Tag Archives: maritime disasters

Remembering the Tragic Sinking of the General Slocum (15 June 1904)

On 15 June 1904 the General Slocum was taking members of St. Mark’s Evangelical Church to its annual picnic. Sadly, most would perish when the ship caught fire making it the worst maritime disaster in New York City and for a time the United States until Titanic sank in 1912.

General Slocum, date and author unknown.
Image:Public Domain (National Archives)

The PS General Slocum was built in Brooklyn, New York in 1891. She was designed as a sidewheel passenger steamboat to ferry passengers to locations on the East River. Named for the famous Civil War general (and New York Congressman), Henry Warner Slocum, the ship conveyed the image of reliability. With three decks-main, promenade and hurricane-and with the capacity to hold up to 2,500 passengers, the ship was very popular especially with groups that were holding major events and needed a ship to convey them.

The Slocum was owned by the Knickerbocker Steamship Company and had been captained for many years by William H. Van Schaick with a total crew of 22 aboard. It had several mishaps before the 1904 disaster. After launching in 1891, she ran aground in Rockaway and tugboats had to pull her free. 1894 saw a number of accidents from running into a sandbar, running aground, and colliding with a tugboat that had caused serious damage. In 1902, the ship ran aground and was stuck there overnight forcing the passengers to camp out on the ship for the night.

By 1904, the Slocum had been superseded by other more modern ships but was still popular for excursion travel around New York City. St. Mark’s Evangelical Church in Little Germany district (Kleindeutschland) of New York had used the Slocum for its annual picnic for the past 17 years. The annual picnic was to celebrate the end of the Sunday School year. Teachers, mothers, and children attended this event. Since it was held during the weekday, most fathers were at work. Pastor George Haas had chartered the ship for $350. On 15 June 1904, the group of 1,358 of mostly women and children boarded the ship at the Third Street Pier. The Slocum would take them up the East River and then through Long Island Sound to its destination of Locust Grove, in Eaton’s Neck, Long Island where the picnic would be held.

The ship departed at 9:30 am and everything seemed to be going well. Nearly all the passengers, mostly women and children, were dressed up for the event. There was a band playing music and food for the trip was served by those attending the picnic. By 10 am the Slocum had made her way up to the passage of Hell Gate, between Ward’s Island and Queens. It was around this time a fire broke out in the Lamp Room. The Lamp Room (the third compartment from the bow under the main deck) as the name indicates, was used to store lamps and its oil. Rags with oil on them were around and packing straw was also in the room as well from the boxes of glasses the group had brought with them for the trip. No one can say for certain how the fire was started, but most likely caused by a discarded cigarette or match. The fire was soon noticed by crew who attempted to put it out using the emergency water hoses. Unfortunately, they were old and leaked so little water could be applied. It would be learned later that the company that sold them to Knickerbocker had used materials that were quite thin and cheap.

The captain was first notified by a child but dismissed it. He was officially told 10 minutes later but by now the fire was ablaze and passengers were now getting frightened. The ship was equipped with lifeboats, but they could not be released. They were held in place by wire and in many cases were covered with paint making it impossible to release them. People were getting frantic now. Life preservers were available but were so old that the cork inside had disintegrated into dust. And the dust absorbed water. In some of them were bits of metal put in by the manufacturer to make them weigh the same as ones with cork. Mothers watched in agony as the children they had put life preservers on sink and drown in the water. Also, few knew how to swim at the time as well so could not swim to safety. Adding more to this situation were that at the time people wore wool clothing even in summertime. So even if they could swim, it was very difficult with the heaviness of the wool weighing you down.

Captain Van Schaick initially ordered the ship full ahead as the nearest area of land had oil storage. He would change his mind a few minutes later and order the ship beached on North Brother Island. He would remain on the Hurricane deck until the last moments of the ship forced him to jump overboard into shallow water. The ship had been completely engulfed by the time she was beached-a mere 20 minutes after the fire had been discovered, Fortunately North Brother Island was a quarantine island and there were both doctors and nurses to assist those that had gotten ashore. Several vessels nearby had come to assist those they found in the water and responsible for saving 300 lives.

Victims of the General Slocum washed ashore at North Brother Island
15 June 1904
Possible source: Gustav Scholer (1851 – 1928)
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Most however did not make it off the Slocum. An estimated 1021 would die according to a government report and of that only 2 were crew (though some sources put the figure lower). Sadly, many who died were children though sometimes parents or members of the extended family also perished. Some victims were never identified because there was no one living to do so. The funeral procession of the dead was witnessed by many, and the small coffins caused many to cry. One notable incident was a man accompanied by his wife carrying a small coffin under his arms. He could not afford a funeral wagon and so was walking to the cemetery. Fortunately, a man delivering flowers offered him a ride. Captain Van Schaick was injured in an eye and lost its use as result of the tragedy.

The city was aghast at what had happened. In supposedly one of the great cities of the world, a ship burned within its sight. A floating horror of fire and people frantically trying to escape facing either the flames or drowning. Newspapers carried headlines of the many funeral processions that occurred. Everyone wanted answers and President Roosevelt ordered a commission to investigate what had happened on the Slocum. And what the commission found was startling. Nothing had been done to maintain and replace as needed the safety equipment. The report found the fire hoses were made of cheap linen and full of kinks (and of course leaked). And of course, how the life preservers had failed as well along with the lifeboats that could not be accessed. Also, they found no safety drill had been done in over a year. Captain Van Schaick was found responsible as master of the Slocum and sentenced to 10 years in jail for failing to maintain the safety equipment. Since the captain bore the brunt of the blame, the Knickerbocker Steamship Company paid only a small fine though it was learned they had falsified safety records.
Later Van Schaick would be paroled and pardoned by President Taft in 1912 since many believed the company was at fault.


As a result of the tragedy, a reorganization of who was responsible for inspecting ships and tighter safety regulations would result. Today that is handled by the U.S. Coast Guard. The community of Little Germany in Manhattan was severely affected with the loss of so many in the tragedy. It brought the community together and St. Mark’s would continue to serve its community. Little Germany had grown and flourished from the 1840’s but by the end of the 19th century had already started to contract. The once solidly German area began to diminish and in many ways the tragedy of the General Slocum hastened it. Many began to resettle in Brooklyn. A new wave of immigrants was coming in from Italy and Eastern Europe. It would become eventually the Lower East Side forever changing the character with areas where Italian, Russian, and Yiddish would now be heard.

St. Mark’s Evangelical Church would never recover from the 1904 loss as most of its congregation were dead. While the parish would continue elsewhere, the church would become a synagogue (and still is to this day) in 1940. The building itself is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. In 1946 the parish of St. Mark’s merged with the Zion Church in Yorkville in 1946 to become Zion St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

General Slocum Memorial Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan, New York City
Image:Public Domain (Wikipedia)

In 1906 a marble memorial fountain, which stands to this day, was erected in Tompkins Square Park in Manhattan by the Sympathy Society of German Ladies. There is also another memorial in the Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens where many graves of the victims are to be found. The last survivor died in 2004.

The General Slocum was salvaged and turned into a barge renamed Maryland. Continuing its history of mishaps as before, it sank in the South River in 1909 and in 1911 while in the Atlantic off the coast of New Jersey. No one died in the 1911 sinking.

The movie Manhattan Melodrama (1934), which stars a young Clark Gable, has as its opening moments the events of the General Slocum which sets in motion the lives of the two characters the movie depicts. Not a bad movie for its time and worth looking at if you have the opportunity.

A memorial plaque placed near the former church of St. Mark’s on the centennial of disaster states:

This is the site of the former St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (1857–1940) a mostly German immigrant parish. On Wednesday, June 15, 1904, the church chartered the excursion steamer, GENERAL SLOCUM, to take the members on the 17th annual Sunday school picnic. The steamer sailed up the East River, with some 1400 passengers aboard, when it entered the infamous Hell Gate passage, caught fire and was beached and sank on North Brother Island. It is estimated 1200 people lost their lives, mostly woman and children, dying within yards of the Bronx shore.

The GENERAL SLOCUM had been certified by the U.S. Steam boat Inspection Service to safely carry 2500 passengers five weeks before the disaster. An investigation after the fire and sinking found the lifeboats were wired and glued with paint to the deck, life jackets fell apart with age, fire hoses burst under water pressure, and the crew never had a fire drill. Until the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the Slocum disaster had been the largest fire fatality in New York City’s history.

Dedicated Sunday, June 13, 2004, by the Steam Centennial Committee.
The Maritime Industry Museum
SUNY-Maritime College, Fort Schulyer, The Bronx, NY


History.com Editors. (2020, June 12). Fire on Riverboat leaves more than 1,000 dead. History.com. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/river-excursion-ends-in-tragedy

The General Slocum Disaster of June 15, 1904 | The New York Public Library. (2011, June 13). The New York Public Library. https://www.nypl.org/blog/2011/06/13/great-slocum-disaster-june-15-1904

General Slocum | National Underwater and Marine Agency. (n.d.). https://numa.net/expeditions/general-slocum/

Wikipedia contributors. “PS General Slocum.” Wikipedia, Aug. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PS_General_Slocum. Accessed 11 June 2024

Wikipedia contributors. “Little Germany, Manhattan.” Wikipedia, Aug. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Germany,_Manhattan. Accessed 11 June 2024

Zion-St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. (n.d.). http://www.zionstmarks.org/ourhistory.htm


Fascinating Horror. (2023, August 8). The General Slocum | a short documentary | Fascinating horror [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38NfsPVC6m8. Also available on Rumble: https://rumble.com/v3kq60p-the-general-slocum-fascinating-horror.html

Hank Linhart. (2017, June 13). Fearful visitation, The Steamship Fire of the General Slocum,1904 [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU1QzU8tCnk

The History Guy: History Deserves to Be Remembered. (2017, June 15). New York’s worst maritime disaster, the General Slocum [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGlLwtqhUKE. Also available on Rumble: https://rumble.com/v2nsnrq-new-yorks-worst-maritime-disaster-the-general-slocum.html

Suggested Reading

Editors, C. R. C. R. (2015). The sinking of the General Slocum: The History of New York City’s Deadliest Maritime Disaster. CreateSpace.

Eggleston, M. A. (2021). Fire on the water: the General Slocum disaster. Independently Published.

O’Donnell, E. (2004). Ship ablaze: The Tragedy of the Steamboat General Slocum. Crown.

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Remembering the Empress of Ireland (29 May 1914)

RMS Empress of Ireland 1908
Photo:Public Domain (Library and Archives Canada / PA-116389)

The Titanic disaster of 1912 was still making waves when on 29 May 1914, the RMS Empress of Ireland collided with the Norwegian coal freighter Storstad in the Saint Louis River at  Pointe-au-Père, Quebec. It occurred around 0200 in the morning. Storstad hit the starboard side, causing severe damage. Empress began to list and quickly filled with water. Portholes had not been secured before leaving port so many were open (many passengers complained of poor ventilation) so that allowed a lot of water to enter. Many in the lower decks drowned from water coming in from the open portholes.

Damage sustained by the SS Storstad after its collision with the RMS Empress of Ireland
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Also, failure to close the watertight doors led to the quick sinking. Three lifeboats were launched quickly with passengers and crew that were in the upper deck cabins able to get away but as the ship listed further starboard, the other lifeboats could not be used. Ten minutes after the collision, Empress lurched violently on the starboard side allowing 700 passengers and crew to crawl out of portholes and decks on her side. Then 15 minutes later, after it briefly looked like she might have run aground, the hull sank dumping all the people left on her into the icy water. When the final tally was done, 1,012 people lost there lives. 465 survived. Many on the starboard side were asleep and likely drowned in their cabins.

The New York Times reporting on testimony of Captain Kendall of Empress of Ireland at inquest 31 May 1914
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

The official enquiry, which began on 16 June 1914, was headed by Lord Mersey who had previously headed the British Titanic enquiry (he would also lead up the enquiry into Lusitania later). Two very different accounts emerged of the collision from the Storstad and Empress. At the end of the day, the commission determined that when Storstad changed course, it caused the collision. The Norwegians did not accept the verdict and held their own enquiry which exonerated the captain and crew of the Storstad. Canadian Pacific, which owned the now sunk Empress of Ireland, pursued a legal claim and won. The Norwegian owners countersued but in the end the liabilities forced them to sell Storstad to put money in the trust funds.

What happened to Empress, though not receiving the same attention as Titanic, was to change ship design. The reverse slanting bow was dangerous in ship-to-ship collisions resulting in below the waterline damage. Bows were redesigned so the energy of the collision would be minimized below the surface. Longitudinal bulkheads were discontinued as they trapped water beneath them causing the ship to list and capsize. Needless to say portholes were to be secured from that point on (in fact nearly all cruise ships use decoratives that can never be opened). The wreck today has been salvaged many times and is now the only underwater historic site in Canada. The wreck is in shallow water (130 feet) but is notably dangerous dive due to the cold waters, currents, and often impaired visibility.


Turcotte, Dorothy. “The Empress of Ireland Was Canada’s Titanic.” Grimsby Lincoln News, Niagara This Week, 2 July 2013, www.niagarathisweek.com/opinion/columnists/the-empress-of-ireland-was-canada-s-titanic/article_2b417429-aa48-5dd5-a61c-a2f6f208b0fb.html?

ARCHIVED – Investigating the Empress of Ireland – Inland Waters – Shipwreck Investigations – Library and Archives Canada. www.collectionscanada.ca/sos/shipwrecks/002031-4100-e.html.

“RMS Empress of Ireland.” Wrecksite, www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?30437. Accessed 28 May 2024.

—. “RMS Empress of Ireland.” Wikipedia, 22 May 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Empress_of_Ireland


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.


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.

Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson

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.

Shop For Lusitania books on Amazon


—. “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.


Carpathia Arrives In New York (18 April 1912)

Titanic survivors aboard Carpathia.
U.S. Library of Congress, digital id: cph 3b04287
Public Domain

Since the sinking of the Titanic, lingering questions as to who survived and who died were the subject of much speculation. Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia had kept a media blackout refusing to answer any messages. J. Bruce Ismay was sequestered in a cabin and stayed there for the entire voyage back to New York. He sent a message to the New York office of the White Star Line informing of the sinking. Except for survivors sending their own messages out, no one really knew who had lived or died when Carpathia finally arrived on a rainy Thursday evening on 18 April 1912.

News reporters had gathered in boats with megaphones yelling to people aboard they would pay for their survivor accounts. One enterprising reporter did manage to get aboard and get some quick interviews. He tossed the notes inside a cigar box lined with champagne corks to a Hearst editor in a tugboat. It would be rushed back to the New York World for a special evening edition. Meanwhile in the pier sheds there were some 1,000 people-mainly friends and relatives-gathered there. J.P. Morgan Jr. was there along with members of the Widener and Thayer families who had been on the special trains that had been heading north to Halifax to greet the survivors there. There was some crying heard. As Carpathia slowly made her way down the battery, it was estimated close to 10,000 people were watching, mostly in silence, as she passed. Some numbers are higher at 40,000.

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

Carpathia would make a slight detour to the White Star dock to drop off her lifeboats. It was a stunning moment when you realize that those lifeboats, along with the flotsam and jetsam, were all that remained of the once proud RMS Titanic. Although arriving in New York at 8:30 pm, the delay to unload the lifeboats along with the rain and darkness meant Carpathia did not dock at Pier 54 until after 9 pm. The gangway went down at 9:25 pm. There were a large detachment of doctors, nurses, nuns, and priests ready to board along with stretchers. According to one report, three women did not want to wait for the gangway to come down and climbed down ladders from the ship. The Salvation Army was also there to render assistance as well.

Many men removed their hats in respect when the gangway went down. Many survivors had little clothing, just what they had on when they left Titanic, and wore a hodge-podge of whatever they could get on Carpathia. Two women were apparently hysterical (one report said violent and deranged). Those who had relatives waiting were greeted by them. Relief for those who had no one was done by the Women’s Relief Committee, the Travelers Aid Society of New York, the Council of Jewish women and many more. Transportation was provided to shelters provided by these groups. Those who had relatives in New York quickly left while those who had relatives within the U.S. stayed for a few days to arrange transportation. The Pennsylvania Railroad provided a special free train to take survivors to Philadelphia. The surviving crew members would be taken to the Red Star Line steamer SS Lapland and housed there temporarily in passenger cabins.

Meanwhile other interesting parties boarded the Carpathia that night. They were U.S. Senators William Alden Smith, Francis G. Newlands, and others armed with subpoenas to serve on J. Bruce Ismay, as well as the surviving officers and crew of Titanic. An inquiry was about to begin, and they wanted to make sure they would be all be there for it the following day at the Waldorf Astoria in New York.



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


 Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/search?query=Titanic.

“Encyclopedia Titanica.” www.encyclopedia-titanica.org.

“The Titanic: Sinking and Facts | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 12 Mar. 2024, www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/titanic

White Star Line Hires Ships To Retrieve Bodies (16-17 April 1912)

Titanic lost: Belfast Telegraph front page on 16 April 1912
Source: Belfast Telegraph

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. Three other ships would be hired as well: Minia (a cable ship), Montmagny (lighthouse supply ship), and the sealing vessel Algerine.

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

Each ship would carry the necessary supplies to retrieve and embalm the bodies. The Mackay Bennett 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 class passengers embalmed but wrapped in canvas.
  • Third class, crew, and 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.

Back in Halifax John Henry Barnstead, the Registrar of Vital Statistics, developed a system of identifying the bodies and protect personal possessions of the deceased. Since Halifax had direct rail and steamship connections, this made it easier for families of victims to travel to Halifax and identify the bodies. A large temporary morgue was set up using a local curling rink and undertakers from all over the area were asked to assist. Many families did decide to transport the bodies back to their hometowns in the United States or in Europe. Unclaimed or unidentified bodies would be interred in Halifax. 150 bodies would eventually be interred in Halifax cemeteries. The largest number are in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery followed by the nearby Mount Olivet and Baron de Hirsch cemeteries.

Titanic Grave markers at Fairview Cemetery Halifax N.S
William B. Grice (Wikimedia)

Bodies were still being reported in May. The Oceanic found three bodies in Titanic’s Collapsible A over two hundred miles from the sinking. When Carpathia had arrived, Fifth Officer Harold Lowe and other crewmembers removed the survivors but left three dead bodies aboard. Oceanic retrieved their bodies and then buried them at sea. On 22 May the Algerine found the body of steward James McGrady. His body was brought back to Halifax and buried in June at the Fairview Lawn Cemetery.

In the end only 333 bodies were recovered, a small number compared to the over 1,500 victims. Currents quickly moved bodies hundreds of miles making their recovery difficult. Life jackets will eventually disintegrate allowing bodies to sink or drift further away. Most who lost family, friends, and relatives had no body to bury since it was never recovered.



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


 Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/search?query=Titanic.

“Encyclopedia Titanica.” www.encyclopedia-titanica.org.

“The Titanic: Sinking and Facts | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 12 Mar. 2024, www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/titanic.


Titanic Sunk (15-16 April 1912)

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 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


Colorised photo of Ned Parfett, best known as the “Titanic paperboy”, holding a large newspaper about the sinking, standing outside the White Star Line offices at Oceanic House on Cockspur Street near Trafalgar Square in London SW1, April 16, 1912.
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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 the Titanic. 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.



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


 Encyclopedia Britannica, www.britannica.com/search?query=Titanic.

“Encyclopedia Titanica.” www.encyclopedia-titanica.org.

“The Titanic: Sinking and Facts | HISTORY.” HISTORY, 12 Mar. 2024, www.history.com/topics/early-20th-century-us/titanic.

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

Titanic Lunch Menu 14 April 1912
Photo: AP

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 the 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 33F. At 5:50 pm, Captain Smith orders the course to south and west of the usual course taken, possibly, due to the ice warnings.

The only picture of the Marconi radio room onboard the Titanic. Harold Bride is seated at his station. Photo was taken by Father Francis Browne, SJ, while aboard Titanic.
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

At 7:30 pm, the Californian reported three large icebergs, which were 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 the 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 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 31F.

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 veered 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 was 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.

RMS Carpathia (date unknown)
Image: public domain

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 if 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 and his wife, Lucy 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 declined. 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 were 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 saves 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 for boarding 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 women 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 propellers 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 is swept off before it can be righted. The now overturned lifeboats are 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 settled 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. The Titanic was gone.

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

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 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.

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.



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)

Monday Titanic News


Titanic movie poster
Via Wikimedia Commons

“Largo Man Trying to Collect One Million Copies of Titanic on VHS.” ABC Action News Tampa Bay (WFTS), 29 Nov. 2023, www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-pinellas/largo-man-trying-to-collect-one-million-copies-of-titanic-on-vhs.

Growing up, we probably all had that favorite movie that we could just watch over and over and over again. Well, there’s a man in Largo who has taken his love for his favorite movie to the extreme. Every time JD adds another VHS copy of Titanic to his collection, he feels like he’s the king of the world. “You know, Titanic is best on VHS,” said JD. “’September 1, 1998, take the voyage home,’ that’s what they were saying. That’s what I was playing on the VCR, I was watching this thing over and over and over again.”

There are many who acquire Titanic memorabilia because it is special and unique. But collecting 1 million copies on VHS of Cameron’s Titanic is not just extreme, but what would you do with it. It sort of like that scene in the original Willy Wonka movie. When they guy programs the computer to tell him where he can locate the Wonka bars with the gold certificate inside, it declines saying it would be cheating. When he offers to share the award with the computer, it responds “What would I do with a million bars of chocolate?”


“Titanic Returns to Chicago in February 2024.” EIN News, 29 Nov. 2023, www.einnews.com/pr_news/671524148/titanic-returns-to-chicago-in-february-2024.

As the largest and most immersive touring Titanic exhibition, the experience is a narrative journey that brings to light the fates of the passengers and crew aboard the sinking ship, and will open on Friday, February 16, 2024 at Westfield Old Orchard (4963 Old Orchard Road) in Skokie, IL. People can join the waitlist through Fever here to gain access to tickets before they go on sale to the public December 6th. Tickets start at $29.00 for adults, with discounts for kids, seniors, military, and groups.


How big is too big? That is the question here. This ship is essentially its own small metropolis that holds up to 10,000 people at a time. It has multiple entertainment venues, food options and so much that is boggles the mind. When you see pictures of it, the enormity of this ship really hits you. Royal Caribbean is proud of this new ship and you can be sure buckets of media will be watching its every move. Not to mention people commenting on social media about their experience.

“World’s Largest Cruise Ship That’s Five Times Bigger Than the Titanic Is About to Make Its First Voyage.” UNILAD, 28 Nov. 2023, www.unilad.com/news/travel/worlds-largest-cruise-ship-sets-sail-royal-caribbean-799666-20231128.

The Royal Caribbean ship has been hailed as the world’s largest and is officially five times bigger than The Titanic. The huge vessel is 65 meters long – around 1,200 feet – and weighs in at 250,800 tonnes. Boasting 20 decks, the ship has the largest water park at sea, as well as a section of the boat dedicated just for families. Constructed in Finland, the Icon of the Seas has finally been built and officially joined Royal Caribbean’s fleet yesterday (November 27) ahead of its pending departure. It’s said that the ginormous ship took two and a half years to create (including both design and construction) and will hold almost 10,000 people at a time.


SS Portland circa 1898
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

“Those Who Perished 125 Years Ago in Sinking of ‘Maine’s Titanic’ Remembered at Service.” Press Herald, 26 Nov. 2023, www.pressherald.com/2023/11/25/those-who-perished-125-years-ago-in-sinking-of-maines-titanic-remembered-at-anniversary-service.

In Portland’s historical Abyssinian Meeting House, 198 names were read aloud Saturday remembering those who perished 125 years ago in New England’s worst maritime disaster. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 1898, at least 68 crew members and 130 passengers boarded the SS Portland in Boston and headed for Portland. They never reached their destination. By the next day, each was gone, swallowed by the sea off Cape Cod during a fierce blizzard.



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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.

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


American Authorities Considering Criminal Charges in Titan Submersible Tragedy

Judge Gavel
George Hodan

American Authorities Are Considering Filing Criminal Manslaughter Charges Over the Doomed Titan Sub
Mail Online, 14 Oct. 2023

Last night, a person closely associated with the investigation into the tragedy said: ‘Interviews with those involved, both people who were directly involved with Titan and those who warned against it, have been taking place. There is serious discussion about criminal charges being brought against those responsible, including possible negligent homicide charges or manslaughter charges.’ The investigation is said to be focusing on those aboard the Polar Prince, Titan’s support vessel, and current and former OceanGate staff, as well as ‘dozens’ in the underwater exploration world who repeatedly warned Titan was ‘unsafe’.