When the Titanic left Queenstown, Ireland, on April 11, 1912, with over 2,200 passengers and crew members bound for New York in the United States, most of those onboard probably believed the common myth that had been floating around for months: the Titanic was unsinkable.

Based upon news articles about the ship and advertisements from its owner, the White Star Line, it’s clear that those who built the ship had designed it to be unsinkable.

When it was built and launched, the Titanic was the largest ship afloat. At 882.5 feet long, 92.5 feet wide, 175 feet high, the ship displaced 66,000 tons of water. It was the largest movable object ever made by Man. With newly-designed watertight compartments and remotely-operated, electronic watertight doors, it’s easy to see why engineers believed the ship was practically unsinkable.

The Titanic

The Titanic, in addition to being exceptionally huge, was designed to be the ultimate in luxury travel. Never had there been a cruise ship with such magnificent features; a gymnasium, swimming pool, libraries, restaurants, and luxurious cabins.

In fact, the Titanic’s passenger list for its maiden voyage included some of the wealthiest people in the world. John Jacob Astor, Isidor Strauss, Benjamin Guggenheim – just to mention a few.

The first few days of the Titanic’s voyage went smoothly. On April 14, 1912, however, the Titanic hit an iceberg at 11:40pm. At that time, the ship was approximately 375 miles south of Newfoundland in the northern Atlantic Ocean.

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Last Call Bell of the Titanic, Longfellow Bar, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1912/Unsplash.

Although the ship had been designed to stay afloat even if four of its 16 watertight compartments were breached, the iceberg’s glancing blow caused the ship’s hull plates to buckle along its starboard on the right side, and water soon began to fill six of the watertight compartments. Less than three hours later, the ship would break apart and sink over two miles to the ocean floor.

If the “unsinkable” Titanic had been able to stay afloat longer than a couple of hours, many more lives could have been saved. When it sent out its distress call, the first ship to respond — the Carpathia — was more than three hours away. By the time it arrived, the Titanic was on the ocean floor.

Experts, who have studied the disaster, including the ship’s remains that were discovered on the ocean floor in 1985, have concluded that no single factor is to blame. Instead, they believe it was a series of factors, called an “event cascade,” that caused the Titanic to sink so quickly.

Now, let’s have a look at these factors that led to the sinking of the Titanic…

The Coal Strike of 1912

In January of 1912, coal miners in Britain decided to go on strike for minimum wages, causing complications in the shipping industry.

Good news came when the goal strike ended on April 6, 1912 but the bad news was that there wasn’t going to be enough time to get newly mined coal to the docks before Titanic’s maiden voyage. In order to lift the speed limitations placed on Titanic, the management bought coal from ships docked putting them out of service. Hence, many of their passengers booked the Titanic.

However, before setting sail, the hull of the infamous ship was compromised as a fire spontaneously lit inside one of its enormous coal bunkers and critically weakened a crucial segment of the ship’s hull.

The Titanic, like most ships of its day, just had one hull, instead of the two modern ships have. Because the bunkers where the crew stored coal for the engines sat right next to the hull, the heat from the fire transferred directly to the skin, damaging the Titanic’s structure.

The owners of the Titanic knew this but they ignored it for fear of bad press and the desire to keep the ship on schedule. So, canceling the trip was out of question.

It is therefore a coincidence that the floating mountain of ice may have happened to strike the exact spot where the hull had been weakened by a coal fire blazing in the bowels of the passenger ship.

The Titanic’s Builders tried to cut costs

In 1985, when an American-French expedition finally located the historic wreck, investigators discovered that, contrary to earlier findings, the Titanic had not sunk intact after hitting the iceberg but had broken apart on the ocean’s surface. They discovered that the shipbuilder’s ambitious plans to build three large ships at the same time had put a huge strain on its shipyard. Not because of cost, but because of time pressures, they started using lower-quality material to fill the gaps.

More than 3 million rivets held the Titanic together and while examining 48 rivets brought up from the wreck, they found out the rivets contained high concentrations of “slag,” a residue of smelting that can make metal fracture prone. This substandard iron was pounded by hand into the ship’s bow and stern, where the large machines required to pound in steel rivets didn’t fit. Steel rivets, meanwhile, which are much stronger than iron, were put in the more-accessible middle of the ship.

When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the weaker iron rivets in the bow popped, opening seams in the hull—and hurrying the ship’s demise. It’s no accident, therefore, that the flooding stopped at the point in the hull where the steel rivets began.

Edward J. Smith

According to a research in 2012, it was discovered that the captain of the Titanic, Edward John Smith ‘failed his original navigation examination’.

The examination was designed to test sailors’ experience, general good conduct, and self-control. However, the captain finally received his Masters Certificate in February 1888 at the age of 38.

This could have been a factor for Titanic’s disaster as the ship was sailing too fast at 40.24 kilometres per hour for the icy conditions. And Smith with over 30 years experience at sea paid too little attention to iceberg warnings he had received. He even cancelled the lifeboat drills scheduled on the morning the day the Titanic sank. The captain went down with the ship and his body was never recovered.  

The Lookouts had no Binoculars

The crew members watching for icebergs from the crow’s nest didn’t have binoculars to have spotted it.

Second officer David Blair, who held the key to the Titanic’s store of binoculars in his pocket, was transferred off the ship before it left for its maiden voyage from Southampton, and forgot to hand over the key to the officer who replaced him.

At a later inquiry into the sinking, a lookout on the Titanic said binoculars might have helped them spot and dodge the iceberg in time. Blair kept the key as a souvenir of his near miss; it was auctioned off in 2007 and fetched some 90,000 pounds.

Not enough Lifeboats

No matter what caused the Titanic to sink, such a massive loss of life could probably have been avoided if the ship had carried sufficient lifeboats for its passengers and crew. But the liner left Southampton with only 20 lifeboats with a total capacity of 1,178 people.

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Bow of the Titanic/Unsplash.

A civil servant who inspected the Titanic in Southampton, recommended it carry 50 percent more lifeboats, his handwritten notes at the time later revealed that he felt his job would be threatened if he did not give the famous ship the go-ahead to sail. Due to the chaos that ensued after the Titanic struck an iceberg, the 20 lifeboats departed the ship with some 400 empty seats, leaving more than 1,500 people to perish in the frigid ocean waters.

Approximately 705 people survived by boarding lifeboats. Unfortunately, outdated maritime regulations had not forced the ship’s designers to include enough lifeboats to ensure the survival of all passengers and crew members.

As a matter of fact, the Titanic had only enough lifeboats to save a little more than half of its passengers and crew, if properly loaded. The lifeboats weren’t properly loaded and approximately 1,517 people perished in the disaster, making it one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history.

You can know more about the Titanic in the video below.

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