Titanic Disaster

What is it about the Titanic that grabs the public imagination?  What  grabs you?  Is it the enormous loss of life?  Is it the tragic stupidity and greed of the White Star Line?  Is it the indescribable pathos of such a beautiful artifact sliding beneath the waves?

I don’t know the answers, although I can tell you one thing:  there’s nothing sadder than a shipwreck.  There is no more evocative image than a magnificent vessel plunging to its doom, but think about this.  The Titanic disaster was far from the greatest maritime disaster the world ever knew.

Here’s a random selection of disasters in peace and in war.  The death tolls are appalling and yet we don’t seem to see so many movies.  Nobody is building interpretative centres, as they did in Belfast to cash in on the Titanic tragedy.

On 20 December 1987, in the Philippines, the passenger ferry Doña Paz collided with an oil tanker and 4,341 died in the sinking.

The Kiangya exploded and sank near Shanghai in 1948, killing 3,000 people.

In Senegal, 1,800 people died in 2002 when  the Le Joola ferry overturned.

When the SS Sultana exploded  on the Mississippi River in 1865, 1,800 people were killed.

On 29 May 1914, the Empress of Ireland sank in the St Lawrence river, killing 1,012.

Empress of Ireland

Did you see any movies about these disasters?  I didn’t, but if you think peacetime tragedies are bad, they have nothing on the things that happened during war.

What to make of Wilhelm Gustloff, the worst maritime disaster, or crime, in history? On the 30th January 1945 a Russian submarine torpedoed the Gustloff, killing 5,348 refugees, soldiers and sailors.  Other estimates range as far as 9,000 lost.  This was the greatest loss of life in the history of seafaring, but it was run a close second by another Soviet atrocity three months later when a Russian submarine sank the Goya, killing at least 7,000 soldiers and civilians.

Wilhelm Gustloff

If you were a Dutch prisoner or a Javanese slave on the Junyo Maru you might have been grateful for your merciful extinction as the Royal Navy sank the Japanese prison ship with the loss of 5,600 lives.  And if you were a prisoner from a German concentration camp, you might not have cared when the Thielbek was sunk by the RAF killing you and 2,750 fellow prisoners.  On the other hand, if you were an Australian POW, you might not have been too happy with the US Navy sinking your Japanese prison ship, Montevideo Maru, killing 1,122 of your comrades.

How about the  Lancastria – sunk in 1940 with the deaths of 4,000 and possibly up to 9,000?  Or the Soviet hospital ship, Armenia, sunk on 7th November 1941 by German aircraft.  7,000 refugees died in the disaster. Iosif Stalin, a Soviet transportstruck three mines in 1941 and was then bombarded by Finnish artillery.  3,800 people lost their lives and the rest fell into the hands of the Germans.

The Gaetano Donizetti carrying  1,800 Italian POW’s was torpedoed by a British warship. No-one survived.  Another Italian ship, the Mario Roselli was attacked in Corfu by Allied bombers while loading Italian prisoners of war and sank with the loss of 1,300 lives. SS Petrella was taking Italian POWs to Germany for slave labour when it was torpedoed by the submarine HMS Sportsman.  2,670 men were drowned.  Another transport, SS Oria, sank while transporting 4,096 Italian POWs.  Only 28 people survived. An American submarine sank the Tsushima Maru in 1944. killing  1,484 civilians including 767 schoolchildren, while another US submarine sank the Awa Maru hospital ship, killing 2,002.  One passenger survived. On 3 May 1945 the prison ship Cap Arcona while full of prisoners from concentration camps, was attacked by the RAF and sank, killing 5,000. And finally, in another maritime disaster connected with Ireland, the Lusitania sank off the Cork coast in 1915 with the loss of 1,198 lives, after being torpedoed by a U-Boat.




Apart from the Lusitania, I haven’t seen any movies about these disasters.  Why is that?  What was it about the Titanic that grabbed the public imagination? Was it just slick marketing or is there something more?

17 replies on “Titanic Disaster”

Is it the tragic stupidity and greed of the White Star Line? Is it the indescribable pathos of such a beautiful artifact sliding beneath the waves?

I think it is exactly that, a fancy dan ship with many fancy dan passengers, a stupid captain. It did make for a good story.

The others, while even more tragic, as most of the people on board were a sorry state to start with, being sick, POWs, or slaves, would have made good war movies….

Was it Rich Americans or Rich British? Anyways, they were anglophone. The Italians didn’t matter. Their skin is too dark…

Like those Chilean miners..tis the story that captures us. There are always bigger tragedies elsewhere really.

If the original movie wasn’t made and Cameron’s woeful pile of shite version, maybe it’d be well forgotten.
Then again maybe not.
I think this one captures our imagination due to the supposed claims of it being unsinkable at the time of being built and the name itself – tempting fate to show our vulnerability maybe. Who the hell knows.
Wasn’t it her maiden voyage too?
What’s more interesting to me, is not the wealthy passengers but the poor emigrants, who thought they were off to a better life in America.
Also the division of class – who survived and who didn’t is interesting.
If you were a man and not of first class you were goosed it seems.

Anglo-Saxon media have homed in on a tragedy that involved rich and poor on a doomed boat ride to America. I think that the 1958 bw movie starring Kenneth More, A Night to Remember, shows the social and physical aspects of the tragedy in a believable way. It’s the one teachers should recommend to pupils, not the hightech CGI fantasy starring Kate Winslet and Leonardo Di Caprio that was unleashed on a gullible public around 1997.

Yip. It’s probably the fact that they said it was unsinkable that makes it popular. I wonder if that liner sunk last month was advertised as ‘The one that makes it roun the Med’. Didn’t think so.

You are correct about the impact of having rich Americans on board. Initially, the American media at the time enquired only as to the whereabouts of Mr. Astor. His wife survived.
The chairman of the White Star line survived the sinking too but not the scorn.
That ‘unsinkable’ tag too played a big part as it seemed such a novel claim too. But it was a thoroughly modern world by then where science had been making incredible strides forward; not least the invention of the telegraph which saw it’s initial outing bringing about the capturing of a murderer who was on a ship attempting to escape capture by getting himself across the atlantic. So why not an unsinkable ship? It seemed a perfectly naural and modern progression at the time.
As to the other misfortunate drownings, they wouldn’t make a lot at the box office. They could provide the back drop to many a good story and maybe get to the box office that way.
I think they might not give a bollix about playing Hollywood though.

Anyone familiar with the legend about looking at ship’s number in a mirror and it reads ‘No Pope’ , or was it some other guff my father told me to keep me quiet ?

There’s an excellent Titanic supplement in today’s Examiner and it mentions that myth had it that the ship’s hull number was 3909 04 which spelled NO POPE in a mirror image, but in fact it’s designated number was 131,428.

Bock is correct, about all of the unremembered ship sinkings.The Titanic, and all of the media coverage, films about it this week, in particular, is driving me mad.It should be laid to rest.

One of the biggest myths is that it was claimed that the Titanic was unsinkable, no such claim was ever made by White Star Line. It was a retrospective comment.

Dan Le Sac once sang:

“Thou shalt give equal worth to tragedies that occur in non-English speaking countries as to those that occur in English speaking countries.”

Is something similar at play here?

Well the thing that fascinates me about the Titanic is that the officer on the bridge gave the order ; Hard to srarboard; thus presenting his broadside to the iceberg. It was the sheer stupidy of the crew that stands out.

if it had sank on a crossing two or three years after it was launched would it have been the same. The fact that it was the largest passenger ship on its maiden voyage makes it stand out.

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