November 21, 2019

The emigrants, teachers, and silent movie stars, all looking

The year was 1912. About
2208 passengers and crew boarded the largest luxury ship afloat at the time,
the RMS Titanic. Yet, only 705 passengers arrived safely.1 So, what happened to
the other 1503 people aboard the ship? They were all killed as a result of the
sinking of the Titanic, whether it was directly or indirectly caused by the
shipwreck. The Royal Mail Steamer Titanic was built as a result of fierce competition
between the White Star Line and the Cunard Line who had built the Britannia and
Lusitania.2  The Titanic was
one of three ‘Olympic Class’ ships built by the White Star Line at the Harland
and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. All three of the majestic vessels were
industrial wonders, and the Titanic was finished after three years of work. On
April 10, 1912, the Titanic sailed away from Southampton, England, on its 5503 km 3 voyage across the
Atlantic Ocean to New York City, New York. There was a wide array of passengers
including millionaires, emigrants, teachers, and silent movie stars, all
looking to travel to the western world. It can be seen in appendix A that the
Titanic made stops in Cherbourg, France and Queenstown, Ireland before embarking
for New York. The ship was making good progress after five days, as it was
staying on the planned course. On April 11, the Titanic received multiple radio
reports of icebergs and Captain Edward Smith plotted a more southerly course.
However, at 11:40 PM on April 14, the lookout sounded the alarm to signify an
iceberg spotting. The day had previously not had ideal conditions for spotting
sea ice, as the sky had been clear with no moonlight shining onto the sea. The
lookout had sounded the warning much too light and even though the Titanic
veered away as quickly as possible, the ship struck the iceberg 40 seconds
later and a massive gash emerged in the hull.4 A survivor by the name
of Washington Dodge wrote about the situation in a written statement. His words
were, “I retired at 10:30 inserted: P.M. to be awakened about 11:40 by what
seemed to be a violent jar. I had the impression that the steamer had been
struck on her side with sufficient force to move her bodily in a lateral
direction.”5 After a closer inspection of the possible damage, it was
determined by the chief naval architect Thomas Andrews that the Titanic would
sink in approximately three hours. At the time, six watertight compartments at
the front of the underbody were breached. The ship had been built to withstand
only four flooded compartments.4 The passengers started to load the twenty
lifeboats on board the ship, however most of the lifeboats were only half
filled and less than a third of the passengers were able to escape. Most of the
survivors were women and children as the order to load the lifeboats, “Woman
and children first!” As a result of this order, many men had to give up their
spot on a lifeboat and sadly passed away.6 Three hours after the original collision, the
Titanic lay at the ocean floor of the Atlantic Ocean, about four kilometers
below the surface. The sinking marked the end of the Edwardian Era (as
designated by British historians and named after King Edward IV7), one of luxury and
wealth before the beginning of World War 1 in 1914. After news of the disaster
spread, the sinking of the Titanic sparked debate and question because the ship
had been previously deemed as being “built to be unsinkable,” by the White Star
Line in a brochure8. Perhaps what is most shocking about the tragedy, is that with
careful analysis, it can be seen that the loss of life could have been
realistically prevented if not for poor judgement, pride, lack of safety
equipment and failure to heed repeated warnings.

 

 The loss of life on April
14 could have been prevented multiple ways and at multiple stages during the
increasingly shocking situation aboard the RMS Titanic. Scientists have
discovered new evidence that the metal in the hull was weakened due to an
enormous fire that started in the coal room during the building process. Journalist Senan
Molony, who has spent more than 30 years researching the sinking of the Titanic,
studied photographs (Appendix B) taken by the ship’s chief electrical engineers
before it left the Belfast shipyard.

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Maloney said he was
able to identify 30-foot-long black marks along the front right-hand side of
the hull, just behind where the ship’s lining was pierced by the iceberg. He
said, “We are looking at the exact area where the iceberg stuck, and we appear
to have a weakness or damage to the hull in that specific place, before she
even left Belfast” 10. This evidence can be connected back to the statement made by the
White Star Line, “The Titanic was built to be unsinkable.”8 This may actually hold
to be true as the ship may have been virtually unsinkable before the fire
happened. I If a fire had happened, the metal could have been replaced, or
strengthened to hold better against the force of the iceberg.

Even if the disaster could not have been prevented before the embarkation,
it could have been stopped while the ship was sailing. Historians argue that
there should have been different reactions to multiple warnings and even
sightings of the danger to come. These claims are very agreeable once explanations
are made. As mentioned previously, numerous warnings of incoming ice were
radioed to the Titanic. These came from nearby ships and one of them was the La
Provence. Their warning was, “We passed in sight of icefield and bergs in
latitude 41.30 north, longitude 49.00 to 50.00 west. Icefield about sixty miles
in length.”11 Captain Edward Smith could have paid much more attention and care
to these repeated warnings and possibly even slowed down or stopped the ship to
wait for daylight. However, some would counter that Captain Smith did take the
necessary steps when he changed the ship’s course to be more southerly, and he
posted lookouts to watch specifically for icebergs. The problem with this
argument is that neither of these strategies worked.12 A lookout did spot the
iceberg but it was too late as the Titanic was travelling at its maximum speed.
The 1997 film Titanic implied that the ship was attempting to break a
transatlantic speed record at the request of J. Bruce Ismay, the president of
the White Star Line. Many historians have agreed that this is false and J.
Bruce Ismay has denied the theories as well. Although, Captain Smith should
have reacted differently, the radio operators of other ship should have
passed on the warnings with much more force and urgency. An example of this is
the SSS Californian. Her captain stopped the ship to wait for daylight due to
danger of ice. The wireless operator signaled this to the Titanic. The problem
was that the  message came right at the time that Senior Wireless Operator
Jack Phillips was attempting to get through a number of passenger messages he
hadn’t been able to send off earlier (because the set had been broken earlier
and Titanic hadn’t been in range of the nearest wireless station, Cape
Race, Newfoundland). The Californian’s signal broke in over the top of
Phillip’s broadcast and was very loud in his headphones because the ships were
so close. Phillips replied with anger, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m working Cape
Race!” Although this was not the only warning Titanic received, it happened
less than ten minutes before the collision, so it might possibly have made a
difference if Phillips had been paying more attention and had relayed it
promptly to the bridge.13 Also, the officer on watch, William Murdoch, was not given
binoculars as they had been taken by another officer by mistake.
 Therefore, he could not see the iceberg from a distance. Although, once
the iceberg had been spotted, Murdoch could have reacted differently in
trying to avoid a collision. One factor that might have helped is if he hadn’t
ordered “Full Astern (reverse)” as he attempted to steer around the iceberg.14 Once the message was
received at the engine room the engineers had to spend a few moments getting
the ship’s enormous engines to respond and switch to reverse. If the Titanic
had not been slowing down as she approached the iceberg but instead continuing
at full speed, she might have been more maneuverable, able to turn harder and
avoid the iceberg entirely. Some would argue that this is only speculation and
cannot be proven. In this case, any chance is better than no chance, and if
that strategy might have worked, the Titanic should have attempted it.

   
Finally, a few things could have been changed after the Titanic collided with
the iceberg to prevent the massive loss of life. First of all, even though
there were 2208 people sailing on the Titanic, there were only 1178 lifeboat
seats available, which is just over half the number of people. What is
perhaps even more shocking is that the law at the time required just 962
lifeboat seats.1 It is quite disturbing that it the law would allow 1246 lives to
be taken away in which in the actual disaster, many more were killed. Even if
the Titanic sunk, almost all the lives should have been saved if the law had
been different. There is the argument that changing the law is a very extensive
process, and there would have been no way to know that a disaster of this
magnitude could have happened. However, this fault in the system should have
been recognized and changed before the Titanic even departed. Also, only 706 of
the 1178 available lifeboat seats on 20 total lifeboats were filled leaving 472
spots open.15

    Even
though multiple reasons can be presented about how the sinking of the RMS
Titanic could have been prevented, there are also reasons to suggest that this
claim is unrealistic. They state that there are too many factors that had to be
exact or right. However, this argument can be debunked because if one of the
things mentioned above had been different, many, if not all, of the lives could
have been saved. Some people believe that the technology and resources at the
time weren’t enough to save the RMS Titanic, however it is clear that even if
the actual ship couldn’t have been saved, the lives aboard it should have been.
Also, it is worth noting that the private officers were paid by the number of
messages they distributed, and not by the hour. Therefore, it was in Senior
Wireless Operator Jack Phillips’ best interest at the time to be more concerned
with taking care of passenger messages rather than other incoming information.
If this had been different, he may have heard the warnings and possibly
prevented the disaster.

    In
conclusion, the sinking of the RMS Titanic and the loss of life could have been
realistically prevented, either before the departure, during the time when the
ship hit the iceberg, and even after it had already started to sink. Even
though the sinking of the Titanic is not the worst shipwrecked disaster in the
industrial age in terms of loss of life, it is one of the most recognizable and
well known ones. It serves as a reminder about what can actually go wrong, even
when it seems that nothing possibly can. Fortunately, the world has learned
from this tragedy in 1912 and laws meant to promote safety aboard passenger
ships have been instituted since then. This disaster in the middle of the
Atlantic Ocean on April 14, 1912 should serve as a reminder that no matter how
perfect a situation seems, anything can go wrong, so the best thing to do is
simply prepare.

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