Just before midnight on 14 April, the RMS Titanic failed to divert its course from an iceberg and ruptured at least five of its hull compartments. These compartments filled with water and pulled down the bow of the ship. Because the Titanic’s compartments were not capped at the top, water from the ruptured compartments filled each succeeding compartment, causing the bow to sink and the stern to be raised up to an almost vertical position above the water. Then the Titanic broke in half, and, at about 2:20 a.m. on 15 April, stern and bow sank to the ocean floor.
Because of a shortage of lifeboats and the lack of satisfactory emergency procedures, more than 1,500 people went down in the sinking ship or froze to death in the icy North Atlantic waters. Most of the 700 or so survivors were women and children.
One hour and 20 minutes after Titanic went down, the Cunard liner Carpathia arrived. The survivors in the lifeboats were brought aboard, and a handful of others were pulled out of the water. It was later discovered that the Leyland liner Californian had been less than 20 miles away at the time of the accident but had failed to hear the Titanic’s distress signals because its radio operator was off duty.
Announcement of details of the tragedy led to outrage on both sides of the Atlantic. In the disaster’s aftermath, the first International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea was held in 1913. Rules were adopted requiring that every ship have lifeboat space for each person on board, and that lifeboat drills be held. An International Ice Patrol was established to monitor icebergs in the North Atlantic shipping lanes. It was also required that ships maintain a 24-hour radio watch.
Few of Irish men and women on board the Titanic were traveling in first and second class. The vast majority were in third class – young immigrants either returning from a rare trip home, or journeying to America for the first time. Published accounts of the Titanic’s final night show that these young Irish passengers were thoroughly enjoying their time aboard the ocean liner before disaster struck.
On 1 September 1985, a joint U.S.-French expedition located the wreck of the Titanic lying on the ocean floor at a depth of about 13,000 feet. The ship was explored by manned and unmanned submersibles, which shed new light on the details of its sinking.
Image: Library of Virginia