It may have been more than a century since the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage in 1912, but one of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century still fascinates and haunts people to this day. The night the so-called “Unsinkable” ship sank to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean sent shock waves around the world and has been immortalized in many books and films ever since, most famously by James Cameron in his 1997 Oscar-winning retelling of the ship’s fateful voyage.
Like a lot of kids who grew up in the ‘90s, the blockbuster starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet is what introduced me to the Titanic tragedy. While it was filled with plenty of historical inaccuracies, the film definitely did well in portraying the horror faced by every passenger on board and gave modern audiences a glimpse of what it may have been like to travel on the “grandest ship in the world” before she tragically cut short her voyage and the lives of more than half the souls on board.
But, despite what you already know from the Titanic movie or what you may have heard in history class, there are many other sad and disturbing facts about the sinking that you may not have come across before. Colliding with the iceberg was only the tip (if you’ll excuse the pun) of the disaster. The real tragedy is the fact that the whole thing could have been easily avoided and in the end, the ship’s design killed more people than it saved. Even after 105 years, these 15 forgotten facts about the Titanic will get you right in the feels.
15. There Weren’t Enough Lifeboats For HALF The People On Board
In the wake of the tragedy, a fatal flaw that people jumped on immediately were the insufficient number of lifeboats and how they were used. The 20 lifeboats Titanic carried could only hold 1,178 people, despite there being a total of 2,224 people on board. The lack of lifeboats was supposedly down to the fact that the deck would have been too cluttered. As well as the lack of lifeboats, many lives were doomed by the fact that the lifeboats that were used were never filled up fully.
In James Cameron’s 1997 retelling, many lifeboats are sent down carrying only a third of the passengers it had the capacity to carry (65). In the movie, the ship’s architect, Thomas Andrews, tells the lifeboat crew that the boats held the weight of 70 men in Belfast where Titanic was built. As a result, only 712 people were rescued by lifeboat, when near to 2,000 people could have been saved if they were filled properly.
14. If The Course Had Been Changed 30 Seconds Earlier, The Iceberg Wouldn’t Have Struck
Timing is everything and in Titanic’s case, just 30 seconds could have made the difference in saving thousands of lives and keeping the ship’s “unsinkable” reputation afloat. When the lookout crew first made out the shape of a distant iceberg, they immediately warned the officers on the bridge. The men then had just 37 seconds until the fateful iceberg hit the hull of the ship. It was in this brief moment that the course was slightly delayed by First Officer William Murdoch, and this decision sealed the fate of everyone on board.
As Officer Murdoch looked out at the approaching iceberg, he foolishly waited half a minute before deciding to change course. At first, he thought the ship may be able to pass by safely with no harm done, but by the time he realized that this wasn’t the case, his orders for the ship to turn “hard a starboard” turned the ship left. Murdoch also ordered the engines to stop, but halting a ship this size in such little time would have been impossible.
13. One Of Titanic’s Four Funnels Was Just For Show (And Crushed Many To Death)
Other than the slow reaction time of crew members spotting the iceberg, another fatal flaw that night ultimately came down to the ship’s design. The Titanic was the biggest luxury cruise liner in the world at the time, and since it was to embark on its first voyage ever, expectations were high. The most expensive First Class ticket to New York was $4,350 (nearly $70,000 in today’s money!). Unsurprisingly, the ship’s designers wanted to go all-out to make the ship look good.
What the crew didn’t anticipate was that something that was added for pure spectacle rather than function would later come back to haunt them as it ended up killing passengers. The four iconic cream and black-tipped funnels on the Titanic were an impressive feature of the sip. Only three of the four worked—the fourth was added purely for show. For the sake of looking symmetrical, however, many people were crushed by the falling funnels, when the ship eventually split in two.
12. The String Quartet Really Did Carry On Playing While She Sank
Remember the group of musicians solemnly playing while the ship was going under in the movie? This is completely true. James Cameron might have used artistic license here and there to keep audiences hooked for near to 3 and half hours, but he kept many of the important details in, such as this one. While the passengers and crew frantically ran up and down the ship looking for loved ones and tried to make their escape in the lifeboats, the ship’s string quartet played on to lift spirits and distract from the doom that was facing them all.
The bandmaster, Wallace Hartley, and his fellow musicians were not employed by the ship’s company, White Star Line, which meant that they had every right to find a lifeboat and save themselves from the sinking ship. Instead, they chose to play on for over 2 hours as the ship sank ever deeper. Just as in the 1997 movie, they played a selection of lively music and the famous Hymn Nearer My God to thee to keep morale up. None of the band members survived.
11. A Lifeboat Drill Was Cancelled On The Day The Ship Sank
One of the most haunting revelations on the morning of the sinking is the fact that a lifeboat training drill–which could have very well saved hundreds of more lives later that night–was canceled at the last minute. The ship’s Captain, Edward J. Smith, canceled what could have been invaluable lifeboat training for the crew and never rescheduled or carried out another drill for the four days that they were out at sea.
Titanic was seen as the grandest and most luxurious ship in the world, and many months of preparation went into her interior designs and finishing touches. Because of this, the crew on the Titanic apparently had very little time to prepare for the actual voyage itself. When the lifeboats were dropped overboard on the night she sank, this was the first time the crew had ever manned them before. If it weren’t for this blasé attitude to safety, many more lives could have been spared.
10. A Novel Predicted The Disaster 14 Years Before It Happened
You sometimes hear about people who predicted a tragedy years before it happened in some way, but the eerie similarities to what happened on April 14th, 1912 and the events of a book written in 1898 are way too close for comfort. 14 years before the Titanic sank on her maiden voyage after hitting an iceberg, an American author named Morgan Robertson wrote a novel called ‘Wreck Of The Titan’ (right out the gate, the names are almost identical).
A freakier coincidence than simply sharing similar names is the fact that Robertson’s fictional ship suffered exactly the same fate as Titanic would go on to. The novel tells the tale of a British-made ship called Titan which hits an iceberg on its maiden voyage, causing it to sink and bringing all passengers and crew members down with it. Apart from the fact that Titanic had survivors and the book had none is the only detail that sets the two events apart. Creepy as hell.
9. British Newspapers Initially Reported “No Lives Lost”
Us, Brits, are known for always trying to put a brave face on things, but in this case, the UK was just grossly misinformed about the true nature of the Titanic disaster. After the ship had hit the iceberg, those on land weren’t fully aware of the scale of the disaster, and a false report put out by the ship’s White Star Line company led the public to believe that the “unsinkable” ship had lived up to its name and survived the iceberg collision.
Because of this report made in error, the British newspaper, the London Daily Mail, wasted no time in reporting that “No Lives Were Lost” on the front of their April 15th edition. Horrifyingly, though, the truth soon came out, and the British and American press were waking up to the news that not only did the great “unsinkable” ship at the bottom of the Atlantic sink but that over 1,000 people–many of whom will have been their loved ones–were dead or presumed dead.
8. It Was An Hour Before The First Lifeboat Was Released
Titanic struck the iceberg at around 11:40 pm on April 14th. Astonishingly, it would be another hour until the first lifeboat was launched out onto the water. The ship would submerge completely less than two hours after the first lifeboat was released. This incredibly slow reaction time and poor organization was mainly down to the fact that the crew on board never had any proper training with the lifeboats.
Since Captain Edward J. Smith had canceled the lifeboat drill earlier that morning, there will have been a chaotic scramble on deck to decide how to lower the lifeboats without damaging them and how many people could go on once they had been released. To make things even worse in this time of crisis, two of the collapsible lifeboats that the ship had on deck along with the traditional wooden boats had begun to float away as the Titanic sunk ever further beneath the surface.
7. Out Of More Than 1,500 Dead, Only 328 Bodies Were Found
A total of 1,503 people died in the Titanic disaster–some from drowning, others from hypothermia–and out of this horrific death toll, only 328 bodies were ever recovered. On April 17th, the 706 surviving passengers and crew members were on the rescue ship, the RMS Carpathia, taking them to New York. While the survivors headed to what would have been Titanic’s final destination, a rescue team headed back out to the scene of the disaster in search of bodies.
A cable repair ship called the CS Mackay-Bennett left from Halifax, Nova Scotia and was equipped with embalming supplies and around 100 coffins. Sadly, the number of bodies they would find suitable for coffin burial would outnumber them by twice as much. Of the corpses that were found, 119 were found to be too badly damaged and degraded to take back to shore and, in the end, were buried at sea.
6. A Sleeping Wireless Operator Could Have Saved Lots More Lives
The location of the Titanic sinking was unfortunate enough (in the middle of the harsh and unforgiving Atlantic ocean), but the timing of the disaster didn’t do its passengers or crew any favors either. Unlike today, where SOS calls can be received 24/7, ships in the early 19th century didn’t have the luxury of emergency response units and would have relied on the nearest operator to still be awake and at his post.
Sadly, because the Titanic was in need between the hours of midnight at 2:20 in the morning (the exact time at which the ship sank completely), the nearest wireless operator was asleep and oblivious to the Titanic’s distress signals. What’s even more shocking is that, apparently, once the Captain on this nearby ship, the SS Californian, had been alerted by the operator and crew to the distress flares in the sky, the Captain decided not to help—a decision that undoubtedly cost more lives than it should.
5. The Recovered Bodies Were Treated Differently Depending On Class
After a tragedy like the scale of the Titanic, you might think that something as petty as class and stature may be overlooked and that basic human decency would override, but no. This wasn’t the case with the bodies recovered from one of the biggest disasters in history. Sadly, the less well-off passengers on the Titanic were treated much the same way in death as they were in life—segregated from the wealthy and high-profile passengers on board.
When the recovery operation was underway in the days following the sinking, the bodies identified as belonging to the First Class victims were embalmed and placed in coffins before being stored in lockers at the rear of the rescue ship. Second and Third class bodies, however, were embalmed and then simply wrapped in canvas (for burial at sea later). Last of all, the bodies of steerage and other crew members were stuffed into an ice-filled hold (presumably to be tossed overboard later).
4. A Japanese Survivor Was Shamed When He Returned Home
It is normally a seafaring tradition for the Captain go down with a sinking ship, but passengers are not expected to. Around 706 crew members and passengers survived the Titanic sinking, one of which was the only Japanese person on board, Masabumi Hosono. Unfortunately for Hosono, his elation at having survived one of the greatest maritime tragedies in history was short-lived because he returned home to be branded a coward and even lost his job because of it.
For a time after the tragedy, reports circulated that along with other male passengers, Masabumi had disguised himself as a woman to secure a place on one of the ship’s few lifeboats. If this is true, it may not have been the most gentlemanly thing to do but it still wouldn’t mean that he deserved to die. Famously, even the ship’s owner, Mr. J. Bruce Ismay, saved himself in a lifeboat while others died on the ship he helped to create. He lived the rest of his life in disgrace and was forever branded a coward.
3. The Ship’s Baker Survived The Freezing Atlantic Water Because He Drank So Much
When the Titanic finally sank into the North Atlantic ocean at 2:20 am, it left more than a thousand people stranded and floating in waters that had a temperature of 28 degrees Fahrenheit (just below freezing). If people weren’t lucky enough to be rescued quickly–or find a wooden door to float on–they would have died of hypothermia within 15 to 20 minutes. Luckily, for the head baker on the RMS Titanic, the icy Atlantic waters weren’t a problem for his body because he was completely hammered at the time.
The 33-year-old Englishman and chief baker on the ship, Charles Joughin, had consumed so much booze on the night the ship sank that he remarkably survived in the water until dawn when a passing lifeboat rescued him. As well as warming his blood, the sheer amount that Charles had drunk that night also gave him the courage to swim for his life while countless others drowned or succumbed to the cold around him. Wow!
2. The Wreckage Wasn’t Discovered For 73 Years
In the decades following on from the aftermath of the Titanic tragedy, the memory of that fateful night was kept alive in part by many film and TV adaptations—most notably, the 1958 film A Night To Remember. By the 1960’s, though, Titanic mania seemed to die down again for a couple of decades. That is until 1985 when the actual wreckage of the ship was discovered for the first time—nearly three quarters of a century after it sank.
The remains of the historical and iconic ship were found about 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada, and to say that it sparked a new obsession with the ill-fated ship was an understatement. For the first time, people were able to witness the ship’s interior and thousands of artifacts (which had preserved remarkably well). As we now know, the most excited Titanic geek of all, director James Cameron, was not only inspired to retell the story, but he also made 12 deep-sea dive missions to the wreck–3,800 meters below sea level–before production began.
1. People Were Playing With Fragments Of Ice On The Deck
When the Titanic hit the iceberg shortly before midnight on April 14th, 1912, the lives of everyone on board would be changed forever. But, before panic ensued, the actual collision was barely noticed by the passengers. Fans of the 1997 film may remember the scene when First and Second class passengers were remarking that were woken by a “slight shudder” as the iceberg tore into the side of the ship. This was pretty accurate. Most people felt only a slight vibration.
Passengers on the promenade deck at the time of the collision were so casual about the whole thing, in fact, that some of them began playing with the blocks of ice that had broken off and landed on deck. So, the scene where you see children kicking bits of ice and chucking it to one another really happened. It’s disturbing to think that they had no idea about the damage it had actually caused at the time.
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