Note: This post is in the process of being rewritten to replace this rather stiff retelling.
White Star Line’s RMS Titanic had just completed her trials on April 2, 1912. Eight days later, on a Wednesday, she would begin her maiden voyage. But before that voyage could begin, there was the boat drill. Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe and Sixth Officer James Paul Moody supervised the drill. The boats were let down and raised back up. Enough to satisfy Board of Trade.
Between the time of the trials and the maiden voyage there was a change in the senior officers’ positions. The cause was Captain Edward John ‘E.J’ Smith who had requested that the chief officer of Titanic’s elder sister ship RMS Olympic be brought aboard. This knocked the original chief, William McMaster Murdoch, down to first officer; and First officer Charles Herbert Lightoller down to second; Second Officer David Blair was dropped from the roster altogether. The junior officers, Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall, Fifth Officer Harold Godfrey Lowe and Sixth Officer James Paul Moody retained their positions, unaffected by the reshuffle. In the confusion Blair locked the ‘glasses’ up that was to be used by the lookouts in the crows nest.
Due to a coal strike in Great Britain, Titanic was forced to acquire coal from other ships to feed her boilers. She would need it for her journey from Southampton to New York City.
As Titanic was leaving Southampton her suction cause a nearby ship, the New York, to snap her mooring lines. New York threatened to collide with Titanic as she swung out. Crowds held their breath, waiting. Fortunately, a tug under Capt. C. Gale managed to get the New York out of Titanic’s path. Some took the event as bad omen, others thought it only proved the might of Titanic.
From Southampton Titanic journeyed to Cherbourg, France then from Cherbourg to Queenstown, Ireland. Then it was out to the ocean.
Of the 1,296 passengers board there were many influential and wealthy passengers. And some of considerable fame. Just to name a few:
- John Jacob Astor IV
- Benjamin Guggenheim
- Joseph Bruce Ismay
- Major Archibald Butt
- Colonel Archibald Gracie
- Isador and Ida Straus
Titanic possessed many firsts for a ship. An example would be the Café Parisien. Also she carried a wireless apparatus, along with two operators. Although not a first for ships, radio was just recently gaining prominence on the seas (her call sign was MGY). The wireless operators were Senior Wireless Operator John George ‘Jack’ Phillips and Junior Wireless Operator Harold Sidney Bride. Phillips had recently celebrated his 25th birthday on April 11. On the night of the 13th the wireless set broke down. The repairs were not finished till the next day, owing to the fact that the source of the problem was difficult to find. Not long after the set was up and working, ice reports started coming in.
“Captain, ‘Titanic.’ – Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers and field ice in 42° N. from 49° to 51° W., 12th April. Compliments. – Barr.”
“From Mesaba to Titanic and all eastbound ships. Ice report in latitude 420N to 41025’N, longitude 490W to 50030’W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear.”
These were just a few of the messages that Titanic received concerning ice. The Mesaba message never made it to the bridge. With the apparatus braking down, wireless traffic piled up. Now Phillips was catching up with the traffic. He laid the Mesaba’s message aside…and forgot it.
That same day the lifeboat drill was cancelled. In the first-class dining saloon a church service was being held. After services, which had been conducted by Captain Smith, people scattered to different places. Some listened to the band play.
As evening replaced daytime, people began to settle down for the night. On the bridge orders were to keep a lookout for ice. While standing watch, Lightoller told Moody to inform the lookouts “to keep a lookout for ice, particularly small ice and growlers”. It is of interest to note that Lookout George Symons at the British Inquiry stated, “As a rule you can smell the ice before you get to it.” Captain Smith, before retiring, told Lightoller “If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside.”
In the wireless room Bride was catching up on some lost sleep, while Phillips tapped away at the key. Soon it would be Bride doing the tapping as he was about to start his shift. A nearby ship, the Californian, was stopped by ice and sent an informal message to Titanic. Because of the nearness of Californian the signal was strong and came in loud while Phillips was sending messages.
Wireless Operator Cyril Evans: “Say, old man, we are stopped and surrounded by ice.”
Phillips: “Shut up, shut up, I am busy; I am working Cape Race,”
Because of the messages informality Phillips was in a way “justified” for ignoring the message.
In the crow’s nest it was cold as lookouts strained to see in the darkness. At 11:40 p.m. they spotted it. An iceberg appeared out of the darkness. Frederick Fleet rang the crow’s nest bell three times, signaling something was ahead. He then phoned the bridge. Moody answered.
Fleet: “Is there anyone there?”
Moody: “Yes, what do you see?”
Fleet: “Iceberg, right ahead!”
Moody: “Thank you.”
On the bridge Murdoch had apparently seen the iceberg at the same time, because the ship had already began to turn to port as the phone conversation ended. Titanic swiped the iceberg as chunks of ice fell on the deck. Many described the collision as a grinding sound. First-class passenger Ella White described it like this:
I was just sitting on the bed, just ready to turn the lights out. It did not seem to me that there was any very great impact at all. It was just as though we went over about a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.
Captain Smith arrived on the bridge inquiring about what had happened.
Smith: “What have we struck?”
Murdoch: “An iceberg, Sir. I hard-a-starboarded and reversed the engines, and I was going to hard-a-port round it but she was too close. I could not do any more. I have closed the watertight doors.”
Smith ordered Boxhall to find the carpenter and have him sound the ship. Boxhall met the carpenter in the crew stairway, who informed him the ship was taking on water. Boxhall also met the mail clerk Jago Smith coming up. The mail hold was filling with water, Smith told Boxhall. On the bridge Smith and Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer, discuss the damage. Andrews estimated that Titanic had an hour and a half—two hours at the most—to live.
Soon the crew was swinging the lifeboats out. Some curious individuals had ventured out on deck and were playing with the ice chunks. People were beginning to appear on deck wearing lifebelts, compliments of crew members who had been ordered to get the passengers in lifebelts and on deck.
Lightoller was trying to sleep when the collision occurred. He felt it but opted to stay in his cabin. If anyone had need of him they would be able to find him. Boxhall appeared in Lightoller’s cabin and told him they had hit an iceberg.
Lightoller: “I know you’ve hit something.”
Boxhall: “The water is up to F-deck in the mail room.”
Boxhall left Lightoller and went to awake Pitman and Lowe. Pitman was dressing when Boxhall told him of the collision. Lowe was fast asleep. He had no memory of Boxhall telling him of the collision. In the US Inquiry he replied to Senator William Smith:
You must remember that we do not have any too much sleep and therefore when we sleep we die.
However, he did finally awaken and went out on deck, armed with a revolver:
I was awakened by hearing voices, and I thought it was very strange, and somehow they woke me up and I realized there must be something the matter; so I looked out and I saw a lot of people around, and I jumped up and got dressed and went up on deck.
In the wireless room Bride was getting ready to relieve Phillips when Smith arrived with the grim news. Smith told them to “get ready to send a call for assistance, but don’t send it until I tell you.” He finally gave them permission, and Phillips sent the international distress call, CQD. Boxhall had also corrected Titanic’s position and Phillips sent it along with the distress call. Smith later returned asking:
Smith: “What are you sending?”
Bride: “Send SOS, it’s the new call, and it may be your last chance to send it.”
Phillips and Bride were in contact with numerous ships. One of which was the Frankfurt. Frankfurt’s operator was unable to fully grasp the situation, angering Phillips. Just at this moment the captain came into the cabin and relieved the pair of their duties. Phillips wasn’t prepared to quite just yet and went back to listening to his headphones. A short while later he yelled “The —– fool.” “What’s up old man?” Bride asked “Who?”
Mr. Phillips replied the Frankfurt and at that time it seemed perfectly clear to us that the Frankfurt’s operator had taken no notice or misunderstood our first call for help. Philips reply to this was “You fool, stbdi and keep out.”
Soon RMS Carpathia had joined the conversation. Her lone operator, Harold Cottam was preparing for bed while listening to the traffic. He contacted Titanic:
Cottam: “I say old man, do you know there is a batch of messages coming through for you from Cape Cod ?”
Phillips: “Come at once. We have struck a berg. It’s a CQD, old man. Position 41.46 N 50.14 W”
Cottam: “Shall I tell my captain? Do you require assistance?”
Phillips: “Yes at once, come quick.”
Cottam hurried to the bridge and told the officer on watch, Horace Dean, that Titanic was sinking. Cottam and Dean unceremoniously entered Captain Arthur Henry Rostron’s cabin. This of course annoyed Rostron. They told him of Titanic and he soon started making plans of bringing survivors aboard.
Bride brought Smith the news of Carpathia and continued to supply him with information that he and Phillips were receiving.
On deck Lightoller asked Wilde if it was time that they start loading women and children into the lifeboats. Wilde told him to wait. Later, Lightoller approached Smith on the subject. Smith told him to start loading. The noise of escaping steam from Titanic’s boilers was described by survivor Lawrence Beesley as:
if one imagines twenty locomotives blowing off steam in a low key it would give some idea of the unpleasant sound that met us.
When the noise finally stopped there was an extreme quiet.
Passengers were not enthusiastic about boarding the lifeboats. They would be leaving the comfort of the ship and it was terribly cold. The temperature was nearly freezing. In the distance a steamer could be seen adding to a false sense of security. This “mystery ship” is a source of great controversy. Many people hold that it was the Californian. When Boxhall began setting rockets off the crew of the Californian witnessed these rockets. Again there is much controversy surrounding why they did not come to Titanic’s aid. After a brief conversation with Captain Stanley Lord about the rockets, Lord ordered the officer to “go on Morsing”. From Titanic Boxhall began signaling—in Morse— to the other ship with Titanic’s lamp. The band had migrated on deck and began to play jaunty tunes hoping that it would help to keep passengers calm.
At Lifeboat No. 5, Pitman was preparing to leave although he wasn’t keen on the idea, preferring rather to stay on the ship.
“He [Murdoch] said, “You go away in this boat, old man, and hang around the after gangway.” I did not like the idea of going away at all, because I thought I was better off on the ship.”
At Lifeboat No. 3 Ismay was beginning to anger Lowe. His incessant call to “Lower away! Lower away!”, was interfering with Lowe’s work. Lowe expressed angry sentiments then:
I said, “Do you want me to lower away quickly?” I said, “You will have me drown the whole lot of them.” I was on the floor myself lowering away.
Lifeboat No. 6 was lacking a seaman. Canadian Maj. Arthur Godfrey Peuchen offered his services.
Lightoller: Then Maj. Peuchen who stood right alongside, said that he would go, or offered to I asked him if he was a seaman, or whether he was sailor go out to the fall from where he was. It was seaman’s work to get out to the fall and then get down to the boat, so I told him if he was sailor enough to get out to the fall and get into the boat to go ahead and so he did, and he went in the boat.
Up on deck Lowe, in an effort to keep people at bay and keep them from rushing the boat, fired between Lifeboat No. 14 and the ship. The crowd was for the moment, subdued. To Moody, Lowe commented that an officer should go into the next boat. Moody’s reply was:
“You go. I’ll find another boat.”
He didn’t survive.
Lightoller and Lowe were sticklers for rules. They—more than once—ordered men or boys out of the boats. Although most boats were not filled to their capacity, with the prevailing traditions and rules of the day, men would not be allowed to board. However, on the starboard side Murdoch put women and children first and then men were allowed to board, if no one else came forward. Feminists later bashed the women’s actions, preferring that they would have stayed behind and acted like men, rather than being thankful that any of the women got away.
Collapsible C was rushed by a crowd. Murdoch fired two warning shots in the air.
Murdoch: “Get out of this, clear out of this.”
Obviously, the reality of the situation was beginning to dawn on those left behind. Up until now they had lacked panic and order had been dominant, but boats were leaving, davits were empty, the ship was sinking and over 1,500 people were still on the ship…and no help in sight.
In the wireless room Smith relieved Phillips and Bride, but the operators continued to stick to their post. Maybe they still held onto that little shred of hope that another ship was nearby and could help. The reason that the radio was still operating and lights still on, were due to the efforts of the engineers, every one of which was lost.
At 2:20 AM Titanic sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, never to sail again. Among the wreckage the voices of over 1,000 people could be heard as they screamed, moaned, and cried.
On an upturned collapsible, which had been released just as Titanic took the final plunge, a group struggled for survival. Bride found himself underneath this collapsible. Lightoller managed to make his way to this collapsible and soon took charge. Through the night their main goal was to keep the collapsible afloat and balanced and to keep from freezing to death. Hypothermia would be the cause of many deaths that night.
In Lifeboat No. 14 Lowe had gathered together a group of boats lashing them together. He then “distributed” his passengers to the other boats and returned to the wreck site. Lowe found 4 people alive, but one William F. Hoyt later died. Lifeboat No.4 picked up eight survivors, two of which died. After Titanic sank, Pitman was going to return to the wreck site for survivors, but his passengers protested. Never mind that fact that they had friends and family back there. Lifeboat No. 6 under Quartermaster Robert Hitchens refused to return even though passengers were in favor of doing so. Lifeboat No.12 upon hearing Lightoller’s whistle came over to he collapsible and took on her occupants. It is believed that Phillips died on this boat during the night.
Since receiving Titanic’s distress call Carpathia was now traveling at 16 knots. Rostron had already made preparations for the survivors to be brought aboard, seemingly not having overlooked anything. To avoid sharing in Titanic’s fate Rostron posted seven lookouts. Along the way the Carpathia dodged several icebergs. At last they arrived. A green flare could be seen. Rostron mistakenly believed that Titanic was still afloat. This was actually flares that Boxhall had set off from his boat. The process of bringing survivors aboard soon began. It ended at 8:30 a.m. with Lightoller begin the last brought aboard. Carpathia took on thirteen of Titanic’s lifeboats. Bride although suffering from sever frostbitten feet, aided Cottam with the wireless. They, for the most part, ignored incoming traffic, focusing on getting survivors names out.
Back on land newspapers circulated wild stories without proof to back their stories. One paper stated that Titanic was being towed to Halifax.
Carpathia arrived in New York on April 18th. Before docking at her pier, Carpathia left Titanic’s lifeboats at a White Star pier. The truth sunk in for those witnessing this act on land. The boats would later be guarded from souvenir hunters who lurked about. Already, another type of ‘souvenir hunters’ were harassing the Carpathia. Reporters wanted to interviews, but they were not going to get any.
The Titanic ordeal did not end over night. Inquiries in both the US and Britain were carried out over a span of days, weeks. People had to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Some were able to move on others were not.