April 15th marks the 105th anniversary of an enormous tragedy. It was the day when a miracle of technology from the early 19th century disappeared under the waters of the Atlantic Ocean – the White Stare Line passenger cruiser called Titanic sank. The name given to the transatlantic reflected its power. Almost 270 meters long, 29 meters wide and with the maximum height (from the keel to the top of the chimneys) of 53 meters, serviced by a crew of almost 900 people, the ship could carry approx. 2400 passengers on a route from England to North America.
RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912; fot. F.G.O. Stuart
It never actually carried that many passengers. It sunk during its maiden voyage as a result of a hitting an iceberg. There were then over 2200 passengers on board. 32% of them (!) survived. Those who managed to stay alive in life boats were saved by the Carpathia ship. When the catastrophe occurred, Carpathia was at a distance of 4-hour sailing from Titanic. Another ship, Californian, was closer to the sinking transatlantic but for unknown reasons it failed to come to rescue. Time played a huge role in all that. At the moment of hitting the iceberg the temperature of water was 0 degrees Centigrade, the air temperature at its maximum reached 5 degrees Centigrade. Most victims died not because of drowning but as a result of hypothermia. Titanic’s catastrophe claimed the toll of 1500 human lives. The victims were people for whom there was not enough place in the life boats.
The picture of first pages of newspapers informing about Titanic catastrophe, the Titanic exhibition; fot. P. Jarkiewicz
Titanic was the epitome of the power of the then civilization, it was a symbol of the flourishing industry, a brainchild of the steam and electricity age. It was packed with innovative solutions such as automatically closed bulkheads activated with a single switch on the bridge or in the engine room.
It was a synonym of luxury. In addition to numerous parlours, restaurant and cafés, first class passengers had at their disposal such amenities as: Turkish bath, gym and even a roofed swimming pool. Titanic overwhelmed with its splendour, quality, care of detail. In the designing process two hours were spent discussing just the matter of ornaments on carpets in the first class.
The picture of 1st Class Lounge, the Titanic exhibition; fot. P. Jarkiewicz
The 1st class living-room, the Titanic exhibition; fot. P. Jarkiewicz
On the other hand, a discussion on the number of lifeboats took merely fifteen minutes at the designing stage (!). Finally, it was decided to include 20 lifeboats, which meant that in the event of a catastrophe it would be possible to save only half of the passengers. That was anyway more than the then maritime security regulations required. The brutal reality showed that even that half proved impossible to save. A tragedy had to strike in order to change the way of thinking of the people then and prompt them to revise the archaic regulations concerning maritime security.
The layout of lifeboats, the Titanic exhibition; fot. P. Jarkiewicz
The comparison of 3rd and 1st class rooms, the Titanic exhibition; fot. P. Jarkiewicz
The bathroom 2nd class, the Titanic exhibition; fot. P. Jarkiewicz
In spite of a significant difference in interior design between the first and the second classes, the cabins there were truly luxurious to the third class passengers in comparison with the conditions in which the latter existed on a daily basis. Most of them were sailing to the United States to start there a new, better life. That was not the destiny they were to meet. From among third class passengers only one fourth survived. Worse while living, worse in the face of death.
The iceberg which Titanic most probably hit, leaving on it red smudges of paint from the ship’s side plating – source Wikipedia
Titanic at the background of the cause of the tragedy – the iceberg.
Its size is estimated at 125 meters. Only a small part of the iceberg stuck out over the water surface. It tore a hole of about 90 meters in the hull of Titanic. Tight bulkheads and state-of-the-art security systems did not manage to help. After 2.5 hours from hitting the iceberg the miracle of the then technology disappeared under the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
To conclude, I quote a fragment of what Joseph Conrad said about ship owners, summing up the tragedy which befell Titanic: If you, gentlemen, are unable to provide more life boats, then sell fewer tickets. Do not drown people in the most beautiful night that could have happened on the Atlantic. Even if they were to drown with the music which you, gentlemen, ensure for them.
As regards the music, it indeed played until the end. No member of the Titanic orchestra tried to save himself. They played to give a sense of calm among the chaos and despair reigning on board. All of them died.
The Titanic sinking, picture from “Titanic” movie (1997)
Could this tragedy have been avoided? Yes. Titanic received radiograms with warnings of icebergs, including also the one which was the cause of its demise. The sea was constantly monitored from the bridge and crow’s nest. If the ship had been sailing more slowly, it would have more time for the manoeuvre of bypassing the iceberg after noticing it too late. The number of available life boats could have sufficed to shelter half of the passengers. Californian could have come to rescue, which would lead to fewer people dying of hypothermia. Why did all those factors fail to operate? Because the most effective lessons are also the most painful.
Titanic – dreams, the power of possibilities and a warning that, just one should not, like the mythological Icarus, get to close to the Sun and remain prudent in everything.