Just as the Titanic has its legions of fans, affectionately known as ‘Titaniacs’, the ship also has its hundreds of cynics, critics and just plain clueless people, who make sweeping statements, outrageous suggestions or ask questions which can only lead to unhappy answers. Here I’ll list some of the more…interesting…statements and questions that I’ve read in my time:
1. “If the lookouts had binoculars, they would’ve seen the iceberg earlier! Why didn’t they have any?”
This is a popular assertion. Yes, if you have distance-viewing equipment, you can see things in the distance a lot easier and a lot quicker! DUUUH! On the surface, it sounds perfectly logical. But apply this to the Titanic scenario, and it falls down flat like a row of dominoes. Here’s why:
Binoculars (or indeed, any distance-viewing aid, such as a monocular or a telescope), while they greatly increase how far you can see, also greatly decrease your field of vision. It’s no point being able to see ten miles out to sea if you can only look a total of six inches either way with your eyes. You’ve effectively created tunnel-vision for yourself. Without peripheral vision, you’re basically staring into a pair of tubes in a black room.
On the night in question, being almost pitch black with still water and no breaking-water at the base of the ‘berg, the Titanic’s fate was almost invisible to the ship’s lookouts, with a wide field of vision and the help of the ship’s lights. Having bincoulars would only have narrowed their field of vision even more, making them effectively blind. You can’t see something if you don’t know it’s there. They wouldn’t have seen the iceberg because they wouldn’t have a ‘reference point’. By that I mean, they wouldn’t be able to say: “If we start at the tip of the bow and work our way forward, we’ll focus on that area in front of the ship”, because they wouldn’t able to FIND the bow of the ship with their field of sight so severely restricted. If you don’t believe me…Go out into the sky at night with a telescope or some binoculars. Look at the ground. Put the binoculars to your eyes. WITHOUT taking them AWAY from your eyes…look up and try and find the moon. Can you find it? No. It’s impossible to look for it if you don’t know it’s there and it’s impossible to see it without having first seen it with your naked eyes. This was the predicament that the Titanic’s lookouts faced, and why binoculars would’ve been almost no help at all.
As to why they didn’t have any binoculars, well, there were binoculars onboard the Titanic, but they were locked in a cupboard and the crewman who had the key, had taken it with him when he disembarked the ship before it sailed off into history.
2. “Why didn’t they just stop the ship?”
Basic laws of physics is why not. Anyone who passed high-school science will know that the larger an object is, the harder it is to set in motion, and the harder it is to arrest that motion. The Titanic simply wasn’t able to stop in time. During her sea-trials, the Titanic accelerated to ‘full ahead’, a maximum speed of 23kt. She then had her engines stopped and then run full astern at maximum speed. It took her half a mile to stop. The ship had roughly half a mile between the iceberg and her bow when the iceberg was sighted and the crew had only 37 seconds to react. Furthermore, on open ocean, the ship would have had nothing to slow its momentum, apart from the drag of the water.
3. “If they had more lifeboats onboard, they would’ve saved everyone!”
A lot of people have said this. And on the surface, it sounds logical, but unfortunately, it would not have helped. The Titanic had twenty lifeboats; sixteen wooden ones and four Englehardt collapsable lifeboats with canvas sides. In the two hours and forty minutes in which the Titanic sank, the ship’s officers only managed to launch eighteen of those boats at a rate of one every five minutes starting at 12:45am (a full hour after the sinking started). Even if they had the full complement of lifeboats that the Titanic could carry (64 in total), they wouldn’t have been able to launch them all in time, which means the provision of extra lifeboats was rather pointless.
4. “Why didn’t they fully-load the lifeboats before lowering them?”
For all of the Titanic’s history, one of the biggest controversies was why the lifeboats were never fully-loaded when they were filled with passengers and lowered into the water. The reasons for this are numerous and will take some time to explain. There are several factors which one has to consider about the Titanic’s lifeboats to understand why the officers did what they did.
Passengers didn’t want to go.
Brainwashed by media hype, passengers believed that the Titanic was well and truly unsinkable. With this in mind, they did not see the point in getting into the lifeboats. Officers could not force passengers into the boats, so they took what few that would get into the boats, and then lowered them away. They could not afford to wait around and waste time while passengers made up their mind, which was almost invariably, to stay onboard the ship.
The Titanic was a big ship. From the boat deck down to the waterline, it was a drop of sixty-two feet, just over twenty meters, into ice-cold water that was 28F, or -2.2C. Most passengers were not brave enough to get into a tiny wooden lifeboat which was swinging out over the side of the ship on a set of ropes. They considered the Titanic to be a much safer option, foregoing what was probably their only chance of survival.
The Weight of the Boats.
This was probably the officers’ biggest reason for not wanting to fully load the boats with passengers. The lifeboats themselves were already incredibly heavy. I know, they’re made of wood. They can’t weigh that much, can they? Yes they can. The average Titanic lifeboat weighs between two and three tons…empty. Add passengers and that increases the overall weight to five to six tons. Considering that they only had twenty boats, the officers didn’t want to be put in a situation where an overloaded lifeboat snapped free from its falls (the ropes which lowered it into the water) and crashed into the ocean, 62ft below, possibly smashing the boat like matchwood and killing or injuring several dozen people. They preferred to do it safe.
5. “Why weren’t the ship’s pumps turned on?”
The ship’s pumps were turned on. When the Titanic started sinking, the captain ordered all of the ship’s pumps to be turned on, in an effort to bail out the water. Unfortunately, the ship did not have any pumps which were designed to force out the water quicker than it was coming in. She had bilge-pumps for ejecting water from the bilge (the very bottom of the ship), and she had ash-ejector pumps, which forced out a slurry of water and ash into the ocean, but she did not have any pumps purely for preventing the ship from sinking. The water was pouring in much too fast for the Titanic’s small pumps to ever force it out at a speed quick enough to keep the ship afloat.
6. “Why didn’t passengers swim to the iceberg?”
They didn’t swim to the iceberg simply because they didn’t know where it was! By the time the ship had stopped, the iceberg was at least half a mile away, if not more. It would have been impossible to locate it in the middle of the night in the middle of the ocean without any lights.
7. “Why didn’t the ‘Californian’s’ wireless-operator stay on the air throughout the night?”
Cyril Evans, the wireless-operator of the S.S. Californian, shut off his wireless set shortly after 11:15pm and went to sleep at 11:30pm on the night of the sinking. The Titanic would strike the iceberg just ten minutes later. Why didn’t he remain on the air longer?
Because he didn’t want to, he didn’t need to, and he wasn’t legally obligated to. Until after the sinking of the Titanic, it was not mandatory to maintain 24/7 radio-contact at sea for purposes of safety.
8. “Why did Jack Phillips ignore Cyril Evans’s radio-message?”
One of the most famous events in Titanic history. At 11:00pm, Cyril Evans sent out a general message to all ships (including the Titanic) that the ‘Californian’ had stopped for the night, on account of the pack-ice near the ship, which made it too dangerous to continue sailing until morning. The exchange between the two wireless-operators, word for word, was:
Evans: “Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice”.
Phillips: “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy! I am working Cape Race!”
Why did Phillips ignore Evans? Because Evans interrupted him, simple as that. Phillips was busy sending wireless messages (in morse code), to the wireless land-station in Cape Race, Newfoundland, several hundred miles away. Evans, just a few miles from the Titanic on the S.S. Californian, sent a radio-message that was so loud, it nearly blew Philllips’s eardrums out. Apart from that, Evans did not prefix his ice-warning message with the three letters: “MSG”.
“MSG” stands for “Master Service Gram”; (telegram, that is). All messages prefixed “MSG” had to be sent DIRECTLY to the captain AT ONCE. Evans’s failure to follow basic wireless-operation procedure of the time, meant that to Phillips, Evans’s message was just as good as saying: “Sup dudez? Wez stopped by ice and stuff and like…yeah. Out, man!” instead of something more official, along the lines of: “IMPORTANT MESSAGE: Stopped due to heavy ice in path. Please inform captain ASAP”.
9. “Why didn’t the Titanic just simply back up to the iceberg, park there and offload all her passengers onto it?”
Because it could not be done. For the Titanic to make it back to the iceberg, she’d first have to know where it was, which was impossible. And even if she did, she wouldn’t be able to navigate effectively, backwards, towards the iceberg. And even if she could do that, the momentum built up during the journey would mean that the Titanic would not have been able to stop (AGAIN!) in time to ‘park’ next to the iceberg, probably resulting in another collision and even more damage.
10. “Did a ship’s officer really commit suicide?”
The general consensus is yes, an officer did commit suicide. Was it 1st Officer William McMaster Murdoch? Nobody will ever know for sure.
11. “Did ship’s officers ever shoot anyone on the Titanic?
No. Certainly there were revolvers and ammunition on the Titanic (at least five pistols, four belonging to the crew, one belonging to a passenger), but none of these were ever used to kill anyone. 5th Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe had a revolver (of his own, private property), and the other, more senior officers had revolvers (Webley & Scott breaktop revolvers, which were part of the ship’s supplies), and certainly, Lowe fired at least four shots during the sinking to scare passengers back from swamping the boats, but there is no evidence to suggest that anyone was actually shot and killed or wounded on the Titanic, except the unknown officer who commited suicide.
12. “If the ‘Californian’ had answered the Titanic’s calls for distress, she could have saved everyone”
On the surface, this looks like a rather easy thing to say. If the Californian had answered the Titanic’s radio calls or distress-rockets as quickly as possible, she could be alongside the Titanic and would have saved everyone at once! Unfortunately this isn’t the case, as there were several things preventing it.
Stopped for the night.
The Californian’s engines were stopped for the night. This means that it would take a considerable amount of time to get them going again. Once they were going, it would have taken time to get the ship moving, time which Titanic didn’t have.
The Californian would be sailing through several icebergs to reach the Titanic, which would have greatly impeded her speed and progress.
Even IF the Californian had built up enough steam. Even IF she had reached the Titanic, she still needed to cart all the passengers back and forth, using both her own, and the Titanic’s lifeboats as ferries. Even on a flat calm, still night like that of April 14th, 1912, this would’ve taken several hours. While this might have saved several more lives, it is unlikely that the Californian would still have managed to rescue everyone.
13. “Why was the Titanic going so fast? Why didn’t it slow down?
The Titanic was going so fast because it had a schedule to keep and it didn’t slow down because it wasn’t seen as being necessary. Don’t forget that time is money. If the Titanic arrived in New York late, it meant that passengers would cancel their tickets and pick other ships, which meant that the Titanic and the White Star Line, would lose money.
14. “Did that car in the Titanic film really exist?”
The car in which Jack and Rose had sex in, in the 1997 movie certainly exists. But I figure you’re asking: “Did it exist on the ship in real life?”. Yes it did. The car was a 1911 35hp Renault towncar, owned by Mr. William Carter Snr, a first-class passenger. The scenario in the movie would have been impossible, though, because the car was locked in a crate for the duration of the voyage. It is listed in the Titanic’s cargo-manifest as: “1 Case Auto – W. Carter”.
15. “Hitting the Iceberg Head-On would’ve Saved Everyone!”
This is debatable. The argument is that if the R.M.S. Titanic had slammed into the iceberg head-on, less of the ship would’ve been exposed to major damage and the ship’s ‘usinkable’ design-features would spring to the rescue. Here’s how it plays out:
The Titanic was designed to float with the first four, or any other two of her watertight compartments flooded. The argument contends that if the ship had crashed into the iceberg head-on, the first, or at the very most, first two compartments, would’ve been ruptured by the force of the collision. The water floods in, but the ship is in no immediate danger of sinking. It might even be able to continue sailing to New York City, or at the very worst, it would stay afloat long enough for rescue-ships to reach it and offload all her passengers.
When the Titanic was designed back in the early 1900s, the kinds of accidents it was being ‘protected’ against were T-bone accidents, with the bow of one ship crashing into the broadside of another, or vice-versa. Under these circumstances, where two or three bulkheads might be ruptured, yes, the ship would stay afloat. But the ships of the day were not designed to survive impacts with icebergs. In theory, the ‘headbutt’ argument with everyone (or most of the people) surviving sounds plausible, but as it’s never been put into practice, it is unknown how much structural damage the Titanic would really have sustained, having smashed into a mountain of ice (that’s what an iceberg literally is – ‘ice’ + German word ‘berg’, meaning ‘mountain’, literally ‘ice-mountain’). The ship might have been even more severely damaged and this would have caused great problems later on with the evacuation of passengers.