TITANIC-TITANIC.com | The Sinking Of Titanic

As the look-outs stationed 60 feet above the ship's deck were prematurely celebrating a near-miss, deep down in the forward boiler-room, there was chaos. No sooner had the 'Stop' message unexpectedly lit up on the boiler-room indicator, than a huge rumble, accompanied by ice-cold water blasting through the forward boiler-rooms as the hull was breached by the iceberg, sent panic through the men at work in the room. At the same time, the alarm bells indicating the closure of the emergency doors, pictured left, sounded. The men needed no prompting, and evacuated the room as the water began to rise. The great ship had been fatally wounded, although nobody knew that yet. The iceberg had scraped its way down the side of the ship, and although the damage inflicted to Titanic might be considered as 'minor', it's effects would have far greater consequences.

The Sinking Of TitanicOn the bridge, Captain Smith, who was awakened by the collision, asked, "What have we struck, Mr. Murdoch?"

"An iceberg, sir," replied Murdoch. " I hard-a-star boarded, and reversed the engines and I was going to hard-a-port around it, but she was too close. I could not do any more."

"Have you closed the watertight doors?", asked Smith.

"They are already closed, sir," was Murdoch's reply.

Smith then ordered Fourth Officer Boxhall to make a tour of the forward area, and to report back to the bridge as soon as possible. He then summoned one of the ship's designers, Thomas Andrews, aboard as part of the Harland & Wolff guarantee group. After some calculations mainly based on evidence Boxhall had found on his inspection, added to news arriving from forward parts of the ship, Andrews told Smith the awful fact that the incredible liner had about two hours left afloat.

Titanic's hull was proclaimed to be the safest in the world at that time, which led to the rather over zealous press describing her as 'unsinkable'. Certainly her owners or builders would never had called her that, but advertisements of the era did describe her as practically unsinkable. Fifteen transverse bulkheads split the hull up into sixteen compartments, much like an ice-cube tray. But, like an ice-cube tray, as you fill one compartment, the water flows into the next, and the next, etc. But the hull wasn't watertight in a true sense, but merely, it allowed a damaged hull to remain afloat in a combination of circumstances. It could float with any two of the compartments flooded. It would also remain afloat with the first four compartments flooded - but not five. As fate would decree, the first five compartments were breached, and slowly, but surely, the ship would sink. The huge weight of water in those five flooded compartments would pull the head of the vessel down, causing more water to flood into the next compartment, and so on. It was simply a matter of time.

After Boxhall returned from his inspection of the ship's forward areas, he was ordered by Smith to calculate the ship's position, which he jotted down on a notepad. Then, Smith himself took this most important slip of paper to the Marconi room, handing it to Phillips for transmission. Phillips began to transmit the 'CQD', and it was heard immediately by several ships, as well as Cape Race, to where Phillips had previously been transmitting messages of joy and celebration. Now, it was a stark cry for help. 'CQD - Come Quick. Danger.' John Phillips now had to transmit the most important message of his life, the lives of every soul on board were now in his hands. Later in the night, Phillips would also send out an 'SOS,' one of the first to do so, though not, as the popular press claim, the first.

By an incredible piece of good fortune, of which there are few in the tale of the Titanic, the wireless operator aboard the Carpathia, Harold Cottam, was waiting for a message. He was undressing before retiring, but still wore his headphones, hoping to catch a reply to a message he had earlier despatched. Still not wanting to give in yet, he twiddled with the tuner, coming across Titanic's unusually quiet commercial frequency. He tapped out a message to the liner. 'I say, old man, do you know there is a batch of messages coming through for you from MCC (Cape Cod)?' Almost before Cottam finished the transmission, Phillips came back with the 'CQD'. Cottam, who was taken aback by this monumental transmission, double checked with Phillips, 'Shall I tell my Captain? Do you require assistance?' To which Phillips replied, 'Yes. Come quick!'

Cottam wasted no time in dashing to the bridge, where Carpathia's first officer, H.V. Dean read the message he had jotted down. The two men swiftly made their way to Captain Arthur Rostron's cabin, burst in without knocking, and told him the startling news. Rostron hurriedly dressed, and the three of them returned to the bridge. Whilst Dean and Rostron consulted the charts, the rest of the crew were raised and briefed. Carpathia was about 60 miles away from the Titanic, and with a top speed of 15 knots, speed was of the essence. She would take almost four hours to reach the stricken liner. All of the stokers, firemen and engineers not on duty were now raised, to assist in the effort to increase speed. It paid off, too, as Carpathia reached a bed-plate shuddering 17 knots on her way to help Titanic's people.

By 12.05am, on the morning of April 15th, 1912, water was now entering the squash court. Captain Smith now gave the order to uncover the lifeboats, and officers were each assigned a lifeboat to take command of, and ensure the safe loading of the passengers into them. But it wasn't until 12.30am that the Captain gave the instructions to actually start loading the boats. But many passengers remained stubbornly unconvinced of the ship's plight, despite the fact that the bow had gone down several feet, adding a slight slant to decks. But by 12.45am, the first boat was lowered, starboard No.7, with an incredible 28 people aboard, in a boat designed for 65. Ten minutes later, and the crew managed to release the first port-side boat, again with only 28 people aboard. Two lifeboats launched - 56 passengers total - room for 130.

Steadily now, more boats were launched, though still woefully filled. Probably the biggest scandal of the lifeboat launching was that surrounding Starboard No.1. With accommodation for 40 people, she would leave the ship with 12 souls aboard, and not return for others after the sinking.

By 1.30am, with the majority of boats gone, it became obvious to those who didn't already know it that there were not going to be enough lifeboats for all on-board. This, coupled with the alarming increase in the deck's slant, plus the firing of percussive rockets into the night sky, caused near-panic amongst the passengers. Officers had to try to restrain large groups of panicking passengers, and as port-side lifeboat No.14 was launched, some passengers tried to jump in from the rails. Fifth Officer Lowe fired a warning shot with his pistol, and the crowd retreated. The boat left with 40 people aboard a boat made for 40, there could be no half-empty lifeboats launched now.

It was now 2.10am, and the brave engineering crew, who had kept the liner's electrical equipment functioning this far, could do no more. The lights of the ship flickered one last time, then went out for good. Titanic's bow was now submerged so much, that the stern began to steadily rise out of the sea, revealing the three huge propellers. People on the decks clambered towards the stern, to avoid having to go in the water until the last possible moment. Inside the ship, anything that wasn't fastened down now began to slide through the hull, until arrested by a bulkhead. The hull itself, not designed to withstand the incredible, torturous stresses it was now under, began to give way, breaking at a point near the aft expansion joint. As it gave way with an incredible noise of destruction, the sound of a ship being torn in half, the bow broke free completely, and began its descent to the bottom of the Atlantic, releasing huge amounts of trapped air, together with debris swept from the decks and the break. The stern, now free of the weight of the flooded bow, now temporarily assumed a more natural floating position, before it too gave up the unequal struggle between the steel and the water, and slowly began to sink, leaving anybody still hanging on to it to tumble into the freezing water.

As the relatively undamaged bow sank, it planed down to the seabed, spilling debris from the break. Some of this material was buoyant, and shot back to the surface, rising in a maelstrom of debris. The stern, which contained the huge engines, did not fare so well. It hadn't flooded so completely as the bow, so as it sank, large air pockets, coupled with the rapidly flooding rooms, caused immense amounts of collapse and destruction - implosion. The poop deck was swept up and back on itself, as water rushing underneath violently tore at bulkheads and decks. The stern section, falling at speed, hit the seabed, 2.5 miles down, and slammed into the mud, causing some of the decks to collapse on top of each other, like a stack of playing cards. Heavy objects from the break in the hull, like boilers, landed in the vicinity of the stern, which had taken a more or less straight path to the seabed. The bow section, although planing away, hit the seabed at an angle, causing the bow to adopt a twist in its position.

Above the waves, nearly 1,500 people were now in the water, awaiting some kind of rescue. But although Carpathia was almost turning itself inside-out in the attempt to rescue them, those in the water would not survive for long. The water temperature was freezing, in the true sense of the word, and many people would die from hypothermia well within the next hour, before any rescue could possibly arrive.

For those in the lifeboats, a dilemma on an unimaginable scale now faced them. Should they go back and make an effort to rescue some of those in the water, risking the boats from being swamped, and therefore putting even more lives in danger? Or should they remain where they were, at a distance safe enough to stop anybody swamping the boat, but close enough to hear the dying screams of well over 1000 people?

 

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