On May 31, 1911, Titanic’s keel is pushed into the water at Harland & Wolff’s shipyard in Belfast. It would take nearly a year for the immense ship to be finished, including its luxurious interiors and state-of-the-art technology.
Senior wireless operator Jack Phillips receives iceberg warnings from other ships. He sends CQD (a general call for help) to Captain Edward J Smith. The order to load lifeboats begins, with women and children going first.
April 10, 1912
The Titanic, a luxury ocean liner, leaves Queenstown (currently Cobh) in Ireland on its maiden voyage across the Atlantic to New York. The ship is massive, luxurious and advertised as nearly unsinkable thanks to a series of watertight compartments. Its passengers are a mixture of upper class and working class people from all over the world.
Sunday: The ship receives several wireless messages from ships warning of ice in the area. The Caronia reports ice in latitude 42 degrees N, longitude 50 degree W and the Amerika reports two large icebergs at 41° 27′ N, 50° 08′ W. The messages are never passed on to the bridge.
3:30 PM: Ship lookout Frederick Fleet spots an iceberg directly in the Titanic’s path. First Officer Murdoch orders a hard starboard (left) turn, but the Titanic’s right side still scrapes the iceberg. It takes only 37 seconds from the time Fleet spotted the iceberg until the Titanic hit it.
9:40 PM: The last of several warnings about icebergs is received in the wireless room. This message, like the others, fails to reach the bridge.
11:50 PM: Captain Smith learns the ship can stay afloat for only two hours and gives orders to prepare lifeboats. He also asks Thomas Andrews, the ship’s carpenter, to sound the ship and report on the damage.
12:05 AM: The crew begins preparing the lifeboats. First Boat Number 5 is lowered. It contains seven men, including lookout Frederick Fleet. In addition, one of the men jumps in and is injured by the propeller. Almost all the other boats are lowered woefully under-filled.
Despite the fact that outdated British Board of Trade regulations stipulated that every passenger should be provided with at least ten percent of the total capacity of the lifeboats, most of them were filled only about halfway to their capacity. This was partly due to the fact that the davits were designed to handle only two or three boats and they were often swung out and lowered before being hoisted back up under their covers. Only later did Harland and Wolff realize that they could have fitted the davits with collapsible canvas-sided lifeboats, which were able to be stored in their open positions when not in use.
April 14, 1912
As Titanic begins its 24-mile downstream passage into the English Channel en route to Cherbourg, France, first-class passengers board boat-trains at dockside. The ship departs Cherbourg about 1:00 PM with all lights ablaze.
Titanic is carrying a full complement of lifeboats, though some of them are not fully manned. Various reports from other ships indicate that large patches of ice are in the area. Sixth Officer Moody orders the lookouts to be on alert for icebergs, and he also reminds the crew that the International Ice Patrol is operating at night.
At about 11:40 PM, the lookout Frederick Fleet spots an iceberg dead ahead. It’s a huge piece of drifting ice that breaks into several of the ship’s compartments, causing them to fill with water. In one case, the bow section rises to a nearly vertical position above the water.
Captain Smith hears a call from the bridge and tells lookout Boxhall that the ship has struck an iceberg. He asks First Officer William Murdoch to close the watertight doors, and he assigns second officer Thomas Andrews and the ship’s carpenter to “sound the ship” (inspect the damage).
When the first lifeboat is lowered, it contains only 28 people, including Isidor and Ida Straus, a wealthy couple from Germany. The husband refuses to disobey the order that women and children go into the lifeboats first, saying, “Where you are, I will be.”
The last lifeboat is lowered about two hours later. As it is being loaded, collapsible B falls and is washed overboard. The men on the collapsible—including wireless operator Bride and Second Officer Lightoller—are rescued by the ocean liner Olympic, which happens to be passing nearby at the time.
In the meantime, many newspaper editors are busy preparing early dispatches that will appear in tomorrow’s editions. Although newspapers were criticized for publishing wildly speculative and inaccurate reports, most of the early news items showed a touching optimism regarding Titanic’s condition and even led some readers to believe that the ship was still afloat and perhaps unharmed. The truth, however, would be much less encouraging.
April 15, 1912
The day began normally enough on the great White Star liner Titanic. Carpets were being laid, decorators stayed busy and senior wireless operator Jack Phillips received several iceberg warnings from other ships ahead.
A message came from the liner Caronia reporting icebergs and “growlers” (smaller bergs that are harder to spot) in an area a day’s sailing away in latitude 41o 51′ N, longitude 49o 51′ W. The captain passed this information to the executive officer, J Bruce Ismay.
Later in the morning, the icebergs were sighted and an ice-breaking operation started. However, despite the best efforts of the ship’s crew to keep Titanic clear of the icebergs, one struck and caused massive damage to five of her hull compartments.
That night, Titanic’s captain, Edward Smith, ordered all of the lifeboats lowered into the freezing Atlantic. There was room in the 20 boats for about half of the more than 2,200 passengers and crew on board. An order was given to load women and children first, with men following close behind. The rest of the people would have to rely on their own survival in the water.
Immediately after the order to lower the boats was given, lookout Frederick Fleet noticed an iceberg dead ahead. The iceberg collided with the starboard side of Titanic’s bow.
The impact was so severe that a gap opened in the hull, and water flooded in within minutes. The iceberg broke into pieces, causing the ship to list severely.
Within minutes, the first lifeboat, number 9, was lowered into the water. Lookout Lowe and steward John Jacob Astor were among its occupants. They were joined by lookouts Fleet and Frederick Morgan and ship’s designer Thomas Andrews, who volunteered to help in the rowing and steering of the boat.
After a harrowing, confusing night and day, the last of the lifeboats were lowered. Passengers exhibited bravery and selflessness, many giving up their own spots in the boats to make room for others. The rescue ship Carpathia was soon on its way to New York with 706 survivors. The sinking of the Titanic had a profound impact on popular culture, and the events of that fateful day have become known all around the world.
April 16, 1912
Having been touted as the ship that even God couldn’t sink, the Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage. Follow the story of this giant luxury liner from the shipyards to its end in the North Atlantic Ocean as it unfolded day by day on our Titanic timeline.
The day before the disaster begins with a test of the Titanic’s lifeboats. Sixteen wooden lifeboats and four collapsible (aka canvas-sided) ones are swung out, lowered, and hoisted back into position under davits on the starboard side of the ship. Due to outdated regulations, Titanic’s lifeboats hold less than half the capacity of the ship’s passenger and crew capacity.
Also on this day, the White Star Line’s new flagship, Olympic, is damaged in a collision with Royal Navy cruiser Hawke. The damage will necessitate a delay in the completion of Titanic’s sea trials and her departure from Southampton. The delayed launch will have a ripple effect that will be felt for years to come.
In the evening, senior wireless operator Jack Phillips starts receiving iceberg warnings from other ships on the same route as Titanic. The first one, from the liner Caronia, reports sightings of icebergs and “growers” (smaller bergs that are harder to see) in an area about a day’s sailing away from Titanic.
At the same time, designer Thomas Andrews is reviewing the damage caused to the starboard bow by the iceberg. He concludes that Titanic is in no immediate danger of flooding, but it will probably sink in one to two hours.
At 11:40 pm, the Titanic hits a massive iceberg. Many passengers and crew sleep through the collision, believing it to be merely a glancing blow. However, lookout man Fleet soon notices water pouring into the stern. Captain Smith immediately orders the lifeboats lowered, women and children into them first. Only 20 boats are available, and they have space for only about 1,178 of the more than 2,200 people on board. The order for the first lifeboat, number 5, to be lowered is interrupted when two male passengers jump into it.
The Titanic’s tragic maiden voyage in 1912 serves as a poignant reminder of the consequences of human hubris and the fragility of technological progress. Despite advances in maritime safety since then, the Titanic’s legacy endures as a cautionary tale, prompting us to learn from past mistakes and prioritize safety in all future endeavors.
- How did the Titanic sink? The Titanic struck an iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, causing significant damage to its hull. The ship’s design lacked a double hull, allowing the water to flood multiple compartments. As a result, the ship gradually filled with water, eventually leading to its sinking in the early hours of April 15.
How many people survived the Titanic disaster? Out of the approximately 2,224 people on board the Titanic, only around 710 survived. The lack of sufficient lifeboats and the absence of a comprehensive evacuation plan contributed to the high casualty rate. The disaster prompted significant improvements in maritime safety regulations to ensure adequate life-saving measures on future ships.