RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean in 1912, after colliding with an iceberg during her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Of the estimated 2,224 passengers and crew aboard, more than 1,500 died, making it one of modern history’s deadliest commercial marine disasters during peacetime, followed by RMS Empress of Ireland two years later, when the passenger liner sank after colliding with a cargo ship on the Saint Lawrence River, killing 1,012 people.
RMS Titanic was the largest ship afloat at the time she entered service and was the second of three Olympic-class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. She was built by the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Thomas Andrews, chief naval architect of the shipyard at the time, died in the disaster.
Titanic was under the command of Capt. Edward Smith, who also went down with the ship. The ocean liner carried some of the wealthiest people in the world, as well as hundreds of emigrants from Great Britain and Ireland, Scandinavia and elsewhere throughout Europe who were seeking a new life in the United States. The first-class accommodation was designed to be the pinnacle of comfort and luxury, with an on-board gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, high-class restaurants and opulent cabins. A high-powered radiotelegraph transmitter was available for sending passenger “marconigrams” and for the ship’s operational use. Although Titanic had advanced safety features such as watertight compartments and remotely activated watertight doors, it only carried enough lifeboats for 1,178 people—about half the number on board, and one third of her total capacity—due to outdated maritime safety regulations.
At 11:40 p.m. on 14 April, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg immediately ahead of Titanic and alerted the bridge. First Officer ordered the ship to be steered around the obstacle and the engines to be stopped, but it was too late; the starboard side of Titanic struck the iceberg, creating a series of holes below the waterline. The hull’s seams buckled and separated, allowing water to seep in. Five of the ship’s watertight compartments were breached. It soon became clear that the ship was doomed, as she could not survive more than four compartments being flooded. Titanic began sinking bow-first, with water spilling from compartment to compartment as her angle in the water became steeper.
Those aboard Titanic were ill-prepared for such an emergency. In accordance with accepted practices of the time, where ships were seen as largely unsinkable and lifeboats were intended to transfer passengers to nearby rescue vessels, Titanic only had enough lifeboats to carry about half of those on board; if the ship had carried her full complement of about 3,339 passengers and crew, only about a third could have been accommodated in the lifeboats. The crew had not been trained adequately in carrying out an evacuation. The officers did not know how many they could safely put aboard the lifeboats and launched many of them barely half-full. Third-class passengers were largely left to fend for themselves, causing many of them to become trapped below decks as the ship filled with water. The “women and children first” protocol was generally followed when loading the lifeboats, and most of the male passengers and crew were left aboard.
At 2:20 a.m., two hours and 40 minutes after Titanic struck the iceberg, her rate of sinking suddenly increased as her forward deck dipped underwater, and the sea poured in through open hatches and grates. As her unsupported stern rose out of the water, exposing the propellers, the ship began to break in two between the third and fourth funnels, due to the immense forces on the keel. With the bow underwater, and air trapped in the stern, the stern remained afloat and buoyant for a few minutes longer, rising to a nearly vertical angle with hundreds of people still clinging to it, before sinking. For many years it was generally believed the ship sank in one piece; however, when the wreck was located in 1985, it was discovered that the ship had fully broken in two. All remaining passengers and crew were immersed into lethally cold water with a temperature of 28 °F (−2 °C). Sudden immersion into freezing water typically causes death within minutes, either from cardiac arrest, uncontrollable breathing of water, or cold incapacitation (not, as commonly believed, from hypothermia), and almost all of those in the water died of cardiac arrest or other bodily reactions to freezing water, within 15–30 minutes. Only 13 of them were helped into the lifeboats, though these had room for almost 500 more people.
Distress signals were sent by wireless, rockets, and lamp, but none of the ships that responded was near enough to reach Titanic before she sank.
The wreck of Titanic was discovered in 1985 (more than 70 years after the disaster) during a US military mission, and it remains on the seabed. The ship was split in two and is gradually disintegrating at a depth of 12,415 feet (3,784 m). Thousands of artefacts have been recovered and displayed at museums around the world. Titanic has become one of the most famous ships in history; her memory is kept alive by numerous works of popular culture, including books, folk songs, films, exhibits, and memorials.
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