April 15, 2022

The Titanic Sinks

The Titanic Sinks

April 15, 1912. After hitting an iceberg in the Atlantic Ocean, the RMS Titanic sinks, killing over 1,500 people.


Cold Open

It’s noon on April 10, 1912, aboard the RMS Titanic in the port city of Southampton, England.

Captain Edward J. Smith gives the order for the world’s largest passenger ship to depart on her maiden voyage.

Her horns can be heard all across the city.

Smith looks on as tugboats ease the ship into the channel.

He grins as the band onboard strikes up a tune to the cheers of the crowd gathered on the docks. Once the tugboats clear the way, Captain Smith orders, “Slow Ahead.” 

And the Titanic’s engines roar to life.

As the ship pushes further into the channel under its own power… Captain Smith suddenly hears a strange sound; almost like gunshots echoing in the air.

He looks on in horror as an empty ship docked in the channel, the SS New York, breaks from its moorings and drifts towards the Titanic.

The cheers from the crowd turn to screams, as thetwo shipshead for a collision. Smith barks orders to his crew hoping to stop an impending disaster. He instructs an officer to call out to one of the tugboats for aid.

Smith watches as the tugboat captain pushes his vessel to full speed. Smith holds his breath as the crew of the tugboat casts over a line over to the SS New York, and with the aid of another tugboat, pull the drifting vessel away from the Titanic’s path.

The crowd's panic turns again to cheers as the Titanic narrowly avoids colliding with the SS New York. Smith’s ship is safe, but now he’s an hour behind schedule. Still, with the crisis averted, the passenger ship can finally begin its voyage across the Northern Atlantic to America.

The launch of the Titanic is an international phenomenon. The ship is said to be the most luxurious passenger vessel on the scene. Some of the wealthiest people in the world are on board for the ship’s well-publicized maiden voyage. But the journey across the Atlantic got off to a nearly perilous start.

It’s said that only four feet separated the Titanic and the New York from crashing into each other. Many on board the Titanic will brush off the incident and enjoy all the amenities the ship has to offer. But others will come to see the near-collision as a “bad omen.” Because just days later, the Titanic will collide with something else, then sink slowly into the cold Atlantic waters, killing over 1,500 people in the early morning hours of April 15th, 1912.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world.

Today is April 15th: The Titanic Sinks.

Act One: Early Warnings of Icebergs

It’s the morning of April 14th, 1912 in the Marconi Room on board the Titanic.

Senior Wireless Officer Jack Phillips takes his post at the telegraph. Jack is exhausted. He spent most of the night repairing a broken transformer. He has been kept from his regular work, and he knows he’s going to spend the whole day playing catch-up.

In 1912, the wireless telegraph, or radiotelegraph, is one of the technological marvels of its age. It’s transformed ship-to-shore communication. While developed independently by several people, Italian electrical engineer Guglielmo Marconi is most closely associated with the invention. And the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company has provided the equipment and employees to handle wireless communications aboard the Titanic. Jack Phillips, the Senior Wireless Officer on board, works for Marconi Wireless. His loyalty lies with the company and the wealthy passengers he’s been tasked with serving. Jack’s job is to relay messages from Titanic’s First Class passengers to their friends and loved ones back on shore.

But at 9:00 AM, Jack receives a message not meant for one of the First Class passengers. It's incoming from a ship that’s also making its way across the Northern Atlantic. Jack translates the message from Morse code. It reads: “Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers, and field ice.” Jack jots down the specific coordinates relayed in the message.

But Jack isn’t panicked. Reports of ice are common in this part of the ocean. But while Jack’s main job is to relay personal messages, he’s also required to pass on any pertinent information to the ship’s captain. So Jack leaves the Marconi Room, finds Captain Smith, and delivers the message. Captain Smith quickly charts the location of the ice, and Jack gets back to work.

Jack is not the only one onboard whose main duty is to cater to Titanic’s First Class passengers. In fact, everything about the Titanic seems dedicated to providing the rich with a lavish journey across the ocean.

The ship was built by the White Star Line shipping company to outshine their closest rival, the Cunard Line. Cunard helped revolutionize passenger travel years earlier when they introduced their luxury ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania. But with the Titanic, the White Star Line shipping company has become the envy of the industry. This new ship has been called a “floating palace,” and it’s attracted notable passengers like John Jacob Astor IV, one of the richest men in the world, who is traveling back to America with his eighteen-year-old pregnant wife, Madeleine.

Astor and other First Class passengers spend the day enjoying fine dining, taking dips in the ship’s pool, exercising in the state-of-the-art gymnasium, or sipping champagne and cocktails. First Class male passengers can even retire to the Titanic’s Turkish baths for a bit of relaxation. And as an added perk, the wealthy can conduct business or personal communication back to shore via the wireless telegraph.

So on April 14th, Jack Phillips and his assistant, Harold Bride, spend much of the day preparing for the onslaught of passenger messages that they know will arrive later that evening. Tonight, the Titanic will come within telegraph range of Cape Race, located off of Newfoundland. Cape Race is home to a Marconi station that will allow passengers aboard the Titanic to relay messages to America for the first time on their journey.

But as Jack and Harold go about their work, they receive several more messages regarding ice in the area. At 11:40 AM, a message stating “Much ice reported” with specific coordinates is relayed to the Titanic. Two hours later, a Greek steamer in the Northern Atlantic reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice. Jack once again delivers these messages to Captain Smith, but for some unknown reason, the Captain doesn’t chart the ice.

Then as night falls on April 14th, the Titanic comes within range of Cape Race. And just as Jack predicted, passenger messages intended for America pile up fast. He works quickly to send them all out, but he grows irritated as more incoming messages hinder his progress. At 10:55 PM, a telegraph from a ship called the Californian arrives: “We are stopped and surrounded by ice.” This communication is blocking Phillips’ outgoing transmissions, and he wants no part of it. So he responds, “Keep out. I am working Cape Race.” 

But soon, Jack, like everyone onboard the Titanic, won’t be able to ignore the warnings about ice any longer. Before long, the ship’s lookout will spot an iceberg in the Titanic’s path. He’ll sound the alarm but it will be too late. 

Act Two: The Titanic hits an iceberg

It’s April 14th, 1912 in the crow’s nest of the Titanic. One of the ship’s lookouts, Frederick Fleet, shivers in the cold night air as he stands high above the deck portside, staring out into the ocean. The sky is dark, and Frederick struggles to get a clear view of what lies ahead.

While Frederick keeps watch, several First Class passengers smoke cigars and laugh over drinks. Some Second Class passengers, mainly middle-class travelers, head to their ornately designed smoking room, one that rivals First Class accommodations on most ships. Then on a lower level of the Titanic, Third Class or “Steerage” passengers congregate in the General Room or shuffle off to their crowded bunks to get some rest. But as much as Frederick might want to sleep himself, he knows he has to suffer the cold until he’s relieved of lookout duty at midnight.

But 20 minutes before then, at around 11:40 PM, Frederick spots an iceberg in the Titanic’s path. Frederick frantically rings the bell in the crow’s nest three times, grabs the nearby telephone, and calls down to the bridge. He warns First Officer William Murdoch, “Iceberg, right ahead.”

William, who is in charge while Captain Smith sleeps, orders the engines to be reversed and for the Titanic to turn. He feels these maneuvers will steer the Titanic away from the iceberg, but he miscalculates. The starboard side of Titanic strikes the iceberg below the surface, puncturing watertight compartments near the bow of the ship.

Crewmembers working in the lowest depths of the ship feel the force of the collision, and they know something catastrophic has happened. Third-class passengers are tossed in their beds, but those above in First Class feel only a little movement, nothing out of the ordinary for ocean travel.

Most passengers are unaware they’re in danger, but communication between the crew happens fast. Captain Smith is woken up, and he quickly makes his way to the bridge. Once he’s caught up to speed, he joins the Titanic’s principal designer, Thomas Andrews, and the two men rush to get a clearer picture of what the ship is facing. It’s worse than they imagined. At 11:50 PM, ten minutes after the collision with the iceberg, the Titanic has already taken on fourteen feet of water, and the ship has started to list forward. Thomas Andrews tells Captain Smith he believes they will sink within two hours.

Captain tries to remain calm, but he knows they’re in grave danger. Just after midnight on April 15th, 1912, Captain Smith finds Jack Phillips and Harold Bride and then orders the Marconi operators to send out a distress signal. The Captain tells the men to find any ship in the area and summon it to the Titanic. At 12:05 AM, Captain Smith orders the Titanic’s lifeboats to be prepared. Women and children will board the lifeboats first, as is the custom at sea at the time.

As the lifeboats are readied, Jack and Harold desperately try to reach any vessel that can possibly come to the Titanic’s aid. At 12:25 AM, the Cunard Line’s Carpathia answers the call. Almost immediately, the Carpathia sets a course for the sinking Titanic, but the ship is 58 miles southeast and will take several hours to arrive. Jack and Harold continue to send their distress signal, but soon, Captain Smith realizes many of his passengers will die before help ever arrives.

The relative calm that remained after the Titanic first struck the iceberg descends into chaos. No lifeboats are stowed on the lower Steerage level, so the third-class passengers are forced to wind their way through corridors and upstairs to potentially save themselves. Less than a quarter of them will survive.

And while passengers on the lower decks struggle to get to safety, most in First and Second Class are now fully aware of the danger they’re in. Soon, it becomes clear that there are not enough lifeboats to accommodate everyone.

Anxious to get his pregnant wife off the ship, John Jacob Astor IV escorts Madeleine to a lifeboat. He asks a ship’s officer if he can accompany her because she’s pregnant. The request is denied, as men are not yet permitted to board. John Jacob allegedly takes the denial calmly and is last seen smoking a cigarette on the deck. Madeleine will survive, and John Jacob Astor IV’s body will be found at sea.  

At 12:45 AM, the first lifeboat safely pushes away from the Titanic, as the ship tilts further into the water. Captain Smith and his crew continue to try to save as many people as they can, but time is running out.

Act Three: The Titanic sinks

It’s 2:17 AM on April 15th, 1912 in the Marconi Room of the Titanic. Jack Phillips and Harold Bride furiously tap on the wireless telegraph. The Carpathia is the only ship that has answered their call, but they’re still trying to reach anyone they can.

At 2:05 AM, the last lifeboat was lowered from the Titanic. Jack and Harold know there’s little hope for those left onboard if no one else responds.

Soon, Captain Smith enters the Marconi Room, and he relieves the men of their duty. Jack and Harold take their life jackets and rush out of the room as water rises up around their ankles. Once outside, Jack and Harold see the Titanic tilting deeper into the sea. Unable to grip on the listing ship, passengers plummet into the frigid water. And within minutes, Jack and Harold will both end up overboard. Harold will survive, but Jack will perish.

As the Titanic continues its dive into the ocean waters, Captain Smith declares, it’s “every man for himself.” Some survivors will say the Captain patiently waited to go down with the ship, while others will claim they saw him leap into the ocean. Either way, Captain Smith’s body will never be recovered.

At 2:20 AM, those safely in the lifeboats watch as the bow of the Titanic splits apart from the stern. The noise is deafening. But that sound is soon replaced by screams of people desperately fighting to survive as the ship’s stern turns upright, submerges, and the Titanicfully sinks.

At 3:30 AM, rockets from the Carpathia fire into the air, letting those on the lifeboats know that help is finally coming. Forty minutes later, the Carpathia picks up the first lifeboat, and for the next several hours, people are rescued from the water. At 8:50 AM, with no more passengers left to save, the Carpathia sets its course for New York with 705 survivors onboard… though the dead will far outnumber the living.

An English inquiry into the disaster will list the number of lives lost at 1,503. Their American counterparts will claim 1,517 people died in the sinking.

Over time, the Titanic grows into a symbol of hubris, an “unsinkable” ship that plunged to the bottom of the sea. Captain Smith once said in an interview, “Shipbuilding is such a perfect art nowadays that absolute disaster involving the passengers is inconceivable.” Claims that the ship was advertised as “unsinkable” at the time have been widely debated by historians. 

And since, the sinking of the Titanic has inspired novels, television shows, a Broadway musical, and one of the highest-grossing Hollywood films of all time. These works often delve into the class distinctions that were made on the ship, and how those divisions made it far more difficult for poorer passengers to survive. In fiction, the Titanic is usually rife with heroes, villains, and cowards aboard its decks. But even the bravest had no zeal for being there that day. The real-life stories passed on by those who survived, reveal a kaleidoscope of human behavior, or mostly the terror of those people who were on board the Titanicwhen it sank on April 15th, 1912.


Next on History Daily. April 18th, 1775, Paul Revere rides from Boston to Concord, warning pro-independence colonists in Massachusetts that “the British are coming!” 

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing and sound design by Mollie Baack.

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Michael Federico.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.