This Day In History: The Titanic Sinks

On April 15, 1912, the unthinkable happened to what was known as the unsinkable; the RMS Titanic sank. The Titanic set out on its first voyage and struck an iceberg, just before midnight, on April 14, 1912. The damage done to the “unsinkable” Titanic caused the ship to sink into the cold, dark depths of the Atlantic Ocean. The death total was 1,517.

At the time of its completion, the Titanic was considered to be the most lavish cruise ship ever to be built. The Titanic was enormous. Built by White Star Line, the Titanic had a length of 900 feet, a height of 100 feet, and the capability to cruise at a speed of 30 knots. The Titanic was an engineering marvel for the early 1900s. One of the best design features was that the individual compartments were built to be impervious to water leaking in. It was this design feature that led people to believe that the Titanic would never be sunk.

The itinerary for the Titanic saw the ship leaving from Southampton, England, to New York. Stops were made at Queenstown, Ireland, and Cherbourg, France. Including the crew, the Titanic had a total of 2,206 on board. The crew of the Titanic was so brainwashed by the fact that the ship was unsinkable, they paid little attention to the many icebergs that littered the ship’s path across the Atlantic. Other ships in the area communicated via radio about the icebergs in the ocean. These radio messages were never relayed to the proper crew members of the Titanic.

At 11:40 p.m., on April 14, the Titanic struck an iceberg. The iceberg was spotted prior to impact, which allowed the crew to navigate the ship away from a head-on collision. Instead, the starboard side of the mighty ship scraped against the iceberg. The impact and scraping caused the iceberg to shred through six compartments of the Titanic. Water from the ocean began to pour inside. The design allowed for up to four compartments to be filled with water while still allowing the ship to remain above water. With six compartments damaged and filling with water, the Titanic was doomed.

With disaster minutes away, crew members began radioing for help by sending out the first SOS distress signal. At 12:10 a.m., the order to abandon the Titanic was given. It quickly became apparent that the number of lifeboats available would only allow half of the 2,206 people on board to abandon ship. To make matters worse, no instructions were given on the proper procedure for using the lifeboats. These instructions should have been given before the Titanic left for its maiden voyage. Not knowing what to do, and the Titanic starting to sink, panic began to rapidly spread among the people trying to get off the ship.

The first people into the lifeboats were the women who had been part of first class. Apparently, the women who were in third class were not even allowed to be near the lifeboats until the women in first class were riding lifeboats in the Atlantic. With women and children still aboard the sinking ship, Bruce Ismay, the president of White Star Line, fled the Titanic on the last available lifeboat.

Two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg, the Titanic sank. Staying true to marine tradition, the captain of the Titanic, Captain Edward Smith, went down with his ship. Eventually, another ship, the Carpathia, was able to rescue 705 people who made it onto the lifeboats. Every person who went down with the Titanic, died.

The sinking of the Titanic was blamed on the crew not doing their job properly. Due to the tragedy, new safety features were implemented on ships. The most important safety feature was the addition of lifeboats, as it was determined there had to be enough lifeboats to accommodate every passenger on board of any vessel going forward.

It took 73 years before the Titanic was found on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

[Photo by AP Images]