The History of the Titanic’s Wreck on the Iceberg
What happened the night of April 14–15, 1912, when the Titanic sank? From the initial iceberg warnings to the wreck of the Titanic sinking to the bottom of the ocean, the night was a horrible ordeal.
Heeding iceberg warnings
Captain Edward J. Smith and the officers on the Titanic were well aware that they might encounter icebergs in the North Atlantic. Knowing about icebergs was part of their training. On April 14 alone, six wireless messages were sent to the Titanic about icebergs in her path.
The wireless messages tell of a huge ice field in the Titanic’s path. Here’s what the crewmen did:
5:20 p.m.: Captain Smith set the Titanic on a course slightly to the south and west of the route he would normally take his ship.
7:15 p.m.: First Officer William Murdoch ordered the fore-scuttle hatch closed so that no light emanated from the hatch and they could see forward of the ship without any light interfering.
9:30 p.m.: Second Officer Charles Lightoller sent a message to the crow’s nest to “keep a sharp lookout for ice.”
Here’s what the crew of the Titanic didn’t do:
Slow the ship.
Post extra lookouts.
Colliding with the iceberg
At 11:40 p.m., lookout Frederick Fleet saw the outlines of a large dark object looming in the mist, and he rang the 16-inch brass bell in the crow’s nest three times to signal “object directly ahead.” He rang the telephone connecting the crow’s nest to the bridge, and when Sixth Officer James Moody answered, he shouted into the phone, “Iceberg right ahead.”
Moody relayed the order to First Officer Murdoch in the wheelhouse, who tried to prepare the Titanic for impact.
Few passengers had any idea that the ship was less than three hours from sinking. Passengers came out of staterooms and cabins to inquire why the engines had stopped. The porters assured them that nothing was the matter.
The side of Boiler Room 6 ripped open, sending a cold, violent flood of water into the room; seawater was also pouring into Boiler Room 5.
Assessing the damage
The iceberg had pierced the hull, buckling the hull plates and popping rivets as it scraped the ship. Five of the watertight compartments in the hull were flooding. The watertight compartments were devised so that the ship would remain afloat if any two were flooded, but when the five compartments at the front of the ship filled with water, their combined weight would sink the ship.
Thomas Andrews, the chief designer of the Titanic, figured that the Titanic had two hours left before the frontmost compartments flooded entirely with water and the ship sank.
Sending out distress signals
When Captain Smith returned to the bridge, he ordered Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall to calculate the Titanic’s position. Then he had the Titanic’s Marconi operators send out distress signals.
Besides the wireless messages, the Titanic sent out two types of distress messages:
Rockets: Fourth Officer Boxhall fired off signal rockets from the Boat deck.
Morse lamp: Boxhall tried to signal a ship he saw in the distance by Morse lamp, but he got no response.
Boarding and launching the lifeboats
Titanic officers observed the “women and children first” rule when loading the lifeboats, but if a lifeboat wasn’t full when the time came to launch it, men were invited to board.
Third-class passengers had been confined to lower decks of the ship. Trying to get to the lifeboats on the Boat deck, they got lost in the unfamiliar passages and stairways of the upper decks. Immigrants who didn’t speak English couldn’t find out from the stewards where they were supposed to go or what they were supposed to do.
By the time the last lifeboat was launched at 2:05 a.m., there wasn’t enough time to launch two of the Englehardt collapsible lifeboats, so these two boats were cut loose and fell overboard.
At 2:18 a.m., the ship’s electrical system failed. All lights aboard the ship went out.
Sinking into the North Atlantic
By now the bow of the ship was submerged, and the stern reared high in the air. As the Titanic’s bow sank, her stern rose, and those still on the Boat deck scrambled to the stern to stay clear of the water, or they took their chances and jumped into the frigid Atlantic.
The giant ship became nearly perpendicular to the surface of the ocean. It could no longer bear the strain of carrying so much seawater or being in a position — nose down — for which it wasn’t constructed. The steamship cracked in two. The bow sank first. Then the stern fell backward to the surface of the ocean, rested there a moment as if nothing had happened, and then sank, too.