And so, for many and good reasons, the ship's company who set sail from Southampton on the first and last voyage of the world's greatest vessel believed that she was unsinkable.
And unsinkable she was by any of the seemingly possible accidents of wind and weather or deep-sea collision. She could have taken the blow of a colliding ship on bow, quarter or abeam and remained afloat, or even made her way to port. Bow on, and under the half speed called on by careful seamanship, she could probably have come without fatal injury through the ordeal of head-on collision with an iceberg.
The One Fatal Peril.
But there was just one peril of the deep against which this mighty ship was as helpless as the smallest of coasting steamers - the long, glancing blow below the waterline, due to the projecting shelf of an iceberg. It was this that sent the "Titanic" to the bottom in the brief space of 2½ hours, and it was her very size and the fatal speed at which she was driven, which made the blow so terrible.
The Climax of Seventy-five Years Development.
The “Titanic,” with the sister vessel “Olympic,” set the latest mark in the growth of the modern ocean liner toward the ship one thousand feet in length. The “Britannia” of 1840 was 207 feet long; the “Scotia” of 1862 was 370 feet and the "Bothnia" of 1874, 420 feet long. The "Servia" in 1881 was the first ship to exceed 500 feet with her length of 515 feet. In 1893, the "Campania" carried the length to 625 feet; and the first liner to pass 700 feet was the "Oceanic," whose length on deck was 704 feet. The "Mauretania" was 10 feet short of 800 feet; and then with an addition of nearly 100 feet the "Olympic" and "Titanic" carried the over-all length to 882½ feet; the tonnage to 46,000 and the displacement to 60,000. The indicated horsepower of the "Titanic" was 50,000, developed in two reciprocating engines driving two wing propellers and a single turbine driving a central propeller. The ship had accommodations for a whole townful of people (3,356, as a matter of fact), of whom 750 could be accommodated in the first class, 550 in the second, and 1,200 in the third. The balance of the company was made up of 63 officers and sailors, 322 engineers, firemen, oilers, and 471 stewards, waiters, etc.
Warned of the Iceberg Peril.
When the "Titanic" left Southampton on her fatal voyage she had on board a total of 2,340 passengers and crew. The voyage was uneventful until Sunday, April 14th, when the wireless operator received and acknowledged a message from the "Amerika," warning her of the existence of a large field of ice into which her course would lead her toward the close of the day.
Full Speed Through the Ice Field.
The "Titanic" had been running at a steady speed of nearly 22 knots, having covered 545 miles during the day ending at noon April 14th; yet, in spite of the grave danger presented by the ice field ahead, she seems to have maintained during Sunday night a speed of not less than 21 knots. This is made clear by the testimony of Mr. Ismay, of the White Star Line, who stated at the Senate investigation that the revolutions were 72 as against the 78 revolutions which gave her full speed. She could make about 22½ knots at full speed, and 72 revolutions would correspond to about 21 knots.
The Captain Takes a Chance.
How such an experienced commander as Captain Smith should have driven his ship at high speed, and in the night, when he knew that he was in the proximity of heavy ice fields is a mystery which may never be cleared up. The night, it is true, was clear and starlit, and the sea perfectly smooth. Probably the fact that conditions were favorable for a good lookout, coupled with the desire to maintain a high average speed on the maiden trip of the vessel, decided the captain to "take a chance." Whatever the motive, it seems to be well established that the ship was not slowed down; and to this fact and no other must the loss of the" Titanic" be set down.