We all know about the iceberg, but could the ultimate catastrophe have been prevented? Read on to learn about the ten mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic.
The RMS Titanic was considered “unsinkable” – but we all know how that ended. Instead of writing history as the fastest passenger liner on earth, its maiden voyage to New York ended abruptly five days after its departure from Southampton.
1.514 people died when the luxury ship collided with an iceberg and sank in the early hours of 15 April 1912. Ever since, researchers have speculated if the ship could have been saved.
While everyone’s been talking about the iceberg and the lack of rescue boats, Titanicologists believe a chain reaction of human errors led to the ultimate disaster. Check out the biggest mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic below.
- We all know about the iceberg, but could the ultimate catastrophe have been prevented? Read on to learn about the ten mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic.
- Meanwhile in Ireland’s top tips about the Titanic
- 10. Warnings about icebergs were ignored – failure to take note of impending issues
- 9. The iron rivets were too weak – one of the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic
- 8. The binoculars were locked away – blinded to danger
- 7. Reversed propeller reduced the ship’s maneuverability – ship’s ability to turn diminished
- 6. The steersman mixed up left and right – taking a wrong turn
- 5. The captain was ordered to continue sailing – forced against better judgement
- 4. Shutting the watertight doors added to the disaster – an instinctive reaction with fatal consequences
- 3. Open portholes sped up the sinking – adding unwittingly to the damage
- 2. The captain only asked for help after 20 minutes – valuable time wasted
- 1. The Titanic was going too fast – a tragedy that may have been avoided
- Your questions answered about the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic
Meanwhile in Ireland’s top tips about the Titanic
- The Titanic’s maiden voyage began on 10th April 1912. It left from Southampton (England), stopping in Cherbourg (France) and then Cobh in Ireland.
- The capacity of the Titanic ship was such that it could hold over 2,200 passengers with three separate passenger classes.
- The Titanic only held 20 lifeboats and four collapsible lifeboats on board, which was clearly not enough for what was to come.
- Around 710 people survived the sinking of the Titanic, which occurred after striking an iceberg on 14th April 1912 at 11.40pm.
- The wreckage of the Titanic was found after a period of 70 years by a Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel-led expedition.
10. Warnings about icebergs were ignored – failure to take note of impending issues
The Titanic received multiple warnings about icefields in the North Atlantic but, according to researcher Richard Corfield, they went unheard. Senior radio operator Jack Phillips failed to inform Captain Edward J Smith about the most specific warning.
“Phillips interpreted it as non-urgent and returned to sending passenger messages to the receiver on shore at Cape Race, Newfoundland, before it went out of range,” Corfield says.
9. The iron rivets were too weak – one of the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic
Metallurgists Tim Foecke and Jennifer Hooper McCarty claim the steel plates used towards the bow and stern of the Titanic were held together with low-grade iron rivets. They believe stronger rivets would have prevented the ship from sinking so quickly.
Other researchers have pointed out that the rivets had been finished by hand instead of hydraulics, as the Titanic’s bow didn’t fit in the shipyard in Belfast and weren’t sturdy enough – another mistake that caused the sinking of the Titanic.
8. The binoculars were locked away – blinded to danger
Binoculars are commonly used to identify dangerous obstacles such as icebergs. However, the Titanic crew didn’t have access to any.
They were locked up aboard the ship – but the man who held the keys, namely Second Officer David Blair, had left the liner in Southampton due to a reshuffle of the crew.
7. Reversed propeller reduced the ship’s maneuverability – ship’s ability to turn diminished
Just moments before the Titanic hit the iceberg, the ship’s first officer, William McMaster Murdoch, commanded to reverse the vessel – another of the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic.
Due to the configuration of the stern, the central propeller could only be halted but not reversed, diminishing the ship’s ability to turn and avoid hitting the iceberg.
6. The steersman mixed up left and right – taking a wrong turn
In 2010, Louise Patten, grand-daughter of a senior Titanic officer, claimed the steersman had taken a wrong turn that caused the ship to sink. According to her grandfather, the crew had been told to “hard a starboard” moments before hitting the iceberg.
However, the command was misinterpreted down the line and the steersman thought he was supposed to turn left. While the error was quickly discovered, it was too late to prevent the collision.
5. The captain was ordered to continue sailing – forced against better judgement
Patten’s grandfather also claimed the captain could have saved many lives by not pushing the ship to move further. Apparently, J Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s owner White Star Line, had persuaded him to continue sailing.
“If Titanic had stood still, she would have survived at least until the rescue ship came and no one had died,” Patten argues.
4. Shutting the watertight doors added to the disaster – an instinctive reaction with fatal consequences
As the water started flooding into the ship, William McMaster Murdoch ordered the bulkhead doors to be shut to seal the 16 watertight compartments – an instinctive reaction with fatal consequences that added to the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic.
Historian Allen Gibson says, if left open, the water would have flooded the ship more equally, whereas by shutting the doors, the bow got extremely heavy and drew the ship to the ground.
3. Open portholes sped up the sinking – adding unwittingly to the damage
After the Titanic struck the iceberg, many passengers opened their portholes to have a look at what was going on. When they made their way up to the lifeboats, they left them open, meaning the water flooded in at a much faster rate.
According to historic Tim Maltin, just 12 open portholes would have doubled the iceberg damage – now imagine the effect hundreds had. This is one of the undeniable facts about the Titanic.
Related: The Titanic was built in Belfast. Find out where this ranks on our articles on the top 10 fascinating facts about Ulster you never knew and 10 things you didn’t know came from Belfast
2. The captain only asked for help after 20 minutes – valuable time wasted
Historian Allen Gibson points out that after the passenger liner had collided with the iceberg, captain Edward J Smith let 20 minutes pass before ordering his operators to put out an alert to nearby ships.
Valuable time was wasted that probably wouldn’t have avoided the sinking but could have saved a lot of lives.
1. The Titanic was going too fast – a tragedy that may have been avoided
Speed tops our list of the biggest mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic. Eager to break the record of the ship’s older sibling in the White Star fleet, the Olympic, Edward J Smith let it sail at 22 knots instead of the required 18 knots despite knowing about the potential risks.
Simon Mills, owner of the HMS Britannic wreck sums up the thoughts of many: “The simple fact is that she was going too fast. Had she been going slower, she may have missed the berg.”
Your questions answered about the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic
If you have read our article on the mistakes that caused the sinking of the Titanic but you still have some questions, you have come to the right place! Here, we have put together some of the most frequently asked questions about the topic.
What was the real reason behind the sinking of Titanic?
The immediate and real cause of the sinking of the Titanic was its collision with the iceberg on 14th April 1912. This caused fatal damage to the ship’s hull.
What was the biggest flaw in the Titanic?
The walls separating the bulkheads within the ship were only a few feet above the waterline, so water could pour from one compartment to another, especially if there was a collision.
Did Titanic sink due to negligence?
Negligence in the inadequate safety precautions and failure to respond to iceberg warnings played a role in the sinking of the ship.