Titanic was launched on the 31st May 1911, the same day that the Olympic was officially handed over to the White Star Line. Tragedy struck the launch of Titanic when shipwright James Dobbin was critically injured by a shoring beam and died in hospital.
After the launch Titanic was taken the short distance to the Thompson Graving Dock to begin her luxurious fitting out. Ten months later on April 1st 1912, she was ready for sea trails which would get her the needed Board of Trade certificate for plying the Atlantic. This was nine days before her first scheduled voyage from Southampton to New York which was to depart on 10th April.
The sea trails were postponed a day due to bad weather but went ahead the next day. On April 2nd 1912 the Titanic was towed down Belfast Lough and two miles off Carrickfergus moved under her own steam for the first time and began a day of trails with the inspectors aboard. On returning to Belfast her Board of Trade Certificate was issued by a Mr Carruthers and those not bound for Southampton were ferried ashore. The liner left Belfast at 8 pm arriving in Southampton the next day and tying up at berth 44, seven days before her first scheduled trans Atlantic sailing.
At noon on April 10th 1912, Titanic left her berth at Southampton under the command of Captain Smith who had also been Captain of the Olympic. There was a near collision as the displacement of water from the Titanic forced the liner ‘New York’ to snap her stern moorings and drift to within four feet of Titanic, a collision was adverted by the skill of the tug boats and crew.
Titanic sailed for Cherbourg to pick up 274 passengers, due to her draft she anchored offshore and the Traffic and Nomadic (now in Belfast under restoration) ferried the passengers, luggage and mail out. Within two hours she was underway for Queenstown, Ireland where she arrived the following morning and anchored two miles offshore. Again two small tenders the ‘Ireland and ‘America’ ferried the passengers, luggage and mail out. On the afternoon of April 11th with a compliment of 2206 passengers and crew, Titanic hauled in her anchors off Queenstown, Ireland and began her maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York. The voyage over the first two days was uneventful and the ship made good speed in calm conditions and fair weather.
Ice is alway a feature of winter crossing of the Atlantic and the Titanic like all ships received regular warnings. 1500 miles into the journey the air temperature dropped to near freezing. Then on 13th April she received ice warnings from the ‘Caronia’, ‘Noordam’ and the ‘Baltic’ , in response Captain Smith altered course ten miles south of the normal shipping route. Another series of ice warnings were picked up on Sunday 14th April but no action was taken, then at 1.45 pm a warning was sent from the ‘Amerika’ to the US Hydrological Office in Washington reporting two large icebergs and their positions which were on Titanic's bearing. It was overheard by the wireless room but never reached the bridge.
A later message from the ‘Mesaba’ reported heavy ice pack and a number of large icebergs, it again was received but never past to the bridge. At 10.50 pm the ‘California’ which had sent earlier warnings of ice sent out a general warning to all shipping that she was stopped in an ice field, this again was not acted upon by the Titanic. At 11.40 pm while sailing under a moonless clear sky in calm sea conditions, south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the look outs, Fredrick Fleet and Reginald Lee spotted a large iceberg dead ahead. A message was immediately sent to the bridge, first officer Murdoch ordered hard to port with full speed astern but it was too late to prevent the collision.
The iceberg grazed the starboard hull buckling the plates over a 300 foot length below the waterline, allowing water to fill into six watertight compartments. The ship was designed to stay afloat with two filled compartments and survive the loss of four but six was beyond her ability to float. She stayed afloat for two hours forty minutes, then at 2.20 am on Monday 15th April 1912 she disappeared under the icy waters of the Atlantic. The ‘Carpathia’ en route from New York to Croatia, picked up the mayday and rushed to the scene managing to rescue 705 people but tragically 1517 lost their lives.
There are many theories about the sinking of the Titanic and fingers eagerly point to blame in retrospect, the fact is like most man made forms of transport it relied on human control. In hindsight we can change everything, unfortunately life does not work in hindsight. Whatever happened on that night the ship was in the control of those aboard. Dozens of 'if only' theories abound blaming rivets, plates, explosion in the coal bunker, speed, the steering mechanism……etc, etc… what about ' if only' it had never been built ! The fact is simple, it hit an iceberg which it was not designed to hit. The sinking was a tragedy very few could have ever imagined happening and like everything we do, accidents happen and we learn from hindsight.