The Unsinkable Titanic

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic on April 15, 1912, we dug into our archives for this remarkable account of the disaster and its aftermath. Plus: Titanic video clips of the survivors, the wreckage, and more.

Also in Reader's Digest Magazine April 2012

It was bitter cold on deck that evening, but the night was calm and fine. After dinner, some of the second-class passengers gathered for hymn singing. It was almost 10 p.m. as the group sang the words of the mariner’s hymn: “Oh, hear us when we cry to thee, for those in peril on the sea.”

On the bridge was First Officer William Murdoch. At least seven wireless warnings about ice had reached the ship; lookouts had been cautioned to be alert. At 22 knots, its speed unslackened, the Titanic plowed on through the night.

High in the crow’s nest, lookout Frederick Fleet peered into a dazzling night. There was no moon, but the cloudless sky blazed with stars, and the Atlantic was like polished plate glass. Lookouts were not supplied with binoculars, but at 11:40 p.m. Fleet’s eyes suddenly detected something directly ahead, even darker than the darkness. At first it was small, but every second it grew larger and closer. Fleet quickly banged the crow’s nest bell three times, the warning of the danger ahead. At the same time, he lifted the phone and rang the bridge.

“What did you see?” asked a calm voice at the other end.

“Iceberg right ahead,” replied Fleet.

“Thank you,” acknowledged the voice. Nothing more was said.

On the bridge, Quartermaster Robert Hichens was at the wheel. First Officer Murdoch gave the order: “Hard astarboard!” This meant turning the stern of the ship to starboard and the bow to port. As Murdoch telegraphed the engine room “full astern,” Hichens obeyed the spoken order and threw his full weight to the wheel.

In the crow’s nest, Fleet stood motionless as the silhouette loomed larger and larger. After what seemed an eternity, the Titanic’s bow finally swung to port and was beginning to clear the iceberg. Fleet braced himself as the forecastle brushed against the berg and ice tumbled onto the forewell deck.

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