The RMS Titanic was a passenger liner that struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, United States, and sank on 15 April 1912, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.
As the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time, the Olympic-class Royal Mail Ship RMS Titanic was owned by the White Star Line and constructed at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, UK. After setting sail for New York City on 10 April 1912 with 2,223 people on board, she hit an iceberg four days into the crossing, at 11:40 pm on 14 April 1912, and sank at 2:20 am on the morning of 15 April.
The ship did not sail into the iceberg head on but rather suffered a glancing blow in a manoeuvre trying to avoid it. Further the iceberg did not open her plates like a can opener but rather tear them apart in the riveted joints. The Titanic was designed to survive a head on collision that would flood the first 4 of her water tight compartments or a collision from another ship that would ram her in the middle and flood maximum two compartments; however, this long opening in the hull was not foreseen and the crew soon realised that the ship was going to sink.
The high casualty rate resulting from the sinking was due in part to the fact that, although complying with the regulations of the time, the ship carried lifeboats for only 1,178 people. A disproportionate number of men died due to the “women and children first” protocol that was enforced by the ship’s crew. This procedure meant that many boats were only half filled. Since the sea was calm, it would have been safe to fill all boats to capacity and thereby rescue an additional 500 persons. Further, only few were picked up from the water after the sinking out of fear of the boats being overfilled or capsizing.
Another factor that crucially contributed to the high death rate was the failure of the nearby ship the Californian to come to the rescue. The Titanic stayed afloat for more than 2½ hours, which meant that the Californian had enough time to reach her before she sank. In the end it was the Carpathia which came to the rescue and picked up the survivor from the lifeboats but not until the Titanic had been sunk for almost 2 hours.
In the aftermath of the sinking, the owner of the Titanic J. Bruce Ismay was criticised for having left the ship while there were still passengers onboard who could have been saved and the same was the case for the captain of the Californian for failing to assist the sinking ship. In navigation, the disaster let to new safety regulations especially regarding the number of lifeboats which were increased to provide room for everyone onboard.
Further, wireless telegraphs were to be manned at all hours to make sure a ship could be called to assistance. The two sister ships of the Titanic, the Olympic and the Britannic, were brought back to the yard to have their safety improved. It did not, however, prevent the Britannic from sinking during World War I, but thanks to more lifeboats and better organisation the loss of lives was much smaller for her.
Titanic was designed by experienced engineers, using some of the most advanced technologies and extensive safety features of the time. The sinking of a passenger liner on her maiden voyage, the high loss of life and media frenzy over Titanic’s famous victims, the legends about the sinking, the resulting changes in maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985 have all contributed to the enduring interest in Titanic.