It seems to me that the disaster about to occur was the event that not only made the world rub its eyes and awake, but woke it with a start. To my mind, the world of today awoke April 15th, 1912.RMS Titanic was a transatlantic liner that sank in 1912, causing approximately 1,500 deaths. At the time of her maiden (first) voyage, she was the largest ship to have ever sailed the seas. Construction started in 1909 in the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast, and was completed a few months before the big trip — enough time for rumours to spread about the luxurious White Star Liner being "unsinkable". Then, said ship sets sail for New York, hits an iceberg on the fourth day, and sinks in less than three hours. Its fate has inspired at least 36 movies, including a Nazi propaganda film, two cartoonified versions in which Everyone Lives, and James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster Titanic. Throughout the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, millions of emigrants wanted to go to America to start a new life, and the mail services in Europe needed a swift and reliable means of transporting hundreds of thousands of letters and packages across the Atlantic. Various ship lines in Great Britain, the United States and eventually Germany would answer the call with large, steam-driven ships, but the most famous of these lines, Great Britain's Cunard and White Star, would be the big dogs, constantly competing against each other for emigrant passenger tickets (the real bread and butter of the trade, rather than first-class passengers) and the profitable license to carry the mail to and from Britain. Hence the initials RMS on ships that held that license — Royal Mail Steamer. But in the late 1890s, the Norddeutscher Lloyd and Hamburg America Lines threatened to encroach into Cunard and White Star's competition with the launch and maiden voyages of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and Deuschland, two liners of unprecedented size, speed (with Kaiser running at a then-unheard-of speed of 22.35 knots (Just over 41km/h or almost 26mph), and Deuschland traveling even faster) and luxury. In response, the Cunard Line (that had always placed speed and reliability as paramount for their ships) produced the 787 and 790-foot long Lusitania and Mauretania in 1907, with top speeds of over 24 knots, thanks to their four turbine engines (the first class of ocean liners to be exclusively turbine-driven, after the comparative experiment with Cunard's liners Carmania and Caronia over the cost-effectiveness of the turbine in 1905) and the largest liners in the world both in physical size and mass (the empty shell of the Lusitania at launch outweighed the fully outfitted Kaiser by 2,000 gross tons), as well as among the first to have elevators (or "lifts" as the British know them) for passengers. White Star, seeing the threat Cunard's new "Greyhounds of the Atlantic" presented to the company, quickly drafted a response. As opposed to Cunard, White Star prided itself on comfort and luxury rather than pure speed (as that tended to come at the cost of passenger capacity, and resulted in a tendency to vibrate uncomfortably). Part of this was granting modest luxuries to third-class, which included linens, silverware, waiters who brought their food, and free postcards on their menus, so that they could praise White Star to their friends and relatives back home. As such, they sought to build two, possibly three, liners that were at least ninety feet longer than the Lusitania and Mauretania, and by far more luxurious than both together. The answer was the Olympic-Class of ship: 52,000 ton, 882-foot long superliners with the capacity for 3,000 passengers and crew, three lifts in first-class and one for second-class, and two reciprocating high-pressure engines for the two "wing" propellers, and a low-pressure turbine for the smaller, central propeller, increasing cost-effectiveness in steam economy by reusing steam wasted by the reciprocating engines. For luxury, the ships boasted promenade decks for each class, whose cabins for third and second class were just as good as second and first-class cabins on other ships, and the first-class rooms were just as splendid as any suite at the best hotels in the world, with the most expensive suite of cabins (yes, suite of cabins) went for hundreds of thousands of American dollars in 2012 money, with private baths for more first and even second-class cabins than any other ship afloat (even as late as the 1930s most ships still required most passengers to share bathing facilities like in a college dorm). As the popular ships of the day had four funnels, a fake was added on the back, which also doubled as a large ventilator for the engineering spaces, reducing the number of ventilator cowls on deck, producing a clean outline, whereas the Mauretania and Lusitania's deckhouse roofs, with their multitude of cowls, looked cluttered in comparison. Safety was also considered in the design: a double-bottomed hull to contain flooding in the event of running aground; sixteen bulkheads that went two decks above the waterline (any two of which could flood with bulkheads above the floodwater to spare); in the event of a collision, or in the impractical probability of the first four compartments flooding the ship would still float, acting as its own lifeboat until help could arrive; and above all, in the event of the worst, the ships boasted a new davit design that could hold up to 68 lifeboats, but for various reasons (cosmetics, impracticality, cost, etc.) the number was reduced to 20, which was still four boats beyond the legally required 16 for ships 10,000 tons and over in the British Board of Trade regulations. Impractical being the operative word. Certainly, unpredictable things might happen, but as a major passenger tragedy had not befallen any ship in some forty years, there was little reason for anyone in the shipping industry to be overly concerned beyond academics. And so it became known in the shipbuilding world that the Olympic-Class were "practically unsinkable", and the press at large censored out the "practical" part and simply deemed them "Unsinkable," and the public bought it and ran with it. After all, in an age where men were flying, and one person communicating with someone else on the other side of the world in real time, and horses were losing buyers to the horseless carriage, the idea of a ship that could not be sunk was hardly unimaginable. And so the first ship, RMS Olympic, set sail in 1911, and the response was so successful that White Star ordered a third ship, Britannic (the urban myth that she was to be named "Gigantic" and renamed after the disaster is just that, Gigantic was a meme bandied about by the workers at Harland and Wolf as a hopeful potential name for all new ships). It was in this environment that the middle child, Titanic, rose to the prominence. On her maiden voyage, starting at Southampton, England and Cherbourg, France on April 10th before going off to Queenstown (now Cobh), Ireland, she was loaded with not only hundreds of emmigrants from both the Continent and the British Isles, but the wealthiest aristocrats, by title or by position, on both sides of the Atlantic. These included big names such as John Jacob Astor IV, heir to the Astor Railroad fortune and his barely 19-year old bride Madeleine returning home from their extended honeymoon (and to wait out the scandal involving JJ's divorce and marriage to a younger woman... and to ensure that their unborn child was born on American soil). As well as the Strauses, Isidor and Ida, co-owners of the world-famous Macy's Department Store in New York, along with scores of other members of the 1912 rich and famous. And at the helm, was Captain E.J. Smith, "The Millionaire's Captain," and White Star's favorite officer, who took out every new ship of the line on her maiden voyage for the past decade and a half. At the age of 63, Smith planned to retire. If not after this voyage on Titanic, then certainly after Britannic's in the spring of 1915. But the winter of 1911-12 was unusually warm, and the threat of icebergs breaking off from the glaciers of Greenland and northeast Canada was more dire than usual, with a thicker density of icebergs and pack ice farther south than usual. Titanic's wireless operators received a number of ice warnings, but due to the nature of their employ, only sent a few to the bridge. On Sunday, April 14th, at 11:40 PM ship's time, it was a new moon and the sea as smooth as glass, highly unusual for the typically swell-filled North Atlantic. These circumstances made the prospect of finding icebergs almost impossible, without the light of the moon or the whitewash of waves breaking at the waterline of the iceberg. So it's a testament to Frederick Fleet's eyes and dedication that he saw the iceberg when he did(really more of a black mass where starlight wasn't), his co-watchman Reginald Lee ringing the bell as Fleet telephoned the bridge. The officer on duty on the bridge, First Officer Murdoch, saw the iceberg too, and ordered "Hard to Starboard" (technically to Port, or a Left Turn, but Titanic used tiller commands and so the directions were reversed in spite of what some claim about the 1997 movie), and ordered all of the engines full astern. However, in the heat of the moment, Murdoch forgot a vital factor in Titanic's turning ability: The turbine could not go in reverse, so in a full-astern order it, and the center propeller directly in front of the rudder, simply stopped, and with the two wing propellers turning in reverse, the water flow over the rudder was greatly reduced, rendering the rudder practically useless. It has been speculated that had Murdoch ordered only the port engine reversed, or simply left the engines alone, Titanic could have either missed the iceberg entirely, or collided with greatly reduced damage. But what was done was done, and Titanic hit the iceberg. Most of the passengers never noticed the collision, or felt little more than a slight rumbling bump. Thomas Andrews, the designer, never even knew of the accident until Captain Smith ordered him to go down below to examine the damage. After midnight, Andrew's returned with the news, and it wasn't good: Titanic could flood with up to two compartments, or the four foremost compartments, flooding. The first four compartments were flooding, in addition to Boiler Room 6, and Boiler Room 5. The engineers were able to fix Boiler Room 5's two or so feet of damage and began pumping, but for every gallon the engineers pumped out, Titanic took on 15 more. Over the next two hours the crew rushed to launch the boats while Senior Wireless Operator Jack Phillips worked frantically to get the word out, right up to the very end. At 2:20 AM local time, Titanic broke apart and slipped beneath the waves, and the some-odd 1,500 men, women, and children left behind died of hypothermia in the 28°F (-2°C) water, and the survivors were picked up by RMS Carpathia at dawn. After the disaster, new legislations was passed on both sides of the Atlantic to ensure that such a tragedy couldn't happen again, and the Titanic became another piece of pop culture until 1985, when a joint French and American team found the wreckage, and the following year the Woods-Hole Oceanographic Institute sent a team, lead by discoverer Dr. Robert "Bob" Ballard to dive and photograph the wreck. Today the wreck lies in two big chunks, with smaller chunks consisting of the middle section over a fifteen-square mile area. The wreck itself is being consumed by iron-eating bacteria, and assuming that those don't finish her off, recent sonar scans show that dunes that dwarf the ship are slowly being blown her way by the currents, ensuring that the whole site will be buried. There is much controversy concerning the near-constant dives on the wreck and the issue of salvaging artifacts from the site, and the damage the efforts do to the wreckage (the team that retrieved the ship's bell destroyed the crow's nest while doing so, which until then had been virtually whole and intact. On one of the dives with the Russian Mir, subs damaged a deckhouse on accident with its propeller). Some equate the salvaging with grave robbing, and that the ship should be left to rust in peace. Others claim that such comparisons are invalidated by the treatment of similar legendary disaster sites such as Pompeii, and that it is important to document the wreck site as clearly and thoroughly as possible while the ship still exists. Current international legislation prohibits tampering with the wreck of the ship itself, but the debris field containing thousands of artifacts ranging from pots and pans to shoes to tableware to dolls to wreckage is more or less free rein for the Salvor-in-Possession Titanic, Inc. (now Premier Exhibitions) to collect items from, which can be seen in museums and traveling exhibitions the world over.
— Jack Thayer, Titanic survivor
Works Set aboard RMS TitanicToo many to list here, but there a few noteworthy works:
Tropes as Applied to the Real Life Event