Factors That Contributed to the Sinking of the Titanic
"The sounds of people drowning are something that I cannot describe to you...It’s the most dreadful sound and there is a terrible silence that follows it."
Titanic survivor Eva Hart’s haunting recollection of that tragic night, revealed the devastating fate of the infamous ship. It was this silence that came and stole away those some 1,517 souls, causing the disaster to be the worst in maritime history.
Many questions and speculations have circled around the mysterious ship for nearly a century. People often wonder what could have been done to prevent this tremendous loss of life, and if there were hidden causes. There were many factors that came into play in the untimely demise of the Titanic, many of which could have been avoided entirely.
Lack of Lifeboats and Basic Procedure
There were not enough lifeboats, and the process of preparing and filling the boats was not conducted properly. Many mistakes were made in regard to planning for a potential accident, errors that would prove to be fatal. There were a total of 16 boats, as well as an additional four collapsible Engelhardt boats. Although, with a total of about 2,240 passengers aboard, these were not enough lifeboats to ensure safety for all.
No drills were ever done, in case an emergency was to strike. It was chaotic for the crew to figure out what to do, and they were put on the spot to make abrupt decisions. On the night of its untimely demise, numerous passengers did not believe that the Titanic was truly sinking. Instead of entering a lifeboat, many opted to remain on the ship. “It seemed much nicer to stay on board a warm and bright ship, so many lifeboats left half-empty” (Brewster & Coulter, 1998. Pg. 47). Had more of the lifeboats been filled to their full capacity, more lives could have been saved.
The procedure for who could enter a lifeboat was also disheartening. Although it was mainly women and children first, the rich did have an upper hand. “The boats also appear to have been filled in a way that gave unfair advantage to the wealthier, first-class passengers” (D’Alto, 2018).
Captain Smith & the Binoculars
Furthermore, Captain Edward Smith played a pivotal role in the events that occurred on the night of April 14, 1912. He had kept the ship moving quickly, even with all of the iceberg warnings and threats. Messengers aboard the Titanic had received multiple cautions through Morse code about the icy Atlantic waters, yet the ship carried on full speed. It is said that Bruce Ismay, who was the chairman of White Star, wanted the ship to “beat the Olympic” (Guiberson, 2010. Pg. 109).
Captain Smith was going for record time, which may have been a serious misjudgment. The Titanic had continued to move through the dark waters at full steam, and the captain believed he and his crew would be able to see any threats ahead of time. This was not the case.
The lookout did not have binoculars, and had to rely on his eyesight to see any potential risks. “In spite of all the opulent supplies on this floating palace, they had no binoculars” (Guiberson, 2010. Pg. 109). Something as simple as this item could have helped to avoid the tragedy altogether. Since the Titanic was traveling at a fast pace, if there were any problems they would have had to act quickly, and possibly rashly. There would not have been enough time to doge the icebergs, so the decisions made in those precious moments helped to determine whether the infamous ship would prosper or perish.
Reversal of the Engines
By choosing to stop and reverse the engines, the Titanic’s fate was sealed. Had the ship remained at full speed, and not been shut off, it could have turned sharper and faster. Therefore, the ship may have been able to miss the iceberg entirely. Yet, on that doomed night at 11:39, with calm waters and clear skies, disaster struck. “Lookout Frederick Fleet rang the warning bell three times and telephoned the bridge: Iceberg right ahead” (Brewster & Coulter, 1998. Pg. 42.)! There was a total of 37 seconds for something to be done, but that was not enough time.
First Officer Murdoch ordered the ship to stop and to reverse the engines. This decision made turning the ship a difficult task, and with such little time there was no way the tremendous ship would avoid the iceberg. Although the Titanic was strong, she couldn’t fight the inevitable. “But the doors and watertight compartments would not be enough to save the ship” (Lusted, 2018). If it had kept its momentum going, the danger could have been potentially evaded. Many speculate that had a different course of action been executed, the outcome would have been altered. For instance, hitting the berg head-on could have been the best choice. It is unknown for sure, however.
Fear and Lack of Help
Some smaller factors that contributed to the great loss of life include boats not picking up the passengers in the water, and the nearby Californian did not come to help. Almost no lifeboats went back and pulled people from the water. Many feared that those in the cold Atlantic waters would overtake the lifeboats, and swarm them.
In addition, Captain Smith had wanted the launched boats to pick up additional passengers from the hopeless Titanic. “But the seamen manning the boats, fearing they would be sucked under the ship when she sank, decided it would be safer to row away” (Brewster & Coulter, 1998. Pg. 49.). It was simple mistakes such as these that made the souls lost on that night an immense number. Had more lifeboats gone back to aid the other distressed passengers, perhaps more lives could have been spared.
Another daunting factor is that there was indeed another ship in the horizon that possibly could have helped the doomed vessel. The Californian was one of the ships that had warned the Titanic about iceberg threats. The wireless operator for the boat had sent multiple messages to the Titanic.
However, Jack Philips (the Titanic’s messenger) responded with “Keep out! Shut up” (Brewster & Coulter, 1998. Pg. 64.)! This caused the Californian to turn off its machines, and they were unable to hear the Titanic’s distress calls.
The fate of the Titanic cannot be changed, and no amount of speculation and what ifs will ever be able to bring those lost souls back. Perhaps if it had been equipped with more lifeboats, or if Captain Smith had heeded the numerous iceberg warnings, the outcome could have been different. Yet the decisions were made, and in those crucial final hours, they seemed to be the wisest.
The ship shall continue to be a topic of much interest, and opinions and views will always be voiced. It will also serve as a grim reminder that nothing is untouchable and invulnerable. As the Bishop of Winchester once said, shortly after the 1912 tragedy, “Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption.”
Brewster, H., & Coulter, L. (1998). 882 ½ Amazing Answers to your Questions about the Titanic. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Madison Press Books.
D’Alto, N. What Sank the Titanic? A Forensic Analysis. (August, 2018). Odyssey: Carus Publishing Company. Vol. 21 Issue 4, p11-15, 5p. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Database.
Guiberson, Brenda Z. (2010). Disasters: Natural and Man-Made Catastrophes Through the Centuries. New York: Christy Ottaviano Books.
Lusted, M. A Night Like No Other: The Sinking of the Titanic. (August, 2018). Odyssey: Carus Publishing Company.Vol. 21 Issue 4, p8-10, 3p. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Database.
© 2018 Rachel M Johnson