It was unbelievable.
On April 15, 1912, the word was being flashed around the world by telegraph that the world’s biggest, most impressive and theoretically unsinkable ship, was gone.
Late on the 14th, the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage and travelling at 22 knots, struck an iceberg about 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland.
The ship carried the still new technology of wireless telegraphy, and sent out both the old and new distress signals, CQD, and SOS.
Newfoundland first to hear distress
Late at night at a lonely Marconi telegraph station at Cape Race, Newfoundland, the operators on duty had been relaying messages from passengers aboard the ship to friends and relatives awaiting their arrival in New York. Titanic was to arrive two days later on the 17th. Suddenly the messages changed. The Newfoundland operators were the first to hear the unbelievable call that RMS Titanic was in trouble, in fact very soon, dire trouble.
As messages flashed back and forth among the Cape Race station, Marconi headquarters in Montreal and New York and White Star owners, there was confusion as to the seriousness of the problem, after all RMS Titanic was supposed to be unsinkable.
However, shortly after 2 AM on the 15th of April, Titanic with its bow already underwater and heavy stern rising, breaks in half and slips into the depths. Some 1,500 souls were lost as there were not enough lifeboats and rafts for all on board. An investigation later resulted in changes that required all ships to carry enough lifeboats for the number of passengers on board.
The Carpathia, which had been stopped nearby the sinking ship but which had shut down it’s wireless for the night, began to pick up survivors as soon as it came back to life a couple of hours before dawn.
Later that morning and in following days, a number of ships set out from the Canadian port of Halifax to search for survivors, but only found bits of wreckage and many frozen bodies in the frigid Atlantic water. Some 150 are buried in three cemeteries in the city. The city has recently declined a request to exhume those bodies for an American project to identify them using DNA.
What is forgotten is the fact that Titanic had never actually been declared unsinkable, but rather “practically unsinkable”, the “practically” quickly forgotten by media.
Also often forgotten is that Titanic had two equally huge and impressive sister ships, Olympic and Britannic.
Olympic had a short career sinking in the very early part of the First World War after striking a mine in November 1916 off the Greek island of Kea, The ship sank in a mere 55 minutes. Britannic last much longer but had a number of collisions in her career and was scrapped as unprofitable in 1934.
Titanic soon will be gone
As the wreck lies at a depth of almost four kilometres, bacteria are quickly eating away at the ship. In 2010 scientists estimated only a pile of rust would remain within less than 20 years.
Not the worst
Although Titanic and the loss of some 1,500 souls is the stuff of legend with multiple books and songs, it is not the worst maritime sinking
- Jun 1940- RMS Lancastria-bombed while evacuating civilians and some military personnel from France. Officially 1,738 loss, estimated anywhere from 4,000 to 9,000, full story of loss still withheld.
- Jan 1945 -MV Wilhelm Gustav- torpedoed by Soviets while fleeing from occupied Poland with civilian and military personnel- estimated loss 9,400
- Apr 1945-MV Goya-torpedoed by Soviets in Baltic sea, documented 6,100 aboard, many women and children. estimated many more undocumented. Sank in just seven minutes Only 183 survivors
- NON MILITARY- Dec 1987- MV Dona Paz- (ferry) collision with MT Vector carrying gasoline with ignited the ship and water. Estimated loss 4,375
- NON-MILITARY- Sep 2002- MV Le Joola- off the coast of Gambia. Overloaded, it capsized in a storm –estimated loss 1,863