:: THE TITANIC (I) ::
Classic ocean liners
At the time of her launching, the RMS Titanic was the largest ship ever built. To travel onboard her meant an exceptional experience.
The 31st May 1911, a large multitude was reunited near the shipyards Harland and Wolff to assist to the launching of the RMS Titanic, the most modern vessel built for the oceanic shipping company White Star Line. With a length of circa 270 meters, she constituted in that moment the largest "mobile object" ever made by humans. Her twin ship, the RMS Olimpic, had been built in the adjacent tier, and the experience achieved during its construction was valuable for the new vessel. The keel of the RMS Titanic was completed the 31st May 1909 and the works continued at tight pace during the 35 following months.
In the RMS Titanic had been applied the most advanced technologies to reach a very high speed without compromising the comfort level offered by the company. Her steam machines were the largest built until then, with 29 boilers, each of which measured 6.1 meters in length and 4.8 meters in diameter, and had three fireplaces. These boilers generated a pressure of 15 kilograms per square centimeter, consuming 728 tonnes of coal every 24 hours. The steam produced moved the two alternate engines and one Parsons turbine which developed 51000 horsepower and propelled the vessel at a service speed of 21 knots (about 40 kilometers per hour).
The White Star Line insisted particularly in the unsinkability of the RMS Titanic, for the hull was provided with a cellular double bottom of 1.83 meters in depth that extended along the whole vessel. Between the prow and the stern there were sixteen watertight compartments separated by fifteen bulwarks, which extended above the waterline. Above the entrance to said compartments had been installed guillotine doors. In case of danger, a switch operated from the command bridge would close the bulwark to prevent the water from flooding the compartments. Even with four of them flooded, the RMS Titanic would remain afloat, but in the night of the 14th April 1912 the collision with an iceberg caused the breaking of the first five compartments at prow.
The insurers of the RMS Titanic, convinced about the unsinkability of the vessel, drastically reduced their premiums. This saving was well received by the White Star Line which, on the other hand, did not spare expenses for the equipment of the vessel, whose completion reached a cost of 1.5 millions of sterling pounds, when a shipyard worker of that time received a salary of two sterling pounds per week.
The splendorous accommodationImmediately after the launching, an army of workers started to equip the gigantic and bare hull of the RMS Titanic with the most luxurious objects ever seen onboard a ship. If the second-class cabins made languish the first-class ones of almost all the other ocean liners in the world, the furnitures on the first-class cabins were truly majestic. The main first-class deck had 152.5 meters in length and the fore part had 34 chambers for very important persons, each of which comprised bedroom, reading room and smoking room.
At lunch time, 500 first-class passengers had a place where to sit in the dining room decorated in Jacobean style, with gilded columns and finely elaborated silver objects. At the end of the meal, the passengers could retire to the reading or smoking rooms, of Georgian style, decorated with colored glass panes and complex pearl inlays in the mahogany panels on the walls. The access to the second-class deck was made through a wide staircase and the passengers could arrive to their cabins going along carpeted corridors coated with oak. The cabins were spacious and had two superimposed bunkbeds provided with curtains. The second-class dining room could accommodate 394 sitting passengers and, like the other second-class rooms, had the walls decorated with wooden panels.
The passengers who liked physical exercise could visit the gymnasium, provided with the most modern devices, including a rowing device of recent invention, the "electric camel" (a kind of bicycle with saddle) or play squash and then take a dip in the swimming pool. After the physical activities there was nothing healthier than the luxuriously tiled Turkish baths, able to comfortably accommodate 20 persons. Also the third-class accommodation was comfortable. The dining room was built with pine wood and the rooms had teak seats and walls enameled in white.
A fatal mistakeWithout any doubt, the RMS Titanic was the most luxurious passenger liner which had ever crossed the oceans; however, she lacked one of the most important aspects on the project: safety. The vessel carried 3560 individual lifeguards, but in case of emergency she had lifeboats (including balsas) enough for only 1178 persons. The first designer, Alexander Carlisle, had provided a dotation of 64 lifeboats, which would have been more than enough to accommodate the 3547 passengers and crew that the vessel could transport, but the myth about the unsinkability of the RMS Titanic was so radical that the builders reduced to 16 the number of lifeboats.
The sinking of the RMS TitanicThe 10th April 1912, the RMS Titanic departed from Southampton to begin her maiden voyage. The departure was not absent of incidents: as soon as the tug boats began to separate the vessel from the dock, the water displaced caused the breaking of several moorings of another ship, the SS City of New York, which moved towards the RMS Titanic. If both ships did not collide was just by little more than one meter.
At 23:40 hours of the 14th April 1912, fourth day of navigation, until then elapsed without special events, the lookouts Reginald Lee and Fred Fleet were on duty in the crow's nest scanning the sea in a starry night. Suddenly, Fleet saw a huge form in front of the ship: an iceberg! He reported to the officer on duty on the bridge, who ordered to immediately stop the engines and steer abruptly to avoid the obstacle; but the ship rubbed the iceberg with her starboard side and stopped. Many passengers did not even notice the collision.
After midnight, Captain Smith, who had inspected the damages together with one of the designers of the ship, realized that the impossible was about to happen: the RMS Titanic would sink in very little time. The iceberg had teared the first five watertight compartments at prow, which meant that the ship was doomed. If only four compartments had been breached, the RMS Titanic would have remained afloat. Smith ordered to the radiotelegraphists, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, to emit distress signals and immediately later he began to organize the evacuation of the ship. A simple mathematical calculation showed up the disaster that the passengers and crew of the RMS Titanic would face. Admitting that every lifeboat and balsa onboard the capsized ship could be fully loaded, 1178 persons could be saved. But onboard the RMS Titanic there were 2227 persons.
The crew followed the orders from Smith to evacuate the ship but, amidst the confusion, many lifeboats were put into the sea with several empty benches and many others with an excessive load. The orchestra onboard continued playing almost to the end, an act of courage described by one of the survivors: "That night there were many acts of courage, but none surpassed that of those few persons who continued playing, minute after minute, while the ship slowly sinked and the water level rised until soaking their feet, as if the music they played represented their immortal requiem and their right to figure in the book of imperishable glories." Circa 2:20 hours, the RMS Titanic raised her prow before sinking: about 1522 persons sank with her and many died frozen in the sea. One of the survivors described the cries of those who were in the water as a "long, continuous and desolated agony."
L. Bessley, one of the survivors, told: "The ship raised slowly, rotating around her gravity center, somewhat astern the center of the hull, to adopt a vertical position and then remained immobile. As soon as she was in that position, the lights, which had remained on the whole night without blinking, suddenly went off, then went on again for a moment and finally disappeared forever... The Titanic was rect like a column: now we could only see the stern and about fifty meters of the hull... The ship slowly descended to finally sink... The cries of the shipwrecked, which initially were strong and numerous, slowly weakened until ceasing completely."
In 1985 an expedition led by Robert G. Ballard localized the remainings of the RMS Titanic at a depth of 4000 meters in the North Atlantic. Ballard showed impressive photographs, including rows of intact dishes spread on the seabed and the fore section of the ship, mostly intact.
Captain SmithEdward J. Smith, the most veteran captain on the company White Star Line, already retired, was probably the most experienced commander in the routes of the North Atlantic, having been already on command of the RMS Adriatic and the RMS Olimpic, twin of the RMS Titanic. He had 38 years of experience with the White Star Line and possessed an excellent service record regarding safety; besides, he was the best paid commander of that time, earning 1000 sterling pounds annually, while the largest part of the commanders on the Cunard Line (competitor of the White Star Line) earned about 600. The president of the White Star Line, Bruce Ismay, had requested specifically that Smith, 62 years old, interrupted his rest to assume the command of the RMS Titanic on her inaugural voyage across the Atlantic. Smith, despite having sinked with his ship, was very criticized during the investigations carried out after the tragedy.
~ The Titanic (II) ~
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