The story of the Titanic has already been written, pictured and filmed countless times. If the drama is boiled down and the focus is set on a few technical aspects, it is no doubt possible to draw a few lessons from the disaster in which over 1,500 people perished, lessons which are applicable to many fields in life including national security.
Start with the fact that the voyage of the Titanic began on the left foot already when she was leaving the port of Southampton. Its huge bow wave shook two smaller ships which were anchored there, one of them was detached from her moorings and nearly collided with the Titanic as the two ships passed barely four feet from each other. You would have thought that such a start would sharpen the senses of all involved for the rest of the journey, but the incident was apparently quickly forgotten.
After she left her last port of call in Ireland, the Titanic headed for the American continent cruising at a speed of 21 knots. This high speed was also maintained during night time despite repeated warnings of clusters of icebergs. Captain Smith himself declared that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” The designers of the ship were quoted as saying that “even God could not sink her.”
The lifeboats carried on the ship could hardly accommodate half her passengers. Nobody asked themselves what the other half would do if the need would arise to use these boats.
The lookouts whose role it was to warn the bridge of dangers like other ships and icebergs ahead were not equipped with binoculars. Radar was unheard of then and even projectors were not installed on the bow to increase the obstacle detection range.
When the iceberg was detected a short distance ahead and the urgent warning passed to the bridge, the first officer acted instinctively and ordered a turn to port and a reversal of the engines. This action, in retrospect, sealed the fate of the Titanic. Five out of the 16 watertight compartments were breached along the right side of the ship. There are those who say that the iceberg punctured the length of the ship ‘like a sewing machine’. Large amounts of water filled these compartments and when the ship begun listing, overflew and flooded other, undamaged compartments. There are reasons to believe that had the Titanic kept maintaining her original track without any attempt to take avoidance action and collided head on with the iceberg, only one or two compartments would have been breached and the ship would not have sunk.
The Titanic story combines baseless belief in the unlimited power of new technology, over confidence and under estimation of the potential enemy, ignoring intelligence and repeated warnings, lack of preparedness of defensive measures, and when the crisis was at the gate – a knee jerk reaction that appeared for a fraction of a second as perhaps the right thing to do, but a completely wrong reaction that brought the Titanic disaster to the magnitude with which it ended.