Category Archives: Historic Ships

Friday Titanic News

Happy Friday everyone! Well we are past the midpoint of February and now heading down the road to March. Valentine’s Day has come and gone. And Lent has begun for many Christians. Here are some news stories you might find interesting.

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

Total Croatia. “Meet Europe’s  Only Titanic Life Jacket – in Rijeka.” Total Croatia, 15 Feb. 2024, total-croatia-news.com/lifestyle/titanic-rijeka.

This is how we get to the most interesting part of the story: one of the Croatian crew members, the 18-year-old waiter Josip Car from Rijeka, picked up one of the life jackets discarded by the castaways as Carpathia was making its way back to New York. He took this reminder of that fateful night back to Rijeka and donated it to the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Littoral in 1938. It’s not exactly clear how this iconic item ended up in storage, forgotten for decades, but fortunately, fate had it that two experts on the Titanic case visited the museum on one occasion, looking to gather more information on Carpathia.

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Fraga, Kaleena. “‘Titanic of the Alps’ Shipwreck From 1933 to Be Raised.” All That’s Interesting, 11 Feb. 2024, allthatsinteresting.com/santis-titanic-of-the-alps.

Ninety years ago, a steamship called the Säntis was sunk in the middle of Lake Constance. Like the more famous Titanic, its stern lifted as water rushed in. The Swiss flag at its tip gave one last rustle, and then the ship slipped beneath the waves. Now, plans are afoot to raise the vessel.

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Wood, Alexandra. “The Enduring Mystery of Hull’s Titanic as City Remembers 50th Anniversary of Her Disappearance.” Yorkshire Post, 9 Feb. 2024, www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/people/the-enduring-mystery-of-hulls-titanic-as-city-remembers-50th-anniversary-of-her-disappearance-4512149.

It was Hull’s Titanic – an “unsinkable” supertrawler whose loss became one of the most enduring maritime mysteries of modern times. When Gaul sank 50 years ago this weekend in the Barents Sea, in the Arctic Ocean, during a force nine gale, with all 36 crew, some found it hard to accept that nature was to blame.

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Image: OceanGate

“Documents Detail OceanGate’s Battle With Whistleblower Years Before Fatal Titan Submersible Implosion.” ABC News, 8 Feb. 2024, abcnews.go.com/US/run-risk-documents-detail-oceangates-battle-whistleblower-years/story?id=106965104.

Years before an OceanGate submersible tragically imploded on its way to the wreckage of the Titanic, a former employee warned company executives about the inefficiency of their hull design and the company’s testing methods. The employee, who worked on the predecessor to the vessel that imploded, claimed his warnings went “dismissed on several occasions.” The search for OceanGate’s submersible, Titan 2, after it disappeared with five people onboard in June 2023 and the subsequent discovery that it imploded made headlines worldwide.

And now for your Friday entertainment. I opened the Wayback Machine and found the wonderful song Buena Sera sung by the great Dean Martin. Enjoy!

Remembering SS Daniel J. Morrell (29 Nov 1966)

Launch of the SS Daniel J. Morrell in Bay City, Michigan
22 August 1906
Unknown Author
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The sinking of the SS Daniel J. Morrell in 1966 during a fierce November storm on Lake Huron is often compared to the Edmund Fitzgerald, but less remembered. It broke up during the storm and only person out of29 crewmen survived.

The ship was launched in 1906 and at 603 feet long was considered one of the largest bulk carriers on the lakes at the time. Her sister ship, Edward Y. Townsend, was of the same length and both worked the Great Lakes transporting bulk cargo. By 1966, they were no longer the largest but were still making bulk freight deliveries. Both the Morrell and Townsend were making their last run of the season on 29 Nov 1966 when disaster struck. The infamous “Gales of November” were roaring on Lake Huron with wind speeds that topped 70 mph (110 km/h). Seas were high with swells that topped the ship. The Townsend decided to seek shelter in the St. Clair River while the Morrell continued its journey to Thunder Bay for shelter.

At 2 am, noises that sounded like a loud banging drove the crew to the deck. They could see the ship was in dire condition, so many jumped into the frigid waters to die. At 2:15 am the ship broke in two. The crew still on the bow got into a lifeboat mostly wearing light clothing since they had come up from below. Some thought another ship was coming, but the aft was still moving as the propellers were turning. It went about five miles before it sank. Since they had no chance to send any messages, there was no SOS sent from the ship. The surviving crewmen fired off flares to get attention to no avail.

The Morrell was deemed overdue the next day at 12:15 pm at Taconite Harbor, Minnesota. The Coast Guard began looking and at around 4:00 pm located a lifeboat with one survivor in it. The other three had perished from the cold. 26-year-old Watchman Dennis Hale was the lone survivor. He was wearing boxer shorts, a life jacket, and a pea coat. He would need many surgeries to deal with the injuries he suffered that night. Most of the bodies of the rest of the crew were found, though two were never located. Hale’s testimony would prove important to the investigation that followed.

Hale would testify that the Morrell was well known as leaky. He reported to Captain Arthur I. Crawley, who responded they did not have time to fix since they were not in port long enough. The Coast Guard inspected the Townsend and found a large crack in her deck caused by the storm. She was immediately taken out service and never sailed again. Ironically, she would sink on her way to be scrapped off Newfoundland during a storm. She was being towed, so no lives were lost when she sank.

The investigation showed that the steel used in her construction had too much sulfur in it resulting it becoming brittle in cold weather. And the ship finally met a storm on a very cold night that finally did her in. Brittle steel has been identified as to one of the reasons the Titanic sank so quickly. Hale would never sail on the Great Lakes again after surviving the sinking. He spoke rarely about his ordeal but did write a book about it.

Sources:

Bingham, Emily (27 April 2018)
Remembering the Daniel J. Morrell, a 1966 Great Lakes shipwreck lost to the gales of November
Michigan Live. Retrieved on 17 Nov 2022.

Werner, Gene (27 Nov 2016)
50 years after shipwreck took 28 lives, the lone survivor’s tale
The Buffalo News. Retrieved on 17 Nov 2022

SS Daniel J. Morrell
U.S. Data Repository. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

SS Daniel J. Morrell
Wikipedia. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

NPR (6 Nov 2013)
Adrift In Frigid Water, Not Caring ‘If You Live Or Die’
NPR. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

Remembering Britannic (21 Nov 1916)

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
Tikkanen, Amy. “Britannic | Ship, Wreck, Sinking, Titanic, and Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Dec. 2011, www.britannica.com/topic/Britannic.

“Britannic, Sister Ship to the Titanic, Sinks in Aegean Sea.” HISTORY, 13 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/britannic-sinks-in-aegean-sea.

Hickman, Kennedy. “World War I: HMHS Britannic.” ThoughtCo, 29 May 2019, www.thoughtco.com/world-war-i-hmhs-britannic-2361216.

Suggested Reading

Chirnside, Mark (2011) [2004]. The Olympic-Class Ships. Stroud: Tempus
Lord, Walter (2005) [1955]. A Night to Remember. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin
Mills, Simon (2019). Exploring the Britannic: The Life, Last Voyage and Wreck of Titanic’s Tragic Twin. London: Adlard Coles

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Arthur Anderson Enters Duluth in First Autumn Snow (30 Oct 2023)

Here is the SS Arthur Anderson coming into Duluth during the first snow of the season. It is quite something to see and, as comments indicate, a taste of winter to come. The Anderson did not come in on November 10 this year (the anniversary of the Edmund Fitzgerald) so this will have to do. I have appended the one from 2020 so you can see it here.


INTERESTING FACTS ON ARTHUR ANDERSON

  • SS Arthur M. Anderson was launched February 16, 1952, making her one of the oldest Laker type ships currently serving on the Great Lakes. Lakers are bulk carrier vessels designed to carry large amounts of ore, grain, coal from the areas where they are mined or grown and transport them to the industrial areas for production. Laker ships (called boats) are designed for Great Lake use only and do not operate beyond it. The shipping season usually lasts from around late March till late December or Mid-January depending on the ice.
  • She is named for Arthur Marvin Anderson, who a was director of U.S. Steel and served on its finance committee. He was also vice-chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. at the time.
  • Over the years the Anderson has undergone several refits including adding a new 120-foot (37 m) midsection that allowed here to increase her tonnage to 26,000 tons. A self-loading boom was added to aid in loading and unloading. A softer midsection prohibits her from loading as much cargo as others. She is one of three Great Lakes Fleet (the operator) steamships with this limitation.
  • On 10 November 1975 the Anderson was in close proximity with the Edmund Fitzgerald and the last to speak with its captain before it sank and reported its disappearance After docking, the U.S. Coast Guard asked its captain, Jesse “Bernie” Cooper, to go back out to search for the missing ship. Captain Cooper was hesitant knowing the ferocity of the storm but went out anyway. Captain Cooper believed the Fitzgerald had grazed the bottom at some point allowing her to take on water that led to its demise later.
  • In February 2015 the Anderson was stuck and stranded in ice in Lake Erie near Conneaut Harbor, Ohio. She was freed by the Canadian Coast Guard after five days on 21 February 2015. An American Coast Guard ship, sent to escort the Anderson to Detroit became stranded in the thick ice as well.
  • The Anderson was put on long-term layup at the end of the 2016 shipping season. She was transferred in April 2019 to the Fraser Shipyards for where she was refitted and returned to service on 25 July 2019.

Great Lakes Shipping History Books

 

 

Remembering the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald (10 Nov 1975)

Edmund Fitzgerald(1971)
Photo: Greenmars(Wikipedia)

The SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on 10 Nov 1975 taking with her a crew of 29. The ship was launched in 1958 and was owned by Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company. As a freighter, the ship primarily carried taconite iron ore to iron works in various Great Lake ports. The ship set records for hauling ore during its career.

On 9 Nov 1975, the Fitzgerald under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley, embarked on her final voyage of the season fron Superior, Wisconsin to a steel mill near Detroit, Michigan. She met up with another freighter, SS Arthur Anderson, while enroute. The next day a severe winter storm hit with near hurricane force winds and waves that reached 35 feet in height. Sometime around or after 7:11 p.m., the Fitzgerald sank in Canadian waters approximately 17 miles from Whitefish Bay near the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. While McSorley had reported difficulty earlier, his last message was “We are holding our own.”

The cause of the sinking has stirred debate and controversy with competing theories and books on the issue. The various theories are:

(1) Inaccurate weather forecasting. The National Weather Service forecast had said the storm would pass south of Lake Superior but instead it tracked across the eastern part, exactly where the Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur Anderson were. So they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

(2) Inaccurate navigational charts. The Canadian charts in use came from 1916 and 1919 surveys and did not include more updated information that Six Fathom Shoal was about 1 mile further east than shown.

(3) No Watertight Bulkheads
The ship did not have watertight bulkheads and more like barges rather than freighters. So a serious puncture could sink a vessel like Fitzgerald while ships that had such bulkheads, even if seriously damaged, had a better chance of survival.

(4 )Lack of Sounding and Other Safety Instruments
Fitzgerald lacked the ability to monitor water depth using a fathometer( a device that uses echo sounding to determine water depth). The only way the Fitz could do soundings was using a hand line and counting the knots to measure water depth. Nor was there any way to monitor if water was in the hold or not (some was always present reports suggest)unless it got high enough to be noticed by the crew. However on that night, the severity of the storm made it difficult to access the hatches from the spar deck. And if the hold was full of bulk cargo, it was virtually impossible to pump out the water.

(5 )Increased Cargo Loads Meant Ship Was Sitting Lower In Water
The load line had been changed in 1969, 1971, and 1973 with U.S. Coast Guard approval. This resulted in Fitzgerald’s deck being only 11.5 feet above the water when she faced massive 35 foot waves on that day. She was carrying 4,0000 more tons than what she was designed to carry. Which meant the buoyancy of the ship was an issue who fully loaded resulting in reports the ship was sluggish, slower, and reduced recovery time.

(6) Maintenance
The US National Transportation and Safety Board believes that prior groundings caused undetected damage that led to major structural failure during the storm. Since most Great Lakes vessels were only inspected in drydock once every five years, such damage would not have been easily detected otherwise. Concerns have also been raised that Captain McSorley did not keep up with routine maintenance. Photographic evidence indicates the hull was patched in places and the failure of the U.S. Coast Guard to take corrective action is also an issue considering that various things were not properly maintained.

(7) Complacency
Captain McSorley rarely pulled his ship into a safer harbor to ride out a storm. Nor did he heed a warning from the U.S. Coast Guard issued at 3:35 p.m. to seek safe anchorage. Possible pressure from ship owners to deliver cargo on time is considered a factor for some captains like McSorley to ride out storms rather seek safe anchorages. The U.S. Coast Guard Marine Board concluded that complacency is a major factor in what happened to Fitzgerald and generally a problem for Great Lakes shipping. Critics point out the Coast Guard failed in its own tasks of properly requiring those repairs and lacked the means to rescue ships in distress on the Great Lakes.

The wreck was found on 14 Nov 1975 using technology to find sunken submarines. The U.S. Navy dived to the wreck in 1976 using an unmanned submersible. The wreck was found to be in two pieces with taconite pellets in the debris field. Jacques Cousteau dived to it in 1980 and speculated it had broken up on the surface. A three day survey dive in 1989 organized by the Michigan Sea Grant Program was done to record the wreck for use in museum educational programs. It drew no conclusions as to the cause of the sinking. Canadian explorer Joseph MacInnis led six publicly funded dives over three days in 1994 to take pictures. Also that year sport diver Fred Shannon and his Deepquest Ltd did a serious of dives and took more than 42 hours of underwater video. Shannon discovered when studying the navigational charts that the international boundary had changed three times. GPS coordinates showed the wreck was actually in Canadian waters because of an error in the boundary line shown on official lake charts. MacInnis went back to the wreck in 1995 to salvage the bell and it was financed by the Sault Tribe of Chippewa Indians. A replica bell and a beer can were put on Fitzgerald. Scuba divers Terrence Tysall and Mike Zee used trimix gas to dive to the wreck and set records for deepest scuba dive on Great Lakes. They were the only divers to get to the wreck without a submersible.

The wreck is now restricted under the Ontario Heritage Act and has been further amended that a license is required for dives, submersibles, side scan sonar surveys and even using underwater cameras in the designated protected area. And they added a steep fine of 1 million Canadian dollars for violating the act.

Fitzgerald was valued at $24 million. Two widows filed suit seeking $1.5 million from the owners and operators of the ship. The owners filed suit to reduce to limit their liability. However the claims never went to trial as the company paid compensation to the surviving families who signed confidentiality agreements. It is believed the owners and operator wanted to avoid a court case where McSorley was found negligent as well as the operator and owner. Changes to Great Lakes shipping did occur such as requiring fathometers in ships above a certain tonnage, survival suits, locating systems for ships (LORAN originally now GPS), emergency beacons, better wave predictions, and annual inspections of ships in the fall to inspect hatch and vent closures.

Annual memorials take place though the one made famous by Gordon Lightfoot, the Mariners Church in Detroit, now honors all who perished on the Great Lakes.

Sources:

Morse, Ken. “Home.” Mariners’ Church of Detroit, marinerschurchofdetroit.org.

Admin-Glshs. “Home – Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.” Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, 6 Nov. 2023, shipwreckmuseum.com.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. thunderbay.noaa.gov.

Ackerman, Steven. Sinking of the Fitzgerald. cimss.ssec.wisc.edu/wxwise/fitz.html.

“Official NTSB Report on the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” National Transportation Safety Board, 4 May 1978, www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-recs/recletters/M78_31_32.pdf.

 “SS Edmund Fitzgerald.” Wikipedia, 27 Oct. 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Edmund_Fitzgerald.

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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:

—. “German Submarine Sinks Lusitania.” HISTORY, 6 May 2024, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/german-submarine-sinks-lusitania.

“The Lusitania Resource: Passengers and Crew, Facts & History.” The Lusitania Resource, 14 July 2023, www.rmslusitania.info.

 

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)

New Year’s On The Great Lakes

Here is the James R. Barker leaving Duluth this morning. Notice all the ice in the harbor and in the canal. The Barker has a very distinctive horn. A few people were there to see it off at 7:53 am (local time) this morning standing  in a chilly 24 degrees F (-4 C) in Duluth.

 


Arthur Anderson Entering Duluth with Sea Smoke

The Arthur Anderson has been on service on the Great Lakes since 1952. She was the last ship in communication with the Edmund Fitzgerald when it sank in 1975. On Saturday she headed into Duluth Canal early in the morning. As you will see from the video, sea smoke was abundant that morning. Sea smoke occurs when you have cool air above a warmer liquid causing condensation to appear. The effect is quite dramatic when you see it on the Great Lakes or on any body water. That means the air is colder than the water causing this effect.

Remembering the SS Daniel J. Morrell (29 Nov 1966)

Launch of the SS Daniel J. Morrell in Bay City, Michigan
22 August 1906
Unknown Author
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The sinking of the SS Daniel J. Morrell in 1966 during a fierce November storm on Lake Huron is often compared to the Edmund Fitzgerald, but less remembered. It broke up during the storm and only person out of29 crewmen survived.

The ship was launched in 1906 and at 603 feet long was considered one of the largest bulk carriers on the lakes at the time. Her sister ship, Edward Y. Townsend, was of the same length and both worked the Great Lakes transporting bulk cargo. By 1966, they were no longer the largest but were still making bulk freight deliveries. Both the Morrell and Townsend were making their last run of the season on 29 Nov 1966 when disaster struck. The infamous “Gales of November” were roaring on Lake Huron with wind speeds that topped 70 mph (110 km/h). Seas were high with swells that topped the ship. The Townsend decided to seek shelter in the St. Clair River while the Morrell continued its journey to Thunder Bay for shelter.

At 2 am, noises that sounded like a loud banging drove the crew to the deck. They could see the ship was in dire condition, so many jumped into the frigid waters to die. At 2:15 am the ship broke in two. The crew still on the bow got into a lifeboat mostly wearing light clothing since they had come up from below. Some thought another ship was coming, but the aft was still moving as the propellers were turning. It went about five miles before it sank. Since they had no chance to send any messages, there was no SOS sent from the ship. The surviving crewmen fired off flares to get attention to no avail.

The Morrell was deemed overdue the next day at 12:15 pm at Taconite Harbor, Minnesota. The Coast Guard began looking and at around 4:00 pm located a lifeboat with one survivor in it. The other three had perished from the cold. 26-year-old Watchman Dennis Hale was the lone survivor. He was wearing boxer shorts, a life jacket, and a pea coat. He would need many surgeries to deal with the injuries he suffered that night. Most of the bodies of the rest of the crew were found, though two were never located. Hale’s testimony would prove important to the investigation that followed.

Hale would testify that the Morrell was well known as leaky. He reported to Captain Arthur I. Crawley, who responded they did not have time to fix since they were not in port long enough. The Coast Guard inspected the Townsend and found a large crack in her deck caused by the storm. She was immediately taken out service and never sailed again. Ironically, she would sink on her way to be scrapped off Newfoundland during a storm. She was being towed, so no lives were lost when she sank.

The investigation showed that the steel used in her construction had too much sulfur in it resulting it becoming brittle in cold weather. And the ship finally met a storm on a very cold night that finally did her in. Brittle steel has been identified as to one of the reasons the Titanic sank so quickly. Hale would never sail on the Great Lakes again after surviving the sinking. He spoke rarely about his ordeal but did write a book about it.

Sources:

Bingham, Emily (27 April 2018)
Remembering the Daniel J. Morrell, a 1966 Great Lakes shipwreck lost to the gales of November
Michigan Live. Retrieved on 17 Nov 2022.

Werner, Gene (27 Nov 2016)
50 years after shipwreck took 28 lives, the lone survivor’s tale
The Buffalo News. Retrieved on 17 Nov 2022

SS Daniel J. Morrell
U.S. Data Repository. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

SS Daniel J. Morrell
Wikipedia. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022

NPR (6 Nov 2013)
Adrift In Frigid Water, Not Caring ‘If You Live Or Die’
NPR. Retrieved 17 Nov 2022