Daily Echo: Titanic and Southampton

Titanic FAQs

The Titanic tragedy is known the world over, however many misconceptions have come to the fore over the last century. Here, the Daily Echo's Dan Kerins attempts to answer some of the most frequent questions asked about the Titanic story.

Daily Echo: RMS Titanic

Was it claimed that Titanic was unsinkable?

Engineering journal, The Shipbuilder reported in its 1911 edition that “the captain can, by simply moving an electric switch close the watertight doors throughout and make the vessel practically unsinkable”. The problem with this was that the watertight bulkheads did not go right up to the main deck, meaning water could spill over the top and into the next compartment. The ship could have stayed afloat with four of these compartments full of water - however five filled on April 15, 1912.

Why didn’t the lookouts see the iceberg in time?

The Atlantic Ocean was incredibly still on the night of the sinking, meaning there was little in the way of breaking water on the surface making it hard for the lookouts to spot the iceberg. Furthermore, the binoculars which should have been available to assist them had not been seen since Titanic left Southampton.

Why did it take so long for Titanic to turn away from the iceberg?

The ship’s rudder, for all its ten-storey height was quite small relative to Titanic’s great length. The officer on the Bridge ordered engines reversed which had the effect of slowing the ship thereby decreasing the water flow past the rudder and retard the rate of turn. It is possible that had the engines not been reversed Titanic might just have slipped past the iceberg without harm. Some modern theories suggest had the ship kept its course and hit the iceberg head-on, it would not have sunk.

How many people died and how many survivors were there?

On board Titanic were 2,224 persons - 908 crew and 1,316 passengers. Of these, 1,517 persished.

Over a third of those who lost their lives in the sinking came from Southampton - 549 souls. In total, 724 of the people on board the vessel came from Southampton.

Nowhere was the sinking of Titanic more keenly felt than Southampton, with whole communities devastated by the disaster.

In terms of the number of deaths from the total population, the impact the Titanic sinking had on Southampton was 20 times that the September 11 attacks had on New York.

Which areas of the town were most affected by the sinking?

In 1912, Southampton had a population of 119,000 - just over half of what it is in 2012.

Oxford Street was given as an address by more crew members than any other in the city. However, this is due to the number of hotels and hostels on the street at the time.

In terms of areas, a large number of the crew lived in Chapel, Northam and the areas around High Street.

We have put together an interactive map showing where all the crew from Southampton lived.

Were there any ships closer than Carpathia, the liner that came to the aid of Titanic?

Many vessels heard the SOS transmitted by the ship’s powerful wireless set. Even Olympic picked up the message but Carpathia was much closer and made a full steam ahead dash to Titanic’s position arriving two hours too late.

Most controversy surrounds the steamship Californian which was stopped in the ice relatively close to Titanic. “Regulations did not require ships to have 24-hour manning of their wireless and Californian’s set had been switched off just minutes before the collision and first SOS call. Crew of Californian reported seeing a large ship in the distance firing off rockets until it disappeared around 2am. This was interpreted as the ship sailing away and the rockets as company signals to other ships.

Californian’s master, Captain Lord, was blamed for not going to Titanic’s rescue but even recent investigations by the Marine Accident Bureau were inconclusive, as to whether the vessel was as close to Titanic as was believed in 1912.”

How large was RMS Titanic?

In absolute terms, Titanic had a tonnage of 46,328 tons, was 882ft long (269m), 92ft (28m) across and a height of 175ft (53m) from the keel to the top of the funnels - 19ft higher than the clock tower at Southampton Civic Centre.

Although she was the largest passenger ship in the world when first built, Titanic would be dwarfed by more modern vessels. The largest cruise ships that operate out of Southampton these days are Cunard's RMS Queen Mary 2 and Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, which have a tonnage of 151,400 and 154,407 tons respectively - more than three times that of Titanic.

Below is a graphic comparing the size of Titanic to that of QM2, taken from Wikipedia.

Daily Echo: Comparison of the RMS Titanic and RMS Queen Mary 2

Why were there so few lifeboats?

On board Titanic, there were 20 lifeboats - enough to carry 1,178 people. The vessel could actually accommodate a total of 32 lifeboats but it was decided that the extra boats would make the promenade 'too cluttered'.

Titanic actually carried more lifeboat capacity than it was required to by law. A ship of that size was expected to have enough space for 1,060 people to board lifeboats - less than half of the number of passengers on board the vessel. To compound problems, not all lifeboats were full to capacity.

There were more than enough life jackets and flotation aids, however the icy waters of the Atlantic made these virtually useless - most of the people who perished did so by freezing to death in the water rather than by drowning.

Where was the home port of Titanic?

There are three cities that can lay claim to being the 'home' of Titanic. Firstly, the ship was built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast. Secondly, the White Star Line's offices were in Liverpool, meaning it was that city's name that appeared on the stern of the ship.

However, it was Southampton that the ship was to sail from and to and the vast majority of crew members on board hailed from the town. A special berth - the White Star dock - had been built especially for Titanic and sister ship Olympic, as well as the then upcoming RMS Britannic.

What happened to the iceberg?

The size of the iceberg which Titanic struck will never be known exactly, however there are some photographs that it is claimed are the iceberg which collided with the vessel. The best known of these is by a crew member from the Prinze Adelbert. What interested him the most was what he believed to be a red smear along the side of the iceberg.

The second image is from the cable ship Minia, which was one of the first ships to reach the scene where Titanic was believed to have sunk.

Daily Echo: The photograph of an iceberg suspected to have sunk Titanic. Taken by a steward on board Prinze Adelbert. Daily Echo: Photograph of an iceberg taken from Minia, following the sinking of the Titanic in 1912.

Was the Titanic disaster the first use of the SOS distress signal?

The Marconi operators aboard Titanic did use the new SOS distress code, but they were not the first. British vessels had traditionally used the CQD signal - which meant All Stations Urgent. The SOS signal was introduced in 1908 and was chosen because it could not be confused with anything else - it does not mean Save Our Souls, as is commonly believed - across a number of languages.

The radio operators on Titanic used both distress signals in an attempt to reach as many nearby vessels as possible, but the ship was not the first to use SOS - that was SS Slavonia in 1909.

What happened to Olympic and Britannic?

Olympic was refitted following the sinking of Titanic and during the First World War was used as a troop ship.

The vessel had a long career, gaining the nickname 'Old Reliable'. She was eventually retired in 1935 following the merging of White Star Line and Cunard. Olympic was broken apart in Jarrow, Yorkshire before the work was moved to Scotland for completion.

The clock from the Grand Staircase on board Olympic was on display in Southampton Maritime Museum and will be moved to the Sea City Museum when it opens in Spring 2012.

Construction of Britannic - the largest of the three Olympic class vessels - went ahead, but with a number of alterations in light of the Titanic disaster to make the vessel safer. However, before she could enter service it was commandeered as a medic ship following the outbreak of the First World War.

She hit a mine in the Mediterranean Sea and sank in just 55 minutes.

Was Titanic’s fourth funnel necessary?

“The first three funnels were used to expel smoke and steam from the ship’s boilers and engines. The fourth funnel was used for ventilation of the engine room. It was also felt that emigrants would be impressed by the size of the ship and they would be more likely to book a passage on a ‘four stacker’.’’