RMS Titanic - Lessons From History

Titanic 100 Festival

Belfast's most famous creation, Titanic, will be commemorated in an extended annual festival from 31 March - 31 May 2011, which will include key dates of the ship's build.

It is unlikely that anybody involved in the design, construction and operation of RMS Titanic ever claimed that she was unsinkable.  But the rumor persists that the claim was made.

The Titanic was never designed to be unsinkable: she was designed to stay afloat long enough to transfer her passengers and crew to another ship if she was substantially damaged.  That is why there were so few lifeboats: they were intended to be used in conjunction with lifeboats from other ships to transfer passengers and crew.  In the worst case envisioned by marine architects and government officials of the day, a ship with multiple water-tight bulkheads should take many hours to sink.

The first lesson we must learn from the Titanic saga is that the media is not to be trusted.  The first reports published in the newspapers were hopelessly wrong.  Presumably the reporters who got it wrong acted on minimal information about what was happening in the cold Atlantic night and on maximal information about the international view on the best way to use lifeboats.

Evening Sun - All Titanic Passengers Are Safe.
Image source: http://www.prattlibrary.org/...newspaper

In a sidebar story, the New York Evening Sun even chided the New York Times for having reported that the ship had sunk. It would regret the finger-pointing.

The Wall Street Journal editorialized: "The gravity of the damage to the Titanic is apparent, but the important point is that she did not sink. Her watertight bulkheads were really watertight."
Source:http://articles.baltimoresun.com/ ... evening-sun-titanic-passengers-new-york-times

Of course, the biggest single lesson we have yet to learn from the Titanic disaster is that nature is a bigger bitch than we can ever imagine.  We must therefore use our scientific and engineering knowledge and skills to determine what could probably go wrong - and then add on a very generous margin of safety.

100 years on

Construction of RMS Titanic began March 31 1909.  She was launched May 31 1911.  Fitting out was completed March 31 1912.

April 15 2012 will mark the centenary of her tragic loss.

The Titanic continues to fascinate the world 100 years after she disappeared beneath the waves.  Many people have made models of the Titanic, from the very small to the movie-studio scale.  Now there is a resource for modellers who want the ultimate in detail: the Haynes Manual.

Haynes Manuals are justly famed for their attention to detail.  Typically, a team will completely dismantle a vehicle and then describe how each component is assembled with replacement parts.  Somehow, I don't think they did that with the Titanic.  Even so, judging by past efforts the Haynes RMS Titanic Owners Workshop Manual should be well worth its price.

RMS Titanic - Owners Workshop Manual.

RMS Titanic Manual 1909 -12 (Olympic class)

An insight into the design, engineering, construction and history of the most famous passenger ship
By: David Hutchings and Richard de Kerbrech

The world famous ocean liner Titanic, which sank on her maiden voyage in 1912, is the latest subject to receive the Haynes Manual treatment. With an authoritative text and hundreds of illustrations, see how this leviathan was built, launched and fitted out. Read about her lavish passenger accommodation. Learn about the captain's responsibilities, including the operation of a transatlantic liner. Consider the chief engineer's view - how did he manage the huge engines and other onboard systems? What was it like to operate a luxury ocean liner from the perspective of Titanic's owner, the White Star Line?

As advertised in Best of Britain

Hardback, 270 x 210mm, 160 pages, 100 colour&150 b&w illustrations
ISBN:     9781844256624
Book No:     H4662
Web price:     £19.99

Like so many people, I have long been fascinated by the Titanic story.  Many years ago - in the 1970s I think - I wrote a poem about her.  It was first published on the web in 2005 and has been re-posted by others many times since.  This is the definitive version.

A Ship To Remember

Hammers. Timbers. Iron. Steel.

They're laying down a mighty keel.

As ant-like workers scurry round

I hear a truly riveting sound.

And as she rises midst the swarm

I see the beauty of her form.

(He has no soul who cannot see

How I am forced to call her "she".)

And then, 'a sudden, she's a ship!

She waltzes down that mighty slip.

Then, in the water, no splash, mind,

This lady floats. Oh! How refined!

Southampton docks: I want to feel,

And touch, and taste the British steel!

Palatial, and stately too.

(There was no like in Xanadu.)

The passengers, the crew, all we

Are safe aboard, so out to sea.

The cheers, the midget well-wish fleet,

That siren deck beneath my feet!

A jewelled city, in the night,

From shame, the very stars took flight.

Her mighty speed seemed but a creep,

So steady that she seemed asleep.

Indeed the city slept.   A few

Remained awake, they mostly crew,

To feed the rav'nous boilers' maw,

To bake the bread, sort mail, and more.

I almost dozed and wished my bed,


"Iceberg!", "Iceberg! Dead ahead!"

With straining engines, spinning wheel,

She strove to swerve her awesome keel

And almost, almost, but, not quite --

A straining shrieking rent the night

And rent her hull. (I took no fright.)

'Twas but a glancing blow", I think,

She will not, cannot, must not sink!

But down below the decks, unseen:

In sneaks the ocean cold and keen.

And as up each steel wall it grows

It reaches top, and overflows.

Boats are lowered.   Ah! Sad few.

"Women and babes first!", shout the crew.

A panicked man, in dressing-gown:

"My God! My God! She's going down!"

"Nearer my God, to thee how near".

The band plays on, to calm the fear.

"You've done your duty, lads, now go."

But does the music stop? Oh no.

A fervent prayer to He who saves

As down she slips beneath the waves.

The silence!

Then those dreadful screams.

(I sometimes hear them in my dreams.)

Next morn, upon that sorrowed billow

A wreath, a chair, a toy, a pillow.

No souls, the souls are all asleep.

I stand in silent prayer, and weep.