Titanic: Fatal from the start

Kiley Fischer, Sports Editor

RMS Titanic might have set sail from Southampton, but she started her life in Belfast, Ireland.

After years of competition between White Star Line and Cunard, a British firm with two of the most luxurious ships of the time, chief executive of White Star Line J. Bruce Ismay began discussions with the Belfast-based company Harland and Wolff.

Ismay’s deal included three ships – Titanic and her sister ships Olympic and Britannic.  They were designed to be the biggest ships of their time and in March of 1909, construction on Titanic began.

By 1911, the massive hull was completed and the ship was launched into the River Lagan in Belfast.  Over 100,000 people attended the launch before Titanic stopped at a fitting-out dock.  Thousands of workers spent the next year outfitting Titanic with decks, extravagant interiors and 29 giant boilers.

While the luxury of Titanic was never in question, fatal design flaws contributed to the tragic end of the ship.

With a double bottom and 15 watertight bulkheads, Titanic was deemed virtually unsinkable.  However, those bulkheads acted very much like an ice cube tray.  Instead of holding the water securely in the compartments, water was able to spill over the bulkheads.  Measures had been taken in Cunard’s designs to prevent this, but White Star Line, and Titanic designer Thomas Andrews, did not incorporate Cunard’s designs.

Titanic could only stay afloat with four compartments flooded.  Shortly after Titanic struck the iceberg, five were already filled with water.  With the ship filling quickly, passengers were alerted and brought to the lifeboats with women and children evacuated first.

These lifeboats proved to be another downfall to the Titanic.  Despite holding more lifeboats than the British Board of Trade required, the 16 boats and four “collapsibles” were still only able to hold 1,178 of Titanic’s 3,300-plus capacity.

The first lifeboat to be lowered into the Atlantic could hold 65 passengers.  It hit the water with 28 aboard.  Many of the lifeboats were underfilled thanks to chaos and disorder.

Throughout this disorder, heroics also ensued.  First class passenger Molly Brown, made famous by the musical The Unsinkable Molly Brown and the film Titanic, helped to load lifeboats before she was escorted into one of the final ones to leave.  She also begged crewmen to return for survivors once the ship sank.

While Ismay did assist the evacuation, he eventually fled the ship. He was forever dogged with the ignominy of surviving while so many died.

Andrews was last seen staring at a painting of a ship in the first class smoking room, his lifebelt discarded.

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