It must be the most famous shipwreck of all time, with the world still fascinated by a century-old event that is far from the worst maritime disaster on record. Perhaps it’s the sheer glamour of the magnificent White Star liner RMS Titanic, built to opulent standards to service mega-rich passengers as well as less pampered below-decks travelers. Perhaps it’s the pulsating drama of her final hours, or the fact that a great ship could be undone by a minor collision with an iceberg that could so easily have been avoided.
The fatal transatlantic maiden voyage began at Southampton on April 10 1912. Following stops at Cherbourg and Queenstown (now Cobh) she had 2,240 souls aboard, including 899 crew. Just before midnight on April 14 Titanic brushed an iceberg off Newfoundland, cutting a long gash in her starboard side. Five compartments filled with water, exceeding the number that let her stay afloat. It was not immediately apparent, but Titanic was doomed and would sink within three hours.
With lifeboats for only half those aboard and an icy ocean waiting to kill inside 15 minutes, it was always going to be a disaster. But inevitable tragedy was compounded by chaotic evacuation, where boats often left the ship without a full complement. Contrary to popular legend, Titanic was never billed as ‘unsinkable’ – but it is true that the ship’s orchestra continued to play until the mortally wounded leviathan slipped beneath the waves.
The RMS Carpathia arrived on the scene after steaming for four hours at full speed. She picked up the last survivors at 08:30 and headed for New York. The SS Californian was much closer, but failed to act when distress rockets were seen shortly after midnight. However, her radio operator had earlier warned Titanic about pack ice and been brusquely rebuffed.
When was the Sinking of the Titanic: April 14-15 1912
Where was the Sinking of the Titanic: North Atlantic Ocean
What was the Sinking of the Titanic death toll: 1,517 passengers and crew perished (including a disproportionate number of men as a result of the ‘women and children first’ principle). Only 706 survived.