Frequently Asked Questions  (FAQ)

Contents

 1.  What exactly caused the Titanic disaster?

 2.  Was Titanic trying to set an Atlantic crossing speed record and is this why she hit the iceberg?

 3.  Were there any other maritime disasters in peacetime equal to Titanic in loss of life?

 4.  Will Titanic ever be raised?

 5.  Were any human remains found during the expeditions to Titanic's wreck site?

 6.  What do the letters before a ship's name like "SS," " RMS." "HMS" etc. stand for?

 7.  Was there treasure of any kind like jewels or money aboard Titanic?

 8.  What did it cost to build Titanic?

 9.  Does the White Star Line, Cunard, and the company that built Titanic, Harland and Wolff, still exist today?

10.  Is it true that some of the men disguised themselves as women to board Titanic's lifeboats?

11. Did the White Star Line or a Titanic crew member really claim Titanic was unsinkable or make the statement "God himself couldn't sink this ship?"

12. Do any of the White Star Line vessels still exist today?

13. Is it true that if Titanic had steered directly into the iceberg and hit it head on that it would have stayed afloat?

14. Is it true that Titanic wasn't the first ship to use the SOS distress signal but the second to use it?

15. Did White Star Line Chairman J Bruce Ismay face any criminal charges after the disaster?

16. How true to actual events was the (James Cameron) movie Titanic?

1.What exactly caused the Titanic disaster?

Here is a concept that is sometimes hard to understand or accept until you think about it for a while. "All Accidents are Preventable." National Safety Council

Simply put; Titanic was traveling way too fast in an area known to contain ice; that's the bottom line, Whether that was the way ship captains handled situations like that in those days or not, * ("...the thinking is to put the danger behind you as soon as possible") she was simply going too fast for anyone to have taken any kind of reasonable evasive maneuvering for a vessel of that size. I (webmaster) personally own a 40 ft cabin cruiser. I know for a fact that if I travel over 10 knots and come up on a crab trap marker suddenly in the dark, it takes a few seconds for a boat even the size of mine for the helm to respond to a hard over maneuver on the wheel to swerve around it.

People have blamed the tragedy on everything imaginable from overconfidence to arrogance, to Titanic being under ruddered, to a high sulfur content in the steel making the hull susceptible to fracture in frigid water. Call it what you want, but Titanic sank because she hit an iceberg at a speed and impact that would result in the necessary damage to allow enough water in to seal her fate. 

2. Was Titanic trying to set an Atlantic crossing speed record and is this why she was going so fast when she hit the iceberg.

Hundreds of ships prior to Titanic have hit icebergs and sank that were not trying to set crossing speed records. This statement seems to be popular in the thinking of "Let's blame White Star Line Chairman Bruce Ismay because he survived the Titanic disaster." A line of thought that exists as much today as it did in 1912. The only difference is media influence on the public in 1912, versus present day's influence stemming from one Academy Award winning fictitious movie. Inadequate research and making conclusions from a single source is the exact reason why so many people think Jack and Rose were real passengers aboard Titanic and wonder why their names don't appear on the passenger lists..

The Blue Ribband holder of 1912 (the Mauritania) was quite safe from Titanic or any other White Star Line vessel from taking it away. In 1912, the White Star Line had no interest in setting crossing records. Promptness was indeed important, but more emphasis was placed on comfort, opulence and luxury. The transport of mail, cargo and immigrant traffic was bringing in steady business, but White Star wanted popularity and repeat business, which they did manage to achieve quite successfully.

Another Titanic related website author states that he believes that Captain Smith had in fact been influenced by Bruce Ismay to "speed up" not necessarily in order for Titanic set a crossing record, but to beat the Olympic's crossing record. (Titanic's sister ship) He states that it would have made sense to want to impress the public and show that White Star was producing new technologically advanced ships that could even out perform the best of their current fleet.

This could be quite true, but the question here is did Ismay truly "order" Captain Smith to do this, and would an experienced shipmaster like Edward Smith deliberately put his ship in harm's way by speeding through an ice field know to contain icebergs. The officers on the bridge were quite aware of the fact that they would coming up on ice. The topic was even discussed between Sixth Officer Moody and Second Officer Lightoller around 8:30 pm, three hours before the impact. Captain Smith was no stranger to icebergs. In 1902, he swung the Majestic almost completely around sideways to avoid hitting a berg.

In his book, "The Night Lives On," Walter Lord writes: "Captain Smith was aware of the ice ahead, he didn't slow down because he was sure that on this brilliantly clear night any iceberg could be spotted in time to avoid it. In reaching that decision, Smith did not feel that he was doing anything rash. He was following the practice of all captains on the Atlantic run."

At the US Inquiry following the disaster, two of Captain Smith's peers, (British liner captains from other shipping company's) testified that the speed Smith used in the ice field was the practice of the day considering the weather conditions at the time the speed was determined. The unwritten motto among captains was "Put the danger behind you as quickly as possible." That did not mean of course that they would run flank speed though an area know to contain hazards, it simply meant adjust your speed accordingly through your own prudence and common sense.

Titanic's surviving officers testified (and wrote in later memoirs) that they were not aware of any orders or influence to run Titanic at unsafe speeds at any time. The order to light additional boilers on Sunday morning (April 14) was standard for any new ship on it's maiden voyage during the "breaking in" period of new engines. If Ismay and Smith had collaborated to "beat Olympic's crossing time," slowing down to a safer speed on Sunday night through the ice field would not have hurt that possibility. They still had three additional days of good weather to "crank it up" and accomplish the mission if that were truly their intent.

Walter Lord blamed the Titanic disaster on "miscalculation." Titanic's surviving Second Officer, Charles Lightoller stated: "Titanic was the victim of an extraordinary set of circumstances that could only happen once in a hundred years. Normally there would have been no problem, but on this particularly freakish night, everything was against us."

3. Were there any other maritime disasters in peacetime equal to Titanic?

              

Up to 1987, the Titanic disaster marked the Second greatest loss of life in peacetime maritime history. (over 1,500) On December 20, 1987, the overcrowded Philippine ferry boat, Dona Paz, collided with an oil tanker off the island of Mindoro (south of Manila) The Dona Paz flipped over and sank taking with it the lives of 4,536 passengers and crew.

 

 

 

Prior to the Dona Paz tragedy, the greatest maritime loss of life in peacetime is credited to the SS Sultana. The Sultana was assigned to bring home US soldiers liberated from the confederate run POW camp at Andersonville,Texas. She picked up her 2,200 union soldiers at Vicksburg, MS in August of 1865, On the way home one of her boilers exploded and she sank killing 1,647 passengers and crew.  

See: http://www.ezl.com/~fireball/Disaster01.htm

 Image credit: Library of Congress

4.Will Titanic ever be raised?

 


Due to her fragile condition, the depth, and the immense cost involved, no. At least not intact. A lot of controversy surrounds the possibility of someone dismantling the ship and raising it piece by piece.

 

Image credit: Ken Marshall

5. Were any human remains found during the expeditions to the wreck site?

Fortunately, no. Human remains were long ago consumed by marine life, Grim reminders of the tragedy do still exist such as shoes and boots lying on the sea floor in the same position where the victims settled. The leather in the shoes and the chemicals used in the tanning process for manufacturing the shoes have allowed them to remain intact.

6.  What do the letters before a ship's name like "SS," " RMS," "HMS," etc. stand for?

The letters are abbreviations designating the type of ship they were. SS = steamship, RMS = Royal Mail Steamer, and HMS is designated to British warships; His or Her Majesty's Ship. There is another one that was used for the 2nd Britannic. HMHS, which stands for His or Her Majesty's Hospital Ship.

7. Was there any treasure like jewels or money on board Titanic?

 
A - No. Titanic carried routine cargo and mail, 3,364 bags of mail and 650 parcels. (see cargo manifest on this site) Most of the passenger's jewelry and valuables were removed from the purser's safe during the loading of the lifeboats. One item of value on board was the famed copy of Rubyiat of Omar Khayiamm, a collection of poetry with illustrations by Eliku Vedder. It sold for 405 (about $631.00) at an auction in March of 1912 to an American bidder. The binding took two years to execute, and the decoration embodied over 1,500 precious stones, each separately set in gold. This was one of two known copies of this type. This book would quite valuable today. Other interesting items in the ship's cargo included a 35hp Renault automobile owned by passenger William Carter, and a marmalade machine owned by passenger Edwina Trout.

 

8. What did it cost to build Titanic?

Titanic's building cost (in 1912) was $7.5 million, equivalent to $463 million in today's money.

9.  Does the White Star Line, Cunard Line, and the company that built Titanic, Harland and Wolff, still exist today?

The "stand alone" White Star Line ceased to exist in 1934. The merged company of "Cunard White Star" ended in 1950 at which time Cunard dropped the White Star name and burgee from it's house flag and the company returned to the name, Cunard.

Today Cunard still exists, but as an owned subsidiary of the Carnival Cruise Line Corporation. Harland and Wolff is very much still in business today in Belfast but no longer manufactures the big passenger ships. The company's focus today in on tankers, freighters and off-shore oil platforms.

Artifact retrieval is one of the "hot" subjects in the Titanic world at the moment, expect to encounter many points of view!

10. Is it true that some of the men disguised themselves as women to board Titanic's lifeboats?

Yes, there is significant evidence and testimony to suggest that more than one man disguised themselves in order to board boats. Despite rumors created by some 1912 media, White Star Line Chairman, Bruce Ismay, was not one of them.

11. Did the White Star Line or a Titanic crew member (as depicted in films) really claim Titanic was unsinkable or make the statement "God himself couldn't sink this ship?"

No. It appears that no one from the White Star Line actually stated this officially. The press of 1912 reported the following after the disaster "...and they said she was unsinkable. But who was "they?" the press chose to not mention a source for this remark. The nautical magazine Shipbuilder, while publishing articles about the engineering feats accomplished in building Titanic, wrote "...and with Titanic's transverse bulkheads and watertight doors, it renders this vessel practically unsinkable." This is one possible source of where the media most likely twisted things around to say that the White Star Line made this claim. It's called sensationalism or yellow press, and still happens today, unfortunately. Titanic author and historian George Behe has suggested (after researching this claim) that it is possible that this statement of Titanic being unsinkable actually may have begun after the disaster.

12. Do any White Star Line vessels exist today?

Yes. The Nomadic, a White Star Line tender (a vessel that ferried passengers to and from ports that were too small to accommodate the large liners) is undergoing restoration and is privately owned by a gentleman in Paris, France. (for photo's of Nomadic today, see the Final Demise Section on this site)

13. Is it true that if Titanic had steered directly into the iceberg and hit it head on, that it would have stayed afloat?

Some nautical experts and marine engineers feel that this is most likely true. A lot of off duty crew (housed in the forward section of the ship) would have been killed outright, but it is generally thought that Titanic would have most likely stayed afloat, or would have taken longer to sink. Others do not agree with this theory.

Something to consider when making these types of speculations; is it likely that a prudent person in an emergency situation would deliberately steer into an obstacle? Officer Murdoch had but seconds to make a command decision. Instinctively, he made all attempts to swerve around the obstacle in front of him, as you or I would make the same attempt in a car, to swerve around a stalled dump truck sitting in the middle of a highway.

Murdoch did not have the time to reason the engineering logistics and laws of motion to decide how the ship would succumb a direct hit. I don't feel anyone can fairly hold him to blame for his decision.

14. Is it true that Titanic wasn't the first ship to use the SOS distress signal but the second to use it?

Neither are true as far as what's been documented. Titanic was actually the fourth known vessel to use the SOS call. It's important to understand that we're talking about SOS, not the CQD call, the predecessor to SOS.

The first recorded use of the SOS call occurred on January 23, 1909 when the White Star liner Republic was passing Nantucket in a dense fog and was suddenly rammed by the Italian liner Florida. She was struck amidships on the port side and the engine room began flooding immediately. Fortunately, another White Star liner, Baltic and a US Coast Guard vessel (at the time named US Revenue Service) received the SOS, were close by, and 1,600 lives were saved.

The second use of SOS was August 14, 1909, when the American steamer SS Arapahoe, radioed for help after losing its propeller near Diamond Shoals, North Carolina. The call was received by the United Wireless station at Cape Hatteras, and help was sent.

The third use of the distress call occurred on October 20, 1909, when ironically the SS Arapahoe received an "SOS" distress call from another American ship the SS Iroquois, after it struck a rock and became grounded.

And the fourth official use of SOS of course, involved Titanic. The U.S. didn't officially adopt "SOS" until 1912, being slow to adopt international wireless standards.

As of March, 1999, It became illegal for passenger and commercial vessels to use Morse code for sending distress calls. It's sad to see another era ending, but the reasons for this decision really do make sense.

- There just aren't enough people fluently familiar with the code anymore.
- It takes too much time to send and receive
- The signals are almost impossible to trace and track
- It's difficult to ascertain the legitimacy of the call
- You just can't beat ship to shore VHF and global positioning systems for speed and accuracy.

Even the old LORAN-C system (Long Range Aids to Navigation) which are radio beaconed land based towers, is being looked at by the US Department of Transportation (DOT, US Dept. Homeland Security) A proposal has been made by the US Coast Guard to Congress to look at either decommissioning LORAN altogether at the end of fiscal year 2007, or spend the money to enhance the system globally. It has been predicted that the system will in fact be decommissioned.

15.  Did White Star Line president and chairman J. Bruce Ismay, face any criminal charges after the Titanic disaster, and if not, why not?

This is another question that is often asked. It's seems to have been expected (and apparently still does) for Ismay to have just stood on the deck and succumb to death only because of his title and position with the White Star Line, as was expected of ship's captains in those days. "A captain always goes down with his ship" (from an 1800's era nursery rhyme.) An act of chivalry that you definitely won't see too much of these days.

 In the James Cameron movie Titanic, Ismay was portrayed; as a conniving man that wanted the best for his shipping line with no regard for the safety of the ship and it's passengers. He persuaded the captain to push Titanic at high speed for the purpose of beating her sister ships (Olympic) crossing record for the positive media attention. This may or may not be true. The reader must examine what evidence exists to support allegations of this type and any existing evidence that would suggest that an experienced ship master (Capt. Smith) would and could be convinced to deliberately put his ship in harms way.

(Here again is another example for students of being careful not to assume fact and or truth from one single source of information such as a movie or a website.)

But, whether or not Ismay and Smith were directly responsible for the events leading up to the impact are not what is being examined here. We're looking at the events immediately prior to Ismay boarding a lifeboat.

It was widely felt (by both the public and the press) in 1912, that Ismay should have gone down with the ship solely because he was the president of the shipping line. (Ismay always claimed that he was traveling as a passenger, not as a steamship line president.) Someone needed to be blamed for such a horrific event. Who better than the surviving president of the very shipping line that owned the vessel involved?

Let's assume for a moment, that IMM president J.P. Morgan (owner of the White Star Line) was also on board, as he originally had planned to do but was unable due to pneumonia. Would it have been expected for him to remain behind as well just because he was the owner? The is no definite evidence to suggest that Ismay sneaked on to a lifeboat or took a seat away from a woman or child standing there waiting to board. The last call for women and children went out at the boat he had just finished helping to load, (collapsible "C") there was no one in the vicinity, open seats, so he and three other men boarded the lifeboat at the request of the officer in charge of loading that particular boat. (Murdoch)

 Mr. William E. Carter, of Bryn Mawr, who, with his family, was saved,
confirmed Mr. Ismay's assertions.

   "Mr. Ismay's statement is absolutely correct," said Mr. Carter. "There
were no women on the deck when that boat was launched. We were the very
last to leave the deck, and we entered the life-boat because there were no
women to enter it.

   "The deck was deserted when the boat was launched, and Mr. Ismay and
myself decided that we might as well enter the boat and pull away from the
wreck. If he wants me, I assume that he will write to me.

   "I can say nothing, however, that he has not already said, as our
narratives are identical; the circumstances under which we were rescued
from the Titanic were similar. We left the boat together and were picked
up together, and, further than that, we were the very last to leave the
deck.

   "I am ready to go to Washington to testify to the truth of Mr. Ismay's
statement, and also to give my own account at any time I may be called
upon. If Mr. Ismay writes to me, asking that I give a detailed account of
our rescue I will do so."

Source: US Senate Subcommittee transcripts: William E. Carter's  written affidavit to the US Senate Subcommittee investigation.

Here is another way to approach this line of thought; let's say for example a large corporate building in on fire. There is mass panic occurring as everyone is attempting to exit the building. Should it be expected of the company president to forfeit their life and stay in the building just because that person is the president of the company?

Ismay testified at both the British and American inquiry's that followed the disaster. Seven other crew and passenger witnesses (in 1st, and 3rd class) also testified regarding Ismay's actions that night. As a result of this surviving passenger and crew testimony, he was exonerated by both investigations. However seeing a good story here, the 1912 press referred to him as J. Brute Ismay, the villain that got away unscathed.

Yes, his method of escape from the sinking Titanic sure looked bad with hundreds of other passengers not able to get in to lifeboats. It would have more acceptable to the public if Ismay had been picked up out of the water, but it didn't occur that way. Again, with such a devastating loss of life, the public has to have someone to blame. We must also consider the strong possibility that Ismay most likely would have taken a comparable amount of blame had he not been on board Titanic, or had he not survived .

The Titanic disaster did in fact take it's toll on Ismay. He retired from his post as both president of IMM and chairman of the White Star Line shortly afterward, and went into seclusion with his wife at his home in Ireland. During the final years of White Star Line he was even asked to come back (1933-34) as chairman and president to pull the company out of it bleak financial situation (not unlike Lee Iacocca saving the Chrysler Corporation) unfortunately, WSL was too deep in debt to be saved. Toward the end he was seldom seen or heard from again, and completely avoided speaking of the disaster. He did retain his membership to various corporate boards and donated $25,000 toward the creation of the Mercantile Marine Widow's Fund. This was an organization created to compensate the wives of British sailors lost at sea. This fund retroactively compensated widows of the Titanic disaster. Ismay later inaugurated the cadet ship Mersey for the training of officers for the merchant navy, and in 1919 he gave $50,000 to establish a fund to recognize the contribution of merchantmen in World War I.  He lost a leg due to diabetic complications and battled the disease up to his death in 1937 at the age of seventy-four. Bruce Ismay's wife was often heard to say "The Titanic disaster almost ruined our lives."

Bruce Ismay's obituary : New York Times Obituary  (courtesy of Encyclopedia Titanica)

16.  How true to actual events was the (James Cameron) Movie Titanic?  

The movie viewer must realize that in this movie, the Titanic story was simply a background of events for a fictitious romance. Jack Dawson and Rose were not aboard Titanic. (This webmaster gets a lot of e-mail asking why Jack and Rose don't appear on the passenger list; THEY WERE NOT REAL PASSENGERS folks) While an extensive amount of preparatory research with close attention to detail was conducted for the making of the movie, many facts and character portrayals were not accurate. Most likely due to production time constraints, many facts/events were omitted, such as the Californian incident. As Titanic producer James Cameron commented, "This is a fictitious love story, not a Titanic documentary." Cameron does has a real life fascination of Titanic. He has personally financed a couple of trips down to the wreck site and produced an excellent factual documentary exploring rooms and specific areas of the ship never before seen.


 

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