Titanic Sinks!

One hundred years ago today, the Titanic, the largest boat in the water at the time, and unsinkable by design, ran into an iceberg and sank. Many died on board because of insufficient safety equipment.

A majority of first and second class children survived the sinking, but only 34% of the third class children lived. Almost all of the first class women and 86% of the second class women lived, but under half of the third class women survived. For men, 33% of the first class, 8% of the second calass, and 16% of the third class survived. Among crew, 87% of the women survived, but only 22% of the men.

Perhaps the Titanic can be worked into the themes of this year’s #Occupy movement?

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is an animated reconstruction of the Titanic sinking:

Note: Recently, it has been said that it was not true that the “Titanic” was ever billed as “Unsinkable.” It is said that the builders and owners called the Titanic “Virtually Unsinkable.”

“Virtual” means “in real life” (or at least it did then) but in a vernacular way, it means “really, truly” so perhaps when they said “The Titanic is Unsinkable” they meant “The Titanic is actually unsinkable in real life” or perhaps they meant “The Titanic is really really unsinkable.” Virtually can also mean “Almost, as though it was 100%” so perhaps they meant “The Titanic is as close to100% unsinkable as anyone is willing to say.”

Either way, the “myth” that it is a “myth” that the Titanic was called “unsinkable” is invalid.


  1. #1 James
    April 15, 2012

    I think in the first sentence you mean ‘one hundred years ago today’ and not ‘one years ago today.’

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    April 15, 2012

    It seems like only yesterday!

  3. #3 Art
    April 15, 2012

    I’ve always wanted to have someone look into exactly how the designers of the Titanic made the decision to leave the tops of those watertight compartments open. In effect the ship was a row of teacups and as they flooded one by one the ship tilts until the top of the first compartment is below the water when the water just flows in. Had the tops been sealed the air trapped above the holes created by the berg would have kept the majority of the water out.

    By WW2 damage control had advanced enough to know that you could pipe stream or compressed air into flooding compartments to force the water out the way it had come in. Suitable dedicated piping and compressors were sometimes fitted to tankers going into war zones.

    History is full of ‘but for _______ (whathaveyou) things would have been different’.

    A couple that come to mind are the accounts of binoculars not being available to lookouts on the titanic because the man with the key wasn’t on board. Evidently, in true Victorian style, nobody dared break into the cabinet to get the binoculars because that would be damaging the ship and exceeding their authority. So the lookouts straining to spot icebergs were limited to naked eyeballs.

    Had they spotted the berg earlier would they have been able to avoid it? Or, at least, lessen the damage. If I remember right if the hole had been thirty feet shorter the ship wouldn’t have sunk.

    Also, in another questionable design decision, the fact that Titanic had been designed with a frightfully small rudder years after marine architects had concluded that a larger one was more suitable for an ocean going vessel. In many ways the Titanic was just a much larger version of a ship twenty years earlier. A larger rudder would have made her much more responsive to her helm and much more likely to have avoided the iceberg. All other things being the same even a small reduction in turning radius would have save the day.

    Had the crew been better drilled and coordinated, using the existing capacity of the lifeboats more fully, several hundred more people might have been saved.

    The list of small changes that might have made a big difference is endless. History is like that. Napoleon has stomach issues and sleeps in … the delay shift the balance of forces and the battle at Waterloo is lost. History turns on dime because of a case of dyspepsia.

    For loss of a nail …

  4. #4 Gary Klemenz
    April 15, 2012

    After watching every conceivable special and documentary on the Titanic including the recent correction by Cameron and a board of specialists indicating that the break was just ahead of the third stack and not just behind as depicted in the Cameron movie… All sources do come to the final conclusion in that after the bow broke away, the stern did fall back level onto the water where she sat briefly before tipping forward and sinking almost straight up with the props and rudder in the air. It is said that Captain Smith and White Star officials said that with the water tight compartments, the ship could be cut into 3 cross sections and each section would stay afloat (providing all compartments were sound and not breached).

    All compartment doors were closed, so my question is why did the stern not stay afloat after the the bow broke away and the stern fell back level to the water’s surface?

    Just a question that has haunted me for a long time and I would like to see if anyone can offer a reasonable answer. All I know is I don’t have one.

  5. #5 StevoR
    April 16, 2012

    @^ Gary Klemenz | April 15, 2012 8:43 PM

    This is purely a guess and I don’t really know but I think maybe :

    – because the break wasn’t a clean one but cut across those compartments,

    – and /or also maybe because much of the stern had already flooded and was thus heavy and below the waterline,

    – and because the load of materials inside had shifted and was no longer stable? The boilers especially breaking free and rolling and causing damage inside the stern section may have destroyed that hull integrity.

    Some combination of all those things possibly?

    But I could well be mistaken – feel free to correct me anyone who knows more about this.

    PS. Vaguely recall one doco debunked the theory that if it had rammed the iceberg head on the Titanic would’ve stayed afloat long enough to rescue everyone. From an experiment using models, it turns out the liner still would’ve sunk but would’ve lost all power from the boilers earlier and so been cast into darkness. (Moon-less night.*) Plus the ship would’ve capsized and perhaps killed even more people. Forgotten the name and producers of that doco though, sorry.

    * Good article by Olson, Doescher & Sinnott in April 2012 edition of Sky & Telescope magazine on some of the possibly contributing astronomical factors behind the Titanic sinking.

  6. #6 Jim
    April 16, 2012

    This is just my opinion. I think that the stern may have sank because of the stress caused by it being elevated as long as it was (It wasn’t designed to be held up in the air) and when the boilers blew, a lot of the stern’s rivets broke, which would have made plates come loose and causing it to no longer be water tight. This is just my opinion, not saying that it’s fact. I honestly don’t know for sure.

  7. #7 martin
    April 17, 2012

    I have question that has bugged me for ages. this has nothing to do with the way titanic sank but what happened prior to hitting the iceberg. I have seen all the films and numerous true accounts and documentaries and the same thing always happens with regards to the Captains orders and the actions of the helmsman. It is fact that titanic struck the iceberg on her Starboard side (right hand side if you are facing the bow) and the order is always given by the Captain to go “Hard a starboard”. In other words ‘turn right’, yet in all the depictions in films etc the helmsman turns the wheel to the left (Port) which in my opinion is correct if the ship wants to steer away from the berg. Even if the engines were in reverse the order ‘hard a starboard’ were given and assume the helmsman did as ordered, this would have a pulling effect that would pull the bow to its port side. But as I have stated the helmsman always steers left. In the latest Titanic film the script goes basically as follows….”Hard a starboard” (the wheel is turned to port) The following order is given to try and steer around the berg…”Hard a port” (the wheel is turned to starboard). Am I missing something here or is there someone not doing their homework?

  8. #8 John L. Sullivan
    April 17, 2012

    Before 1920 Rudders on ships were like you would expect to find in a row boat: to steer left or port you turn the rudder right – “Hard A Starboard”. To go right or starboard
    you turn the rudder to the left – “Hard A Port”.
    After 1920 they changed it to the way it is now like an automobile – to go left you turn left.

  9. #9 clausentum
    April 17, 2012

    Of course, you are deeply into myths, at least ones that confirm your world-view.
    Just in case there’s an ounce of objectivity in you:


  10. #10 Greg Laden
    April 17, 2012


    The reference you cite says that there was never a mention of the Titanic’s unsinkability. But, wikipedia says “prior to the sinking the The White Star Line had used the term “designed to be unsinkable” and other pre-sinking publications described the ship as “virtually unsinkable”.”

    Which is, essentially, what I say above. There is no myth here. It was called unsinkable. Then it sank.

    The page you point to tells us that we don’t know what song the band played last because the person who reported it left the boat way before it sank. However, again Wikipedia says something different, indicating that there were multiple reports of “Nearer My God to Thee being played. It is true that we don’t know for sure what songs were played or when, but the BBC page conflicts with the wikipedial page, the former saying there was a single report, the latter multiple reports.

    The third “debunked” myth was not a myth.

    The discussion of Ismay seems reasonable.

    The third class passengers are depicted in film to have been locked below decks. The BBC piece says they were not locked below deck, and in stead, points out …. that they were routinely locked below deck. I smell revisionism.

    Making up the falsehood of “myths” is merely yet another way of making up myths.

  11. #11 Thom McCan
    April 19, 2012

    You cannot explain away civilization’s hubris at the time of the Titanic.

    There is The God Factor.

    Titanic’s Captain Edward J. Smith, when asked by a reporter about fear of the ship sinking said, “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause the ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”

    An employee of the White Star Line, at the launch of the Titanic, May 31, 1911 said that “Not even God himself could sink this ship.”
    (National Archives and Records Administration)

    This hubris in our time was destroyed when The Challenger spaceship crashed into the ocean because of a small crack in an “O” ring seal. Possibly the wild tsunamis, earthquakes, droughts, floods, tornados, hurricanes, etc.

    These kinds of disasters may be wake-up calls to mankind not to depend on man-made technologies. It is a wake-up call to get back on track to a moral direction in our life—or there may be worse disasters afflicting mankind.