Tag Archives: Captain Edward J. Smith

Titanic News Before The Big Feast

Sorry folks for being down but all is fixed. There has not been a lot of news since the sale was announced. I expect there will be some legal action to try and get it changed but till then we have to wait. So here is your pre-Thanksgiving Titanic news.

Titanic Captain Edward J Smith, 1911
Photo: Public Domain

1. “Titanic historian” Who Resembles Captain Smith Gets Role Playing Him
The BBC relays a news story from Irish News about an Australian man named Michael Booth. He grew up listening to Titanic stories about the ship and, quite naturally, became a Titanic enthusiast. Owing to his resemblance to Captain Smith, he was asked to play the role in a Titanic show.
Source: Titanic’s new captain and spa scrapped (BBC News,13 Nov 18)
https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-46191449

2. Titanic Marriage Proposal
If you have not heard about it, a chap decided to pop the question to his girlfriend on the Titanic replica staircase at Titanic Pigeon Forge. Really, just watch it. Enough said.

3. A purported haunted mirror where Titanic captain Edward J Smith appears is up for auction in the UK for £10,000 (about $12,775). According to the story, a servant who worked for the captain took the mirror from his home after his death. And then the ghost of Captain Smith supposedly appeared in the mirror scaring the person who took it and then others as well. Not quite sure why Captain Smith would hang around in a mirror but that is the story. For 10,000 British pounds, it can be yours. The ghost is free.
Source: Haunted mirror ‘possessed by the GHOST of the Titanic captain’ up for sale (The Sun,18 Nov 2018)
https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/7771542/mirror-possessed-ghost-titanic-captain-for-sale/

Titanic Sunk

Front Page, New York Herald, 15 April 1912 Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress,www.loc.gov)
Front Page, New York Herald, 15 April 1912
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress,www.loc.gov)

23:40 (11:40 p.m.) Lookouts Fleet and Lee sight iceberg. Bell rung and call to bridge. Murdoch orders helm hard a-starboard and engines reversed. Starboard side scraped by iceberg for 300 feet puncturing hull in various places. Water fills forward compartments.

1200 (12:00 a.m.) Thomas Andrews tells Captain Smith ship is sinking estimating ship can stay afloat estimating no more than 2 hours. Lifeboats are lowered by hand, evacuation of passengers begins. Wireless is used to alert nearby ships. RMS Carpathia responds and begins moving towards Titanic.

02:20 (2:20 a.m.) Titanic sinks at 2:20 a.m.with over 1,500 lives lost.

0400 (4:00 a.m.) RMS Carpathia arrives and rescues approximately 710 from lifeboats. Captain Rostron of Carpathia said the area was an ice field with at least 20 large bergs measuring up to 200 feet in height and numerous smaller bergs.

18 April 1912 0930 (9:30 a.m.) RMS Carpathia docks at New York Pier 54. Prior to that it offloaded the only remaining piece of Titanic afloat, the lifeboats. Due to confusing communications, the initial reports were more promising about the the severity of the tragedy. The confusion was caused by mixed up bits of wireless communication resulting in erroneous reports of Titanic being towed to New York and less lives lost. By the time Carpathia arrived in New York, everyone knew that over 1,500 had died in the tragedy.


My Favorite Titanic Movie

Titanic
(Photo courtesy George Behe)

Many Titanic enthusiasts were first drawn to Titanic by the 1958 movie A Night To Remember. The movie was based on Walter Lord’s historical book of the same name. Another movie, Titanic (1953), starring Clifton Webb and Barbara Stanwyck, was also around as well. The 1953 movie was fiction but placed the characters on the doomed ship. Of the two though, A Night To Remember is a more faithful retelling of the tragic story of what happened in 1912.

Cinema rarely presents history the way it happened. Writers, directors, producers like to embellish or change things that look good on screen. Cornelius Ryan’s The Longest Day recounts the events prior to and on 6 June 1944. The movie version does alter a few things, namely the landing on Omaha Beach. Anyone who has read the accounts, watched documentaries, or seen Saving Private Ryan realizes how bloody awful it was. From the moment the landing craft got near, they came under withering German fire. Many were killed in the landing craft, some drowned in the water due the heavy weight of their gear, many junior officers were dead moments upon arrival leaving it up to the sergeants and corporals to lead their decimated units. So it is no surprise that even a near faithful treatment of Titanic would take some dramatic license.

A Night To Remember opens up with a christening, something Harland & Wolff never did. They did have a ceremony where guests where invited to see the new ship slide into the water. The early scene with Lightoller and his wife on the train likely did not happen either. Lightoller is chastised by an older couple when reading aloud a soap advertisement (an actual one for Vinola) and making fun of it. They assumed he was critical of the ship but are forgiving when he is revealed as an officer aboard the ship and making fun of the advertising. We see different types of people from the very rich to the poor setting out on their journey to Titanic. We get a sense right away of the very stark differences in class that existed in that time. The poorest go with what they had and could carry while the rich came with servants and lots of baggage. Most of the characters used in the movie are based on real people and there are some composites as well.

We also see the stark differences between two other ships and captains-Captain Stanley Lord of Californian and Captain Arthur Rostron of Carpathia. Both of these ships play a critical role in the Titanic story. When Rostron is informed of the emergency message from Titanic, he quickly springs into action. Lord, since the radio operator is off-duty has no idea what is happening to Titanic and does not investigate when rockets are sighted. We also see the various characters react to the sinking and the acts of sacrifice that take place. Titanic captain Edward J. Smith appears decisive unlike what was learned later at the hearings. In fact, he had to be asked what to do by many of the officers instead of barking out orders as the movie depicts. Most likely the fact that many were going to die was something that weighed heavily on his mind.

Keen observers will notice some actors that became well known later. Honor Blackman, who was the first female accomplice on The Avengers and Pussy Galore on Goldfinger is in the movie as Mrs. Lucas. Those who remember Man From Uncle or like the character of Donald “Ducky” Mallard on NCIS will notice David McCallum as assistant wireless officer Harold Bride. Bernard Fox, whose Colonel Crittendon made live miserable for Colonel Hogan on Hogan’s Heroes, plays lookout Frederick Fleet (he was also in Cameron’s Titanic playing Colonel Archibald Gracie). Sean Connery plays a Titanic deck hand. Kenneth More, a well known British actor in the 1950’s, plays the role of Charles Lightoller. There are many others who will look familiar if you watched movies or television from this period.

The movie was done in black and white, but there may be copies out there in color. The Criterion Collection of this movie is the one to purchase or rent. Also this version has been digitally restored and some of the older copies are not that good. There are extras well worth considering if you plan to purchase. First the audio commentary by Titanic authors Don Lynch and Ken Marschall fills in a lot of detail as you watch the movie, often correcting what the movie does not depict correctly or adding lots of interesting details. A 60 minute documentary about the making of the movie and, perhaps even better, an archival interview with Titanic survivor Eva Hart.

I would encourage, if you can, to read the book by Walter Lord. The book is extremely well written and Lord had a knack for telling a good historical story. He wrote a sequel after Titanic was discovered in 1985 called The Night Lives On that deals with what was learned afterwards. He actually wrote a lot of history books. His one on Pearl Harbor attack (Day of Infamy) is still considered on the best in that area. His The Miracle of Dunkirk really nails what it was like to be trapped with Germans advancing on you with the only hope rescue from the sea. It also includes, for those who did not know, how Charles Lightoller (the same one from Titanic) became a hero rescuing soldiers and bringing them home to Britain. His book on the Battle of Midway (Incredible Victory)details how the battle came about. Some of his books may be available digitally.

So as you decide what to watch for the anniversary of Titanic’s sinking, consider the 1958 A Night To Remember. I think you will like it it. It will not have all the lush colors of Cameron’s Titanic, but it tells a story that will be worth the watch.


Titanic Captain’s Turn: His Letter To Daughter To Be Auctioned Off

Photo Wikipedia
Photo Wikipedia

Wallace Hartley wrote a letter to his mother but Captain Edward J. Smith wrote one to his daughter, Helen, in 1909. The letter was written when he was captain of the SS. Celtic. The letter reveals a softer side of a man known for his tough discipline. One line in particular is touching:

My dear Daughter, I could not catch a little bunny to send you in my letter so send you a card by this little bird. I hope Mother and you and Gladys are well. I shall soon be home. Your loving Daddy.’

The letter will be auctioned of on 20 April by Henry Aldridge & Son. The letter is expected to fetch £10,000 ($15,000).

Source: Titanic Captain’s Loving Note To Eight-Year-Old Daughter Set To Go Up For Auction(9 April 2013, Daily Mail)

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Captain Smith’s Telescope Auction-No Sale

The BBC News headline Titanic Captain’s Telescope Auctioned In Liverpool implies it was sold, but the slug just above the story is Titanic Captain’s Telescope Fails To Sell At Auction. Perhaps the editor thought no one would read the article otherwise. Saying it was auctioned would draw the curious to read the article.

The item, a telescope once owned by Captain Smith, was put up for auction recently and expected to fetch £20,000. It is not clear from the article how many bids were submitted or what the highest bid was. Clearly it was not high enough as the telescope did not sell. The BBC reports that auctioneer John Crane was disappointed and noted:

“It might be Titanic but at the end of the day it is still a little bit of metal and if you put a very high reserve you’re not going to sell it.”

Or to quote that famous wizard Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:

Fame’s a fickle friend, Harry. Celebrity is as celebrity does, remember that.

About sums it up but of course Lockhart turned out a phony. He stole memories from those who did heroic deeds, claimed them as his own, and used memory charms to make them forget.

Source: BBC News, Titanic Captain’s Telescope Auctioned In Liverpool, 28 Jul 2011

 

 

Titanic 2010

Titanic still draws people to her long after she sank in 1912. There are the usual memorials in Belfast, Southampton, Halifax and other places. Each year the U.S. Coast Guard flies over the area Titanic sank to drop a wreath. Other less noticed things occur as well. Titanic themed meals are in vogue. People dress up in period outfits, attend a dinner that approximates meals served aboard ship, and learn some Titanic lore from enthusiasts. Titanic documentaries are often shown around this time along with showings of A Night To Remember (1958), a fondly remembered movie based on Walter Lord’s book. The more recent Titanic is not history but does recreate the ship wonderfully along with rich period look and feel.?

Titanic is not unlike a Greek tragedy. Such tragedies always depict the outcome as avoidable. Not so far off in Titanic’s case. Her demise was avoidable and arguably predictable. Walter Lord summarizes it as complacency on all levels: government, the ship owners, and those commanded them. No one seemed overly concerned with the lack of lifeboats. Ship owners, for reasons of economy and aesthetics, did not want too many. They knew their presence comforted passengers. The Board of Trade considered passengers cargo and cargo equals space. So lifeboats were tagged to the amount of space one took, not on the total number of passengers and crew aboard ship. Fine in small vessels but inadequate when the numbers exceeded the total capacity of lifeboats available.

Major shipwrecks were rare but not uncommon. Most ship owners believed the risk was minimal. They also believed passengers carried the risk as well. It was always a possibility, however remote, that something would go wrong resulting in injury or death. Strict liability laws made it difficult (but not impossible) to obtain judgments against them. Many became complacent about the danger of a major catastrophe. They believed in all the wondrous new technologies that made ships stronger and safer. A ship might be wounded, scraped, and battered but would remain afloat. Titanic was designed with that in mind.

Even with lifeboats, it required a trained crew to work them. And on Titanic, that was a problem. Too few were experienced in this task. Smith never had a boat drill. Boat assignments were posted after leaving Queenstown. Manning was inconsistent. Lifeboat 6 was assigned two while Lifeboat 3 had 15. Worse neither he or the senior officers had any idea how many people each lifeboat would carry. They did not know they had been throughly tested by Harland & Wolff to carry 65 persons without any sign of strain. Harland & Wolff never mentioned it, according to Walter Lord, because they assumed Smith and his officers knew this “as a matter of general knowledge.”

Captain Smith was experienced officer. He was widely respected amongst his peers and passengers who sailed on his ships. Yet like many others he was complacent. Until he commanded Olympic, he never had any major problems at sea. However the incident in New York with a tug and the Olympic’s collision with the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke were warnings about how differently these new large ships operated. And suction from the propellers caused the liner New York to break moorings in Southampton. Independently these events proved nothing but together form a pattern. All of them occurred while he was in command.

So his lack of action on lifeboat organization is not the work of a lazy or incompetent ship master. It is of someone who believed they would never be needed except in very rare circumstances. Unlike the depiction in A Night To Remember, Smith was not decisive and barking out orders when the crisis hit. Instead he had to be asked by his officers about lowering lifeboats and other orders like firing distress rockets. Which is why things were confusing on that night. Passengers did not know where to go and had to wait for instructions on deck. Lightoller and Murdoch operated inconsistent policies in their respective lifeboat operations. Lightoller was strict about women and children first while Murdoch allowed men on lifeboats. Smith was likely in shock about Titanic sinking and the terrible loss of life about to happen.

It was not long after Titanic’s sinking that every passenger liner put lifeboats for all and pronounced it in advertisements. No longer was it an issue of money but one of safety. The shocking numbers of those saved to those lost were the new mathematics. And ship owners complied and later maritime laws would make it mandatory along with boat drills for crew. Today most cruise passengers have to practice putting on life jackets and assemble at designated points not long after sailing. While no one crashes into icebergs these days, very rough seas can tumble ships as recent stories indicate. Complacency was certainly major element to the Titanic disaster, which is why one must never become too comfortable for the unexpected happens more often than we like to admit.

Destination Titanic: Big Ship, New Problems

On this date in 1912, Titanic departed Southampton on her maiden voyage. As she was leaving, suction from Titanic’s propellers caused a nearby ship, the New York, to loose its moorings. Quick action by a tug and extra speed from Titanic averted a collision. This incident confirmed a theory put forth by the British Navy in legal action against White Star about such suctions. Ironically the captain of the ship involved was Edward J. Smith.
In 1911 the Olympic had two such incidents. The first, according to Walter Lord, occurred on 11 June as Olympic was docking. The tug O.L. Hollenbeck was near the stern when a sudden burst from Olympic’s starboard sucked it against the ship. Hollenbeck’s stern frame, rudder, and wheel shaft was cut off. The press played down the incident but the tug owner sued White Star for $10,000. White Star countersued but the legal action was dismissed for lack of evidence. Lord writes: “No one saw the incident for what it really was: a disturbing lesson in the difficulty of managing a steamer of the Olympic’s unprecedented size.”

A few months later a more ominous event occurred. Olympic and the Royal Navy cruiser Hawke collided in the Spithead, a body of water near Isle of Wight. Hawke was running parallel to Titanic, several times her size, and both ships were at 15 knots. Suddenly Hawke veered to port and headed straight for Olympic’s starboard quarter. The cruiser rammed the liner’s hull and fortunately no one was killed. Hawke’s bow was badly crumpled. Olympic had a double gash in the stern and two compartments flooded. Olympic’s passengers were taken off by tender and the ship limped back to port in Southampton and then to Belfast for repairs.

Everyone thought Hawke was at fault. After all, it had suddenly rammed Olympic. Interviews in the press praised Captain Smith and laid blame on the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy (RN) was not amused and sued for damages. Here is where it gets interesting. Normally the argument is over who had the right of way. Instead the RN argued that suction from Olympic’s propellers had drawn Hawke in. Using models to show how displaced water works, they argued Hawke was the victim and not the aggressor. The court ruled in their favor to the displeasure of many maritime experts. The use of models was dismissed along with the theories used. The ruling stood and White Star had to pay damages.

The findings were dismissed by many since it relied on models. White Star must have agreed since it kept Smith on and made him captain of Titanic. The incident with New York, which matched what happened with Hawke, suddenly made the theory of hydrodynamic forces acceptable. The theory was that a ship moving forward displaces water on either side of the hull. This displaced water then surges back to the stern and into the vessels wake. Any small object that is afloat nearby will be sucked in. The pull increases with the size of the ship, its speed, and proximity. Olympic was a 45,000 ton ship and much too close to Hawke (200 feet) considering her speed against the 7.500 ton Hawke.

Smith likely did not realize this. His experience was on smaller vessels for his entire maritime career. Ships like Olympic and Titanic were totally new to him and everyone else. After the incident with New York, Lord notes Captain Smith did something odd. After leaving Cherbourg, he ordered practice turns for the ship. He apparently realized he needed to find out more about Titanic. Sadly, of course, Smith perished when Titanic went down on 15 April.