How heavy was the Titanic

The sinking of the "Titanic"

On April 14, 1912 at around 11:45 p.m., the "Titanic" collided with an iceberg around 550 kilometers southeast of Newfoundland. The largest passenger ship in the world at the time with a length of 269 meters sank in a little more than two and a half hours, killing around 1,500 people. Around 700 passengers survived the sinking, which is one of the largest ship disasters in maritime history and still provides the material for countless legends, book and film productions to this day.

The main culprit for the sinking of the "Titanic" is the ship's captain, Edward John Smith (1850-1912). Although he had been repeatedly warned of icebergs on his route by other ships, he did not reduce the speed of the steamer and maintained the course. The fast Atlantic crossing from Southampton to New York was in the interests of both the captain and the British shipping company White Star Line, in order to demonstrate the capabilities of the "Titanic". As studies show, a reduction in speed by just a few knots would have been enough to avoid the iceberg and thus avoid the fatal collision.

The heyday of passenger steam travel began at the end of the 19th century. In addition to emigrants looking for a new home in North America, the ships carried more and more business people and wealthy people from the aristocracy and the upper classes across the Atlantic. The ocean liners, which were now developing in rapid succession, offered a luxury previously unknown to ship travelers. First class passengers could enjoy every conceivable comfort. The leading shipping companies tried to outdo each other in terms of equipment, but also in terms of the extent of luxury steamers. The "City of New York" of the British Inman Line had exceeded the limit of 10,000 gross register tonnes (GRT) for the first time in 1888, the "Celtic" of the White Star Line, launched in 1901, doubled the GRT just a few years later.

In between, the "Pennsylvania" of the German HAPAG with around 13,000 GRT and the "Kaiser Wilhelm the Great" of North German Lloyd launched in the following year 1897 with over 14,300 GRT were the largest passenger ships in the world. The much-cited German-British contrast to the sea related not only to the navies of the two countries, but also to passenger shipping to the same extent. The British "Olympic" with over 45,000 GRT and 269 meters in length surpassed everything on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in June 1911, before it was surpassed by around 1,000 GRT a few months later by its sister ship "Titanic".

But even without her sinking, the "Titanic" would not have been able to adorn itself with the title "largest ship in the world" for long: It was no coincidence that HAPAG's German "Imperator" was around three meters longer than its British competitor ship at 272.7 meters. The launch of the 52,117 GRT ocean liner on May 23, 1912 in Hamburg was a spectacle attended by thousands. According to the exuberant press reports, the steamer with space for over 3,000 passengers is impressive evidence of German engineering and, in contrast to the "Titanic", it is actually unsinkable - at least as far as icebergs are concerned. His godfather was Kaiser Wilhelm II, to whom the name of the ship referred. The originally planned ship name "Europe" was not acceptable to the monarch. He contradicted the self-image of the emperor, who was presented with an elaborately worked model of the "Imperator" from HAPAG to commemorate the ceremony. Its execution in silver should conjure up an image of the splendor of the luxury liner. In the model, however, the colossal crowned bronze eagle on the elegant bow of the ship is missing, which was intended to express the self-confidence of HAPAG as the largest shipping company in the world as well as the imperial claim to rule of the German Empire on all seas: it carried the world in its claws.

© German Historical Museum, Berlin