Why The Titanic Sunk Short Summary


            During the early 1900s, J. Bruce Ismay, who was the President of the White Star Line, and Lord Pirrie, Chairman of Harland & Wolff Shipbuilders, longed to build luxury ocean liners as the company’s means of competing in the transatlantic passenger market. White Star Line had three ships lined-up for construction—the Olympic, Titanic, and Gigantic. A year later, extensive design work was started (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

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            On July 30, 1908, the building of the Titanic and the Olympic received authorization. Three years later, the Gigantic received its authorization. Upon the completion of the ship, its name was changed to Britannic because the original name Gigantic was similar to Titanic (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

            Harland and Wolff, an Irish-based company, was tasked to build the Titanic. Its construction required 14,000 workers, and it took three years to complete the ship. During that time, the Titanic was the largest ship in the world. Likewise, it was the largest movable man-made object ever constructed. It was the first ship to have a swimming pool. The Titanic was also recognized as the largest, most secure, and most luxurious five-star floating hotel in the world (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

            The Titanic was among the line of ships by the White Star Line and was owned by Oceanic Navigation Company. Its stockholders belonged to the International Navigation Company Ltd of England, a firm owned by the International Mercantile Marine Company (IMMCO), owner of the White Star Line (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

Ship Specification

            The Titanic had a draught of 34 feet and a total displacement of 66,000 tons of water. It had four funnels with a height of 62 feet and a diameter of 22 feet. Weighing 101 tons, its rudder was 78 feet high and was cast into 6 independent pieces. Its three anchors had a combined weight of 31 tons (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

            The Titanic had a couple of four-cylinder steam reciprocating and a single low pressure turbine engine, which operated the center propeller and used the exhaust steam from the other engines. Aside from that, it had 29 boilers, 24 of which were double-ended while five of them were single-ended. It has 159 furnaces and 15 transverse watertight bulkheads. It had 20 lifeboats with an overall capacity of 1,178 people (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

Passenger Manifesto

            The Titanic was built to accommodate first, second, and third class passengers ranging from the rich and famous to the poor and obscure. Each kind of passenger was located in various sections of the ship and was provided with various levels of luxury and comfort. While not as elegant as first or second class, third class passengers still enjoyed a nice accommodation compared to other ships (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

The Unsinkable Ship

            During that time, the Titanic had the distinction of being an unsinkable ship. Its hull was divided into 16 watertight compartments. It was designed to stay afloat even with a couple of adjacent compartments or the front four smaller compartments flooded with water. Consequently, many authors of books analyzing its sinking came to the conclusion that only a huge damage, measuring 90 m (300 feet) long could sink the massive ship (“Titanic Disaster,” 2008).

The Fateful Day

            On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic left Southampton on her initial voyage en route to New York. At 11:40 pm of April 14, 1912, the Titanic hit an iceberg located 400 miles from Newfoundland, Canada. Despite receiving warnings of icebergs from other ships sailing in that region, the Titanic was traveling at a speed of 20.5 knots when an iceberg hit her (“The Grave of the Titanic,” 2005).

            Within three hours, the Titanic sank to the bottom of the sea with about 1,500 passengers still on board. Unfortunately, only 705 of the total 2,227 onboard survived. The Titanic’s passengers included wealthy and powerful industrialists as well as poor emigrants from Europe and the Middle East. Even though British rules required 42 lifeboats for a ship as huge as the Titanic, she had only 20 lifeboats and was not even filled to the maximum as they were released in panic (“The Grave of the Titanic,” 2005).

Among the passengers who did not survive the accident included Captain Edward Smith and Thomas Andrews, Managing Director of Harland & Wolff. The eight member band, led by Wallace Hartley, did not survive as well. However, the band showed extreme courage by providing entertainment even though the boat was already sinking. This may have somehow appeased the passengers to make them feel that nothing was wrong (“Titanic Info,” 2003).

Circumstances Behind The Sinking of the Titanic

            The sinking of the unsinkable Titanic was one of the biggest headlines during that time. After that fateful incident, there were many speculations about what really transpired during that day which led to its sinking. Who were the people involved in the disaster? What could have been done to avert the sinking of the ship? The History on the Net provides several factors that contributed to the sinking of the Titanic:

Captain Edward Smith was bound to retire after the Titanic voyage. He did not heed seven iceberg warnings from the crew as well as other ships in the region. If he had ordered the ship to reduce speed, then the Titanic disaster would have been avoided (“Why Did the Titanic Sink,” 2007).
Close to 3 million rivets were used to keep the various areas of the Titanic together. Years after its sinking, these rivets were recovered and examined. It was revealed that the iron used for the construction was substandard. When the Titanic struck the iceberg, the impact may have resulted in the breaking of the rivets and caused the sections of the Titanic to break down (“Why Did the Titanic Sink,” 2007).
Another personality who is being blamed for the incident is J. Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of White Star Line, who was on the Titanic. During that time, the competition among shipping companies was fierce, and White Star Line wanted to be ahead of its rival by completing the trip in six days. There is a belief that Mr. Ismay pressured Captain Smith not to reduce the speed of the Titanic (“Why Did the Titanic Sink,” 2007).
Although the 16 watertight compartments of the Titanic was the reason behind its being dubbed as “unsinkable,” they did not have the standard height required by British regulations. The company did not adopt the standards because there would be insufficient space for the first class section (“Why Did the Titanic Sink,” 2007).
The seventh iceberg warning relayed to the Titanic came from the Californian. Stanley Lord, who was the Captain of the ship, made a stopover 19 miles north of the Titanic. By 11:15 pm, the operator of the Californian’s radio switched it off and went to sleep. A few minutes after midnight, the crew on duty informed Captain Lord that there were rockets being launched into the sky coming from a huge ship. Since the captain concluded that there was a party on the ship, he did not take any action (“Why Did the Titanic Sink,” 2007).
After the sinking of the Titanic, the governments of Great Britain and the United States conducted two separate investigations. Both inquiries concluded that it was the iceberg, and not because of any defects in the ship, that caused the disaster. Captain Edward Smith, who was among the unfortunate victims, was blamed for the incident. He was condemned for not reducing the speed of the ship despite the iceberg warnings (Ewers, 2008).

Further Investigations

            However, questions remained regarding the circumstances that led to the sinking of the Titanic. In 1985, oceanographer Robert Ballard found the remains of the ship, and it was revealed that the Titanic was indeed divided into two before it sunk. Ballard’s findings renewed interest into the real reason behind the sinking of the Titanic. In 1997, via the movie “Titanic,” it was even shown that the stern of the ship flew into the air before it was split into two and disappeared (Ewers, 2008).

            It took scientists more than seven decades before they could examine the first physical evidence of the Titanic’s remains. When the first piece of steel was immersed in ice water and struck with a hammer, it shattered. Throughout the 1990s, the brittle steel of the ship was seen as the culprit for the huge flooding in the ship which prompted scientists to conclude that there was nothing wrong with the steel (Ewers, 2008).

            Further investigations concluded another potential flaw in the Titanic. McCarthy and Foecke, which examined 48 rivets from the ship, revealed that there were traces of “slag,” a residue of smelting that can make metal prone to fracture. The investigation concluded that the ambitious plan of Harland & Wolff to construct three ships prompted them to use sub-standard iron on the ship’s bow and stern while using regular iron on the middle portion of the Titanic (Ewers, 2008).

            Finally, Harland & Wolff made the hull plating thinner by quarter of an inch and the rivets by an eight of an inch which made the Titanic 2,500 tons lighter and enabled the ship to cross the English Channel faster (Interlaandi, 2008).


Ewers, J. (2008, September 25). The secret of how the Titanic sank. US News. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.usnews.com/articles/news/national/2008/09/25/the-secret-of-how-the-titanic-sunk_print.htm

Interlaandi, J. (2008, October 4). The Titanic’s last secret. Newsweek. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.newsweek.com/id/162267

The grave of the Titanic. (2005, December 8). Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.gma.org/space1/titanic.html

Titanic disaster. (2008). Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://encarta.msn.com/text_761564059___0/Titanic_Disaster.html

Titanic info. The Unsinkable RMS Titanic. Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.titanicstory.com/shipspec.htm

Why did the Titanic sink? (2007, December 16). History on the Net.  Retrieved October 27, 2008 from http://www.historyonthenet.com/Titanic/blame.htm

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