On the night of April 11, 1912, a mighty ocean liner steamed straight into an iceberg in the north Atlantic. Passengers were thrown from their chairs and rushed in terror to the decks. Although her bow was badly buckled, no one was hurt, and the ship limped onwards, to reach New York in safety.
The clue there is in the date, for the ship in question was a French liner, the Niagara. It was three nights later that the Titanic sank near the same spot.
So why did the Titanic, despite warnings of ice ahead, hit an iceberg herself, and why did she fail to survive the collision? The basic answer is clear: she was going too fast. The conclusion of the official British inquiry remains self-evident. However far away the iceberg was when the lookouts saw it – their testimony was evasive to say the least – there was too little time to avoid it.
It’s often suggested that Captain Smith was trying to set some sort of speed record. He could never have captured the Blue Riband for the fastest-ever Atlantic crossing; the Titanic simply wasn’t built to outpace sleek rivals like Cunard’s Mauretania. Smith knew, however, that if the Titanic arrived ahead of schedule it would attract favourable publicity, and the presence on board of White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay may well have spurred him on. In fact, it was standard practice for liners to race at top speed through the night, and only take evasive action if confronted by an obstacle.