On This Date in History: Perhaps the most famous shipwreck in world history is that of the RMS Titanic that sank on this date in 1912. It’s fame came largely due to the fact that it was the largest and most luxurious ship of its day, considered the most advanced and safest ship of its day and was on its maiden voyage with notable members of society on its passenger list. It was also the first major disaster in the advanced media age when wireless communication made news of the disaster nearly instantaneous across the world. Titanic‘s radio opertors sent out the CQD distress call as well as the new code signal of SOS, though the use of SOS by the Titanic was not the first usage of that code. Radio reports of the disaster were received by a young radio man for the American Marconi Company named David Sarnoff who went on to become an innovator in mass communications as the head of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Over 1500 souls died that night in the icy waters of the North Atlantic, but it was not the worst ship wreck in terms of loss of life.
The steamboat Sultana was steaming north on the Mississippi River shortly after the conclusion of the American Civil War when three of its four boilers exploded. The Sultana was rated to carry a maximum 376 passengers. On the fateful journey, it was overloaded with some 2300 former prisoners of war returning home on April 27, 1865 along with the crew and some civilian passengers. The incident occured around 2AM about 7 miles north of Memphis, TN as it moved against the strong Mississippi River current. Many of the passengers were wounded Union soldiers. The fact that the boilers catastrophically failed in the middle of the night, extremely hot water and fire rained on surviors and the turbulent river current all contributed to the deaths of some 1700 souls. Unlike the news of the Titanic, the Sultana disaster was relegated to the back pages of most US newspapers.
The RMS Titanic sank after striking an iceberg shortly after lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee reported an iceberg directly ahead of the ship at 11:40 pm. 2 hours and 40 minutes later, the 52,000 ton liner slipped below the surface of the water. So often in life, timing is a key to events. Had the ship moved through those waters an hour later or an hour earlier, perhaps the iceberg would not have been in it’s location. As it turns out, the fate of the ship may have been sealed before it ever left Southhampton.
Back in 1888, British shipbuilders had constructed another ocean liner with an eye toward making it one of the largest and fastest liners of the day. The SS City of New York was a passenger liner of the Inman Line. It had a capacity of just under 2000 passengers and from August 1892 to May 1893 it held the eastbound Atlantic speed record with an average speed of just over 20 kts. It was large for its day checking in at 17,240 tons and it and its sister ship, SS City of Paris, were the first express ocean liners to feature twin screws. In February 1893, the Inman Line was folded into the American Line with the ship becoming American flagged and renamed the SS New York. The ship was used by the US government during the Spanish American war and returned to transatlantic service in January 1899.
The aging ship was berthed in Southampton next to the steamship Oceanic on April 10, 1912. There was a coal strike in Southampton and many ships were berthed in the harbor due to delays in the delivery of coal. The massive Titanic with its enormous propellers passed by the smaller New York and the draft of the Titanic drew the New York away from its dock. The three inch steel mooring lines could not stand the strain and snapped. Now, a huge ship like the Titanic cannot stop on a dime so it took quick thinking to prevent a collision between the New York and the Titanic. Captain Edward J. Smith ordered that the port propeller of Titanic be put in reverse to veer the ship safely away while a nearby tugboat managed to capture the New York and steer it to safety. Reports vary but the ships came within 2 to 4 feet of one another.
The incident caused a delay in the departure of the RMS Titanic by about 30 minutes. Had the ships collided, then Titanic certainly would not have left port on April 10, 1012. Now, there is little doubt that Captain Smith put Titanic on a speed to make up for the lost time. However, it has been suggested that White Star Line executive Bruce Ismay, who was on board the Titanic, was pushing Smith to make as much speed as possible. So, it is reasonable to assume that perhaps, even without the delay, Smith would have been pushing the luxury liner at the same speed that he ultimately used. If that were the case, then Titanic would have arrived at the location of its demise 30 minutes earlier and perhaps that iceberg would not have been in the path of the Titanic. Conversely, had not the collision in Southampton been averted, then the Titanic never would have left the port on that day and it is possible it never would have been on a collision course with that iceberg.
A recent article in the UK Daily Mail suggests that the “Near miss at Southampton could have saved the Titanic.” However, I”m not a fan of alternative history. History is about what happened, not what might have happened and no one can say for certain what would have happened. It is plausible that, due to the manner in which the ship was operated and the fact that it was moving through an ice field, it would have struck a different iceberg. Who knows? Nevertheless, had the SS New York been held at its moorings or if it had been allowed to strike the RMS Titanic, it is possible that there would have been no story to tell or movies to make.
Weather Bottom Line: We’re right on schedule forecast wise. Look for highs again the low 80′s on Thursday. Probably pretty close to 80 on Friday as a cold front moves through which will increase rain chances with the potential for thunderstorms by Friday afternoon into Friday evening. The SPC is not too enthused regarding severe chances as the dynamics are just not too exciting. Thunder Over Louisville weekend still looks good but cooler with highs in the low to mid 60′s.