Prior to September 1985, if you had read a book or an article about the sinking of the Titanic, it would often say that the ship sank intact. The discovery of the shipwreck changed all of that when the liner was found in separate pieces. Recently, the videos by Titanic: Honor & Glory renewed my interest in this aspect of the disaster.
The first time I became interested in the break up was due to Bill Wormstedt’s excellent article on the subject. Published in 2003, it was the first to re-examine the American and British hearings. He identified only 4 people in total who said the ship sank in one piece, whereas 13 testified that the ship broke apart. In fact, Thomas Dillon gave interviews where he saw the breakup but when he testified before Lord Mersey, he said that the Titanic did not. Major Peuchen told reporters he did see her split in two, but by the time of the hearings he had changed his story. There is still debate as to why testimonials by Beesley & Lightoller, who said the ship sank in one piece, were believed whereas a majority said the opposite.
When researching this subject, I came across an account by John Snyder where he said he witnessed the Titanic torn asunder. The tale of his survival was similar to most of his other accounts so there wasn’t a reason to doubt this detail until I uncovered a letter to his cousins in Indiana. He wrote the following, “If she parted in the middle I did not see it, and I was watching closely.” There was one off the list. A sensational account by Dr. Washington Dodge printed that he saw it happen, but his more detailed accounts say no such thing. Multiple newspapers from Buffalo carried interviews with Lawrence Beesley where he supposedly said, “suddenly the ship seemed to break in two.” My initial excitement wore off quickly when I realized the reporters combined other accounts into the one he gave.
How the sinking may have appeared to those in the lifeboats
Renders courtesy of HFX studios
Various documentaries and technical papers have used the same testimony over and over again to try to illustrate how the Titanic broke apart. In order to get the full picture of what happened, not only does my article try to get an accurate account of who saw the break-up, but what they saw.
I’ve spent many years collecting survivor accounts to research the shipwreck and now I spent time rereading them trying to see who described the final moments of the ship in detail. I asked Titanic historiographer friends who generously helped me add other accounts not in my files. I double-checked other archives and websites to see if I could uncover any that I may have missed. Here are 101 survivors who witnessed the liner’s break up.
We watched the ship go down. At last there was a mighty crash, the boilers had exploded and then in a moment the ship seemed to break in pieces or rather in half, the bow going down first then all the lights went out and with shrieks and screams all disappeared.
I can not tell you how long that passed between then and the moment I saw Titanic disappear. In the next moment, however, there was an explosion; the steamer was blown into two parts, each of which began to tip into the water, eventually disappearing with its living load.
We had gone about a mile when there were two big explosions and the Titanic split in two. The front end went down at once and the back stood up so that it was almost straight and then went out of sight.
I saw the vessel was sinking and she went down with a volley of loud explosions caused, in my opinion, by the air breaking up the decks.
She looked like a great lighted theater [sic] floating on the sea. We saw her sink until her stern was right out of the water with the propellers in the air, then she broke in half, the weight of the half out of the water being to great for the strain I suppose. The after end sank down to the level of the water for a few moments and then as the water rushed in it went down at angle and slid gently beneath the waves.
With one tremendous roar, which sounded and resounded over the sea, she seemed to break in the middle and sink.
Nellie Becker (South Bend Tribune, 11 April 1960)
When the Titanic went down, it looked like it broke in the middle and the two sides buckled in.
It seemed to break in half between the four funnels. The front went down quietly and the stern stayed up a minute and sank.
The bow of the vessel went down, tipping the stern high in the air. It seemed to then break in two in the middle and then the whole thing sank.
[Miss Bounell of Youngstown, Ohio] As we pulled away from the ship we noticed that she was hog-backed, showing she was already breaking in two.
Ruth Bowker (The Observer, 18 May 1912 - third person)
Suddenly there seemed what was a series of explosions. The ship broke in two, and then there was an astounding rattling noise and though the machinery broken loose. Finally she sank quietly.
Brayton told of how there were a series of explosions as the ill-fated ship sank. Before she had disappeared he said she had broken in two.
She parted right in halves; the forward part went down first and the aft seemed to stand up right. There was a terrific explosion; the cries of souls on board were awful to hear.
We had not been away from the Titanic's side more than 15 minutes, when the end came for the steamship. From the way she sank I feel positive she was practically broken in two. Her bow went under first and she seemed to settle. Then we heard the most awful roaring and rumbling that seemed as if it must be heard over the ocean for miles. Next the stern of the once magnificent vessel reared high in the air and seemed to stand upright in the water for some time before it went down with a long slanting plunge.
Just before she sank for good all the lights went out, the stern rose high into the air, and then as the ship broke in two, the stern righted for a few seconds, and then the rattle and rumbling as if everything was rushing out of her was awful followed by the groans and screams of the drowning and the explosions of the boilers as the ship glided beneath the waves.
She just broke in two and the ends just sticking up for about 5 minutes.
We pulled our lifeboat away from the Titanic for a distance of a city block… When the Titanic seemed to shake to pieces. The ship had struck about 14 minutes to 12. It was ten minutes past 1 (sic 2) when we saw her lunge. She had exploded. There was rumbling noise within her then she gave a lurch and started to go down.
Suddenly there was a sound of a great explosion. It was the signal of death. The ship was broken in two and her mighty stern rose clean out of the water. Then her head went down and very quietly, without great turbulence of waters, the big ship dived down into the dark sea and disappeared forever from the sight of men.
The ship sank steadily until just at the last, when it plunged rapidly. Just before going down, it seemed to writhe, breaking into three parts in which it was divided. First the middle seemed to go down, lifting bow and stern into the air. Then it twisted the other way, throwing the middle up. Finally, the bow went under and it plunged, stern last.
When we were a safe distance from the ship, the first explosion occurred. Then came the second explosion, and the ship broke in half and sank.
Stuart Collett (Auburn Semi Weekly, 26 April 1912)
Then I saw the lights on the big ship go out. Soon after was the sound of two muffled explosions and the officer (sic) told us it was the explosion of the boilers bursting… We watched the great boat fascinated by the horror of the thing then suddenly the stern of the ship rose in the air. There was a crash as the boat split and then the plunge.
Something in the very bowels of the Titanic exploded, and millions of sparks shot up to the sky, like rockets in a park on the night of a summer holiday. This red spurt was fan-shaped as it went up; but the sparks descended in every direction, in the shape of a fountain of fire. Two other explosions followed, dull and heavy, as if below the surface.
The Titanic broke in two before my eyes. The fore part was already partly under the water. It wallowed over and disappeared instantly. The stern reared straight on end, and stood poised on the ocean for many seconds — they seemed minutes to me.
It was only then that the electric lights on board went out. Before the darkness came, I saw hundreds of human bodies clinging to the wreck or leaping into the water. The Titanic was like a swarming bee-hive, but the bees were men, and they had broken their silence now. Cries more terrible than I had ever heard rang in my ears.
I turned my face away, but looked ’round the next instant and saw the second half of the great boat slip below the surface as easily as a pebble in a pond. I shall always remember that last moment as the most hideous of the whole disaster.
We had only been out a half an hour or so when suddenly the lights of the ship went out, and immediately afterwards there was a terrific, thunderous explosion mingled with the most terrible shrieks and groans from the helpless and doomed passengers who were left on the wreck of the great ship, the explosion having caused the ship to split in half, and it sank very rapidly.
Finally, there was a terrific explosion like a cannon report and a big black cloud of smoke arose from the ship. This settled and the ship appeared to be broken at the middle. Finally, there was a second report more muffled than the first and the bodies came over the side of the ship by the hundreds… the ship had gone down right after the second explosion after the bow was submerged by the water and the propellers were raised up out of the water.
I saw the Titanic go down. Two of her funnels fell off and after an explosion, which I distinctly heard, being only a short distance away at the time, she smashed in the middle. Her bows went down and then her stern, which was almost upright when it sank.
And the two explosions happened and then it looked as if, well, she split all over the ocean.
He stood on the poop which was at a slope of about sixty degrees, and was in time to see a second explosion. The bow seemed to bob up and then break clean like a piece of a carrot.
The ‘tanic, the big, lovely ‘tanic went down and then up and then she busted in two and went down again.
Then suddenly there was another great explosion, and the bow gave a sort of jump and then seemed to wrench away from the middle portion. A few seconds later the whole fabric dived head foremost and was gone, leaving hundreds of souls floating on the water. From the time of striking to the end was not more than two hours and a half, if so long.
Suddenly we heard a terrific report like an explosion. We could see the lights of the Titanic and she looked like a big hotel. It must have been five minutes after when the big ship parted in the middle. Then another explosion followed and slowly the huge vessel began to sink. We didn’t realize what was happening. There was a huge blaze near the funnels then another explosion and finally the Titanic sank out of sight.
Of a sudden the lights snapped out. There was a terrible creaking noise; the Titanic seemed to break in two. There was a tremendous explosion. For a fraction of a second she arose in the air and was plainly visible in the light caused from the blowing up of the boilers…The great steamship then dived two miles to the bottom of the ocean.
May Futrelle (The New York American, 28 April 1912)
She began to settle by the nose. Then came two dull explosions. We saw her break in two. The bow which had been pointing downward, dipped, turned up again, writhed and sank with the stern- exactly as though one had stepped on a worm.
Some survivors say not, but to me, just before she sank she seemed to break up.
We heard a tremendous explosion and part of the ship broke off and sank. Then the stern portion raised up in the air with the propellers and rudders jutting out. It hung there for several minutes and we thought it was going to float and that most of the people would be saved. Then with a near silent whoosh it slipped below the surface.
When we reached a point about 300 feet away, I should say the boilers exploded and then the work of destruction was swift. The Titanic seemed to heave in the air and split open. The bows settled rapidly and then the whole ship sank. The waves that was thrown up just rocked our boat gently, we were not in danger of capsizing at all.
It was the most pathetic sight I ever hope to witness, as the boat broke in two…The lights, every one on the ship, were burning until the explosion occurred, and I watched until I saw the last porthole go under.
George Harris (The Daily Advocate, 19 April 1912)
From this point on, the ship settled rapidly, and suddenly broke amidships.
So we got away from the ship for a safe distance, for there was no doubt now about her sinking. The front portion of her was pointing downwards and she appeared to be breaking in halves. Then with a mighty and tearing sob, as of some gigantic thing instinct with life, the front portion of her dived, for that is the only word I can use properly to describe it, dived into the sea, and the after part with a heavy list, also disappeared… for as the vessel sank, millions and millions of sparks flew up and lit everything around us.
Walter Hawksford (The Register and Leader, 19 April 1912)
All of a sudden, there was something that sounded like an explosion, and the boat seemed to buckle in the middle.
“I saw the ship break in two,” he said, “and the wave which she made as she went down sent me under.”
Mr. Hedman also says the explosion that occurred reminded the farmer of what occurred in a hopper on his farm… and immediately after the explosion the deck gave away in the middle and the people standing there fell to the bottom of the hold… most of the steerage passengers were killed, the farmer said, when the ship broke asunder.
The Titanic had keeled to one side and was slowly sinking. Less than twenty minutes after we touched the water. We heard two loud explosions. The explosions occurred almost simultaneously. The giant ship quivered from stem to stern. It parted almost in the center and slowly sank. The last I saw of it was a single smokestack, which remained above water for several minutes.
When we rowed about 150 yards away from the Titanic we heard a fearful explosion. I saw the ship split open. At the same time I saw the ship’s bow rose up in the air as the steamer sank towards the middle… At first we saw the lights on the ship winking out one by one, then they all went out except for the one in the mast. Then that became dark.
As the Titanic made her last plunge, two distinct explosions were heard and the boat parted amidship and sank.
At about 2 o’clock we heard an awful crash. The boilers had exploded and the lights went out. The ship literally broke in two, the bow end going down at once, and in a few minutes the whole ship had disappeared.
Annie Hold (Sacramento Bee, 1 June 1912)
When we were two miles out we heard the terrible heart rendering screams of the unfortunate people on the liner and saw her break in two and slowly sink.
Presently the Titanic buckled amidships and we could see people sliding off into the water both fore and aft. Then the boat settled somewhat by the bow, the lights went out, and that was the last we saw of the Titanic.
Just before the end the Titanic separated between the third and fourth funnels. The foremost funnel had previously fallen into the water on the starboard side with a terrific splash, unquestionably doing a great deal of injury to people struggling in the water.
Afterwards the ship broke in two, and the after part came up on a level for a brief space, the bow having already disappeared. Then the stern rose, and an instant later plunged below. He felt four distinct explosions after that, and regarded it as particularly fortunate that the boilers burst below water rather than above
I saw the Titanic when she blew up and sank. She seemed to stand with her stern pointed to the sky for a few moments and then dove beneath the surface of the ocean with scarcely any ripple to the water.
The bow settled first, and the forward boilers blew up. I do not believe the after boilers exploded. As the bow went down, the stern raised up until at last the rudder was more than 40 feet above the surface of the sea. Then the ship broke in two between the middle funnels and the bow disappeared. The stern slowly settled and at last sank beneath the waves. The vessel went down silently and slowly, but when she sank she was in two sections. The explosion of the forward boilers was not responsible for her breaking in two. It was rather because of the fact, that there was no support for the tremendous weight of the stern when it was lifted so high above the water and when she got into the position there was nothing that could happen except for the boat to break into two pieces.
Suddenly, there were three loud explosions and the liner broke in two. The front end sank while the stern stood high in the air. It remained for five minutes before it too went out of sight.
We heard two explosions and then the ‘Titanic’ sank into the sea in two parts.
Carla Jensen (Ekstrabladet, April 1956)
With fright we heard an incredible crash and it was if a scream from 1000 voices came from the lit giant ship when it broke in two and both parts rose into the sky and sank.
Little by little the lights disappeared one after another, until we could see only a black mass. The bow was already submerged… A few minutes later a loud noise was heard when the water penetrated the boilers, but without an explosion, in spite of what certain people said… the ship broke apart. The stern was all that was left which stood up several minutes like a sail, and all was finished and disappeared forever in the deadly gulf.
One of the funnels toppled like a cardboard model, falling into the sea with a fearful roar. A few cries came to us across the water, then silence as the ship seemed to right herself like a hurt animal with a broken back. She went down with a thundering roar of underwater explosions…
Percy Keen (Southern Daily Echo, 30 April 1912)
We saw the lights go out and through the darkness we could faintly hear shouts for help mingled with cries of agony and despair. The ship seemed to break in two forward of the first funnel, which crashed down on passengers and crew. There was a terrible rumbling sound, which we believed was the machinery breaking and tearing through the hull, and this was the end of it. The Titanic and all remaining on board her were swallowed up in the ocean.
Percy Keen (Western Daily Mercury, 29 April 1912 - third person)
He described in detail how he saw the Titanic break in two or three parts, but after the middle section, with the machinery, gave out the end quickly followed.
It could not have been more than ten minutes later when I heard an awful explosion and looking toward the ship I saw it break in two and the forward end of it sank with a lot of people on it. Then came another explosion and the after part of the ship went down.
Alexander Littlejohn (Weekly Telegraph for Waltham Abbey, Cheshunt and Districts, 1 May 1912)
We watched her like this for some time, and then suddenly she gave a plunge forward and all the lights went out. Her stern went right up in the air; there were two or three explosions, and it appeared to me the stern part came down again and righted itself. Immediately after there were terrible cries for help. They were awful and heartrending.
All at once there were three loud reports, they sounded something like a very loud crash of thunder when it strikes very close to you. We all looked at the Titanic, it had broken apart. The front part of the boat went under first. The helm of the front half sank and then the middle. The last part of the boat was still above the water. The broken part of the last half of the boat sank slowly into the water and then the stern.
The Titanic was equipped with four funnels. It was when she had sank so that the two forward stacks were under water that the monster ship exploded, breaking in two. Quickly after the concussion, the stern righted itself, held steady for a moment, then keeled over and sank!
Oh, but the sight was awful. I shall never forget it, for she broke in three pieces.
We were only just out of the way when the ship split in two and sank.
Anna McGowan (Chicago Sunday Herald, 15 April 1984)
Then the ship just busted in half and that’s when all the screaming started.
The water was nearing the bridge when the first explosion came. Ten minutes later the second explosion followed. The water had reached the boilers and that settled the fate of the ship. The Titanic was split in two. All passengers left were on the poop deck.
George McGough (Irish Independent, 30 April 1912, Daily Mail, 29 April 1912)
When I left the, 'he said, 'she was down to below the forecastle. I saw her back break, and I heard an explosion, either of her main steam-pipe, or of the boilers.
There was suddenly an explosion and I found myself whizzing through the water at an awful pace, having been blown away by the explosion. When I came to my senses a few minutes after I looked round and suddenly saw the ship part in the middle with the stern standing several hundred feet out of the water, at this time I was trying to swim away from her, but could not get more than a few yards away and I had as much as I could do to hold myself up from being dragged down with her.
I know the great steamer did break in two preceded by some horrible explosions. All the lights on the boat kept burning until the ship went beneath the waves.
… and then while each of us squinting our eyes to get a last look at those so dear to us, there was a crash. The monster boat had split in two. And then followed a terrific explosion. In another moment it was all over.
The ship sank slowly and steadily and then we heard a little explosion that must have been the first boiler. After that the lights began to go out in different parts of the ship. Then came a big explosion. We could see a mass of black smoke. The boat seemed to lift up right out of the water and tilt up on end and then seemed to break and drop back. For one moment she was right up in the air standing on her nose.
So far as he could remember, the first explosion took place about a quarter to two, and the second about a quarter past two, the vessel disappearing within two hours of first striking. It seemed that her plates were ripped open from a dozen feet in from the bow to the second funnel. That accounted for the bow breaking off first and the ship making her final dip as described.
Henry Oliver (Western Daily Mercury, 29 April 1912)
Suddenly there was a terrible crash, and the great ship appeared to split in ‘twain, if not in three distinct sections, the rending of timbers and steel plates making a noise that carried terror into the hearts of all. The end came swiftly. One of the huge funnels toppled over the side, and then the bow parted just in a line with the bridge. Tilting forward, the Titanic appeared to be going down slowly by the head, when there was a rush and a roar, which led the horrified onlookers to come to the conclusion that the machinery had burst through the bulkhead and had fallen out of the ship. Then for a moment or two the after portion of the vessel looked to be righting herself, and she came up on an even keel, yet with a lurch that raised her stern high in the air. For a brief period she remained in this position and then vanished from view, whilst at that moment the air was rent with cries for “Mercy!” and “Help!”
Percy Oxenham (Hudson Observer, 23 April 1912)
I don't believe there was one passenger who had any idea the big ship was in danger of going under until twenty minutes before it plunged to the bottom. The last explosion occurred about that time, and then the passengers became excited and there was great confusion. By that time the boat I was in had pulled away a considerable distance. I could hear music, but couldn't distinguish the tune. When the big ship parted and the hulks drifted apart before going under we all sat still shivering and afraid. It was the most wonderful and at the same time awful thing I ever saw. The halves seemed to rise out of the water, gaining impetus for the great trip to the bottom 2,000 fathoms deep.
We could see the ship sinking by the head and when about a half mile off we heard two explosions and rumbling noises.
Directly afterwards she seemed to break in two and the stern to partly right itself for a brief period. The lights were burning 'til the last and the ship disappeared from view with the cries of the people on board.
We heard an awful sound and a large report boomed over the icy sea like an explosion. It was the tremendous weight of the Titanic going down by the nose and caused air pressure in the centre amidships, and she broke in two and foundered.
Lillian Renouf (Elizabeth Daily Journal, 19 April 1912)
The big boat could be plainly seen. She parted in the middle. There was an awful roar followed by violent explosions. The whole steamer seemed to rock and steady herself for the final plunge. Then she went down.
I was looking at the ship and she seemed to be going down bow foremost. I saw the passengers on her falling towards the low point and heard screams. Suddenly there was an explosion and the ship seemed to break in the middle, one half going down bow first and the other half going down stern first. That was the last of her.
While in the boat, I saw the Titanic go down. It settled very gradually bow first. After a time, the stern came out of the water, and as it raised further in the air, there was an explosion which seemed to bend the Titanic in the center. Then the stern raised further up in the water, and then the whole boat glided down into the ocean.
The ship sank shortly afterwards, I should say about 2.20 a.m. on the 15th, which would be two hours and forty minutes after she struck. The sight of that grand ship going down will never be forgotten. She slowly went down bow first with a slight list to starboard until the water reached the bridge, then she went quicker. When the third funnel had nearly disappeared I heard four explosions, which I took to be the bursting of the boilers. The ship was right up on end then. Suddenly she broke in two between the third and fourth funnel. The after part of the ship came down on the water in its normal position and seemed as if it was going to remain afloat, but it only remained a minute or two and then sank. The lights were burning right up till she broke in two.
The lights of the ship kept burning until just before the vessel seemed to break in two and then she sank… At the end, the forward part of the ship seemed to break off and the stern of the vessel reared in the air throwing into the water the hundreds of passengers who had gathered on the poop deck. The stern then sank and disappeared from sight.
The big ship finally broke in halves- just like that. Finally the bow end went down, then the steerage end. For a time, the stern of the vessel stuck up like a duck with its head in the water.
When the boat went down it seemed to break in the middle.
A sailor told her, ‘She’s going fast.” Looking back, she could see the lights disappearing as the bow sank down, water pouring into open portholes. Flares were being fired, although they failed to bring help. As the Titanic sank and broke apart, Maude thought the loud noise she heard was the boilers exploding.
There was an awful noise she broke in the middle the people sliding where she broke in the water… then the whole of the parts went down but one part came and floated for a time.
A lifeboat, bottom side up and evidently one of those that overturned under its load floated up to the rail and we grabbed for it. We climbed upon it and drifted over the submerged part of the Titanic. We passed under the forward funnel and just as we were clear, it fell. At that minute, the Titanic broke in two just aft of amidships and the stern stood straight in the air. “Make for the stern. It looks like she will float,” Lightoller shouted, but just as he spoke, the stern plunged down.
We could see her slowly sinking, bow on, and as the bow settled down and the water began to encroach on the vessel, the lights went out on the lower decks first and gradually on the decks above. It was exactly twenty minutes after 2 o’clock on Monday morning when the Titanic went out of sight. She broke in the middle as she went down, and the boilers exploded… Then there was darkness. Every light was blotted out on the vessel as she went down.
Three quarters of an hour later the lights went out and the vessel’s doom was sealed. Everyone realized it. We could only see the dim outline of the hulk in the darkness we could see it settling. Suddenly, it lunged forward, settled back, and a tremendous explosion occurred. The ship broke directly in the middle; the bow sank almost instantly, the stern settling quietly beneath the waves with scarcely a ripple.
Elmer Taylor (Private autobiography- Jigsaw Picture Puzzle of People I Have Known and Sundry Experiences from 1864-1949)
The glowing portholes were lifted higher and higher until the screws were all silhouetted out of the water and finally a crash as if every boiler, and fitting had torn loose from their moorings and crashed into the bow; all lights were extinguished, synchronizing with the crash… When the Titanic settled by the bow, the stern was lifted midair, and this went on until half the ship was out of the water at an angle of about 30 degrees. The forward half of the ship was held much like a fisherman holds his line for deep sea fishing. Instead of all the inside fittings of the ship breaking loose from their moorings, the excessive weight of the stern dangled in mid-air broke the back of the ship at one of the expansion joints. The crashing sound, quite audible from a quarter of a mile away, was due, in my opinion, to tearing the ship’s plates apart or that part of the hull below the expansion joints, this breaking the back at a point almost mid-way the length of the ship, or through the music room. Otherwise… how could one account for those fat, green pillows I have mentioned before which were floating around the area?
I saw the ship in sort of a red glare and it seemed to me that she broke in two just in front of the third funnel… when I got on this I was facing the ship. The stern seemed to rise high in the air and stopped at an angle of about 60 degrees. It seemed to hold there for a time and then, with a hissing sound, it shot down right out of sight with people jumping from the stern. The stern either pivoted toward our boat or we were sucked toward it, as we only had one oar we could not keep away. There did not seem to be very much suction and most of us managed to stay on the bottom of the boat.
Alfred Theissinger (Cleveland Plain Dealer, 20 April 1912)
The vessel seemed to break in two.
Next thing she parted in two. (…) We could not have been more than twenty or thirty yards away when we saw the stern end coming right up in the air. On it there were hundreds of human beings. Next came the explosion. It was like a waterspout, filled with black things that must have been bits or iron. Then she glided down, headed straight for the bottom.
When the boilers broke out of the ship it was dreadful. Mr. Lowe, the fifth officer, was in command of my boat, and I heard him say: "'Thank God! Perhaps she will float now with all that weight out of her.' "Then she broke again, and we knew she must go down."
In his little boat bobbing on the sea, Mr. Tucker realized the end of the Titanic was near, and as the explosion came and the great vessel broke and sank with its human freight the sailors rushed the small boats away to escape the suction.
We could see the ship gradually going down, but all the lights were on, when suddenly two terrible explosions took place. The ship seemed to go forward and then split in the middle and then there were two more explosions from underneath the water.
From our lifeboat, we figured she broke in two as she went down nose first.
I saw the lights go out, deck after deck, when the water got into the engine room and caused an explosion. Then I saw the leviathan part in the middle. The stern rose high in the air; the bow less high, then she went down slowly amid the painful cries for help.
He arose to the surface to see the lights still illuminated, but almost at the same instant the great craft appeared to be broken in two, one end reared 500 feet in the air, the other likewise ascended like a great black mass and in a moment they had sunk beneath the sea.
There was some sort of an explosion just about 2 o'clock or shortly after I had gone overboard. It was not until this explosion, the nature of which I do not know, that the lights went out. They had been fed by steam from oil boilers. The explosion caused a break in the ship just aft of the third funnel. The forward section went down bow first. The after part then seemed almost to right itself and we thought she might keep afloat. But it wasn't long before the propellers shot out of the water and down she went.
I came to the top and made for some wreckage which I hung on to, just in time to see the Titanic blow her sides away. She broke in the middle. The forward end went down. The aft end righted itself went right up into the air and disappeared.
Twenty minutes after leaving the Titanic, we heard an explosion and the vessel appeared to split in two and sank.
Constance Willard (St Paul Pioneer Press, 22 April 1912)
We were less than half a mile from the Titanic sometime later and watching eagerly when someone noticed that a big round ball of light on the masthead was descending. We had heard a couple of explosions when we were near the boat and then out there we heard the big one which broke her in two. It was hard to see the forward half very distinctly because the lights had gone out of it. The back half was still brightly illuminated however. Some of these steerage women thought the forward half, which appeared like a big black shadow, which was another boat we had run into. Then there were a lot more little explosions coming rapidly, one after another, and we could see the big ball of light descending… There were many rows of lights for the different decks and they were slanted at quite an angle with the one splotch of light above. Then I saw all the lights were moving downward. Gradually the lowest row of lights began to shorten from the lower end and then it finally disappeared. Then the same thing happened to the next row and then I heard a great cry. I could still see the big ball of light and the reflection on the mast. It was descending at the same steady pace, until finally it also went out of sight and all became deathly still.
The first onrush of water separated us; and I never saw my father again. I believe, just at that time, the stern broke off for the bow suddenly began to rise out of the water at least until two of her decks were out of the water again. As my father was gone there was nothing for me to do on the boat, so I jumped… as I got to the raft, I saw the Titanic take her last plunge. She had broken in half and her bow went first; then the back part of the stern was lifted right out of the water and she seems to have pivoted on her broken part. High up some 150 feet I should say. I could see her outline against the clear sky.
Charles Wilhelms (New York Times, 21 April 1912)
We rowed about 400 yards from the ship before we saw her settling slowly by the head. Then there was an explosion. The lights went out and the ship seemed to break, her nose plunging down and her stern bucking almost straight up. I put my hands over my ears to shut out the wailing as the lights went out, and those on board began to realize that something dreadful was going to happen.
We saw the crowds of people when she broke in two which she did a few minutes before she sank going down with a huge explosion over the cries of the people left on board.
Marion Wright Woolcott (The Morning Register, 21 May 1912, third person)
…and saw helpless men and women still on the deck of the great leviathan of the sea as the two broken parts took their last plunge.
Marie Young (New York Evening Post, 19 April 1912)
There was a great explosion just before the end. The ship seemed to break in two, and the sparks shot up like fireworks.
With help from George Behe, Mike Findlay, Charles Haas, Hugh Brewster, Mike Beatty, Bill Wormstedt, Randy Bryan Bigham, Don Lynch, Phil Hind, Tad Fitch, J. Kent Layton, Tom Lynskey, Dr. Alan Ruffman, and especially Craig Stringer. And a big thank you to Ioannis Georgiou for a final proofread and digging out a number of accounts from his files that I did not have. I am very grateful for Levi Rourke who made the animations to illustrate what various survivors witnessed.