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The Titanic - History of a Disaster


On April 14,1912 a great ship called the Titanic sank on its 
maiden voyage. That night there were many warnings of icebergs from 
other ships. There seems to be a conflict on whether or not the 
warnings reached the bridge. We may never know the answer to this 
question. The greatest tragedy of all may be that there were not 
enough lifeboats for everyone on board. According to Walter Lord, 
author of The Night Lives On, the Titanic could have been saved in the 
very beginning of the crisis when the iceberg was first reported to 
the bridge. If First Officer Murdoch had steamed right at the iceberg 
instead of trying to avoid it, he might have saved the ship. The 
author feels there would have been a loud crash and anyone within the 
first one hundred feet would have been killed, but the ship would have 
remained afloat(82). This view was entirely speculation and we will 
never really know if this would have happened. In contrast, Geoffrey 
Marcus, author of The Maiden Voyage, suggests that the bridge did not 
receive warning of the ice from the very beginning. One of the 
messages received was from the Masaba warning the Titanic of a mass of 
ice lying straight ahead. According to Marcus, the message never 
reached the bridge, but instead was shoved under a paper-weight (126). 
At 10:30 p.m. that evening, a ship going the opposite direction of the 
Titanic was sighted. This ship, the Rappahannock, had emerged from an 
ice field and had sustained damage to its rudder. The vessel signaled 
the Titanic about the ice and the Titanic replied that the message was 
received (Marcus 127). At 11 p.m. another ice report was received. 
This one was from the Californian. This liner had passed through the 
same ice field that the Rappahannock had reported to the Titanic. Like 
all the other warnings, this warning never reached the bridge though 
it was known to both of the Titanic's wireless operators (Marcus 128). 
By the time the bridge realized the ship was about to hit an iceberg, 
it was too late. Quartermaster Hitchens tried to turn the wheel hard 
to the starboard. Twenty seconds later, he had an order for full speed
astern but the iceberg was too close. The starboard side hit the 
iceberg, bringing a block of ice onto the deck (Pellegrino 21). After 
the collision occurred, there was only one thing open for Captain 
Smith to do. It was almost midnight and he gave the order to take to 
the lifeboats (Lord, Lives On 82). This decision brought Captain Smith 
face-to-face with the fact that there were 2,201 people on board and 

 lifeboats for only 1,178 people (Lord, Lives On 83). The 
Captain was going to have to make a choice as to who would be the 
first allowed on the lifeboats. Around 12:30 a.m. the bridge informed 
the crew that only women and children would be loaded on the lifeboats 
(Eaton,Haas,152). By 1:30 a.m., there was panic among some of the 
passengers. One example was on the port side of the boat. A group of 
passengers threatened to jump into a boat full of passengers. To scare 
them, one of the officers fired three shots on the ship's side. The 
warning proved to be successful. Nobody was injured and the passengers
calmed down (Eaton and Haas 154). At the last moments with only forty 
seven available spaces on the last lifeboat, the crew instructed 
everyone to form a circle around the boat. Women and children were the 
only people permitted to pass through the circle. A little while after 
the last lifeboat left, the stern lifted clear out of the water with 
more than 1500 people still on board (Eaton and Haas 157-161). The 
climatic moment came at 2:20 a.m. The Titanic stood perpendicular to 
the water. As people in the lifeboats looked on, they noticed the ship 
stayed perpendicular for a minute and then disappeared to the bottom 
of the ocean (Lord, Lives on 137). Captain Rostron of the ship 
Carpathia determined the distance to the Titanic and quickly 
calculated the course to answer the Titanic's distress call (Eaton and 
Haas 177). Once the Carpathia reached the lifeboats, it did not take 
long to load the passengers on board. It was 4:45 a.m. when the last 
lifeboat was loaded on board. The survivors peered around the 
Promenade Deck, searching for family members lost (Lord, To Remember 
152-53). Why wasn't their enough lifeboats for everyone? The Titanic 
came under a regulating board that made laws for vessels over 10,000 
tons. In 1894 only twenty lifeboats were needed. This number was never 
changed when the size of ships increased, and because of this, over a 
thousand lives were lost (Lord, Lives On 84). Another problem with the 
lifeboats was that there was no consistency in loading them. To 
Officer Lightoller, women and children first meant no men were allowed 
to board. In many cases this meant many lifeboats were not filled to 
maximum capacity. Officer Murdoch put men on the lifeboats when there
were no women around. Therefore, a man's life or death, depended on 
what side of the ship he was standing on (Lord, Lives on 116). On a 
luxury ship, lifeboats for everyone would mean less room for games and 
sports on the upper decks. Passengers would have had to give up play 
areas for lifeboats (Lord, Lives On 85). White Star line tragically 
sacrificed safety for luxury. The question remains whether or not 
first and second class passengers received preference on the 
lifeboats. The White Star line claims there was no distinction between 
the three classes of passengers, however, only 25 percent of third 
class passengers were saved compared to 53 percent of first and second 
class passengers. The White Star line explained that third class
passengers were more reluctant to leave the ship and they did not want 
to part from their belongings. The surviving crew of the Titanic also 
claimed that there was no discrimination. Yet at the British Inquiry 
of the accident, not a single third class passenger was called as a 
witness (Lord, Lives On 93-94). One aspect of the tragedy that the 
White Star line can be proud of is the fact that the Titanic was 
spared a panic. The crew did not try to go on lifeboats ahead of the 
passengers as they did when the French liner La Bourgogne went down in 
1898. Most of the passenger remained calm and the crew did their duty 
( Lord, Lives On 127). One of the most intriguing mysteries of the 
tragedy was surrounding the ship's band. It is believed the band 
played right to the end. Where or what they played remains a great 
mystery, as eyewitness accounts vary greatly (Lord, Lives On 135). 
Five days after the Titanic sank, the Bremen was on its way to New 
York. The passengers saw victims of the Titanic in the ocean." We saw 
the body of one woman dressed only in her night dress, and clasping a 
baby to her breast," one the passengers recalled. Another passenger of 
with her arms tightly clasped around a shaggy dog... We saw the bodies 
of three men in a group, all clinging to a chair. Floating by just
beyond them were the bodies of a dozen men, all wearing life belts and 
clinging desperately together as though in their last struggle for 
life. (Ward 180) The aftermath of the disaster changed the way people 
thought about the sea and ships. If one lesson was learned, it was 
that there needs to be enough lifeboats for everyone on a ship. 
Luxuries should always come second to a passengers safety. Since the 
time of this disaster, every ship has enough lifeboats for everyone on 
board and also performs mandatory lifeboat drills. Walter Lord, the 
author of A Night to Remember, remarked that:

 The Titanic has come to stand for a world of tranquillity and 
civility that we have somehow lost... In 1912, people had confidence. 
Now nobody is sure of anything and the more uncertain we become , the 
more we long for a happier era when we felt we knew the answers. (170) 
In 1985, Dr. Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic 
Institution in Massachusetts set out to find the Titanic. That summer, 
he went aboard the U.S. Navy research ship Knorr. The ship used its 
sonar equipment to explore eighty percent of the ocean floor where the 
Titanic was believed to be. On September 1, after studying the video
screens, Dr. Ballard discovered where the Titanic was lying. On a 
second expedition made in July of 1986, Ballard brought his small 
vessel called the Alvin to the site. His findings were as follows: 
Contrary to a long-held belief, the Titanic had not been sliced open 
by the iceberg. Instead, the researchers found that the ship's 
starboard bow plates had buckled under the impact of the collision, 
thereby opening up the ship to the sea. Another major discovery was 
that the stern of the Titanic had wrenched itself away from the rest 
of the ship in its descent to the bottom. (Ward 186) The last survivor 
of the Titanic recently died in her home in Massachusetts. With her 
death, many of the unanswered questions of the Titanic may have also 
died. Hopefully, a tragedy like this will never have to happen again. 
As stated before, ships are now expected to have enough lifeboats for
everyone on board. Ships also route their lanes farther to the south 
during iceberg season. Hopefully, in some small, way this will make a 
difference if such an accident at sea should ever occur again. 

Work Cited 

Eaton, John P., and Charles A. Haas. Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy. New 
York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1986. PP 152-184.

Pellegrino, Charles. Her Name Titanic. New York: McGraw-Hill 
Publishing Company, 1988. PP 20-21.

Marcus, Geoffrey. The Maiden Voyage. New York: The Viking Press, 1969. 
PP 35-128.

Lord, Walter. A Night To Remember. Mattituck: American House, 1955. PP 

Ward, Kaari, ed. Great Disasters. Pleasantville: The Reader's Digest 
Association, Inc., 1989. PP 180-87.



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