Friday, September 4, 2015

AltHistory Scenario #4: What if The Titanic Doesn’t Sink?

After the really big and really complicated “What if the US and Canada went to war” articles, I think it’s time to dial it back, and try just a short, simple…

Well, okay, shorter for sure.

This is not happening. Sorry to those who hate reading!

The Titanic was, and still is, one of my favorite bits of history, and the one that got me interested in history way back in Grade 3. I’ve seen every movie, every book, every documentary, and even the one time-traveling video game with alternate history elements that I wish still worked today. Also, please not remind me of Jack and Rose… OH GOD, THE FLASHBACKS STARTED! NO, WHY ARE THEY YELLING SO MUCH? WHY DO THEY GRATE ON MY NERVES SO MUCH? WHY DO YOU PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THEM? AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Did you really need to add a love story to a historical event that is already has enough drama and emotion? And Jack would have never been able to get into First Class more than once, and only then being immediately escorted below, if not punched and locked away for the rest of the trip. There was a reason for those gates they have to break down in the movie, and it was actually US law, to keep all the maybe diseased immigrants from the people that spent many times any of third classes annual income on a cabin that-*passes out from rage induced coma*

It was built in a time where humanity believed it was on the verge of conquering any problem before it: the end of war, or disease, of chaos. European and American civilization spread around the entire world, the Industrial Revolution was bringing new and amazing inventions every day, and it seems that reason was soon going to triumph over fear and oppression. Never mind that all of Europe was a powder keg, engaged in an arms race, and well over half the continent was under the control of autocrats and the other half by wealthy industrialists, with a class barely removed from the peasantry of just 100 years before by the growing working class demanding equal and free rights, and racism and imperialism still held millions upon millions of people down. But you know, baby steps.

When the world woke up on April 15, 1912, to hear the news the biggest, most luxurious, “unsinkable” ship had sunk, with over two thirds of those on board, it was like a collective shock to those same hopes, and one that never recovered before it finally ended in the trenches of Flanders just two short years later. As Walter Lord, author of the stellar A Night to Remember put it, “Before the Titanic, all was quiet. Afterward all was tumult. That is why, to anybody who lived at the time, the Titanic more than any other single event marks the end of the old days, and the beginning of a new, uneasy era.”

"Walter Lord: A guy that knew how to make a memorable quote on the Titanic." - Tyler Bugg

So, what if the Titanic didn’t sink?

Point of Divergence

This can be done one of two ways: either the Titanic completely misses the iceberg, or the iceberg causes little to no damage. The first scenario could be done either by the lookouts seeing the iceberg in time, or, to go a bit further back, maybe the accident with the sister ship Olympic in 1911 when she collided with a British cruiser didn’t happen, so Titanic’s sailing date wasn’t moved from March to April 1912. Either one would work for the purposes of this POD, but let’s go with the Titanic still hitting the iceberg, but it only causes minor damage.

Part of me really wishes something like this happened...

What Happens to the Titanic

When the Titanic sails into New York Harbor with only a small gash in her hull and two or three watertight compartments full of ice cold Atlantic water, the ship is taken out of service for a short period to be restored. Returning to the North Atlantic sailing route, the Titanic works with the Olympic on a two-ship service for the White Star Line, allowing the company to compete with the Lusitania and Mauritania of the Cunard Line, accelerating the competition between these companies even more, not to mention other companies such as HAPAG (Hamburg-America Line), and Norddeutscher (North German) Lloyd. HAPAG was about to launch the Imperator, which was already bigger than the Olympic/Titanic by a few feet, but would be outfitted with a really gaudy eagle on the bow to add just a couple more in the endless one-upmanship of the Trans-Atlantic route.  By early 1914, both White Star and Cunard have another ship each, the Gigantic (the original name for the Britannic) and the Aquitania respectfully. With this fleet, the White Star Line would be in a much more secure financial position.

The Titanic would also most likely serve in World War One, either as a troop ship or a hospital ship, and maybe both. I personally feel it would be unlikely that one more ship able to carry a couple thousand more soldiers to the battlefields of Europe would change much for the course of the war. While many ships were torpedoed or sunk during the real war, such as the Lusitania in May 1915 and the Gigantic/Britannic in 1916, the Titanic and the Olympic survived.

And like Olympic here, would have had a really... odd paint job. I'm pretty sure of it.

After the war ends, the Titanic, Olympic, and all the other survivors would be refitted and be placed back in service. Titanic and Olympic are placed back on the transatlantic route, and continue to sail between Southampton, England and New York City for several more years. Eventually their massive coal engines are converted to oil, the interiors are modernized to continue to compete, and the rich and famous continue to sail across the Atlantic. However, in the 1920s, the US began to impose immigration restrictions. Immigrants from Europe to America had long been the bread and butter of the major shipping companies, but now that the flood of millions of immigrants had been reduced to a trickle, the steerage/third class cabins and apartments are converted, providing inexpensive, but comfortable, places for middle class tourists.

The future of the Titanic looks great until the start of the Great Depression. In the 1930s OTL, the White Star Line and the Cunard Line were forced to merge into the Cunard White Star, though eventually White Star was dropped. I think both companies would be merged, but for the hell of it in this scenario, White Star is the company that takes over Cunard. But in the mid 1930s, as fewer and fewer people can afford to sail across the Atlantic for business and pleasure, the number of crossings is reduced. Cheap cruises to the Caribbean or the Mediterranean are attempted, though eventually smaller ships the tough decision is made to reduce the fleet of ships, especially the older, more expensive, increasingly outdated ships like Titanic, Olympic, and Mauritania, especially as new superliners, such as the Queen Mary are proposed. By 1935, the three older ships are finally sold to the scrapyard, their furnishings auctioned off, and the sailors and passengers who were on these ships in their heyday are only left with fond memories.
The Olympic and Mauritania, competitors and rivals, right before they are sold for scrap.

The Broader Consequences

The biggest change in such a timeline is that safety regulations, hurriedly changed after the Titanic sank, would remain insufficient: only 16 lifeboats for ships over 10,000 tons, radios would not have to be manned around the clock, and there would be no International Ice Patrol to monitor ice on the North Atlantic. Since there was no massive tragedy to spur governments into action in 1912, the British and Americans wouldn’t change any of the rules until such a disaster happens, which, by the laws of probability, would eventually take place.

And my fear is that a major disaster would have occurred right before, or immediately after the start of World War One. One passenger ship, any passenger ship, could be the cause that changes the laws. Say one had been caught in fog and struck another ship, sinking in just a few minutes like the Empress of Ireland in 1914, taking 1,012 out of 1,477 to their deaths. Perhaps an even more devastating outcome would come in World War One, if a certain ship still sank...

Yep. That ship. 

In May 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed by the German submarine U-20, and in only 18 minutes, listed heavily to the starboard and sank, taking 1,198 men, women and children, including 128 Americans. And because the Lusitania now had 48 lifeboats after the Titanic sank, 761 survived, even though only a six could be lowered due to the angle and speed the ship sank at.[1]  But what if the Lusitania only had the required 16? With the eight on the port side and the four of the starboard closest to the bow impossible to launch in only 18 minutes, that leaves only four. What’s to say that panic and chaos troubles their launch too? Maybe only one or two lifeboats could be launched successfully, each with a maximum 65 people. While people were pulled from the water hours after the Lusitania sank, most victims died of hypothermia or drowning. It would be safe to say that in this version of events, the Lusitania may have sank with hundreds more victims, leaving, at most, maybe 200 survivors out of nearly 2000 on board.

And... really? A stamp? Who thinks trying to use a stamp as propaganda would be a great idea?

Another change could be media: the Titanic disaster lead to many books, movies, TV shows, video games, and even a play dramatizing the wreck, and all of which adds to the mystique of the disaster; the glamor and hope of it’s passengers and crew, and the heroism, horror, and sadness of it’s victims and survivors. Without this, the Titanic would become, much like it’s sister the Olympic, a minor footnote in the history of the world, just one of many massive ocean liners of the early 20th century.

The Butterfly Effect

I don’t usually talk about the butterfly effect, but in this case, it’s important to mention it, mostly to say that I won’t actually be going into detail about possible results of the butterfly effect.

And no, I'm not talking the movie. What is it with all the movie's in this article?
I cannot even begin to imagine all the changes that could have happened if the 1,513 men, women, and children who would have died on April 15, 1912, reached New York on April 17 or 18, 1912. The survivors too would have had their lives changed. The few officers that survived the Titanic, namely Second Officer Charles Lightoller, was never going to be able to command a luxury liner because he was tied to the Titanic. But because the Titanic didn’t sink, in a few years he would get to command his own ship, and maybe eventually the Titanic itself. John Jacob Astor IV, the wealthiest man on board, could have started a new business, donated millions to charity, and even run for President of the US in the years to come. So many immigrants who were seeking a new life on the other side of the world could have made fortunes, raised families, married, and joined the boiling pot that is the United States. Captain Edward John Smith would have proudly sailed the Titanic back to England, and retired to his hometown of Lichfield, Staffordshire, England.

Their descendants could have been great leaders, brave soldiers, clever scientists, renowned artists, or just one of the millions of people who work, live and play in a world that may or may not be completely changed. What if one of these hypothetical descendants was President of the US in the Cuban Missile Crisis and made the wrong decision? What if one created a famous literary character, and another performed that character in film years later, winning accolades and awards? What if one found the cure for cancer? What if one became an infamous serial killer? What if one solved world hunger? What if one…

... replaced this idiot for a stock photo?

As you could see, I could go on and on about this. But that’s not the point of this article. The point of these articles is to show how I see the world changing if something in history happened differently. Sometimes, as I showed above, the overall course barely differs, if at all. Sometimes the ramifications are massive. Sometimes it takes generations for the effects to be felt. Sometimes it could be instant.

But in the end, the Titanic did sink. On a moonless night, it struck an iceberg at 11:40 PM, April 14, 1912, and sank at 2:20 AM, April 15, 1912. Of the 2,218 on board, 705 made it to the lifeboats, while 1,513 were left on the magnificent ship. The band played till the last, the stoic men letting the women and children first get to the lifeboats first, the crew valiantly keeping the engines going till the last, the captain going down with his ship, the rich owner cowardly slinking off; all the clichés and tropes of a disaster movie, played out in real life.

At the very least, James Cameron got this right. Really, he got a lot right, like how the ship sank, the real life people, the period costume... 

[1] The starboard boats of the Lusitania could be lowered easier, but swung out to far from the ship to safely load, while the lifeboats on the port side could be filled to full, but would have been damaged on the riveted hull of the ship. Some lifeboats spilled their occupants into the water because of the chaos in trying to lower the boats, while others were cut free of their ropes and allowed to float away from the Lusitania as it sank.

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