All posts by Mark Taylor

Remembering the Sultana (27 April 1865)

“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However, the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly, other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Titanic Chronology: Olympic Departure Delayed Over Lifeboats (24 April 1912)

RMS Olympic Arrives In New York on Maiden Voyage, 21 June 1911
Source: U.S. Library of Commerce/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

In the wake of the Titanic sinking, all passenger ships were equipped with lifeboats for everyone aboard. Olympic, like her sister ship, did not have enough lifeboats but they were quickly added for her upcoming departure from Southampton on 24 April 1912. 40 collapsible lifeboats (all second-hand) had come from troopships. However, there was concern amongst the crew that these lifeboats were not seaworthy.  A request sent by crewman that they should be replaced by wooden lifeboats was declined by White Star which said that it was impossible to do that and they had passed as seaworthy by the Board of Trade inspector.

Not convinced of this, 284 firemen went on strike delaying the departure. Non-union crew were hired from Southampton and from Liverpool to make up the difference. On 25 April 1912, representatives of the strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. One was found unseaworthy. The representatives said they would recommend the strikers return to work as a result. A separate objection about the non-union workers who were hired came up as an issue. White Star refused to fire them. This resulted in 54 crewmembers leaving the ship in protest causing the cancellation of the sailing. Later they would be charged and convicted of mutiny, but no punishment was awarded due to the circumstances. White Star Line hired them back in end fearing a public backlash in support of the strikers. Olympic would sail for New York on 15 May 1912.

 

Sources:

Encyclopedia Titanica
Ocean Liners Magazine
RMS Olympic (Wikipedia)

 

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Remembering History: Hitler Learns War Is Lost

By April 1945, victories by Allied and Russian forces had reduced the once formidable German state to a shadow of its former self. Due to increased Allied air attacks on Berlin, Hitler had relocated his headquarters from the Reich Chancellery to the Fuhrerbunker, an underground complex that would serve as the command center for the remnants of the Third Reich earlier in the year. 19th April saw the Soviet Army mobilize its troops to encircle Berlin. Hitler had gone above on 20 April 1945, his 56th birthday, to award the Iron Cross to boys from the Hitler Youth.

It was on 22 April 1945 that Hitler, in an afternoon meeting, learned that Soviets were entering the northern suburbs of Berlin meeting no resistance. It enraged Hitler, who denounced the Army, and made him realize the war was lost. Hitler decided to stay in Berlin rather than flee south.

Sources:

Britannica.com
HeritageDaily.com
History.com

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Titanic News-Men Who Gave Up Lives, Reasons for Titanic Sinking, William Wyn survived Titanic and others

The Men Onboard The Titanic Who Gave Up Their Lives To Save Women And Children, Irish Central, 19 April 2021

Men made up 75% of the 2,240 passengers and crew onboard the Titanic’s ill-fated maiden voyage but only made up a tiny fraction of the 705 who survived the disaster. Hundreds of men – both rich and poor – bravely standing aside to give women and children a place on the ship’s lifeboats. The 175 men traveling in first-class had a survival rate of just 32%, while more than 97% of their 144 female counterparts survived the disaster. Second-class male passengers fared even worse with just 14 of 168 male passengers making their way to safety. Women in second-class, on the other hand, had a survival rate of about 74%. That is not to mention the hundreds of third-class male passengers – many of them Irish – who met their deaths on the Titanic.

No One Mistake Caused The Tragic Sinking Of The Titanic, Irish Central, 19 April 2021

A 2019 Channel 5 documentary investigates the series of mistakes that led to the sinking of the Belfast-built Titanic during its maiden voyage in April 1912. No one mistake was to blame for the disaster, according to the Channel 5 documentary “10 Mistakes That Sank the Titanic.” Instead, it was a number of factors that led to the tragedy. The Daily Mail reports on some of the fatal flaws that are featured in the “10 Mistakes That Sank the Titanic” documentary which debuted in 2019, more than 100 years after the disaster

Chester: The Incredible Story Of A Man Who Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic, The Standard, 18 April 2021

And on February 6, 1898, he was aboard the USS St Louis as an able seaman when that ship mounted a rescue of passengers and crew from SS Veendam when she collided with a sunken wreck and foundered. He also saw service in the Spanish-American war of 1898, and in the Boer War, 1899-1902. In 1907 he married Eliza Kate Abbott, and he joined the White Star Line. One day the men were assembled, and he was chosen to proceed to Belfast, where he found he was posted to Titanic as quartermaster.

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Titanic Chronology-U.S. Senate Hearing into Titanic sinking begins

With Titanic’s sinking, U.S. Senator William Alden Smith saw this as an opportunity to investigate marine safety issues. Smith, a Republican Senator from Michigan, had experience in investigating railroad safety issues. Smith believed due to the sensational nature of this disaster that rapid action was needed. Another concern was that many of the witnesses-surviving passengers and crew-would disperse and return home. On 17 April 1912, Smith proposed that a hearing be done to investigate the sinking. President Taft, who lost his friend and military advisor Archibald Butt in the sinking, concurred. A U.S. naval escort was set up for Carpathia to make sure no one left before it docked.

Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan
Unknown date (between 1905 and 1945)
Public Domain

Smith, accompanied by Francis G. Newlands and other officials traveled to New York and were there when Carpathia docked in New York. They boarded the ship and served subpoenas on J.Bruce Ismay and on surviving officers and crew. The hearings began on 19 April 1912 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and later moved to Washington D.C. The hearings, with many recesses in-between, would run for 18 days till May 25, 1912.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

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Titanic News-International Ice Patrol, Butt Bridge, Chinese Passengers on Titanic

 

Straus Memorial Park, New York City, 1915. This memorial and park was dedicated on 15 April 1915.
Photo:Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, Bain Collection,call number LC-B2- 3446-4)

Hamilton Doctor Goes Down With Titanic
Hamilton Spectator, 17 April 2021

In the days following the North Atlantic Ocean sinking of the so-called “unsinkable” Titanic, word was received in Hamilton that a young local doctor was among its more than 1,500 victims. Dr. Alfred Pain, 24, was a second-class passenger returning after a year at King’s College Hospital in London. He originally tried to sign on as ship’s doctor on a freighter in exchange for a free trip home. When that didn’t work out, he bought a ticket on a tramp steamer. But then he switched his ticket for passage on the maiden voyage of the luxury ship Titanic.

History In The Hills: Titanic Local Connections
Weirton Daily Times, 17 April 2021

What followed was a daring escape from the depths of the ship using access ladders and passages used by crew members as some of the regular passages for third-class passengers were tightly locked, sealing the fate of those trapped below. Elin was admitted to a lifeboat, dressed only in her nightgown and life vest and by the grace of God survived the sinking. To me the most heart-wrenching part of her story is the fact that Pekka never did return to their cabin, and after the ship went down, from her lifeboat she called out to him in the darkness letting him know she was near.

Out There…Somewhere: Titanic Trivia, No If’s And’s Or Butt
Wjbf.com, 16 April 2021

“That’s a weird name for a bridge, you know, definitely is,” said Terry Dent of Snellville, Georgia. The Butt Bridge got a makeover a couple of years ago and with its lions holding shields and eagles landing on pillars, it’s impressive to see, but admittedly Butt Bridge is funny name. “Of course everyone remembers ‘save our Butt’. I think it’s something unique about Augusta keeps us funky,” said David Peltier. The funky bridge is named for Augustan Archibald Butt, aide to presidents who died on the Titanic.

Coast Guard Ice Patrol Commemorates The Titanic
The Day, 15 April 2021

An annual wreath drop serves as a way to remember and honor those who died on the Titanic. The Ice Patrol was formed after the passenger liner hit an iceberg and sank in the early morning of April 15, 1912. The wreaths from the ceremony will be dropped near where the ship sank during an iceberg reconnaissance flight in the next few weeks, Cmdr. Marcus Hirschberg said.

Six Chinese Passengers Survived The Sinking Of The Titanic – More Than 100 Years Later Their Stories Reach China
Post Magazine, 15 April 2021

Eight Chinese men were on board and six survived, landing in New York three days later aboard the Carpathia, the first ship to arrive at the scene of the disaster. Under the United States’ Chinese Exclusion Act, the men were transferred 24 hours later to a British steamship and sent to Cuba. What happened after that has been unclear – until now.

The Tragic Story of the Four Greeks Who Perished on the Titanic
Greek Reporter, 15 April 2021

Panagiotis Lymberopoulos, Vassilios Katavelos, Apostolos Chronopoulos and Demetrios Chronopoulos all came from the same village, Agios Sostis in the Messinia region of the Peloponnese. The last two men were brothers. Like many of the passengers, the four friends were young – the oldest one was only 33 years old – and they wanted to go to America in search of a better life. Tragically, their dreams, like those of so many others who perished on that starry night, never came true.They all died in the most famous shipwreck in maritime history, and the bodies of the two brothers never been found.

3 Madison County Connections To The Titanic
Herald Bulletin, 10 April 2021

Many local history buffs and Titanic fans know that Anderson’s Maplewood Cemetery is the final resting place of Charles Hallace Romaine. He was a first-class passenger aboard the Titanic on its maiden voyage in April 1912. Romaine survived the disastrous sinking when he was allowed to take a seat in Lifeboat No. 9 after the women and children had been given a place.
 

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Titanic Chronology:Carpathia Arrives on 18 April 1912

Crowd Awaiting Survivors of Titanic, 18 April 1912
U.S. Library of Congress,Bain Collection, Control #ggb2004010347
Public Domain

It had been a long three days since Titanic sank when Carpathia arrived bearing Titanic’s survivors. What had been first optimistic news turned grim after the miscommunication had been sorted out. Titanic had sunk and 1500 had perished out in the cold North Atlantic. News as to who exactly had survived was not fully known as Carpathia had kept a media blackout during its journey to New York. There was a reporter on board but had to keep his notes secret in a cigar box lined with champagne corks. He would toss it towards a Hearst editor in a tugboat in New York harbor where it would be raced for a special evening edition of New York World. 50 tugboats full of reporters yelled at the ship through megaphones offering money for eyewitness accounts. Carpathia first stopped at Pier 59, the White Star Line pier and offloaded Titanic‘s lifeboats. They were all that were left of the ship aside from the flotsam and jetsam that would be found later in the Atlantic. Then Carpathia proceeded to Pier 54 and the Titanic survivors disembarked. It was only then it was truly known who did survive and who did not.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

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Titanic Chronology: White Star Line Hires Ships To Retrieve Bodies (17 April 1912)

CS Mackay Bennett (circa 1884)
Artist Unknown
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

As the world awaits news of who survived Titanic, the White Star Line decides to hire ships to go out and retrieve bodies. Reports of bodies floating in the Atlantic had been reported and White Star wanted to retrieve them as quickly as possible for a number of practical reasons. Ocean currents would eventually move them out of the area, so getting them retrieved as soon as possible would allow families to lay them to rest. Another reason for speed was that sea creatures and birds would start consuming the bodies making identification difficult as well. The cable ship Mackay Bennett was the first ship hired by White Star (others would be employed as well) to retrieve bodies. The ship emptied itself of its normal stores in Halifax, Nova Scotia and brought aboard supplies for its new mission:

  • Embalming supplies and coffins (100)
  • Chief embalmer of John Snow & Co., John R. Snow Jr.
  • 100 tons of ice to store the bodies
  • Canon Kenneth Hind of All Saints Cathedral, Halifax

Mackay Bennett left Halifax at 12:28 pm on 17 April 1912. Due to heavy fog and rough seas, it would take four days to reach where Titanic sank. They began recovery at 0600 on 20 April. Bodies were manually recovered by skiffs and brought back to the ship. They recovered 51 bodies but realized they did not have enough embalming supplies on hand. Since the laws at the time required bodies to be embalmed before unloading from ships docking in a Canadian port, they followed a general procedure:

  • First class passengers were embalmed and placed in coffins
  • Second and third class passengers along with crew were embalmed but wrapped in canvas
  • Bodies that were too decomposed or disfigured were buried at sea
  • Bodies that were brought back were either transported by relatives to their final resting place or interred in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

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Titanic Chronology: Titanic Sunk (15-16 April 1912)

New York Times Front Page 16 April 1912
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
Titanic lost: Belfast Telegraph front page on 16 April 1912
Source: Belfast Telegraph

The distress call from Titanic was greeted with disbelief and shock. News reached New York on on Monday evening about the distress call. Philip Franklin, who was in charge of the White Star Line office in New York issued a statement around 10:30 pm that “There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable, and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.”

Messages from Titanic and other ships responding were being relayed to Cape Race and then re-transmitted on. It is during this process that things likely went amiss causing confusion. Pieces of messages got mixed up with others indicating Titanic and its passengers had been saved and was in tow to Halifax. This led to Franklin issuing another statement later that said (in part) “We hope that reports from the Virginian and the Parisian will prove to be true, and that they will turn up with some of the passengers…”Most newspapers were reporting that evening that all Titanic passengers had been saved and on various ships. Titanic was being towed to Halifax. Based on that, White Star chartered trains to take families to Halifax to meet their relatives there.

Over at the New York Times, its managing editor Carr van Anda, did not accept this. Messages from Titanic had stopped indicating it likely sank. On Monday morning, 15 April 1912, the headline of the Times had the following headline:

New Liner Titanic Hits Iceberg;
Sinking By Bow At Midnight;
Women Put Off In Lifeboats;
Last Wireless At 12:27 A.M Blurred

 

By midnight on the previous day, Franklin had begun to realize that something had gone terribly wrong, but it was still unconfirmed at that point. “I thought her unsinkable, and I based my opinion on the best expert advice. I do not understand it.” He would weep later when the truth would eventually be learned. As the trains sped north to Halifax, they would be stopped and turned back to New York with apologies to all aboard. The survivors were coming to New York instead. The message sent by J. Bruce Ismay from Carpathia to White Star reported Titanic had sunk. It would be learned all the survivors were aboard Carpathia bound for New York.

There were no such confusing reports in Ireland, Britain or elsewhere. In Belfast, those who had worked on the great ship awoke the next day to see two words on the news board the kids had to sell newspapers:

Titanic Sunk

 

They could not believe what they were reading. The ship they had helped build, craft, and launch was now lying on the bottom of the Atlantic. Many wept and others just stood in shock at the news. Ships back then were constructed by hand so many who had labored on the ship had a sense of pride at what they did. In Southampton, many went to the White Star Line offices to find out what had happened to their husbands, sons or daughters. White Star had lists but not great ones with just last names listed in many cases. Southampton would see many homes without fathers, mothers (or both) as a result of Titanic sinking. As news spread around the world, anxious families would also inquire but would not be able to learn anything.

Aboard Carpathia, Ismay isolated himself in a cabin. Wireless messages were being sent outbound by survivors aboard, but it would not respond to specific requests, even one from the President Taft of the United States inquiring about the fate of his friend and military aide Colonel Archibald Butt.

That would not be known for a few days. Carpathia was inbound to New York and only when it arrived on 18 April 1912, would they truly know who had survived and who had perished. And all that remained of that once great ship were the lifeboats that would be unloaded at the White Star Line pier.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

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Titanic Chronology:Titanic Strikes Iceberg And Sinks (14-15 April 1912)

The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic
Photo:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Sunday, 14 April 1912 was what many survivors thought was the best day of the journey so far. Religious service was held in the First-Class dining room at 10:30 am.  Many in first and second class had a very nice meal afterwards, followed by a stroll around the deck. Ice warnings had been received from other ships in the past two days, but no one had plotted them or gave them deep thought. Icebergs were common and no one thought they were that serious of an issue at the time. At noon the ship’s officers got together on wing bridge to calculate the Titanic’s position.

About 1:42 pm, White Star Liner Baltic reported large quantities of field ice along with the coordinates. The message was delivered to Captain Edward J. Smith who passed it on to Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of White Star Line.  The Amerika sighted a large iceberg at 1:45 pm and transmitted notice and its coordinates as well. As the afternoon progressed, air temperature began to drop and by 7:30 pm was at 33?F.  At 5:50 pm, Captain Smith orders the course to south and west of the usual course taken possibly due to the ice warnings.

RMS Olympic First Class Lounge (1912)
Photo: Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

At 7:30 pm, the Californian reported three large icebergs, which was reported to the bridge while Second Officer Charles Lightoller is on duty. Captain Smith was attending a dinner in the First-Class Dining Room. Contrary to what is shown in A Night To Remember, messages were not delivered by the wireless operators but by Titanic crew. Lightoller would order the crew to watch the fresh water supply as the temperature was dropping to freezing. Smith would return to the bridge at 8:55 pm and discuss with Lightoller to the weather and icebergs. Captain Smith would retire for the night at 9:20 pm telling Lightoller to wake him “if becomes at all doubtful’. At 9:30 pm, Lightoller would advise the lookouts to watch for icebergs.

The Mesaba sent a warning of heavy pack ice and icebergs at 9:40 pm. However due to heavy wireless passenger traffic, Jack Phillips was too busy to have it sent to the bridge. At 10:00 pm, First Officer William Murdoch would relieve Second Officer Lightoller. Lightoller would tell Murdoch of current conditions. The lookouts were also relieved by the new watch. Lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee are advised to watch for icebergs. Since it is a moonless night and the sea calm, they will need to be extra alert in looking for any ice fields or icebergs that might appear. Also, they have no binoculars as they have been misplaced. The temperature continues to drop and is recorded at 31?F.

The Californian decides to stop at 10:55 pm due to large field ice in its way. Warnings were sent out to all shipping in the area. The wireless operator contacts Titanic with additional ice warning. Jack Phillips sends back a blunt response telling him to shut up as he was sending messages through Cape Race. At around 11:00 pm, most people are either in bed or heading back to their cabins. A few might still be enjoying a drink, a card game, or reading. By 11:30 pm, the Californian wireless operator, after listening to Titanic’s message traffic, shuts down and goes to bed.

Photograph of iceberg taken by chief steward of Prinz Adalbert on morning of 15 April 1912 near where Titanic sank. At the time he had not learned of the Titanic disaster. Smears of red paint along the base caught his attention. The photo and accompanying statement were sent to Titanic’s lawyers, which hung in their boardroom until the firm dissolved in 2002. Public Domain

Just before 11:40 pm, lookouts spot an iceberg 500 feet away. Lookout Frederick Fleet rings the bell three times and calls the bridge telling Murdoch ‘Iceberg, right ahead.’ Titanic was doing around 21 knots (or slightly less) at the time. Murdoch gives the order “hard a starboard,” orders the engines stopped then full astern, and seals the watertight doors. Due to the size, ships of this size have a larger turning radius then most. At first it looked like Titanic would hit the iceberg dead on but then slowly veers to port to pass by on the starboard. Some speculate the iceberg may have been inverted making it larger underwater than on top. The iceberg makes contact with the ship causing large and small punctures in the process as it scraped the ship.

Thomas Andrews, 1911
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Captain Smith would come to the bridge to determine what happened and informed they struck an iceberg. Reports started coming in of water in the mail room and other areas of the ship. Titanic designer Thomas Andrews assesses the damage along with Captain Smith. With water coming in the mail room and in the first five compartments of the ship, Andrews informs Smith that Titanic will stay afloat for 1 ½ to 2 hours. The ship could survive one compartment being damaged but all not all five with water coming pulling it down at the bow. Captain Smith was in a state of shock at this news and had to be prodded to order lifeboats be lowered, muster the crew, and evacuate the passengers. Since lifeboats were based on tonnage (per British Board of Trade regulations) and not capacity, 1,178 of 2,227 passengers could be put into them if filled to capacity.

At 12:15 am, Captain Smith orders wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride to send out distress messages. While SOS is the new distress signal, they also send out the older one CQD (come quick distress). Many ships will hear the distress but many like the Frankfurt are too far away to respond. On Carpathia, approximately 58 miles away, its wireless operator heard the message at 12.20 am, “Come at once. We have struck a berg. It’s a CQD, old man.” Once informed of this, Captain Arthur Rostron immediately orders his ship make to the coordinates provided by Titanic. As the ship speeds to the scene at top speed, he issues a flurry of orders to make ready the ship for receiving survivors. It would take three hours for Carpathia to arrive.

Since Titanic lacked a central alarm system to notify passengers to evacuate the ship, it fell to stewards and others to knock on passenger’s doors to rouse them. At first many did not believe the ship was in any danger but that would become apparent as time went on. Since the crew had not had any training or drills in lowering the lifeboats, they were unsure the davits were strong enough or the capacity of the lifeboats. And the system of who could board lifeboats varied from port or starboard side. Lightoller was strict about women and children first. At 12:45 am, lifeboat number 7 on the starboard side was lowered but only had 27 people instead of full capacity of 65.

Titanic fired distress rockets as well to get the attention of any nearby ships. They were seen by the Californian, but they did not know the source and did not investigate. A ship appeared to be ten miles away but did not respond to rockets or the Morse lamp. Later some thought this was a Norwegian fishing vessel illegally hunting seals, but evidence did not confirm it. Whether this ship was a mirage caused by conditions on the sea or atmospherics, or the real thing, has never been confirmed. By 12:55 am, lifeboats 5 and 6 are lowered. Number 6 had passenger Molly Brown and lookout Frederick Fleet. Quartermaster Robert Hitchens, who was at the helm when Titanic struck the iceberg, would be criticized later for refusing to look for survivors

By 1:00 am, lifeboat 3 is lowered and only carries 39 people, 12 from the crew. Lifeboat 1 is lowered with only 12 people. It is one of the emergency cutters designed for quick lowering and raising in cases of a person overboard. It can hold up to 40. Both Sir Cosmo Edmund-Duff Gordon are aboard this lifeboat. They would be accused, but denied it, of bribing the crew by giving them £5 each to keep others from using the boat. Sir Cosmo would say the money was offered to them for them to replace lost clothing and gear.

At 1:10 am, the first lifeboat on the port side is lowered. Number 8 only had 28 people on it and included the Countess of Rothes, Lucy Noel Martha. Ida and Isidor Strauss were offered seats on this lifeboat but decline. Isidor believed women and children should go first and Ida did not want to leave her husband. “Where you go, I go,” she said. Both would remain aboard Titanic and perish when it sank. Lifeboat 10 is launched at 1:20 am and had the nine-week-old Milvina Dean on it. She would become later one of the survivors often interviewed about Titanic and lived a long life till dying in 2009 at the age of 97. Lifeboat 9 is launched and is near capacity at 56 people aboard. Benjamin Guggenheim’s mistress was aboard, but he remained with his valet aboard the ship dressed in formal attire.

On Olympic, there was some confusion about the distress call they received. It is possible that with all the signals going out that night, that some got jumbled up (this proved true later when apparently confusing messages were received in New York). About 1:25 am, they radioed Titanic asking if they steaming to meet them. The response was simple that they were putting women off in the boats. Later Olympic would be informed by Carpathia of the sinking. Panic was starting to set in aboard the ship as it became very obvious by this time she was sinking and filling up with water. A panic near lifeboat 14 caused Fifth Officer Boxhall to discharge his weapon. He took command of the lifeboat and would later transfer people into other lifeboats so they could look for survivors. The lowering of lifeboat 13 is quickly followed by 15. However, it drifts underneath the lowering lifeboat but quick action by crewman in 13 save it by cutting the ropes and rowing away.

Between 1:35-1:40 am lifeboat 16 and collapsible C is lowered. On C is White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay. Later he would be criticized that he boarded before women and children. He would claim that neither were around when he boarded the lifeboat. True or not, it would stick with him for the rest of his life with some calling him a coward. By 1:45 am, Emergency Cutter 2 is launched with Boxhall with 20 people. Lifeboats 11 and 4 would be launched as well. Madeline Astor, five months pregnant, is aboard number 4.  Her husband, John Jacob Astor, would ask to join her but Lightoller, who followed the order of woman and children first, declined. Astor’s body would later be recovered.

Titanic Captain Edward J Smith, 1911
Author unknown. Published after sinking in 1912
Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons

By 2 am only the collapsible boats remain. Titanic had sunk low enough that the stern propellors were now visible. Collapsible lifeboat D is launched from the roof of the officer’s quarters and would have 20 people in it. Collapsible A is washed off the deck and partly filled with water. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe in lifeboat 14 finds only 12 of the 20 that got into it are alive. Collapsible B falls and swept off before it can be righted. The now overturned lifeboats is used by 30 people including Lightoller and wireless operator Bride. At this point, Captain Smith releases the crew saying, “it’s every man for himself.” Smith was last seen on the bridge and his body was never recovered. Wireless operator Phillips sends the final distress signal at 2:17 am. He made it to collapsible lifeboat B but died from exposure. His body would not be recovered.

Titanic is plunged into darkness as its power generators fail. The bow continues its inexorable pull downward as the stern rises higher out of the water. Around 2:18 am, the tremendous strain on the midsection of the ship causes it to break in two between the third and fourth funnels. The bow would disappear beneath the waves while the stern settles back in the water. At this moment, those on the stern can literally swim away before it starts rising. Water would fill into the stern causing it to rise and becoming vertical. At 2:20 am, it would begin the final plunge and disappear. Titanicwas gone.

RMS Carpathia (date unknown)
Image: public domain

Carpathia would arrive in the area firing rockets to get attention at around 3:30 am. Lifeboat 2 was the first to reach the rescue ship. It would take several hours to pick up all the survivors. Ismay would send a message to the White Star Line office informing them Titanic sank. He then would isolate himself in a cabin for the remainder of the voyage to New York. The Californian arrived on scene at 8:30 am. They learned of the sinking around 5:30 am. They find no survivors.

Collapsible lifeboat D photographed by passenger on Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912.
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

At 8:50 am, Carpathia sounded her whistle and began heading to New York with the 705 survivors aboard. Due to garbled and mixed-up messages, the American press believed at first disaster had been averted and she was in tow.  People were gathering outside of the White Star Liner offices in New York, London and other offices for information. The White Star Line office in New York believed Titanic was okay and conveyed that to the public that morning. However, that changed by the afternoon when Ismay’s message from Californian was received and other information also confirmed it as well. Titanic, the pride of the White Star Line, had sunk on her maiden voyage taking 1,500 lives with only 705 survivors.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

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