Kaleidoscope: Many famous ships lie on bottom of the ocean

by KEN LAHMERS | EDITOR Published:

One hundred two years ago this April, one of the world's most famous disasters occurred -- the sinking of the mighty RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage across the north Atlantic Ocean from Southampton, Britain to New York City.

The sad fate of the ship was told in the 1997 blockbuster movie "Titanic," which initially grossed more than $1.84 billion, was the first film to reach the $1 billion mark and remained the highest-grossing film of all time until "Avatar" surpassed it in 2010.

Most adults who are reading this probably saw the movie on a big screen or on television in the last 16 years. Judged by what I recently read, the movie -- although a fictional account -- depicted the four-day cruise very accurately.

I picked up ocean explorer Robert Ballard's book "Titanic: The Last Great Images" at the Kent Free Library, and thoroughly enjoyed his facts about the ship, accounts of the voyage and photos of the wreck on the bottom of the ocean -- 12,500 feet from the surface.

Ballard and his crew were the first to pinpoint the wreck's location and explore the wreckage. He visited it in 1985 and 2004. He's also probed the wreckage of the luxury liner Lusitania, German battleship Bismarck, USS Yorktown, John F. Kennedy's PT109 and others.

He's written several books about shipwrecks, and reading his book about the Titanic piqued my interest to check out his "Exploring the Lusitania." In the near future, I want to read some of his other books, especially the one about the Bismarck.

He's actually published four books about the Titanic, one each about the Lusitania and Bismarck, as well as "Graveyards of the Pacific," "The Lost Ships of Robert Ballard," "The Lost Ships of Quadalcanal" and "Return to Midway."

Ballard is 71 years old, founded the Institute for Exploration in the 1990s and the Center for Ocean Exploration and Archeological Oceanography research program at the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography in 2002.

He is a staunch believer in the philosophy "look but don't touch." He and his crews observe shipwrecks from submersible vehicles and record images, but do not salvage items, and chastises those who do. Some of his photos of the wrecks are amazing.

ABOUT THE TITANIC

The White Star Lines' 53,000-ton Titanic, which measured 882 feet long and had 29 coal-fired boilers, left Southampton on April 10, 1912 and crashed into a large iceberg four days later at night south of Newfoundland.

Its stern was the last part to disappear under the water 2 1/2 hours after the collision, and a dramatic segment of the movie depicts the last several hundred passengers going down with the stern. The ship plunged almost vertically into the water.

More than 1,500 people lost their lives in the freezing waters, while 705 were rescued by the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia.

The Titanic had a similar-sized sister ship called the RMS Olympic. Both were constructed side-by-side. The latter was launched in 1911 and served until 1935, including a stint as a troop ship during World War I. Both had three massive propellers and four tall "funnels" (smokestacks).

Both were super luxurious, with grand staircases, first- and second-class dining rooms and first-class suites. Photos of the accommodations were spectacular, as were Ballard's photos of the rusting-away ship lying in two pieces on the ocean floor.

In 2012 -- the 100th anniversary of the disaster -- Australian mining billionaire Clive Palmer announced plans to construct a massive new cruise ship called the Titanic II, which would recreate many of the luxuries offered by the original Titanic. The new ship is scheduled to be launched in late 2016.

It will have a capacity for 2,455 passenger and 900 crew members, and lifeboats that can carry 2,700, plus life rafts for an additional 800. The original Titanic had only 16 wooden lifeboats to carry 1,178, one-third of its total capacity.

The last survivor of the Titanic -- Millvina Dean -- died in 2009 in Southampton, England, at age 97. Just two months old in April 1912, she was lowered into a lifeboat after the collision. Her father was among the 1,500-plus who died.

The world's largest Titanic museum opened in Belfast, Ireland, in 2012. The six-floor, nine-gallery museum cost $160 million to build. The office where Titanic's plans were drawn up is adjacent, as is the SS Nomadic at the Hamilton Graving Dock.

"Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition" ran from June 2013 to early January 2014 at the Great Lakes Science Center. It contains 250 artifacts retrieved by crews during seven dives between 1987 and 2004. A 2010 dive was for preservation research and video footage.

LUSITANIA TORPEDOED

The Lusitania was a Cunard Lines luxury liner launched in 1906. It was 787 feet long, about 100 feet shorter than the Titanic and Olympic, and weighed 44,000 tons.

Heading from New York City to Liverpool, England, it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat only 11 miles off the southern coast of Ireland. It sunk fast -- in about 18 minutes -- and now rests on the ocean floor about 285 feet below the surface.

Of the 1,959 passengers on board, 1,195 died. The initial torpedo hit below and just behind the bridge, causing a secondary explosion which brought down the ship. It now lays on its starboard side at about a 30-degree angle, with a noticeable curvature.

Like the Titanic, it also had a sister ship called the Mauretania, which was slightly bigger and equal to the Lusitania in amenities. It was launched in 1907 and served until 1935, including a stint as a hospital ship during World War I.

A fellow named Greg Bemis became the owner of the wreckage in the late 1960s and has salvaged many items. The Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool has a large display about the Lusitania, including one of the ship's propellers.

Ballard investigated the wreck in 1993.

SINK THE BISMARCK

The German battleship Bismarck was launched in February 1939 and was scuttled May 27, 1941 in the north Atlantic after incapacitating battle scars. It weighed 46,000 tons, was 823 feet long, had 12 superheated boilers and carried a crew of about 2,000.

Ballard discovered the wreck June 8, 1989. The ship is resting upright 15,700 feet below the water's surface about 400 miles west of Brest, France. As it sunk, it slid down an extinct underwater volcano. Several holes were found in the ship above the water line.

Other explorers have probed the wreckage, including "Titanic" producer James Cameron, who made a 2002 documentary titled "Expedition: Bismarck." A movie called "Sink the Bismarck" appeared in 1960, and inspired country singer Johnny Horton's song of the same title.

OTHER FAMOUS WRECKS

There have been many other ships which have gone down in the ocean in the last 100 years. Included were the 48,000-ton HMHS Britannic, a sister ship of the Titanic and Olympic; the SS Andrea Doria; and of course U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The Britannic was launched at the start of World War I and served as a hospital ship. It hit an underwater mine Nov. 21, 1916 off the Greek Island of Kea and was on the ocean floor in 55 minutes. Thirty lives were lost, but 1,036 people survived. A fictional movie about the ship was made in 2000.

The Andrea Doria was the most recent of the famous ship sinkings, occurring July 25, 1956 as the Italian ship approached the coast of Nantucket, Mass. bound for New York City. It collided with the eastbound Swedish MS Stockholm.

Technical design allowed the ship to remain afloat for 11 hours. Forty-six people died as a result of the collision, while 1,660 passengers and crew members were rescued. It was the worst maritime disaster in U.S. waters since the SS Eastland went down in 1915.

The Andrea Doria was 697 feet long and weighed 29,100 tons. It was designed for luxury, and was smaller than contemporary ships, the RMS Queen Elizabeth and SS United States. It could carry 1,241 passengers and had three swimming pools.

Email: klahmers@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4189

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