At 11:40 PM on April 14, 1912, Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee were on lookout in the crow’s nest of the RMS Titanic. The passenger ship was the newest, most glamorous of its time, with many believing it was completely "unsinkable." But on this fifth night of her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, that label was put to the test when the two lookouts reported an iceberg on the starboard side.
To most of the passengers onboard, it seemed that the ship was successful in avoiding a substantial collision—she had merely slid past the iceberg with only a slight disturbance. But the calm of the upper decks did not reach those further below. Down in the boiler rooms, the damage was instantly obvious, as the sea started rushing in through a large gash. Fireman Fred Barrett and Assistant Second Engineer James Hesketh were forced to jump through the watertight door as it slammed shut. Within ten minutes of the initial iceberg sighting, the water had reached the firemen's quarters, while the steerage passengers stood in water up to their ankles. Thinking they had gotten the boiler rooms under control, the firemen wondered if this flooding was simply something to laugh off.
By this time, the Titanic had come to a stop, and the passengers had begun to take notice. Curiosity turned to horror as the mail hold quickly filled with water, revealing the true extent of the damage. It was clear that the crown jewel of the White Star Line—the “unsinkable” marvel of shipbuilding technology—would not see daylight.
In A Night to Remember, Walter Lord includes intimate details from the last night of the Titanic, much of which he gathered from personal accounts and interviews from the survivors. It inspired the 1958 film of the same name and is considered the de finitive account of the major 20th-century maritime disaster. The following excerpt takes place roughly one hour before her final sinking, describing the chaotic rush to get passengers into lifeboats and to safety. But of the 2,208 people on board, only a little over 700 would survive.
Click here to read an excerpt of A Night to Remember, and then download the book.
This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Archive to continue publishing the history stories you love.