TITANIC-TITANIC.com | Titanic's Launch Day
For the shipyard, the shipping line, and the workers who built her, the launch of practically any ship is a day of celebration, even if it's just a humble tug that's being launched. But when you are launching the finest liner in the world, and moving the heaviest object ever moved by man, then it must surely have been a very special day at Harland & Wolff's great Belfast shipyard on 31st May 1911.
From sunrise that day, workers, their families, casual observers, important guests and anybody else who wanted to witness history in the making steadily made their way towards the Belfast shipyard. Special grandstands had been constructed to accommodate the important guests, but the workers and their families just had to make do with any decent vantage point they could find in and around the yard.
At this stage of the construction, Titanic was still incomplete. She was just a very large hull, containing the massive engines and boilers, and much, much work would still be required to turn her into the finished article. But at roughly 26,000 tons, she would still be the heaviest object ever moved by man, once launched. Workers had used 22 tons of tallow and soap to lubricate the slipway for the impending launch, which provided a one-inch thick coating to help Titanic's hull ease down the 'ways.
Before the ceremony, Lord Pirrie, accompanied by Bruce Ismay, made a tour of inspection, as seen here in the photograph on the left. Little did either of them realise that in a little under twelve months from the day of the launch, their greatest dream would lie wrecked at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
The huge Arrol Gantry, beneath which Titanic had slowly developed from an embryonic set of keel plates into the incredible liner she now was, was suitably adorned for this special occasion. Not only were the British Red Ensign and the American Stars and Stripes fluttering atop the highest part, but also a set of signal flags spelled out the words 'Good Luck'.
Just before noon, a red rocket was fired high into the sky from the shipyard, announcing to the gathered masses that the launch was imminent. Fifteen minutes later, another rocket soared skywards, and the assembled crowds all stared intently at the hull, waiting to see it slip majestically into the water. There was no ceremony, a factor some said, that led to vessel's foundering. Actually, no White Star Line vessel had ever been christened at Harland and Wolff, a standard policy of the company.
""We just builds 'em, and shove 'em in," quoted one shipyard worker!
Beneath the mighty hull, all of the supporting timbers had been knocked free, and it was now 'every man for himself' as the workers leaped from under the hull, scrambling clear as the hull began its short, graceful journey down the immense slipway and into the River Lagan, as seen here in the picture on the right.
Just over a minute later, and Titanic was floating for the very first time, riding high in the water due to her unfinished condition. The launch was now over, and Titanic had been brought to a standstill by huge clumps of anchor chains fastened to steel hawsers, which in turn were riveted to the hull's steel plating. Once these chains had been detached, tugs from Liverpool's Alexandra Towing company, namely Alexandra, Hornby, Herculaneum and Wallasey, warped Titanic into the fitting out basin, assisted by Harland & Wolff's own tug, Hercules.
Of course, after such a grand day, there was understandably some celebrating to be done. Lord Pirrie entertained guests, including Morgan and Ismay, at the shipyard, whilst in the city's Grand Central Hotel, J. W. Kempter presided at a lunch given for a large number of yard officials and visitors. Even the press had their own little celebration, again at Belfast's Grand Central Hotel.
Unbeknown to the thousands of people watching the launching ceremony, a shipyard worker, James Dobbins, who was knocking out shoring beneath the hull, was wounded by one of the falling timbers just as Titanic got underway. He was dragged clear by his colleagues, and transferred to a nearby hospital, but he sadly died from his serious wounds later the same day.
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