Titanic: The Surprising Calm Before the Chaotic Sinking

Titanic: The Surprising Calm Before the Chaotic Sinking



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When the RMS Titanic disappeared beneath the dark waves of the North Atlantic in the early morning hours of April 15, 1912, it left many mysteries in its wake. One of the most puzzling, even now, was the behavior of the passengers and crew. Why did so many people on board act so calmly when more than 1,500 of them would die in a matter of hours?

The short answer: No one knew, when they were first summoned to the deck around midnight on that clear, cloudless night, that the unthinkable would happen: That there were roughly half the number of lifeboats needed. Or that the ship visible in the distance would never arrive. Or that the celebrated behemoth of a ship would actually go under.

To be sure, some panic would ensue as time went on—especially as lifeboats became scarce, the ship began to perceptibly tilt, and anything not nailed down became a high-speed projectile. But while popular movies and other dramatizations of the disaster have played up isolated incidents of chaos and cowardice, most survivors told a different story.

“There was no commotion, no panic and no one seemed to be particularly frightened,” first-class passenger Eloise Smith testified in a U.S. Senate hearing on the disaster. “I had not the least suspicion of the scarcity of lifeboats, or I never should have left my husband.”

“I watched the boats on the starboard side, as they were successively filled and lowered away,” Washington Dodge, a physician, reported. “At no time during this period, was there any panic, or evidence of fear, or unusual alarm. I saw no women nor children weep, nor were there any evidences of hysteria…”

Even survivors who remained on the Titanic after the last lifeboats rowed off and soon found themselves in the icy water, marveled at what they saw. Charles Lightoller, the highest-ranking crew member to survive, was in charge of loading lifeboats on the port side. “There was no jostling or pushing or crowding whatever,” he testified at a British inquiry. “The men all refrained from asserting their strength and from crowding back the women and children. They could not have stood quieter if they had been in church.”

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A Disaster in Slow Motion

The almost leisurely pace with which events unfolded during the Titanic’s final hours may offer some clue to the calm. The Titanic grazed the fatal iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, creating what is now believed to be a series of punctures below the waterline. Many passengers were in bed at the time, and few survivors said they noticed anything more than a slight vibration, if even that. When stewards eventually came knocking to rouse the passengers and suggest they get dressed and come on deck, it was the first hint most of them had that anything was wrong.

It wasn’t until 12:05 a.m. that crew members began to uncover the lifeboats, and another 40 minutes passed before the first lifeboat was lowered. At that same time, 12:45, the crew started to fire off rockets. Longtime travelers would have recognized that as a serious distress signal, but less experienced ones might not have.

The crew continued to load passengers into lifeboats until the last one was lowered at 2:05 a.m. Fifteen minutes later, the Titanic was gone.

READ MORE: Titanic by the Numbers: From Construction to Disaster to Discovery

A State of Disbelief

Throughout the loading of lifeboats, the atmosphere on deck remained almost eerily calm, if survivor accounts are to be believed. “We stood there quietly looking on at the work of the crew as they manned the lifeboats, and no one ventured to interfere with them,” second-class passenger Lawrence Beesley recalled. “The crowd of men and women stood quietly on the deck or paced slowly up and down waiting for orders from the officers.”

That said, there were several credible reports of men jumping into the boats before being ordered out by the ship’s officers. One officer fired a pistol at least three times to maintain order, but later insisted he hadn’t shot at anyone. Some survivor accounts reported more shots and even several killings, but those claims have never been proven.

One reason for the overall calm is that the crew deliberately downplayed the danger to prevent panic. Lightoller, for example, assured passengers the lifeboats were being lowered simply as a precaution and that a rescue ship was already visible just a few miles away. (That was most likely the Californian, whose apparent failure to answer the Titanic’s distress calls is another enduring mystery.)

MORE: The Titanic: Before and After Photos

The Titanic’s band also did its part, playing cheerful tunes almost to the very end, survivors reported.

Many others seem simply to have been in denial. Even after being told that the ship was sinking, stewardess Violet Jessop recalled, “My mind, usually adjustable to sudden and unforeseen happenings, could not accept the fact that this superperfect creation was to do so futile a thing as sink.”

First-class passenger Elizabeth W. Shutes remembered that she and her fellow lifeboat occupants wanted to stay close to the Titanic. “We all felt so much safer near the ship,” she wrote. “Surely such a vessel could not sink. I thought the danger must be exaggerated, and we could all be taken aboard again.”

READ MORE: 5 Things You May Not Know About Titanic’s Rescue Ship

Passenger Beesley, who published a book just weeks after the disaster, made the point that while the world now knew how the Titanic’s story ended, the disaster’s actual participants could not. They relied on what little information they had and many erred on the side of optimism. Even “after we had embarked in the lifeboats,” he wrote, “it would not have surprised us to hear that all passengers would be saved.”

Passenger Archibald Gracie, who published an account of the disaster in 1913, offered still another explanation—one that seems to have been widely accepted at the time, as racist as it may seem today. “The coolness, courage, and sense of duty that I here witnessed made me thankful to God and proud of my Anglo-Saxon race that gave this perfect and superb exhibition of self-control at this hour of severest trial,” he wrote.

Gracie’s view was reinforced by eyewitness accounts of how John Jacob Astor, among the richest men in the world, had behaved in the face of death. According to multiple survivors, Astor put his pregnant young wife in a lifeboat, politely asked if he might accompany her, and, when told that only women were allowed, simply stepped back with the rest of the men. He died in the sinking.

WATCH: Titanic Survivor's Eyewitness Account

What About the Steerage Passengers?

While survivor accounts offer a fairly consistent picture of events on the upper decks, far less is known about what was happening lower in the ship, where the third-class, or steerage, passengers were housed—and where many remained to the end. Few third-class passengers left written accounts or were called to testify in the British or American investigations. And far more of them died. Of the 165 women in third class, for example, only 76, or 46 percent, survived. Of the 237 women in first or second class, 220, or close to 93 percent, survived.

The White Star Line insisted that third-class passengers weren’t intentionally held back from the upper decks, where they might have had a chance of survival. Some defenders of the line said the passengers were afraid to leave the big ship or to go without their belongings, which were often all they had in the world. Others blamed the language barrier, which made it impossible for many of the immigrants on board to understand crew members’ instructions or read the Titanic’s signage and find their way around the ship. Later investigators also remarked on the ill-preparedness of much of the crew, which had, for example, never conducted more than a token lifeboat drill during the voyage.

READ MORE: The True Stories That Inspired Titanic Movie Characters

Preeminent Titanic historian Walter Lord came to a harsher conclusion in The Night Lives On, the 1986 sequel to his 1955 classic, A Night to Remember. While the line may have had “no set policy” of discriminating based on class, he wrote, testimony at the inquiries “showed clearly that the men in steerage were held back and that the women had what amounted to an hour’s handicap in the race for the boats.”

As is often the case, the least advantaged not only suffered disproportionately but had less opportunity to put their story on the record for history.

Watch multiple documentaries on the Titanic's building, disaster, recovery and more on HISTORY Vault. Start your free trial today.


STORY TOLD OF SINKING Of The Titanic

Mr. John Brining of this city is in receipt of a copy of the Swanage and Wareham Guardian, published in England, which contains the following interesting interview with Mr. Brining's nephew, Charles Burgess, who was on board the Titanic and who was rescued in a lifeboat.

Just upon half-past seven the second local survivor from the terrible disaster arrived from Southampton in the person of Mr. Chas. Burgess, second class baker of the Titanic. A large crowd had assembled at the station to give him a welcome home. Although no cheers were given the hearty congratulations he received on all hands as he made his way out of the station in company with his elder brother were none the less sincere. By a coincidence it happened to be the weekly practice night of the bellringers, and soon after his arrival the bells of the Parish Church rang our a merry peal which seemed to welcome him home. It is just two years ago last month that Mr. Burgess joined the White Star Company, making his first voyage in the Oceanic, in which he sailed for 18 months. After the Olympic came out of dock from being repaired as the result of the collision with H. M. S. Hawke, he was transferred to that ship, doing five trips in her. On the Titanic coming into service he was transferred to that vessel.

In conversation with our local correspondent Mr. Burgess, describing his experiences, said that out of his 24 trips across the Western ocean he never had a finer trip. The sea was perfectly calm and the weather conditions were splendid. The gallant ship was making a fine passage, everything running quite smoothly. On the Sunday evening he went on duty at nine o'clock, being in the night-watch. There were four of them working together, the first and second class bakehouse being on the D deck. They had just had supper when they felt a slight shock, and all of them simultaneously exclaimed "Hallo! there goes a blade!" They took no further notice and went on working. The bread were due out of the oven then (11:50 p.m.) and they got it out, and he then prepared the oven for the scones. He proceeded to put the butter in to melt for the corn bread which the American passengers are fond of. No sooner had he done this when the order came, "All hands on deck bring your lifebelts." He was proceeding up to the boat deck when he remembered the butter, and, thinking it might melt too much and catch alight, he returned and took it out, placing it on a cold stove. Proceeding, Mr. Burgess said: I then went to the boat deck at my station, which was No. 13 boat on the starboard side. As we stood there awaiting orders someone told me to go and call the other bakers who were off duty and had turned in. I went down to our quarters and told them to get up and come up with lifebelts. They simply rediculed me and told me when the ship was sinking to give them another call. I went down again later, but they took no notice and only abused me for disturbing their sleep. I never saw them again. On returning we were ordered to get in the boat and lower to A deck and take in women and children. We took in about 40 women and six children, and as there were no more about ten male passengers were told to get in. We were then loweed down, and we totalled about 70. Then came the most exciting moment of my experience. We had got down within five feet of the water when they stopped lowering, those above evidently thinking we had reached the water. On looking up we saw No. 15 boat coming down on top of us. The shouts of our coxswain and bowman to lower away were useless. It was a case of chance, and our coxswain ordered the ropes (falls) to be cut and let the boat drop. Fortunately, both severed together, and we were so evenly sitting in our life boat that she dropped on the keel quite evenly. Then we were faced with another danger. Just below us was the sluice, out of which the water was pouring from the condensers. As we dropped we pushed away from the ship's side with our oars, and the rush of water miraculously caught the bow and forced us away just in time as the other boat dropped alongside. We pulled away from the ship for about ten minutes and then laid on our ours waiting, as we expected to get orders to return to the ship again. We had no idea that she would sink or that the damage done ws so great. It was then we noticed that she was sinking by the head. Slowly the lights from the portholes became extinguished as the water rose up deck after deck.

On being asked if it was correct about the band playing "Nearer, My God To Thee," Burgess replied "yes, it is. I heard it distinctly. It sounded grand across the water." Just before she sank for good all the lights went out, the stern rose high into the air, and then, as the ship broke in two, the stern righted for a few seconds and then the rattle and rumbling as if everyting was rushing out of her was awful, followed by the groans and screams of the drowning and the explosions of the boilers as the ship glided beneath the waves. To drown the cries, and groans of the drowning we started singing in our boat as the passengers were getting very restless. I'm quite sure that those left on board did not relaize that boat would sink. We pulled about all night, following a green light in the first boat. Providentially the sea was calm, in fact I never knew it finer off the Banks. It was beautifully starlight, but imtensley cold. I was only clad in my white ducks, just as I worked in the bakehouse. The six children were placed together in a sack bag and put in the cuddy under the stern bulkhead, where the pretty dears slept thoughout the night until brought out to be placed on board the Carpathia. They knew nothing of the awful tragedy that had taken place. Daylight seemd ages coming, and when it did it seemed to come all at once. Wherever one looked there was nothing but ice. Once we thought we could see a schooner with all sails set, but it turned out to be an iceberg. Never shall I forget the feeling of all on board our boat when the Carpathia hove in sight. We who were at the oars pulled with renewed spirits, and one by one the boats took up the hymn "Pull for the Shore, Sailor," as we put our backs to the work. The officers and crew of the Carpathia were kind and attentive beyond all praise, as were the American people on our arrival in New York. They fitted us all out with a double suit of everything. On our homeward journey by the Lapland we were treated most kindly. I was fortunate enough to be given something to do which greatly helped me to forget the awful experience of the past days.

In conclusion, Mr. Burgess said all praise should be given to the men of the Carpathia who, when they learnt of the accident volunteered to a man to go down and help stoke also their own engineering staff, who, poor fellows, remained at their posts "faithful even unto death."


Titanic Quotes and Sayings

As with any disaster in history, many quotes and sayings have been documented over the years. Whether it is an unconfirmed statement from someone of the time period, or a quote from one of the individuals involved in the voyage, Titanic quotes and sayings capture the majesty of the Titanic as well as the sadness surrounding the night of April 14, 1912. Collected over the years from a wide variety of individuals, Titanic quotes are some of the most sought after historic quotes in the current age. Illustrating both triumph and tragedy and involving some of the most famous individuals of the time period, here are some of most well-known Titanic quotes and sayings.

Titanic, name and thing, will stand as a monument and warning to human presumption.

-The Bishop of Winchester, preaching in Southampton, 1912.

Ice, I suppose, sir.

Fifth Officer Lowe, asked by Senator Smith what an iceberg is composed of. (The question was not really silly. Boxhall had earlier testified that icebergs had been known to have rocks embedded in them).

Shut up! Shut up! I am busy. I am working Cape Race!

John Phillips, in reply to Cyril Evans’ final ice warning.

It was as though we went over about a thousand marbles.

Mrs J.S.White, describing the impact with the iceberg.

Wonderful thing, wireless, isn’t it?

Captain Arthur Rostron, to Second Officer James Bisset, having told him the latest news on the known positions of icebergs. This was at around 10-00 p.m., April 14th, 1912.

It seemed more like an old fishing boat had sunk.

Captain Stanley Lord, commenting on the surprising lack of debris at the scene of the sinking.

Some other Hand than mine was on that helm during the night.

Captain Arthur Rostron, reflecting on his safe passage among the icebergs to the lifeboats.

I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.

Captain Edward Smith, referring to Adriatic

Send SOS It’s the new call and it may be your last chance to send it!

Harold Bride to John Phillips.

It is not given to everyone to be a hero.

Nautical Magazine, on J.Bruce Ismay.

There was too much brag and not enough seaworthy construction.

Sir James Bisset, on Olympic and Titanic.

If this is discipline, what would have been disorder?

Senator Smith, on the chaotic loading of the lifeboats.

God himself could not sink this ship!

Unknown Titanic crewmember to embarking passenger, Mrs Sylvia Caldwell.


Witnesses to Officer’s Shooting Revolvers – Eugene Daly

Eugene Patrick Daly was a 29-year-old man who lived in Athlone, Ireland. Like many other third-class passengers, Daly was traveling to America to make a new life for himself. Daly was travelling with two women who were also from Athlone: Margaret Daly, who was not a relative, and Bertha Mulvihill. While on the Titanic, Daly played on his elbow pipes and was on deck playing them as the mighty steamship left Ireland and headed out to open sea. On the night that the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink, Daly got his two traveling companions and placed them in lifeboat number 15. Daly was on deck and managed to survive the sinking by jumping overboard at the last moment. He was one of the men that was on the upside-down raft along with First Office Lightoller, Harold Bride, (who was underneath it,) and many others. However, before Daly was forced to jump for his life, he was the witness to an extraordinary event that involved an officer not only firing his gun, but killing two men in the process before taking his own life.


That Titanic&lsquos eight-man band played on until the very end and finished with the hymn &ldquoNearer My God to Thee&rdquo is one of the most enduring myths surrounding the disaster. It is, however, just that: a myth. Not only would it have been physically impossible for the full orchestra to keep playing (owing to the Titanic&lsquos increasingly severe list) but disagreement among the survivors—both those in the water and those out at sea in the lifeboats—about which song was played, combined with the fact that there were several versions of the &ldquoNearer My God to Thee&rdquo in existence none of which all band members knew, means we can now confidently dispel it.

What is certain is that, in an effort to calm the passengers and, presumably, give themselves some small measure of comfort, they continued to play into the early hours, long after all hope was lost. The band was composed of Wallace Hartley&rsquos quintet and another piano trio, which combined together first to play in the first class lounge and then to play up on the boat deck. They would have started cheerfully, playing waltzes, lowbrow popular pieces and highbrow classical compositions—a typically Edwardian medley. What they ended with, however, is the subject of much debate.

Colonel Archibald Gracie, who remained on the Titanic until the bitter end, vehemently denied that the band had played &ldquoNearer My God to Thee&rdquo, writing that doing so would have been &ldquoa tactless warning of imminent death&rdquo. Gracie&rsquos book was only published in America. But over in Britain, doubts were already trailing from the pen of the Anglo-Irish playwright and polemicist George Bernard Shaw who saw the band playing a Christian hymn as an essential, Christian component of a tragedy-turned-triumph type myth. In all likelihood—as those in close vicinity of the foundering ship later testified—the final song was the marginally more upbeat &ldquoSong d&rsquoAutomme&rdquo.

So why was this idea so widespread? Firstly it had precedent. During the tragic sinking of the Valencia, run aground on a reef in the middle of a terrible storm in 1906, it was reported that before the ship foundered the women stranded aboard stared death in the face and gave a defiant rendition of the hymn. Secondly—and where Bernard Shaw hit the nail on the head—the idea of the band playing &ldquoNearer My God to Thee&rdquo as the ship went under, spilling thousands to their deaths the icy ocean, was powerfully symbolic. The song was strong, stubborn challenge to the finality of death. It&rsquos not hard to see why people liked to imagine they had played it.

Regardless, the myth became deeply ingrained. A facsimile of the hymns score was printed on the front of the world&rsquos bestselling newspaper, the Daily Mirror. &ldquoNearer My God to Thee&rdquo was splashed across the front of postcards (an Edwardian craze), found its way into poetry, prose and art on both sides of the Atlantic, and provided the soundtrack for funerals—most notably of Wallace Hartley—and memorials: most famously at the enormously attended memorial service at Westminster Chapel on April 26 1912.


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A deck chair from the Titanic, recovered floating at the disaster site. This could very well have been one of the chairs thrown overboard by Joughin. Photo by Flickr/Cliff

“He sat down on his bunk and nursed it along — aware but not particularly caring that the water now rippled through the cabin doorway,” wrote historian Walter Lord in A Night to Remember. Lord was in touch with Joughin just before the baker’s 1956 death.

Joughin then splashed topside again, where he took it upon himself to begin throwing deck chairs overboard, with an eye to filling the water with impromptu floatation devices.

Parched, he then worked his way back to his pantry to get a drink of water.

The baker was standing on the stern when the ship broke in half. And yet, he remembered the violent, catastrophic breakup only as a “great list over to port.”

“There was no great shock or anything,” he told the inquiry.

A sketch made just after the disaster by a survivor. The Titanic was a violent shipwreck in its final minutes, although Charles Joughin was apparently too inebriated to notice. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Deftly moving through swarms of people, Joughin made it to the stern rail of the ship. At exactly 2:20 a.m., he rode the sinking Titanic into the sea like an elevator.


8 The Wreck Of The Titan

In 1898, author Morgan Robertson wrote The Wreck of the Titan: Or, Futility. The plot was all too familiar. Robertson had written about a ship, the Titan, going on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic that struck an iceberg and sank. The liner did not have enough lifeboats, and it was described as being &ldquounsinkable,&rdquo seeing as it was the biggest ship of its day. Um, this is all too familiar . . . and the story was written 14 years before the sinking of the Titanic.

Many wondered if Robertson was a prescient writer, but others said he just knew what he was talking about since he wrote mainly about maritime affairs. Perhaps he saw ocean liners becoming bigger and bigger and wondered about the dangers of this, including icebergs. Robertson was approached and asked if he was clairvoyant after the sinking of the Titanic. &ldquoNo,&rdquo he replied, &ldquoI know what I&rsquom writing about, that&rsquos all.&rdquo [3]


It Could Have Been Even Worse

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The sinking of the Titanic was one of the greatest tragedies in modern history, with only 710 survivors out of the 2,224 on board. While the loss of life was widely mourned, and has gone down in history, the tragedy could have actually been much greater. However, as Titanic was well under capacity for her maiden voyage: Her maximum capacity was actually 3,327.


The Hidden Cause of the Titanic Disaster: Thermal Inversion and the Titanic

When the Titanic sank on the moonless night of 14/15th April 1912 she was surrounded by icebergs and on the edge of a large ice field. As Captain Rostron of the rescue ship Carpathia explained:

“…about two or three miles from the position of the “Titanic’s” wreckage we saw a huge ice-field extending as far as we could see, N.W. to S.E….I sent a Junior Officer to the top of the wheelhouse, and told him to count the icebergs 150 to 200 feet high I sampled out one or two and told him to count the icebergs of about that size. He counted 25 large ones, 150 to 200 feet high, and stopped counting the smaller ones there were dozens and dozens all over the place”

And this was confirmed by Titanic’s Quartermaster Hitchens:

“In the morning, when it turned daybreak, we could see icebergs everywhere also a field of ice about 20 to 30 miles long, which it took the Carpathia 2 miles to get clear from when it picked the boats up. The icebergs was up on every point of the compass, almost.”

These giant bergs and field ice were flowing southwards in the meltwater of the swollen Labrador Current, bringing freezing air up to a height of the tallest of these bergs into an area of sea normally occupied by the 12 degrees Celsius Gulf Stream, like a cold river in flood, bursting its banks and flowing over much warmer land.

The sharpness of the boundary between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the freezing waters of the Labrador Current, and its proximity to Titanic’s wreck site, was recorded after the disaster by the SS Minia, who whilst drifting and collecting bodies near Titanic’s wreck site noted in her log:

“Northern edge of Gulf Stream well defined. Water changed from 36 to 56 [degrees Fahrenheit] in half mile”.

The rescue ship Mackay Bennett, also recovering bodies in 1912, drew the following map of water temperatures at Titanic’s wreck site, which also records this sharp boundary between the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and the cold waters of the Labrador current, and its proximity to Titanic’s wreck site (the red crosses mark where the bodies of victims were found floating, and recovered):

The sudden temperature change as Titanic crossed from the warm waters of the Gulf Stream into the much colder waters of the Labrador Current was recorded by her Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, who testified that there was a drop in temperature of four degrees Celsius in the half hour between 7pm and 7.30pm on the night of the fatal collision, and a drop in temperature of ten degrees Celsius in the two hours between 7pm and 9pm that night, when the air approached freezing.

The cold icebergs and icy meltwater in the Labrador Current had chilled the formerly warm air, which had previously been heated to approximately 10 degrees Celsius by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream so the air column at Titanic’s crash site was freezing from sea level, up to a height of about 60 meters – almost the height of the tallest icebergs, and then about 10 degrees Celsius above that height.


The Fascinating Yet Tragic History of the Titanic Ship

What do we know about the history of the ship - Titanic? It is not just the movie that has made this disaster a famous lookout, there are various facts and information, still unknown to many. This article will take you back into the 1900s and, in a way, help you understand what it was like, to be a part of the RMS Titanic.

What do we know about the history of the ship – Titanic? It is not just the movie that has made this disaster a famous lookout, there are various facts and information, still unknown to many. This article will take you back into the 1900s and, in a way, help you understand what it was like, to be a part of the RMS Titanic.

RMS Titanic was the greatest vessel ever built in its time. It was termed the greatest marvel that the human hands could possibly create. Titanic was more than a ship, it was a remarkable creation known for its gigantic size, magnificent speed, and profound luxury. To its parent figures, crew members, and passengers, it was an indestructible body built with the latest technology available back then it was perceived as an unsinkable ship. Its creators were proud and confident with what they had manifested competitors envied its creation (and marveled at the same time), and its popularity all across the nation wanted each and everybody to experience what it was to be a passenger on the RMS Titanic. It was believed to be “a virtually unsinkable” vessel, as described in the publications prior to its sinking. It was endowed with the latest safety equipment and technology. Then what was it that led to its disastrous sinking at the dawning hours of April 15, 1912? What was the reason that took the lives of more than 1500 people, coveting the tragedy of RMS Titanic to be one of the most famous and unfortunate maritime disasters in history? To answer these questions, we will have to go back in time, so as to understand what this ill-fated vessel was like … from the time of its inception, to the moment it was doomed.

The “Unsinkable Ship”

The Birth of Titanic
– Why Was It Created
– Features and Facilities

Sea Trials and Voyage

People On Board

Journey and Sinking of Titanic
– Collision
– Evacuation
– Lifeboats
– Distress Signals
– Last Few Minutes
– Final Sinking

The Aftermath
– Rescue
– Survivors and Victims
– Unexplained Instances
– Ignored Warnings
– New Safety Practices

Discovery of Wrecks

The Birth of RMS Titanic

RMS stands for Royal Mail Ship , and this term prefixed those ships that carried mail under the authority of the British Royal Mail . The RMS Titanic was built under the tutelage of the British shipping company, the White Star Line . Joseph Bruce Ismay , was the then chairman of this shipping company. The construction task was undertaken by the Harold and Wolff shipyard in Belfast , Ireland. The RMS Titanic was the second ship built under the three vessels of the Olympic-class ocean liners the first and the third being the RMS Olympic and the HMHS Britannic , respectively. Olympic and Titanic were constructed virtually parallel to each other. The hull of Olympic was laid down on December 16, 1908, followed by Titanic , whose hull was laid down on March 31, 1909. The construction of Titanic took about 26 months and was launched on May 31, 1911 at 12:15 pm.

The Thought behind Its Creation

Years later, in mid-1907, this idea was again brought into the forefront by Joseph Bruce Ismay, and J. Pierpont Morgan, the controller of the International Mercantile Co. (the parent corporation of the White Star Line). The main reason behind considering the proposal dropped years ago, was the White Star Line’s rivalry with the Cunard Line and the German Lines. The former had launched the fastest passenger ships in service back then, namely Lusitania and Mauretania. The German Lines had also launched two ships named Hamburg America and Norddeutscher Llyod. The launching of these ships proved to be a business threat for the White Star Line. Due to the threat arising from this rivalry, chairman J. Bruce Ismay decided to build a giant ship which would not only be known as the biggest ship afloat, but also a quintessential example of the finest waters! Thus, Titanic was ready to be built, transforming a magnificent thought into a marvelous reality.

What Made It Different from the Rest?

Everything about the RMS Titanic was different from its counterparts. Harold and Wolff appointed their best designers to come up with innovative designs of these Olympic -class vessels – the RMS Olympic , the RMS Titanic , and the HMHS Britannic . The people who shared the onus for the design and layout were: Lord Pirrie – director of the White Star Line and Harold and Wolff, Thomas Andrews – the naval architect and the managing director of the design department for Harold and Wolff, Edward Wilding – deputy of Thomas Andrews, and Alexander Carlisle – the general manager and chief draughtsman of Harold and Wolff.

The RMS Titanic was to be the first ship of its ilk … the first ship to be of its mighty size, delivering superior luxury and comfort. The best engine combination and technology was used to come up with a flawless vessel, to make the ship virtually unsinkable. The following are a few features that made this ship different and far superior than the rest.

» Titanic was 882 feet 9 inches in length and had the maximum breadth of 92 feet 6 inches. She stood 104 feet tall and weighed 52,310 tons, when loaded with a draught (draft) measuring 34 feet 7 inches. Building a ship as gigantic as this, proved to be a challenge for the builders, as well. Harold and Wolff, or any shipping company for that matter, had never attempted to make a ship as monolithic as this one. They had to demolish three of their existing slipways and build two large slipways in order to make room for building the largest ship ever.

» The RMS Titanic had 10 decks, 3 engines, 29 boilers, and 159 furnaces. There were 176 firemen employed to shove about 600 tons of coal daily into the furnace. This was necessary to move the gigantic vessel of its size. This was a continuous task which required the firemen to slog round the clock. Also, 100 tons of ash was ejected into the sea everyday.

» Titanic was a technological marvel back then. Its electrical plant had the capacity to generate electricity, much more than a standard city power station in those days. For emergency use, there were two auxiliary generators of 30 KW. There were four steam-driven electric generators with a capacity of 400 KW each. Also, the steam that was released from the reciprocating engines, was moved to the turbine situated at the aft. This was done to condense the exhaust steam into water and store it for reuse.

» Not only this, the RMS Titanic was fully equipped with essential facilities, like waterworks that enabled complete heating and supplying of water to the entire ship, a 24-hour service of wireless telegraph system that served a range of 1000 miles — the most powerful system at that time, insulated ducts to convey warm air throughout the vessel, etc. The first class cabins also had electric heaters fitted in them.

» The RMS Titanic was built keeping in mind that the world ought to speak of its comfort and luxury no end. It could accommodate 739 passengers in the First Class, 674 in the Second Class, and 1,026 in the Third Class. The ship had the capacity to accommodate 3,339 people, including 900 crew members.

» The main aim of the creators of this ship, was to give its passengers the feeling that they are living in a floating hotel rather than traveling on a ship! The interiors were designed keeping in mind the highbrow hotels back then. For instance, the First Class cabins were done in the Empire style. Other interior decorative styles and patterns, like the Renaissance style and the Victorian style, were incorporated in the interiors of the First and Second Class.

» The First Class was offered a variety of facilities, like a swimming pool, squash court, an electric bath, a gymnasium (with the latest equipment available), a Verandah Cafe, etc., to name a few. There was also the facility for all passengers to use the library, telephone system, and avail the benefits of having a large on-board barber shop.

» The Third Class passengers, of course, didn’t enjoy similar comforts as the First and Second Class however, compared to the other ships, the Third Class passengers were far at ease. There were facilities, like the library, gymnasiums and smoking rooms. Also, a newspaper known as the Atlantic Daily Bulletin was published for the passengers, containing the latest news that was received using the wireless telegraph on the ship.

» Now that we are speaking of the things that made the RMS Titanic different from its counterparts, how can we not discuss the most famous feature of the ship — The Grand Stairway. This stairway was built in the First Class section and descended through the seven decks of the ship. It was covered with a dome made with glass and wrought iron, so that natural light could enter the area. The Grand Staircase was beautifully recreated in the 1997 movie, Titanic. Who can forget those elegant interiors with large wooden panels and gold-plated light fixtures, and, of course, the clock that added to the beauty of it all! This elegantly crafted section of the ship was destroyed during the sinking, and it now lies in the depth of the Atlantic Ocean that explorers use to enter the lower decks in the wrecks of the ship.

Sea Trials and Maiden Voyage

As mentioned earlier, the RMS Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911. Titanic would have been completed way earlier, had the chairman of the White Star Line not introduced some last-minute additions to the design. Experts also say that if the ship had been completed on time, there were chances that its sinking would have not occurred, resulting from the collision with the iceberg. Nonetheless, despite all the delays and trials, RMS Titanic was ready for her sea trial which began on April 2, 1912, at 6 in the morning. Thomas Andrews, Edward Wilding, and a surveyor from the Board of Trade – Francis Carruthers, were present to make sure the ship is fit enough to carry passengers for voyages. The trial started from the Belfast Lough and continued to the Irish Sea. Titanic was tested based on its speed levels, turning ability, and emergency stops. The trial took more than 12 hours to complete and ended at 7 in the evening. The ship was declared perfectly suitable and ready to start with passenger voyages, proving worthy on all the parameters laid down by its creators.

Titanic’s maiden voyage turned out to be its final voyage as well! Her maiden voyage was planned to be a cross-Atlantic journey which would begin from Southampton in England, to Cherbourg in France, to Queenstown in Ireland, and finally reaching New York in the United States. The ship was scheduled to return to England via Plymouth.

On April 10, 1912, Titanic was ready for her very first voyage. The crew had already started arriving from 9:30 in the morning. Reportedly, the Third Class passengers were the first to board the ship. The rest of the passengers belonging to the Second and the First Class, arrived within one hour of the scheduled departure, which was at noon. The entry to the ship was grand in itself. There were stewards that showed the passengers their respective cabins. In fact, the First Class passengers were personally greeted by the Captain of the ship, Edward Smith. Out of the total passengers on board, 922 were known to have embarked the ship at Southampton itself. The rest of them boarded the ship from Cherbourg and Queenstown. The voyage finally began at noon, but unfortunately could never reach its final destination, New York Harbor.

People On Board: Crew and Passengers

On her maiden voyage, Titanic had 885 crew members on board. Let us begin with the captain of the ship. As mentioned earlier, Titanic was the most anticipated ship of all time. It was the largest, the most advanced, and the most luxurious ship ever made. Therefore, Captain Edward Smith was appointed by the White Star Line, as he was the senior most and a highly experienced captain in their corporation. Lieutenant Henry Wilde was appointed as the Chief Officer. The First and Second Officers were Lieutenant William Murdoch and Commander Charles Lightoller , respectively. One interesting (which later turned out to be unfortunate) incident was the replacement of the original Second Officer, David Blair . He was excluded from the crew at the last minute by the White Star Line, to include Chief Officer Henry Wilde, courtesy of his experience and knowledge. It is said that because Blair was asked to leave at the very last minute, he accidentally happened to carry the key to a storage locker along with him. It is believed that the particular locker contained binoculars, the absence of which, was one of the main reasons for the sinking of the Titanic .

The list of the passengers that boarded the Titanic included some of the wealthiest and prominent names of that time. To begin with, the wealthiest person aboard was John Jacob Astor IV, a member of the illustrious Astor family, and also a well-known American businessman. He was accompanied by his second wife, an 18-year-old beauty Madeleine Force Astor. Also, the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, was traveling on the ship along with architect Thomas Andrews, the designer of Titanic. They were present to observe the performance of the ship on her maiden voyage, so that problems, if any, could be noted and rectified. Other notable passengers on board included – famous industrialist, Benjamin Guggenheim millionairess, Margaret Brown (famously known as the unsinkable Molly Brown) owner of the Macy’s, Isidor Strauss and his wife Ida Strauss the famous silent-movie actress, Dorothy Gibson author and journalist, Helen Churchill Candee the famous first-class Cricketer and businessman, John Thayer with his wife and son and the survivor who penned his experience in a book, Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, to name a few.

Considering the popularity of the RMS Titanic, it was expected that the ship would be packed with passengers on her maiden voyage. However, this was not the actual case. The ship reportedly had only 2,224 people on board, although it had the capacity to carry 3,339. This is because during that time, a national coal strike affected the U.K., thereby causing various unwanted disruptions. Various voyages were canceled, and shipping schedule were delayed due to the lack of coal. Titanic was able to sail only due to the fact that the required amount of coal was acquired from other ships that were tied-up at Southampton. Another reason for the ship to have fewer passengers, was that there were many last-minute cancellations. There were some instances wherein some passengers boarded the ship, but didn’t stay aboard for the entire scheduled journey. The owner of Titanic, J. P Morgan was also supposed to be a part of the maiden voyage however, he canceled last minute due to some business meeting.

The Ephemeral Journey and Sinking of RMS Titanic

As mentioned earlier, Titanic started her only voyage on April 10, 1912, at noon. A few minutes after her doomed voyage began, she almost escaped a collision with another ship named SS City of New York . As soon as Titanic passed the SS City of New York , due to Titanic’s hugeness and displacement, a suction effect was created, and the latter ended up snapping towards the Titanic . The collision was avoided by a mere distance of about 4 feet, when Captain Edward Smith ordered his crew to put the engines in ‘full astern’ (reverse the engines with maximum speed). Also, luckily, a tugboat named Vulcan was available at the time, to tow SS City of New York in the opposite direction to avoid an accident. RMS Oceanic , too, was
a victim and a witness of this displacement. This whole incident delayed Titanic’s schedule by an hour. However, the thing to be happy about, was that no one was hurt.

After this nearly-escaped collision, Titanic successfully sailed towards Cherbourg, and then Queenstown to pick up the rest of the passengers. She left Queenstown on April 10, 1912, at 20:00 hours, and arrived at Cork Harbour the next morning at about 11:30 hours. A few passengers belonging to the Second and the Third Class boarded the ship while a few passengers and one crew member, left the ship unexpectedly. At 13:30 hours, Titanic was ready for a long journey through the mighty Atlantic Ocean.

The first 3 days of the journey were pretty smooth without any disturbances and incidents whatsoever. The weather all throughout the journey varied from being windy to cold, to partly cloudy and relatively warm. However, on April 14, 1912 — the night when Titanic collided with the iceberg — the sky was absolutely clear, the ocean was as calm as it could be, and the weather was extremely cold. It was also a moonless night.

It is said that the North Atlantic had the worst ice conditions that year, as compared to the past 50 years. This was the reason why the formation of icebergs and ice sheets was immense that year. The first warning in relation to the ice conditions was sent by RMS Caronia on the day of the collision at about 9:00 hours in the morning. The second warning was sent by RMS Baltic at 13:42 hours, reporting large field of ice and icebergs. Both these warnings were acknowledged by Captain Smith. They were also shown to the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. However, call it the overconfidence in the unsinkable ship, the ship was not slowed down, and was taken farther south to set a new course.

Various warnings were sent through radio messages to Titanic indicating the presence of large icebergs. The third warning came around 13:45 from SS Amerika, followed by the fourth warning by SS Californian at 19:30 hours. The fifth warning was sent by a steamer named Mesaba at 21:40, and the final warning was sent at 22:30 by the SS Californian. In total, Titanic received 6 warnings on April 14, 1912, two of which were acknowledged by the captain, and the last four, never left the radio room!

Collision with the Iceberg

Although the crew was aware of the fact that ice was present in the vicinity, nobody ever anticipated the collision to be fatal, especially when Titanic was believed to be the most safe and mighty vessel that ever existed. It was past 23:30, and most of the people aboard were off to sleep. First Officer William Murdoch had the command of the bridge, whereas the crow’s nest was occupied by lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee. It was Fleet that first spotted the iceberg at 23:39 and immediately rang the lookout bell thrice. He also informed Sixth Officer James Moody at the bridge that an iceberg was right ahead. Officer Moody then relayed the information to Murdoch, who is believed to have given the order to Quartermaster Robert Hichens to “Hard a’starboard.” Officer Murdoch also ordered full astern. Murdoch told Captain Smith that he wanted to escape the collision, for which he planned to “port around” the obstacle. However, there was very little time to abide by the orders. Also, the mechanism of the ship was powered by steam, which means that it would have taken about 30 seconds to turn the ship and reverse the engines. The change in the direction avoided straight collision with the iceberg however, the starboard side of the ship scraped with the underwater portion of the iceberg for 7 seconds, causing a huge damage to the plates of Titanic’s hull. According to experts, if First Officer Murdoch would have taken a quick decision, and instead of “porting around,” simply turned the ship while it was moving forward, the collision would have been prevented by a short distance of merely a feet. Nonetheless, the damage was done when Titanic struck the iceberg at 23:40 hours!

After a few minutes, the engines stopped working, and people started to wonder what just happened! Because the collision took place underwater, nobody could estimate the intensity of the damage. All that was visible, were some blocks of ice that fell from the upper portion of the iceberg into the ship’s forward deck. Most of the passengers didn’t notice any sort of bump or collision. However, those on the lowest decks felt the collision almost instantly. The iceberg, in fact, had buckled the plates of the hull and created various narrow openings through which the freezing water of the Atlantic Ocean entered the vessel at the speed of 7.1 long tons per second. The water started to seep into the boiler rooms, the first witnesses of the sight being Second Engineer J.H. Hesketh and Leading Stoker Frederick Barrett. These two gentlemen were in No. 6 boiler room when they were hit by the freezing water of the ocean. They managed to escaped before the watertight door of the respective boiler room was closed. This condition posed a huge threat as there were chances that the boiler rooms would explode due to the combination of cold water and high-pressure steam. Immediately, the boilers were vent down and the fire was extinguished. However, by the time the firemen were done with this task, water had already reached their waist.

Where was the captain of the ship? Well, Captain Smith had sensed the collision, and once the situation was confirmed, he and Thomas Andrews, the designer of the ship, went to the lower decks to check the intensity of the damage. The squash court, mailroom, and the forward cargo holds, had already been flooded. Boiler Room No. 6 was filled with 14 feet of water and now it was making its way and filling up the No. 5 boiler room. The water was pouring into the Titanic fifteen times faster than the vessel’s capacity to pump it out. It didn’t take long for Thomas Andrews to correctly perceive the situation and inform Captain Smith that Titanic would not make it for more than 2 hours and that its sinking was inevitable.

Evacuation of the RMS Titanic, and the Chaos …

Once it was certain that Titanic would not make it to the destination, Captain Smith ordered the lifeboats to be de-creped, and all the passengers were asked to gather at the Boat Deck. This happened at 00:05. Back then, ships didn’t have a public address system therefore, all the stewards were asked to inform the passengers, by going door to door, knocking each and every cabin. Radio operators were asked to start sending distress calls to seek immediate help. Captain Smith was aware that there were not enough lifeboats to be able to rescue all the passengers. Though, RMS Titanic had the capacity to accommodate 68 lifeboats, each with the capacity to carry 68 passengers on an average the number of lifeboats actually available were only 20! Why? Well, the White Star Line wanted the passengers to have a better view of the sea from the promenade deck, which could have been interrupted by the large amount of lifeboats. As it is, Titanic was perceived to be an unsinkable ship therefore, the need for the exact amount of lifeboats was not necessary, according to the White Star Line. However, there were 20 lifeboats, which was still a good number as compared to the minimum requirements according to the British regulations, but sadly, considering the need of the hour, it was clear that the available lifeboats would be able to save only a few, and more than a thousand people would still lose their lives.

Captain Edward Smith was an experienced sailor, commanding some of the biggest and prominent vessels in those times. Icebergs were a common problem faced by sailors however, many ships still managed to overcome the obstacles and complete their journey with minor injuries. Captain Smith had declared in an interview in 1907, that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Titanic was the mightiest ship ever, with each and every comfort, luxury, and technology however, now all that was required to save a thousand lives, were lifeboats. The ‘unsinkable ship’ was doomed!

Captain Smith went into a state wherein he was unable to decide the next step and issue orders he became paralyzed in thought! Each and everything on the ship depends upon the captain’s orders. Because of the state in which Captain Smith was, each and everything became highly unorganized and chaotic. No evacuation orders were issued, no crew was assigned, and no officers were appointed to be in charge of the lifeboats and the evacuation. In fact, the crew members, including the officers, were not informed about the inevitable sinking of the ship. The information regarding the scarcity of lifeboats was also not revealed.

The stewards informed all the passengers to gather at the Boat Deck. The process started around 00:15 hours. A lot of confusion and chaos was observed in this phase, as well. The stewards had their duties assigned to different sections based on the respective class. While the First Class stewards were responsible to take care of the few passengers there was a lot of responsibility for the Second and Third Class stewards, who had to handle thousands of passengers belonging to these two sections. While the First Class passengers were assisted in each and every possible way, the second-and third-class passengers were left on their own after being informed about the gathering on the deck with their lifebelts on. Not only were the steerage passengers left unescorted, they were also prevented from making their way to the deck. The crew members locked and guarded the barriers that separated these passengers from the elite group. This was done in order to prevent the steerage passengers swarm on the deck and fill the lifeboats. Only a few from this group were able to reach the deck, and even fewer survived. For the rest, the hope for survival had ceased, and all they could do was cry and pray for help, and await death to sweep them away.

Some of the crew members and passengers, especially on the higher decks, failed to respond to the need of the hour, considering that it was a joke or believing that it was safer for them to be on the ship, rather than to be on the boat exposing them to the freezing cold. One such passenger was the wealthiest man aboard, millionaire John Jacob Astor, who responded with the following words: “We are safer here than in that little boat.” It was J. Bruce Ismay who convinced these passengers to evacuate immediately.

Poor Leadership and Underutilization of Lifeboats

The creators of the RMS Titanic would have never imagined to deal with a situation as this, and this was clearly visible in the resources available for emergency. As mentioned earlier, the boats were only 20 in number! Also, during the voyage, no lifeboat drill was conducted for the people to know what needs to be done. The crew hardly had any experienced seamen or sailors, and the captain was issuing impractical orders due to his indecisiveness. It was Second Officer Lightoller, who suggested the captain to evacuate the women and children first to which the captain replied with a nod. This happened 40 minutes after the collision, at around 00:20 hours. Officer Lightoller handled the departure of the lifeboats on the port side, while Officer Murdoch took care of the starboard. There was a confusion here as well. Officer Lightoller perceived the orders as women and children only while Murdoch interpreted it as women and children first. Due to this, various boats were lowered with many empty seats from the port side if there were no women and children in that area. Also, neither of the officers were aware about the capacity of the boats. Therefore, to be on the safer side, they did not fill adequate number of people in the boats to ensure a safe lowering.

Lifeboat No. 7 was the first one to be rowed away at 00:45 hours. It had the capacity to accommodate 65 passengers however, only 28 passengers were seated on this boat! The next boat was lowered after 10 minutes lifeboat No. 6 had only 28 passengers on board, with various empty seats and thousands of people waiting on the Titanic for a safe rescue. In this boat, there were a few non-English speaking men that were aboard. Lightoller evicted them before the boat could be lowered, and let the boat go with empty seats. Other boats that were allowed to go without being optimally utilized were: lifeboat No. 2 with 25 people (boat had the capacity of 40), lifeboat No. 3 with 32 on board, lifeboat No. 1 and 8 with 12 and 39 people, respectively, and lifeboat No. 5 with 41 passengers. Also, in lifeboat No. 4 was seated the pregnant wife of millionaire John Jacob Astor. Astor asked Lightoller if he could accompany her as she is in a delicate condition. However, Lightoller refused to do so, and the boat was rowed away with 20 seats empty!

The problem was not confined to the underutilization of boats. Even their lowering posed major threats to the safety of the passengers. Various men and women were trying to jump into the boats from the deck, while they were lowered. This happened when lifeboat No. 14 was being lowered to control the situation, Fifth Officer Lowe had to fire warning shots in the air. Another problem that occurred was while lowering lifeboat No. 15. This boat almost got positioned over lifeboat No. 13, wherein the latter drifted directly under former because it was unable to release the ropes. Luckily, no one was hurt and the ropes were released in time.

The rest of the boats were filled to their capacity however, the water that was being pumped out from the ship was flooding into the lifeboats while lowering. Nonetheless, all the boats were safely rowed away. The last lifeboat to leave Titanic was collapsible D at 02:05 hours, it had 44 people on board. Historian Thomas E. Bonsall, had commented: “Even if they had the number [of] lifeboats they needed, it is impossible to see how they could have launched them.” This was because the entire process was highly unorganized due to poor leadership and scarcity of time, as well. Nevertheless, if the available boats were utilized to the maximum, at least 500 more lives could have been saved!

Sending Out Distress Signals for Help!

While the evacuation and chaos was dominant in the vicinity, continuous efforts were being taken to seek help from the nearby ships simultaneously. Radio operators continued to send the distress signal CQD. Radio operator Harold Bride asked his colleague Jack Phillips to also send the newly invented SOS signal saying, “It may be your last chance to send it.” Responses were received by many ships, the closest of all being RMS Carpathia. However, being a slow vessel, it would have taken a minimum of 4 hours to reach Titanic. Distress rockets were being fired continuously to gain immediate assistance from the vessels nearby. These rockets were seen by Second Officer Herbert Stone of SS Californian, which was just 16-19 kilometers away from the sinking Titanic. When Stone informed Stanley Lord, the captain of SS Californian, Lord did not react to the report, and therefore, no action was taken. The last intelligible distress signal was sent at 1:40 hours by radio operator Jack Phillips. This message was sent to the Russian ship SS Birma. Click on the image on your right for a clear view. The message says: “We are sinking fast passengers being put into boats.” The only radio operator of SS Californian, Cyril Evans, had shut down his radio set just 10 minutes before Titanic collided with the iceberg. He had also tried to warn Titanic’s radio operator Jack Phillips about the iceberg, earlier during the day the warning was avoided and never reached the bridge. Had Evans retired for bed a little later that night, many more lives would have been saved.

RMS Titanic’s Last Few Minutes before Sinking …

The last lifeboat left the ship just 15 minutes before it sank. There were thousands of passengers still aboard, and there was no hope to survive. It is reported that Captain Smith took a final tour of the deck, informing the crew members that “now it’s every man for himself.” During the last few minutes of the ship, before it sank into the depths of the Atlantic, the scenario was this: The band continued to play cheerful tunes and Hymns till that section went under. Although, it is famously reported that the band played the hymn, Nearer, My God, to Thee, , various survivors, including First Class passenger Archibald Gracie , who happened to be next to the band till they played last, claims that the band didn’t play the hymn.

The passengers, certain that they will not make it, gathered in the stern wherein Father Thomas Byles was busy hearing confessions and giving absolution to the hundreds of passengers that were trapped in the ship. It is said that Father Byles refused to enter the lifeboat himself and assisted various Third Class passengers to come towards the boat deck during evacuation. The credit also goes to John Edward Hart , a Third Class steward who organized many trips to take these steerage passengers to the boat deck. Even in his last moments, Father Byles was reciting the rosary, helping other victims find peace through confessions and prayers.

The on-board passengers and crew members were a melange of those who accepted the inevitability of death, and those who were still struggling for survival or at least hoping for a miracle that could save them from what was clearly ahead — death! One amongst those who had accepted their doomed fate was millionaire Benjamin Guggenheim, an American businessman. Initially, Guggenheim, while helping his mistress and her maid enter lifeboat No. 9, told the maid in German, “We will soon see each other again! It’s just a repair. Tomorrow the Titanic will go on again.” However, it didn’t take him long enough to understand the exact situation! Once he accepted his fate, it is believed that he and his valet removed their life jackets and changed into their best evening wear. They were last seen smoking and sipping brandy in the Staircase, seated in the nearby deck chairs. Guggenheim was heard saying, “We’ve dressed up in our best and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.” He also sent a message through a survivor for his wife, saying, “Tell my wife, if it should happen that my secretary and I both go down, tell her I played the game out straight to the end. No woman shall be left aboard this ship because Ben Guggenheim was a coward.”

On the other hand, there were people still trying to fight their fate. One of them was Colonel Archibald Gracie IV, who was one of the few survivors, and a major contributor in providing a detailed account of the night RMS Titanic sank. According to him, he was heading to the aft, right after the last lifeboat had left. Only a few minutes were left for the Titanic to sink, and suddenly he saw hundreds of steerage passengers, finally have made it to the deck with immense difficulty, swarming the entire boat deck in hope of rescue. The sight was so agonizing that he couldn’t stand it, and in order to escape from the crowd, he jumped into the water.

The last few minutes, and the ballistic tsuris that people went through before the ship finally sank, was brilliantly portrayed in the 1997 movie by James Cameron. While there were some people calmly awaiting death, there were others who were looking for help some praying and confessing, others crying in agony asking God for help. While some were holding on to the ship, others jumped into the water and held on to the nearby floating objects. All in all, the sight was heartbreaking for each and everyone. It is difficult to describe the agony of that moment in words …

The Sinking of the RMS Titanic … Many Lives Lost …

At about 2:15 hours on April 15, 1912, the RMS Titanic started flooding rapidly through the deck hatches. This caused the ship to form an angle, due to which a huge wave was formed, that swept along many people from the lifeboats and ship, into the ocean. One lifeboat Collapsible B, carried Chief Officer Henry Wilde, First Officer Murdoch, Colonel Gracie, Second Officer Charles Lightoller, and radio operator Harold Bride, among the others. Due to the ferocity of the wave, Wilde and Murdoch lost their lives. However, Gracie, Lightoller, and Bride, survived.

Titanic was going through immense stress, and witnesses describe the occurrence of various blasts and explosions. The engines and the machinery of the ship was falling apart, crushing many people on the way. Due to the increased flooding, the forward deck of the ship sank, thereby rising the stern of the ship to an angle of 30-45 degrees. What with the tumultuous tilt, the propellers, too, were exposed! Many of the passengers aboard (nearly 1500), were clinging on to the ship. Witnesses describe the scene deucedly agonizing as there were people falling in bulk into the sea, as the stern of the ship rose high, almost reaching a 90-degree angle. The lights of the ship flickered once, and shortly after, went out! Because of the stress on the keel, the ship broke into halves, splitting in between the third and the fourth funnels. Some witnesses report that the stern of Titanic, after staying in a near-vertical position for a few minutes, rotated on the surface of the ocean, and with a loud bursting noise, at 2:20 am, sank into the depths of the Atlantic Ocean, taking more than 1500 souls along …

Aftermath: Rescue, Survivors, Victims, and Reasons for the Catastrophe

The greatest ship of all time, had turned out to be the ship of great sorrow, taking the lives of 1,514 people, and leaving each and every surviving passenger, deal with the loss of their dear ones. The temperature of the water that night was -2° C therefore, many people clinging on to the debris of Titanic in the water, also died of heart attacks and hypothermia. After the ship sank, there were many people in the ocean, crying, expecting the nearest lifeboats to help. Many passengers on the lifeboats (with many empty seats), hesitated to go forward to help the people in the water, thinking that they will swamp the lifeboat, which would risk the lives of the people aboard. In lifeboat No. 6 was the unsinkable Molly Brown , as she was famously called, post the sinking. She tried to help those in the freezing water, but was soon shunned by Quartermaster Robert Hichens, who wasn’t willing to go forward being fearful of the consequences.

For about 20 minutes till after the ship sank, cries for help were heard constantly, but because of the freezing temperature, the voices went dim as minutes passed, and soon, all that could be seen were debris of the ship, along with the corpses with their lifebelts on. They all perished due to the cold. However, Officer Lowe, who was the in charge of lifeboat No. 14, made an attempt to take the boat, along with other seamen, to the sinking site to see if someone was still alive. He managed to hear some dim voices, and rescued about 4 men however, one of them died immediately after.

Even for the people on the lifeboats, survival wasn’t for sure! They were already drenched in water, and with the temperature being so cold, many died in the lifeboats itself. There was no food, no water, no lights, no warmth of any kind. In fact, many people couldn’t stand the whole situation, and losing hope, they voluntarily fell into the water to die. That was one moment, when no one was safe and certain as to what would possibly happen.

Rescue by RMS Carpathia

RMS Carpathia had received the distress call from Titanic around 12:11 am. It sailed through the ice fields, risking its own safety, and reached the site at 4:00 am. What was invisible in the darkness of the moonless night, became clear as soon as the daylight hit the doomed site. All that the crew of Carpathia could see was large fields of ice, and icebergs as huge as 200 feet! There were debris and corpses from the Titanic floating in the midst, and hundreds of people waiting to be rescued to a safer place, with hopes in their hearts that they would still reunite with their loved ones.

The rescue mission took about 5 hours, and by 9:00 am, 710 people were rescued by RMS Carpathia. The people rescued, needed medical assistance, which Carpathia did not have at the moment. Sensing the need of the hour, the captain of Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, decided to take the ship to New York so that the survivors could be taken care of, in an appropriate manner. During the same time, two more ships Mount Temple, and SS Californian arrived around 9:15 am. They continued to look for survivors, but in vain. Carpathia reached New York after 3 days, on April 18, 1912.

Lucky Survivors and Unfortunate Victims

As mentioned earlier, out of the 2,224 people on board, only 710 survived. Approximately 68% of the people perished in the disaster, and those who survived could never move on with their lives normally the incident left a chasm brimming with lachrymose in their souls. Many lost their loved ones, and many lived with the guilt that due to their helplessness, they could do nothing to save the rest of the victims. One such survivor was Colonel Gracie, who could never get over the ordeal, and died almost eight months after this catastrophe. Another infamous survivor was the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay, who boarded a lifeboat (Collapsible C) at 1:40 am. Because he escaped the ship, while there were women and children still on board, he was termed the Coward of Titanic . However, to his defense, Ismay said that when he boarded the boat, there were no women and children around. Nevertheless, his image was damaged beyond repair.

Most of the survivors were women and children. Margaret Brown, Dorothy Gibson, and Lady Duff-Gordon and her husband Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon, Officer Lightoller, and radio operator Harold Bride were amongst the few fortunate survivors. Another name that I would like to mention here would be stewardess Violet Jessop. Destiny favored her survival, not just once, but twice when she esoterically surpassed the sinking of RMS Titanic in 1912, and HMHS Britannic in 1916.

John Jacob Astor ensured that his wife Madeleine survived however, in the bargain, he couldn’t survive to see his to-be-born son. On one hand, wherein the husband saved his pregnant wife and died himself, there were Isidor and Ida Strauss, (owner of the Macy’s) who died rubricating their undying love in each other’s arms. It is believed that Isidor Strauss refused to enter the lifeboat while women and children were still aboard. His wife, Ida Strauss also refused to leave without her husband, saying, “We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go.” They were last seen sitting on the deck chairs holding hands.

Similarly, the designer of the ship, Thomas Andrews, did not make any efforts to evacuate the ship, but was seen persuading others to board the lifeboats. He was also seen throwing the deck chairs into the ocean, so that those in the water can float with some support. He was last seen staring at the painting situated in the first-class smoking room, right above the fireplace. The painting was of the Plymouth Harbour where Titanic was scheduled to sail during her return voyage.

Similarly, Captain Smith also perished in the disaster. He didn’t try to save himself, and was last seen on the bridge, seven minutes before the ship sank. Although, according to Harold Bride, he saw the captain diving into the ocean a few minutes before the final sinking. On the other hand, some sources say that Captain Smith had drowned himself voluntarily by entering the flooded wheelhouse. What exactly happened to Captain Smith is still unknown. His body was never found, as was the case with Thomas Andrews.

Some Unexplained Instances

During the analysis of the entire disaster, many unexplained instances came to light, their occurrence to date holding the reins of mystery. Here are a few significant instances elucidated.

» One of the passengers that boarded the ship from Southampton was a Jesuit trainee, Francis Browne . He was the last one to take the pictures of Titanic . Reportedly, he had become friends with an American couple — millionaires from the First Class — who offered to pay for his return voyage on RMS Titanic . In order to take the permission for the same, Browne telegraphed his superior, and received a reply, “GET OFF THAT SHIP – PROVINCIAL.” He left the ship, the next day, April 11, 1912, when the ship docked in Cock Harbor, Ireland.

» Another person who left the ship on the same day as Francis Browne, was a crew member named John Coffey. Coffey was a stoker of the ship, and because he wouldn’t have been allowed to leave the ship, he hid himself in the mail bags that were being transported to the shore. Nobody knows what made him decide to leave the ship.

» The Chief Officer of Titanic, Henry Wilde, who couldn’t survive the disaster, had sent a letter to his sister while he was aboard. The letter stated that he had a queer feeling about the ship. While some sources say that he was drowned in the disaster, there are some who suspect that he committed suicide before the ship sank. What happened to him is not certain, his body was never found!

» Officer Lightoller, one of the few men who managed to survive, said that his survival was nothing, but a miracle of God. In his testimony published in the Christian Science Journal, he said that he sensed the presence of a divine power guarding over him. There were various instances wherein he could have died, but was miraculously saved each and every time. One such instance was when he was nearing the suction created by the sinking ship, and immediately, the forward funnel of the ship fell, throwing Lightoller and other passengers in the lifeboat, 20 feet away from the ship. Also, in spite of the fact that he was dunked into the frosty water till the arrival of Carpathia, he endured no injuries or reactions due to the biting cold.

Due to the instances mentioned above, it is obvious for one to think if there was something supernatural about the sinking of the ship. One of the survivors had also described the catastrophe as “horrifying, mysterious, and supernatural.” Another point to be noted is that, there were many deaths that occurred before the ship set sail. Reportedly, six people died during the construction, two in the shipyard workshops and sheds, and one on the day the ship was launched — a wooden piece fell on him. Also, 246 people were injured while building the Titanic, out of which, 28 people were severely injured resulting in the loss of limbs.

For those who are religious, another point of concern was that this ship was never blessed, or christened. This is because the White Star Line didn’t believe in such practices. In fact, it was their traditional policy of not doing so. While there is no certainty in the fact that the ship was doomed because of this reason, it definitely raises the eyebrows of many people till date.

Analyzing Warnings That Went Ignored

Inquiries by the United States Senate began immediately on April 19, 1912, the next day after Carpathia reached the New York Harbor. The British survivors were asked to remain in the United States till the inquiries were over on May 25, 1912. Soon after, the British Board of Trade began its inquiry into the disaster, which continued from May 2 – July 3, 1912. Various parties, including the survivors of Titanic, crew members of Carpathia, and SS Californian were questioned. The following points highlight the main conclusions of the investigation.

» On the day of the disaster, 6 warnings were sent to the crew of Titanic Captain Smith failed to take heed of these warnings. Further research confirms that the last 4 warnings, received by the on-duty radio operator Jack Phillips, were never conveyed to the bridge. The final warning was sent by Cyril Evans, the radio operator of the Californian at 22:30. However, Phillips failed to understand the significance of the information as he was busy sending the messages of the passengers. Apparently, the radio set broke a day before the ship collided with the iceberg. This resulted in a lot of pending work, which is why, when Phillips received a warning from Evans, he got irritated and replied: “Shut up! Shut up! I’m working Cape Race.” Officer Lightoller in his autobiography mentioned that when he told Phillips that he doesn’t recall any warnings from Mesaba, Phillips replied, “I just put the message under a paper weight at my elbow, just until I squared up what I was doing before sending it to the Bridge.” Had he been a little quick in conveying the message, a lot of people, including himself, would have been saved.

» Call it the fate of the ship, or the overconfidence of its creators, in spite of being aware of the presence of ice fields, the ship was still sailing at a very high speed of 25 mph (41 km/h), a little less than her maximum speed of 28 mph (44 km/h). Some sources say that J. Bruce Ismay was the one who asked the captain to maintain a high speed, trusting that the ship was unsinkable.

» Another reason was a part and parcel of the trust that the creators had on the ship. The number of lifeboats were only 20, and on top of it all, they were underutilized and poorly handled. The crew of Titanic was not prepared for such an emergency, both in terms of resources and training.

» While the captain of RMS Carpathia, Arthur Rostron, was awarded for his assistance Captain Stanley Lord of SS Californian, was highly criticized because he and his crew members didn’t assist the Titanic, in spite of being so close to the ship at the time of the disaster! When Captain Lord was informed about the rocket signals, instead of taking immediate action, he asked his crew to check if they were company signals. Also, an ideal step that he could have taken was to wake his radio operator, and try to investigate if the rockets were an indication of distress signals. It was only at 5:30 am, that the radio operator Cyril Evans was intimated about the scenario however, it was too late by then. Had Captain Lord been a little more concerned about the signals, at least 200 more lives would have been saved. Captain Lord showed no sorrow, or remorse, or even grief regarding Titanic’s loss.

Implementing New Safety Practices Taking Titanic’s Sinking As a Reference

Another guideline that was issued, was that all the rockets signals must be interpreted as a “distress signal” only. This was one major concern as the captain of SS Californian had misinterpreted the rocket signal of Titanic to be a company signal, which was used by many vessels to identify themselves to other ships in the vicinity.

Also, in 1914, an organization known as the International Ice Patrol was started in order to monitor and report the presence of icebergs to the ships sailing in the Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. This body is run by the United States Coast Guard, and there are 13 countries that fund this organization.

Research also brought various faults in the design of the ships to the forefront. Taking Titanic as an example, various modifications were done to the design of the ships, including Titanic’s sister ship RMS Olympic. All the ships had double hulls, and their bulkheads were extended to make the compartments of the ship completely watertight.

Discovery of the Wrecks of RMS Titanic

The wrecks of RMS Titanic were discovered after 73 years of its sinking, on September 1, 1985. The credit goes to Dr. Robert Ballard and Jean-Louis Michel , who led a joint expedition for the same. This discovery became a sensational news, and gained a lot of attention worldwide. It now lies 12,500 feet deep, situated 370 miles south-southeast of the coast of Newfoundland. As reported by the survivors, the ship did break into two, and the separated portions lie 600 meters apart. It was also observed that the bow section of the ship sank at a very high speed of approximately 25-30 mph. Due to this, it landed at the seabed with great force, and buried itself up to 20 meters in the sediments of the ocean.

When the wrecks were discovered, 5 by 3 miles of the surrounding area was covered by the debris including items of the passengers, and artifacts from the ship. The wrecks included coal, machinery, personal belongings, and shoes and coats of the passengers that sank along with the ship corpses, probably eaten by the sea creatures. A lot of artifacts lie in various museums across the globe, and are still a major attraction to many.

Thus, the ephemeral life of Titanic became an eternal mark in history. Like the people were eager to be a part of its maiden voyage back then today, historians and artists are eager to be a part of its mysterious existence in the depths of the Atlantic. The sinking of Titanic resulted in the emergence of new policies for vessels to sail safely on the waters. Although, Titanic’s journey was one of the most short-lived journey of all times, it still continues to live in the hearts of many, even 100 years after its sinking! Titanic is considered to be one of the most popular ships ever made in this world. It was the most anticipated vessel during its creation, the most popular passenger ship during its launch, and the most infamous and shocking disaster when it sank. Even when its wrecks were discovered, it gained worldwide attention, and now, various artists, including writers, painters, and movie makers, continue to keep its memories alive through their creative work. Although, Titanic didn’t make it to its destination, it did successfully made a mark in the minds of many, for centuries to come…


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