Tag Archives: maritime disasters

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?”

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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American Authorities Considering Criminal Charges in Titan Submersible Tragedy

Judge Gavel
George Hodan
publicdomainpictures.net

American Authorities Are Considering Filing Criminal Manslaughter Charges Over the Doomed Titan Sub
Mail Online, 14 Oct. 2023
www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12631553/American-authorities-considering-filing-criminal-manslaughter-charges-doomed-Titan-sub.html

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’.

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 Eatons 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.

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.

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

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.

Aftermath

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

Sources

“Fire on Riverboat Leaves More Than 1,000 Dead.” HISTORY, 13 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/this-day-in-history/river-excursion-ends-in-tragedy.

Hank Linhart. “Fearful Visitation, the Steamship Fire of the General Slocum,1904.” YouTube, 13 June 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU1QzU8tCnk.

Fascinating Horror. “The General Slocum | a Short Documentary | Fascinating Horror.” YouTube, 8 Aug. 2023, www.youtube.com/watch?v=38NfsPVC6m8.

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

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

Zion-St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. www.zionstmarks.org/ourhistory.htm.

Remembering the Empress of Ireland (29 May 1914)

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

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 where asleep and likely drowned in their cabins.

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 capsizing. 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.

Sources:
1. The Empress Of Ireland Was Canada’s Titanic(2 Jul 2013, Niagarathisweek.com)

2. RMS Empress of Ireland(Wikipedia)

3. Royal Alberta Museum Online: The 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.

Aftermath

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

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

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

Sources:

History.com
The Lusitania Resource


Remembering the Sultana (27 April 1865)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpathia Arrives In New York (18 April 1912)

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

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

Sources:

Books

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

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

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

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

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

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

Books

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

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

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

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

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

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,

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

New York Times Front Page 16 April 1912
Public Domain (Wikimedia Commons)[/caption]

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Titanic Sunk

 

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

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

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

Sources:

Books

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

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

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

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

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

Internet

Britannica.com
Cobh Heritage Center
Encyclopedia Titanica
History.com

,,,