Monday, March 26, 2012

A Night to Remember

Coming up in just over two weeks is an extremely poignant anniversary; on the evening of April 14, 1912, the luxury liner Titanic struck an iceberg some 365 miles from St. John's, Newfoundland. The liner, built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast for the prestigious White Star Line, was launched on May 31, 1911. She was fitted out with state-of-the-art technology, including a series of sixteen watertight compartments that could be closed by the captain's mere flipping of a switch on the bridge. By Monday, April 1, of 1912 she came under the command of Captain Edward John Smith, who had served with the White Star Line for some thirty-two years. By April 10 she began to take on junior crew members, passengers, and the all-important coal to fire her massive boilers. Among the passengers were Thomas Andrews, Harland and Wolff's managing director, and White Star chairman Bruce Ismay, there to oversee the great ship's maiden voyage.

During her travel from Southampton, Titanic's two radio operators, Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, received a number of warnings of a huge field of ice ahead of them, some of those warnings arriving as early as April 11. Standard procedure was that these warnings would have been logged as received and passed along to the officers on the bridge. Neither Phillips nor Bride was an employee of White Star; instead, they were employed by the Marconi Company and their function on board was primarily to send and receive private messages for paying passengers. On the night of April 14 as warnings continued to arrive, Phillips was busy sending messages to the Marconi station at Cape Race, Newfoundland. Out of frustration at being interrupted at his task by the wireless operator on the SS Californian sending yet another ice warning, he replied via Morse Code, "Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!" This message would be quoted later as an example of one of the factors that led to the Titanic disaster -- just fifteen minutes after Phillips sent it, Titanic struck an iceberg in that great icefield. Within hours, Titanic had slipped below the surface taking more than 1500 of her passengers and crew to a watery grave. Incompetence, unpreparedness, and arrogance had combined to create a tragedy that ranks among the worst marine disasters in history and arguably the most famous.

A number of events are planned to commemorate this landmark event; information about those taking place in Newfoundland can be found through Receiving Titanic; events begin on April 1st and carry on through the evening of April 14th, 2012.

1 comment:

  1. My dear sister, Sally Van Natta, left a comment on this post and I accidentally deleted it -- that'll teach me to try to moderate comments on an iPod! She said, "If we had every soul alive who had perished due to arrogance and incompetence everywhere, the over population would be difficult indeed. Fascinating stuff."

    Thanks, Sally!