On the fifth day of her maiden transatlantic voyage, people were dealing with private massages to and from the passengers on board. In 1912, wireless was a relative novelty with many ships traveling without it. At 9:00 that Sunday morning, the fourteenth, the wireless room received a message from the Caronia reporting "bergs, prowlers, and field ice at 42 degrees north and 51 degrees west. This warning of icebergs was not the first nor the last. Harold Bride, the receiver of the message, took it to the bridge where Joseph G. Boxhall received it, and he noted the position of the ship on the ship's chart. The officers on the bridge paid very little attention to the information. Bergs were not unknown in this part of the Atlantic during April, and they were extremely confident that they would have no trouble spotting an iceberg in time. The sea was clam, the weather was cool and sunny, and what danger could a few bits of ice pose to the magnificent new ship?
Elsewhere passengers went about their usual leisure pursuits of a typical transatlantic voyage. They read brooks, wrote letters, chatted with friends, and reclined with a cup of broth and a biscuit in a sunny deck chair. Since the 14th was a Sunday, services were held. The first class service was presided over by Captain Edward Smith. Sixty-two in age, Smith was going to retire after being captain of the ship on her maiden voyage. This was to be a fitting end to a sterling career with the White Star Line. The dignified and self-confident Smith seemed the perfect pastor.
At 11:40 a.m., the wireless room received a message from the Dutch liner Noordam that reporting "much ice" about the same position as the Caronia earlier that morning. There was absolutely no proof that this message reached the bridge. Around 1:30 a.m., Captain Smith was on his way to lunch when he ran into J. Ismay, the president of White Star Line. Between noon Saturday and noon Sunday, Titanic had traveled 546 miles. The next day, they decided to bring her up to full speed for a short test to see what she was capable of. Before Smith and Ismay departed, Smith handed him a wireless message received from Baltic. The message read, "Greek steamer Athinai reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice today in latitude 41 degrees longitude 49 degrees west. Wish you and Titanic all success." The ice field was now only 250 miles ahead of the Titanic. Later that afternoon Ismay would wave this message at two prominent passengers, Mrs. Arthur Ryerson and Mrs. John B. Thayer. Ismay was obviously how great and powerful Titanic really was. Despite the ice warning, Captain Smith and Ismay remained unconcerned.
The daylight hours passed uneventfully. There were absolutely no organized recreational activities. Some passengers played cards in the first-class smoking room. The sound of a bugle announced lunch, and later dinner. The temperature dropped dramatically in the late afternoon. The ship altered course slightly to avoid the ice ahead. Quickly, darkness approached.
While the captain sat and ate a fancy dinner, Harold Bride delivered yet another ice warning to the bridge. It was from the steamer Californian, far ahead of the Titanic, and on a course slightly to the north. Captain Stanley Lord reported the passing of three very large icebergs about three miles to the south. This message was never given to Captain Smith. At Around 9 p.m. Captain Smith excused himself from dinner and went to the bridge where Herbert Lightoller was on duty. He and Lightoller discussed the changing weather conditions. It was possible the drop in temperature indicated they were entering a region of ice and both were aware that some ice was ahead. They were also both aware that icebergs could be very difficult to see on a clear, calm, motionless night. There was no wind or swell to cause surf. Lightoller informed Smith that with the temperature continuing to drop, he would order the forward forecastle hatch to be closed so that the glow from inside wouldn't interfere with the lookouts in the crow's nest. At 9:20, Captain Smith went to bed for the night. He left Lightoller with the words, "If it becomes at all doubtful, let me know at once. I shall be inside." Ten minutes later, Lightoller told the people in the crow's nest to keep lookout for bergs. It was customary for ships to travel at full speed until an iceberg was actually seen. It probably never entered Smith's mind to reduce the speed on such a clear night. One sailor said that he had never seen such an ocean so flat.
At this point, the officers of the Titanic didn't take any unusual precautionary measures to deal with the hazards ahead. Because of the lack of coordination between the bridge and the wireless room and the absence of any standard procedure for dealing with ice warnings, they seemed to have thought the bergs were much farther north than Titanic's track. Two more ice messages were received by the Titanic that night. None of the surviving officers remembered either of these ice messages making it to the bridge. The first one might have galvanized Lightoller into some sort of action. The ice was quite clearly directly ahead of the Titanic's present course.
Harold Bride had now retired for a nap and Jack Phillips was busy trying to wade through the commercial traffic. The nearest North American shore station at Cape Race had come in range and messages that had piled up all day could now be sent. Phillips was so busy that he brushed off the final ice warning altogether. It was the Californian again. The Californian stopped in field ice on a course a mere 19 miles north of the Titanic's line of travel. Her position was so close to theirs that the message blasted in his ears. Irritated by the interruption, he cut off the sender and shouted profanity to him. Altogether, the day's seven ice warnings indicated a huge field of ice 78 miles long. This line of ice was directly ahead of the Titanic.
In the crow's nest, lookouts Fred Fleet and Reginald Lee had passed an uneventful watch. The time was now 11:40 and in another 20 minutes they would be relieved and would head below. The sea was still flat calm, but the air was now bitterly cold. A few minutes earlier, they'd noted what looked like a slight haze extending a couple of miles to both side and dead ahead. But they were without binoculars, which had been misplaced before the ship left Southampton. Suddenly, Fleet saw something straight-ahead. It began to grow larger. Quickly, he rang the warning bell to alert the bridge. Sixth Officer Moody received the message. Fleet shouted, "ICEBERG, RIGHT AHEAD!"
When Moody relayed the news, Murdoch, a first officer, reacted immediately. He moved quickly over to the telegraph and ordered the engines to be stopped and reversed. At the same time, he told Robert Hitchens to turn the wheel "hard-a-starboard". This would have the effect of turning the ship to port. Murdoch then pulled the lever to close the doors to the watertight compartments. Hitchens spun the wheel as far as it would go. At the last moment, the ship veered slightly to port.
It was too late. A head-on collision had been averted but the ship rushed forward and hit the iceberg a glancing blow along its starboard bow. At the bridge level it seemed as if the ship might have escaped unscathed. Several tons of ice fell into the forward Well Deck as it passed, but the ship only shuddered and continued to glide on. A few minutes later, she stopped.
Most passengers aboard were unaware the ship had hit anything, let alone fatally wounded. Because the air was so biting, most were inside and some had already turned in for the night. The ladies at dinner had already retired to their cabins and the men had gathered for an after-dinner cigar in the first-class smoking room. They heard a faint grinding jar. A couple of people jumped to their feet and ran out on the deck in time to see the iceberg vanishing astern. They were soon joined by others, curious to know what had drifted back to their games, drinks, or headed to their cabins for bed. When other passengers heard all the ice in the forward Well Deck, they made plans for snowballing matches the following morning.
Lawrence Beesley was reading in his second-class cabin when there came what seemed to him nothing more than the extra heave of the engines and more than usually obvious dancing motion of the mattress he sat on. Nothing more than that. Divining nothing out of the ordinary in this, Lawrence went back to his reading. His first intimation that something was wrong was when he heard the engines dead.
Second Officer Lightoller was drifting off to sleep when he heard "a sudden vibrating jar run through the ship." A number of other passengers and crew felt the gentle jar as the iceberg brushed by and described it using various terms like rolling over a thousand marbles. Down at the bottom of the ship, the collision was felt in a very differently way. Second Engineer J. Hesketh was in the boiler room when he noticed the Stop light on. Barely had he given the orders of shutting the dampers when he heard a noise like the roar of thunder. A jet of icy water immediately hit Hesketh and leading stoker Fred Barrett. The combination of noise and the shock of cold water was enough to send both running aft through the short tunnel to boiler room number 5 just before the watertight door glided shut.
Twenty minutes after the collision, Captain Smith knew the worst. He and Mr. Andrews, chief among Titanic's designers, had just completed a rapid tour of the below decks to assess the damage. The mailroom was filling with water and sacks of mail floating about. The forepeak tank was breached as were the three forward holds and boiler room number six.
15 transverse watertight bulkheads into 16 watertight compartments divided the Titanic's hull. She was designed to float with any two of these compartments breached. In addition, she would make it if all the first four were flooded but not the first five. The critical compartment was boiler room number five. With these first five compartments breached, water would eventually fill them and overflow into the compartments aft, one by one. Titanic would most definitely sink. Andrews estimated the ship would be gone in an hour- 1 1/2 hours at most.
Smith had no time to think about the mistakes that led to the disaster. Because he was a man of action, his thoughts turned to the evacuation of his ship and tried to keep her afloat as long as he could. This was his first crisis in his very long career. He wrestled with the reality that the ship had lifeboats for barely half the passengers aboard Titanic. The Titanic, however, actually carried more lifeboats than what was required. Captain Smith knew that at least 1,000 people would be left aboard Titanic when she would founder. He proceeded carefully to delay the panic. Later, he would have time to contemplate on what went wrong as he prepared to go down with the ship.
At 12:05, the squash court was awash. Smith ordered Chief Officer Henry Wilde to uncover the lifeboats. Fourth Officer Boxhall was sent to wake Second Officer Lightoller, Third Officer Pitman, and Fifth Officer Lowe. Then the captain walked aft along the port side of the Boat Deck to the wireless room to personally give instructions to Phillips and Bride to send out the distress call. Later that night, Bride decided to try out the new distress, SOS, which was just coming into use.
Not far away, aboard Californian, Cyril Evans had retired for the night shortly after getting that soon to be famous brush-off from Jack Phillips aboard the Titanic and only minutes before the first distress call was sent. Charles Groves had just finished his watch and stopped by the wireless room. He liked playing around with the set, maybe he could rise the ship whose lights he could see coming from the southeast. To him she appeared to be a passenger liner about ten miles away. However, with Evans gone he couldn't get the receiver to work. After fiddling with the dials, he headed for his cabin several minutes before Titanic sent out her first distress call.
On the bridge of the Titanic a little after midnight, Fourth Officer Boxhall observed the lights of a steamer seemingly about five miles away and pointed it out to Captain Smith, who gave him permission to send out distress signals. Boxhall then instructed Quartermaster George Rowe to begin firing white rockets, which he proceeded to do at about five-minute intervals. The first rocket went up at about 12:45. In the wireless room, Bride and Phillips feverishly continued to send out the distress signals. Although numerous ships heard and responded to their calls, the closest vessel they had been able to reach was the Carpathia about 58 miles southeast of Titanic. Captain Rostron, the captain of the Carpathia, turned his ship full steam toward the Titanic and raced to the rescue. At approximately the same time, Second Officer Stone, on the Californian's bridge, observed a white rocket bursting above the strange ship to the south. Attempts to contact it by Morse lamp had been futile and no one wanted to wake up Evans, who was the wireless operator. The first rocket was followed at several-minute intervals by more white rockets. The total amount of rockets used was five. Stone called Captain Lord on the speaking tube. The captain had gone to lie down in the chart room but asked to be informed if the unidentified ship came any closer. Lord asked if the rockets were private signals and when Stone replied that he didn't know, instructed him to attempt once again to raise the strange by Morse lamp. Stone was again unsuccessful. He and Apprentice Gibson now watched as three more rockets were fired. The last of these rockets were fired at 1:40 a.m. Around 2 a.m., the unidentified ship appeared to be sailing to the southwest. Stone sent Gibson downstairs to wake the captain to update him. Lord asked what color the rockets were and told his officer to continue signaling with the Morse lamp. Sometime between 2 and 2:20, the mysterious ship disappeared completely.
On board the Titanic, almost an hour after the collision, the seriousness of the situation had still not sunk in for the majority of passengers. Byf 12:30, Captain Smith had instructed his officer to start loading the lifeboats. He instructed him to only allow women and children only to be loaded on to the boats. Most of first class was now on the Boat Deck wearing life belts as the stewards had instructed them. The ship's band added to the "party" atmosphere from their position just inside the Boat Deck entrance to the Grand Staircase where they continued to play a medley of lively tunes.
Both Murdoch, the First Officer, in charge of the starboard side, and Second Officer Lightoller, looking after the port side, were having trouble persuading people to enter the boats. At about 12:45, the first boat was lowered. Although it had a capacity of 65 people, it left with only 28 aboard. Below, in the steerage decks of the ship, there was considerably more confusion and alarm. Most third-class passengers had so far failed to get to the above decks. Others had reached the Poop Deck were on the Well Deck. The White Star Line would later deny that any favoritism had been shown to the first-class but the statistics told a different story. By 12:55, with the ship distinctly down at the bow, the first portside boat was sent away. Margaret Brown, who had been walking away from the Boat Deck, was picked up and dropped into the less than half full lifeboat as it was lowered away with only 28 people. When Lightoller realized that there was only one crew in the boat, he let Arthur Peuchen slide down the fall to join him. Back on the starboard side, boats were being lowered with only 41 and 32 people in them. By 1:10, the second portside boat was finally lowered carrying only 39 people. Since there weren't enough crewmen, the Countess of Rothes took the tiller.
Of all the boats launched that night, the most controversial was starboard boat Number one. Although it had a capacity of 40, it left the ship with only 12. Later, this boat would fail to return to pick up people dying in the water.
The band played on as the bow sank farther. With the firing of the distress rockets, the milling passengers began to realize that the Titanic was in deep trouble. On the Boat Deck, there were touching scenes as husband bade farewell to wife and children then helped them into a waiting boat. Many women refused to leave their husbands. As the slant in the deck grew steeper and more alarming, the boats began to go away more fully loaded-but hardly ever full. A number of male passengers behaved as if nothing was happening. Below in the engine room, Chief Engineer William Bell and a few crewmen kept the steam up in boiler rooms number two and three so that the lights on the ship would remain lit and so there would be power to keep the pumps going. Anyone who wandered into the deserted first-class dining saloon would have seen the lights still burning brightly.
By 1:30, the bow was well down and the list had shifted heavily to port. People found it hard to keep their balance and signs of panic began to appear. As portside boat 14 was lowered, a group of passengers rushed to the rails and threatened to jump in. The boat was already loaded with 40 people. Inside the boat, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe fired two shots to war the crowd on deck away and the boat reached the water safely. In the Marconi room, the wireless operators were still at their post. By 1:40, most of the forward boats had gotten away and collapsed. Canvas lifeboat C had been fitted onto the davits for starboard boat Number 1. This part of the deck was now fairly deserted as the majority of passengers had moved to the stern area, which was beginning to lift out of the water. Chief Officer Wilds call of women and children no longer got responses and he ordered the well-fitted boat lowered away. As it left the deck, William Carter and Bruce Ismay stepped into the boat. Ismay would later be pilloried for his perceived act of cowardliness.
Over on the port side, things had progressed more slowly. Lightoller had followed his orders to the letter and been much stricter than Murdoch about not letting men into the partly full boats. He made no exception for John Jacob Astor. Astor assisted his young wife into boat number four and then requested to join her. When Lightoller refused, Astor went down as a gentleman.
By 2:05 a.m., the forward Well Deck was deeply awash. The sea was only ten feet below a deck and only one boat was left. More than 1,500 people remained on Titanic. Lightoller ordered his crew to allow women and children to come through only. With the boats all gone, a curious calm came over Titanic. The excitement and confusion were over and the hundreds left behind stood quietly on the upper decks. They seemed to cluster inboard, trying to keep as far away from the rail as possible. Captain Smith made his way to the wireless room and told the operators they had done their duty and also "Now it's every man for himself. Quietly, he walked around giving various crewmembers the same message. Then he headed back toward the bridge. Smith went down with the vessel calmly.
The last glimpse of Thomas Andrew by anyone was probably of him standing alone in the first-class smoking room, staring into space. Young Jack Thayer stood at the ship's rail until the water was only a few feet below and then jumped. He was sucked down in the icy water as he swam for his life in a direction he hoped was away from the ship. When he finally surfaced, the ship was 40 feet away. The ship's lights, which had burned almost until the end, had blinked one and gone out. Now Thayer watched in fascination as the now sinkable ship went into its final death throes. It was now 2:18 a.m. "The ship seemed to be surrounded with a glare, and stood out of the night as though she were on fire. The water was over the base of the first funnel. The mass of people on board was surging back, always back toward the floating stern. The rumble and roar continued with even louder distinct wrenching and tearing of boilers and engines from their beds. Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split. The second funnel seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks. The suction of it drew people down and down, struggling and swimming began seriously."
When Thayer surfaced he found that he'd come up against the overturned collapsible lifeboat B. Several men were already clinging to the bottom of the boat. They helped Jack up to safety. He had a ringside view of the last moments of the Titanic as she disappeared beneath the waters. "Her deck was turned slightly toward us. We could see groups of almost fifteen hundred people aboard, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs and singly, as the great part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, until it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle. Here it seemed to pause, and just hang, for what felt like minutes. Gradually, she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle."
During these final moments, the overturned collapsible was being sucked toward the ship and the men on her were desperately trying to row her away. "I looked upwards-we were right under the propellers. For an instant, I thought they were sure to come right down on top of us. Then, with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea."
That was the end of the greatest ship the world had yet seen. Scattered over the sea were lifeboats, many of them only partly filled. Almost immediately, the silent night was punctuated with the calls of floating survivors, growing in number and anguish until in Thayer's words they became "a long continuous wailing chant." Long before dawn the wailing stopped.
The people who shivered in the drifting lifeboats, waiting for dawn and waiting to be rescued were the last people to see the great R.M.S. Titanic for more than 73 years.