Built in Belfast, Ireland, UK, the White Star Liner Titanic was the second of the three Olympic-class liners; the others were the Olympic and the Britannic (originally intended to be named Gigantic).
She and her sisters were built in response to Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania, as well as the large German Liners, which had dominated the transatlantic passage for the past decade.
The ships were constructed by the Belfast shipbuilders Harland and Wolff, who had a long-established exclusive relationship with the White Star Line dating back to 1867.
The sheer size of Titanic and her sister ships posed a major engineering challenge for Harland and Wolff; no shipbuilder had ever before attempted to construct vessels of this size. The ships were constructed on Queen's Island, now known as the Titanic Quarter, in Belfast Harbour. Harland and Wolff had to demolish three existing slipways and build two new slipways, the biggest ever constructed up to that time, to accommodate the giant ships.
The construction of Titanic and Olympic took place virtually in parallel, with Olympic's hull laid down first on 16 December 1908 and Titanic's on 31 March 1909.
Titanic was launched at 12:15 pm on 31 May 1911 in the presence of Lord Pirrie, J. Pierpoint Morgan and J. Bruce Ismay and 100,000 onlookers.
Titanic's sea trials began at 6 am on Monday, 2 April 1912, just two days after her fitting out was finished and eight days before she was due to leave Southampton on her maiden voyage. Over the course of about twelve hours, Titanic was driven at different speeds, her turning ability was tested and a "crash stop" was performed in which the engines were reversed full ahead to full astern, bringing her to a stop in 850 yd (777 m) or 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
During the process of advertising Titanic, the press had picked up on a statement by White Star Line that Titanic was "practically" unsinkable. She was therefore known as the "unsinkable ship".
On Wednesday 10 April 1912 the Titanic's maiden voyage began. Following the embarkation of the crew the passengers began arriving from 9:30 am when the London and South Western Railway's boat train from London Waterloo station reached Southampton Terminus railway station on the quayside, right alongside Titanic's berth.
The large number of Third Class passengers meant that they were the first to board, with First and Second Class passengers following up to within an hour of departure. Stewards showed them to their cabins and First Class passengers were personally greeted by Captain Smith on boarding.
Third Class passengers were inspected for ailments and physical impairments that might lead to them being refused entry to the United States; not a prospect that the White Star Line wished to see, as it would have to carry them back across the Atlantic.
922 passengers were recorded as having embarked Titanic at Southampton. Further passengers were picked up at Cherbourg (France) and Queenstown (Ireland).
The maiden voyage began on time at noon. An accident was narrowly averted only a few minutes later as Titanic passed the moored liners City of New York and Oceanic. Titanic's huge displacement caused both of the smaller ships to be lifted by a bulge of water, then dropped into a trough. New York's mooring cables could not take the sudden strain and snapped, swinging her round stern-first towards Titanic. A nearby tugboat (Vulcan) came to the rescue by taking New York under tow and Captain Smith ordered Titanic's engines to be put "full astern". The two ships only avoided a collision by a matter of about 4 feet (1.2 m). The incident delayed Titanic's departure for about an hour while the drifting New York was brought under control.
After making it safely through the complex tides and channels of Southampton Water and the Solent, Titanic headed out into the English Channel. She headed for the French port of Cherbourg where she collected more passengers. She then made the short voyage across to Queenstown arriving on the 11th April 1912. itanic weighed anchor for the last time at 1.30 pm and departed on her westward journey across the Atlantic.
Titanic received a series of warnings from other ships of drifting ice in the area of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It had been a particularly mild Winter and the Ice was flowing further south than usual. Nonetheless the ship continued to steam at full speed. It was generally believed that ice posed little danger to large vessels and Captain Smith himself had declared that he could not "imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that".
On April 14, 1912 at 11.40pm, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg immediately ahead of Titanic and alerted the bridge.
First Officer William Murdoch ordered the ship to be steered around the obstacle and the engines to be put full astern, however it was too late; the starboard side of Titanic struck the iceberg, creating a series of holes below the waterline. Five of the ship's watertight compartments were breached. It soon became clear that the ship was doomed, as she could not survive more than four compartments being flooded.
Titanic began sinking bow-first, with water spilling from compartment to compartment as her angle in the water became steeper.
Those aboard Titanic were not preparedfor such an emergency. The ship's lifeboats only had enough space to carry about half of those on board. (If the ship had been carrying its full complement, only about a third could have been accommodated in the lifeboats). The crew had not been trained adequately in carrying out an evacuation. The officers did not know how many they could safely put aboard the lifeboats and launched many of them barely half-full. Third-class passengers were largely left to fend for themselves, causing many of them to become trapped below decks as the ship filled with water. A "women and children first" protocol was generally followed for the loading of the lifeboats and most of the male passengers and crew were left aboard.
Two hours and forty minutes after Titanic struck the iceberg, her rate of sinking suddenly increased as her forward deck dipped underwater and the sea poured in through open hatches and grates. As her unsupported stern rose out of the water, exposing the propellers, the ship split apart between the third and fourth funnels due to the immense strain on the keel.
The stern remained afloat for a few minutes longer, rising to a nearly vertical angle with hundreds of people still clinging to it. At 2.20 am, it sank, breaking loose from the bow section. The remaining passengers and crew were plunged into lethally cold water with a temperature of only 28F (-2C). Almost all of those in the water died of hypothermia or cardiac arrest within minutes or drowned.
As the ship was sinking, distress signals were sent by wireless, rockets and lamp, but none of the ships that responded were near enough to reach her before she sank. A nearby ship, the Californian, which was the last to have been in contact with her before the collision, may have seen her flares but failed to assist.
Around 4 am, Cunard's Carpathia arrived on the scene in response to Titanic's earlier distress calls.
705 people survived the disaster and were conveyed by Carpathia to New York, Titanic's original destination, while just over 1,500 people lost their lives.