Five Surprising Titanic Myths

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Film still of James Cameron's TitanicThe 100-year anniversary of Titanic’s sinking takes place this Sunday.

Most people will have read a book or at least seen a film about the iconic ocean liner, but which Titanic tales are not so factual?

The White Star line’s most iconic ship, The Titanic, which sank during it’s maiden voyage on April 15th 1912, will be remembered across the world this week in memorial services, tribute evenings and even a cruise that is reenacting the ships voyage, 100 years on.

Yes, you read that correctly, a group of people (some of whom are descendants of original Titanic passengers), have embarked on a cruise that will retrace the path of the doomed ocean liner. Now, I’m probably just being over paranoid, but this really feels a lot like tempting fate.

The cruise ship, ‘The Balmoral’ will reach its destination, the site of the sinking, on April 15, exactly 100 years to the day the tragedy occured. For Titanic nerds (with a spare $13,000) I’m sure this will be a remarkable experience, but for anyone remotely superstitious, it just sounds terrifying.

Now it’s more than likely this will all pass without incident, but worst case scenario, we can look forward to a series of motion picture adaptations over the next 100 years, each filled with inaccuracies just like these…

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Five Myths About The Titanic

1. The White Star Line Claimed Titanic Was Unsinkable

The Unsinkable TitanicIn James Cameron’s 1998 film ‘Titanic’, the heroine’s mother looks up at the ship from the dock in Southampton and says “So, this is the ship they say is unsinkable.”

But this is perhaps the biggest myth surrounding the Titanic, says Richard Howells, from Kings College London, “It is not true that everyone thought this. It’s a retrospective myth, and it makes a better story.”

The myth stems from an article in ‘The Shipbuilder Magazine’ which was published around the time of her fitting out which claimed she was ‘practically unsinkable’ due to the double bottom, watertight compartments etc.

Contrary to popular belief, the White Star Line never made any substantive claims that the Titanic was unsinkable, and nobody really talked about the ship’s unsinkability until after the event.

2. Titanic Was Speeding To Achieve A Record Ocean Crossing Time

Titanic speedingSpeed plays a major part in the continuing story of Titanic. It is often said she was trying to make a record on her maiden voyage, attempting to arrive ahead of schedule in New York, but this is not true.

In actuality, she was following the pattern of her sister ship’s first crossing the previous year and, like Olympic, not all of Titanic’s boilers had been lit. Also she was sailing on the longer southern route across the Atlantic in order to avoid the very threat which caused her eventual loss.

The most important reasons why Titanic did not attempt a full speed crossing was the risk of potential engine damage. Even if all boilers had been lit, her maximum speed was 21 knots, a far cry from the 26 knots her competitors at the Cunard Line regularly recorded.

If as some say, Titanic’s aim was to arrive a day early, her passengers would also have been very inconvenienced by virtue of the fact they would be arriving a day before their hotel, train bookings, etc., were in effect.

3. ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ Was The Bands Final Song

The Titanic Band membersOne of the most vivid images to feature in many of the Titanic films is of the band playing as the ship sinks. The story goes that the musicians remained on deck, in an attempt to keep up passengers’ spirits and that the last song they played was the hymn ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’.

Although The Daily Mirror’s front page on April 20th 1912 read “Bandsmen heroes of the sinking Titanic play ‘Nearer, My God, To Thee’ as the liner goes down to her doom”, there is no way of confirming this as all of the band members died that night and the passenger who made the claim got away quite some time before the ship sank.

Paul Louden-Brown, from the Titanic Historical Society, worked as a consultant on James Cameron’s film and says that the musician scene in the 1958 film ‘A Night To Remember’ was so beautifully crafted that Cameron decided to repeat it in his film…

“He told me, ‘I stole that entirely and put that into my film, because I loved it, it was such a strong part of the story.’”

4. J. Bruce Ismay – Allegations Of Cowardice

White Star Line's J. Bruce IsmayBruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, was a passenger onboard. The myths surrounding Ismay are many but almost all center on allegations of cowardice by escaping the sinking ship while fellow passengers, notably women and children, were left to fend for themselves.

The truth, according to a British inquiry report in 1912, was Ismay helped with loading and lowering several lifeboats and acquitted himself better than the behavior of many of the crew and passengers. He only entered a half-filled lifeboat when that boat was actually being lowered and no other passengers were in the vicinity.

Lord Mersey, who led a British Inquiry into the loss of the Titanic in 1912, concluded that Ismay had helped many other passengers before finding a place for himself on the last lifeboat to leave the starboard side. He said…

“Had he not jumped in he would merely have added one more life, namely, his own, to the number of those lost”

Ismay never overcame the shame of jumping into a lifeboat and retired from the White Star Line in 1913, a broken man. Frances Wilson, author of ‘How to Survive the Titanic: The Sinking of J Bruce Ismay’, says she feels sympathetic towards Ismay and sees him as “an ordinary man caught in extraordinary circumstances”.

5. Titanic Was The First Ship To Use The SOS Distress Signal

Titanic movie Marconi roomDespite popular belief, the sinking of Titanic was not the first time the internationally recognised Morse code distress signal “SOS” was used.

The SOS signal was first proposed at the International Conference on Wireless Communication at Sea in Berlin in 1906. It was ratified by the international community in 1908 and had been in widespread use since then. The SOS signal was, however, rarely used by British wireless operators, who preferred the older CQD code.

Titanic’s First Wireless Operator Jack Phillips began transmitting CQD until Second Wireless Operator Harold Bride half jokingly suggested, “Send SOS; it’s the new call, and this may be your last chance to send it.” Phillips then began to intersperse SOS with the traditional CQD call.

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