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April 14-15, 1912: The RMS Titanic Strikes Iceberg and Sinks

by Terri Bey

April 14, 1912: The RMS Titanic covers 546 miles from noon the previous day. Passengers and crew notice that as the day progresses, the weather has become increasingly colder. During the day, the weather also becomes windy and the water is a bit choppier. Several people, particularly store owner Frank Prentice and First class passenger Elizabeth Shutes notice the odor of ice in the area. The weather and the smell of ice come into play in the upcoming tragedy later that night.

In the morning, Captain Edward Smith conducted church services in First Class. Contrary to popular belief, the hymn, "Eternal Father Strong to Save," was NOT played during this service. However, during an impromptu service in Second Class, this particular hymn WAS played. Considering what would happen later, I would say that this was somewhat of a foreboding One of the lines says, "..and those who peril on the sea."

The Titanic was getting other messages throughout the day, but these were not heavenly. These were warnings of ice ahead. The RMS Titanic would receive about 6 or 7 that day. She would receive warnings from the S.S. Cornia, the Amerika, the S.S. Californian, a ship that plays a role in the upcoming disaster later, the Mesaba and the Baltic. For some reason, Captain Smith comes across White Star Chairman J. Bruce Ismay who is speaking to some passengers, and then Smith gives the Baltic's warning to Ismay, who puts the warning in his pocket. This warningwarns of icebergs and large field ice just north of the Titanic's route. Ismay does eventually give the warning back to Smith.

On board Titanic, on that fateful night, life goes on as normal. Passengers are enjoying the ship. The Third Passengers entertain themselves by playing violin or the piano and dancing. The First Class Passnegers have scrumptious meals, especially what would be the final meal. Captain Smith is feted by George D Widener and his wife, Eleanor at a dinner party. The liner's band is playing in First and Second Class. Everything onboard Titanic is going well.

At about 9:00PM, or so, Captain Smith comes onto the bridge and mentions to Second Officer Charles Lightoller how the sea is "dead calm" and there is "hardly a breath of wind." Lightoller mentions that it will make the icebergs more difficult to see. Before leaving the bridge to go to bed, Captain Smith said that if there was a haze, the ship would have to slow down. When First Officer William Murdoch relieves Lightoller at 10:00PM, Lightoller passes him the message.

Head wireless operator Jack Phillips is hard at work sending passenger messages that have been backed up, thanks to the wireless apparatus breaking down, which has now been fixed. Phillips has been sending these messages to Cape Race, a messenging relay station. At about 10:50PM, or so, Phillips' ears are blasted by a message coming in from Cyril Evans, the wireless operator for the S.S. Californian. The message said, "Say, old man. We are stuck on account of ice." Well, Jack Phillips replied, "Shut up! Shiut up! Keep Out. I am working Cape Race." Evans, who did not put "MSG," meaning "message" in front of the body of the message, did not follow up. At about 11:30PM, Evans, the sole wireless operator on the ship, shut his station down and went to bed.

At about 11:40pm, the RMS Titanic's lookouts, Fredrick Fleet,who along with Reginald Lee, saw a huge object in the moon-less, starry darkness, in front of the liner's path. Fleet realized it was an iceberg and rang the warning bell three times. Sixth Officer Moody answered the phone and asked what was the matter. Fleet said, "ICEBERG, DEAD AHEAD." First Officer Murdoch ordered Quarter Master Robert Hitchens, "Hard a Starboard," meaning turn the wheel to the left, which would turn the tiller to the starboard (right), which in turn, make the Titanic's bow go to the left. Murdoch then orders the ship, "Hard a Port," which means turn the wheel to the right, which makes the tiller go to port (left), so the Titanic's stern goes to the left. There is some dispute as to whether Murdoch "reversed the engines."

Unfortunately, five of Titanic's compartments are opened to the sea by the iceberg as the great liner bumps along the berg. When Murdoch tells Captain Smith what happened, Smith asked the carpenter to "sound the ship," meaning check how badly the ship was damaged. Unfortunately, after ship designer Thomas Andrews looks at the damage, Andrews tells the Captain that the liner has about "an hour, maybe two." Andrew explained how the ship would be able to float with 2, 3 and even 4 flooded, but not 5. Captain Smith, while realizing that there are not enough boats for all on board, orders the boats swung out and eventually orders them filled.

Throughout the sinking, boats were sent away, many half-filled due to passengers being reluctant to board them. After all, they were on a warm ship that was "unsinkable." They certainly didn't want to go off in a small, possibly unstable boat in the freezing ocean, at least in their minds. When the ship started to be overcome with water and began to list badly, people started to realize they were in peril. Fourth Officer Boxhall started firing distress rockets at about 12:47am. The Titanic fired about 8 rockets. While the Titanic was firing these rockets, the S.S. Californian, about 10-12 miles away, stopped by field ice. Her Second Officer Herbert Stone and Apprentice James Gibson watched these rockets. Californian Captain Stanley Lord was sleeping in his chart room. The officers asked Lord about the rockets. At one occasion, Lord asked them to contact the ship with a Morse Lamp and on another occasion, Lord said he thought they were "company signals." Why Captain Lord didn't come on deck himself, I don't know. I will write a separate blog on him,later.

Wireless operator Jack Phillips,who is working until the ship is about to go under, does make contact with the S.S. Carpathia, who does come and eventually rescues the 712 survivors. Eventually, Captain Smith tells Phillips and Harold Bride that they both are relieved and they did their jobs. Sadly, Phillips does not survive, but Bride does, even though he suffers frostbite on both feet.

As the dying ship prepares for her final plunge, the Titanic band, which has been playing throughout the night, end with the hymn, "Nearer My God To Thee." I know in certain movies, different versions are played. In 1958's "A Night to Remember," they play the "Horbury" version. In James Cameron's 1997 "Titanic" and in the 1953 "Titanic," they play the "Bethany" version. As Hartley was a Methodist, and said that if he were on a sinking ship, he would play the Methodist version, the "Propior Deo" version. I should note that some survivor accounts claim the band played "Autumn."

Finally, at 2:17am, the RMS Titanic's lights go out. The great and beautiful liner, once called "unsinkable" then breaks apart right before the third funnel and disappears beneath the waves to her grave, where she lies today.

1496 persih. 712 survive. A beautiful ship is ruined.

This blog is in loving memory to all of the 2,208 souls who sailed on the RMIS Tianic and to their descendants.

Titanic Collision Scene from James Cameron's "Titanic" (1997)

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