In the Bookcase


The sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic (Part 3)

April 15, 1912 (continued)

This post will explain about the Titanic's final moments. If you haven't already, you may want to read about the events leading up to this moment, for April 14th and April 15th. This post continues through the early morning hours of the 15th.

Painting of the R.M.S. Titanic sinking.
To explain how the R.M.S. Titanic finally sunk, I will have to take a few paragraphs straight from one of my favorite factual books on the subject, 'A Night to Remember'. It explains the scenario in the most vivid & straightforward way that I can imagine. For the sake of keeping this shorter though, I have omitted a few sections here and there, though I wholly recommend reading the entire episode from the book, as it truly depicts the scene clearly from where the survivors watched in the small boats. The bow (the front of the ship) was leaning more into the ocean as every minute passed.

The slant of the deck grew so steep that people could no longer stand. So they fell, and Abelseth watched them slide down into the water right on the deck.

The lights went out, flashed on again, went out for good. A single kerosene lantern still flickered high in the after mast. The muffled thuds and tinkle of breaking glass grew louder. A steady roar thundered across the water as everything movable broke loose.

There has never been a mixture like it---29 boilers... huge anchor chains (each link weighed 175 pounds)... tons of coal... dozens of potted palms... 5 grand pianos... And still it grew---tumbling trellises, ivy pots and wicker chairs in the Cafe Parisien... shuffleboard sticks... the 50-phone switchboard, the remarkable ice-making machine on G Deck...

As the tilt grew steeper, the forward funnel toppled over. It struck the water on the starboard side with a shower of sparks and a crash heard above the general uproar.

The Titanic was now absolutely perpendicular. From the third funnel aft, she stuck straight up in the air, her three dripping propellers glistening even in the darkness. To Lady Duff Gordon she seemed a black finger pointing to the sky. To Harold Bride she looked like a duck that goes for a dive.

Out in the boats, they could hardly believe their eyes. For over two hours they had watched, hoping against hope, as the Titanic sank lower and lower. When the water reached her red and green running lights, they knew the end was near... but nobody dreamed it would be like this---the unearthly din, the black hull hanging at 90 degrees, the Christmas card backdrop of brilliant stars. Some didn't watch. In Boat 1, C.E. Henry Stengel turned his back: "I cannot look any longer."

Two minutes passed, the noise finally stopped, and the Titanic settled back slightly at the stern. Then slowly she began sliding under, moving at a steep slant. As she glided down, she seemed to pick up speed. When the sea closed over the flagstaff on her stern, she was moving fast enough to cause a slight gulp.

"She's gone; that's the last of her," someone sighed to Lookout Lee in Boat 13. "It's gone," Mrs. Ada Clark vaguely heard somebody say in No. 4. But she was so cold she didn't pay much attention. Most of the other women were the same---they just sat, dazed, dumbfounded, without showing any emotion. In No. 5, Third Officer Pitman looked at his watch and announced, "It is 2:20."

('A Night to Remember' by Walter Lord, selections from pages 99-103)

The ship had severed itself into two pieces, breaking off from each other as the Titanic went below into the depths of the sea. Both the bow and stern sections hurdled down to the murky bottom of the ocean, going at a rate of approximately 30 miles per hour, hitting bottom only 2.5 miles below.

Over the Titanic's grave hung a thin, smoky vapor, soiling the clear night. The glassy sea was littered with crates, deck chairs, planking, pilasters, and corklike rubbish that kept bobbing to the surface from somewhere now far below. Hundreds of swimmers thrashed the water, clinging to the wreckage and each other.

The temperature of the water was 28 degrees---well below freezing. To Second Officer Lightoller it felt like "a thousand knives" driven into his body. In water like this, lifebelts did no good.

('A Night to Remember' by Walter Lord, page 115)

Photograph of Titanic's survivors in a lifeboat. Cries and screams pierced through the air that night. Some were from people in the water, drowning. The heart-rending noises also came women and men safely on the lifeboats, calling out for their family members, hoping to find them either in the water or in another lifeboat. A small handful of the 1500 people that were floating in the water had enough stamina to make it to the boats, but the water was so cold, most could barely move. The minutes ticked by, and the cries were quieting down. Hypothermia was settling in, and within just 20 minutes, several of the people who were immersed in the freezing water had died. By the time 40 minutes passed after the Titanic disappeared, all was quiet.

Now, as the passengers sat in the lifeboats, they could do nothing except wait, pray, and console each other. They passed around any extra blankets, handkerchiefs, or napkins that could cover someone's ears or hands. So, they waited, hoping to expect a ship to rescue them, but they couldn't be sure if one would come.

The minutes ticked by, but each minute was like an eternity. A little over an hour after the Titanic's sinking at 2:20am, some of the people saw a light streak across the sky, and a few of them realized it was a rocket fired from a nearby ship. It was coming to their rescue! But still they had to wait another half hour for the Carpathia, to arrive in the vicinity of the lifeboats at 4:00am. The people aboard the lifeboats had been rowing towards the new ship when they first sighted it approaching, but still the lifeboats were spread out over a range of 4 miles. The Carpathia had only 1 smokestack, which tells you how its size compared to that of the Titanic's, which had 4 smokestacks. Regardless, there was still plenty of room to take on the 700 survivors scattered across the sea. Some of the Carpathia's own passengers were even kind enough to give up their rooms to create a more comfortable place for the freezing people who were coming aboard. Hot drinks and foods were served to the survivors, names were collected, and families were reunited. Wives waited at the rails, hoping their husbands would be on the next lifeboat that would be pulled in next. Many of these men never appeared.

Captain Rostron (of the Carpathia) searched the waters for more remaining survivors, but found none. Before the ship left the area of the Titanic's grave, with the 1500 souls that had been lost there, he held a memorial service in honor of them. Finally, when nothing else could be done in the middle of the ocean, the Carpathia was directed back to New York.

This ends my 3-part post about that night between April 14-15, 1912. Overall, this sinking itself took place in 2 hours & 40 minutes, from first impact with the iceberg, to becoming a wreck at the bottom of the sea. More hours were added to the tragedy as the people in the lifeboats waited for their rescue, and even after they did get on the Carpathia, the story doesn't end there. More is still to be told about the Titanic. Details coming tomorrow on my blog.

Soon, the entire world would hear the news that The Floating Palace was no longer afloat.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4/16/2012

    And so ended the life of the Grand Lady, but her memory appears to be 'unsinkable'. Although you'll hear the usual ridicule from people who have no interest in the subject. Nice post, very sad.