To The Lifeboats

Sixteen boats were in the procession which saw hours of rowing, drifting, and suspense. Women we left weeping for their lost husbands and sons, sailors sobbed for the ship which had been their pride. Men choked back tears whilst comforting the women and children.

In the distance the Titanic looked an enormous length, her great bulk outlined in black against the starry sky, every porthole and saloon window blazing with light. It was impossible to think that anything could be wrong with the Titanic, were it not for the ominous tilt downwards of the ship’s bow, where the water was now up to the lowest row of portholes. At about 2am those in the lifeboats observed the ship settling very rapidly, with the bow and the bridge completely underwater and knew there were only minutes before she would sink. She slowly tilted straight on end with the stern virtually vertical, and as she did, the lights in the cabins and saloons died out but then came back on again, for a brief time, before going out altogether. At the same time the sounds of machinery could be heard roaring down through the vessel with a rattle and a groan that could be heard for miles, the weirdest sound ever heard in the ocean (surely!).

But this was not yet quite the end.

Titanic Stands Upright

To the amazement of the stunned passengers in the lifeboats the doomed Titanic remained in that upright position for about five minutes then at least 150 feet of the great ship towered up above the level of the Atlantic and loomed black against the sky.

Then with a quiet sigh, she disappeared beneath the waters as the helpless spectators looked on. All that was left was the gently heaving of the sea and lifeboats filled with men and women in every conceivable condition of dress and undress, above a perfectly clear sky, all tempered with bitter cold.

Cries and Moans From The Cold Atlantic Sea

With the noise of the Titanic’s final moments no more, the cries of hundreds of passengers struggling in the icy waters could be heard. Third Officer  Herbert John Pitman who was in charge of one of the lifeboats, described these cries of agony in his testimony before the Senatorial Investigating Committee, under the questioning of Senator Smith.

” I heard no cries of distress until after the ship went down,” he said.

“How far away were the cries from your lifeboat?”

“Several hundred yards, probably, some of them.”

“Describe the screams.”

“Don’t, sir, please! I’d rather not talk about it.”

“I’m sorry to press it, but what was it like? Were the screams spasmodic?”

” It was one long continuous moan.”

The witness said the cries and moans continued for at least an hour. Those in the lifeboats desperately wanted to return and pick some of the poor drowning souls up but they feared this would mean swamping the boats and add a further loss of life to the toll.

Some of the men tried to sing to keep the women from hearing the cries and some rowed harder to get away from the scene of the wreck, but the memory of those sounds will be one of the things that will haunt the rescued for the rest of their lives.

The waiting kept their eyes peeled for the rescue ship and throughout the night false alarms rang out across the waters.