How Titanic’s career was ended by iceberg

While the new ten-million-dollar White Star liner Titanic, carrying to this port some of the richest and most prominent persons in the United States and England, was steaming along on her maiden trip she crashed into a fog hidden iceberg, to the eastward of Cape Race, at 10:25 o’clock on Sunday night, and four hours later she went to the bottom of the Atlantic.

Fresh from the builders’ yards, the biggest merchantman in the world left Southampton last Wednesday with a passenger compliment of 1,470 souls and a crew of 890, and from the speed she had been making with her forced draft and picked coal, it was certain she would have reached this port in record time.

Nothing thus far has been learned to indicate her speed at the time of the collision, but from the impact with the ice mountain that sent her to the bottom it is almost certain she was plunging along at close to 21 knots, the best velocity her triple screws could give.

More than 1,500 persons believed to have perished

Only 675 souls of the 2,360 on board have thus far been accounted for, and it is believed more than 1,500 persons have perished with the biggest ship in the world, which was thought to be unsinkable.

Misfortune and mishap had camped in the wake of the Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic, and it was hoped by the White Star Line that the latest leviathan from the Harland & Wolff yards, at Belfast, would have better luck.

Fate, however, seemed to have set its seal on the big, unwieldy queens of the Atlantic, and the Titanic did not escape. Three times had the Olympic been in trouble, the mishaps costing her owners almost a million dollars for drydocking, loss of business, and repairs.

Only once did the Titanic get in trouble. That was off Cape Race on Sunday night, when she went down in water so deep that no means known to man could bring her back to the ocean highway.

Never in the history of shipping has a vessel of her great cost and tonnage crossed the seas, much less been wiped out of existence so quickly and so unexpectedly.

She was looked upon by the shipping world as the unsinkable ship. Her builders have boasted that no seas could harm her nor could any vessel afloat damage her to the point of sinking. All these apparently substantial contentions were made with no reference to treacherous fogs or deadly icebergs, the dreaded traps of the Atlantic.

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Other ships escaped same wall of ice

Probably ten or twenty feet of leeway or a half-inch turn of the steam gear wheel on the bridge would have saved the White Star beauty. The strange part of the loss of the Titanic is that other vessels of far less tonnage encountered the same zone of ice and came in through safely. It is a rule of the sea that captains shall inform one another ahead and astern of them that ice is in the tracks. It is thought that the wireless relayed from ship and shore must have informed Captain Smith of the dangerous ice zone ahead.

>> Titanic repeatedly warned of icebergs

Captain Dow, of the Cunarder Carmania, which got to port on Sunday, after a five-hour fight through ice, reported that he came into the ice suddenly in a fog bank, and it is thought that the Titanic had a similar encounter, but hit the hidden iceberg before her master had time to change his course or stop her.

While it is generally understood that all vessels shall reduce their speed to half when running through fog, this rule is not always put into force by the captains of steamships of great tonnage. Some of them run at high speed, on the theory that whatever they hit head-on must suffer the damage, while their own chances of getting off light are in the majority.

J Bruce Ismay, president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, whose father left him the biggest bulk of the stock of the White Star Line, was one of the Titanic’s passengers. He was anxious to see how the big vessel behaved on the westward run, and incidentally make personal observations for the improvement of the service on board.

Fairly good weather preceded accident

The lost liner had had fairly good weather up to the time of her encounter with the fog. The entire voyage had been one of merriment, and in varous lounges, even at the time her sharp stem ploughed into the immovable ice wall, men and women in evening dress sat about sipping coffee and playing cards.

Judging from the terrific jolt the ice gave the Anchor liner Columbia a year ago, running at about eight knots, the Titanic’s passengers must have been thrown violently about and many injured. No one aboard knew better than the venerable Captain Smith, commodore of the fleet, that the Titanic’s death knell had been sounded.

He knew when the high sharp stem pierced the almost adamantine berg with all the force of the highest powered engines in the world behind it that there was no hope for his steel charge.

Many of those who had retired were thrown out of their berths, and ran half clad to the decks, while those who had been lolling in the libraries, smoking rooms, and lounges ran for safety.

The snapping of steel plates and the creaking of wooden fittings in such a crisis as this is enough to frighten the most courageous traveler. As the Titanic’s bow buckled in its niche of green ice with a roar that reverberated no doubt in the frosted graveyard in which she was soon to lie, tons of the softer ice crashed upon the splintered deck forward and forced her to drink long and deep of the waters that were soon to pull her under.

Calls for help immediately follow crash

With his clean and careful sea record of forty years behind him the white skipper of the Titanic never flinched. He put aside the thought that his vessel was doomed and instantly ordered J G Phillips, his wireless operator, to send out calls for help. Captain Smith knew that soon the flood would get to his engines and cut off the power that fed his wireless. He knew, too, that the auxiliary storage batteries could not transmit to any effective distance, so he was urgent that help should be called for while his engines were working.

>> Wireless hero died right after Titanic sank

When it became known that the skipper had called for instant help alarm spread throughout the entire ship, and it was then that the nerve of the skipper and the brave men under him asserted itself. The great bulk of steel that an hour before had defied the fog and ice settled by the head, and gradually, as the flood worked itself aft to her vitals, she settled slowly until the main deck was awash.



No reports concerning the discipline of the crew were received at the White Star office, but judging from the information from the Olympic that women of the saloon were cared for first, followed in turn by the women of the second cabin and steerage, the behavior of the Titanic’s officers must have been unsurpassed.

As the lifeboats were swung out the British fighting blood of the officers asserted itself. Armed, no doubt, with revolvers to drive back the panic stricken male passengers, the women and children were packed away in the lifeboats and lowered over the side.

There was no occasion for delay alongside. The men at the oars were ordered to row far away to be clear of the great suction that would surely draw them down when the Titanic dropped under.

Officers do not quail at thought of death

Darkness and fog added to the difficulty. Total darkness undoubtedly prevailed when the lifeboats were launched, for the same lighting dynamos that fed the wireless had long before passed out of commission. By the dim light of oil lanterns the Titanic’s officers, knowing well that within a few hours they would rest on the bottom with their ship, kept back the cowards and helped the women and children to safety.

The Titanic had, it is thought, twenty lifeboats, each capable of holding forty persons. At best these life craft could not care for more than eight hundred persons. There were several life rafts on board, but the use of these was not mentioned in the Olympic’s messages. There was plenty of help coming, but the sad part of it all was that willing hands were too far away.

Women of the saloon were hustled, with their jewels and their purple and fine linen, into lifeboats with their modestly clad sisters of the steerage. For once in life they were on a common plane, huddled together in lifeboats, where each had a common thought that she was leaving behind a father, husband, or son to perish in the steel palace that brought them to the parting of the ways.

Rescued only witnesses of Titanic’s end

The Titanic went down unseen by other eyes than those watery ones in the lifeboats, and it is doubtful if even they through the misty night were able to watch her sink. The awful roar as she plunged under was perhaps the only sign the survivors had that she had disappeared.

Apart from the men who manned the lifeboats, it is believed that no member of the crew was saved. According to those who know him, Captain Smith and his officers assembled on the bridge, and, in accordance with the rules of the sea, bravely went down with their ship.

>> Titanic: Ocean mistress conquered by sea

Several hours later, when those on the Titanic had passed to rest, the Cunard liner Carpathia, which could undoubtedly have saved all hands, came by at top speed, too late to be of assistance. Wreckage and crowded lifeboats were the only marks above the surface to show where the great Titanic had been.

The Cunarder promptly took the survivors aboard and put about for New York. The Allan liners Virginian and Parisian came by later, but it is not known whether they gathered in any of those from the Titanic.

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Olympic stops over younger sister’s grave

At dusk yesterday, the Olympic at high speed came over the grave of her younger sister and stopped. On her bridge stood Captain Haddock, the man whom the Titanic’s disaster had made commodore of the White Star fleet.

>> Titanic under tow after hitting huge iceberg

Late last night, as he was leaving his office, P A S Franklin, vice-president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, was asked if there were enough lifeboats on the Titanic to take care of all on board, and he replied that he did not know.

After a moment’s hesitation he added: “The capacity of the lifeboats is between thirty-five and forty each. I do not know the number of lifeboats carried by the Titanic. I think it probable, however, that the steamer was equipped with lifeboats enough to accommodate all.”

>> Scenes of horror and heroism on sinking Titanic

Mr Franklin was asked if it was probable that all the passengers rescued were women and children, it having been reported that the men on board were held back while the women and children entered the lifeboats.

“I assume that such would be the case,” he replied.

Mr Franklin said that, in his opinion, if it were found that all passengers could not be taken from the liner, the women in the steerage would have been taken from the Titanic before the men occupying the first and second class cabins.


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About this story

Source publication: New-York Tribune (New York, NY)

Source publication date: April 16, 1912

Filed under: 1910s, Events, Vintage advertisements

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