The Tragedy of the Titanic And Its Lesson - 1912
The RMS Titanic 1912. GGA Image ID # 105441494e
This largest ship in the world was 882 feet 6 inches long; 92 feet 6 inches in breadth; and had four funnels, each one 81 feet 6 inches high above the boat deck. There were 11 steel decks and 30 watertight bulkheads.
The registered tonnage was 45.000 and the actual displacement 66.000. There were accommodations for 2,500 passengers and a crew of 860. The approximate cost was $7.500.000. The Titanic was launched at Belfast on May 31, 1911.
The sinking of the transatlantic liner Titanic with more than 1500 of her passengers and crew was one of the most appalling disasters in the entire history of man's contact with the sea.
Undoubtedly, in the number and eminence of its victims it was the worst calamity that ever befell sea-borne passenger travel.
The RMS Titanic as She Lay in Belfast Harbor After Launching. The First Photograph Taken of the Great Liner. The American Review of Reviews (May 1912) p. 549. © American Press Association, New York, 1911. GGA Image ID # 10541b4135
Sunday, April 14, 1912
The White Star liner Titanic, the largest vessel afloat, fitted with all the comfort and luxury that money and modern invention could devise, and equipped with devices which her builders boasted made her "absolutely unsinkable," on her maiden trip from Liverpool, while about 1000 miles southeast of Halifax and 500 miles south of Newfoundland, on Sunday night, April 14, collided with an iceberg, and four hours later sank to the bottom.
In response to her wireless message for help flashed to Cape Race, Newfoundland, and from there sent to all the neighboring stations and vessels, a number of steamers at once rushed to find her.
The Rescue Ship RMS Carpathia Arrives
At daybreak on Monday, the Cunard liner Carpathia arrived at the scene of the disaster and picked up twenty boatloads of survivors numbering about 700.
Most of these survivors were women and children. The stern law of the sea, as well as of Anglo-Saxon chivalry, demanded that it be "women and children first." Captain Smith, his chief officers, and many passengers eminent in art, letters, finance, the church, public life and society, perished.
When the other ships, which had responded to the signals for help, arrived upon the scene, they found, so they reported, nothing but wreckage and ice. These are the bare facts in this most appalling tragedy.
From the testimony of the survivors who reached New York on the Carpathia on April 18, it is evident that the Titanic, rushing at a speed of 23 knots an hour, was "side-swiped" by an immense iceberg, the edge of the berg, according to one vivid account, "entering the port bow of the ship and gouging out her side like a gigantic can-opener."
Safety and Precautions Taken
The greatest precautions are taken on the modern ocean liners against disaster from collision. There are safeguards also against icebergs, the chief one being the submarine thermometer which notes any sudden change in temperature. This instrument will detect an iceberg ten miles distant.
This has been an abnormal year for icebergs. Referring to the disaster to the Titanic, Sir Ernest Shackelton, the Antarctic explorer, stated that this has been particularly true as regards the downward drift of ice from the North. Sir Ernest explains that the great danger is not from those that extend high above the water, but from the bergs that are almost submerged.
It must be remembered that a polar iceberg is seven-eighths below water to one eighth above. When a high one topples over in getting into a warmer current, it is practically all submerged, and is as dangerous to a vessel going at high speed as a submerged rock would be.
Where the Titanic Sank
Map Showing Where The RMS Titanic Sank on 15 April 1912. (The broken lines indicate how the other steamers answered the wireless calls for help). The American Review of Reviews (May 1912) p. 551. © New York Times. GGA Image ID # 105425a1c3
The reports indicate that the Titanic sank in latitude 41.46 North and 50.14 West. This is a little above the latitude of New York (400 45') and, therefore, about 1600 miles almost due east.
Immediately after the news of the disaster had reached New York and London, the managers of the great transatlantic steamship companies announced an immediate change in the eastern course for vessels crossing the Atlantic.
It is literally true that wireless telegraphy was the means of saving the 800 of the passengers who lived to tell the tale. The presumption is that everybody on board would have been rescued if anyone of the responding vessels had been within two hours steaming distance of the Titanic when her operator sent out her first call for help.
The operator at Cape Race, Newfoundland, at once spread the news to all the vessels, which his charts and records told him were in the vicinity of the doomed ship.
The Illusion of Safety Through Technology
The world had come to believe that the great modern ocean liners, with their watertight compartments and the rigid discipline and vigilance of the officers and crew, were practically secure against complete destruction, even after the most violent shock.
Responsibility for the Disaster
Until all the facts are known, it is not only fair, but reasonable, to withhold judgment as to the responsibility for this disaster. Certain facts must be admitted, however, and certain inferences are obviously fair. Captain Smith, of the Titanic, was striving to make the first voyage of his new ship noteworthy for speed.
He had been warned by a French liner the day before, and by a Hamburg-American liner less than two hours before the collision, that several large icebergs were in that part of the ocean to which his ship was rushing at a speed of more than twenty miles an hour.
The Titanic's captain, one of the most experienced in transatlantic travel, did not, apparently, even avoid the region of the icebergs. He steered directly through it, and at a speed of which the crushing of his ship's frame to the extent that sent her to the bottom in four hours is conclusive evidence.
One of the engineers of the United States revenue cutter service estimates that, at half speed, the impact of the Titanic against the iceberg must have been equal to a broadside of 30 twelve-inch projectiles, or the concentrated fire of three such dreadnaughts as the Florida.
It cannot be denied that some of the blame for the terrific speed and insufficient attention to safety devices on modem steamships must be laid at the door of the traveling public itself.
The companies comply with the law, inadequate as it is proven to be. The indictment of the public's part in the responsibility is well put in the words of Stanley Bowdle, a marine engineer and member of the Ohio Constitutional Convention, who characterizes the loss of life on the Titanic as "a sacrifice to degenerate luxury."
In advocating international legislation to regulate the speed and safety equipment of ocean-going passenger vessels, Mr. Bowdle says: The speed of this vessel on its first trip, with but partially tried-out machinery was criminal.
Its criminality is relieved only by the fact that the passengers using such degenerate vessels demand and enjoy such speed. It is asserted that a sufficient number of lifeboats to carry an average passenger list is not necessary, and could not be carried.
This is absurd, in view of the fact that the great deck room allows tennis courts and golf links. Such steamers are degenerate in size, foolish in enjoyment, and criminal in speed.
While it may be that the Titanic's equipment of lifeboats, life rafts, and life preservers was technically within the requirements of the law, it is quite evident that it is not a safe thing for any vessel to undertake an ocean voyage with safety appliances that can, under no circumstances, provide for more than one-third of the number of human souls she carries.
The survivors are almost exactly one-third of those on board the ill-fated vessel. We must infer that the remainder went to their death because there was no adequate provision for their safety.
Late last summer a heated debate took place in the British Parliament over a bill proposing to compel the White Star line to provide enough lifeboats and rafts on each of its ships to carry all its passengers and crew, but, said the dispatch, "pressure was brought to bear so that the bill was pigeonholed."
The Myth of the Unsinkable Ship
Experts on shipbuilding are now telling us that an unsinkable ship is an impossibility. There ought to be, it would seem, an investigation by the United States Government, of this terrible calamity, which has brought to a watery grave, two miles below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean, 1500 human beings and $15,000,000 worth of property.
Resolutions have been introduced in both Houses of Congress calling for a rigid investigation. A demand also has been made in the House of Representatives at Washington and in the House of Commons at London for some action by the next Hague- conference, which shall result in the agreement upon a lifeboat code and a treaty of uniform observance binding upon every contracting-power.
“The Tragedy of the ‘Titanic’” In American Review of Reviews, Volume XLV, No. 5, New York, May 1912, Page 549-551.
Note: We have made minor edits to this text to correct grammatical errors or to improve word choice to clarify the content. We replaced words written using a non-American variant with the American English spelling for consistency. The passive text was often left “as is.” Those who need to quote directly should verify any changes by reviewing the original material.