April 15th, 1912
The sinking of the S. S. Titanic
April 15th, 2012, marks the one-hundred year anniversary of the sinking of the “unsinkable” S. S. Titanic after a collision with an iceberg. The tragedy of the Titanic was not that such a large and well-built ship sank on her first and only voyage, but that she lacked sufficient life-saving equipment, which resulted in the unnecessary loss of many lives. In observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Titanic disaster, the April 1962 issue of Proceedings contained an article, written by John Carroll Carrothers, which detailed the Titanic‘s brief history, from the beginning of her first voyage to her final moments. Carrothers’ article, reprinted below, noted the many factors which could have prevented the loss of so many lives, and perhaps even the sinking of the ship.
The 50th anniversary of the world’s greatest and most tragic peacetime disaster at sea—the sinking of the S.S. Titanic on her maiden voyage—will be observed on 15 April 1962. As Walter Lord so aptly titled his documentary of this disaster, it was indeed “A Night to Remember.” Many of the facts and circumstances surrounding this catastrophe are so unusual and incredible that if this account were written as fiction, readers would say it was “improbable and wildly imaginative.”
When news was flashed to the world that the ten-million-dollar luxury liner had struck an iceberg and sunk, consternation was unbounded because this floating palace had been publicized as the “Unsinkable Lifeboat.” So remote had Lloyd’s of London considered the possibility of such a disaster that the “Sinking as result of collision with iceberg” clause was quoted in the Titanic‘s insurance policy at a million to one.
The Titanic was the answer to public demand for luxury, comfort, convenience, and speed. If afloat today, she would still rank among the first ten of the greatest liners ever built. Her length of 883 feet would have towered 91 feet above New York’s Woolworth Building, which at that time was the tallest building in the world. Anyone of her four smokestacks could have been used as a tunnel for a railroad train. It would have taken the combined energy of modern steam locomotives one quarter of a mile long to develop the 55,000 horsepower required to drive this 50,000-ton mountain of steel through the water at 23 knots. Yet this, the then greatest maritime creation of man, which took three years to build, sank in less than three hours. With her went 1,503 human lives and 15 million dollars in property.
The Titanic‘s first sailing was set for noon on Wednesday 10 April 1912 from Southampton, England. The man chosen to command this “Queen of the Seas” was Commodore Edward J. Smith, whose 45 years of experience had placed him at the top of his profession.
The 8: 00 A. M. entry in the Titanic‘s log on sailing day recorded that “the day broke fine and clear.” At this time the flags and pennants applicable to the day were run aloft. From the flagstaff at the Titanic‘s stern the National Ensign of Great Britain waved gently in the morning breeze. This told her nationality. The tricolor of France, denoting the country of her first port of call, was unfurled from the foremast. From her signal yard, two flags—the Royal Mail Pennant and the Blue Peter, a square blue signal flag with a white square in the center—were telling their stories; first, that the Titanic was carrying His Majesty’s mail and second, that the ship would put to sea that day. A red burgee with a narrow white border and a lone white star in the center flew from her mainmast. This was the house flag of the White Star Line, the Titanic‘s proud owners. The narrow white border signified that she was the flagship of the White Star fleet and that Commodore Smith was on board.
At noon, eight bells rang out from the Titanic‘s bridge followed by a short blast from one of her whistles—the signal to let go the lines. Gradually the great ship got under way amid fanfare and ceremony. From the throaty roar of other liners’ fog horns to the shrill squeal of tugboats’ whistles, the Titanic‘s companions all wished her well with three blasts as she majestically backed into the stream.
Her departure was not without incident, however, for as she backed away from her berth, the suction of her propellers pulled the S.S. New York from her moorings, parting her lines. It appeared that the New York would surely ram the Titanic at her stern. With extreme effort tugs checked the New York and a serious incident was averted.
Once in the stream, a fleet of tugs busily turned the Titanic‘s razor-like bow toward the open sea. It was then that the people on the dock got the full impression of her size, as she lay broadside in the stream showing her shiny black hull, more than one-sixth of a mile long. Her dazzling white superstructure was topped by her four huge, buff-colored smokestacks, painted black at the top.
Slowly the Titanic gathered headway. Then from her half-dozen stupendous whistles, each the size of a man, she cut loose with three blasts which shook every window pane in Southampton as she acknowledged the salutes of her well wishers.
After short stops for passengers and mail at Cherbourg and Queenstown, the Titanic made her departure from the Irish port at 1: 30 P. M. on Thursday, 11 April. Once clear of the harbor she set her course westward toward New York. On board were 2,201 persons. The journey from that Thursday afternoon until nearly midnight Sunday was routine. The sea was exceptionally calm, and the Titanic forged ahead at full speed, though no special effort was made to drive her.
Sunday morning, 14 April at 9:00 A.M., Chief Marconi Operator Phillips handed Commodore Smith a Marconigram received from the Cunard Liner Caronia which read, “West bound steamers report bergs, growlers, and field ice in latitude 42 degrees north, from longitude 49 to 51 degrees west, April 12th. Compliments, Barr, Commander.” The Titanic replied, “Thanks for the message and information. Have had variable weather throughout. Smith, Commander.” At 1 :42 P.M. a lengthy message was received from the White Star Liner Baltic which read in part, “Have had moderate, variable winds and clear fine weather since leaving. Greek Steamer Athenai reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice today latitude 40 degrees 51 minutes north, longitude 49 degrees 52 minutes west. Wish you and Titanic all success. Ranson, Commander.” During the afternoon two more warning messages were received. One from the North German Lloyd Liner Amerika and the other from the steamship Mesaba. There is no official record to indicate that Commodore Smith saw these two final messages since he did not personally answer them.
The message from the Caronia placed the ice a couple of miles north of the Titanic’s projected course while the Baltic‘s message placed the ice a few miles to the south. The Mesaba‘s warning, however, showed the ice to be directly in the Titanic‘s course. The Marconigrams were posted in the wheelhouse for the information of the watch officers. Calculations showed that the Titanic would be in the ice fields at about midnight.
As the sun set over the Titanic‘s bow, she continued on course, and as twilight turned into darkness, she plunged on at 23 knots. Although the heavens were studded with stars, the moon, which might have helped, had set, leaving the Titanic surrounded by inky blackness. The sea was oily calm, the air clear and crisp. The only wind was from the forward motion of the ship.
At 11: 40 P.M. First Officer William Murdock, in charge of the Titanic‘s bridge, concentrated his full attention watching for ice. Scattered about him were his junior officers, the quartermaster, and lookouts all intently peering ahead. On the fo’c’s’le head and in the crow’s nest were additional lookouts, tense. Suddenly, from the fo’c’s’le head, three bells broke the eerie silence of the night. Mr. Murdock and his staff were electrified as the lookout shouted, “Iceberg dead ahead, Sir!”
Mr. Murdock turned to his helmsman and ordered the wheel hard over. At the same instant, he swung the handles on the engine order telegraphs to indicate an all-out full speed astern on all engines. He then threw the lever which closed all of the Titanic‘s watertight doors. Just as the Titanic began to answer her helm, she made contact with the iceberg, 37 seconds after it had been sighted. The engines had no chance to cut the vessel’s way.
There was no heavy impact of two tremendous objects meeting with a sickening crash. Instead, she quietly brushed her entire length along the side of the berg—heeling over slightly as though she had encountered a wave slightly larger than usual.
Mr. Murdock reacted as would any navigator under the same circumstances. In this instance, however, had the Titanic crashed head-on into the berg, the damage would have been more apparent. It would have caused more immediate confusion, but it is almost certain that the Titanic would not have sunk, as only her bow and forward compartments would have been damaged by the collision. Instead, as the berg slid down her side, the submerged ice penetrated her hull and inflicted a gash 300 feet long.
The Titanic‘s engines were stopped instantly. In a few moments an effort was made to restart them, but they were again stopped after a revolution or so. The great ship lay mortally wounded and helpless.
Many of the passengers who had retired for the night were awakened by the sudden stop of the throbbing engines. Their inquiries were answered with reassuring words from the night stewards.
In the smoking room a group was playing cards. One of the kibitzers had noticed the iceberg as it slid by. Investigating, he returned and informed the players that the decks were covered with ice, to which one player replied, “Go scoop me a handful. This drink is pretty warm.”
No sooner had the engines stopped than Commodore Smith was on the bridge. After being informed by Mr. Murdock as to what had happened, Commodore Smith ordered the junior officers to make a survey of the underwater portions of the ship. Their reports came back—16 feet of water in the mail room—mail bags floating around—Number One hold flooded—forward boiler rooms flooded—baggage rooms flooded. Already it was apparent that all was not well. All stairs facing forward assumed a peculiar downward angle.
Commodore Smith knew that his ship was doomed. He ordered the Marconi operators to transmit distress signals. General quarters were sounded. Stewards patrolled the passageways instructing the passengers to report to the boat deck with life preservers. Everybody responded good-naturedly. It was more or less an additional thrill to most of them—just another incident to make the trip more memorable. The word “unsinkable” sprinkled the general conversation.
On the boat deck grim officers were preparing the lifeboats. Rockets were sent up at regular intervals. The roar was deafening as the steam pressure was released from the boilers up through the exhaust pipes attached to the smoke stacks. This was a precautionary measure to keep the boilers from exploding in the event the ship sank. Even though the Titanic was now visibly settling by the head, most of the passengers refused to take seriously the possibility of her sinking. Many of those who reluctantly entered lifeboats jokingly made appointments for breakfast on board in the morning.
To those already clear of the ship in lifeboats the Titanic‘s plight was much more noticeable. Her parallel rows of lighted portholes were now tilted to such a degree that the forward ports disappeared below the ocean’s surface, while those aft rose higher and higher. On deck, calm was beginning to give way to apprehension and fear. Consequently, there was a mad scramble for the last boats and the officers had to use extreme measures to maintain order.
By now the band had assembled on deck and was playing “Autumn,” a favorite English hymn. In the weeks following the disaster, stories were told that the band played “Nearer My God to Thee” while the Titanic was sinking. There is nothing to substantiate this story, and it probably grew from the imagination of some news reporter.
In the back of almost every mind was the hope and even conviction that the Titanic would go only so far and then she would hold. Such was not the case. At 2:17 A.M., the Titanic suddenly settled by the head, her stern rising high in the air as she assumed a nearly perpendicular position with about one-third of her length extending above the sea. At this moment came a great rumble like heavy thunder. Some said it was an explosion. But undoubtedly it was the boilers, engines, furniture, and everything else that was movable tearing loose from their foundations and dropping through to the bow, probably crashing on through to precede the ship to the bottom of the ocean. As the ship rose to the perpendicular position, the lights, which had been glowing bright and friendly all through the night, suddenly failed. They flashed on again for an instant—then total darkness added to the horror.
The survivors in the lifeboats were shocked by the pitiful screams and cries of the hundreds who were suddenly thrown into the icy water. Knowing they could not help, the people in the boats sang as they rowed, in an effort to drown out the terrible cries.
The Titanic remained in her vertical position for two or three minutes, settling deeper and deeper in the water. Then she settled back a little toward a more normal position and quietly slid beneath the waves. With her went Commodore Smith, Mr. Murdock, John Jacob Astor, and many others whose names were famous the world over.
All of the lifeboats had been launched and were safely away from the Titanic‘s sides so that, in the event of any suction or other commotion during the Titanic‘s death struggle, the boats would not be swamped. In that fleet of lifeboats were 712 survivors—less than onethird of the total number of persons on board. Although some of the lifeboats left the Titanic only partially filled, the ship was painfully under-equipped as far as life-saving apparatus was concerned. There were 20 lifeboats which could have accommodated a maximum of 1,178 persons. The Titanic was capable of carrying nearly 3,000 persons. Luxury had been given precedence over safety.
The minds of the survivors had been too engrossed in what was happening about them during the sinking to think of anything else. Now that they found themselves bobbing about alone in the middle of this quiet, black ocean, their thoughts turned to the possibility of rescue. With the mother ship gone, the small boats attempted to huddle together within hailing distance of each other. The general opinion among those in the boats was that the Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic, was on her way. Crew members calculated that the Olympic would reach the scene of the disaster some time that afternoon. This meant about 12 hours of waiting. Actually, the Olympic was 500 miles away and at 23 knots it would take her over 20 hours to reach the Titanic. Most of the survivors were clad only in night clothes and were already beginning to feel the numbing effects of the cold and shock. What most of them did not know was that the Marconi operators had been busy and at that moment half a dozen ships, all closer than the Olympic, were driving through under forced draft to the position given by the Titanic.
The first hint that help might be near came about an hour after the Titanic sank. A report like distant cannon fire was heard, followed by what appeared to be the light of a rocket. Eager eyes scanning the horizon had already been fooled by what proved to be only a rising star and many of them tried to brush this new hope from their minds by saying that the light probably was a shooting star. Nevertheless, all eyes were intent in the one direction. Presently over the horizon came the masthead lights of a ship. Even though the lights grew brighter, some of the passengers would not be convinced that a ship was coming on until they could distinguish her red and green side lights.
Then there was a great scurry to gather up paper or anything else that would burn in order to attract attention. Brighter and brighter grew the lights as the ship bore down on them. When she was almost upon them the ship suddenly slackened her speed. Then, after making a graceful quarter turn, she stopped and hove to, displaying her rows of beautifully lighted portholes to the grateful eyes watching her.
As dawn broke, the ship was identified as a large one-stacked Cunard liner. Daylight also revealed that the surrounding sea was filled with huge icebergs and growlers, one of which was guilty of sending the Titanic to her doom.
As they pulled toward the rescue ship, 712 pairs of eyes were glued to the white line of letters painted across the ship’s bow. As they drew closer, letters were picked out one at a time—C—A—R—P—ATHIA—Carpathia—a name which in that moment became deeply imprinted in the consciousness of the survivors. For the rest of their lives, they would remember that name as clearly as their own.
By 8: 30 A.M., the last boatload of survivors had been taken aboard the Carpathia, which was fortunate, because, although the seas remained calm, some of the more heavily laden lifeboats were shipping water. Many in these boats were drenched and it is doubtful if they could have lasted much longer.
With all of the survivors safe on the Carpathia, let us go back a few hours and see how the stage was set for this tragic drama. Within a radius of some 200 miles of the illfated spot, there were about a dozen ships. Three of them were to play leading roles in the performance—the Titanic which was knifing her way westward at 23 knots, the Californian which had stopped for the night in the ice fields, and the Carpathia jogging along eastbound at 13 knots. When the final curtain had been lowered, one performer had gone; one was to receive the praise and acclaim of the world; and the other left the audience to the drama forever wondering “Why”?
The curtain had been raised nearly two hours before the fatal collision when the 6,000-ton Leyland liner Californian took her place on the stage. The Californian had sailed on 5 April from London bound for Boston. She was under command of 35-year-old Captain Stanley Lord. On Sunday 14 April the Californian began to encounter ice. At 10:21 P.M., the ice conditions became so severe that Captain Lord decided to stop and heave to for the night.
At 11:15 P.M., Third Officer Groves reported to Captain Lord that a ship was approaching rapidly out of the East. Captain Lord went to the bridge and, after observing the approaching ship, he went to the Marconi room where operator Evans was on duty. Lord asked Evans if he could hear any ships. The operator replied that he could hear the Titanic and from the quality of her signals she appeared to be very close. Captain Lord then instructed Mr. Evans to call the Titanic and advise her of the ice conditions. Evans’ set sparked into action and, after the customary call, he waited for the Titanic‘s signal to proceed with the message. Instead, the Titanic snapped back, “Keep out.” The reason was that she was transmitting a long series of messages to Cape Race and the Californian‘s signals interfered.
Evans listened to the Titanic‘s traffic with Cape Race for a considerable period of time. Feeling that he could not get through to her, he then secured his set and went to bed. A very short time later the air was filled with the Titanic‘s pleas for help, but by that time Marconi Operator Evans was sound asleep.
After his visit to the Marconi room, Captain Lord returned to the bridge, where, with Third Officer Groves, he watched the rapidly approaching stranger. At 11:40 P.M. this ship suddenly appeared to alter course and her lights disappeared. Captain Lord and Mr. Groves were both of the opinion that, like their own vessel, the ship had stopped for the night and had put her lights out.
At midnight, Second Officer Stone took the watch on the Californian‘s bridge. Third Officer Groves retired. Captain Lord remained on the bridge with his Second Officer for a few moments. After instructing Mr. Stone to keep an eye on the stranger, whose lights had appeared again, but who obviously was not moving, Captain Lord retired.
At about 1:13 A.M., Second Officer Stone and his apprentice, Mr. Gibson, intently watched the strange ship which was now flooded with lights. As they watched, a rocket shot up from her deck, followed by several more in rapid succession. Mr. Stone called Captain Lord immediately and informed him of the rockets. Captain Lord asked if they were company signals. (Various companies burned different colored flares at night to identify themselves to passing ships.) Mr. Stone replied that all of the rockets had been white. Captain Lord returned to the bridge for another look at the ship. Satisfied that all was well, he returned to bed after instructing Mr. Stone to use the signal lights. Mr. Stone called the ship several times with the blinker lights but saw no response to his calls, although the apprentice thought he saw the masthead light of the ship blinking. Between then and 2:05 A.M., several more rockets were observed. Mr. Stone then sent the apprentice to call Captain Lord again. Informing Captain Lord of the additional rockets, Mr. Gibson waited for orders. Captain Lord asked what the time was. The apprentice replied, “2:05.” Captain Lord then apparently dropped off to sleep again. With no further instructions from the Captain, Mr. Gibson returned to the bridge and reported to Mr. Stone.
The two men continued to watch the unusual actions of the ship and Mr. Gibson remarked how queer the angle of her lights appeared. Mr. Stone replied that a ship does not send up rockets for nothing. At 2:20 A.M., the ship with the “queer lights” suddenly appeared to sail off in a southerly direction and disappear.
From then until 4:00 A.M., when Chief Officer Stewart relieved Mr. Stone, nothing noteworthy occurred. Mr. Stone related to Mr. Stewart the happenings of his watch; in the meantime another ship had put in her appearance. Mr. Stewart asked Mr. Stone if he believed this was the ship which had sent up the rockets. Mr. Stone answered in the negative. The ship in question was undoubtedly the Carpathia, coming in from the South.
Mr. Stone’s story impressed Mr. Stewart enough to cause him to go to the Marconi room and awaken Mr. Evans. A moment after placing the phones over his ears, Mr. Evans had the incredible news. The air was crackling with reports of the Titanic‘s plight.
Mr. Stewart called Captain Lord and informed him of what was happening. Dashing to the Marconi room for verification, Captain Lord instructed Mr. Evans to send a general call requesting the Titanic‘s position. The reply which came from the S. S. Virginian must have sickened him. The message placed the Titanic a pitifully short distance away.
Captain Lord immediately drove the Californian through the ice to the position given, where he arrived shortly after daylight. The Carpathia was already there, of course, and had most of the survivors on board.
At the U. S. Congressional investigation, and later at the British inquiry, Captain Lord denied having any conversation with anyone from the time he left the bridge at about 1:30 A.M. until he was awakened shortly after 4:00 A.M. by Mr. Stewart, although he admitted a hazy recollection of someone being in his quarters around this period. Evidently, Captain Lord was a sounds sleeper and had not been sufficiently aroused to grasp the gravity of the situation.
Captain Lord claimed that Mr. Stone informed him of only one rocket when he communicated with him at 1:15 A.M. Mr. Stone swore that he had informed Captain Lord of several rockets.
Captain Lord testified that the vessel which he had observed was a freighter, while Mr. Groves, Mr. Stone, Mr. Gibson, and a donkeyman named Gill all testified that the ship which they had seen was a large passenger liner. Officers and seamen from the Titanic claimed that all during the sinking they could see the lights of another ship and had tried desperately to attract her attention.
It was the final opinion of Lord Mersey, who conducted the British investigation, that what Captain Lord and his Third Officer had seen, when a ship appeared out of the east and suddenly turned south putting her lights out, was actually the Titanic‘s collision with the iceberg. The lights appeared to go out when the towering iceberg cut the Titanic off from the Californian’s line of vision. The rockets seen by Mr. Stone corresponded to the approximate number sent up by the Titanic. The times of the rockets jibed on both ships. And, what appeared to Mr. Stone and Mr. Gibson to be a ship sailing off to the south and disappearing from view at 2:20 A.M. was actually the Titanic sinking. Captain Lord claimed that from his observations, the Titanic‘s position was 19 ½ miles away. From the evidence presented, however, the court decided that the distance between the two ships during the sinking was far less than Captain Lord claimed. The Court said that the Californian could have been at the Titanic‘s side a considerable time before she sank. And, that the sea being exceptionally calm, the Californian could have accomplished a complete, or nearly complete, evacuation of the Titanic‘s passengers and crew members.
Now, while two pairs of wondering eyes were gazing upon the ship with the “queer lights,” let us see what was happening on the Carpathia bound from New York to the Mediterranean on that tragic Monday morning.
At 12:15 A.M., a long time past his normal tour of duty, Marconi Operator Cottam was preparing for bed. In fact, with his quiet earphones dangling around his neck, he was bent over struggling with a hard knot in his shoe lace. Suddenly the phones crackled to life. After the first three letters had come through, Cottam froze, for the screaming out of the phones was the dreaded “CQD—CQD—CQD”—attention all stations—distress! The signature, “MGY” sent cold chills down his spine, for they were the call letters of the S. S. Titanic.
Cottam dashed to the bridge and informed the officer on duty who without even knocking burst into the Captain’s quarters to awaken him with the news.
Shocked into action, the Captain leaped from his bed. After ordering Cottam to stand by for the Titanic‘s position, he went to the bridge to determine with his navigators the Carpathia‘s exact position. This was to be a run from pinpoint to pinpoint on the chart with no friendly lighthouses to guide them. The slightest discrepancy might mean lives.
The Captain then communicated with the Chief Engineer, requesting him to prepare for all possible speed in the event the Carpathia could be of assistance. The Chief Engineer ordered a double watch of stokers to the boiler rooms while he went to the engine room to stand by his engines during the grueling run.
In the Marconi room, Cottam waited with phones glued to his ears. Impatiently he twisted dials to sensitize his receiver. At 12:25 A.M., the silence of the night was again broken. Into his ears the phones barked, “MGY—CQD—CQD—CQD—SOS—SOS—SOS—HAVE STRUCK ICEBERG—WE ARE BADLY DAMAGED—POSITION—LATITUDE 41:46 NORTH—LONGITUDE 50:15 WEST—SMITH, COMMANDER.”
Thus was used for the first time in a catastrophe the now familiar signal “SOS” (three dots, three dashes, three dots) which had been lately agreed upon as a common signal for distress on the high seas, and was written into International Law.
Mr. Cottam relayed the message to his Captain who, after a moment’s consultation with his chart, ordered the new course set at “North 52 West.” The Chief Engineer was then notified that they were off to the Titanic‘s position, a distance of 58 miles.
The Marconi operator was handed a terse message to be sent to Commodore Smith. Short as it was, it spoke volumes and it must have raised Commodore Smith’s hopes as he read, “Coming hard.”
So began the race against time which was to bring fame and glory to the Carpathia and her crew. It was to result in the Carpathia‘s Captain being honored in 1926 by King George V, who knighted him as Sir Arthur Henry Rostron, Knight Commander of the British Empire.
Gradually the rhythm of the Carpathia‘s engines picked up as the throttles were inched open. In the boiler rooms, half naked stokers, whose sweating bodies gleamed a golden orange in the glare of the roaring fires, worked their backs to the breaking point as they poured coal down the throats of the furnaces. Hundred-pound slice bars slashed over the grates breaking up the fires to expedite the process of converting the energy contained in the coal into precious pounds of steam. The ship’s heating systems were shut off so that their steam could be diverted through the heaving engines.
The vibration in the Carpathia began to increase as her speed picked up from 13 knots to 14—15—16—17. In the engine room, eyes watched gauges whose needles were indicating pressures greater than had ever been seen there before. Sensitive hands felt bearings for signs of overheating. Soothing oil was poured over laboring parts.
Black smoke belching from the Carpathia‘s funnel was smeared over the quiet ocean behind her. The feather of steam showing at the top of her exhaust pipes, sent up from the sizzling safety valves, was evidence that the men in the boiler rooms were successful in their effort to maintain the steam pressure. The Carpathia was now clipping off a neat 17 1/2 knots with her throttles and links wide open. With her stern pulled deep in the water by the drag of her propellers, the Carpathia drove on.
The reaction to the Titanic‘s call extended beyond the bridge and engine rooms. The entire crew had been roused out. Cooks were making hot coffee and soup, stewards made handy all additional blankets, doctors were preparing sedatives and instruments, second and third class passengers were grouped together so that every available bed would be ready. Booms were raised and made ready to hoist mail and valuables on board. Bosun’s chairs were prepared to hoist up the injured. There were nets for the children. Rope ladders and ropes dangled along either side to the water line. Cargo lights were made ready to flood the scene with light. Lifeboats, emptied of everything except the bare necessities, were swung out on their davits ready for instant lowering. Drums of oil were placed in lavatories ready to be poured down if necessary to help quiet the sea. Rockets were sent up at periodic intervals in the hope they would carry assurance to the distressed ship.
On the bridge Captain Rostron and his staff were tense. Eyes strained with binoculars searched for signs of the stricken ship. Something else weighed heavily on Captain Rostron’s mind—ice! Extreme caution in this respect was his primary concern, because in the back of his mind must have been the realization that the safety of his own ship was also at stake. Marconi operator Cottam reported to the bridge at intervals with grave messages which told that the Titanic could not last much longer.
At about 2:15 A.M. Captain Rostron’s dread became a reality. Icebergs! The Carpathia had to be maneuvered to avoid the peril. From then on, precious minutes were lost weaving through a maze of icebergs and growlers.
At 2: 17 A.M. Cottam heard the Titanic open up. With a weak and wavering spark she started transmitting, “MGY—CQ—CQ—C.”
In New York City’s Battery Park stands a small monument on which are inscribed the words, “Erected in the memory of wireless operators lost at sea at the post of duty.” Beneath the inscription is an unfinished list of names. Among these names is Jack Phillips, the 26-year-old chief Marconi operator of the S.S. Titanic, whose set was stilled only after his ship had upended and the power failed.
At frequent intervals, during the remainder of the night, Cottam heard the frantic calls of the S.S. Olympic pleading for a word from her sister ship. But by then the voice of the Titanic had been stilled forever.
At 3: 40 A.M., a lone green light was sighted. The Carpathia was now nearing the Titanic‘s position. Cottam had reported no messages sent by the Titanic for well over an hour, and Captain Rostron’s hopes were dwindling fast as he realized that the Titanic must have sunk. At 3:55 the Carpathia reduced her speed, and at 4:00 A.M. she stopped and hove to.
When the first boatload of survivors arrived alongside, Captain Rostron sent for the officer in charge. His fears were confirmed when the officer informed him in choked words that the Titanic had gone at about 2:30 A.M.
Joy and tragedy mingled as each lifeboat pulled alongside the Carpathia. There were thankful reunions as loved ones saw each other. There was heartbreak for those whose searching eyes failed to find the faces of loved ones.
With the arrival of each lifeboat, many of them partially filled, it became more and more apparent to Captain Rostron that the loss of life had been heavy. Knowing the number of lifeboats that the Titanic carried, mental calculations prepared him somewhat for the shock which came after the last boatload had been accounted for and he was informed that there were 712 survivors on board. He knew that the Titanic had left Europe with more than 2,000 persons.
Among the rescued on the Carpathia‘s decks when the final check began were four Chinese—unofficial guests of the White Star Line. They had boarded the Titanic unnoticed and stowed away comfortably in one of her lifeboats.
Captain Rostron relates the following incident, which occurred that night, in his book, Home from the Sea: In one of the Carpathia‘s first class staterooms a man and his wife, who had slept soundly all night, opened their stateroom door in response to a hard knock. There they were confronted by the drawn faces of two girls—their nieces—with whom they had exchanged greetings by wireless to the Titanic on the previous afternoon.
By 8: 30 A. M. Captain Rostron had satisfied himself that nothing more could be done. He then sent a general wireless message informing the world that the Titanic had sunk, that all survivors were safe on the Carpathia, and that additional help was not necessary.
After hoisting Titanic‘s 20 lifeboats on deck, Captain Rostron maneuvered Carpathia to the position which the Titanic had given in her distress call. Then, with colors lowered to half mast, religious services were held for those who had perished during the night and in gratitude for those who had been safely delivered to the Carpathia.
Among mountainous icebergs and growlers glistening in the early morning sunlight, the Carpathia herself seemed to join in that solemn requiem as she paid silent tribute to a sister traveler of the seas.
Disregarding his own schedule, Captain Rostron then turned the Carpathia back toward New York. During the four days that followed, it seemed that all the elements conspired to reach out for those who had escaped death on the Titanic, for the overcrowded Carpathia was buffeted by violent storms and enveloped for long hours in a pea soup fog before the harried survivors were finally safely delivered to New York.
Besieged by reporters for a statement to the press, a weary Captain Rostron said simply, “I thank God that I was within wireless hailing distance, and that I got there in time to pick up the survivors of the wreck.”
The loss of the Titanic was a rude shock to the world. The tragedy did, however, serve to awaken the public consciousness concerning marine safety.
Since that time, we have seen the establishment of the 24-hour radio watch at sea, ice patrols and weather broadcasts, requirements for more and better lifeboat equipment; and improved general safety regulations aboard ship.