Loss of the White Star Liner "Titanic" - 1913
The last photograph of the Titanic taken as she was leaving Southampton on her Maiden Voyage. The Unsinkable Titanic (1912) p,. 117. GGA Image ID # 100a8db716
Loss of the White Star Liner “Titanic”
Date: April 15, 1912.
Place: Atlantic Ocean, lat. 41:16 North, long. 50:14 West.
The following table, showing the number of persons on board the Titanic, the number saved, and the number lost, is from the senate committee’s official report:
Table of RMS Titanic Passengers and Crew, Saved or Lost. © GG Archives 2019. GGA Image ID # 105dd9c0c4
- Persons Aboard: 2,223
- Lives Lost: 1,517
- Persons Saved: 706
- Cause of Disaster: Collision with Iceberg.
The White Star liner Titanic, the newest, finest and largest steamship in existence at the time, collided with an iceberg at 11:46 p. m. Sunday, April 14, 1912, and sank at 2:20 a. m. Monday, April 15, causing the loss of 1,517 lives.
Seven hundred and six persons, mostly women and children, were saved by means of lifeboats and rafts. These survivors were picked up by the steamship Carpathia, which, in response to a call by wireless for assistance, arrived at the scene of the disaster at 4 o'clock in the morning and conveyed them to New York, that port being reached on the evening of Thursday, April 18.
The Titanic was making its first voyage across the Atlantic, having left the hands of its builders in Belfast April 2. It sailed from Southampton April 10, and, after calling at Cherbourg, France, the same day, and Queenstown, Ireland, the following day, it proceeded toward New York, taking the usual southerly spring course.
Notable Passengers and Crew
There was a large number of passengers aboard, many of them attracted by a desire to witness the performance of the gigantic vessel on its initial trip and to share in its comforts and luxuries.
One of these was:
- J. Bruce Ismay, chairman and managing director of the White Star line and president of the International Mercantile Marine company;
- William T. Stead, the widely known London editor;
- John Jacob Astor, the New York capitalist;
- Charles M. Hays, president of the Grand Trunk Railroad company;
- Frank D. Millet, artist;
- Lord and Lady Duff-Gordon of England;
- Maj. Archibald Butt, military aid to President Taft;
- J. B. Thayer, second vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad company;
- Washington A. Roebling, bridge engineer, Trenton, N. J.;
- Isidor Straus and Benjamin Guggenheim, New York capitalists;
- George D. Widener, son of P. A. B. Widener of Philadelphia;
- Jacques Futrelle, author, and Henry B. Harris, theatrical manager, were also among the persons of note included in the passenger list.
- Capt. E. J. Smith was in command of the ship.
The voyage at the start was uneventful. The sea was calm and the weather clear, though rather cold. The wind was westerly to southwesterly. As usual with new ships, the speed was being gradually increased from day to day.
According to a statement made afterward by Mr. Ismay, the distance covered on the first day was 464 miles, on the second 519 miles and on the third about 546 miles. No attempt, he said, was made to reach the full speed of which the vessel was capable, as it was not intended to reach New York until Wednesday morning.
Ice Warnings Received
Sunday the wireless operators aboard the Titanic received three warnings that icebergs were in or near the course of the vessel. The first came from the Baltic at noon, the second from the Californian of the Leyland line about 7 o'clock in the evening and the third about an hour before the collision.
Sixty-Nine Miles Long and from Three to Twelve Miles Wide: The Great Ice-Floe Encountered by the Ill-Fated Titanic. The Illustrated London News (18 May 1912) p. 741. GGA Image ID # 100a4107e8
This was also from the Californian, the message reading: "We are stopped and surrounded by ice." To this last message, the operator on the Titanic is reported to have replied: "Shut up. I am busy, I am working Cape Race."
The Baltic's operator overheard ice reports going to the Titanic from the Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm and from the Amerika, while the Carpathia on the same day overheard the Parisian talking with other ships about ice.
No special attention was paid to these warnings by the officers of the Titanic, except that one of them instructed the lookouts to keep "a sharp lookout for ice."
Capt. Smith remarked to Second Officer Charles S. Lightoller, who was on duty on the bridge until 10 o'clock Sunday evening, "If it is in the slightest degree hazy, we shall have to go very slowly. If in the least degree doubtful let me know." There was no haze and the ship's speed of 21 knots, or 24 1/4 miles an hour, was not reduced.
Collision with Iceberg
At 11:46 p. m. the lookout signaled the bridge and telephoned the officer of the watch, "Iceberg right ahead." The officer of the watch, First Officer W. M. Murdoch, immediately ordered the quartermaster at the wheel to put the helm "hard a-star board," and reversed the engines, but while the sixth officer, J. P. Moody, standing behind the quartermaster at the wheel, reported to Officer Murdoch "The helm is hard a-starboard," the Titanic struck the ice.
The Titanic struck a glancing blow against an under-water shelf of the iceberg, opening up five compartments. Had She been provided with a watertight deck at or near the water Line, the water which entered the ship would have been confined below that deck, and the buoyancy of that portion of the ship above water would have kept her afloat. As it was, the water rose through openings in the decks and destroyed the reserve buoyancy. The Unsinkable Titanic (1912) p. 125. GGA Image ID # 100a665876
The impact, while not violent enough to disturb the passengers or crew or to arrest the ship's progress, rolled the vessel slightly and tore the steel plating above the turn of the bilge. A few of the passengers came on deck to find out what the trouble was, but there was no alarm.
Immediately after the collision, air was heard whistling or hissing from the overflow pipe to the forepeak tank, indicating the escape of air from that tank because of the inrush of water.
Practically at once, the first three compartments in the hold and the forward boiler room, as well as the forepeak tank, filled with water and reports of the situation were made from the mail and trunk room in No. 3 hold and the firemen's quarters in No. 1 hold.
Leading Fireman Barrett saw the water rushing into the forward fireroom from a tear about two feet above the stokehold floor plates and about twenty feet below the waterline, the tear extending two feet into the coal bunker at the forward end of the second fireroom.
The reports received by Capt. Smith, after various inspections of the ship must have acquainted him promptly with its serious condition and when interrogated by Mr. Ismay, he so expressed himself.
It is believed also that this serious condition was promptly realized by the chief engineer, J. Bell, and by the builders' representative, Thomas Andrews, both of whom perished.
Under the added weight of water, the bow of the ship sank deeper and deeper and through the open hatch leading from the mail room and through other openings the water overflowed E deck, below which the third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth transverse bulkheads ended, and thus flooded the compartments abaft No. 3 hold.
The Titanic was fitted with fifteen transverse watertight bulkheads, but only one of them extended to the uppermost continuous deck, C. The others extended only to decks D and E.
The bulkheads having their openings through deck E were not actually watertight, as it was subsequently shown that the flooding of that deck contributed largely to the sinking of the ship.
Theoretically, any two of the sixteen main watertight compartments might be flooded without involving the safety of the ship. As already stated, the five extreme forward compartments were flooded almost at once by reason of the nonwatertight character of the deck at which the transverse bulkheads ended and the sinking of the vessel was inevitable.
Transverse (Amidship) Section of the Titanic. Loss of the Steamship Titanic (1912) p. 89. GGA Image ID # 100b7d712b
- S: Sundeck
- A: Upper Promenade Deck
- C: Upper Deck
- D: Saloon Deck
- E: Main Deck
- F: Middle Deck
- G: Lower Deck (cargo, coal, bunkers, boilers, engines)
- a): Welin Davits with lifeboats
- b): Bilge
- c): Double bottom
Call for Help
No general alarm was sounded, no whistle blown, and no systematic warning was given the passengers. Within fifteen or twenty minutes, Capt. Smith visited the wireless room and instructed the operators, J. G. Phillips and Harold S. Bride, to call for assistance by sending out the distress signal, "C. Q. D." At the time the call was sent out there were eight vessels within reach of the Titanic's wireless apparatus.
These were the Californian, west bound, 19% miles (or less) to the north; the Mount Temple of the Canadian Pacific line, west bound, 49 miles to the west; the Carpathia of the Cunard line, east bound, to the southeast; the Birma, a Russian ship, 70 miles distant; the Frankfurt of the North German Lloyd line, east bound, 153 miles to the southeast; the Virginian of the Allan line, about 170 miles distant; the Baltic of the White Star line, east bound, 343 miles to the southeast, and the Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, east bound, 512 miles to the westward. The Caronia, some 800 miles to the eastward, also overheard the Titanic's call for aid.
The distress call was heard by the wireless station at Cape Race, together with the report that the vessel had struck an iceberg, and from this station the news of the accident, which at first was not thought to have involved the loss of life, was given to the world.
The C. Q. D. signal was also heard by the Mount Temple, the Frankfurt, the Baltic, the Carpathia, the Virginian and was relayed by them to other vessels. At an investigation undertaken by a committee of the United States senate, from whose official report this account of the disaster is largely taken, sixteen witnesses from the Titanic, including officers, seamen and passengers, testified to seeing the lights of a vessel in the distance, just after the collision.
The Titanic fired distress rockets and attempted to signal by electric lamp and Morse code to this vessel. At about the same time the officers of the Californian saw rockets in the general direction of the Titanic and, according to the testimony subsequently given by them, they displayed a powerful Morse lamp.
Several of the crew of the Californian testified before the senate committee that the side lights of a large vessel going at full speed were plainly visible from the lower deck of their ship at 11:30 p. m., or just before the accident.
The wireless operator on the Californian was not aroused until early on the morning of the 15th, when he was directed to find out what the rockets, seen hours before, meant. It was then learned that the Titanic bad sunk, but it was too late to give any assistance.
The senate committee in its report expressed the opinion that the Californian was much nearer the Titanic than the nineteen miles reported by the captain, and that it might have had the distinction of saving the lives of the passengers and crew of the sinking liner.
The Frankfurt replied to the distress call, but failed to give its own position, and when it later asked the Titanic, "What is the matter?" one of the operators on the disabled ship told the Frankfurt operator that he was a fool.
Notwithstanding this, the captain of the Frankfurt said he would go to the Titanic's assistance. Owing to the delay, however, he was unable to be of any service.
Carpathia to the Rescue
At the time of the collision the Titanic was in latitude 41:16 north and longitude 50:14 west. This is approximately 450 miles south of Cape Race 1,191 miles east of New York and 1,799 west of Queenstown.
The Cunard steamship Carpathia, which was the only vessel to come to the rescue in time, was on its way to Mediterranean ports with a considerable number of excursionists.
It was fifty-eight miles to the southeast of the Titanic when at 12:30 o'clock in the morning of the 15th its wireless operator, Thomas Cottam, who was just about to go off duty, heard the distress signal from the White Star liner. He verified it and notified Capt. Arthur H. Rostron at 12:35 a. m.
The latter at once put his ship about, ordered his crew and doctors to get everything in readiness for receiving a large number of shipwrecked persons aboard and proceeded at full speed in the direction of the disabled vessel, the exact position of which had been given in the call for help.
Operator Cottam remained in communication with the Titanic, giving the position of the Carpathia and saying that it was hurrying to the rescue. The last message he received from the Titanic was: "Come quick; our engine room is filling up to the boilers."
Loading the Lifeboats
Having sent out calls for assistance and ordered the firing of distress rockets at frequent intervals, Capt. Smith and his officers took steps to notify the passengers of the danger and to place as many of them as possible in safety.
Messengers were sent to the various decks shouting, "All passengers on deck with life preservers on." The order was obeyed quietly and quickly and so far, as known all were aroused and equipped with life preservers.
The testimony is that there was a total absence of panic and but little appearance of excitement. The ship was absolutely still and, except for a slight tilt forward, rode on an even keel. By the captain's orders the lifeboats were uncovered and made ready to be lowered into the water. The senate report says:
"The lack of preparation at this time was most noticeable. There was no system adopted for loading the boats; there was great indecision as to the deck from which the boats were to be lowered; there was wide diversity of opinion as to the number of the crew necessary to man each boat; there was no direction whatever as to the number of passengers to be carried by each boat and no uniformity in loading them.
On one side, only women and children were put into the boats, while on the other side there was an almost equal proportion of men and women put into the boats, the women and children being given the preference in all cases.
The failure to utilize all lifeboats to their recognized capacity for safety unquestionably resulted in the needless sacrifice of several hundred lives which might otherwise have been saved.
"The vessel was provided with lifeboats for 1,176 persons, while but 706 were saved. Only a few of the ship's lifeboats were fully loaded, while others were only partially filled. Some were loaded at the boat deck and some at A deck, and these were successfully lowered to the water.
The twentieth boat was washed overboard when the forward part of the ship was submerged, and in its overturned condition served as a life raft for about thirty people, including Second Officer Lightoller, Wireless Operators Bride and Phillips the latter dying before rescue - Col. Archibald Gracie and Jack Thayer, passengers, and others of the crew who climbed upon it from the water at about the time the ship disappeared.
The Titanic’s boats were too far from the water. Had the sea been rough, it is questionable whether any of the lifeboats of the Titanic would have reached the water without being damaged or destroyed. The point of suspension of the boats was about seventy feet above the level of the sea. Had the ship been rolling heavily the lifeboats, as they were lowered, would have swung out from the side of the ship as it rolled toward them and on the return, roll would have swung back and crashed against its side. The Illustrated London News (11 May 1912) p. 688. GGA Image ID # 100aab983f
"The testimony is definite that, except in isolated instances, there was no panic. In loading boats no distinction was made between first, second, and third-class passengers, although the proportion of lost was larger among the third-class passengers than in either of the other classes. Women and children without discrimination were given preference.
After the Order “All Men Stand Back Away from the Boats, All Ladies Retire to the Next Deck below ", Women Entering a Life-Boat from B Deck of the "Titanic." The Illustrated London News (18 May 1912) p. 755. GGA Image ID # 100acff1a2
Women and Children First
Second Officer Lightoller had charge of the loading of six of the lifeboats and he complied strictly with the "rule of the sea" that women and children should be cared for first.
There were altogether fourteen lifeboats, capable of holding sixty- five persons each; two emergency sea boats to hold thirty-five persons each and four collapsible boats with a capacity of forty-nine persons each.
In the steerage, there was some crowding by the men, but it was checked by the officers and the crew, who obeyed the captain's injunction to "act like British men."
The men, whether millionaires or paupers, were as a rule equally heroic. They either stood back while the boats were being loaded or helped in the work. This was notably the case with Maj. Archibald Butt, John Jacob Astor, Isidor Straus, Jacques Futrelle and Henry B. Harris, all of whom perished.
Isidor Straus resolutely refused to enter a lifeboat, though asked to do so. "As long as there is a woman on this vessel," he is reported to have said, "I will not leave. When the women are safe then come the men."
Mrs. Straus was entreated to get in with the other women, but she refused to leave her husband and died with him. There were other instances of the same kind.
There was evidently a feeling that the ship was in no immediate peril and most of the married women went aboard the lifeboats under the impression that their husbands would soon follow them in other boats. Nothing was seen of William T. Stead. He is supposed to have remained in his room and gone down with the ship.
Band Plays as Ship Sinks
In the meantime, the Titanic was steadily sinking by the head and the water was rising from deck to deck. The hundreds left on the ship were preparing to go down with it or -jump into the sea.
A few men were struggling to launch a boat that had become jammed, but otherwise nothing was being done. The eight musicians of the ship, who had come together while the lifeboats were being launched, continued playing to give the imperiled passengers confidence.
Even as the vessel was about to take its final plunge the strains of "Nearer, My God to Thee," were heard. It was the most dramatic feature of the great tragedy.
It was 2:20 o'clock in the morning when the ship finally went down. Just as it was about to disappear, two explosions were heard, and to some it appeared as though the vessel broke in two amidships.
The preponderance of evidence, however, is that when it went down it assumed an almost end on position and sank intact. The people in the nearest lifeboats heard loud screaming and moaning for what seemed to be several minutes and then all was still.
Col. Gracie was one of the last persons on the ship as it sank. He was drawn under the water by the suction, but some explosion in the vessel sent him and others to the surface.
He clung to a piece of wreckage until he recovered his breath and then he discovered the overturned lifeboat, which he managed to reach. He and another man helped others upon the craft and at daylight there were thirty men standing upon it.
They were knee deep in water and afraid to move lest they upset and drown. Besides those mentioned in the senate report, quoted in a preceding paragraph, H. J. Pitman, third officer; J. G. Boxhall, fourth officer, and H. C. Lowe, fifth officer, were rescued in this manner.
First Officer Murdoch perished, as did Capt. E. J. Smith. The exact manner of their death is not known. It was reported, but not verified, that the former shot himself before the vessel sank.
The same was said of the captain, but this was declared to be untrue. Some of the passengers claimed to have seen him take a child in his arms and jump into the sea. A sailor said the child was taken aboard a lifeboat, but that the captain sank.
J. Bruce Ismay entered one of the lifeboats before the ship went down and was saved. He claimed that no women were in sight at the time and that there was room for him.
After lowering, several of the lifeboats rowed many hours in the direction of the lights supposed to have been displayed by the Californian. Other boats lay on their oars in the vicinity of the sinking ship, a few survivors being rescued from the water.
The sea was glassy smooth, the stars were shining, and the night was clear. It was cold, however, and those who were wet suffered severely. Many of the rescued were thinly clad and some of them, including women, were glad to take part in the rowing to keep warm. One or more seamen had been assigned to each boat to take charge of it.
After distributing his passengers among four other boats which he bad brought together and after the cries of distress had died away, Fifth Officer Lowe, in boat No. 14, went to the scene of the wreck and rescued four living passengers from the water, one of whom afterward died in the boat. The men who had taken refuge on the overturned lifeboat were taken off by lifeboats Nos. 4 and 12.
The fourth collapsible lifeboat contained twenty-eight women and children, mostly third-class passengers, three firemen, one steward, four Filipinos, J. Bruce Ismay and W. E. Carter of Philadelphia, and was in charge of Quartermaster Rowe.
James Langland, M.A. (Compiled by), "Loss of the White Star Liner Titanic," in the Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year-Book for 1913, Chicago: The Chicago Daily News Company, 29th Year, p. 151-155.