Today’s Illustration: “If . . . “

Today’s Illustration:  The Format & Purpose

  • The illustrations are based on true events and/or actual people.
  • The basic facts of the event or person are laid out.
  • Quotations about the event or person are included
  • “Key Illustrative Thoughts” are designed to get your mind thinking about possible ways to use the illustration.
  • The Key Thoughts catch some of the keywords and phrases found in the illustrations content
  • Other information which might be of interest is provided at the end.
  • Additional links for your own further exploration of the topic, person, or event



captain smith titanic   Captain of Two Ships!

On This Day: April 15, 1912 — The Sinking Of The Titanic

One of the greatest tragedies of history took place in our century.  Even after 94 years, the word “Titanic” speaks of massive disaster.

The tragedy has been examined from many vantages and a seemingly endless number of conclusions, seeking to demonstrate how the outcome might have been radically different — IF.

Virtually all agree that there was a dangerous level of false assurance that caused this monumental tragedy.  However, few realize that it was something in the past experience of the captain of the Titanic, Captain Edward J. Smith which actually caused that tragedy.


The White Star Lines had made a decision to built a threesome of grand passenger ships to compete with the Cunard Lines, for Transatlantic voyages. 

The competition was for ships which were larger, able to hold more passengers, and more luxurious.

The ships which were designed were so large that “Harland & Wolff – Belfast,”  the shipbuilder of that day, had to allocate space and redesign their dock building area to handle such large ships.

These three large sister ships built between  and   :

The Gigantic / Olympic:

• The Giganitic was also called the Olympic.
• Launched October 20, 1910.
• Was the largest ocean liner in the world from 1911-1913.
• Was pressed into service by the Royal Navy as a troop ship during WWI.
• The Gigantic-Olympic was in service the longest of the three ships.
• It was nicknamed “Old Reliable.”
• It was sold for scrap metal in 1935

The Britannic: 

• Shortly after being built, was used by the Royal Navy for war efforts
• Launched in February 26, 1914
• Pressed into service by the Royal Navy as a hospital ship.
• Struck a mine off the coast of Greece and sank November 21, 1916
• 1,065 people were on board and 30 dies — 1,035 survivors were rescued

The Titanic: 

• Launched May 31, 1911
• 882.75 feet long / 92.5 feet wide / 45,000 gross tonnage
• Coal burning steam powered with 29 boilers / 159 furnaces / burned 600 tons of coal a day
• Ships Rudder: 78 feet 8 inches high / 15 feet 3 inches wide  / weight over 100 tons
• Maximum speed 21 knots
• Was built with 16 water-tight compartments.
• Could stay afloat with any two compartments flooded
• A British shipping trade journal labeled her “unsinkable.”
• Maiden Voyage – April 10, 1912
• It was equipped with a “radiotelegraph transmitter, able to send and receive “marconi-grams.”
• Lifeboat capacity was 1,178  — about half the number of passengers on board — This was because of the invention of the “radiotelegraph” which was believed to now be able to communicate with other ships in the area and seek help were an emergency to occur on the high seas.
• The maiden voyage was delayed by two events:  #1 — The HMS Hawke had a collision with the Olympic and the owners wanted to repair any damage to the Olympic before the Titanic was launched.  #2 — There was a coal strike and coal had to be taken from the Adriatic and the Oceanic to fuel the maiden voyage.
• Stuck by an iceberg – Sunday evening, April 14, 1912
• Sank, the early morning hours on Monday, April 15, 1912
• Over 1500 people died
• The remains of the Titanic were discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985 and remains on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean – at approximately 12,415 feet under water.
• The Titanic was the second largest ship which ever sank — its sister ship, The Britannic, being the largest


One of the central events which played into this disaster was a collision of the Olympic and the HMS Hawke. . . .

“Some months earlier, on September 20, 1911, the naval cruiser Hawke struck the Titanic’s nearly identical sister ship Olympic.” 1

The naval cruiser was a military ship.  It was designed to ram ships and sink them.

“The Hawke had been equipped with a ram specifically designed to sink ships with watertight compartments. . . .” 1

When the Olympic and the Hawke collided . . . .

“The Hawke was badly damaged, a total loss.”1

The Hawke lost her bow and would be deemed a total loss after the accident (The ship’s bow had to be totally rebuilt and was).  But the Olympic completely survived the collision against this ram sinking military ship!

Hawke Olympic Collision

Captain Smith — Captain Edward Smith of the Olympic was the soon to be Captain on the maiden voyage of the Titanic.

Smith was then in command of the Olympic.  . . . Captain Smith commented that ‘the Olympic’s frame stood the shock well. . . . The watertight doors, which automatically closed, held the compartments sealed.’  The great tragedy of  the Olympic collision is that it might have made Captain Smith even more confident in the Titanic’s supposed invincibility, which might explain why, seven months later, he was so willing to steam ahead into an ice field he knew was there.“1   

Moments before the news that the Titanic had hit an iceberg, Captain Smith was unshakably confident in his ship’s ability to withstand any danger.  He was fully convinced that the Titanic was in no danger and could not be sunken even by a collision with an iceberg.  He was unshakably confident in its water-tight compartments.

Captain Smith’s confidence came from that recent personal experience aboard the Olympic —  the sister ship of the Titanic.  The Olympic was virtually identical to the Titanic and was also designed with the same watertight compartments as the Titanic. 

“Captain Edward J. Smith was among the most tragic figures aboard the Titanic. When Thomas Andrews (a member of the crew)  told him that the ship was going to sink, he knew the numbers: he knew how many people were aboard, he knew how many lifeboats he had, and he knew, at that moment, that people were going to die.”1

If he had not been the captain of the Olympic, would he have thought differently about running nearly full steam ahead in an ice field, of which he was warned about several times before the fateful collision?


Major Application:

Captain Edward Smith is not the only person in history who was deluded by past experiences, convinced that all was secure and safe because all went well the last time.  Many a person has thought, “It went well last time, surely all will be well on this occasion.”   Businesses, private and public programs, marriages, parenting, and all kinds of endeavors have all faced the deceptive message of past success.

We may have sincerely engaged in honest, good, and successful endeavors.  However, too often we do not realize that past success is no guarantee that all will go well again.  Past success can fool the best of men.  

The truth is, but for God’s grace and goodness, there is no success, the first time or the last.  By God’s grace, we may have been successful in our new business, in raising our first child, in establishing and executing an original program, in making a basic financial decision.  Yet, we need to realize that even though we avoided many possible disasters and potentially damaging collisions, the next experience may not be so successful, but by the continued grace of God.   

Likewise, we may have engaged in wrong-doing and experienced no disaster.  We are doing wrong again and counting on the same “outcome”.  

“No disaster” last time surely means “no disaster” this time — doesn’t it?  God, by His grace, may have kept you floating through an experience that should have and would have sunk many a ship.  That grace was not shown by God to embolden you in your wrong-doing, but to speak to your heart about His grace and kindness, to turn you from wrong to right, to teach you about His goodness and love.  Do not be fooled by that past “success”.  

The Bible says, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, whatsoever a man soweth that will he also reap.”   That natural law has been built into God’s world.   God’s grace and goodness, which has prevented a past collision, is not designed to have us think that we can continue doing wrong and not reap a disaster.  When God graciously overrules His natural laws, by His grace, we ought to praise God for His goodness in that we have survived what should have caused us to sink and has indeed caused others to sink.  We are being fooled it we confidently steam forward in our wrong-doing and risk a shipwreck.

God may be speaking to you about the need to realize that it is God’s grace that resulted in your past success of that sincere and good endeavor and that it will be God’s goodness that will result in yet future success.  Yet, God is surely speaking to others who have been falsely encouraged in their wrong-doing by the fact that they have survived a serious disaster which should have sunk their marriage, their family, a child, their employment, their future.  God wants you to talk to you about the mistake that Captain Edward Smith made when he foolishly ignored the warning of icebergs, thinking all was well.

“[The Titanic] disappeared into the sea at 2:20 A.M. on Monday, April 15, 1912.  No one–at least no one in charge–had anticipated anything worse than penetration by another ship at the junction of two watertight compartments.  She would have easily floated with two compartments full, so they labeled her unsinkable, and the unsinkable ship went down the first time it sailed. “2    


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

An age of over-confidence
Full-steam ahead
Who knew?
False confidence
“The Titanic” – a metaphor for disaster
False confidence built on past experience
Fooled by past experience
Be not deceived . . . .
Ignored all warnings
Too few lifeboats on board
Past success is no indicator of present outcomes
It can too happen!
All is well.
No one had any idea they would die that night!
If you knew what you know now.


Additional Information & Links

“In 1904, he [Captain Smith] was given command of the largest ship in the world at the time, White Star’s new RMS Baltic . Her maiden voyage from Liverpool to New York , sailing 29 June 1904, went without incident. After three years with the Baltic , Smith was given his second new “Big Ship”, the RMS Adriatic . Once again, the maiden voyage went without incident.

During his command of the Adriatic, Smith received the Royal Naval Reserve’s ” Long Service” medal along with a promotion at White Star to Commander. He would now sign his name as “Commander Edward John Smith, R.D., R.N.R.”, with “R.D.” meaning “Reserve Decoration.” He now had two medals which later photographs show him wearing them.

Following the birth of the “giant” RMS Olympic, Captain Smith was the obvious choice for commander. From May 1911 until March 1912 he would command the biggest ship the world had ever seen up until then.” — the Olympic!  —

“All the commands which Captain Smith had undertaken had run smoothly. There had never been an incident until 20 th September 1911 . The RMS Olympic, under his command, collided with the HMS Hawke. The subsequent enquiry into the accident blamed the Olympic because of her massive size generated a great suction that pulled the HMS Hawke into her size. Financially it was a disaster for the White Star line. The hull and propeller were severely damaged so Titanic’s propellers were used as replacements. The completion of the Titanic was therefore delayed at a great cost to the White Star Line.

Following repairs, the RMS Olympic returned to sea but in February 1912, she lost a propeller blade and once again returned to her builder for emergency repairs. To get her back to service immediately, Harland & Wolff yet again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March to 10 April.” —

1. Her Name, Titanic – pg. 244                                         

2. Her Name, Titanic – pgs. 137-138
Titanic: The HMS Hawke, The SS New York, & Captain Smith

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