The Titanic

– History Of A Disaster Essay, Research Paper

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

the Bremen later reported : Close by was the body of another woman

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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