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The Titanic and the Lusitania: the Ships that Have Changed History

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Maritime transport is a common way to travel, even today. Over the past 10,000 years, there have been over three million ship wrecks on the ocean floor. Only one percent of shipwrecks have been explored. (Bennett 2017) Two common ships that are in the one percentile are the Titanic and the Lusitania. Both sunk within three years of each other. The Titanic and the Lusitania are sharing the ocean floor with millions of other ships.

The Titanic was a British passenger liner that sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, due to colliding into an iceberg. It sunk on April 15, 1912, killing over 1,500 passengers. On the start of the voyage, there was 2, 224 passengers and crew. The sinking of the Titanic became one of the deadliest commercial peacetime maritime disasters. It was the largest ship afloat at the time and was said the be unsinkable. It weighed 46,000 tonnes. (Pary 2011) It carried emigrants from all over Europe who wanted a new life in the United States, as well as some of the wealthiest people in the world. The safety regulations were not up to the same standard as they are today.

The Titanic only had enough lifeboats for 1, 178 people. It only carried 20 lifeboats, with four being collapsible and hard to launch when sinking. After hitting the iceberg at 11:40 pm, the Titanic sunk within three hours. At 4:10 am, help arrived. (“Titanic artifacts reveal gruesome discovery of tragic ship’s last lifeboat”) The Titanic’s remains were not found until over 70 years after the sinking. It is one of the most famous ships to date. (“RMS Titanic” 2018) The Titanic rests just off the coast of Newfoundland. (“Wreck of the RMS Titanic” 2018)

RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner as well. The Lusitania made 202 trans-Atlantic crossings. It set sail on June 7, 1906. On May 7, 1915, the Lusitania sunk to the bottom of the Celtic Sea. During the first world war, the Lusitania was attacked by a German submarine just off the coast of Ireland. A total of 1, 200 passengers and crew drowned. (“Lusitania sinks”) On February 4, 1915, the Germans declared all the seas around Great Britain to be a war zone. That being said all ships would be sunk without warning. It sunk in 18 minutes, just 8 miles from the Old Head of Kinsale. In sinking the ship, the American neutrality in WWI and started a war with their allies. It was believed that the Lusitania was transporting war supplies. Immediately after the attack the German Embassy issues a warning: “Notice!”

Travelers intending to embark on the Atlantic voyage are reminded that a state of war exists between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies; that the zone of war includes the waters adjacent to the British Isles; that, in accordance with formal notice given by the Imperial German Government, vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her allies, are liable to destruction in those waters and that travelers sailing in the war zone on the ships of Great Britain or her allies do so at their own risk” (Alchin, 2018)

The Lusitania attracted wealthy passengers. Many people thought the notice was a joke. When it appeared in newspapers, it was often put next to a Lusitania advertisement, yet, no one had canceled their trip. William Turner called it “Berlin’s lastest bluff.” When the ship was sinking, one passenger said it reminded her of “a swarm of bees who do not know where the queen has gone.” The lifeboats were unable to be launched due to the tilt and movement of the ship. (Greenspan 2015)

The Lusitania sank within 18 minutes. A major mystery was how. Ships, especially ones that are 38,000 tonnes, shouldn’t have sunk within 18 minutes. A man named Gregg Bemis has spent thousands of dollars diving and going down in submarines to visit the Lusitania. He believes that the ship was carrying war supplies. There was an unexplained explosion 15 seconds after the ship was struck. The coal dust and the boiler explosion wouldn’t have sunk the ship that swiftly. The Lusitania was secretly carrying explosive war ammunition. They were carrying it to Great Britain, who was already short on war supplies. Many people scoffed at the idea, but no official proof has ever been discovered. (“Lusitania: The epic battle over its biggest mystery”)

One of the main contributors to the Titanic’s disaster was problems with the radio. This delayed the rescue. The Marconi radio system was already obsolete after only being installed for a couple of weeks. Marconi used his research, patents, and power to keep his products from the competition. Fifteen minutes prior to the Titanic hitting the iceberg, a wireless operator tried to contact the Titanic to warn them they were surrounding dangerous icebergs. One day after the Titanic sunk, the afternoon papers said that all passengers had been rescued. Later people found out this was not true and were furious. Reporters were trying to get to the information out of some of the Marconi operators. Two weeks later, the US Senate Committee started focusing on the safety issues, like the lack of life boats. The whole disaster could have been avoided if the radios had been properly used. The fact that the operator had been told to get off the air, was the reason for the tragedy. (“Radio and the Titanic” 2017)

There have been many attempts to bring the Titanic out of the water. In the 1960’s, a man named Douglas Woolley planned to find the Titanic and raise the ship using nylon balloons, so that they could convert it into a floating museum. Now, the ship is too fragile to bring up to the surface, so it will stay on the bottom. (“Wreck of the RMS Titanic” 2018) There has been no record of trying to bring the Lusitania to the surface, as the ship is fully on its side. Both ships will be remembered greatly. These ships have changed history. The Lusitania brought the United States into World War I. The Titanic became one of the most famous ships known today. Both sinkings were terrible disasters and will hopefully never be repeated.

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