The Sinking of the Titanic

The Sinking of the Titanic

Untergang der Titanic (“Sinking of the Titanic”)
by Willy Stöwer

The unfortunate sinking of the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage April 14, 1912 is not the worst maritime disaster to have occurred in peacetime, but is probably the most well known.  From the stories of those who survived, to the inquiry board after the event to multitudes of media stories, books and films, the Titanic sinking strikes a chord of unbelief in most people’s minds.  How could so many things go wrong at once to affect so many lives?  The entire disaster was a conglomeration of errors and extremely bad coincidences.

Considered “unsinkable” was the first error.  The owners and management of the RMS Titanic, White Star Line, were responsible for many more:

  • Although designed for 68 lifeboats, White Star Line opted for a clearer promenade deck with more scenic views of the ocean.  They supplied only 20; and four were the collapsible type.
  • Lack of training for crew members. Only 5% were trained seamen.  Most were engineers, firemen, stokers, stewards and galley workers with little experience. Especially undertrained for emergencies were the radio operators.
  • No binoculars on board for look-outs.
  • Too much emphasis placed on speed and schedules rather than safety.

The part that bad luck, coincidences, fate or what may be termed happenstance played is major:

  • Six messages were sent to the Titanic from other ships in the area about ice; the first two were the only ones received and replied to in an orderly manner.  The third through fifth were left lying in the radio room and never delivered.  The sixth was received by a stressed out radio operator trying to complete a backlog of passenger messages (via Cape Race relay system) and signaled back, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m working Cape Race.”
  • Weather conditions that night along with the unusual aligning of the moon, sun and stars created high tides, a mirage effect and a black calm sea that reflected the stars with no moon in the sky. This made it very hard to spot ice.
  • Ten minutes before the Titanic hit the iceberg, the closest liner (and the sender of several of the six messages) shut down radio operations for the night.  The deck watch also left their posts after seeing a visual of the Titanic at the moment of impact, not knowing what had happened.  They were only alerted an hour later when five rocket flares were fired.

Titanic on her sea trials, 2 April 1912

Take those errors and happenstance and add to the mix, the element of denial by a captain, no instructions given to the crew, not enough information told to passengers and the under-loading of the inadequate number of life boats and the result is catastrophic.

Only 705 people survived out of 2,224 passengers.  Hundreds more could have been saved if the nearest ship’s crew had been alert, the lifeboats had been filled to capacity and the radio messages delivered promptly. It is now surmised that the Captain’s maneuvering actions may have been in error to avoid the iceberg and just turning the ship may have been enough.