Most people when asked about the Titanic will know details about its last moments, the iceberg, the disastrous lack of lifeboats, and the many, terrible deaths that were lost that night. But, there’s a second part of the story–the search for the wreck of the Titanic.
The Story of the Titanic
The Titanic was one of a kind. The ship was a British passenger liner owned and operated by the White Star line. The ship set out on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. It was at the time the largest ship afloat, captained under Edward Smith. It was the largest moving human-made object in the world.
The ship carried a considerably wealthy group of passengers who lived and dined in the first-class compartments, the most luxurious ever designed. The Titanic was also carrying an even broader array of emigrants from Great Britain and Europe. It cost $7.5 million and two years to complete. The ship was 882 feet or 270 meters long, just over four city blocks in length. It weighed 46,000 tons.
The ship left Southampton, England, stopped in Cherbourg, France, then Queenstown, Ireland. Finally, it headed towards New York on April 10th. The ship sank on the morning of April 15, 1912, after hitting an iceberg. Over the following hours, more than 1,500 people, out 2,201 total men, women, and children aboard, died.
This was despite the fact that the ship had advanced features meant to make it “unsinkable”. These included remotely sealable compartments. In what is now considered fool-hardy confidence and perhaps stinginess, the ship had only enough lifeboats for half the passengers aboard. There were only 20 lifeboats, four of which were collapsable and considerably harder to deploy when the ship started going down.
Before the collision, the ship had received ord that another ship, the Californian, was surrounded by ice. The captain and first officer chose to continue ahead.
It was at 11:40 PM that the iceberg was spotted and to avoid it, the ship made a sudden left turn. This choice is commonly cited as the reason that the ship sank as quickly as it did. Six of the sixteen compartments filled with water.
Only 705 people survived the disaster, shocking the world and solidifying the Titanic as one of the worst maritime disasters in history. Since then, the story of the ill-fated ships, their passengers, and crew as captivated generations.
The Search for the Titanic
After the titanic sunk, expedition after expedition tried almost immediately tried to locate and recover the ship. Several different proposals were formed on the behalf of family members of wealthy victims but the lack of submarine technology at the time meant that little progress was made. Plus, with the outbreak of WWI, any searches were put off. Sonar was deployed unsuccessfully.
Over the next decades, into the 60s and seventies, there are many different proposals, some more outrageous than others. One man, Douglas Woolley, suggests attaching nylon balloons to the hull of the ship to get it off the seafloor. Another notable plan came from Jack Grimm, who had previously sponsored searches to find the Lock Ness Monster and Noah’s Ark. He obtained the services of various universities and scientists for his search and even imployed a new assistant, a monkey. Woolley explained that the monkey was trained to point to where the Titanic sunk.
Other plans included using molten wax and amazingly ping pong balls to find the wreckage. None of these plans came to fruition either because they were completely infeasible or the technology didn’t exist to make them successful.
The True Story of the Discovery of the Titanic
Bob Ballard, the man who eventually discovered the Titanic, led an initial failed mission in 1977. It was with the help of the Navy that he was able to develop “Argo,” what is known as a camera sled. It was dragged behind a ship on, reaching depths of up to 20,000 feet.
It was not until 1985, a remarkable seventy-three years after the ship sank that the wreckage was found. For many years after, the expedition that found the ship was thought to be one of purely scientific intent. But, in 2018, now-declassified events, and members of a secret US military operation spoke out about the role they played. When speaking to CNN, Robert Ballard described the truth of how the wreckage was found. It was in truth an expedition to recover two sunken nuclear submarines.
Ballard describes to CNN how he was offered funding to locate the Titanic but only if he first went looking for the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion. These two nuclear subs sank in the 1960s. The US Military was interested in recovering the weapons, analyzing the reason that one ship sank (thinking perhaps it had been sunk by the Soviet Union), and gathering information on the effects that the nuclear reactors were having on the marine environment. The latter in order to understand if nuclear materials could safely be disposed of in the ocean.
The search for the wreck of the Titanic was the perfect cover story to hide the true intentions of the mission. Ballard also alluded to the fact that there are other classified missions he participated in for the US Military.
The ship was finally found 12,500 feet, about 370 miles, below the surface of the ocean. It is located in the south-southeast off the coast of Newfoundland. The hull broke into two main pieces which lay on the floor about a third of a mile apart. The Titanic’s bow is often photographed and is one of the only pieces that are still clearly recognizable.
Ballard described how he was able to use his craft, Argo, to follow the trail of debris to the ship’s hull. It was over 2 kilometers long and his time constraints, of only twelve days, meant that he had to work quickly. Ballard was later the first person to visit the wreck of the Titanic a year later.
Since then, numerous items have been removed from the wreckage. Including items from the dining room, clothes, a violin, a watch, and gloves. At this point, scientists believe the ship is far too fragile, and too deep, to ever be raised from the ocean floor.