Titanic is perhaps the most iconic ship in history, its tragic story known the world over.
The most celebrated ocean liner of its time even before it first sailed, Titanic was an incredible feat of engineering and ambition. Its maiden voyage ended in tragedy when it struck an iceberg and sank, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew.
From its construction in Belfast, through its dramatic sinking to the discovery of the wreck, it is a story that continues to capture the public imagination.
Photo: Titanic on its arrival at Queenstown (now Cobh) harbour, 11 April 1912 (Davidsons)
Titanic was one of three 'Olympic Class' liners commissioned by the White Star Line to be built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. Construction began on the first of these great ships, Olympic, on 16 December 1908. Work on Titanic started soon after, on 31 March 1909. These magnificent vessels were the industrial marvels of their age and Titanic was to be the biggest, fastest and most luxurious liner yet.
After just three years, Titanic was finished - a floating city, ready to set sail on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. On board was a collection of passengers comprising millionaires, silent movie stars, school teachers and emigrants, in search of a better life in the United States.
By the fifth day of its journey, Titanic was making swift progress across the Atlantic. Although Captain Edward Smith had plotted a new course upon hearing earlier reports of ice from other liners, there were many more communications that day of ice in Titanic's path. On the night of Sunday 14 April 1912, the sea was flat calm, the sky clear and moonless, and the temperature was dropping towards freezing. In such conditions, sea ice is very hard to spot.
At 11.40pm the lookout sounded the alarm and telephoned the bridge saying "Iceberg, right ahead." The warning came too late to avoid the iceberg and Titanic struck it less than 40 seconds later, tearing a series of holes along the side of the hull. Upon inspecting the damage, Titanic's chief naval architect Thomas Andrews said to Captain Smith that the ship would certainly sink. Six of the watertight compartments at the front of the ship's hull were breached, five of them flooding within the hour. Titanic was designed to stay afloat with only four compartments flooded.
Less than three hours later Titanic lay at the bottom of the Atlantic ocean, nearly four kilometres down. The sinking of Titanic claimed more than 1,500 lives. For many, the tragic fate that befell Titanic would come to mark the passing of the opulence of the Edwardian era and foreshadowed the global tragedy of World War One. The story captured the public imagination across the world, spawning countless books, films, plays, memorials, museums and exhibitions. The discovery of the wreck by oceanographer Robert Ballard on a Franco-American expedition in 1985 gave rise to a fresh wave of interest that continues to this day.
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