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In the decades since her demise, the RMS Titanic has inspired countless books and several notable films while continuing to make headlines, particularly since the 1985 discovery of her resting place off the coast of Newfoundland.  Nearly a century has past into history since the luxury steamship met its catastrophic end in the North Atlantic after sideswiping an iceberg and plunging two miles to the ocean floor during its maiden voyage in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

The RMS Titanic was a British registered ocean liner built for the transatlantic passenger and mail service between Southampton, England and New York City. It was built in Belfast, Ireland beginning in 1909 and completed 3 years later. At the time it was the largest vessel afloat.  The Titanic left Belfast April 2, 1912 for Southampton, England  arriving on April 3rd, 1912 after crossing the English Channel.  The Titanic stopped at Cherbourg, France to board additional passengers and again the next day at Queenstown, Ireland for more passengers.

The Titanic raised her anchor and began her historic maiden voyage on Wednesday April 10th, 1912 with 1,316 passengers on board. 325 in first-class, 293 in second, and 706 in third-class according to the Titanic Historical Society.  At the time of the sinking, the ship's crew consisted of 885 men and women.   Captain Edward J. Smith in command.

Sunday April 14, 1912  was the one day in the week when Captain Smith was not required to make a detailed inspection of the ship, but any thoughts of a quiet morning were ruined as early as 9 am when the ship received a two-day-old wireless message from Captain Barr of the S.S Caronia. The message read: "Captain, titanic – Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers   (Growler is a nautical term for a small iceberg)  and field ice at 42 degrees North from 49 degrees to 51 degrees West, April 12. Compliments, Barr." The message was delivered to Captain Smith on the bridge and he then posted this for his officers. The area referred to in the wireless message laid just a few miles north of Titanic’s intended course.

Sunday morning on White Star ships was supposed to include a boat drill where all hands, passengers and crew, would assemble in life jackets at their boat stations. Yet on this occasion, Captain Smith neglected to schedule a drill. Perhaps he deemed the Titanic to be so secure that the exercise was unnecessary, or maybe he feared that the shortage of lifeboats would unduly alarm any nervous passengers.    

At 1:42 pm, the Titanic received another ice warning, this time from the Baltic reporting passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice perilously close to the Titanic's position. The message was taken instantly to the bridge, but instead of showing it to his officers, Captain Smith took it with him when he went to lunch. On the promenade deck he bumped into J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line,   and handed him the message for information. Ismay promptly put it into his pocket, and apart from showing it to few select passengers, the piece of paper stayed there for the next five-and-a-half hours, and then it was posted on the bridge. Considering that safety was suppose to be paramount, the behavior of both men is baffling, to the point of negligence.

At  1:45 pm, a message was received from the steamer Amerika  also warning of large icebergs in Titanic's path. However, Titanic's wireless radio operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride,  were too busy to relay what they considered "non-essential" ice messages to the bridge. They were employed by Marconi Wireless Company and paid to relay paid messages to and from the passengers.  Later that evening, another report of numerous large icebergs, this time from the S.S. Mesaba also failed to reach the bridge. The Mesaba’s message was the sixth ice warning received by the Titanic that day.

Just before midnight, approximately 400 miles (640 km) south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland the Titanic struck an iceberg which 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  were shut by the Captain. The ship could barely stay afloat with the foremost four compartments flooded, but the foremost six compartments were filling with water, more than she could handle.

Thirty seven minutes after the collision at 12:17 am (ship's time) and after assessing the damage,  Captain Smith ordered Phillips and Bride to send the international distress message, CQD, requesting help.  In moments Morse Code dits and dahs sounds radiated from the Titanic radio for hundreds of miles across the North Atlantic in a desperate plea for help. Her 5,000 watt Marconi transmitter sent out her position  as  41.44 N, 50.24 W, about 380 miles SSE of Cape Race, Newfoundland where Marconi had a monitoring and sending station.

Several ships responded, including the Mount Temple, Frankfurt and Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, but none was close enough to arrive in time. The closest ship to respond was Cunard Line's Carpathia which was 58 miles (93 km) away, and would take an estimated four hours to reach them,  too late to rescue all of Titanic's passengers. The only land based location that received the distress call from Titanic was the Marconi wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland although it was reported that a "ham radio" operator on the East Coast of the United States also heard the Titanic's call for help.

After the collision,  the lights of a nearby ship could be seen off the port side from the bridge of the Titanic. The identity of that ship remains a mystery today,  but there have been theories suggesting that it was probably a sealer called Samson.  As it was not responding to wireless attempts to contact her by radio, other means were employed,  including signaling the ship with a Morse lamp and later with distress rockets.  The ship never responded.

















Sinking Of The Titanic Influences Wireless Radio
The deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history
Titanic port side 1912.
Titanic on the bottom.
Titanic dishes on the bottom.
Captain Edward J. Smith
Sister ship to Titanic, White Star Liner RMS Olympic
The vessel Virginian heard what is believed to be Titanic's last call for help at 12:27 am when her signals were blurred and ended abruptly. Nothing more was heard from Titanic and she sank at 2:20 am (ship time).

After steaming at 17.5 knots  for just under four hours, RMS Carpathia was the first ship to arrive in the area at 4:10 am  and began rescuing survivors. By 8:30 pm that day she picked up the last lifeboat with survivors and left the area at 8:50 pm  bound for New York. Three days later on April 18, 1912 the Carpathia,   arriving at night, docked at Pier 54 in New York with the survivors and was met by thousands of people.

The disaster became the deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in history. 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 majority of deaths were caused by hypothermia in the 28 °F (-2 °C) water where death could be expected in less than 15 minutes. 


Notes:    

  1. One of the first standard radio distress calls,  "CQD." "CQ",  to be sent from a ship in distress occurred in 1903. Marconi Wireless Co. created the signal to stop transmission and pay attention; adding the "D" meant distress.  In 1906 the International Radio Telegraphic Convention in Berlin created the signal "SOS" as an alternative means of summoning assistance. The three letters were chosen solely for their simplicity in Morse Code. Three dots, three dashes and three dots were instantly recognizable, and could be transmitted by someone who had never used a wireless apparatus.

  1. In 1908 "SOS" officially superseded "CQD" as the regulation distress call, but Marconi operators rarely used the new signal. Only after Harold Bride radioed his now famous SOS from the sinking Titanic did the new signal become standard. The SOS signal was, however, rarely used by British wireless operators, who preferred the older CQD code.

  1. After the Titanic's disaster, ships were required to man the wireless twenty-four hours a day. More emphasis was placed on navigation, so that crucial information such as ice warnings would not go unreported to the bridge as apparently happen on the Titanic.

  1. Sunday morning on White Star ships, including the Titanic,  was supposed to include a boat drill where all hands, passengers and crew, would assemble in life jackets at their boat stations. Yet on this particular Sunday, Captain Smith neglected to schedule a drill. Perhaps he deemed the Titanic to be so secure that the exercise was unnecessary, or maybe he feared that the shortage of lifeboats would unduly alarm any nervous passengers.

  1. The investigations of the accident found that many maritime 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.

  1. The investigators also learned that 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. U.S. immigration regulations required complete isolation of third class passengers and the route to the boat deck, through the higher classes of accommodation, was somewhat tortuous as a result.

  1. The 100th anniversary of the sinking of Titanic is planned to be commemorated around the world in 2012.

  1. The conclusion of the British Inquiry into the sinking of the Titanic 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 Titanic was at her normal cruising speed of about 21 knots (39 km/h), which was less than her top speed of around 23 knots (43 km/h). 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,

  1. Titanic's rediscovery in 1985 launched a debate over ownership of the wreck and the valuable items inside. On June 7, 1994 RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc., was awarded ownership and salvaging rights by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.   Since 1987, RMS Titanic Inc. and her successors have conducted seven expeditions and salvaged over 5,500 historic objects. The biggest single recovered object was a 17-ton section of the hull, recovered in 1998. Many of these items are part of travelling museum exhibitions.

  1. Where did the name "RMS Titanic" come from and what does it mean? "RMS" means "Royal Mail Ship". (Some say "steamer.") This title shows that the Titanic had a charter from the British government to carry British (i.e., the royal) Mail. Occasionally the prefix HMS (His Majesty’s Ship) is seen in print, but that usage is incorrect since H.M.S. is reserved for British war ships. The names "Olympic", "Titanic", and "Gigantic" come from Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks believed that the universe created the gods, not the other way around. The earliest generation of gods created by mother earth was the Titans. They were attacked and defeated by their children, and the new ruling circle of gods made their home on Mount Olympus. During this war, the race of Giants came to the defense of the Titans, but was killed off in the course of battle.

  1. The temperature that night had dropped to near freezing and the ocean was calm. The moon was not visible 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.

  1. Only one-ninth of an iceberg is visible above the surface of the water and sometimes after a berg has capsized, the water in the upper area can make its new face dark, or blue, which makes early identification at night extremely difficult, especially without binoculars.

  1. Witnesses described the iceberg struck by the Titanic as being of a similar shape to the Rock of Gibraltar.

  1. Halifax is where the maiden voyage of Titanic really ended, with the most lasting legacy from the sinking located there.

  1. Located on the eastern coast of Canada, Halifax has one of the most moving and intimate connections with the Titanic disaster, playing a key role during the tragedy's aftermath and becoming the final resting place of many of her unclaimed victim.

  1. According to the Nova Scotia Maritime Heritage website  three Halifax ships were involved in the grim task of recovering victims - many of whom were laid to rest in three of our city's cemeteries. Rows of black granite headstones, each inscribed  with the same date, April 15, 1912, are a stark reminder of the disaster.

  1. Titanic artifacts at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic are a touching reminder of the ship's lost luxury, her violent end and enormity of the disaster. These artifacts were all pulled from the water within weeks of the sinking by ships from Halifax searching for Titanic victims.

  1. After all the survivors had boarded the Carpathia, the ship steamed towards the harbors of New York. By this time, the press had gotten word of the Titanic tragedy, and calls started to stream into the White Star offices. As the time neared for the Carpathia to reach port, over 10,000 people crowded the docks. Swarms of reporters wanting to buy the rights to survivor’s stories desperately searched for any leads into the Titanic.

  1. The Mackay-Bennet, a cable laying ship was left with the morbid task of collecting bodies. After almost five days at sea, many of the bodies had been terribly deteriorated. Armed with tons of ice, over a 100 coffins, 40 embalmers, and a canon to conduct burials at sea, the Mackay-Bennet collected a total of 328 bodies, 119 of which were unrecognizable.

  1. By 1912 all North Atlantic ships carried wireless equipment. All communications from the station were in Morse code. Although Guglielmo Marconi's radio invention had been on ships since the turn of the century, its use was far from universal in 1912.  Marconi employment rules required telegraphists  between 21 and 25 years of age and able to send and receive at least 25 words per minute in Morse Code. In 1912,  after the five months training, Jack Phillips could send and receive 39 words per minute, Harold Bride's 26 words per minute. Jack Phillips is believed to have died of hypothermia during the tragedy, his body never recovered.  Harold Bride survived, left the sea after WW1 and faded into obscurity. He died in Scotland in 1956.

  1. The Titanic's radio callsign was "MGY".

  1. When the lifeboats were deployed, there was a women and children first policy that created these staggering survival rates. Of male passengers in second class, 92 percent perished. Less than half of third-class passengers survived.

  1. Tickets for the Titanic capped out at $4,350 (which is more than $95,860 in 2008 dollars) 

  1. The Titanic history has stated that beyond a shadow of a doubt that when the Titanic did finally collide with the iceberg, the blow was glancing and popped out thousands of rivets that held the plating to the hull. This caused the hull of the Titanic to buckle and take on large amounts of water. This is when the Titanic disaster began.

  1. The International Ice Patrol was set up in 1914 in response to the loss of the Titanic. The patrol locates icebergs in the North Atlantic, follows and predicts their drift, and issues warnings to ships in the vicinity.

  1. The Ship:

Length: 882 feet 9 inches
Beam: 92 feet
Gross tonnage: 46,328 tons
Propulsion: Three propellers
Engines: Two triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines
One low-pressure Parsons turbine
25 double-ended and 4 single-ended Scotch-type boilers
159 coal burning furnaces
Top speed : 23 knots.

Sources and excellent websites on the disaster.

  1. The Titanic Sinking April 15, 1912
  2. Encyclopedia-Titanic Organization.
  3. RMS Titanic Inc.
  4. The Marconi Wireless Installation in R.M.S. Titanic Radio Page
  5. Titanic Facts
  6. BBC Archives
  7. Titanic Universe
  8. Sinking Of The Titanic Influences Wireless Radio
  9. History of Maritime Distress Calls & Titanic Disaster
  10. Large photo of the Titanic
  11. Wreckage of the Titanic found



Many of the victims recovered are buried in this Halifax, Nova Scotia cemetery.
Titanic food menu for April 14, 1912.
History of Maritime Distress Calls & Titanic Disaster.