Tag Archives: maritime disasters

Remembering History: Sinking of Lusitania (7 May 1915)

RMS Lusitania Coming Into Port (circa 1907-1913)
George Grantham Bain Collection, US Library of Congress, Digital Id cph.3g13287.
Public Domain

On 7 May 1915, the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania sailing from New York to Liverpool was torpedoed off Ireland and sank within 18 minutes. Of the 1,959 passengers and crew aboard, only 761 would survive. 128 of the passengers were American.

World War II had begun in 1914 between Britain, France, and Russia (including Belgium, Italy, Portugal, and Serbia) and Germany, Austria Hungary, and Turkey (then called Ottoman Empire). The United States, under President Woodrow Wilson, declared neutrality. Since the U.S. was a major trading partner with Britain, problems arose when Germany tried to quarantine the British Isles using mines.  Several American ships ended up being damaged or sunk as a result. In February 1915, Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare around British waters. This meant any ship entering these waters were subject to being attacked and sunk by German forces.

To make this very clear, the German embassy in Washington had advertisements run in New York newspapers in early May 1915 that Americans traveling on British or Allied ships in war zones did so at their own risk. In one case, the announcement was on the same page as advertisement of the Lusitania sailing from New York to Liverpool.

Warning issued by Imperial German Embassy in Washington about travelling on RMS Lusitania.
Author Unknown
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The British Admiralty issued warnings, due to merchant ships being sunk off the south coast of Ireland, to ships to avoid the area or take evasive action (zigzagging was advised). The British objected by pointing out that threatening to torpedo all ships was wrong, whether announced in advance or not. During her construction, subsidized by the British government, it was done with the proviso she could be converted to an armed merchant cruiser.

A compartment was also installed to for the purposes of carrying arms and ammunition if it were needed. Gun mounts were installed for deck cannons, but they were not installed. At the time of her sinking, she was not operating in any official capacity as an armed merchant cruiser. The Germans suspected the ship was being used to transport munitions and her repainting to a grey color was an attempt to disguise her (it was, but to make it harder to spot from a periscope).

The Lusitania was one of the fastest liners on the Atlantic capable of 25 knots (29 mph) with many refinements. With lifts, the wireless telegraph, electric lights, and more passenger space (and more sumptuous accomodations), traveling on the Lusitania or her sister ships Aquitania and Maurentania was considered a good experience by seasoned travelers. The fact that she traveled so fast makes it likely it was simply being in the right place and the right time for the German U-boat. She could not possibly have caught the speedy vessel otherwise (there are arguments about what speed Lusitania was doing at this time off Ireland).

Engraving of Lusitania Sinking by Norman Wilkinson, The Illustrated London News, May 15, 1915
Public Domain(Wikimedia)

Captain William Turner did not use zigzagging while in the area (many argue that it does not really work). The commanding officer of the U-boat,  Walther Schwieger, ordered one torpedo fired around 14:10 (2:10 pm). It struck the Lusitania on the starboard bow. A second explosion within the ship occurred and the ship began to founder starboard quickly. While the crew tried to launch the lifeboats, the severe list made it difficult and impossible in many cases. Only six of the forty-eight lifeboats would be launched. The ship sank in 18 minutes taking with her 1, 198 souls. Of the 764 that did survive (and that is a heroic tale of itself), three would die later from wounds sustained from the sinking. Though close to the coast, it would be some time before assistance arrived. Local fishing ships were the first to provide assistance, and later the naval patrol boat Heron. Other small ships provided assistance as well.

Aftermath

The sinking provoked international fury at Germany. Germany defended its actions saying the ship had been carrying contraband and was an armed auxiliary military cruiser. The reaction within Germany, Austria-Hungary and Turkey was criticism of the sinking. The German government tried to defend the sinking, even though she was not armed, by saying she was carrying contraband and they had warned this would happen. The official statements did not go over well in the United States or in Britain. Editorials in newspapers denounced what Germany had done calling for more to bring them to heel. It was hotly debated within the Wilson administration what to do. Wilson condemned what Germany had done but internally but William Jennings Bryan, the Secretary of State, argued for trying to convince both Britain and Germany to ratchet down some of the actions that had led to Lusitania sinking. Bryan was antiwar and like many did not want the U.S. getting involved in the European war.

President Wilson would send three notes to Germany that made his position clear on the issue. First he said that Americans had the right to travel on merchant ships and for Germany to abandon submarine warfare on such vessels. Second, he rejected German arguments about Lusitania. This note caused Bryan to resign and was replaced by Robert Lansing. The third note was a warning that any subsequent sinkings would be “deliberately unfriendly.” That last one made it clear America’s position on the matter. While many wanted to stay out of the war, if the Germans did do it again they likely would find themselves at war with them.

The British government and press were not happy with Wilson over these notes. He was widely castigated and sneered. The reality was that American public opinion was not in favor of war. Wilson knew this and hoped Germany would stop attacking merchant vessels. There was some attempt within the German government to forbid action against neutral ships, which did curtail unrestricted submarine warfare for a while. British merchant ships were targeted, neutral ships treated differently (boarded and searched for war materials), and passenger ships left alone. But in 1917, Germany announced it would resume unrestricted submarine warfare. Wilson was furious and began preparations for war with Germany.

Sources:

History.com
The Lusitania Resource


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)

Titanic Chronology:Carpathia Arrives on 18 April 1912

Crowd Awaiting Survivors of Titanic, 18 April 1912
U.S. Library of Congress,Bain Collection, Control #ggb2004010347
Public Domain

It had been a long three days since Titanic sank when Carpathia arrived bearing Titanic’s survivors. What had been first optimistic news turned grim after the miscommunication had been sorted out. Titanic had sunk and 1500 had perished out in the cold North Atlantic. News as to who exactly had survived was not fully known as Carpathia had kept a media blackout during its journey to New York. There was a reporter on board but had to keep his notes secret in a cigar box lined with champagne corks. He would toss it towards a Hearst editor in a tugboat in New York harbor where it would be raced for a special evening edition of New York World. 50 tugboats full of reporters yelled at the ship through megaphones offering money for eyewitness accounts. Carpathia first stopped at Pier 59, the White Star Line pier and offloaded Titanic‘s lifeboats. They were all that were left of the ship aside from the flotsam and jetsam that would be found later in the Atlantic. Then Carpathia proceeded to Pier 54 and the Titanic survivors disembarked. It was only then it was truly known who did survive and who did not.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

Titanic Chronology: White Star Line Hires Ships To Retrieve Bodies (17 April 1912)

CS Mackay Bennett (circa 1884)
Artist Unknown
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

As the world awaits news of who survived Titanic, the White Star Line decides to hire ships to go out and retrieve bodies. Reports of bodies floating in the Atlantic had been reported and White Star wanted to retrieve them as quickly as possible for a number of practical reasons. Ocean currents would eventually move them out of the area, so getting them retrieved as soon as possible would allow families to lay them to rest. Another reason for speed was that sea creatures and birds would start consuming the bodies making identification difficult as well. The cable ship Mackay Bennett was the first ship hired by White Star (others would be employed as well) to retrieve bodies. The ship emptied itself of its normal stores in Halifax, Nova Scotia and brought aboard supplies for its new mission:

  • Embalming supplies and coffins (100)
  • Chief embalmer of John Snow & Co., John R. Snow Jr.
  • 100 tons of ice to store the bodies
  • Canon Kenneth Hind of All Saints Cathedral, Halifax

Mackay Bennett left Halifax at 12:28 pm on 17 April 1912. Due to heavy fog and rough seas, it would take four days to reach where Titanic sank. They began recovery at 0600 on 20 April. Bodies were manually recovered by skiffs and brought back to the ship. They recovered 51 bodies but realized they did not have enough embalming supplies on hand. Since the laws at the time required bodies to be embalmed before unloading from ships docking in a Canadian port, they followed a general procedure:

  • First class passengers were embalmed and placed in coffins
  • Second and third class passengers along with crew were embalmed but wrapped in canvas
  • Bodies that were too decomposed or disfigured were buried at sea
  • Bodies that were brought back were either transported by relatives to their final resting place or interred in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

Titanic Chronology: Titanic Sunk (15-16 April 1912)

New York Times Front Page 16 April 1912
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)
Titanic lost: Belfast Telegraph front page on 16 April 1912
Source: Belfast Telegraph

The distress call from Titanic was greeted with disbelief and shock. News reached New York on on Monday evening about the distress call. Philip Franklin, who was in charge of the White Star Line office in New York issued a statement around 10:30 pm that “There is no danger that Titanic will sink. The boat is unsinkable, and nothing but inconvenience will be suffered by the passengers.”

Messages from Titanic and other ships responding were being relayed to Cape Race and then re-transmitted on. It is during this process that things likely went amiss causing confusion. Pieces of messages got mixed up with others indicating Titanic and its passengers had been saved and was in tow to Halifax. This led to Franklin issuing another statement later that said (in part) “We hope that reports from the Virginian and the Parisian will prove to be true, and that they will turn up with some of the passengers…”Most newspapers were reporting that evening that all Titanic passengers had been saved and on various ships. Titanic was being towed to Halifax. Based on that, White Star chartered trains to take families to Halifax to meet their relatives there.

Over at the New York Times, its managing editor Carr van Anda, did not accept this. Messages from Titanic had stopped indicating it likely sank. On Monday morning, 15 April 1912, the headline of the Times had the following headline:

New Liner Titanic Hits Iceberg;
Sinking By Bow At Midnight;
Women Put Off In Lifeboats;
Last Wireless At 12:27 A.M Blurred

 

By midnight on the previous day, Franklin had begun to realize that something had gone terribly wrong, but it was still unconfirmed at that point. “I thought her unsinkable, and I based my opinion on the best expert advice. I do not understand it.” He would weep later when the truth would eventually be learned. As the trains sped north to Halifax, they would be stopped and turned back to New York with apologies to all aboard. The survivors were coming to New York instead. The message sent by J. Bruce Ismay from Carpathia to White Star reported Titanic had sunk. It would be learned all the survivors were aboard Carpathia bound for New York.

There were no such confusing reports in Ireland, Britain or elsewhere. In Belfast, those who had worked on the great ship awoke the next day to see two words on the news board the kids had to sell newspapers:

Titanic Sunk

 

They could not believe what they were reading. The ship they had helped build, craft, and launch was now lying on the bottom of the Atlantic. Many wept and others just stood in shock at the news. Ships back then were constructed by hand so many who had labored on the ship had a sense of pride at what they did. In Southampton, many went to the White Star Line offices to find out what had happened to their husbands, sons or daughters. White Star had lists but not great ones with just last names listed in many cases. Southampton would see many homes without fathers, mothers (or both) as a result of Titanic sinking. As news spread around the world, anxious families would also inquire but would not be able to learn anything.

Aboard Carpathia, Ismay isolated himself in a cabin. Wireless messages were being sent outbound by survivors aboard, but it would not respond to specific requests, even one from the President Taft of the United States inquiring about the fate of his friend and military aide Colonel Archibald Butt.

That would not be known for a few days. Carpathia was inbound to New York and only when it arrived on 18 April 1912, would they truly know who had survived and who had perished. And all that remained of that once great ship were the lifeboats that would be unloaded at the White Star Line pier.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

 

Titanic Chronology:Titanic Strikes Iceberg And Sinks (14-15 April 1912)

The Grand Staircase of the RMS Olympic
Photo:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Sunday, 14 April 1912 was what many survivors thought was the best day of the journey so far. Religious service was held in the First-Class dining room at 10:30 am.  Many in first and second class had a very nice meal afterwards, followed by a stroll around the deck. Ice warnings had been received from other ships in the past two days, but no one had plotted them or gave them deep thought. Icebergs were common and no one thought they were that serious of an issue at the time. At noon the ship’s officers got together on wing bridge to calculate the Titanic’s position.

About 1:42 pm, White Star Liner Baltic reported large quantities of field ice along with the coordinates. The message was delivered to Captain Edward J. Smith who passed it on to Joseph Bruce Ismay, chairman of White Star Line.  The Amerika sighted a large iceberg at 1:45 pm and transmitted notice and its coordinates as well. As the afternoon progressed, air temperature began to drop and by 7:30 pm was at 33?F.  At 5:50 pm, Captain Smith orders the course to south and west of the usual course taken possibly due to the ice warnings.

RMS Olympic First Class Lounge (1912)
Photo: Robert John Welch (1859-1936), official photographer for Harland & Wolff
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

At 7:30 pm, the Californian reported three large icebergs, which was reported to the bridge while Second Officer Charles Lightoller is on duty. Captain Smith was attending a dinner in the First-Class Dining Room. Contrary to what is shown in A Night To Remember, messages were not delivered by the wireless operators but by Titanic crew. Lightoller would order the crew to watch the fresh water supply as the temperature was dropping to freezing. Smith would return to the bridge at 8:55 pm and discuss with Lightoller to the weather and icebergs. Captain Smith would retire for the night at 9:20 pm telling Lightoller to wake him “if becomes at all doubtful’. At 9:30 pm, Lightoller would advise the lookouts to watch for icebergs.

The Mesaba sent a warning of heavy pack ice and icebergs at 9:40 pm. However due to heavy wireless passenger traffic, Jack Phillips was too busy to have it sent to the bridge. At 10:00 pm, First Officer William Murdoch would relieve Second Officer Lightoller. Lightoller would tell Murdoch of current conditions. The lookouts were also relieved by the new watch. Lookouts Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee are advised to watch for icebergs. Since it is a moonless night and the sea calm, they will need to be extra alert in looking for any ice fields or icebergs that might appear. Also, they have no binoculars as they have been misplaced. The temperature continues to drop and is recorded at 31?F.

The Californian decides to stop at 10:55 pm due to large field ice in its way. Warnings were sent out to all shipping in the area. The wireless operator contacts Titanic with additional ice warning. Jack Phillips sends back a blunt response telling him to shut up as he was sending messages through Cape Race. At around 11:00 pm, most people are either in bed or heading back to their cabins. A few might still be enjoying a drink, a card game, or reading. By 11:30 pm, the Californian wireless operator, after listening to Titanic’s message traffic, shuts down and goes to bed.

Photograph of iceberg taken by chief steward of Prinz Adalbert on morning of 15 April 1912 near where Titanic sank. At the time he had not learned of the Titanic disaster. Smears of red paint along the base caught his attention. The photo and accompanying statement were sent to Titanic’s lawyers, which hung in their boardroom until the firm dissolved in 2002. Public Domain

Just before 11:40 pm, lookouts spot an iceberg 500 feet away. Lookout Frederick Fleet rings the bell three times and calls the bridge telling Murdoch ‘Iceberg, right ahead.’ Titanic was doing around 21 knots (or slightly less) at the time. Murdoch gives the order “hard a starboard,” orders the engines stopped then full astern, and seals the watertight doors. Due to the size, ships of this size have a larger turning radius then most. At first it looked like Titanic would hit the iceberg dead on but then slowly veers to port to pass by on the starboard. Some speculate the iceberg may have been inverted making it larger underwater than on top. The iceberg makes contact with the ship causing large and small punctures in the process as it scraped the ship.

Thomas Andrews, 1911
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Captain Smith would come to the bridge to determine what happened and informed they struck an iceberg. Reports started coming in of water in the mail room and other areas of the ship. Titanic designer Thomas Andrews assesses the damage along with Captain Smith. With water coming in the mail room and in the first five compartments of the ship, Andrews informs Smith that Titanic will stay afloat for 1 ½ to 2 hours. The ship could survive one compartment being damaged but all not all five with water coming pulling it down at the bow. Captain Smith was in a state of shock at this news and had to be prodded to order lifeboats be lowered, muster the crew, and evacuate the passengers. Since lifeboats were based on tonnage (per British Board of Trade regulations) and not capacity, 1,178 of 2,227 passengers could be put into them if filled to capacity.

At 12:15 am, Captain Smith orders wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride to send out distress messages. While SOS is the new distress signal, they also send out the older one CQD (come quick distress). Many ships will hear the distress but many like the Frankfurt are too far away to respond. On Carpathia, approximately 58 miles away, its wireless operator heard the message at 12.20 am, “Come at once. We have struck a berg. It’s a CQD, old man.” Once informed of this, Captain Arthur Rostron immediately orders his ship make to the coordinates provided by Titanic. As the ship speeds to the scene at top speed, he issues a flurry of orders to make ready the ship for receiving survivors. It would take three hours for Carpathia to arrive.

Since Titanic lacked a central alarm system to notify passengers to evacuate the ship, it fell to stewards and others to knock on passenger’s doors to rouse them. At first many did not believe the ship was in any danger but that would become apparent as time went on. Since the crew had not had any training or drills in lowering the lifeboats, they were unsure the davits were strong enough or the capacity of the lifeboats. And the system of who could board lifeboats varied from port or starboard side. Lightoller was strict about women and children first. At 12:45 am, lifeboat number 7 on the starboard side was lowered but only had 27 people instead of full capacity of 65.

Titanic fired distress rockets as well to get the attention of any nearby ships. They were seen by the Californian, but they did not know the source and did not investigate. A ship appeared to be ten miles away but did not respond to rockets or the Morse lamp. Later some thought this was a Norwegian fishing vessel illegally hunting seals, but evidence did not confirm it. Whether this ship was a mirage caused by conditions on the sea or atmospherics, or the real thing, has never been confirmed. By 12:55 am, lifeboats 5 and 6 are lowered. Number 6 had passenger Molly Brown and lookout Frederick Fleet. Quartermaster Robert Hitchens, who was at the helm when Titanic struck the iceberg, would be criticized later for refusing to look for survivors

By 1:00 am, lifeboat 3 is lowered and only carries 39 people, 12 from the crew. Lifeboat 1 is lowered with only 12 people. It is one of the emergency cutters designed for quick lowering and raising in cases of a person overboard. It can hold up to 40. Both Sir Cosmo Edmund-Duff Gordon are aboard this lifeboat. They would be accused, but denied it, of bribing the crew by giving them £5 each to keep others from using the boat. Sir Cosmo would say the money was offered to them for them to replace lost clothing and gear.

At 1:10 am, the first lifeboat on the port side is lowered. Number 8 only had 28 people on it and included the Countess of Rothes, Lucy Noel Martha. Ida and Isidor Strauss were offered seats on this lifeboat but decline. Isidor believed women and children should go first and Ida did not want to leave her husband. “Where you go, I go,” she said. Both would remain aboard Titanic and perish when it sank. Lifeboat 10 is launched at 1:20 am and had the nine-week-old Milvina Dean on it. She would become later one of the survivors often interviewed about Titanic and lived a long life till dying in 2009 at the age of 97. Lifeboat 9 is launched and is near capacity at 56 people aboard. Benjamin Guggenheim’s mistress was aboard, but he remained with his valet aboard the ship dressed in formal attire.

On Olympic, there was some confusion about the distress call they received. It is possible that with all the signals going out that night, that some got jumbled up (this proved true later when apparently confusing messages were received in New York). About 1:25 am, they radioed Titanic asking if they steaming to meet them. The response was simple that they were putting women off in the boats. Later Olympic would be informed by Carpathia of the sinking. Panic was starting to set in aboard the ship as it became very obvious by this time she was sinking and filling up with water. A panic near lifeboat 14 caused Fifth Officer Boxhall to discharge his weapon. He took command of the lifeboat and would later transfer people into other lifeboats so they could look for survivors. The lowering of lifeboat 13 is quickly followed by 15. However, it drifts underneath the lowering lifeboat but quick action by crewman in 13 save it by cutting the ropes and rowing away.

Between 1:35-1:40 am lifeboat 16 and collapsible C is lowered. On C is White Star chairman J. Bruce Ismay. Later he would be criticized that he boarded before women and children. He would claim that neither were around when he boarded the lifeboat. True or not, it would stick with him for the rest of his life with some calling him a coward. By 1:45 am, Emergency Cutter 2 is launched with Boxhall with 20 people. Lifeboats 11 and 4 would be launched as well. Madeline Astor, five months pregnant, is aboard number 4.  Her husband, John Jacob Astor, would ask to join her but Lightoller, who followed the order of woman and children first, declined. Astor’s body would later be recovered.

Titanic Captain Edward J Smith, 1911
Author unknown. Published after sinking in 1912
Public Domain/Wikipedia Commons

By 2 am only the collapsible boats remain. Titanic had sunk low enough that the stern propellors were now visible. Collapsible lifeboat D is launched from the roof of the officer’s quarters and would have 20 people in it. Collapsible A is washed off the deck and partly filled with water. Fifth Officer Harold Lowe in lifeboat 14 finds only 12 of the 20 that got into it are alive. Collapsible B falls and swept off before it can be righted. The now overturned lifeboats is used by 30 people including Lightoller and wireless operator Bride. At this point, Captain Smith releases the crew saying, “it’s every man for himself.” Smith was last seen on the bridge and his body was never recovered. Wireless operator Phillips sends the final distress signal at 2:17 am. He made it to collapsible lifeboat B but died from exposure. His body would not be recovered.

Titanic is plunged into darkness as its power generators fail. The bow continues its inexorable pull downward as the stern rises higher out of the water. Around 2:18 am, the tremendous strain on the midsection of the ship causes it to break in two between the third and fourth funnels. The bow would disappear beneath the waves while the stern settles back in the water. At this moment, those on the stern can literally swim away before it starts rising. Water would fill into the stern causing it to rise and becoming vertical. At 2:20 am, it would begin the final plunge and disappear. Titanicwas gone.

RMS Carpathia (date unknown)
Image: public domain

Carpathia would arrive in the area firing rockets to get attention at around 3:30 am. Lifeboat 2 was the first to reach the rescue ship. It would take several hours to pick up all the survivors. Ismay would send a message to the White Star Line office informing them Titanic sank. He then would isolate himself in a cabin for the remainder of the voyage to New York. The Californian arrived on scene at 8:30 am. They learned of the sinking around 5:30 am. They find no survivors.

Collapsible lifeboat D photographed by passenger on Carpathia on the morning of 15 April 1912.
Public Domain(Wikipedia)

At 8:50 am, Carpathia sounded her whistle and began heading to New York with the 705 survivors aboard. Due to garbled and mixed-up messages, the American press believed at first disaster had been averted and she was in tow.  People were gathering outside of the White Star Liner offices in New York, London and other offices for information. The White Star Line office in New York believed Titanic was okay and conveyed that to the public that morning. However, that changed by the afternoon when Ismay’s message from Californian was received and other information also confirmed it as well. Titanic, the pride of the White Star Line, had sunk on her maiden voyage taking 1,500 lives with only 705 survivors.

Sources:

Books

Behe, George TITANIC: SAFETY, SPEED AND SACRIFICE, Transportation Trails, Polo, IL 1997

Eaton John P. & Haas Charles, TITANIC TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY, SECOND EDITION, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, New York, 1995 First American Edition

Lord, Walter, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, Holt Rinehart and Winston, New York, New York, 1955. Multiple revisions and reprints, notably Illustrated editions (1976,1977,1978 etc)

Lord, Walter, THE NIGHT LIVES ON, Willian Morrow and Company, New York, New York, 1986 (First Edition)

Lynch, Don & Marshall Ken, TITANIC AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY, Madison Press Books, Toronto, Ontario Canada, 1992

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

 

 

 

 

Video of Ship Breaking in Two

Cargo ship Arkin, 2018
Photo: Ersen Aktan, vesselfinder

It is not often you see something this dramatic. This freighter was in heavy seas off the coast of Turkey in the Black Sea. As the video shows, you can see the ship bend that indicates it is going to break up (which it does). They do send an SOS and get off the ship. The incident took place on 17 Jan 2021.

Caught on Cam: Ship Actually Breaks in Two (Weather.com, 9 Feb 2020)

Here are two  news reports on this sinking:

Ukrainian freighter sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea coast (MSN, 17 Jan 21)

Three bodies found after ARVIN ship sinks off Turkey’s Black Sea (UNIAN, 18 Jan 2021)

 

Amazon’s Best Books of the Year

Remembering Britannic

HMHS Britannic seen during World War I.
Image:public domain

On 21 November 1916, HMHS Britannic was sunk by mine near the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. The ship sank in 55 minutes and 1,035 people were rescued, only 30 perished. Britannic was the third and last ship of the Olympic class liners built by White Star Line. The other two were Olympic and Titanic. Britannic was launched in February 1914. Many design changes were made prior to launch due to lessons learned from Titanic. Those changes were:

  • Double hull along the engine and boiler rooms raising six of the watertight bulkheads up to B deck.
  • More powerful turbine installed due to increase in hull width.
  • Watertight compartments were enhanced so that the ship can stay afloat with six compartments flooded.
  • Motorized davits to launch six lifeboats (only five out of eight were installed before war service). Manual operated davits were used for the remaining lifeboats. The new design also allowed all lifeboats to be launched even if the ship was listing. There were 55 lifeboats with capacity for 75 each so that 3,600 people could be carried.

When World War I broke out, the ship had to be retrofitted as a hospital ship. Most of the furnishings were stored in a warehouse to be placed back aboard after the war. The Britannic began service as a hospital ship on 12 December 1915. She was sent to the Aegean Sea to bring back sick and wounded soldiers. Her first tour of service was ended on 6 June 1916 and she was sent back to Belfast to be refitted back as a passenger liner. As this was underway, the ship was again recalled to military service on 26 August 1916 and was sent back to the Mediterranean Sea.

On the morning of 21 November 1916, the Britannic under the command of Captain Alfred Barnett was steaming into the Kea Channel when at 8:12 am a loud explosion shook the ship. The explosion, unknown at the time whether it was a torpedo or mine, damaged the first four watertight compartments and rapidly filled with water. Water was also flowing into the boiler room. Captain Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress call, and ordered the lifeboats be prepared. Unfortunately, while they could send messages, damage to the antenna wires meant they could not hear the responses back from ships responding to their SOS.  Britannic was reaching her flooding limit and open portholes (opened by nurses to ventilate wards) were bringing more water in as well.

As the ship was still moving, Bartlett did not order lifeboats be lowered but two lifeboats were lowered anyway. They were sucked into the ships propellor and torn to bits killing everyone in those two lifeboats. Bartlett ordered the ship stopped to assess the damage. The ship was listing so badly that the gantry davits were inoperable. Thinking the sinking had slowed, he ordered the engines back on to try and beach the ship. The flooding increased as more water was coming in aided by the open portholes the nurses had opened to air out their wards early in the morning. Bartlett ordered the engines stopped and to abandon ship. She would sink at 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion. Thankfully the water temperature was high (70 F), they had more lifeboats than Titanic, and rescue came less than two hours. Nearby fisherman were able to help and at 10:00 am, the HMS Scourge arrived and later the HMS Heroic and later the HMS Foxhound.

1,035 survived. Of the 30 lost, only five were buried as their bodies were not recovered. Memorials in Thessaloniki and London honor those lives lost. Survivors were housed on the warships and the nurses and officers were put into hotels. Most survivors were sent home, and some arrived in time for Christmas. Speculation about whether it was a torpedo or a mine was resolved when it was learned that a German submarine (SM U-73) had planted mines in the Kea Channel in October 1916. The loss of two Olympic class ships was a major blow to White Star Line. They would get, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the German ocean liner Bismarck (renamed Majestic), which replaced Britannic. They also got Columbus which was named Homeric.

Britannic has been largely forgotten except when news of expeditions were made to the wreck site over the years. The wreck itself was bought by noted author Simon Mills, who has written two books on the ship. An expedition in September 2003 located by sonar mine anchors confirming German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine. The expedition found several watertight doors open making it likely the mine strike was during a watch change on the ship. One notable survivor was Violet Jessop. She had been on Olympic as stewardess when it collided with the HMS Hawke, aboard Titanic in the same capacity when it sank, and then aboard Britannic as a stewardess with the Red Cross.

Sources:
Britannica
Thoughtco.com
Wikipedia

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The Titanic Mystery Ship

Titanic Leaving Queenstown 11 April 1912. Believed to be the last photograph of ship before it sank.
Public Domain

A recent television documentary show is once again raising the issue of a mystery ship that was near to Titanic during the time it was sinking. The SS Californian was thought to be that ship by many though it was hotly denied by its captain Stanley Lord. He would be forever tarnished by the accusation, right or wrong, that he failed to act in assisting Titanic when it sent out its distress calls. With the discovery of the wreck in 1985, it became easier to pinpoint, from the location of the wreck and reported locations during that period of time, the relative positions of ships in the area.

According to Senan Moloney, Californian was at least 40 nautical miles away from Titanic. They likely saw the rockets but were not close enough to see the ship itself. Now there were other ships in that area that night that were seen by the captain of the Mount Temple but could not be identified. Captain Roston of the Californian saw two ships in the morning when he arrived near where Titanic sank. One was the Californian, the other he could not identify. Despite some intriguing possibilities, to date no one has been able to positively identify the other ships seen in the area.

We may never know for certain the mystery ship(s) that were in the area. We can certainly make some educated guesses but for everyone put forth, their seems to be contrary evidence against it. So, it remains one of those mysteries that will not be solved. Nor harm in going over the many fine points though, if for nothing else better understanding what went on that fateful night in 1912.

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MARITIME DISASTER HISTORY: SS ARCTIC COLLIDES WITH SS VESTA KILLING 322 IN 1854

United States Mail steamship Arctic (launched 1850).
Public Domain (U.S. Library of Congress)

On 27 September 1854 the SS Arctic collided with SS Vesta in heavy fog killing 322 people. The Arctic was a wooden hull passenger steamer ship launched in 1850 for the Collins Line. It was one of four ships the company built using U.S. government subsidies to challenge the British-backed Cunard line. The Collins Line had successfully bid to be subsidized as a mail and a passenger ship to Europe in 1847. As part of the deal in receiving the subsidies, the line agreed that in times of war they might be called into service as a troop transport or other need.

The launching of the ship in 1850 was well regarded at the time. She was considered one of the best vessels constructed up to that time and thousands witnessed her launch at Brown shipyards on the New York East River. And her top speed was 13 knots, a significant achievement making her known as the “clipper of the sea.” Not only was she fast but luxurious with her fittings and accommodations. Under captain James Luce, the ship underwent her sea trials and first regular service without incident. In 1853 she ran aground on Burbo Bank in Liverpool Bay while enroute to New York. She had to be refloated and returned to Liverpool. In 1854 she struck the Black Rock of the Saltee Islands from Liverpool to New York. Once again, she was refloated and sent to Liverpool. Arctic’s engines though were expensive to operate, and they had to rely on an invention by a Baltimore firm to reduce costs. The engines also put a strain on the wooden hulls as well.

On 27 September 1854 while enroute to New York from Liverpool, a sudden and heavy fog came up 50 miles off the coast of Newfoundland. Captain Luce did not take the usual precautions of slowing down, adding extra watches, and sounding the horn. At 12:15 pm, the Arctic collided with iron-hulled French steamer Vesta. At first Captain Luce thought the smaller vessel had taken more damage. However, the iron hulled ship had significantly damaged the Arctic and it was sinking. Under the maritime rules of the time, the ship had six lifeboats that would carry 180 people. However, there were 400 people aboard, 200 passengers and 150 crew. Discipline broke down quickly as many scrambled for the few lifeboats available. There was no “women and children first” enforced and many of the crew got into lifeboats. Those that remained had to use makeshift rafts. Captain Luce went down with the ship but survived the sinking. Two of the lifeboats made it to land. Another was picked up by another steamer. The other three lifeboats were never seen again.

The losses were staggering as all the women and children perished, including the wife of Edward Collins and two of his children that were aboard at the time. Other prominent people perished as well, and a rare copy of William Shakespeare First Folio was lost as well. News of the sinking did not reach New York until 2 weeks later due to limited telegraphy. The news brought a groundswell of anger in newspapers and public opinion. There were demands for an investigation and to change the law about lifeboats required. They were never acted upon and no one was ever held to account. Captain Luce was not generally considered to be at fault but retired. The scandal of so many crew surviving instead of women and children would result in many surviving crew members did not return to the US.

The Collins Line suffered further after that. The SS Pacific disappeared without a trace in 1856 enroute to New York from Liverpool. Many believe it collided with an iceberg and sank as it raced to arrive earlier than the Cunard liner Persia. All 55 passenger and 141 crew were lost along with its freight. Her remains were found in 1993 off the coast of Wales (some dispute this though) and some alternative theories of her fate have been put forward. The SS Adriatic was launched on April 7, 1856 but did not do her sea trials till 1857. However due to a depression, Congress reduced the subsidy to $385,000. In February 1858, the line suspended operations and in April went into bankruptcy. All of its remaining vessels were auctioned off and the company paid off its creditors. That left Cunard, for a time, without much opposition in the passenger trade between Europe and the United States.

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