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Those of you who were moved by James Cameron's epic film Titanic may be interested in seeing this contemporary postcard, postmarked Southampton, April 26th 1912- just two weeks after the tragedy. The writer says to her friend Carrie in Hoylake (on the Wirral Peninsula, across the River Mersey from the White Star Line's home port of Liverpool, where Titanic was registered)- "I wonder if you have seen one of these cards, we saw her leaving the quay. It does not seem true, does it? Lovely weather. Hoylake would be such fun, I wish that I could come".
Life goes on...

"Many of your readers will have seen the blockbuster film and may even have half-watched on TV the hocus-pocus movie Raise the Titanic and may be interested in some true facts about the sinking of the Titanic approaching midnight on Sunday, 14th April, 1912...

The ship was owned by the International Merchant Marine Company (I.M.M.) and flagged as the White Star Line which was founded in Britain in 1845. The I.M.M was an American and German organisation and its principal player was the American J. Pierpont Morgan, a financier, who had created 'trusts' or cartels that eliminated competition in the American road and rail systems (and this was subsequently acted upon by legislation named the Patman Acts). White Star was founded by Thomas Henry Ismay, a grand old man who had the misfortune to sire a weak fobbish son named Bruce Ismay who got involved in share manipulation because White Star was financially 'on the rocks'.

It is sufficient to say that I.M.M bought White Star as a means of removing Cunard (a wholly owned British company that was backed by the British government with low fixed interest loans) from the supremacy of holding the Blue Riband which was the transatlantic speed record held by Cunard for over 20 years.

titanic memorialThe Titanic was build at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast and the chairman of this company was William James Pirrie who was also a director of White Star and the International Merchant Marine Co. Whilst the shipbuilding specification at Cunard was closely monitored and indeed specified by the Admiralty, Harland and Wolff used a design specification for building the Titanic that was a major factor in the disaster. Cunard built ships that were of battleship design as far as watertight subdivision is concerned and the Mauretania also had a high sheer- or lift- to her bows and when she steamed into heavy seas the water was thrown aside.

The Titanic had a more or less level forecastle and as she steamed fast she tended to dig her bow into the water and the waves broke over the forecastle making her wet and heavy to steer and slow to turn.

Left and below: The crew are commemorated on the Titianic Memorial on Liverpool Pier Head. Another photograph of it is here...

On the night in question however, the sea was a flat calm and the shape of the bow was unimportant so we have to look at watertight subdivision of the hull. The Mauretania, holder of the Blue Riband for 27 years, was built along these lines- upper deck, main deck, middle deck, lower deck, upper platform deck and below this deck would be the fresh water tanks, boiler rooms, engine rooms, etc. Below these functionary compartments is the lower platforms deck which is also known as the keel platform deck. This had space underneath following the curvature of the bottom of the ship and it is crawling space. It is subdivided across the beam of the vessel and has access hatches to each section. The upper platform deck and lower deck were vertically subdivided with full height bulkheads or walls and access to each division would be through bulkhead doors. Access to the upper platform deck was restricted to operators and you had to sign in and out to confirm that you had clamped all the doors shut that you had opened. Each door had a dwarf bulkhead across the bottom three feet high and five or six clamps or clips around the sides.

The Lusitania, the Mauretania and the Aquitania were all built to these very high standards and they were all double bottomed with riveted and welded amour-type plate and longitudinal bracing girders and stretchers along the whole length of the ship with the double bottom reaching up as far as the upper platform deck. All engine room personnel would have had extra time to evacuate in the event of emergency and of course the double strength in the bottom and sides of the ship gave extra protection to all who sailed in them.

titanic memorial 2The Titanic was not built to these strict specifications for the ship did not have any separation such as I have described on the lower deck and upper platform deck or that part of the body of the ship below and immediately above the plimsoll line- the mark which shows how deeply she may be loaded. The Titanic was not subdivided in these vulnerable areas with great walls of steel from top to bottom, welded and riveted to deck stretchers and with escape bulkhead doors which incorporated dwarf bulkheads across the bottom opening, but was subdivided along its length with dwarf bulkheads which did not reach up to the deck head- in fact they varied in height up to six feet. In the event, water and ice could spill over from one section to another and lead to the ships destruction.

The Titanic was not double hulled and the water and ice could not be contained within the inner and outer damage control area between the two hulls. The Cunard liners were built for sailing in northern latitudes where ice warnings were not unusual. The Titanic appears to have been built for warmer cruising areas and had a higher risk factor in her construction if used in northern latitudes.

To compound the issue the ship's master- Captain E. J. Smith- had over his long career gathered a shocking record of accidents and he was regarded by many master mariners as a person who was "reckless, foolish" but above all, "heedless of danger". I would say he was indifferent with a low degree of excellence- he had received six warnings of ice in the area and later he received two further warnings from cargo ships, one from a cargo ship coming on a reciprocal course towards Titanic:

"Have just passed through heavy field ice and several icebergs" and "we are stopped and surrounded by ice. Exercise utmost caution."

The Titanic pressed on into the ice fields at 22 knots and in the icy weather the lookouts (one of whom survived) were denied binoculars because no one would force the lock on the cupboard in which they were kept. (the officer holding the key had transferred to the Olympic just before sailing.) These binoculars proved to be the final part of this tragedy for if the lookout men had been issued with them their eyes would have been protected and the magnification would have allowed them to have seen the iceberg in time to save the ship.
Had the Titanic been constructed in the same manner as the Mauretania she would not have sunk. We know that the Titanic filled up slowly as a result of damage to the side of the ship and that she gradually went down by the head. In the Mauretania the damaged sections could have been isolated and counter trim flooding introduced until pumping got things under control.
The newspapers of that time chose to deal with other matters and some tried to shift the blame on to Captain Walter Lord of the California. The evidence in the official reports lay largely unquoted- but nevertheless the report continues to exist.

Most people of the time believed the Titanic to be British but in fact she was not and far from crushing Cunard the standard bearer of Britain on the Atlantic run and holders of the Blue Riband. 'Morgan's monsters', the Olympic and the Britannic, faded into the background and the Titanic is remembered for the anguish it caused".

Old Wavertonian

Captain Smith, when not at sea, resided at (and was due to retire to after this voyage) 17, Marine Crescent, Waterloo, Liverpool 23

For those who would like to know more, may we recommend the excellent Encyclopedia Titanica

lucitania 1910
Another doomed ship: here we see a fine view of Cunard's RMS Lucitania at Liverpool's Landing Stage in 1910, five years before
she was torpedoed by a German U boat off southern Ireland with the tragic loss of 1,195 lives. Learn more about her here..

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