Remembering History: The Hindenburg Disaster (6 May 1937)

Airship Hindenburg crash in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937
Photo originally taken by Murray Becker, AP
Public Domain

On 6 May 1937 the German passenger airship Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed while trying to dock at Naval Air Station Lakehurst near Lakehurst, New Jersey. Of the 97 passengers and crew, 35 perished and one worker was killed on the ground.

Airships were a popular way to travel. They were comfortable and often afforded their passengers the ability to see things that passengers of airplanes would not often see. The Germans had perfected the use of airships while the United States suffered humiliating crashes that confounded designers. The German Zeppelins used hydrogen for many years without any major incident until 1937.

Hindenburg over New York hours prior to the disaster. (Public domain)

The event was caught on newsreel and on radio. Herbert Morrision’s radio coverage is classic and you can listen to at History.com. You can also listen to this one on YouTube which points out that Morrison’s voice was much higher than normal due to the tape recording speed (he was known for his deep voice). His actual audio report sounds different when you hear it as it ought to have been. A British Pathe newsreel of the disaster be viewed here.

While sabotage was suspected, neither the American or German inquiries concluded that was the cause. The American report concludes:

The cause of the accident was the ignition of a mixture of free hydrogen and air. Based upon the evidence, a leak at or in the vicinity of cell 4 and 5 caused a combustible mixture of hydrogen and air to form in the upper stern part of the ship in considerable quantity; the first appearance of an open flame was on the top of the ship and a relatively short distance forward of the upper vertical fin. The theory that a brush discharge ignited such mixture appears most probable.

The many theories that continue to persist are:

  • Sabotage
  • Lightning
  • Static Spark
  • Engine Failure
  • Incendiary Paint
  • Hydrogen Leak
  • Fuel Leak

Mythbusters examined the incendiary paint hypothesis and concluded it did not cause the catastrophe. Many believe the most likely reason for the explosion is that a tiny tear in the fabric or an exposed piece of metal was the entry point for static electricity to ignite the hydrogen. Hydrogen would never be used again for airships after this.

Airships faded from use though the famous Goodyear blimps over sports and other events are used to film the events below. And with the desire to conserve our environment these days, helium filled airships may yet return as a means of travel.

Forgotten History: U.S. Starts Building Panama Canal (4 May 1905)

Unidentified Ship at Cape Horn sometime between 1885-1954
Unidentified Ship at Cape Horn sometime between 1885-1954
National Library of Australia (via Wikimedia Commons)
Public Domain

For hundreds of years sailors who made the long trek from Europe to the Pacific Ocean had a dream. A dream of one day being able to sail straight across rather than all the way down to the tip of South America where the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans meet. Cape Horn, so named by a Dutch captain in 1615, was a major point shipping point where trade ships plied between Europe and Asia. If you wanted to get to China, Japan, or shipping ports on the Pacific western coast (South America up to Alaska), this was the preferred route for many merchant and military vessels. However, the convergence of both oceans at that area also led to it being a treacherous path at times due to fierce storms that really put the skills of a mariner to a test. Many a ship has sunk in those waters and many explorers saw their fleets thinned out in that area. The building of the transatlantic railway helped reduce the need to ship freight and passengers somewhat but not enough. A land route through the Isthmus of Panama was possible though it had its own perils as well. You had to walk from the one coast to the other through a jungle. The Spanish established Panama on the Pacific and the Nombre de Dios on the Atlantic connected by 49 mile (80 km) simple jungle path. The path was simple and not built for moving cargo but moving people (mostly soldiers) from one coast to the other. People who choose this route over taking a ship faced a hot climate, insects that carried malaria, and other surprises that were not for the faint of heart. A railroad was constructed (at heavy cost) to move people and freight but that still left ships making the dangerous route. Hence the dream of a canal was born

Building it was another matter. The French gave it a try and it was a complete failure. The construction costs quickly mushroomed, and they lost 20,0000 workers due to malaria and accidents. The company collapsed and many speculated it could not be done. The US, for both maritime and military reasons, decided to buy up the French company and do it themselves. At the time, the proposed canal was in Columbia resulting having to negotiate terms for the digging of the canal. However, Columbia and the U.S. could not come to terms, leaving the U.S. with a problem. The area of Panama was inhabited by native people who had tried in the past to gain independence from Columbia but not able to pull it off. An early attempt to recognize Panama independence in 1903 was rejected by Columbia. So, with the full support of the US, Panama declared its independence in November 1903. The treaty signed between Panama and the US allowed for the construction of the canal but gave the US sovereign rights in the canal zone. This allowed the US to not only build the canal but administer and defend it as well. Fees for using the canal would go to the zone but also to Panama as well.

It was on 4 May 1905, formally called Acquisition Day, the project became official, and construction would commence. It was completed in 1914. The 52-mile canal now connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans without having to sail down to Cape Horn and into the Pacific. Commercial traffic would increase as more cargo and passenger ships could easily move between the two oceans. The 10-mile Panama Canal Zone would grow and become more important as a result. Today only the supersized ships must make the trip down to Cape Horn as they are too big for the Panama Canal.

Today the Panama Canal is recognized as one of the seven wonders of the modern world. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Panamanians wanted to revisit the original treaty and gain more control of the canal. In a 1977 treaty signed by President Jimmy Carter and Panama leader Omar Torrijos, it was agreed that the Panama Canal Authority would be turned over to Panama in 1999.

Sources:


Titanic News: April News Review (March 31-15 April 2022)

This is a curated list of Titanic news for the first part of April 2022.  I will be posting the second half soon.

===
Titanic News-April 2022

March 31-April 15, 2022

*29 Shipwrecks Found Since the Discovery of the Titanic
247wallst.com, 31 Mar 2022

29 Shipwrecks Found Since the Discovery of the Titanic

Finding a shipwreck has been the stuff of fantasy for as long as people have sought opportunities beyond the horizon. There is no shortage of wrecked vessels to find; it’s estimated that there are more than three million undiscovered shipwrecks around the world.

*Molly Brown House Opens New Titanic Exhibit With More Unseen Artifacts
4CBS Denver, 1 April 2022

Molly Brown House Opens New Titanic Exhibit With More Unseen Artifacts

Many of the artifacts are associated with “Unsinkable” Molly Brown, who survived the Titanic’s sinking and is one of the most well-known women in Denver’s history. “Heroine of the Titanic” opened on Friday at the Molly Brown House, 1340 Pennsylvania Street. It will be open for visitation on select days through late September.

*12 Artifacts Brought Up From the ‘Titanic’
Mental Floss, 2 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/titanic-shipwreck-recovered-artifacts

Since 1987—two years after the Titanic wreck was discovered—seven trips have been made to the ship’s debris field, and more than 5500 artifacts have been salvaged. Here are a few of them.

*Titanic Artifact Goes On Display For The First Time Since 1912
Attractions Magazine, 2 April 2022

Titanic artifact goes on display for the first time since 1912

On April 5, 2022, Titanic Museum Attraction will unveil the charm-like embellishment, which was once attached to Straus’s watch fob chain, to a gathering of select members of the media, Straus’s great-great-grandson David Kurzman, and others, marking the first time the public will see it since 1912.

*Rare Illustrated Brochure Is Set To Sell At Auction For £6,000
Daily Mail, 2 April 2022
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10679139/Rare-111-year-old-brochure-Titanic-set-sell-auction-6-000.html

A rare holiday brochure for the Titanic has surfaced 111 years after it was originally produced. The brochure is being sold by a private collector who uncovered it in Northern Ireland several years ago on April 23 and is expected to sell for £6,000.

*Woman Shares Stories of Titanic Passengers for Anniversary of Sinking
Newsweek, 4 April 2022
https://www.newsweek.com/woman-shares-stories-titanic-passengers-anniversary-sinking-viral-tiktok-1694891

A series of videos is gaining traction on TikTok as a woman has decided to share the stories behind various passengers on the Titanic for each day in April—the month the ship sunk over 100 years ago. TikToker @kjdish, whose name is Kaylee Jukich-Fish began the series on April 1 which she calls “Titanic Month” by going through a stack of “boarding passes” from passengers on the ship. The first video has now received over 1 million views in which Jukich-Fish talks about the life of passenger, and survivor, Annie “Nina” Harper.

*The Legend of Jenny, the ‘Titanic’ Cat Said to Have Predicted the Ship’s Fate
Mental Floss, 4 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/jenny-titanic-cat

Titanic’s resident feline, who joined the ship while it was still in Belfast, didn’t receive the same first-class treatment as the canine passengers that boarded the ocean liner with their owners. Jenny was a ship cat, meaning she was allowed to roam the decks freely and help keep the rat population under control. With no one to smuggle her into a lifeboat—as was the case with two lucky Pomeranians and one Pekingese on board—Jenny’s story likely didn’t have a happy ending. The cat never turned up after the ship sank into the Atlantic, and she was presumed dead.

*Isidor Straus Fob On Display At Pigeon Forge’s Titanic Museum
WVLT8, 5 April 2022
https://www.wvlt.tv/2022/04/05/isidor-straus-fob-display-pigeon-forges-titanic-museum/

The fob, a charm for men’s pocket watches, is on exclusive display for the first time since 1912 at the museum. Isidor Straus wore the fob the night he died during the Titanic’s sinking. Straus’s body was found and the artifact was returned to his family, who has had it for over 100 years.

*Grimm Prospects: Jack Grimm, the Eccentric Billionaire Hell-Bent On Finding the ‘Titanic,’ Bigfoot, and Noah’s Ark
Mental Floss, 5 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/jack-grimm-explorer-titanic-bigfoot

It was 1980, and Grimm, an oil tycoon, was organizing yet another of his seemingly impossible quests. After searching for the remains of Noah’s Ark, evidence of Bigfoot, and proof of the Abominable Snowman, Grimm had set his sights on finding the wreckage of the Titanic, which had sunk to the depths of the North Atlantic in 1912. No one had located the ship. Grimm believed he could—with the aid of a monkey named Titan.

*Titanic Survivor Molly Brown’s Blanket To Go Under The Hammer
Independent, 6 April 2022
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/belfast-harland-and-wolff-errol-flynn-new-york-american-b2052008.html

“As part of the sale, Molly’s White Star Line embroidered deck chair blanket, which was in her possession when she was travelling on the Titanic, will be going under the hammer, as will an engraved trinket box that was given to Molly by her husband upon her safe return to New York,” he said. The auction catalogue for the sale, which will take place on April 26 in house and online, is now available to view: www.bloomfieldauctions.co.uk

*Titanic’s 110th Anniversary: One Of Only Six Life Jackets Remaining From Ship To Be Displayed In Belfast Museum
Belfast Telegraph, 7 April 2022
https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/archive/titanic/titanics-110th-anniversary-one-of-only-six-life-jackets-remaining-from-ship-to-be-displayed-in-belfast-museum-41529595.html

One of only six life jackets remaining from the Titanic has gone on display at the Titanic Belfast museum to commemorate the 110th anniversary of its sinking. This is the first time the life jacket has been on public display on the island of Ireland and it is free for the public to view in the Grand Atrium of Titanic Belfast until Sunday, April 24.

*110th Anniversary Of Titanic To Take Place In Cobh Over The Weekend
Irish Times, 7 April 2022
https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/110th-anniversary-of-titanic-to-take-place-in-cobh-over-the-weekend-1.4847141

The 110th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with the loss of 1,504 lives will be remembered in Cobh this weekend. Members of the British Titanic Society (BTS) will travel to the Cork Harbour town to lay a wreath at the spot that the White Star liner departed from on her ill-fated maiden voyage. Over 80 members of the British Titanic Society will travel to Cobh for the society’s 2022 convention where they will travel to Roches Point on Friday to lay a wreath at the point from where the liner departed from Ireland en route to New York.

*6 Facts About ‘Titanic’ Survivor Eva Hart, One of the Last to Remember the Disaster
Mental Floss, 8 April 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/posts/eva-hart-titanic-survivor-facts-history

Seven-year-old Eva Hart boarded the Titanic with her family on April 10, 1912, not knowing that her life was about to change forever. In her later years, she had the distinction of being one of the last living Titanic survivor with first-hand memories of the disaster. Here are six facts about Eva Hart’s role in history.

*Key Facts On Titanic And Belfast — 110 Years After It Sailed On Its Fateful Transatlantic Voyage
News Letter, 10 April 2022
https://www.newsletter.co.uk/heritage-and-retro/heritage/key-facts-on-titanic-and-belfast-110-years-after-it-sailed-on-its-fateful-transatlantic-voyage-3648285

(The article is fine but they should have edited it more carefully. In some places, time travel took place as dates such as 2011 are used!)

The Titanic link to Belfast has its origins almost half a century earlier, when White Star Line in 1869 chose Harland and Wolff in the city to commence construction of vessels to rival Cunard Line, which was the main shipping service across the Atlantic.

*Remembering Titanic Victim ‘Tom’ Kerley Of Bowerchalke
Salisbury Journal, 10 April 2022
https://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/features/journalfeatures/20055511.remembering-titanic-victim-tom-kerley-bowerchalke/

William Thomas Kerley lived at Woodminton Cottages, Bowerchalke and on the release of the Titanic film ‘A Night to Remember’ in 1957, many locals came forward to say they knew “Tom” Kerley. Mr Will Case knew the Kerley family, as did a Mrs Hardiman, of Shaftesbury, who reported in 1957: “The young man Tommy Kerley, as he was called, had two brothers and four or five sisters. The family left Bowerchalke soon after the disaster.”

*Brooch From Titanic With Jack And Rose-Like Love Story Up For Auction
New York Post, 11 April 2022
https://nypost.com/2022/04/11/brooch-dating-back-to-the-titanic-ship-goes-up-for-auction/

Titanic survivor Roberta Maioni was just 20 years old when she found romance with a young gentleman steward aboard the ill-fated voyage. The first-class passenger fell in love with an unnamed crew member, who gifted her a white brooch the night of the ocean liner’s sinking.

*When Did Titanic Sink And How Long Did It Take? A Timeline Of The Disaster
History Extra, 13 April 2022
https://www.historyextra.com/period/edwardian/when-did-titanic-sink-how-long-timeline-disaster/

As day turned to night on 14 April 1912, little did passengers and crew on board Titanic know of the horrors that lay ahead. Nige Tassell tracks a timeline of how the disaster unfolded…

*Divine Mercy And The Sinking Of The Titanic
National Catholic Register, 12 April 2022
https://www.ncregister.com/blog/titanic-and-divine-mercy

Father Byles worked as quickly and as calmly as he could to usher the women and children to the lifeboats. The characteristic of the priest most in evidence, and the one most remarked on later by survivors, was his presence of mind throughout. It was as if this moment was the one for which he had been preparing all his life. Seeing the first batch of women and children safely aboard lifeboats, and declining an offer to join them, he quickly descended once more below decks.

*Titanic Passengers: 8 Stories Of People Who Sailed On The Liner
History Extra, 13 April 2022
https://www.historyextra.com/period/edwardian/titanic-passengers-stories-people-who-sailed-on-board/

Titanic brought people together from all levels of society – from the wealthy to those seeking a new start. From a future Olympian to the architect who went down with his ship, uncover the tales of those who were on board…

*Titanic Shipyard Wins Britain’s First Cruise Ship Contract In 50 YEARS As UK Economy Soars
Express, 13 April 2022
https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1595204/Titanic-shipyard-queen-victoria-belfast-cruise-ship-P-O

Harland & Wolff will now undertake works on P&O Cruises’ ship Aurora and Cunard’s Queen Victoria. When the work begins, the Queen Victoria will be the largest cruise ship ever to have dry docked in a UK yard. Prior to the planned work, the last cruise liner built by Britain was the Saga Ruby, built in 1973 in Newcastle upon Tyne.

*Enduring Mystery: Do These Photos Show The Iceberg That Sank The Titanic?
Yahoo, 13 April 2022
https://news.yahoo.com/enduring-mystery-photos-show-iceberg-172036577.html

One such photo showing an iceberg that, experts say, the massive Titanic ocean liner may have likely struck before sinking to the bottom of the Atlantic, is the first one believed to be taken by a passenger on the S.S. Carpathia, a passenger ship re-routed to help to the sinking Titanic.

*The Titanic Sank 110 Years Ago. An Indy Newspaper Got The Story Very Wrong.
IndyStar, 15 April 2022
https://www.indystar.com/story/news/history/retroindy/2022/04/15/titanic-anniversary-indianapolis-star-newspapers-covered-tragedy/7008835001/

By now, we all know this story. One hundred and ten years ago, during her maiden voyage, the RMS Titanic — then the world’s most luxurious liner, deemed “unsinkable” because of her state-of-the-art safety features — struck an iceberg in the north Atlantic Ocean and sank, killing 1,500 passengers. Although, for Indianapolis residents in 1912, that kind of depended on where you got your news.

Welcome to May

May, from the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry (1412-1416)
Limbourg brothers (fl. 1402–1416)
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)

May is the fifth month on the current Gregorian and the old Julian calendar. It is named for the Greek goddess Maia. On the old Roman calendar, this was the third month. May has 31 days. The full moon in May is sometimes called the Flower Moon since many flowers bloom during this month.

May is commonly associated with spring in the Northern Hemisphere but autumn in the Southern Hemisphere. Usually, it is also the time that plants begin to grow. It is a time for many festivals and celebrations as well. The ancient Romans had several of them during May and many Europeans today have events during the month. Late May is often considered the beginnings of the summer season in many places.

The May symbols are the emerald (birthstone), along with Lilly of the Valley and Hawthorn as the birth flowers.

Find Gifts for Mother’s Day. Shop Amazon for Mothers Day Gifts.

Remembering History: Hitler Commits Suicide;War in Europe Nearly Over

U.S. Army newspaper Stars and Stripes announcing Hitler’s death
2 May 1945
Original source: U.S. Army
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

On 30 April 1945, Adolf Hitler–the leader and founder of the 1,000 Reich–committed suicide with his wife Eva Braun in the underground bunker beneath the Reich Chancellery. It would lead to the end of the war in Europe on 8 May 1945 when Germany unconditionally surrendered to Allied powers.

Since the defeat of German forces in the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, it had become increasingly apparent that Allied forces had turned the tide. Germany had been pushed out of North Africa at this point, faced Allied armies in Italy, and of course on 6 June 1944 the Allied invasion of Europe had occurred. An attempt on his life was unsuccessful in July 1944 (he was saved when the briefcase with the explosive was pushed under a heavy table) but resulted in imprisonment and executions for many who were involved. Field Marshal Rommel was forced to commit suicide rather than a public court martial.

Hitler had become more erratic, and many were concerned with his mental state. After withdrawing to the underground bunker in January 1945, he met with Hermann Goering, Heinrich Himmler, and Joseph Goebbels. By 22 April 1945 though he realized the war had been lost with Soviet troops now in Berlin. On 23 April, Goering seeing that Hitler was encircled in Berlin, tried to take over as his presumed successor. Hitler stripped him of his powers and orders his arrest (this was futile since Goering surrendered himself to American forces). Himmler also had hopes of succeeding Hitler. In April, he was negotiating through a Swedish diplomat and with the Americans. When Hitler learned of this, he was stripped of his powers and his arrest ordered. Himmler tried to escape posing as an ordinary soldier but was caught and arrested. He committed suicide by taking poison.

By the end of April most of his aides and lieutenants (with some exceptions such as General Krebs) had deserted him with only Goebbels and Martin Bormann staying along. Albert Speer had declined to carry out Hitler’s orders to carry out a scorched earth policy in Berlin. Believing Germany had been unworthy of his genius and allowed themselves to be defeated, he decided to commit suicide. He married his long-time mistress Eva Braun in the early hours of 29 April 1945. He then dictated his last will and political testament that justified what he had done.  The will itself is quite short while the separate political testament that laid out a defense of his life and work, as well as appointing those who would lead the German government after his death.

In the afternoon of 30 April 1945, Hitler pointed a gun to his head (though he may have taken poison as well) and committed suicide while Eva took poison. Their bodies were burned, in accordance with his instructions, in the Chancellery garden. Goebbels transmitted a message to Admiral Karl Doenitz that Hitler had died and appointed him Reich President. Six hours later Goebbels and his wife committed suicide after poisoning their six children with cyanide.

Hitler’s death was broadcast on 1 May 1945 by Hamburg Radio. On 2 May 1945, German troops in Italy surrendered (it was signed on 29 April 1945) and Berlin surrendered to Russian Marshal Georgi Zhukov. More surrenders of German forces would follow. German forces in Denmark, the Netherlands, and northwestern Germany surrendered to Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery on 4 April 1945 (effective the next day). The German Ninth and Twelve armies surrendered to U.S. forces.

Sources:

Books

Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976

Internet

Britannica.com
History.com
World War II Database


Remembering History: US Army Liberates Dachau (30 April 1945)

Young and old survivors in Dachau cheer approaching U.S. troops.
29 April 1945
Source: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Photograph #45075
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1933, 10 miles northwest of Munich on the outskirts of a town called Dachau, this concentration camp would initially house 5,000 political prisoners. The number of those opposed to the Nazi regime would increase from the original Communists it held. Soon it would include Roma (Gypsies), religious dissenters (Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant ministers, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc.) repeat criminals and homosexuals. In 1938, Jews began becoming a large number of those sent to this camp.

Dachau prisoners were used as forced laborers for German armaments production and was used as a training facility for SS concentration camp guards. Prisoners were also used in hideous medical experiments resulting in many dying or being crippled for life. While many thousands died at Dachau, many were sent to the extermination center near Linz, Austria until a gas chamber and crematorium were added in 1942. Satellite camps supplemented the main camp and were set up near armaments factories. Collectively all these camps were administered by Dachau and part of it.

The situation by April 1945 was dire for Germany with Allied forces closing in.. Many prisoners were sent from camps nearer the front to Dachau resulting in epidemics and overcrowding. Over 7,000 mostly Jewish prisoners were forced to March from Dachau to Tegernsee in the south. Most of the camp guards left Dachau and only light resistance was given to the U.S. Army troops that arrived on 29 April 1945. Near the camp, they found 30 railroad cars full of corpses. More bodies were found at the camp but there were 30,000 survivors, many who were emaciated. The scene was appalling to the American troops. Many would write or talk about it later as one of the most horrific things they had ever seen. 30 captured SS guards were killed by American soldiers over what they saw (others claim it is was a lot more). German citizens of Dachau were later forced to bury the 9,000 dead inmates found at the camp.

(Here is a video on the liberation, but you will need to view it on YouTube.)

Sources:

Books

Gilbert, Martin: The Holocaust-A History of The Jews of Europe During The Second World War, Henry Holt & Company, New York 1985

Snyder, Lewis: Encyclopedia of The Third Reich, Marlowe & Company, New York, 1976

United State Holocaust Memorial Museum: Historical Atlas of The Holocaust, Macmillan Publishing USA, New York 1996

Internet

History.com
Holocaust Encyclopedia
Jewish Virtual Library

,,,

Remembering History: Mussolini Caught Fleeing Italy and Executed (28 March 1945)

Benito Mussolini
Public Domain

Attempting to flee Italy into Austria dressed in a Luftwaffe coat and hat, the deposed dictator of Italy–Il Duce–Benito Mussolini was caught by partisans along with his mistress Clara Petacci. The partisans executed him and Petacci, transported their bodies to Milan, and hung them upside down so that everyone (especially his supporters) could see he was dead. He ruled Italy from 1925-1943, when he was deposed and subsequently imprisoned. He was rescued by Hitler’s forces and made the puppet leader of the Italian Social Republic in northern Italy. With German troops in retreat, he hoped to avoid being captured by either British or American forces. Pictures of his body being hung upside down in Piazzale Loreto in Milan would be spread to prove that Il Duce was no more.

Sources:
History.com

Remembering the Sultana (27 April 1865)

“Sultana” at Helena, Arkansas, just prior to its explosion on April 27, 1865.
Photo: Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress, digital id#cph.3a48909)

On 27 April 1865 the steamboat Sultana carrying recently released Union army prisoners of war exploded on the Mississippi River resulting in 1800 deaths. It is regarded as one of the worst maritime disasters in U.S. history.

The steamboat was already in dire need of repairs before it departed on 24 April from Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sultana’s captain and part owner, J. Cass Mason, was told a proper repair would take days. However, the War Department was paying $5 for every enlisted man and $10 for each officer. Not wanting to miss a big payday, Mason ordered temporary patches and filled the steamboat with as many officers and enlisted that he could. Thanks to a corrupt Union Army quartermaster, 2,400 enlisted and officers were steered to a ship that was rated to carry only 376.  Its decks began to sag and needed reinforcement before it departed for Cairo, Illinois its final destination.

After unloading cargo in Memphis, Tennessee the Sultana appeared top heavy. The boilers were forced to work hard against the current and swollen Mississippi River. Sometime around 0200 on 27 April three boilers exploded instantly killing many. The explosion caused massive holes and flaming debris that included hot coal that came raining down back on the ship. The Sultana erupted into flames. Frantic Union Army soldiers jumped overboard but many were weakened by being prisoners of war. Some clung to debris, and so many clamored to get on a lifeboat after it was lowered that it sank. Bodies would be found far down river and in trees.

Sadly, other historical events, such as the surrender of Confederate General Joseph Johnston and the capture of John Wilkes Booth pushed this news story aside. It never got the attention it should have.

While overcrowding and corruption are considered the reasons for the disaster, some claim sabotage by Confederate agents using a coal torpedo. Some evidence, such as testimony of eyewitnesses, suggests its possibility. However more recent examinations such as done on History Detectives shows it more likely a disaster caused by overloading a ship that was already in dire need of repair.

Sources
1. Christopher Klein, The Forgotten History of America’s Titanic 150 Years Ago,History.com,27 April 2015.
2. Sultana (Wikipedia)
3. Stephen Ambrose, Remembering Sultana, National Geographic, NationalGeographic.com, 1 May 2001.
4. Sultana Disaster, Tennessee State Library and Archives: Disasters in Tennessee, www.tn.gov
5. The Sultana Disaster (American Battlefield Trust)

Remembering History: Irish Rising/Rebellion (24 April 1916)

On Easter Monday 24 April 1916 Irish nationalists along with some 1.600 followers seized government buildings in Dublin seeking the ouster of Britain from Ireland. It was planned by Patrick Pearse, Tom Clarke and others in the Irish Republican Brotherhood and was part of a larger group called Irish Volunteers. The Irish Volunteers had around 16,000 members and had obtained German weapons in 1914. There was also the Irish Citizen Army which was comprised of Dublin workers who had been of the failed general strike in 1913. The small Sinn Fein party was also involved as well.

Though initially planned to be national in scope but ended up primarily in Dublin. The British had learned of the uprising and had made several arrests on April 21. Patrick Pearse and Tom Clarke went ahead with their plans and seized the Dublin General Post Office and other points in the Dublin City Center. Pearse read a proclamation announcing the birth of the Irish nation. British troops were sent in to put down the rebellion, which began a week-long battle in the streets between the two. Dublin was paralyzed during this time. British artillery was used against the rebels and forced their capitulation in the end.

All of the leaders of the Easter Rising were court-martialed and executed. The uprising itself was not generally supported by most Irish. However, the executions and arrest of anyone thought to have been involved with the rebellion angered many along with the imposition of martial law turned the leaders into martyrs. Instead of stamping out the rebellion, the British response only fueled the cause for many to want an Irish free state (sounds familiar to those who study the American Revolution).

Aftermath

In 1919, the Irish Republican Army began a guerilla war against the British in Ireland. A cease fire was called in July 1921 and a treaty was signed in 1921. The treaty established the Irish Free State as a self-governing nation of the British commonwealth. However the treaty allowed for an opt-out provision and the six northern counties decided to stay with the United Kingdom. This was not wholly popular with many in the Irish leadership (and led to internal strife and killings). It was not until Easter Monday in 1949 that the Republic of Ireland was fully declared (except for the northern counties that had opted out).

Sources:

Titanic Chronology: Olympic Departure Delayed Over Lifeboats (24 April 1912)

RMS Olympic Arrives In New York on Maiden Voyage, 21 June 1911
Source: U.S. Library of Commerce/Wikimedia Commons
Public Domain

In the wake of the Titanic sinking, all passenger ships were equipped with lifeboats for everyone aboard. Olympic, like her sister ship, did not have enough lifeboats but they were quickly added for her upcoming departure from Southampton on 24 April 1912. 40 collapsible lifeboats (all second-hand) had come from troopships. However, there was concern amongst the crew that these lifeboats were not seaworthy.  A request sent by crewman that they should be replaced by wooden lifeboats was declined by White Star which said that it was impossible to do that and they had passed as seaworthy by the Board of Trade inspector.

Not convinced of this, 284 firemen went on strike delaying the departure. Non-union crew were hired from Southampton and from Liverpool to make up the difference. On 25 April 1912, representatives of the strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. One was found unseaworthy. The representatives said they would recommend the strikers return to work as a result. A separate objection about the non-union workers who were hired came up as an issue. White Star refused to fire them. This resulted in 54 crewmembers leaving the ship in protest causing the cancellation of the sailing. Later they would be charged and convicted of mutiny, but no punishment was awarded due to the circumstances. White Star Line hired them back in end fearing a public backlash in support of the strikers. Olympic would sail for New York on 15 May 1912.

 

Sources:

Encyclopedia Titanica
Ocean Liners Magazine
RMS Olympic (Wikipedia)

 

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