JIM HARRIS: What Really Sunk The Titanic
After more than a century on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, what sank the RMS Titanic is still controversial.
There are many theories about why the ship sank on that cold, clear night of April 15, 1912. Only the question of who shot John F. Kennedy has more theories about why it happened.
The facts themselves are not in doubt.
Titanic was a British passenger ship sailing from Southampton, England to New York City.
She was the largest ship afloat at the time of her maiden voyage. She was so large it was said “God himself couldn’t sink her.”
Before Titanic left port, The White Star Line that owned her had used the term “designed to be unsinkable” in their public relations campaign about the giant ship.
Beyond her size alone, Titanic was outfitted with advanced safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors. If something put a hole in one part of her hull, those doors would be closed and she was big enough to stay afloat even if that section filled with water.
Part of the problem was that the people who owned Titanic started to believe their own PR campaign. That never ends well.
Since they didn’t believe the ship could ever sink, there were only enough lifeboats for about a third of the passengers. The ship was built to carry 739 First Class passengers, 674 in Second Class and 1,026 in Third Class. She required a crew of 900 people.
The passenger facilities aboard Titanic aimed to meet the highest standards of luxury. The standard set by the Ritz Hotel was about the level of luxury for the ship.
Passengers could use an on-board telephone system – something very rare in those days — a library and a barber shop. The First Class section had a swimming pool, a gymnasium, a squash ball court and a Turkish bath.
The passengers were some of the most rich and famous families in the world. The ship was built for the type of people who found luxury just about adequate.
Captain Edward John Smith, the most senior of the White Star Line’s captains, was selected to captain her maiden voyage.
Trying to please his employers, Captain Smith was trying to set a new world record for a transatlantic crossing on that voyage. Titanic was said to be making over 20 knots as she crossed the Atlantic. Today that seems slow, but for that era it was a speed record.
Like the lack of lifeboats, this effort to set a speed record would be a contributing factor in the disaster.
Titanic received a series of warnings from other ships of drifting ice in the area, but Captain Smith continued to try and set a speed record.
Titanic covered about 484 nautical miles on her first day. On her second day, she traveled 519 nautical miles. The next day, she traveled 546 nautical miles. She traveled an additional 258 nautical miles on her last day.
At 11.40 p.m. ship’s time, a lookout spotted ice ahead and alerted the bridge. The first officer ordered the ship to be steered around it and put the engines in reverse to slow the Titanic’s pace.
Neither of those standard tactics worked. The starboard side of the ship hit the ice. This caused a rip in the hull that left a series of holes in five of the water tight compartments.
The Titanic was built so it could float with four compartments flooded. It soon became apparent that the ship was doomed. The crew began trying to wake sleeping passengers to get them into what lifeboats were available.
Many of the passengers were confused. They were awakened to a call to abandon ship. They must have wondered if this was some kind of joke. They were on an unsinkable ship. How could they have to abandon ship in the middle of the night?
There is an old saying in emergency management: It is better to have an emergency plan and not need it than to need it and not have it.”
Titanic and her crew were not prepared. The crew had not been trained in how to evacuate passengers. The officers did not know how many passengers they could put aboard the lifeboats.
Many of the lifeboats that were launched early were barely half-full. When a large ship goes under, there is a powerful suction that follows. Anything on the surface nearby is pulled under. Those lifeboats went a safe distance from the ship and did not return for additional passengers.
Only 710 people survived and 1,517 people lost their lives. It was the deadliest peacetime nautical disaster in history.
There were both British and American inquiries into the reason Titanic sank.
The conclusions were that Captain Smith had failed to take proper heed of ice warnings, the lifeboats had not been properly filled or crewed, and the collision was the direct result of steaming into a danger area at too high a speed.
Human nature demands that there must be more to it than that for such a disaster. So theories about what “really happened” have gone wild.
One was that it was the Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, that was sunk in her place as part of an insurance scam.
Another is that a pile of stored coal started to smolder inside the ship. To control the situation, more coal was put into the furnaces to get rid of that smoldering coal. This increased the ships’ speed in dangerous waters.
There is even one that the Titanic was carrying a cursed Egyptian mummy that caused the disaster.
There is also the theory that inferior quality steel was used to build the Titanic’s hull.
It would not be surprising to find a special show on one of the many cable TV channels that has “evidence” that aliens from outer space sank the Titanic.
The real thing that sank the Titanic was arrogance.