It’s Part III of our Titanic Miniseries! Get ready for:
- The collision with the iceberg
- Distress calls
- The loading of the lifeboats
- Action on the Carpathia and the Californian
- The sinking
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This isn’t just a story about a ship. This is also very much about the people who sailed on her: the passengers and crew. More than the death of the Titanic, this is the peoples’ history of the sinking.
The Titanic – The Collision
In the evening of Sunday April 14, a few days before the Titanic was scheduled to arrive in New York, all was calm.
There was no moon, the waters were still, and the temperature low. Ice warnings had been coming in from other ships since Friday.
The lookouts in the crows nest were aware and alert. However, at around 11:40 p.m., lookouts Fleet and Lee spotted an iceberg in the distance.
Check out this video for a clip from the film Titanic.
They called down to the bridge and informed Sixth Officer Moody. A few different things happened from there.
Moody told First Officer Murdoch, who then called down to the engine room using the telegraph machine with orders of “full speed astern” an to reverse the engines.
He then told Quartermaster Hichens to turn the wheel all the way to left, and then waited for the bow to start turning before giving the second order to turn the wheel completely to the right.
He was trying to maneuver the Titanic around the iceberg the same way someone on the road would attempt to drive around a pothole or trash can laying in the middle of the lane.
37 seconds. That’s how long it took. At first it looked like the Titanic was going to sail by without a scratch, but the danger of icebergs is what you can’t see.
Several holes were punched into the hull of the ship, causing the first five compartments to flood.
Captain Smith toured the ship with Thomas Andrews to evaluate the extent of the damage. Andrews revealed that the Titanic could remain afloat with four of her compartments flooded, but not five. The Titanic had mere hours left before she sank.
The Titanic – The Sinking
It wasn’t until Monday April 15 at 12:05 a.m. — 25 minutes after the collision — that Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats uncovered and all hands on deck.
He had Fourth Officer Boxhall calculate the Titanic’s position and handed those coordinates to Jack Phillips and Harold Bride in the Wireless Room so they could call for help and alert other ships to their exact position.
While Phillips and Bride worked the wireless, Boxhall and Quartermaster Rowe fired rockets and attempted to contact the ship in the distance by morse lamp.
At 12:25 a.m., Captain Smith gave the orders to start loading the lifeboats. It was a complete and total mess.
The rule was women and children first. Some officers took that to mean women and children only, while others allowed men to enter the lifeboats if there were no women or children around.
Even though there were only enough lifeboats for about half of the passengers on board for the maiden voyage, none of the boats were filled to capacity — some boats went into the water with only 12 or 20 passengers when the capacity was 65.
The third class passengers were at a severe disadvantage. Many of the staircase gates where they were waiting were locked.
Steward John Edward Hart was able to lead two groups of women and children to the top deck before he was ordered into a lifeboat around 1:20.
Many of the passengers who were able to find a gate that was open, found themselves lost in a series of corridors they were unfamiliar with. Things were made even harder because many in third-class didn’t speak or understand English.
The gates were unlocked at 2:00 a.m. and by the time the passengers made their way up to the top deck, the final lifeboat was lowering into the water.
There were nearly 200 women and children left on the Titanic when the final lifeboat rowed away. Over half of them were from third class.
As the stern of the Titanic started to rise out of the water, those in the lifeboat watched in horror and people jumped into the water, struggled to hold onto railings, rope, and more as standing was no longer possible.
Loud roars could be heard as the engines were ripped free and tumbled through the ship, as glassware and anything else not bolted down did the same.
At 2:18 a.m., the lights went out, came back on, and then went out one last time. The Titanic cracked in half.
The bow of the ship detached and plummeted to the bottom of the Atlantic. The stern remained afloat for another 2 minutes before it too went under.
The unimaginable had happened. The Unsinkable Titanic was gone. It was 2:20 a.m.
In the distance, about 10 miles away, the Californian had stopped for the night due to the heavy ice. Wireless Operator Cyril Evans turned off his machine around 11:30 — 10 minutes before the Titanic hit the iceberg.
Officer Groves, noticing a ship in the distance, wandered down to the wireless room, curious to see if there was any chatter coming from the Titanic. He didn’t hear anything, and so he turned off the wireless.
The Titanic’s first distress call was sent at 12:15 a.m.
When Groves’s watch was over, Officer Stone and apprentice officer Gibson replaced him. Captain Stanley Lord denied any change in the position of the ship in the distance (Titanic), and asked to be informed if there were any changed in her position. He then went to the chart room to nap.
Stone noticed white rockets exploding in 5 minutes intervals. He informed Lord, who was only wanted to know if they were company signals.
Once again, he asked Stone to let him know if anything changes and went back to sleep. Gibson had been morsing with no success, but he continued trying.
Stone and Gibson agreed that a ship wouldn’t be firing rockets unless there was something wrong. Gibson, who had no authority, and Stone, who did have authority but lacked confidence, didn’t share their suspicions with Lord as they feared him.
Wireless Opertor Harold Cottam, wanting to check in with his friend, asked Jack Phillips if he could cut into his feed. Phillips gave him the go ahead.
Unassuming, Cottam greeted his friend, but then he heard the worst news possible.
Phillips cut into his message to inform Cottam that the Titanic was in distress and needed help.
Cottam raced off to tell First Officer Horace Dean, who then immediately took off to tell Captain Arthur Rostron, Cottam right on his heels.
They burst into Rostron’s cabin without knocking — a shocking overstep in proprietary — and shared the news about the Titanic.
Rostron took one second to process this news and then jumped into action. Without hesitation, he ordered the Carpathia to turn around, ordered Cottam to inform Phillips they were coming, and worked out a new course for the helmsman.
The Carpathia was 58 miles away from the Titanic, which was about 4 hours. That wasn’t good enough for Rostron. He ordered all hands on deck, and shut off the hot water and heat to the accommodations.
He wanted to make sure all the steam was directed at the engines. He needed the Carpathia to go faster than she’s ever gone before. And she did.
He ordered triage stations set up in all the dining saloons, food, water, and accommodations prepared for all the passengers they were going to take on board.
There was no question of “if” the Carpathia could handle a rescue mission of this magnitude, it was a matter of making all the necessary preparations because there was no other choice.
To ensure the Carpathia didn’t reach the same fate as the Titanic, Rostron placed extra lookouts. He knew they were going to be racing at top speed into a dangerous ice field. The more eyes, the better.
The Carpathia was coming hard, unsure of what they’d see when they reached the Titanic.
Make sure you tune in to our next episode! In Part IV of the Titanic Miniseries, we’ll pick up with the Carpathia’s arrival and all the things that happened after.
Check out the video links below for more Titanic madness!
- Iceberg collision
- Loading the lifeboats
- Chaos, the band, and a pair of gentlemen
- The sinking
- Titanic splitting in half – National Geographic
*Photos: Marshall Everett and Algot E Strand’s “Berättelsen om Titanic och dess förfärliga undergång (The story of the Titanic and its horrible downfall).” Published in 1912 by P. A. Lindburg & co and archived by The Library of Congress.
*Music: Initial classical piece that’s a part of the intro is Concerto for 2 Oboes in F Major Op9 no3, 3 Allegro by Advent Chamber Orchestra under the Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.*