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Aftermath of the R.M.S Titanic disaster with historical photos and quotes from survivors

The aftermath of the titanic disaster began at 2:20 a.m. on April 15, 1912.  The survivors in the lifeboats and the hundreds slowly freezing to death in the 28 degree water.  Out of the 20 lifeboats most not filled to capacity.   Collapsible B was over turned and survivors like Second Officer Charles Lightoller, wireless operator Harold Bride, chief baker Charles Joughin and Archibald Gracie finally found their way onto its keel.

What the survivors remember most about the first hour after the sinking is the sound of people drowning and slowly freezing to death.  Mrs. Stephenson in lifeboat number 4 stated, "She then gave her final plunge and the air was filled with cries.  We rowed back and pulled five more men from the sea.  Their suffering from the icy water was intense and two men who had been pulled into the stern afterwards died, but we kept their bodies with us until we reached the Carpathia, where they were taken aboard and Monday (April 15) afternoon given a decent burial with three others."  Another survivor would remember the "People were screaming and screaming and then the silence was terrible."  "The sounds of people drowning is something that I can not describe to you and neither can anyone else.  It is the most dreadful sound and their is a terrible silence that follows it.", described Eva Hart years later.

After the cries had died down there was nothing for the survivors to do but wait for what ever was to come next.  Keeping warm was the major problem.   There were many cases of frostbite and hypothermia.  This was especially for those who had been in the water like everyone on the bottom of collapsible B.  In collapsible A everyone was in water up to their ankles since it was swept off of Titanic's deck as it sank.  Many that were pulled from the icy water died due to hypothermia.

On many survivors minds was the question, are we going to be rescued?  The only officer that knew that help was on the way was Second Officer Charles Lightoller on collapsible B.   Surviving wireless operator Harold Bride knew since he and Jack Phillips were in tough with the Carpathia.  The Carpathia answered the Titanic's distress call at about 12:25 a.m.  They were 58 miles away and steaming at 17 knots and expected to

lifeboat.jpg (16764 bytes)

Survivors in a lifeboat

reach the last known location of the Titanic by 3:30 or 4:00 a.m.  At about 3:30 a.m. rockets from the Carpathia were spotted to the south.  Lifeboat number 2 was the first to be rescued at 4:10 a.m.  It took the next 4 hours to rescue everyone from the lifeboats.  Second Officer Lightoller was the last to board the Carpathia.  Some of the survivors had been drifting in the lifeboats for almost 8 hours.  The final count onboard the Carpathia was 705 survivors out of 2223 that had started the Southhampton to New York voyage.

At 8:30 a.m. the Californian arrives at the site of the disaster along side the Carpathia.  Hearing via their wireless that the Titanic had sunk she made her way through the ice to assist.  They were asked to search for more survivors as the Carpathia started for New York.  The Californian found no further survivors and continued on to Boston.  It would be three days before the Carpathia would dock in New York with the 705 survivors.  On April 18, 1912 at 9:25 p.m. in a pouring rain, Carpathia docked at the Cunard pier after dropping off Titanic's lifeboats at the White Star pier.

In this three days the world would learn of the disaster in sketchy detail.  Initial information was relayed by ships that had heard Titanic's distress calls.  Cape Race, who Titanic was sending passenger message to, relayed disaster information to the world as they heard it.  Also hearing and relaying information to the world was David Sarnoff at the wireless station on the top floor of Wanamaker's Department store in New York.

Captain Rostron of the Carpathia

Artists rendition of the Carpathia rescuing survivors

The Carpathia's radio room was being manned by a very tired Harold Cottam and Harold Bride, Titanic's surviving wireless operator joined him after being treated for his frostbitten and smashed feet.  They did not answer requests from land based stations for contact.  They even refused to answer a request from President Taft as to the safety of his friend and military advisor Archie Butt.  Cottam and Bride's priority was to transmit the list of survivors names and personal messages from survivors to relatives.  One of the messages that the New York White Star line did receive from the Carpathia confirming the disaster is as follows:

Steamship Carpathia, April 17, 1912 (via Halifax)
Deeply regret advise you Titanic sank this morning, after collision iceberg, resulting serious loss life.  Further particulars later.      Bruce Ismay.

This was received by Mr. Franklin at the White Star office in New York at 9 a.m. on April 17. Two days after the sinking.  This gives you an idea of how slow news was traveling.

New York was to wake up to the shocking news of the disaster.   Information was so sketchy at first that reports ranged from everyone was safe and the Titanic was being towed to Halifax to the Titanic sank with 1800 lost.

The White Star Line was so eager to believe the better news stories that they dispatched a train to Halifax with relatives to meet the Titanic.  Of course when the true situation was realized the train was turned around.  The White Star office in New York was inundated with requests by reporters and relatives for news.  They had no better news than the press had as indicated with the Halifax incident.  Philip Franklin,

Vice President of the White Star New York office, was so shocked at the news that he could not believe it and insisted the Titanic was unsinkable.

The news of this disaster shocked the entire world.  How could an unsinkable ship sink with such a large loss of life.  Southhampton, England, where the Titanic had started her maiden voyage just 5 days before woke up to the shocking news.   Southhampton had lost 549 men in the disaster.

News of the Titanic caught the attention of Senator William Alden Smith.   He was able to get the senate to OK an investigation into the sinking with a senate subcommittee headed by himself.  In the process of following the news reports about the sinking before the Carpathia had arrived in New York he became aware of several messages from J. Bruce Ismay attempting to hold over the Cedric, another White Star ship, in order for Ismay and the surviving crew to return to England as soon as possible.   One of the messages is as follows:

Most desirable Titanic crew aboard Carpathia should be returned home earliest moment possible.  Suggest you hold Cedric, sailing daylight Friday unless you see any reason contrary.  Propose returning in her myself.  Please send outfit of clothes, including shoes, for me to Cedric.  Have nothing of my own.   Please Reply.     Yamsi.

Obviously Ismay was trying to be sneaky by spelling his name backwards.   Smith knew that if the surviving Titanic crew were allowed to return to England that he would have a very difficult time in getting them to return for a inquiry at a later date.  Smith boarded a train in Washington, D.C. and headed for New York.   He arrived just as the Carpathia was docking and made his way through the crowds and onto the ship.  It was 9:30 p.m., Thursday, April 18.  Smith talked with Ismay who was more than willing to cooperate. 

Smith convened the hearings on the morning at 10:30 a.m. at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.  J. Bruce Ismay would be the first witness called.  When it was all over there had been 17 days of testimony between April 19 to May 25 and had been held in both New York and Washington, D.C.  There had been 82 witnesses interviewed with over 1100 pages of testimony generated.  A great deal of issues were covered including being confusion among the crew as to the weight capacity of the lifeboats, resulting in undefiled lifeboats and leading to a larger loss of life.  No boat drills for passengers.  Lifeboat capacity for only 1178 when the ship could hold three times that amount.  This was a direct result of the out dated British Board of Trade regulations.  Ice warnings not being heeded or atleast not all posted for officers to see.  The possibility of the Titanic trying to set a speed record and arrive early at the insistence of J.Bruce Ismay.  Captain E.J. Smith was blamed for traveling to fast and not slowing down in the presence of ice.  As a result of this inquiry and a British inquiry that would take place when the Titanic's crew returned to England would be the requirement for enough lifeboats for the capacity of the ship.   Wireless operators would man the radio around the clock.  There was an incident shortly after the sinking where the crew of the Olympic, Titanic's sister ship, would refuse to sail because additional lifeboats had not been added. 

Even before the Carpathia arrived in New York the White Star Line hired several ships including the Mackay-Bennet from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to search the disaster for bodies.  All together four ships searched the area for six weeks recovering 328 bodies.  Of those 119 were buried at see.  The remaining bodies were embalmed on board ship and packed in ice and 150 of them were returned to Halifax for burial and 59 others were returned home to relatives.

Historical sources for this story:

Titanic: Death of a Dream Documentary, A&E

The Titanic: Death of a Dream, Wyn Wade

Titanic: An Illustrated History, Don Lynch and Ken Marschall

The story of the TITANIC as told by its survivors, Lawrence Beesley, Archibald Gracie, Commander Lightoller, Harold Bride

The Internet, Multiple Sites for Pictures and information

The Titanic Disaster Hearings: Official Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation

The Titanic by Geoff Tibballs

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