Figure 1 – Courtesy of Wikipedia
The RMS Titanic sank in the early hours of Monday the 15th of April 1912, after striking an iceberg at 11.40 am on the previous evening. The exact date and time it struck the iceberg fixes the time of the disaster, which depends on which time zone that you use. If you get a chance, I read a short but fascinating article about the disaster on the Encyclopedia Britannica web site. There is so much written about the event that there are literally hundreds of articles available on the Internet. Wikipedia, as you would expect has a complete and detailed report about it, 10 things you might not know about RMS Titanic and the Titanic Facts websites also make interesting reading.
Titanic was south of Newfoundland that evening, and steaming at almost full speed (22.5 knots) west south-west after ’rounding the corner’ and heading on a Rhumb line for New York (fig 2). Who knows, if the First Officer William Murdoch hadn’t try to avoid the infamous iceberg and Titanic had hit it head on, rather than as we know with a glancing blow, that created a series of holes below the waterline in five of the ship’s watertight compartments, this disaster may never have occurred.
Figure 2 – Courtesy of Mark Chirnside
All I can offer about the weather at the time of the sinking, apart from that we know it was a clear and starry night, and the sea was like a mill-pond, is the midnight chart for the 15th of April, which I’ve generated using the 20th century reanalysis data (fig 3). Titanic as you can see was in a col like area between two anticyclones in a belt of high pressure that stretched right across the North Atlantic that night, winds will have been light and from the northwest, rather spookily weather reports from ships in the North Atlantic at that time may well have been used in this reanalysis.
Figure 3 – Data courtesy of NOAA/NCEP 20th Century Reanalysis
In an eye-witness account from Jack Thayer a 17-year-old survivor, who said:
It was a brilliant, starry night, there was no moon and I have never seen the stars shine brighter; they appeared to stand right out of the sky, sparkling like cut diamonds. I have spent much time on the ocean, yet I have never seen the sea smoother than it was that night; it was like a mill-pond, and just as innocent looking, as the great ship quietly rippled through it.
The risk of icebergs was well-known in April in that part of the western North Atlantic (fig 5), and if the Captain of the Titanic had only done what the Captain of the SS Californian had done, and that was to stop the ship overnight, or at least slow it things might have been so different.
- Interestingly the SS Californian was later sunk herself, in November 1915, by a German submarine, in the Eastern Mediterranean during World War I.
- Titanic’s sister ships HMHS Britannic struck a mine in the Aegean Sea also in the first World War, and sank in a similar way to how her sister ship sank four years earlier.
- Titanic’s other sister ship lead an interesting life, RMS Olympic was used as a troop ship in World War I, and collided and managed to sink a German submarine. On the 15th of May 1934 she managed to collide with something else, this time the Nantucket lightship (see map fig 2) with the loss of seven lives, her final voyage ended when her hull was towed in for scrap at Inverkeithing in September 1937.
- In July 1918, the RMS Carpathia which played such a big part in rescuing so many of the survivors from the Titanic, was herself torpedoed by another German submarine U-55 in the Celtic Sea.
It certainly was a dangerous life for any merchant seaman back then.