The Titanic was well known as the largest and most luxurious passenger liner in the world in the early 20th century. Designed by Thomas Andrews from Harland and Wolff and funded by J. P. Morgan and the International Mercantile Marine Co., the Titanic was popularly dubbed by press and advertisers as 'unsinkable'. It was no wonder then that news of her collision with an iceberg and inevitable sinking in the North Atlantic Ocean on 15 April 1912 sent shock waves throughout the globe.
Construction on the Titanic began on 31 March 1909 at the Belfast shipyard belonging to Harland and Wolff. By the time she was completed and outfitted three years later, she had a length of 882.5 feet (269 m), a width of 92.5 feet (28.2 m) at its widest part, and a carrying capacity of almost 47,000 tons, 66,000 tons when fully laden. The Titanic was run by powerful four-cylinder inverted engines and one low-powered turbine that controlled three propellers. With 159 coal furnaces and 29 boilers, she topped out at a speed of 23 knots, or 26.7 miles per hour (43 km/h).
In addition, the Titanic had a hull with 16 watertight compartments. The liner could remain afloat with the first or last four compartments flooded, or any two compartments flooded, or 11 possible combinations of three compartments flooded. Any other situation would sink the liner. This remarkable feat of engineering technology at the time was impressive, earning the Titanic its reputation as unsinkable.
A further 'reassuring' point was that the Titanic carried 20 lifeboats on board, which was more than the legal requirement. When examined closely though, the lifeboats were sufficient for slightly more than 50% of the people on board. White Star Line's decision on the number of lifeboats was propelled by legal support as well as standard emergency procedures, whereby lifeboats would drop passengers off to safety and then return to save others. Hence, providing lifeboat capacity for more than half the souls on board seemed adequate.
With such sturdy construction, the Titanic confidently departed on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City, USA on 10 April 1912. There were a total of 1,324 passengers from First, Second, and Third (Steerage) Class, as well as 899 crew members on this first transatlantic voyage.
Four days into the voyage, on Sunday afternoon, 14 April 1912, Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic received many iceberg warnings from other ships making the transatlantic journey, such as the Caronia, Baltic, Amerika, California, and Mesaba. Each of these Morse-coded messages was translated and noted by the radio operators, and later passed on to the relevant officers in charge. Despite these warnings, the Titanic continued full-speed ahead on its chosen course, where a field of icebergs lay ahead.
The temperature dropped as the liner pursued its course. The sea was calm and peaceful, and the night sky clear. No one suspected the impending doom that awaited the Titanic.
At 11:40 p.m., lookout officers Reginald Lee and Frederick Fleet glimpsed an iceberg ahead of them. Fleet signaled the warning bell and telephoned the bridge officer to inform him of the iceberg. First Officer Murdoch immediately ordered the engines stopped and the liner turned hard left, but it was already too late. The iceberg grazed the Titanic's right side below the water level, and ice cold water quickly began to fill up the watertight compartments.
The sinking of the Titanic
Sea water filled five compartments, one compartment more than the Titanic could handle to remain afloat. After a thorough assessment of the situation by Captain Smith and ship designer Thomas Andrews, it became certain that the Titanic would sink within a few hours. It was after midnight when ship officers sent out distress signals to other nearby ships. Lifeboats were lowered and filled with passengers as quickly as possible.
In spite of this grave situation, most of the lifeboats were not filled to their maximum capacity. In a lifeboat built for 65 people, only 28 were seen to board some of the boats. Therefore, even though the Titanic's lifeboats could have saved 1,178 people, only 706 survived in the end. 1,517 passengers and crew members perished at sea that night, drowning or dying of hypothermia in the 28° Fahrenheit (-2.2° Celsius) waters. At approximately 2:20 a.m. on Monday, 15 April 1912, less than three hours after the collision, the grand Titanic broke into two separate parts and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, where it remains until today.