On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic began her first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. She parted from the dock with over 2,000 crew members and passengers aboard. However, just four days after the Titanic’s departure, an unthinkable tragedy occurred with the unsinkable ship. The Titanic’s hull struck the side of an underwater iceberg just before midnight on April 14, and within a couple of hours, the lower decks flooded. The Titanic sank at around 2:21 a.m. on April 15, and roughly 1,500 people died with her that morning. This is a story that many people know, the RMS Titanic.
What We Don’t Know Might Fill the Atlantic
What most of us don’t know is that, for every fact we have about the Titanic’s first, and last, voyage, there are 1-2 myths. It took investigators and researchers almost three quarters of a century to locate the remains of the once beautiful steamer, and it took divers years to collect enough information for researchers to piece together accurate facts. Despite these facts, there are still many unanswered questions, evidence too deteriorated to analyze or decipher, and many conjectures regarding the missing links of the incident.
One of the more common misconceptions is that those aboard the Titanic died because there were too few lifeboats on the ship. This is not true! There were more than enough lifeboats for the ship’s crew to go back and forth, transporting groups of people to a rescue ship, and then return to the Titanic to retrieve more people, and that was the safety plan set in place during the ship’s construction. The captain, architect, and the crew had no way of knowing that the ships that would receive the Titanic’s call for aid would take more than two hours to reach them, or that it would be too late to save everyone on board by the time they arrived. They did not skimp on lifeboats to avoid marring the ship’s appearance, they simply did not believe a situation would arise in which rescue vessels could not reach them in time.
It Was All the Captain’s Fault!
Another myth is that the captain of the RMS Titanic ignored the first reports of troublesome icebergs. In fact, the captain never received the initial messages. The crew member attending the message boards was busy transmitting private messages to passengers, which was his top priority task, unless there was an immediate emergency. The first reports of the icebergs were merely warnings and questions regarding the course of the ship, and gave no indication that danger was imminent. Therefore, the message board operator ignored them, and they never reached the captain.
Fiction vs. Fact
We found these revelations interesting, so we compiled a brief list of other rumors surrounding the Titanic.
- There was a giant hole in the hull where the ship hit the iceberg. Fact: Rather than the 300-ft. gash people believed the iceberg caused, the water filled the ship’s hull through smaller abrasions that covered only 12 square feet. Researchers also spotted an area where some rivets and seams popped, and they believe that this is the bigger culprit of the ships flooding. Think about it: a giant hole would have allowed more water to fill the bottom of the ship much faster, meaning that the ship would have lasted only minutes after the collision. The Titanic stayed afloat for over two hours before the Atlantic overpowered her.
- The crew had no binoculars with which to spot danger ahead. Fact: There were, indeed, binoculars aboard the Titanic; very expensive ones, in fact, and there were more than enough for the crew members. The crew tucked them away safely inside a locker in the cabin of the ship. We know how that sounds; however, historians believe that having the binoculars in hand would have made little, if any, difference in the fate of the Titanic.
- The band played “Nearer my God to Thee” all through the night. Fact: Although the eight-member band did indeed play as the ship sank, there is no way to know exactly which numbers they played. More than one survivor of the Titanic tragedy reported hearing the band play, and they each said they were playing a different tune.
- The Titanic crashed into the iceberg because the captain wanted her to be the fastest ship. Fact: First, Captain Smith already had a home ship, the Olympic. He was recruited to lead the Titanic on her maiden voyage. Second, the Titanic only had three coal-operated engines propelling her through the ocean, and although they were large, the ship was only moving at a fraction of her top speed.
- Weak metal allowed the hull to break too easily. Fact: The metal itself was the sturdiest that money could buy (without sinking the ship before it left the dock). However, two days after the ship set sail, the crew extinguished a fire in the coal bunker, which burned for at least a day or two before its discovery. Coal bunker fires were rather common in the early 1900’s, so no one saw any immediate cause for alarm. However, the heat from the long-burning flames might well have weakened the metal and allowed the iceberg to puncture the hull and break the rivets more quickly than it would if there had not been a fire.
We may never have all the answers to the tragic destiny of the “unsinkable ship.” What we do know is that many people died, many families mourned, and the Titanic made a permanent mark on American history. Soon, what remains of the beautiful ship will disappear forever, and any questions left unanswered will forever remain mysteries.