8 Date With Destiny

“I knew Captain Smith for over fifteen years. Our conversation that night amounted to little or nothing. I simply sympathized with him on the accident; but at that time, as I then never expected to be saved, I did not want to bother him with questions, as I knew he had all he wanted to think of. He did suggest that I go down to A deck and see if there was not a boat alongside. This I did, and to my surprise saw the boat “D” still hanging on the davits and it occurred to me that if I swam out and waited for her to shove off they would pick me up, which was what happened.”

– First-Class passenger, Frederick Hoyt.

Captain Smith carried out his final inspection of the Boat Deck at the time the final lifeboat – Collapsible D – was being lowered, telling the wireless operators and other crew members, they had done a great job and “Now its every man for himself.”

Father Thomas Byles was giving absolutions and taking confessions, as the remaining passengers and crew were headed for the stern, shuffling past Titanic’s band as they continued to play outside the ships gymnasium. Among them Archibald Gracie, who found his way blocked by “A mass of humanity” several lines deep as hundred of Third Class passengers had made their way to the boat deck. Gracie gave up on the idea of going aft and jumped into the water to escape the crowd before him. Gracie later provided a chilling testimony. Saying, “Soon after that – he had helped lower a lifeboat – the water came up on the boat deck. We saw it and heard it…Mr. Smith [his friend Clint Smith] and myself thought then that there was no more chance for us there, there were so many people at that particular point, so we decided to go toward the stern, still on the starboard side, and as we were going toward the stern, to our surprise and consternation, up came from the decks below a mass of humanity, men and women – and we had thought that all the women were already loaded into the boats. The water was then right by us, and we tried to jump, Mr. Smith and myself did”.

Others were obviously making no attempt to escape. The ships designer, Thomas Andrews was last seen in the First Class smoking room, without a lifejacket and staring at the painting above the fireplace. The fate of Captain Smith remains unknown. The popular folklore dictates that he entered the ships bridge, closed the door into the wheelhouse, then held the ships wheel until the windows between the bridge and the wheelhouse exploded under the pressure of the water, that had flooded the bridge, then drowned “at the wheel”. Several passengers stated differently. Some claim he entered the bridge, then shot himself. Others claim he did indeed commit suicide. Marconi operator Bride claims he saw him jump into the water from the bridge.

At about 02:15 am, water was pouring into previously unflooded parts of the ship, through deck hatches, causing Titanic’s angle in the water to increase rapidly. This rapid angle increase caused a giant wave to wash along the ship from the forward end of the boat deck – according to survivor Archibald Gracie IV – washing many people into the sea as collapsible lifeboats A and B were being cut from their lashings above the crew quarters by Gracie, Chief Officer Henry Wilde, First Officer Murdoch and Second Officer Charles Lightoller. Gracie, Bride and Lightoller were able to get onto the upturned hull of Collapsible B. But, Murdoch and Wilde perished in the water.

Second Officer Lightoller later recollected:

“Just then the ship took a slight but definite plunge – probably a bulkhead went – and the sea came rolling along up in a wave, over the steel fronted bridge, along the deck below us, washing the people back in a dreadful huddled mass. Those that didn’t disappear under the water right away, instinctively started to clamber up that part of the deck still out of water, and work their way towards the stern, which was rising steadily out of the water as the bow went down. It was a sight that doesn’t bear dwelling on – to stand there, above the wheelhouse, and on our quarters, watching the frantic struggles to climb up the sloping deck, utterly unable to even hold out a helping hand.”

Lightoller decided to abandon the ship to escape the growing crowd and jumped into the sea from near the bridge. The water, rushing into a ventilation shaft, sucked Lightoller in until a massive blast of hot air blew him clear, he emerged next to the upturned lifeboat B. The forward funnel collapsed under its own weight, narrowly missing the boat, while crushing several people in the water. The surge from the wave washed the boat 50 yards or 46 metres from the sinking ship.

Titanic Sinking

Lightoller would describe that moment: “When – floating in the dark – “I recognised my surroundings, we were full fifty yards clear of the ship. Lights on board the Titanic were still burning, and a wonderful spectacle she made, standing out black and massive against the starlit sky. Myriads of lights still gleaming through the portholes from that part of the decks, still above water.”

At this time, Titanic was suffering immense stresses throughout her structure. First class passenger Jack Thayer described it:

“Occasionally there had been a muffled thud or deadened explosion within the ship. Now, without warning she seemed to start forward, moving forward and into the water at an angle of about fifteen degrees. This movement with the water rushing up toward us was accompanied by a rumbling roar, mixed with more muffled explosions. It was like standing under a steel railway bridge while an express train passes overhead mingled with the noise of a pressed steel factory and wholesale breakage of china.”

Lawrence Beesley and other eyewitnesses say they saw Titanic’s stern lifting high into the air at an angle of 30-45 degrees. As Beesley put it, “revolving apparently around a centre of gravity just astern of amidships”. Other survivors described a great noise as attributed to Boiler explosions. Lawrence Beesley, in lifeboat 13 described the loud noise as: “partly a groan, partly a rattle, and partly a smash, and it was not a sudden roar as an explosion would be: it went on successively for some seconds, possibly fifteen to twenty”. He attributed it to “the engines and machinery coming loose from their bolts and bearings, and falling through the compartments, smashing everything in their way”.

About a minute later, the lights on Titanic went out, plunging the great ship into darkness. Jack Thayer recalled “groups of the fifteen hundred people still aboard, clinging in clusters or benches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly as the great after part of the ship, rose into the sky”

From upturned collapsible lifeboat B, Lightoller recollected “The fore part, and up to the second funnel was by this time completely submerged, and as we watched this terribly awe-inspiring sight, suddenly all the lights went out and the huge bulk was left in black darkness, but clearly silhouetted against the bright sky.”

The weight of the water dragging the ship forward of the bridge into the water, combined with the air still inside the stern section, meant there were great opposing forces – which were concentrated on one weak area of the ships structure, the area of the engine room hatch. The ship split apart.

The Breakup

Two main theories existed for decades after the Titanic disaster. One school of thought suggested the vessel split in half. Another suggested the ship, in its final stages, did not split but instead went to the bottom of the Atlantic intact.

Seventeen year old, Jack Thayer who had jumped from the starboard side of the ship, near the second funnel just moments before the ship split said:

“The cold was terrific. The shock of the water took the breath out of my lungs. Down and down I went, spinning in all directions. Swimming as hard as I could in the direction, which I thought to be away from the ship, I finally came up with my lungs bursting, but not having taken any water. The ship was in front of me, forty yards away. How long I had been swimming under water, I don’t know. Perhaps a minute or less.”

“The water was over the base of the first funnel. The mass of people on board were surging back, always back towards the floating stern. Suddenly the whole superstructure of the ship appeared to split, well forward to mid-ship, and bow or buckle upwards. The second funnel, large enough for two automobiles to pass through abreast, seemed to be lifted off, emitting a cloud of sparks. It looked as if it would fall on top of me. It missed me by twenty or thirty feet. The suction of it drew me down and down, struggling and swimming, practically spent.”

“As I finally came to the surface I put my hand over my head, in order to push away any obstruction. My hand came against something smooth and firm with rounded shape. I looked up, and realized that it was the cork fender of one of the collapsible lifeboats, which was floating in the water bottom side up. About four or five men were clinging to her bottom. I pulled myself up as far as I could, almost exhausted, but could not get my legs up. I asked them to give me a hand up, which they readily did. Sitting on my haunches and holding on for dear life, I was again facing the Titanic.”

“There was the gigantic mass, about fifty or sixty yards away. The forward motion had stopped. She was pivoting on a point just abaft of mid-ship. Her stern was gradually rising into the air, seemingly in no hurry, just slowly and deliberately. We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard, clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle. Here it seemed to pause, and just hang, for what felt like minutes. Gradually she turned her deck away from us, as though to hide from our sight the awful spectacle. Then, with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few gallant bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea.”

Thayer had witnessed the ship splitting in two, shortly after jumping into the water because he was very close to the remaining stern section. The gigantic mass he mentioned would be the interior of the stern section, after its break from the forward section, which settled back on the surface before it was raised again. However, not all surviving passengers saw the ship break before the stern rose again into the sky.

A Second-class passenger from lifeboat No. 13 said:

“We could see her now only as the stern and some 150 feet of her stood outlined against the star-specked sky, looming black in the darkness, and in this position she continued for some minutes – I think as much as five minutes, but it may have been less. Then, first sinking back a little at the stern, I thought, she slid slowly forwards through the water and dived slantingly down; the sea closed over her and we had seen the last of the beautiful ship on which we had embarked four days before at Southampton.”

The 1985 expedition that discovered the wreck of the Titanic, led by Dr Robert Ballard, confirmed the ship did indeed break in two during its sinking and plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean in 1912.

~ ~ ~ ~

The split would have caused the forward part of the stern to flood very rapidly. Making the stern rise to its tilt of a vertical position of 90 degrees, where it remained for a few moments. Jack Thayer reported that the stern turned slightly on the surface, “gradually turning her deck away from us. Then with the deadened noise of the bursting of her last few gallant bulkheads, she slid quietly away from us into the sea”.

Quartermaster Robert Hitchens later recounted his experience to Journalist Carlos F. Hurd, onboard the Carpathia. He was intending to present his evidence at any subsequent marine inquiry into the sinking of Titanic. Hitchens told Hurd:

“I went on watch at eight O’clock Sunday night and stood by the man at the wheel until ten. At ten I took the wheel for two hours”.

“On the bridge from ten o’clock were First Officer Murdoch, Fourth Officer Boxhall and Sixth Officer Moody. In the crow’s nest were Fleet and another man whose name I don’t know”.

“Second Officer Lightoller, who was on watch while I stood by, carrying messages and the like, from eight to ten, sent me soon after eight to tell the carpenter to look out for the fresh water supply, as it might be in danger of freezing. The temperature was then 31 degrees, he gave the crows nest a strict order to look out for small icebergs”.

“Second Officer Lightoller was relieved by First Officer Murdoch at ten, and I took the wheel then. At 11.40 three gongs sounded from the crows nest, the signal for ‘ something right ahead’. At the same time one of the men in the crows-nest telephoned to the bridge that there was a large iceberg right ahead. As officer Murdoch’s hand was on the lever to stop the engines the crash came. He stopped the engines, then immediately by another lever, closed the water-tight doors”.

“The skipper – Captain Smith – came from the chart-room on to the bridge. His first words were ‘Close the emergency doors’. Murdoch replied, ‘They are already closed sir’”.

“Send to the carpenter and tell him to sound the ship’, was the skippers next order. The carpenter never came up to report. He was probably the first man on that ship to lose his life”.

“The skipper looked at the commutator, which shows in what direction the ship is listing. He saw that she carried five degrees list to the starboard”.

“The ship was then rapidly settling forward. All the steam sirens were blowing. By the skipper’s orders, given in the next few minutes, the engines were put to work at pumping out the ship, distress signals were sent by Marconi and rockets were sent up from the bridge by Quartermaster Rowe. All hands were ordered on deck and life belts were issued to the crew and every passenger.”

“The Stewards and other hands helped the sailors in getting the boats out. The order ‘women and children first’ was given and enforced. There was no panic”.

“I was at the wheel until 12.25. It was my duty to stay there until relieved. I was not relieved by anyone else, but was simply sent away by Second Officer Lightoller, who told me to take charge of a certain boat and load it with ladies”.

“I did so, and there were thirty-two ladies, a sailor and myself in the boat when it was lowered, some time after 1 o’clock – I can’t be sure of the time”.

“The Titanic had sixteen lifeboats and two collapsible boats. All of them got away loaded, except that one of the collapsibles did not open properly and was used as a raft. Forty sailors and stewards who were floating in the water, got on this raft, and later had to abandon the raft., and were picked up by the different boats. Some others were floating about on chairs when picked up”.

“Every boat, so far as I saw, was full when it was lowered, and every boat that set out reached the Carpathia. The green light on one of the boats helped to keep us together, but there were other lights. One was an electric flashlight that a gentleman had carried in his pocket”.

“Our boat was 400 yards away when the ship went down. The suction nearby must have been terrific, but we were only rocked somewhat”.

“I have told only what I know, and what I shall tell any marine court that may examine me”.

Second Officer Lightoller, still clinging to the upturned hull of collapsible lifeboat B said: “This unparalleled tragedy, that was being enacted before our very eyes, now rapidly approached its finale, as the huge ship slowly but surely reared herself on end and brought rudder and propellers clear of the water, till, at last, she assumed an absolute perpendicular position.  In this amazing attitude she remained for the space of half a minute. Then with impressive majesty and ever-increasing momentum, she silently took her last tragic dive to seek a final resting place in the unfathomable depths of the cold gray Atlantic.”

At 2.20am on Monday, April 15 1912, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, Titanic sank at Latitude 41.46 N, Longitude 50.14 W., North Atlantic Ocean.

First Class passenger, Archibald Gracie jumped from the stern of the ship as she went under the surface. He described the event; “After sinking with the ship, it appeared to me as if I was propelled by some great force through the water. This might have been occasioned by explosions under the water, and I remembered fearful stories of people being boiled to death. Again and again I prayed for deliverance, although I felt sure that the end had come. I had the greatest difficulty in holding my breath until I came to the surface. I knew that once I inhaled, the water would suffocate me. When I got under water I struck out with all my strength for the surface. I got to air again after a time, which seemed to me to be unending. There was nothing in sight save the ocean, dotted with ice and strewn with large masses of wreckage. Dying men and women all about me were groaning and crying piteously. By moving from one piece of wreckage to another, at last I reached a cork raft. Soon the raft became so full that it seemed as if she would sink if more came on board her. The crew for self-preservation had therefore to refuse to permit any others to climb aboard. This was the most pathetic and horrible scene of all. The piteous cries of those around us still ring in my ears, and I will remember them to my dying day. ‘hold on to what you have, old boy!’ we shouted to each man who tried to get on board. ‘One more of you would sink us all!’ Many of those whom we refused answered as they went to their death, ‘Good luck – God bless you!’”

As the pride of White Star Line was enveloped by the freezing, dark North Atlantic Ocean, the air was overcome with complete silence for a few moments. Then came the yells and agonising cries from the many who were left floating in the icy cold waters.

“There arose to the sky the most horrible sounds ever heard by mortal man except by those of us who survived this terrible tragedy. The agonising cries of death from over a thousand throats, the wails and groans of the suffering – none of us will ever forget to our dying day.” – Colonel Archibald Gracie IV

J. Bruce Ismay

Joseph Bruce Ismay was born in Crosby, Lancashire, a small town near Liverpool, England on 12 December, 1862. The son of Thomas Henry Ismay, and Margaret Bruce. J. Bruce Ismay became Chairman and managing director of White Star Line after the death of his father in 1899. White Star Line flourished under his control.

In 1901, the White Star Line was merged into an American conglomerate, the International Mercantile Marine Company, which incorporated several American and British shipping lines for the lucrative Atlantic shipping routes. Ismay became President of the IMM.

Before his father’s death, Ismay was an American based agent for White Star Line in New York. While there, he met with the American News Paper tycoon, William Randolph Hearst. On several occasions, Ismay refused to cooperate with Hearst and the press, which led to a falling out between Ismay and Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst was a dubious businessman who had built the largest chain of newspapers throughout the United States of America, including the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Journal. He became well known for his style of journalism, being described as Sensationalist. A book was published in 1990 called Unreliable Sources, in which the two authors, Martin Lee and Norman Soloman, described Hearst’s journalism approach as Yellow Journalism, noting that Hearst routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phoney pictures and distorted real events. William Randolph Hearst’s approach to journalism is commonly referred to in the 21st century as ‘Gutter Journalism’.

At the time, Ismay had no idea how this fallout with Hearst would adversely affect his future.and how a mogul like Hearst, with syndicated newspapers throughout the United States, would use his considerable power and influence, not only to spread lies and rumours about the events of 14 -15 April, 1912, but also would destroy the rest of Ismay’s life, by means of a syndicated smear campaign.

After his father’s death, Ismay pursued the building of four new ocean liners for the White Star Line fleet – dubbed ‘The Big Four’: RMS Celtic, RMS Cedric, RMS Baltic and RMS Adriatic. ‘The Big Four’ were designed more for luxury and speed than safety.

In 1907, Ismay wanted to add three more larger, more luxurious ships to his White Star fleet, dubbing them Olympic-class ocean liners. RMS Olympic, RMS Titanic and RMS Britannic. To this end, Ismay met with Lord Pirrie of the Harland and Wolff shipyards, in London, to discuss White Star Lines answer to Cunard’s RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania which had both been admired for their luxury and speed. Ismay wanted three ships, which would outclass them in size, luxury and safety, but not speed.

Ismay accompanied the first of these ships, RMS Olympic on its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on June 14, 1911, to ensure that all was well and worked perfectly in preparation for the next two vessels, RMS Titanic and RMS Britannic.

It was common practice for Ismay to accompany his ships on their maiden voyages, as he had done with RMS Olympic the year before. Titanic’s maiden voyage was particularly important, because the ship was the pride of the White Star Line. Ismay wanted to be assured the voyage went well and that the passengers experience was of the standard White Star Line had envisaged.

According to the evidence taken on the 19 April 1912, at the U.S. Senate Inquiry into the Titanic disaster, Ismay stated, when questioned by Senator Smith that he boarded Titanic at about 9.30am as a voluntary passenger on the 10th of April, prior to her departure from Southampton at 12 o’clock. There is no supporting evidence behind the claim that Ismay boarded Titanic as an Officer or a member of the crew, as suggested by the popular myth of Ismay’s involvement in the ensuing events that doomed Titanic.

Popular folklore surrounding the disaster has it that Ismay ordered Captain Edward Smith to increase speed in an attempt to break the record for the Trans-Atlantic crossing. Apparently, this attempt was suggested to enable Titanic to reach New York on Tuesday, 16 April, a day before her scheduled arrival at 5,00 am Wednesday, 17 April.

In reality, Titanic was a brand new ship and her powerful engines had not been run in. The result of such an exercise would have been to seriously damage her engines. Some reports claim Titanic was travelling at 26 knots on Sunday 14 April.

Again, in reality, White Star Line’s rival Cunard Line’s ships RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauritania were already operating with quadruple-screw turbine drive engines, which combined economy and speed, providing a top speed of 26 knots. Titanic was designed for size and luxury. She operated with traditional triple-screw reciprocating steam engines and a centre-line turbine. Titanic’s power source was definitely not “state of the art.” But proven and reliable. For speed, Titanic was no match for Lusitania’s and Mauritania’s full turbine engines. Titanic’s maximum speed was 24 knots, which meant that any record breaking attempt on the Southampton to New York speed run was, impossible.

Ismay later testified:

“I understand it has been stated that the ship was going at full speed. The ship never had been at full speed. The full speed of the ship is 78 revolutions. She works up to 80. So far as I am aware, she never exceeded 75 revolutions. She had not all her boilers on. None of the single-ended boilers were on”.

“It was our intention, if we had fine weather on Monday afternoon or Tuesday, to drive the ship at full speed. That, owing to the unfortunate catastrophe, never eventuated.”

During the later US and British investigations, some passengers stated they had heard Ismay talking to Captain Smith of his desire for Titanic to enter New York ahead on schedule and pressured Captain Smith to go faster. During the U.S. Congressional investigation, when questioned about the ships speed, Ismay testified:

Senator SMITH – “Did you have occasion to consult with the Captain about the movement of the ship?”

Mr. ISMAY – “Never”.

Senator SMITH – “Did he consult you about it?”

Mr. ISMAY – “Never. Perhaps I am wrong in saying that. I should like to say this: I do not know that it was quite a matter of consulting him about it, of his consulting me about it, but what we had arranged to do was that we would not attempt to arrive in New York at the lightship before 5 o’clock on Wednesday morning”.

Senator SMITH – “That was the understanding?”

Mr. ISMAY – “Yes. But that was arranged before we left Queenstown”.

Senator SMITH – “Was it supposed that you could reach New York at that time without putting the ship to its full running capacity?”

Mr. ISMAY – “Oh, yes, sir. There was nothing to be gained by arriving at New York any earlier than that”.

Senator SMITH – “You spoke of the revolutions on the early part of the voyage”.

Mr. ISMAY – “Yes, sir”.

Senator SMITH – “Those were increased as the distance was increased?”

Mr. ISMAY – “The Titanic being a new ship, we were gradually working her up. When you bring out a new ship you naturally do not start her running at full speed until you get everything working smoothly and satisfactorily down below”.

The U S Senate inquiry concentrated on how Titanic sank. The British Board Of Trade inquiry concentrated on why the ship sank. Both inquiries completely cleared Ismay and White Star Line of blame. The Hearst syndicated newspapers, however, did not report either inquiry findings. The myth of J. Bruce Ismay interfering with the navigation of Titanic by ordering Captain E. J. Smith to proceed at a mythical top speed in order to reach New York in record time was set in stone


TITANIC: The Legend, myths and folklore Copyright © 2013 by Bruce Alpine. All Rights Reserved.

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