Sunday, March 25, 2012

Let's get the story of the Titanic straight!

I wrote this originally in 2007. Now five years alter I have pulled out of the many articles here. I agree with just about all I wrote here five years ago. Now we are nearing the 100th anniversary of the tragic disaster. In but a few days of me writing this James Cameron will be re-releasing the movie TITANIC. However this time in 3 D. All in all I am sure April will quench the thirst of almost everyone interested in the disaster and the ship. It will quiet things down for a while till something new is learned or discovered. I remember when the ship was discovered in 1985. I was looking after a dear friend who was dying and I tried so often to say "Look they found the Titanic"..But it was like the many in the lifeboats who had been through too much, he looked at me and said "I am ready to go". Within a few days of that he had. So I remember this time as we reach the 100th anniversary to those who I met who were on the ship. Eva Hart and Edwina Mackenzie. I hope I spelled her name right. It was in 1979 when I spoke to her. Their stories were amazing. So ending this as we reach another milestone of Titanic history. I remember my friend Dave Farr, who died right when this was all being discovered. That was 27 years ago. I guess I should write about him some day.

The Titanic in movies, myth and reality. Here we see the poster of the movie, a picture of the ship leaving on her maiden voyage and lastly the ghostly bow section of the ship as she looks today.

Since 1985, when the wreck of the Titanic was found and a renewed interest came again to the ship, much has wrongly been said of her and I think it is time to correct a little history here.

First off, the Titanic was not a revolutionary ship, she was part of 3 ship team of identical liners!

The names of the ships would be Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic(originally to be called Gigantic) All the names symbolized size and power, but were they such revolutionary ships?
Not at all! In fact they were just like most of the White Star ships of the last 10 years previous. Just a bit bigger. But to honest, the Olympic class of ships in which they were called were just larger version of White Star's RMS. Oceanic. Granted with a better system of power and triple screw. But outside of 4 funnels, it was basically another Oceanic.

The story of these ships goes back to a dinner party with the head of the White Star Line & and the head of Harland and Wolff ship builders. It was suggested by Bruce Ismay who was the head of the White Star Line in name only (The real owner and power broker was J.P. Morgan. He owned the White Star line through his US Steel interests in New Jersey)

They were distressed by the new ships called Lusitania & Mauritania brought out by Cunard in 1907. Both of those ships broke speed records for the Atlantic crossing and the White Star Line took notice! They were also quite well appointed. Mostly the Lusitania, she was the more beautiful of the two, and also the most popular.

Therefore at this dinner party it was decided to produce 3 large super luxury liners that would not focus on speed but, comfort and safety.
The Lusitania and her sister were around 32,000 tons and 790 feet in length. The new White Star ships would be around 46,000 tons and 882 feet in length. And while the Cunard ships would easily make 24 to 26 knots, the White Star ships were designed to go slower, around 21 to 24 knots.

The design or hotel within the White Star ships was breathtaking. They would be the largest ships in the world. Also the most wonderfully appointed. There were all kinds of suites in all kinds of styles. Luxury was the order of the day.

The Olympic Class of ships were the last of the ocean greyhounds to have a clipper look to them. Soon after the Olympic Class the ships became larger and more boxy looking. They were the last of that breed.

The first ship produced was the Olympic. She was covered in all the papers and became the "ship of wonder" "the ship of dreams" Her maiden voyage was followed by all the press. The Papers all talked about the ships that were practically unsinkable... To tell the truth that was an old line used by every company of the time. The Lusitania and Mauritania were listed as practically unsinkable too!

New York City was all fired up for the arrival of the new colossus....Pier 59 which was the White Star pier was enlarged and lengthened for the Olympic. The press was non stop. White Star had a hit!

I want to also mention once again Pier 59 was the White Star Pier. Not Pier 54 which is often stated by the Circle Line and many historic papers as the dock the Titanic was going to.
The Carpathia who brought back to New York the survivors of the disaster landed at Pier 54. But the reason for that was, Pier 54 was the Cunard Pier and the Carpathia was a Cunard liner.

Also just for a quick bit of info the Lusitania left for her final voyage from Pier 54 in 1915.

Now as the second ship was getting prepared which would be the Titanic. There was no press, no big parties, no wild stories, nothing!!!!

In fact, the Titanic was referred to as just another Olympic. Even the class of ships was called the "Olympic Class" There was hardly any press at all about the Titanic.
I have been looking at papers of the time and it gets a passing mention, but no really exciting news, it was just a repeat of the same thing. (perhaps a good analogy would be the shuttle flights..the first one was followed by the press every minute, after that it was all the same. When the first shuttle accident occurred most people were not even aware the shuttle was going up as it was done before)
The Titanic got headlines cause it sank! Not because it was a ship of wonder, or unsinkable, or the fastest ship in the world, BUT BECAUSE IT SANK....that's all.

The movie Titanic has created a false impression that the Titanic was a lone ship and was trying to break a record. The only record she could break was that of her sister the Olympic. Of course for the Titanic to break an Atlantic record would have required her to be re-engined, which of course was not the case or the desire of the White Star line. Remember, the Titanic like all of her sisters used mainly reciprocating engines, aided by a center turbine. The Lusitania and her sister used only turbines and therefore had greater speed and less vibration. So no record would be possible.

I am going to list a few bullets here to get some of the record straight.

1. The Titanic was based on a standard design used by Harland and Wolff since the 1890's Just the amount of funnels and size where the great feature. Her power plant was combination of standard and turbine engines. Economical but not revolutionary. As I mentioned before it was not a system of speed, it was very economical yet, not a great advance. The first White Star liner to have such a system came out in 1907.

2. The Titanic/Olympic carried more lifeboats than Lusitania and Mauritania. The Titanic was just like every other liner of the time. They all carried around the same amount of lifeboats. The German liners often carried more. But they were an exception, rather than the rule.

3. The Titanic most likely grounded on an iceberg rather that striking one. As few people felt more than a shutter. If the Titanic had hit an iceberg at full speed people would have been thrown all over. Also had the Titanic struck the berg, it most probably would have not sunk. The Titanic most likely grounded and while doing so she damaged her keel. As the areas of damage were not only in front but in the near center of the ship. Although that is rarely discussed.

4. The Titanic was sailed at half speed for nearly a half hour after striking the berg filling the ship with water. One of the major reasons the Titanic sank so quickly was for that reason. The water, to put it best, was forced into the ship by this action.
It is interesting to notice that Titanic passenger Lawrence Beasley in his book about the disaster mentioned that he calmed the nerves of several ladies several minutes after the accident by having them touch a sink or tub and feel the vibrations of the engines moving the ship ahead. This is very telling and often overlooked. The ship was being driven, before she was examined. Captain Smith did that, and perhaps it was a mindless reaction, but more likely his belief that the ship was not that damaged as the vibration from the impact was hardly noticeable, which brings back the fact that she probably grounded rather than struck the berg. But to drive the ship on before inspection was foolish.

Much of the reason the Titanic sank and the tremendous loss of life was the total incompetence of the Captain and crew! Although there was great gallantry by them, there was quite a bit of a cavalier attitude with most of them, not all, but many of them.

5. The people in First Class were not the mindless robots as they portrayed in the Movie Titanic, nor were the Steerage passengers so wonderful.
There was also no way for someone to get to first class from Steerage as the gates were always locked between classes. (Specially dressed as Jack was in the movie!!!!)
It is funny in the movie Jack Dawson comes and goes up and down from Steerage to first class, and yet when the ship was sinking all the steerage people were behind locked gates!!!
Also the nonsense at the early part of the movie where she runs all the way to back of the ship and no one follows was just too stupid..There were always sailors on board and of course in 1912...No woman could let out a peep with out a series of gentlemen offering their services to escort them. Remember this was the age of the Gentleman. Always ready at a moments notice to offer their assistance to a woman.

6. The Titanic was the last gasp of the post Victorian age, where the rich were rich and the poor were poor and God made it that way. The modern age of the world was born on the slanting, sinking decks of the RMS Titanic.
What the movie did not convey was that the loss of the ship affected much of the world in many ways... Macy's in NYC it's owner went down with the ship. The Aide de camp of the President of the United States went down on the ship....1,517 went down on the ship. Economically the results of the disaster were amazing. The White Star Line never recovered financially.
Soon WWI would come and we would wake up to a new world that was never quite so sure of itself. It has not changed. The age of the Titanic will never be again.

7. The Titanic's sister that was all the news, soon was always forever in the shadow of her sister. In fact the name Titanic was NEVER brought up by shipping companies and everything in White Star Line mentioned the Olympic as a ship that was just by itself and was never a part of a 3 sister ocean liner set.
She became famous in her later years...called "Old reliable" she sank a submarine in WWI by ramming it and took many soldiers to the war safely. In the 1920's she was very popular, but by the 1930's it was clear her days were numbered. In 1934 Cunard took over the failing White Star line and the Olympic became a Cunard ship.
Shortly after this she rammed the Nantucket Light Ship....She was retired in April 1935.... 23 years after her now more famous sister sank. She was finally scraped in 1937.

By the way you know I mentioned a 3rd ship the Britannic (she was to be called Gigantic but that seemed dumb after the Titanic disaster) She was finished in 1915, she was a perfected Titanic, she was designed to survive what had destroyed the Titanic.
She was design to take a lot before she would sink. In 1915 she became a hospital ship in the war, in 1916 she hit a mine and sank in 50 minutes! She had never sailed a commercial voyage, therefore no one ever knew about her.... Her story is one of the saddest of almost any liner.

8. J. Dawson was on the Titanic. He was in the coaling dept. He is buried in Canada and his grave to this day is covered in flowers from crazed girls who think he was Leonardo De Caprio....Isn't that pathetic!

9. The Titanic and her sisters flew the British flag. However, they were all American owned ships! The Titanic as mentioned before was owned by J.P. Morgan. I.M.M. owned the White Star Line through Morgan's U.S. Steel Company in New Jersey.

Bruce Ismay who is shown in the movie yielding such power was only a puppet for the company, but was more of a eyepiece for the head of the group, Morgan. Ismay also became the brunt of all the hatred of everything that went wrong with the Titanic. He was ruined by the disaster, and really his only crime was that he survived. Also he was very proud, arrogant, and a bit foolish. He wanted everyone to know who he was, and by doing so and so loudly, he became an object of their scorn.

10. The Titanic did not send out the first SOS in history, that had been done in 1909. The Titanic sank on April 14, 15, 1912 from 11:40pm in which the accident happened, till 2:20 am when she sank.

11. Sadly not mentioned, many of the crew that were not English or American or let's put it this way "white" were locked in rooms to drown like rats.
There was a great deal of hatred for Italian's, Asians, and other people that did not fit in the standard view of what members of the Titanic's white crew thought were human.
In fact one of the last persons found floating after the sinking and still alive was an Asian man. There was feelings at the time that he was hardly worth saving. How very sad a people we were only 100 years ago.

In fact during the court testimony after the sinking. The Italian Ambassador to the USA came to the court held in Washington DC before a Senate panel and complained that every time when the 5th Officer Lowe mentioned a crazed person or a bad person he called them an Italian!

Also The "wireless crew" of the Titanic snuffed off conversation to a German ship called the Frankfort after the accident stating that they were not worth talking too. There was a lot of English/ German jousting going on which would lead to WWI two years later. But their actions like that of the Captain were foolish and very cavalier. There were no laws to speak of to control their actions. Therefore they did not give information to the Frankfort! Also after 12 midnight most wireless operators shut down their systems.

12. There was indeed a fire in the Titanic's starboard coal bunker. It has been suggested that the Titanic was racing to NYC to get the fire taken care of.
Although I wonder how true that is.

The fire was burning on the starboard side in the exact area where the ship was damaged...It was quite intense. It was going on for several days.
So it may have led to the weakening of the bulkheads. For there was a massive bulkhead failure on the Titanic, Noticeable when she took a dive forward and created a wave that ran up the decks and written about by Archibald Gracie

This is not often talked about either. The Titanic was doing 22 and a half knots when she struck / grounded on the iceberg and that was damn fast! Like doing 25-26 land miles an hour. So the speed and weakened bulkhead both had profound effects on the vessel.

13. There seems to have been a number of problems with the captain. He seems to have vanished for quite a bit of time and perhaps was in shock. He had to be told to give the order to load the lifeboats...scary!! He was famous as a Captain, but he seems to have been a bit reckless at times. To think he went to bed when they were entering a region where they all knew ice was, to me is just stupid. The Captain should be on his bridge when they are in a region were ice is known to be. Yet he went to bed?

14. There seems to have been much more damage to the ship when she grounded on the iceberg. The keel seems to have been damaged as the discovery of two large complete sections of the hull were found last year and announced on TV in 2006. The ship it seems started to fall apart. This was due I believe to a broken keel. The keel of a ship is like our spine. It supports the entire ship, once damaged the ship is in severe jeopardy.

15. J. Bruce Ismay became the perfect scapegoat to the press for the disaster. His most awful crime was to live. He started to be called by the press as "J. Brute Ismay" He did not resign his post as head of White Star because of the disaster, he had rendered it earlier. But the damage was done by his actions and personal nature.

16. There seems to be no evidence that Captain Smith was going to retire after the Titanic's maiden voyage. That is not mentioned till years later.

17. The Titanic was shipping a Renault automobile made famous in the movie. It was most probably in a crate and in pieces. Not the car ready to drive around the cargo hold or to have a romantic tryst in. That is so wrong in the movie. But it made many a romantic swoon.

18. The Titanic's radio name was MGY...Her radio (wireless system) broke down on April 13th!! Fortunately it had been repaired for use on the 14th. It was not the first time wireless had proved itself to be invaluable in rescue efforts.

There was a major disaster in 1909 when another White Star Liner named the Republic was rammed by a ship called the Florida. The wireless operator of the Republic was named Jack Binns. He made quite a career for himself through his wireless work. When the Titanic disaster took place the wireless operators Phillips and Bride were minor players compared to the stardom Binns received.

19. John Jacob Astor is always mentioned to have been crushed by the forward funnel and it is always described that his body was identified by his rings/cuff links/clothes..etc. Not true...There is no mention of that on the report by the ship and crew who recovered his body.

20. Had not the Titanic struck that iceberg on that cold dark April night. We would hardly think of her. She would have been just another ship in the Olympic class of White Star ships.

21. I have heard about the steel and the rivets being sub standard. There is some fact to that. But that was not why the Titanic sank.
The Titanic sank because it was sailed for nearly 30 minutes after striking the iceberg. That was a foolish act. There were so many strings of foolish acts that awful night.
The Titanic was the perfect Greek Tragedy. Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did, everything that could have been designed badly, was and compromised the ship and its ability to perform, there was a certain about of foolishness in the actions of the Captain and crew.

All in all everything that possibly could happen ..did! I guess that is the allure quality of the Titanic as it really was natures way of kicking mankind in the teeth.

Don't be fooled, it will happen again. Not necessarily to a ship, but to a plane, car, truck, building, bridge, dam, service system, or anything. What made the Titanic so terrible and shocking was that we had forgotten that we are like little ants and the Titanic was like the collapse of a big ant hill. There will be many more in the future. As soon as we forget ourselves.

Within a year the Titanic was surpassed in size by another trio of German ships . Today the Titanic would not be looked at as a massive ship at all.( The Queen Mary 2 is 3 times the size of the Titanic!!) It is also amazing how much we hear of the Titanic and how little we hear of the Empress of Ireland that sank just 2 years later with a near equal amount of lives lost. But the rich and famous were not on that ship, so no one cared.

In closing I wanted to list few facts I thought would be interesting to read. The history of the Titanic is often clouded by romance, excitement, sensationalism, and down and out lies! Newspapers issued interviews with people who did not even give them...
But the people wanted stories of the disaster. The press answered the call, and did not let the truth spoil a good story.
I tried to mention a few of the facts here that are as I see it correct. I can equally make great mistakes too...But I feel that this is a pretty good bit of info. So in closing, I say this that we often think we know the history

But there is so much more to History than what we think there is........


Anonymous said...

It DID happen again, to the Costa Concordia. Command errors and/or recklessness seem to characterize both ships' sinking. Both ships struck a glancing blow to the hazard. While the Concordia heeled over on the rocks that tore her open, the Titanic, rent by ice mid sea, sank into the abyss. Perhaps when the Costa Concordia is salvaged, we may see what damage is sufficient to sink a modern ship in a manner somewhat analogous to the Titanic.

Shelley said...

Although I write about history, I find the Titanic story too painful to look at for long. Time doesn't seem to erase the misery....

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