to have “taken special steps to ensure that it would be both safe and as pleasurable as possible”.

The Titanic did not leave Southampton harbour until the afternoon. At this time her siren boomed out and those making this luxury crossing were escorted to the ship. With a distant tremor the engines began to turn, inch by inch the gap between the black hull and the quay widened. It was at this point that an early disaster nearly struck the liner. The displacement of such a large volume of water in an enclosed space combined with the effect of an offshore breeze caused a moored liner “The New York” to snap her mooring. As tug boats frantically attempted to get a line on the American liner Captain Smith cut out his port engines to halt the swing of the other ship. The New York’s stern cleared the Titanic port quarter by a matter of inches. As Geoff Tibballs writes, “it had been a near miss”.

By 6.30pm, the ship had arrived at Cherbourg, France and in less than two hours had set sail for Queenstown, Ireland. She arrived there at 1:30p.m on April 11th and anchored off Roche’s point. Francis Browne, a Jesuit seminarian, disembarked and took the last known photograph of the Titanic for the next 73 years.
During the first day of the Atlantic crossing “the Titanic sailed 286 miles, the second day 519 and the third day over 546 miles”. All the passengers were eager to get to New York as early as possible and the captain increased the speed even more the fourth day, which was 14 April 1912. Ice reports had been received by the Titanic from as early in the voyage as Friday 12th and Sunday evening the liner had already received seven additional warnings including some from the Noordamm, Caronia, Baltic, Amerika, California and the Mesaba. At 10p.m, Mr. Lightroller, the ships second officer turned over the ship to Mr. Murdoch, the first officer telling him that “the ship was within the region of the reported ice”. At this point, the temperature was 32F; the sky cloudless and the air clear which meant that spotting any iceberg would be extremely difficult. In addition “the necessary vigilance was not helped by the lack of a pair of binoculars in the crows nest”. At 10:50p.m the Californian sent a wireless message directly to the Titanic telling them that they were stopped and surrounded by ice. Jack Phillips the wireless operator on the Titanic, irritated by the interruption in his work replied “Shut up, shut up, I am busy”.

At 11:39pm, the ship was moving at a speed of 20.5 knots when lookouts, Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee, spotted an iceberg dead ahead about 500 yards away towering some 55-60 feet above the water. They immediately sounded the warning bell with three sharp rings and telephoned the bridge. “Iceberg right ahead!” The sixth officer moody on the bridge acknowledged the warning and relayed the message to Murdoch who instinctively called “hard-a-starboard” to the helmsman and ordered the engine room to stop engines and then ordered full astern. Murdoch then activated the lever to close all watertight doors below the waterline. The helmsman spun the wheel as far as it would go. After several seconds, the Titanic begins to veer to port, but the iceberg struck the starboard bow side, brushing along the side of the ship and passing by into the night. The impact, jarring to the crew down in the forward area, was not noticed by many of the passengers. “Thirty-seven seconds had passed from sighting to collision”.

At 11:50p.m, Captain Smith asked Titanic designer Thomas Andrews to conduct a visual inspection of the damage. Water at this stage had poured in and risen fourteen feet at the front of the ship. “The ship can only stay afloat for an hour or an hour and a half at the most”. Smith ordered radio operators, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips to send out the distress call. By 12:05am, orders were given to uncover the lifeboats and to get the passengers and crew ready on deck. However, there was only enough room in the lifeboats for about half of the estimated 2,228 people on board. Twenty minutes later crewmembers began loading the lifeboats with women and children. By 12:45am, the first of the lifeboats was safely lowered away. It could have carried 65 people but pulled away from the Titanic carrying only 28.
By 1:15am, water began to reach the Titanic’s name on the bow and the tilt of the deck grew increasingly steeper. Lifeboats now started to leave more fully loaded. Within half an hour most of the forward lifeboats have been lowered. Passengers now moved towards the stern of the ship. Then at 2:05am the last lifeboat departed. There were now over 1,500 people left on board the sinking ship with the tilt of the decks growing steeper by the minute. At this stage Phillips sent the last radio message and Capt. Smith told crewmembers, “It’s every man for himself”. He returned to the bridge to await the end. Thomas Andrews was seen alone in the first-class smoking room staring into space.

As the Titanic’s bow plunged under, Father Thomas Byles gave confession and absolution to over one hundred second and third class passengers gathered at the end of the boat deck. The ship’s band stopped playing and many passengers and crew jumped overboard. However the Titanic’s forward funnel collapsed at this point crushing a number of swimming passengers. At 2:18am, items in the ship were heard crashing through walls and falling toward the sinking bow. The ship’s lights blinked once and then went out. Several survivors saw the ship break in two with the bow section sinking first. Two minutes later the Titanic’s broken off stern section settled back into the water, becoming level for a few moments. Slowly it filled with water, tilting its end high into the air, before sinking vertically into the ocean. Those struggling in the icy water slowly froze to death with over 1,500 people perishing.
By 3:30am, the survivors in the lifeboats sighted the rescue ship rockets and within forty minutes, the first lifeboat was picked up. By 8:50am, the Carpathia left the area bound for New York, carrying 705 survivors.

J Bruce Ismay wired the White Star New York offices with the following message “Deeply regret advice, Titanic sank this morning after collision with iceberg, resulting in serious loss of life. Full particulars later”.
On September 1st 1985, the wreck of the Titanic was found lying upright in two pieces on the ocean floor at a depth of about 13,000 feet, 73 years after it had sunk in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The ship, located at about 41degrees N, was subsequently explored several times by manned and unmanned submersibles under the direction of American and French scientists. The expeditions found no sign of the long gash previously thought to have been ripped in the ship’s hull by the iceberg. The scientists posited instead that the collision’s impact had produced a series of thin gashes as well as brittle fracturing and separation of seams in the adjacent hull plates, thus allowing water to flood in and eventually sink the ship. In subsequent years marine salvagers raised small artefacts from the wreckage and even attempted to lift a large piece of the hull.

Public curiosity in the tragedy not only survives intact but also shows every sign of remaining insatiable. It could be argued that the wreck of the Titanic could be seen as one of the great epic tales of the 20th century. In the aftermath of the disaster, it could be argued that the destruction of the ship by a spur of ice shattered popular early 20th century faith in the supremacy of technology, progress and privilege. The 20th century had begun with a tragic start.