On the 1st July 1907, the order was given to commence work on two of the sisters. The Olympic was given shipyard number 400 and the Titanic 401 .
The Great Gantry spanned 840 feet. 10 cranes transported men and material to the different levels of construction. Over 11,000 employees were taken on to carry out the work.
Lord Pirrie's nephew, Thomas Andrews was in charge of design. By 1908 he was at the height of his career. He prepared the scale drawings that would enable work to start.
The keel of the Olympic was laid on the 16th December 1908. She was framed by the 20th November 1908. The shell plating was completed by April 1910 and she was launched on the 20th October 1910. She was completed by the end of May 1911.
Construction of the Titanic started after the Olympic in order to reduce the precurement pressures of such building programme. She was laid on the 31st March 1909. She was framed by the 6th April 1910, her steel shell plating completed by the 19th October 1910 and was ready for launching on the 31st May 1911.
For the grand launching, the honourarium consisted of J. Pierpont Morgan, the Head of the IMM, J. Bruce Ismay and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
It took only 62 seconds for her to glide into the water. It required 22 tons of tallow and soap to be able to stand the huge tonnage of the ship. Once launched she would be ready to be fitted out for her maiden voyage.
After the launch, there was a VIP lunch for the guests. After which, Lord Pirrie took them to the Olympic which was moored nearby.
Soon the Olympic would depart for Liverpool and then to Southampton for her maiden voyage to America.
The Titanic's fittings were delayed because the Olympic needed repairs and the owners wanted her back in service as soon as possible. However, work was soon underway. A 200-ton floating crane was used to fit the Titanic.
The Titanic, Olympic and Gigantic were the beginning of an era. Their huge scale was unsurpassed.
The ships were composed of ten decks including the Orlop Deck. The decks were lettered A-G. Below deck G were the boiler rooms. The hull was divided into 16 watertight compartments by means of 15 watertight bulkheads extending through F deck.
The watertight doors provided thoroughfares between compartments. They could be closed three ways in case of an emergency. The first way was by a switch the Captain had on the bridge that tripped all doors at the same time. Alternatively each door could be individually closed via a lever or thirdly, by a float mechanism located beneath the floor so that if a compartment was flooded, incoming water triggered the mechanism and the doors would shut.
The whole design of the ship meant that it could stay afloat with any two compartments flooded! On a worst case scenario, the Titanic or any of her sisters could suffer a broadside collision and yet able to limp back to base for repairs. The "Shipbuilder," a prestigious British shipping trade journal labelled the Titanic as being "unsinkable."
The two ships could attain speeds up to 21 knots under optimum conditions. Steam was generated from 29 boilers enabling their engines to develope 15,000 horsepower. in total. To make it easier to work in the boiler rooms, the double bottom was not continued up the sides of the hull. This which would prove to be disastrous later.
The crew consisted of 860 people: 320 working the ship, 475 stewards and 65 navigators.
Most of the crew was accommodated in the lower deck. The captain and his officers were housed in the forward boat deck.
The lifeboat situation
The designers of the Titanic slightly improved upon the regulations of the Board of Trade regarding maritime safety. Whilst these rules specified that a vessel over 10,000 tons needed 16 lifeboats.
The Titanic actually carried twenty: Sixteen wooden, and four collapsible. Two of the collapsible boats were kept on the roof of the officers quarters with little intention to use them except as a last resort.
Sixteen lifeboats were insufficient for the crew and passengers on board. In fact, the managing director of Harland and Wolff wanted 64 lifeboats but it was belived that so many boats would look unsightly and no one would travel on a ship crowded with boats. Other rumours circulated that the first class passengers did not favour lifeboats on their decks because they preferred the open space and liked to walk around the decks - not staring at boats although they would have been there for their safety.
So why did the designers not ensure that there were enough lifeboats on the Titanic to ensure a place on the boats for each passenger and crew member?
Some authors have suggested that the designers of such ships had no or little experience to compare after all, a disaster like the Titanic had never happened before. The size of such ships had grown 400% in 12 years and the shipping experts had no way of foreseeing what circumstances could give rise to a sinking.
The writer on the other hand does not support this line of argument. Experts must have seen a short-fall in boats in relation to passengers in crew. After all, they were the Board of Trade. However, hindsight is a wonderful thing. The Titanic enquiry will be dealt with later.
Eight months had passed since the launch and her fitting had been completed. The Titanic was ready for her trials. The officers had been notified to board her to familise themsleves with her facilities.
The trials commenced on the 2nd April 1912. Andrews was on board making notes of minor adjustments and overseeing the trials. The Titanic was towed down the Belfast Lough by the tugs Hercules, Herculaneum, Huskisson, Hornby and Herald.
She easily raced up to 21 knots and plunged to an emergency stop.
The captain, Edward Smith had previously steered the Olympic but had left that ship in Southampton. He was often described as a "splendid seaman" who loved his dog as well as a cigar. He had an engaging manner and pleasing personality and had the reputation of being an ideal captain. Familiar with the helm he once said with confidence:
"I cannot imagine any condition which would caused a modern ship to founder ...... Shipbuilding has gone beyond that…."
The Titanic sailed from Belfast to Southampton. Crowds awaited it arrival. She was greeted by five tugs and taken into the River Test.
The local paper welcomed the arrival pointing out with pride that only twelve hours before her sister Olympic had graced the dock.
Andrews was busy the next day preparing for sea. He was not the only architect on board because representatives of the Board of Trade wanted to carry out final tests before the maiden voyage. Even instruments like rockets were tested. Second Officer Lightoller lowered the lifeboats as part of the test.
Finally, the Titanic was ready for her maiden voyage.