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Sinking of the Titanic

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A picture of the ill-fated RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage.

The ill-fated White Star liner RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic.

(Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

What Was the Sinking of the Titanic?

The world was shocked when the Titanic sank. The "unsinkable" ship Titanic sank on its maiden voyage, losing at least 1,517 lives (some accounts say even more), making it one of the deadliest maritime disasters in history. After the Titanic sank, safety regulations were increased to make ships safer, including ensuring enough lifeboats to carry all on board and making ships staff their radios 24 hours a day.

Dates: Titanic hit iceberg on April 14, 1912 (11:40 p.m.) and sank on April 15, 1912 (2:20 a.m.)

Also Known As: RMS Titanic

Building the Unsinkable Titanic

The RMS Titanic was the second of three huge, exceptionally luxurious ships built by White Star Line. It took nearly three years to build the Titanic, beginning on March 31, 1909 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. When completed, the Titanic was the largest movable object ever made. It was 882 1/2 feet long, 92 1/2 feet wide, 175 feet high, and displaced 66,000 tons of water.

After conducting sea trials on April 2, 1912, the Titanic left later that same day for Southampton, England to enlist her crew and to be loaded with supplies.

Titanic's Journey Begins

On the morning of April 10, 1912, 914 passengers boarded the Titanic. At noon, the ship left port and headed for Cherbourg, France, where it made a quick stop before heading to Queenstown (now called Cobh) in Ireland. At these stops, a handful of people got off and a few hundred boarded the Titanic. By the time the Titanic left Queenstown at 1:30 p.m. on April 11, 1912 heading for New York, she was carrying over 2,200 people, both passengers and crew.

Warnings of Ice

The first two days across the Atlantic, April 12-13, 1912, went smoothly. The crew worked hard and the passengers enjoyed their luxurious surroundings. Sunday, April 14, 1912 also started out relatively uneventful, but later became deadly.

Throughout the day on April 14, the Titanic received a number of wireless messages from other ships warning about icebergs along their path. However, for various reasons, not all of these warnings made it to the bridge.

Captain Edward J. Smith, unaware of how serious the warnings had become, retired to his room for the night at 9:20 p.m. At that time, the lookouts had been told to be a bit more diligent in their observations, but the Titanic was still steaming full speed ahead.

Hitting the Iceberg

The evening was cold and clear, but the moon was not bright. That, coupled with the fact that the lookouts did not have access to binoculars, meant that the lookouts spotted the iceberg only when it was directly in front of the Titanic.

At 11:40 p.m., the lookouts rang the bell to issue a warning and used a phone to call the bridge. First Officer Murdoch ordered "hard a-starboard" (sharp left turn). He also ordered the engine room to put the engines in reverse. The Titanic did bank left, but it wasn't quite enough.

Thirty-seven seconds after the lookouts warned the bridge, the Titanic's starboard (right) side scraped along the iceberg below the water line. Many passengers had already gone to sleep and thus were unaware that there had been a serious accident. Even passengers that were still awake felt little as the Titanic hit the iceberg. Captain Smith, however, knew that something was very wrong and went back to the bridge.

After taking a survey of the ship, Captain Smith realized that the ship was taking on a lot of water. Although the ship was built to continue floating if three of its 16 bulkheads had filled with water, six were already filling fast. Upon the realization that the Titanic was sinking, Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats to be uncovered (12:05 a.m.) and for the wireless operators on board to begin sending distress calls (12:10 a.m.).

The Titanic Sinks

At first, many of the passengers did not comprehend the severity of the situation. It was a cold night and the Titanic still seemed like a safe place, so many people were not ready to get into the lifeboats when the first one launched at 12:45 a.m. As it became increasingly obvious that the Titanic was sinking, the rush to get on a lifeboat became desperate.

Women and children were to board the lifeboats first; however, early on, some men also were allowed to get into the lifeboats.

To the horror of everyone on board, there were not enough lifeboats to save everyone. During the design process it had been decided to place only 16 standard lifeboats and four collapsible lifeboats on the Titanic because any more would have cluttered the deck. If the 20 lifeboats that were on the Titanic had been properly filled, which they were not, 1,178 could have been saved (i.e. just over half of those on board).

Once the last lifeboat was lowered at 2:05 a.m. on April 15, 1912, those remaining on board the Titanic reacted in different ways. Some grabbed any object that might float (like deck chairs), threw the object overboard, and then jumped in after it. Others stayed on board because they were stuck within the ship or had determined to die with dignity. The water was freezing, so anyone stuck in the water for more than a couple of minutes, froze to death.

At 2:18 a.m. on April 15, 1915, the Titanic snapped in half and then fully sank two minutes later.

Rescue

Although several ships received the Titanic's distress calls and changed their course to go help, it was the Carpathia that was the first to arrive, seen by survivors in the lifeboats around 3:30 a.m. The first survivor stepped aboard the Carpathia at 4:10 a.m. and for the next four hours, the rest of the survivors boarded the Carpathia.

Once all the survivors were on board, the Carpathia headed to New York, arriving in the evening of April 18, 1912. In all, a total of 705 people were rescued while 1,517 perished.

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