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RMS Titanic was the second of a trio of superliners intended to dominate the transatlantic travel business.[1]Her older sister was RMS Olympic. After Titanic's sinking, her younger sister HMHS Britannic (originally RMS Gigantic) was built. Owned by the White Star Line and built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Ireland, United Kingdom, Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time of her launching. During Titanic's maiden voyage (from Southampton to New York), she struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM (ship's time) on Sunday evening April 14, 1912, and sank two hours and forty minutes later at 2:20 AM Monday morning.

1,523 people perished in the accident, (according to the US Senate investigation), ranking it as one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history and by far the most famous. Titanic's design used some of the most advanced technology available at the time and the ship was popularly believed to be "unsinkable". It was a great shock that, despite the advanced technology and experienced crew, Titanic sank with a great loss of life. The media frenzy about Titanic's famous victims, the legends about what happened on board the ship, the resulting changes to maritime law, and the discovery of the wreck in 1985 by a team led by Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel have made Titanic persistently famous in the years since.


RMS Titanic (left) on sea trials, April 2, 1912.
RMS Titanic (left) on sea trials, April 2, 1912.

Titanic was a White Star Line ocean liner built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard and was designed to compete with rival company Cunard Line's Lusitania and Mauretania. Titanic, along with its Olympic class sisters, Olympic and the soon to be built Britannic (originally to be named Gigantic [2]), were intended to be the largest, most luxurious ships ever to operate. Titanic was designed by Harland and Wolff chairman Lord Pirrie, head of Harland and Wolff's design department Thomas Andrews and general manager Alexander Carlisle, with the plans regularly sent to White Star Line's managing director J. Bruce Ismay for suggestions and approval. Construction of Titanic, funded by the American J.P. Morgan and his International Mercantile Marine Co., began on March 31, 1909. Titanic No. 401, was launched two years and two months later on May 31, 1911. Titanic's outfitting was completed on March 31 the following year. Titanic was 882 ft 6 in (269 m) long and 92 ft 6 in (28 m) at its beam, it had a Gross Register Tonnage of 46,328 tons, and a height from the water line to the boat deck of 60 ft (18 m). Although it enclosed more space and therefore had a higher GRT, the hull was exactly the same length as Titanic's sister ship Olympic. Titanic contained two reciprocating four-cylinder, triple expansion, inverted steam engines and one low pressure Parsons turbine which powered three propellers. There were 29 boilers fired by 159 coal burning furnaces that made possible a top speed of 23 knots (43 km/h). Only three of the four 63 foot (19 m) tall funnels were functional; the fourth funnel, which only served as a vent, was added to make the ship look more impressive. The ship could hold a total of 3,547 passengers and crew and, because it carried mail, its name was given the prefix RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) as well as SS (Steam Ship).

For its time, the ship was unsurpassed in its luxury and opulence. The ship offered an onboard swimming pool, gymnasium, a Turkish bath, library and squash court. First-class common rooms were ornately decorated with elaborate wood panelling, expensive furniture and other elegant decorations. Second-class and even third-class accommodation and common rooms were likewise considered as opulent as first class on many other ships of the day. The ship offered three lifts for use of first-class passengers and, as an innovation, offered one lift for second-class passengers.

The crown jewel of the ship's interiors was undoubtedly its forward first-class grand staircase, between the forward and second funnels. Extending down to E deck and decorated with oak panelling and gilded balustrades, it was topped by an ornate wrought-iron and glass dome which brought in natural light. On the uppermost landing was a large panel containing a clock flanked by the allegorical figures of Honour and Glory crowning Time. A similar, less ornate staircase, complete with matching dome, was located aft between the third and fourth funnels.

Titanic was considered a pinnacle of naval architecture and technological achievement. It was thought by The Shipbuilder magazine to be "practically unsinkable". Titanic was divided into 16 compartments with doors that were held by a magnetic latch and would fall by moving a switch on the bridge; however, the watertight bulkheads did not reach the entire height of the decks (only going as far as E-Deck). Titanic could stay afloat with any two of its compartments flooded, eleven of fourteen possible combinations of three compartments flooding or the first/last four compartments flooded; any more and the ship would sink.

Maiden voyage

The ship began its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, bound for New York City, New York, U.S.A. on Wednesday, April 10, 1912, with Captain Edward J. Smith in command. As Titanic left its berth it passed many immobilised ships which were laid up due to a coal strike. The powerful suction created by the ship's propellers caused the liner New York, which was docked nearby alongside the Oceanic (the large number of immobilized ships in Southampton at the time and the absence of sufficient space to accommodate them meant that many had been berthed two to a dock), to break away from its moorings and was drawn dangerously close (about 4 feet or 120 centimetres) to Titanic before a tugboat towed New York away. The near accident delayed the departure for one hour. After crossing the English Channel, Titanic stopped at Cherbourg, France, to disembark and board additional passengers, and stopped again the next day at Queenstown (known today as Cobh), Ireland, before continuing towards New York with 2,223 people aboard.[3].

Titanic had three class sections segregating the passengers. Third class, also known as steerage, comprising small cabins on the lower decks, was occupied mostly by immigrants hoping for a better life in America. Second-class cabins and common rooms, located towards the stern, were equal to first-class accommodations on other ships. Many second-class passengers were originally booked first class on other ships but, because of the coal strike, transferred to Titanic.

Some of the most prominent people in the world were travelling in first class. These included millionaire John Jacob Astor and his pregnant wife Madeleine; industrialist Benjamin Guggenheim; Macy's department store owner Isidor Straus and his wife Ida; Denver millionairess Margaret "Molly" Brown; Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon and his wife, couturiere Lady Duff-Gordon; streetcar magnate George Dunton Widener, his wife Eleanor, and their 27-year-old son, Harry Elkins Widener; Pennsylvania Railroad executive John Borland Thayer, his wife Marion and their seventeen-year-old son, Jack; journalist William Thomas Stead; the Countess of Rothes; United States presidential aide Archibald Butt; author and socialite Helen Churchill Candee; author Jacques Futrelle, his wife May, and their friends, Broadway producers Henry and Rene Harris; and silent film actress Dorothy Gibson. Both J.P. Morgan and Milton Hershey[4] had plans to travel on the Titanic but cancelled their reservations before the voyage. Also travelling in first class were White Star Line's managing director J. Bruce Ismay and the ship's builder Thomas Andrews, who was on board to observe any problems and assess the general performance of the new ship.


An iceberg found near Newfoundland.
An iceberg found near Newfoundland.

On the night of Sunday, April 14, the temperature had dropped to near freezing and the ocean was completely calm. There was no moon and the sky was clear. Captain Smith, perhaps in response to iceberg warnings received via wireless over the last few days, had altered Titanic's course around 10 miles (19 km) south of the normal shipping route. That Sunday at 1:45 PM, a message from the steamer Amerika warned that large icebergs lay in Titanic's path, but inexplicably, the warning was never relayed to the bridge. Later that evening, another report of numerous, large icebergs in Titanic's path, this time from the Mesaba, also failed to reach the bridge.

At 11:40 PM while sailing south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, lookouts Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee spotted a large iceberg directly ahead of the ship. Fleet sounded the ship's bell three times and telephoned the bridge. Sixth Officer Moody answered, "Yes, what do you see?", only to hear Fleet exclaiming, "Iceberg, right ahead!", to which Moody curiously responded, "thank you", before informing First Officer Murdoch of the call. Murdoch (who had now already seen the iceberg) ordered an abrupt turn to port (left) and full speed astern, which stopped and then reversed the ship's engines. A collision turned out to be inevitable, and the iceberg brushed the ship's starboard (right) side, buckling the hull in several places and popping out rivets below the waterline, creating a total of six leaks in the first five watertight compartments. Murdoch then ordered the ship hard right rudder which swung Titanic's stern away from the iceberg. The watertight doors were shut as water started filling the five compartments, one more than Titanic could stay afloat with. The weight of the five compartments filling with water weighed the ship down past the top of the watertight bulkheads, allowing water to flow into the other compartments. Captain Smith, alerted by the jolt of the impact, arrived on the bridge and began to assess Titanic's situation. Following an inspection by the ship's officers and Thomas Andrews, it was apparent that the Titanic would sink, and shortly after midnight on April 15, lifeboats were ordered to be readied and a distress signal sent out.

The first lifeboat launched, boat 7, was lowered shortly after 12:40 AM on the starboard side with only 28 people on board out of a maximum capacity of 65. The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats with a total capacity of 1,178 persons for the ship's total complement of passengers and crew of 2,223. 32 lifeboats had been originally specified, but management decided the doubled-up boats spoiled the lines of the ship. Sixteen lifeboats, indicated by number, were in the davits; and four canvas-sided collapsibles, indicated by letter, stowed on the roof of the officers' quarters or on the forward Boat Deck to be launched in empty davits. While only enough space for a little more than half the passengers and crew, Titanic carried more boats than required by the British Board of Trade. At the time, the number of lifeboats required was determined by a ship's gross tonnage, rather than its human capacity. The regulations concerning lifeboat capacity had last been updated in 1894, when the largest ships afloat weighed approximately 10,000 long tons, compared to Titanic's 46,328 tons.

First and second-class passengers had easy access to the lifeboats with staircases that led right up to the boat deck, but third-class passengers found it much harder. Many found the corridors leading from the lower sections of the ship difficult to navigate and had trouble making their way up to the lifeboats. Some gates separating the third-class section of the ship from the other areas, like the one leading from the aft well deck to the second-class section, are known to have been locked. While the majority of first and second-class women and children survived the sinking, more third-class women and children were lost than saved.

Titanic reported its position as 41° 46′ N, 50° 14′ W. The wreck was found at 41° 43′ N, 49° 56′ W.
Titanic reported its position as 41 46′ N, 50 14′ W. The wreck was found at 41 43′ N, 49 56′ W.

Wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride were busy sending out distress signals. Several ships responded, including Mount Temple, Frankfurt and Titanic's sister ship, Olympic, but none were close enough to make it in time. The closest ship to respond was Cunard Line's RMS Carpathia, and at 58 nautical miles (107 km) away it would arrive in about four hours, still too late to get to Titanic in time. Two land–based locations received the distress call from Titanic. One was the wireless station at Cape Race, Newfoundland, and the other was a Marconi telegraph station on top of the Wannamaker's department store in New York City.

From the bridge, the lights of a nearby ship could be seen off the port side. Since it was not responding to wireless, Fourth Officer Boxhall and Quartermaster Rowe attempted signalling the ship with a Morse lamp and later with distress rockets, but the ship never appeared to respond. The SS Californian was nearby but had stopped for the night because of ice, and its wireless was turned off because the wireless operator had gone to bed for the night . Just before he went to bed at around 11:00 PM Californian's radio operator attempted to warn Titanic that there was ice ahead, but he was cut off by an exhausted Jack Phillips, who sent back, "Shut up, shut up! I am busy, I am working Cape Race.". When Californian's officers first saw the ship, they tried signalling it with their Morse lamp, but also never appeared to receive a response. Later, they noticed Titanic's distress signals over the lights and informed Captain Stanley Lord. Even though there was much discussion about the mysterious ship, which to the officers on duty appeared to be moving away before disappearing, Californian did not wake its wireless operator until morning.

At first, passengers were reluctant to leave the ostensibly safe Titanic, which showed no outward signs of being in imminent danger, and board small lifeboats. As a result, most of the boats were launched partially empty. One boat, boat number one, meant to hold 40 people, left Titanic with only 12 people on board. With "Women and children first" the imperative (see origin of phrase) for loading lifeboats, Second Officer Lightoller, who was loading boats on the port side, allowed men on only if oarsmen were needed and for no other reason, even if there was room. First Officer Murdoch, who was loading boats on the starboard side, let men on board if women were absent. As the ship's tilt became more apparent, people started to become nervous, and some lifeboats began leaving fully loaded. Shortly after 2:00 AM the waterline had reached the forward boat deck, and all the lifeboats, save for Collapsibles A and B, had been lowered. Collapsible D was the last lifeboat to be lowered from the davits with 44 of its 47 seats filled. The total number of vacancies was close to 475.

Around 2:10 AM, the stern rose out of the water exposing the propellers and the forward boat deck was flooding. Events began to transpire rapidly as the last two lifeboats floated right off the deck, collapsible lifeboat B upside down, and collapsible lifeboat A half-filled with water. Shortly afterwards the forwardmost funnel collapsed, crushing part of the bridge and many of those struggling in the water. On deck, people were scrambling towards the stern or jumping overboard in hopes of reaching a lifeboat. The ship's stern slowly rose into the air, and everything not secured crashed towards the bow. While the stern rose, the electrical system finally failed and the lights went out. Shortly thereafter the stress on the hull caused Titanic to break apart into two large pieces[5], between the third and fourth funnels, and the bow section went completely under. The stern section briefly righted itself on the water before rising back up vertically. After a few moments, at 2:20 AM, the stern section also sank into the ocean.

Of a total of 2,223 people, only 706 survived; 1,517 perished.[3] If the lifeboats were filled to capacity 1,178 people could have been saved. Of the First Class, 199 were saved (60%) and 130 died. Of the Second Class, 119 (44%) were saved and 166 were lost. Of the Third Class, 174 were saved (25%) and 536 perished. Of the crew, 214 were saved (24%) and 685 perished. Of particular note, the entire complement of the Engineering Department, remaining at their posts to keep the ship's electrical systems running, drowned. The majority of deaths were caused by victims succumbing to hypothermia in the 28 F (−2 C) water. Out of the 16 lifeboats and 4 collapsibles launched only one came back. Another boat helped. Lifeboat 4 was close by and picked up eight crewmen, two of whom later died. Close to an hour later, Lifeboat 14, under the command of fifth officer Harold Lowe, went back and rescued four people, one of whom died afterwards. Other people managed to climb onto the two collapsible lifeboats that floated off the deck. There were some arguments in some of the other lifeboats about going back, but many survivors were afraid of being swamped by people trying to climb into the lifeboat or being pulled down by the anticipated suction from the sinking ship, though this turned out not to be severe. Only 12 people were picked up from the water.

As the ship sank into the depths, the two sections ended their final plunges very differently. The streamlined bow planed off approximately 2,000 feet (600 m) below the surface and slowed somewhat, landing relatively gently. The stern fell fairly straight down towards the ocean floor, possibly rotating as it sank, with the air trapped inside causing implosions. It was already half-crushed when it hit bottom. The bow section however, having been opened up by the iceberg, and sinking slowly, had no air left in it as it sank.


Survivors aboard one of the Titanic's four collapsible lifeboats. Note the canvas sides.
Survivors aboard one of the Titanic's four collapsible lifeboats. Note the canvas sides.

Almost two hours after Titanic sank, RMS Carpathia, commanded by Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, arrived on scene and picked up its first lifeboat at 4:10 AM. Over the next hours, the remainder of the survivors were rescued. On board Carpathia, a short prayer service for the rescued and a memorial for the people who lost their lives was held, and at 8:50 AM Carpathia left for New York, arriving on April 18. Once the loss of life was verified, White Star Line chartered the ship MacKay-Bennett to retrieve bodies. A total of 328 bodies were eventually recovered. Many of the bodies were taken to Halifax, Nova Scotia where the majority of the unclaimed were buried in Fairview Cemetery.

Aftermath and consequences

Extract from US Navy memorandum concerning Titanic.
Extract from US Navy memorandum concerning Titanic.

As news of the disaster spread, many people were shocked that Titanic could sink with such great loss of life despite all of its technological advances. Newspapers were filled with stories and descriptions of the disaster and were eager to get the latest information. Many charities were set up to help the victims and their families, many of whom lost their sole breadwinner, or, in the case of third-class survivors, lost everything they owned. The people of Southampton were deeply affected by the sinking. According to the Hampshire Chronicle on April 20, 1912, almost 1,000 local families were directly affected. Almost every street in the Chapel district of the town lost more than one resident and over 500 households lost a member.

Before the survivors even arrived in New York, investigations were being planned to discover what had happened to Titanic, and what could be done to prevent a recurrence. The United States Senate initiated an inquiry into the Titanic disaster on April 19, a day after Carpathia arrived in New York with the survivors. The chairman of the inquiry, Senator William Alden Smith, wanted to gather accounts from passengers and crew while the events were still fresh in their minds. Smith also needed to subpoena the British citizens while they were still on American soil. The American inquiry lasted until May 25. Lord Mersey was appointed to head the British Board of Trade's inquiry into the disaster. The British inquiry took place between May 2 and July 3. Each inquiry took testimony from both passengers and crew of Titanic, members of Californian's crew, and other experts.

The investigations found that many safety rules were out of date and as a result numerous safety measures were not enacted. Both inquiries into the disaster found Californian and its captain failed to give proper assistance to Titanic. The inquiries found that Californian was closer to Titanic than the 19 miles (36 km) that Captain Lord had believed and that Lord should have awakened the wireless operator after the rockets were first reported to him. As a result of Californian's off-duty wireless officer, 29 nations ratified the Radio Act of 1912, which streamlined radio communications, especially in the event of emergencies.

The disaster also led to the convening of the first International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea in London, England, on November 12, 1913. On January 20, 1915, a treaty was signed by the conference and resulted in the formation and international funding of the International Ice Patrol, an agency of the United States Coast Guard that to the present day monitors and reports on the location of North Atlantic Ocean icebergs that could pose a threat to transatlantic sea lane traffic. It was also agreed in the new regulations that all passenger vessels would have sufficient lifeboats for everyone on board, that appropriate safety drills would be conducted, and that radio communications would be operated 24 hours a day along with a secondary power supply, so as not to miss distress calls. In addition, it was agreed that the firing of red rockets from a ship must be interpreted as a distress signal.

The sinking of Titanic also changed the way passenger ships were designed, and caused many existing ships, like Olympic, to be refitted for increased safety. Besides increasing the number of lifeboats on board, improvements included increasing the height of the watertight bulkheads. The bulkheads on Titanic extended 10 feet (3 m) above the waterline, and after Titanic sank the bulkheads on other ships were extended higher to make compartments fully watertight. After Titanic sank, many existing ships' double bottoms were extended up the sides of the hull to a point above the waterline, and newer ships were designed with double hulls. Titanic had a double–plated bottom, but the rest of ship's hull was not reinforced.

Legends, myths, and controversy

Use of SOS

The sinking of Titanic was not the first time the internationally recognised Morse code distress signal "SOS" was used. The SOS signal was first proposed at the International Conference on Wireless Communication at Sea in Berlin in 1906. It was ratified by the international community in 1908 and had been in widespread use since then. The SOS signal was, however, rarely used by British wireless operators, who preferred the older CQD code. First Wireless Operator Jack Phillips began transmitting CQD until Second Wireless Operator Harold Bride suggested, half-jokingly, "Send SOS; it's the new call, and this may be your last chance to send it." Phillips, who perished in the disaster, then began to intersperse SOS with the traditional CQD call.

Titanic's rudder and turning ability

The memorial to the Titanic's engineers in Southampton.
The memorial to the Titanic's engineers in Southampton.

Although Titanic's rudder was not legally too small for a ship its size, the rudder's design was hardly state-of-the-art. According to researchers with the Titanic Historical Society: "Titanic's long, thin rudder was a copy of a 19th-century steel sailing ship. Compared with the rudder design of the Cunard's Mauretania or Lusitania, Titanic's was a fraction of the size. Apparently no account was made for advances in scale, and little thought given to how a ship 882 1/2 feet (269 m) in length might turn in an emergency, or avoid a collision with an iceberg. This was Titanic's Achilles' heel."[6]

Perhaps more fatal to the design of Titanic was its triple screw engine configuration, which had reciprocating steam engines driving its wing propellers, and a steam turbine driving its centre propeller. The reciprocating engines were reversible, while the turbine was not. When First Officer Murdoch gave the order to reverse engines to avoid the iceberg, he inadvertently handicapped the turning ability of the ship. Since the centre turbine could not reverse during the "full speed astern" manoeuvre, it simply stopped turning. Furthermore, since the centre propeller was positioned forward of the ship's rudder, the effectiveness of the rudder would have been greatly reduced. Had Murdoch simply turned the ship while maintaining its forward speed, Titanic might have missed the iceberg entirely.

The ship may have been able to be saved if it had rammed the iceberg head on. Titanic experts have hypothesised that if Titanic had not altered its course at all and had run head on into the iceberg, the damage would only have affected the first or, at most, first two compartments.

Titanic's band

One of the most famous stories of Titanic is of the band. On 15 April, Titanic's eight-member band, led by Wallace Hartley, had assembled in the first-class lounge in an effort to keep passengers calm and upbeat. Later they would move on to the forward half of the boat deck. The band continued playing music even when it became apparent the ship was going to sink.

None of the band members survived the sinking, and there has been much speculation about what their last song was. Some witnesses said the final song played was the hymn "Nearer, My God, to Thee." However, there are three versions of this song in existence and no one really knows which version, if any, was played. Hartley reportedly said to a friend if he was on a sinking ship "Nearer, My God, to Thee" would be one of the songs he would play. Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember popularised wireless operator Harold Bride’s account that he heard the song "Autumn" before the ship sank. It is considered Bride either meant the hymn called "Autumn" or "Songe d'Automne," a popular ragtime song of the time. Others claimed they heard "Roll out the Barrel."

Hartley's body was one of those recovered and identified. Considered a hero, his funeral in England was attended by thousands. The White Star Line billed his family for the cost of his lost uniform.

David Sarnoff

An often-quoted story that has been blurred between fact and fiction states that the first person to receive news of the sinking was David Sarnoff, who would later found media giant RCA. Sarnoff was not the first to hear the news (though Sarnoff willingly promoted this notion), but he and others did man the Marconi wireless station atop the Wanamaker Department Store in New York City, and for three days relayed news of the disaster and names of survivors to people waiting outside.[7]

Faults in Construction

Though this topic is seldom-spoken, there is some speculation on whether or not Titanic was even constructed properly. Faults in the construction included problems with safety doors, and missing or detached bolts that were on the side of the ship. Some people say that this was most of the cause of the sinking, and that the iceberg, in part with the missing bolts and screws, eventually led to the demise of Titanic. Many believe that if the watertight bulkheads had completely sealed the ship's compartments (they only went 10ft above the waterline), the ship would have stayed afloat.

Alternate theories and curses

Main article: Titanic alternate theories

As with many famous events, many alternate theories about the sinking of Titanic have appeared over the years. Theories that it was not an iceberg that sank the ship or that a curse caused the disaster have been popular reading in newspapers and books. Most of these theories have been debunked by Titanic experts, citing inaccurate or incomplete facts on which the theories are based.

Another theory is that the Titanic was sacrificed because once construction had been completed, she was expected (like the Channel Tunnel) to be a potential perpetual financial loss. Supporters of this theory cite the fact that everyone concerned, the company and the officers aboard, had received iceberg warnings and yet the Titanic maintained a Northern course instead of sailing to the South of the warning limit.


Titanic's bow as seen from the Russian MIR I submersible.
Titanic's bow as seen from the Russian MIR I submersible.

The idea of finding the wreck of Titanic, and even raising the ship from the ocean floor, had been around since shortly after the ship sank. No attempts were successful until September 1, 1985, when a joint American-French expedition, led by Jean-Louis Michel of Ifremer and Dr. Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, sailing on the Research Vessel Knorr, located the wreck using the video camera sled Argo. It was found at a depth of 12,500 feet (3800 m), south-east of Newfoundland at 4143′55″N, 4956′45″W, 13 nautical miles (24 km) from where Titanic was originally thought to rest.

The most notable discovery the team made was that the ship had split apart, the stern section lying 1,970 feet (600 m) from the bow section and facing opposite directions. There had been conflicting witness accounts of whether the ship broke apart or not, and both the American and British inquiries found that the ship sank intact. Up until the discovery of the wreck, it was generally assumed the ship did not break apart. In 2005, a theory was presented that a portion of Titanic's bottom broke off right before the ship broke in two.[8] The theory was conceived after an expedition sponsored by The History Channel examined two hull pieces, each around 40 ft by 90 ft (12 m  27 m;), that rest close to a third of a mile (550 m) away from the other sections.[9]

The bow section had embedded itself 60 feet (18 m) into the silt on the ocean floor. Besides parts of the hull having buckled, the bow was mostly intact, as the water inside had equalised with the increasing water pressure. The stern section was in much worse condition. As the stern section sank, water pushed out the air inside tearing apart the hull and decks. The speed at which the stern hit the ocean floor caused even more damage. Surrounding the wreck is a large debris field with pieces of the ship, furniture, dinnerware and personal items scattered over one square mile (2.6 km). Softer materials, like wood and carpet, were devoured by undersea organisms. Human remains suffered a similar fate.

Although the British inquiry had determined mathematically that the damage to the ship could not have comprised more than twelve inches square (30 cm   30 cm), the popular notion was that the iceberg had cut a 300 foot (90 m) long gash into Titanic's hull. Since the part of the ship that the iceberg had damaged was buried, scientists used sonar to examine the area and discovered the iceberg had caused the hull to buckle, allowing water to enter Titanic between its steel plates. During subsequent dives, scientists retrieved small pieces of Titanic's hull. A detailed analysis of the pieces revealed the ship's steel plating was of a variety that loses its elasticity and becomes brittle in cold or icy water, leaving it vulnerable to dent-induced ruptures. Furthermore, the rivets holding the hull together were much more fragile than once thought. It is unknown if stronger steel or rivets could have saved the ship.

The samples of steel rescued from the wrecked hull were found to have very high content of phosphorus and sulphur (four times and two times as high as common for modern steels), with a manganese-sulphur ratio of 6.8:1 (compare with over 200:1 ratio for modern steels). High content of phosphorus initiates fractures, sulphur forms grains of iron sulphide that facilitate propagation of cracks, and lack of manganese makes the steel less ductile. The recovered samples were found to be undergoing ductile-brittle transition in temperatures of 32 C (for longitudinal samples) and 56 C (for transversal samples—compare with transition temperature of −27 C common for modern steels—modern steel would become as brittle between −60 and −70 C). The anisotropy was likely caused by hot rolling influencing the orientation of the sulphide stringer inclusions. The steel was probably produced in the acid-lined, open-hearth furnaces in Glasgow, which would explain the high content of phosphorus and sulphur, even for the times. [10]

Dr. Ballard and his team did not bring up any artifacts from the site, considering it to be tantamount to grave robbing. Under international maritime law, however, the recovery of artifacts is necessary to establish salvage rights to a shipwreck. In the years after the find, Titanic has been the object of a number of court cases concerning ownership of artifacts and the wreck site itself.

The iceberg buckled Titanic's hull allowing water to flow into the ship.
The iceberg buckled Titanic's hull allowing water to flow into the ship.

Ownership and litigation

On June 7, 1994, RMS Titanic Inc. was awarded ownership and salvaging rights of the wreck [11] by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. (See Admiralty law)[12] RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc., and its predecessors have conducted seven expeditions to the wreck between 1987 and 2004 and salvaged over 5,500 objects. The biggest single recovered artifact was a 17-ton section of the hull, recovered in 1998.[13] Many of these artifacts are part of travelling museum exhibitions.

Beginning in 1987, a joint American-French expedition, which included the predecessor of RMS Titanic Inc., began salvage operations and, during 32 dives, recovered approximately 1,800 artifacts which were taken to France for conservation and restoration. In 1993, a French administrator in the Office of Maritime Affairs of the Ministry of Equipment, Transportation, and Tourism awarded RMS Titanic Inc's predecessor title to the artifacts recovered in 1987.

In a motion filed on February 12, 2004, RMS Titanic Inc. requested that the District Court enter an order awarding it "title to all the artifacts (including portions of the hull) which are the subject of this action pursuant to the law of finds" or, in the alternative, a salvage award in the amount of $225 million. RMS Titanic Inc. excluded from its motion any claim for an award of title to the 1987 artifacts. But it did request that the district court declare that, based on the French administrative action, "the artifacts raised during the 1987 expedition are independently owned by RMST." Following a hearing, the district court entered an order dated July 2, 2004, in which it refused to grant comity and recognize the 1993 decision of the French administrator, and rejected RMS Titanic Inc's claim that it should be awarded title to the artifacts recovered since 1993 under the maritime law of finds.

RMS Titanic Inc. appealed to the United States court of appeals. In its decision of January 31, 2006 [14] the court recognized "explicitly the appropriateness of applying maritime salvage law to historic wrecks such as that of Titanic" and denied the application the maritime law of finds. The court ruled also that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the "1987 artifacts", and therefore vacated that part of the court's July 2, 2004 order. In other words according to this decision RMS Titanic Inc. has ownership title to the artifacts awarded in the French decision (valued $16.5 million earlier) and continues to be salvor-in-possession of the Titanic wreck. The Court of Appeals remanded back to the District Court to determine the salvage award ($225 million requested by RMS Titanic Inc.)[15].

Current condition of the wreck

Many scientists, including Robert Ballard, are concerned that visits by tourists in submersibles and the recovery of artifacts are hastening the decay of the wreck. Underwater microbes have been eating away at Titanic's iron since the ship sank, but because of the extra damage visitors have caused, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that "the hull and structure of the ship may collapse to the ocean floor within the next 50 years."

Ballard's book Return to Titanic, published by the National Geographic Society, includes photographs showing the deterioration of the promenade deck and alleged damage caused by submersibles landing on the ship; however, Ballard was the first person to crash a camera sled into the wreck, and also the first person to repeatedly land on its deck in a submersible. The mast has almost completely deteriorated and repeated accusations were made in print by Ballard that it had been stripped of its bell and brass light by salvagers, despite his own original discovery images clearly showing that the bell was never actually on the mast- it was recovered from the sea floor. Even the memorial plaque left by Ballard on his second trip to the wreck was alleged to have been removed, however Ballard replaced the plaque in 2004. Recent expeditions, notably by James Cameron, have been diving on the wreck to learn more about the site and explore previously unexplored parts of the ship before Titanic decays completely.

Comparable maritime disasters

Titanic was at the time one of the worst maritime disasters in history, a comparable loss of life never having happened before on the heavily travelled North Atlantic route. It remains the worst civilian maritime disaster in British history. The biggest civilian maritime disaster in the Atlantic Ocean up to that time had been the wreck of SS Norge off Rockall in 1904 with the loss of 635 lives. However, Titanic's death toll had been exceeded by the explosion and sinking of the steamboat Sultana on the Mississippi River in 1865, where an estimated 1,700 died.

The worst maritime disasters happened during wartime. The three worst were German ships. The sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff with an estimated death toll between 6,000 and 9,000 remains the worst disaster in shipping history, in terms of loss of life in a single vessel (sunk on 30 January 1945 by a Soviet torpedo). The SS Cap Arcona was sunk by the Royal Air Force on May 3, 1945, with an estimated death toll of more than 7,700. The Goya was sunk with an estimated 7,000 dead, again by Soviet submarine on 16 April 1945.

The worst peacetime maritime disaster happened on December 21, 1987, when the passenger ferry Doa Paz sank in the Philippines after colliding with the oil tanker Vector and catching fire. The sinking of Doa Paz claimed between 1,500 and 4,000 lives.

Titanic was not the first White Star Line ship to sink with loss of life. RMS Tayleur, which has been compared to the sinking of Titanic, sank after running aground in Ireland. Tayleur was also technically innovative when it sank on its maiden voyage in 1854. Of its 558 passengers and crew, 276 were lost. The White Star Line had also previously lost the RMS Atlantic on rocks near Nova Scotia in 1873 with 546 fatalities, and SS Naronic in 1893, probably in an iceberg collision near the Titanic's position, with the loss of all 74 aboard. Three years before Titanic, on January 24, 1909, another palatial and "unsinkable" White Star Line passenger liner, the RMS Republic sank 50 miles off the coast of Nantucket killing six persons. But perhaps the best known case of disaster striking a White Star ship would be Titanic's sister ship Britannic, which served as a British hospital ship during World War I. On November 21, 1916, after what conflicting accounts say was either a torpedo attack or an unlucky encounter with an ocean mine, Britannic went to the bottom. The only deaths associated with the shipwreck, 34 people, happened when one of the lifeboats was launched before the ship had come to a total stop and the boat was sucked into a still revolving propeller.

Also similar to Titanic was Hans Hedtoft. In January 1959 Hans Hedtoft, a Danish liner sailing from Greenland, struck an iceberg and sank. Hans Hedtoft was also on its maiden voyage and was boasted to be "unsinkable" because of its strong design. Historians have noted that two-thirds of the passengers and crew were lost on Titanic. The ratio has been repeated with the sinking of RMS Lusitania and the sinking of RMS Leinster[16]. Both were sunk by German U-boats in World War One.

Popular culture

Willy Stöwer: Untergang der Titanic (Sinking of the Titanic)
Willy Stwer: Untergang der Titanic (Sinking of the Titanic)

The sinking of Titanic has been the basis for many novels describing fictionalised events on board the ship. Many reference books about the disaster have also been written since Titanic sank, the first of these appearing within months of the sinking. Survivors like Second Officer Lightoller and passenger Jack Thayer have written books describing their experiences. Some like Walter Lord, who wrote the popular A Night to Remember, did independent research and interviews to describe the events that happened on board the ship.

Morgan Robertson's 1898 novella Futility, which was written 14 years before RMS Titanic's ill-fated voyage, was found to have many parallels with the Titanic disaster; Robertson's work concerned a fictional state-of-the-art ocean liner called Titan, which eventually collides with an iceberg on a calm April night whilst en route to New York. Huge amounts of people died because of the lack of lifeboats. Both Titan itself and the manner of its demise bore many striking similarities to the eventual fate of Titanic, and Robertson's novella remains in print today as an unnerving curiosity.

Clive Cussler's 1976 Dirk Pitt novel Raise the Titanic is about raising Titanic in order to recover a mineral vital to national security. It was written before Titanic was discovered, so at the time it was considered possible to raise Titanic. It was made into a movie in 1980, which flopped at the box office. The producer Sir (later Lord) Lew Grade famously remarked "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic!"

Titanic has featured in a large number of films and TV movies, most notably:

The most widely viewed is the 1997 film Titanic, directed by James Cameron and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. It became the highest-grossing film in history. It also won 11 Academy Awards , tying with Ben-Hur (1959) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) for the most awards won.

The story was also made into a Broadway musical, Titanic, written by Peter Stone with music by Maury Yeston. Titanic ran from 1998 to 2000. The 1960 Broadway musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown tells survivor Margaret Brown's life story, which included the events onboard Titanic. The musical was written by Richard Morris with music by Meredith Willson. A film version starring Debbie Reynolds was released in 1964.

Other media include Titanic: Adventure Out of Time which was a 1996 computer game that took place on Titanic. Starship Titanic was another computer game that takes place in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy universe and was a parody of the Titanic disaster. Many television shows have also referenced the Titanic disaster. The show The Time Tunnel featured a visit to the ship on its first episode, a character on the British drama Upstairs, Downstairs died on Titanic, and the animated series Futurama did a parody where it had the cast boarding a space–faring vessel called Titanic. The spaceship was torn in half by a black hole on its maiden voyage. In movies like Time Bandits and Cavalcade, Titanic has had brief appearances and in Ghostbusters 2, Titanic briefly appeared as a ghost ship. Titanic was once used in the plot of the NBC soap opera Passions, where the lovers Luis and Sheridan discovered that they were passengers on the ship in past lives (and that the witch Tabitha caused the iceberg). Songs about the disaster include folk songs and popular music including the Polish rock group Lady Pank's song "Zostawcie Titanica" which is a plea to not disturb the wreck.

Using Titanic as humor has not been exclusive to popular entertainment. The Intel Itanium microprocessor has often been jokingly called "Itanic", since (as of 2005) its sales have fallen far short of expectations.

Deckplans of Titanic