History Stories

More than a century after the "unsinkable" ship sank, explore one of history's greatest maritime tragedies, the Titanic Disaster.

According to some hypotheses, Titanic was doomed from the start by the design so many lauded as state-of-the-art. The Olympic-class ship featured a double bottom and 15 watertight bulkheads equipped with electric watertight doors which could be operated individually or simultaneously by a switch on the bridge. But the design contained a critical flaw: While the individual bulkheads were watertight, water could spill from one compartment into another. Another critical safety lapse was the number of lifeboats on board. There were 16 boats, along with four Engelhardt “collapsibles,” that could accommodate 1,178 people—just one-third of Titanic’s 3,300-passenger maximum capacity.

Titanic created quite a stir when it departed for its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, on April 10, 1912, with 2,240 passengers and crew aboard. It was the largest passenger steamship ever built. At about 11:30 p.m. on April 14, everything changed. A lookout saw an iceberg dead ahead, rang the warning bell and telephoned the bridge. The engines were quickly reversed and the ship was turned sharply, and instead of making direct impact, the iceberg grazed along the side of the ship. At first, no one had any idea that the iceberg had slashed a 300-foot gash well below the ship’s waterline. A little more than an hour after contact with the iceberg, a largely disorganized and haphazard evacuation process began.

Titanic, nearly perpendicular and with many of its lights still aglow, finally dove beneath the icy surface at approximately 2:20 a.m. on April 15 (taking the lives of more than 1,500 people). Throughout the morning, the Cunard Line’s Carpathia, after receiving Titanic’s distress call at midnight and steaming at full speed while dodging ice floes all night, rounded up all of the lifeboats—they contained only 705 survivors.

Here’s a look at a few of the episodes:

  • The construction of the “unsinkable” Titanic in Belfast required an army of workers and the resources, facilities and unique docks of a purpose-built and long forgotten “Titanic Town.” Get the story in Building the Titanic.
  • HMHS Britannic, sister ship of the ill-fated Titanic, met her own untimely end in the Aegean Sea in 1916. Whether a German mine or a submarine torpedo sank her, a bigger mystery remains: Why did the giant ship sink so fast? Find out in Titanic’s Tragic Sister.

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