Monday, 16 April 2012

The Sinking of the Titanic: Who was to blame?


April 12th is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Many years ago, I had an advantage for my later research on the sinking of that ship because in the years, 1947 and 1948, I was fortunate enough to have lived with the late Captain Radley Liversidge; the man who was offered the job to be the captain of the Titanic and he turned the offer down. I learned much from him as to why the ship sank and why so many persons lost their lives that fateful night.



The sinking of the Royal Mail Ship Titanic occurred on the night of 14/15 April 1912 in the north Atlantic Ocean, four days into her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. She sank at 02:20, two hours and forty minutes after she struck an iceberg thereby causing the deaths of 1,517 people that early morning.


The deaths of these unfortunate people were brought about because of the stupidity of nine persons. If any one of them had done his job properly, the ship wouldn’t have sunk and even if it did, there wouldn’t have been such a loss of life. In fact, few would have died at all if any. I will now tell you about the people who were actually to blame for the sinking of the ship and what each of their fatal mistakes was.

The first man to blame for the sinking of the Titanic is Thomas Andrews who as the chief naval architect and the managing director of the design department at Harland and Wolff was the man who designed the Titanic.  

What really set the Titanic apart from other ships of her time below decks was that it had a double-hull and was divided into 16 watertight compartments. In theory, she could remain afloat after a collision if it left only two of the middle compartments intact. Unfortunately in reality, that wasn’t to be.

The trade magazine Shipbuilder had marveled at the watertight compartments as early as 1911. It said that the captain could by simply moving an electric switch instantly close the watertight doors separating the compartments and if water poured into a compartment, the door would automatically close thereby making the ship practically unsinkable.

Unfortunately the ship wasn’t unsinkable. In fact because the bulk heads (walls) didn’t reach the deck heads (ceilings) above them, any water entering the first compartment would invariably pour over the bulkheads. Water soon poured into the first five compartments and the forward boiler room and for this reason, it began dragging the forward part of the ship under water. Water continued to pour into more compartments as the ship was dragged further under water. And that is exactly what happened when the water from the gash in the side of the ship poured into some of the compartments in the forward part of the ship. Since the 300 foot (91.4 metre) gash in the side of the ship was too large to repair at sea, the ship was doomed as were the 1,517 passengers and crew still on board and those who had jumped from the sinking ship and were dragged under water as the ship was sinking along with those who later died from hypothermia.

Leaving a gap between the upper part of the bulk head and the deck head was one of the really stupid oversights that the ship’s designer had not considered when he was designing the Titanic. That stupidity cost 39-year-old Thomas Andrews his own life as he also went down with the ship. His acts of bravery however should not be ignored. As the last of the lifeboats were being filled, he was on the deck busy urging the women to climb into the boats. At the same time he was overheard saying, “Ladies. You must get in at once. There is no minute to lose. You cannot pick and choose your boat. Don’t hesitate. Get in Get in.” He was last seen in the first-class smoking room staring into space with his life-jacket on the table in front of him. He had chosen to die with the others still on board the ship.

Bruce Ismay is the second person to blame. He decided that fewer lifeboats would be placed on board the ship than should have been. The ship was designed to carry 32 lifeboats but this number was reduced to 20 because Ismay (and the designer concurred) felt that the upper deck would be too cluttered thereby denying the first class passengers more space to roam about on the upper deck. For this reason, there were not enough lifeboats to hold everyone who was on board the Titanic since its 20 lifeboats would only carry 1,178 people and not the entire compliment of 2,223 passengers and crew thereby leaving 1,042 passengers and crew to find some other way of floating on the freezing-cold sea. As it turned out, only 706 people that had originally been on the Titanic survived. 

Further, the crew weren't trained on how to lower the lifeboats from the davits. Subsequently, it took much longer to lower the boats into the water.  The lifeboats should have been filled to their limits before being lowered. Some of them were only half full when they were lowered. 

At the British Inquiry into the Titanic disaster, Sir Alfred Chalmers of the Board of Trade was asked why regulations governing the number of lifeboats required on passenger ships had not been updated since 1896 especially since larger ships were being built after that year. Sir Alfred gave a number of reasons for this.

He said that due to advancements that had been made in ship building, it was not necessary for ships to carry more lifeboats. The latest ships were stronger than ever and had watertight compartments making them unlikely to require lifeboats at all. Sea routes used were well-traveled meaning that the likelihood of a collision was minimal. (That doesn’t make much sense) The latest ships were fitted with wireless technology. It would be impossible for crew members to be able to load more than sixteen boats in the event of a disaster. The provision of lifeboats should have been a matter for the ship owners to consider. Ismay didn’t consider it because he didn’t want to be faced with additional costs and he wanted more space for the first class passengers to roam about on their deck so safety was a matter he chose to ignore.

At the hearing after the sinking of the Titanic, he was asked by Mr. Harbinson.  “If you were satisfied that it would be practicable to carry on one of these huge leviathans sufficient boats for all on board by reducing the deck space, would you consider it desirable that that should be done?

Commissioner Chalmers replied, “No, I would not, because if you look at the record of the (shipping) trade you will see that this trade has been carried on with absolute immunity from loss always; and (thus) it is not necessary. Was this man under the influence of some hallucinating drug when he made that statement?

The main reason for only 20 lifeboats being on board the Titanic was however that the amount of life boats on that ship was just four above the upper limit of life boats recommended on large ships. The Board of Trade regulations in 1912 only required a passenger ship to provide lifeboat capacity for 1,060 people for its largest ships. That organization didn’t take into consideration that larger ships would need more lifeboats than the smaller ships. The British Board of Trade rule was that 16 lifeboats were to be placed on any ship that was over 10,000 tons. The Titanic weight was 45,000 tons. The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats, 16 wooden and 4 collapsibles. The theory of the day was that the lifeboats would ferry the passengers from the sinking ships to other ships that were always traveling in the heavily traveled shipping lanes. Obviously that was the kind of thinking of those in the hierarchy of the Board of Trade that was rattling around in their heads during that time in history.

It was revealed by the Titanic’s chief designer that it had been Ismay’s decision to limit the number of lifeboats; the davits, fitted to hold 32 boats, instead it carried 20 – which was still in excess of the British Board of Trade’s requirements. “Why litter the deck,” Ismay is said to have argued, “when the ship is herself a lifeboat?”

After the sinking of the Titanic, all passenger ships began putting enough lifeboats on their ships that would take on everyone (passengers and crew) on board the ships. It became the law of the sea.

The Titanic also carried 3,500 lifebelts and 48 life rings. They would be useless in the icy water because the majority of passengers that went into the sea with their lifebelts and weren’t soon after pulled into the lifeboats didn’t drown; they froze to death after being in the water a short time.

On the night of the Titanic sinking, the temperature of the salt water was likely around 28° F. (2 degrees Celsius which is 2 degrees below freezing). Because the water was salt water, it didn’t turn into ice. When some of the people hit the water, their breathing immediately became uncontrolled. As they were gasping for air, the gulped in water and drowned. The human body loses heat to the water about 30 times faster than it does to the air. When the core body temperature falls to approximately 89° F, such a decrease in consciousness occurs. If the core temperature cools to below 86° F, then heart failure becomes a major concern, as it is the most common cause of hypothermia-related deaths. Those people in the water would have difficulty in speaking, and their thinking was sluggish. Even if the temperature of the water was below 30 °C (86 °F), the exposed skin would become blue and puffy, muscle coordination would become very poor, moving their arms and legs would become almost impossible, and the person would exhibits incoherent/irrational behavior and even end up in a stuporPulse and respiration rates would decrease significantly, and fast heart rates (ventricular tachycardia, atrial fibrillation) would occur. Cellular metabolic processes would have by then shut down. Major organs would finally fail. Clinical death would occur. Because of decreased cellular activity in the stage of hypothermia they were suffering from, (since the temperature of the water was much less that night) their bodies actually took longer to undergo brain death however their bodily functions would have ceased soon after they were in the water.

The people in the bone chilling 28° water above the sinking Titanic would have had anywhere from several minutes to an hour to live, depending on their physical condition and how much they flailed their arms and legs. Some people in the water might have believed that swimming would help their body to generate heat. In reality, people who swam or moved around a lot would have lost heat 35-50% faster than normal had they remained stationary and motionless because of their blood flowing faster and for these reasons, they would have also been susceptible to exhaustion. They would be unable to pull themselves into the lifeboats or life rafts. There were even several people who died from hypothermia in the Titanic’s lifeboats, because they were in the open which gave no protection against the cold. Regulations have since been put in place that require that lifeboats to be fully enclosed.

Further, it was Ismay who told Captain Smith shortly before the ship struck the iceberg to maintain its speed of 22 knots an hour. At that speed, it would be impossible to slow the ship down in order to avoid hitting the iceberg.

Now I will explain the real reason why the ship was going so fast.It was not because the owners wanted the ship to beat the across the Atlantic speed record. The ship wasn't built for that purpose. 

 Two of the three-story coal bunkers in the ship were on fire. They were on fire even before the ship began its voyage. The stokers (men who shoveled the coal into the furnaces) couldn't put it out. The fired had reached 1000 degree C. They kept shoveling the red hot coals into the furnaces which created so nuch steam in the boilers, it resulted in the engines propelling the two propellers to spin much faster than they should have been. It was the hope of Ismay, the manager of the firm and Captain  Smith that they would reach New York before they ran out of coal.  Actually, they would have run out of coal even before they reached New York. In any case, the fire was one of the prime reasons why the ship sank.

The ship had two hulls. They were the outer hull and the inner hull, Alas, the steel used for both hulls were low grade steel, The reason why Ismay chose that kind of steel was that it was cheaper than high grade steel. The shipping line was close to bankruptcy and Ismay decided that he would stave of the bankruptcy if he used the cheaper steel.

When the ship rund against the iceberg, the outer hull was easily gashed open. The water then flooded into the space between the two hulls. The fire in the two coal bunkers had soften the inner hull boarding the inner hull even though the hot coals had been removed and placed in the furnaces. The inner hull was still red hot in both both bunkers and had began to bulge inward. As a result, the inner hull buckled and then cracked open and that is when the sea water rushed in and began flooding the engine room.   


The British Commissioner who was presiding over the inquiry heard a surviving stoker tell the inquiry about why the fire caused the ship to sink. The commissioner tried to shut him down but he said what he felt that he should say at the inquiry. The Commissioner chose not to put it in his report. The reason he made that decision was that he was personal friends with Ismay. The stoker however told his story at the American inquiry and it was put in the American report.   


By the end of the week after the ship sank when the Titanic survivors were ashore, everyone knew who J Bruce Ismay was: he had become, as a headline in the Daily Mirror put it, “The most talked-of man in all the world”. “Mr. Ismay cares for nobody but himself,” declared one American paper. It further said, “He passes through the most stupendous tragedy untouched and unmoved. He leaves his ship to sink with its powerless cargo of lives and does not care to lift his eyes. He crawls through unspeakable disgrace to his own safety.” Unquote What he really did was to clamber on board Collapsible Lifeboat C in which only the women were placed.

Within a day of landing in New York, Ismay was called as the first witness at the hastily convened US Senate inquiry into the tragedy. Barely able to speak (Ismay had never made a public speech in his life) he described himself as a passenger and not a member of the crew, and thus he claimed that he was justified in saving his own life. Despite his claim as only being a passenger, witness after witness described how Ismay had conducted himself on board with the authority befitting a captain. However, even if he was a passenger, he was in a male passenger on board the ship so he should have remained on board until all the women and children could get into the lifeboats first. Ismay felt that his right to live had precedence over the lives of the women and children on the ship who were left behind.

After returning to England following the US inquiry, Ismay became a broken man. London society ostracized Ismay and labeled him as being one of the biggest cowards in history and in 1913 he resigned as president of International Mercantile Marine Company and chairman of the White Star Line, and thereafter maintaining a low profile in the wake of the disaster. His nightmares woke the house, he received hate mail, and even an old friend of his turned him away from his friend’s front door. His health declined in the 1930s, following a diagnosis of diabetes and the loss of part of his right leg. Ismay died in Mayfair, London in 1937 of a cerebral thrombosis at the age of 74.

Millionaires and poor people alike stood shoulder to shoulder on the deck before the ship slipped under the waves and later were lying side by side at the bottom of the ocean which had then become the cemetery of a just and equal society. Ismay on the other hand who climbed into one of the lifeboats, alone representing the outmoded world of class privilege. But then that is the fate of cowards who believe that their lives are far more superior than those who are standing next to them. 

The third person to blame was Viscount William James Pirrie, the chairman of the Belfast shipbuilder Harland & Wolff which was given the task of building the ship. For example, when the ship’s side scraped against the iceberg, the damage consisted of six narrow openings in an area of the hull covering only about 12 to 13 square feet (1.1 to 1.2 m2) in total and was 90 metres (295 feet—22 car lengths) long.  The damage consisted of a series of deformations in the starboard side that began and ended along the hull for about 10 feet (3.0 meters) above the bottom of the ship. The gaps—the longest of which measures about 39 feet (12 m) long, appear to have followed the line of the hull plates in the forward part of the ship. Some of the iron rivets along the plate seams snapped off or popped open to create narrow gaps through which water flooded. The enormous pressure exerted towards the ship's hull as a direct result of the collision with the iceberg would be at least two million pounds and this was a contributing factor since recovered pieces of the Titanic's hull plates appear to have shattered on impact with the iceberg, without bending. The plates in the central 60% of the hull were held together with triple rows of mild steel rivets, but the plates in the bow and stern were held together with double rows of wrought iron rivets which were near their stress limits even before the collision. They also had a high level of slag inclusions, making them more brittle and prone to snapping when put under stress. Certainly a heavy ship like the Titanic scrapping alongside of an immovable iceberg would stress the limits of those weak rivets and knock the heads off the rivets.  He used cheap rivets and should have known better. However, it was the actually bending of the hull plates that cause the gaps in which water then ran through the openings caused by the gaps which then flooded the compartments. Further, he had to have known that the bulkheads should have been built right up to the deck heads in case water poured into the compartments and then overflowed the bulkheads. Also, he was informed that placing straps of metal against the hull would reinforce the hull and he did this only for boiler room 6. Viscount Pirrie was to travel aboard the Titanic, but illness prevented him from joining the ill-fated passage.

The fourth person to blame was Captain Edward John Smith. The sixty-two-year-captain of the Titanic was the most senior captain of the White Star Line as far as seniority in experience was concerned. He had four decades of seafaring experience and had previously served as captain of Titanic's sister ship, RMS Olympic, from which he was transferred to command the Titanic. His career however had been marred by mishaps over the years. He’d run three ships aground while a fifth ship had caught fire. Further, his contemporaries thought he was too old to captain a ship any longer and in fact he was scheduled to retire. This is why Captain Radley Liversidge was originally asked to captain the Titanic.  

We can blame Smith for the Titanic hitting the iceberg. There are a number of reasons for this but the main one was that the ship was moving too fast considering that it was traveling in the darkness of night among large icebergs that were south of Newfoundland. Of course he was acting on the orders of Ismay who had been standing right next to him on the bridge when he gave Smith the order.  I should point out that although Ismay was the head of White Star Line, Captain Smith was the master of the ship and he and only he had the sole authority to determine the ship’s speed.

Although the night was clear, there was no moon, and with the sea so calm, there was only a black images of the icebergs blotting out the stars to disclose the position of the nearby icebergs. Had the sea been rougher, waves breaking at the foot of the icebergs might have made them more visible.

The Titanic continued to be driven at full speed as it headed towards the fatal iceberg while Captain Smith treated the hazard warnings he had received over the wireless as advisories rather than calls for immediate action. It was widely believed by captains of ships crossing the Atlantic along with him also that icebergs posed little risk to their ships even though near misses were not uncommon, and even head-on collisions were not disastrous to ships that rammed into the icebergs.

Prior to Smith being its captain, he said in an interview that he could not “imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” Well to quote a well repeated German adage after the collision of his ship with the iceberg, it made him too smart, too late. He obviously was unaware that the wrought iron rivets would result in the hull plates giving way which would then result in his ship sinking to the bottom of the ocean, 12,415 feet (3,784 metres—2.3 miles) below him.

During part of 1947 and part of 1948, I was living with retired sea captain Radley Liversidge and his wife Carol for nine months of the school year, Radley Liversidge was at that time an 81-year-old retired sea captain (he was born in 1866 which was 16 years after Captain Smith was born) and his wife Carol was 61 years of age, (born in 1886).  They lived on their small goat farm two miles (3.2 km) west of Nelson, British Columbia on Granite Road (also named Highway 6) which is south of and parallel with the newer highway 3A. This couple had looked after 23 orphaned children during the Second World War prior to my arrival. My mother wanted me to stay with them for the school year because they had a piano and I was being taught to play the piano. I was going on 14 years of age then. Captain Liverside’s story bears re-telling.

Captain Liversidge had been the captain of a large liner which at that time was one of the larger ocean liners belonging to the White Star Line, a steamship line later to be bought out by the Cunard Line). While he was her captain, he was at that time, the youngest captain of an oceangoing liner in the world. He was only 24 years of age in 1890 when he got his commission to be his ship's captain.  

The Board of Directors of the White Star Line realized that Captain Liversidge was an extremely popular captain with the other captains of the Line and highly respected despite his young age (he would have been 46 years of age in 1912) and for this reason, he was the man who was originally offered the job as captain of the newly built Titanic with the additional role of Commodore of the entire shipping line if he accepted the post. He later turned the offer down saying his brother was dying and wanted to care for him. He was lying as his brother was in good health and lived for years. He told me in 1948 that he really felt that the Titanic wasn't built properly. He got that right. He also told me that had he accepted the post, he would have disobeyed the order of J. Bruce Ismay (who was aboard the Titanic for her maiden voyage) to go through the ice pack at full speed and as such, he would have been fired as soon as the Titanic docked in New York. He decided to keep the security he had by refusing to take over the captainship of the Titanic by simply continuing on as captain of one of the other ships of the Line.

When he learned that the Titanic had sunk with such a high loss of passengers and crew, he felt guilty for not taking the Titanic across the Atlantic himself. He resigned his captainship of the other ship he served on after the Titanic sank and then he moved to Nelson in British Columbia, Canada and bought a farm there. He told me that he felt that he was indirectly responsible for the loss of lives of all those passengers and crew who died because of the sinking of the Titanic because if he had accepted the job as captain of the Titanic, he would have gone slowly through the ice field and been fired at the end of the trip by Ismay for disobeying Ismay’s orders to speed through the ice field and as a result, no one would have died on the Titanic's maiden voyage. I should point out that no matter who owns a ship; its captain is the one who makes the final decisions while the ship is at sea, not its owners. Captain Smith didn’t have the courage that Captain Liversidge had at the moment Ismay told Smith to increase the speed of the Titanic to make his own decision. Instead he and his ship and everyone else on board her continued onwards towards the unseen iceberg.

In the preceding days prior to the 14th of April, wireless messages from other ships were received by the Titanic’s wireless operator that there were icebergs in the area ahead of them. It is however conceivable that both Ismay and Smith still didn’t believe that large icebergs were nearby. Greenland’s icebergs such as the ones that were by then actually close to the Titanic.

Generally the bulk of each iceberg slowly scrapes the sea bed in the areas closer to Newfoundland and Labrador and don’t begin to move further south again until they have melted to such a degree that they are reduced in size and when that happens, they are free from the bottom of the shallow water. However, that particular year, the moon had been much closer to Earth than it had been in 1,400 years. Further, the earth was also closest to the sun at that time of the year so the combined gravity of the moon and sun raised the level of the water and that being the case; the icebergs were free from the seabed to continue their journey southward in their original sizes.

At 7:30 p.m. on April 14th, the Californian sent a wireless message to the radio operator in the Titanic that there were three large icebergs a short distance north of the Titanic’s route. The message was relayed to the bridge but not given to the captain as he was attending a dinner party given in his honour by the wealthy George and Eleanor Widener of Philadelphia. Another message was received at 9:40 p.m. that pack ice and icebergs were closing in on the Titanic but unfortunately this time the message wasn’t taken to the bridge because one of the two wireless operators was sleeping and the other man couldn’t leave his post. Another message was sent by the Californian at 22:30 (10:00 p.m.) about the icebergs. I will get to what the wireless operator Jack Phillips did about that message further into this article. 

Captain Smith and Fifth Officer Harold Lowe knew that the ship’s binoculars had been left behind. For this reason, two lookouts were standing 50 feet (15.2 meters)  above the forecastle deck. Frederick Fleet who was one of the lookouts was the first to see the fatal iceberg up ahead. He phoned the bridge and said that there was an iceberg up ahead but a minute had passed before the ship’s bow finally swung to port and because of the speed of the ship, the iceberg came quickly into the full view of the men on the bridge. By that time, it was too late to avoid hitting it. While the ship’s bow was finally swinging to the ship’s left, the starboard side of the ship brushed against the iceberg and as a direct result, the long gash was created on that side of the ship. It was pitch black outside and large ships need lots of room to slow down even if the engines are stopped.

Ironically a similar thing occurred on the night of the 13th of January, 2012 when the Italian cruise ship Concordia ventured too close to Giglio Island on the west coast of Italy. The captain ordered that the ship should be turned sharp to starboard but as the ship turned, the hull on the port side struck some rocks and created a large gash near the bottom of the hull. However, instead of sinking like the Titanic did, the Concordia rolled over onto its left side. Only 33 people died that night.

Although the captain of the Titanic was aware of the ice field in his immediate vicinity, he chose not to reduce the ship's speed and the Titanic continued to steam at 22 knots (41 km/h; 25 mph), only a little short of her maximum speed. The Captain’s decision to follow Ismay’s instructions resulting in the Titanic's high speed in waters where ice had been reported was later criticized as being reckless.

 Nevertheless, it reflected the standard maritime practice at the time. According to Fifth Officer Lowe, (who later testified at a subsequent hearing) the custom was to go ahead at full speed and rely upon the lookouts in the crow's nest and the watch (crew on duty) standing on the forward deck who would be watching for the ice in time to avoid hitting it.

The late Captain Liversidge told me that this practice was against common sense and he wouldn’t have condoned that practice if he had been the ship’s captain. He probably would have even stopped the liner from going any further just as the captain of the Californian had done when he found himself in the midst of the ice field. It would have infuriated Ismay of course because he wanted the ship’s maiden cross-Atlantic trip to beat the world’s cross-Atlantic speed record. He intended that the Titanic was to plow through the water at full speed and stop for nothing. 

Further, when Captain Smith ordered rockets to be fired into the air, there was to be a certain manner in which they were to be fired into the air and he didn’t see that it was done the right way. Hence, the captain of the Californian misread the signal that the Titanic was in trouble.

Despite the captain’s failings, while the ship was sinking, Captain Smith was seen in various parts of the ship encouraging people to climb into the lifeboats. When Lifeboat 2, an emergency cutter on the port side of the ship was about to be lowered, Captain Smith was nearby with his pistol in hand. He saw a crowd of stokers climbing into the boat and hollered, “How many of the crew are in that boat?” When he learned that there were more crew members in the boat than passengers, he yelled at them, “Get out of there! Every man of you.” Then a solid row of men sheepishly crawled out of the boat and onto the deck. Chief Officer Wilde then screamed at them saying, “You are all damned cowards who should be thrown overboard.” A woman passenger named Douglas later told a newspaper reporter that while she was on the deck, she heard revolver shots being fired in different parts of the decks and that she had heard that some people had been shot. The deck officers did have revolvers with them and they used them to keep order and to make sure that men didn’t climb into the boats ahead of women and children. 

Captain Smith was last seen in the vicinity of the bridge when the forward part of the ship was sinking below the surface of the ocean. He went down with his ship. Despite his stupidity, he was a brave captain unlike Captain Francesco Schettino who is accused of failure to offer assistance and abandonment of his ship, the Concordia. Although all 571 passengers and crew of the Greek cruise liner  Oceanos survived a spectacular sinking off South Africa's east coast in 1991, Captain Yianis Avranas faced public scorn as he left the cruise liner by rescue helicopter while some 170 frightened passengers still remained on board.  In 1880, Captain Joseph Clark and his crew abandoned the Jeddah, convinced that the leaking ship was about to sink. Nearly 1,000 passengers who were Muslim pilgrims on the way to Mecca were also left to their fate in the middle of the Bay of Bengal where they all drowned.

The fifth person to blame for the loss of so many people on the Titanic was the ship’s wireless operator. He was 25-year-old Jack Phillips.

The SS Californian reported that there were three large bergs seen by them at 19:30, (5:40 pm). At 09:00 (9:00  pm)  a second warning came to him from RMS Caronia reporting icebergs, growlers (small icebergs)  and the field ice. Captain Smith acknowledged receipt of the message from the Caronia after he was advised of it by Philips.  At 21:40 (9:40 pm) the steamer Mesaba reported, “Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs also an ice field.” That message never left the wireless cabin because Phillips was preoccupied with transmitting messages for passengers via the relay station at Cape Race, Newfoundland, (which was 600 miles north of the Titanic) and he did not grasp the significance of that third  message. A final warning message was received at 22:30 (10:30 pm) from the Californian again which had stopped for the night in an ice field some miles away, However, Phillips cut the wireless operator of that ship off in mid-sentence and signaled back: “Shut up! Shut up! I'm working Cape Race.” It was obviously to this ignorant man, that telegraphing passenger’s messages to Cape Race at the requests of the ship’s passengers was more important to him than the safety of the ship. That stupidity no doubt contributed towards the sinking of the Titanic.

At 13:42, (1:42 am) RMS Baltic relayed a report from the Greek ship Athenia that she had been passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice. This too was acknowledged by Smith, who showed the report to Ismay. Smith then ordered a new course to be set farther south. At 13:45, (1:45 am) Phillips received a message from the German ship SS Amerika, which was a short distance to the south, stating that the German vessel had passed two large icebergs. The message never reached Captain Smith or the other officers on Titanic's bridge. The reason is unclear, but it may have been forgotten because the wireless operators had to fix faulty equipment or they were both asleep.

An interesting incident took place in the wireless room of the Titanic. After the ship hit the iceberg, the men in the wireless room felt that the usual call signal given in the past which would state that the caller was experiencing an emergency, wasn’t getting the urgency of the message across sufficiently. They decided to use another call signal that hadn’t been used on a ship up to then. It was the Morse Code SOS signal. (SOS means Save Our Soul.) It is dot-dot-dot-dash-dash-dash-dot-dot-dot for SOS)

When the wireless crew used it that night, it was the first time in history that it had been used on a ship. Meanwhile, at 11:00 pm, the wireless operator on the Titanic was still sending out messages giving the position of the ship and stating that the Titanic needed assistance. Then at 11:36, the Olympic asked the wireless operator on the Titanic which direction the Titanic was heading. This was an important question because other ships would also receive the reply and head towards the Titanic. Instead, Philips replied with, “We are putting women off in boats.” At 12:27 a.m., the last signal received from the Titanic was blurred and then suddenly ended abruptly. After that, the only wireless signals were from the other ships contacting one another. Jack Phillip’s stupidity of not giving his ship’s location when asked for; contributed to many more passengers dying in the water.

Phillips managed to get off the ship and after a short time in the water, he was able to get out of the freezing water and into a lifeboat after the Titanic sank below the waves but he died a short time after that from hyperthermia, as had many others who similarly suffered the same fate of being in the water.

The sixth person to blame was First Officer, William Murdoch for the loss of lives. The Titanic could have avoided hitting the fatal iceberg but for a 30-second delay before he gave the order to change the ship's course after the iceberg had been spotted and reported to the bridge. The reason Murdoch hesitated before giving the order “hard a starboard” was that he thought the Titanic might be able to pass safely by going around the right side of the iceberg. When he finally decided to act, he ordered the ship to be steered to its right by going around the obstacle and the engines to be put in reverse, but by then it was too late—the starboard side of Titanic struck the left side of the iceberg, creating the gash below the waterline. That collision at the last moment was his fault. Instead of trying to go around the iceberg, he should have ordered the helmsman to steer left of the iceberg.  However, it was also the fault of the helmsman that caused the ship to hit the iceberg which I will describe later. Five of the ship's watertight compartments were breached. It soon became clear that the ship was doomed, as it could not survive more than four compartments being flooded. The Titanic began gradually sinking bow-first, with water spilling from compartment to compartment as her angle in the water became steeper.
According to the 1912 inquiry findings, the iceberg was sighted about 1,500 feet ahead of the ship. The iceberg was between 15 to 30 meters in height with approximately 60 to 120 meters below the surface of the sea. The statements of witnesses suggest it was100 to 120 feet high. Assuming the iceberg was roughly a typical cone shape with a diameter at the waterline of 100 feet, this would indicate the iceberg had a mass of between 20,000 and 25,000 tons.

The inquiry concluded that the ship's course was altered almost instantaneously after the lookout rang a bell three times – the warning to signify an obstacle straight ahead and waved to the bridge to warn the captain that an iceberg had been spotted.

The latest research however establishes an exact timeline of the seconds before the collision, which reveals the iceberg was spotted when the ship was 2,000 feet away– almost a minute before the impact – and that the ship held its course for around half of that time. The researchers base this on the testimony of two men—Frederick Fleet, the lookout who sounded the alarm, and Robert Hichens, the sailor who was the helmsman at the steering wheel. With the ship going 45 kilometres (22.8 miles) per hour, it would have taken the Titanic only 57 seconds to reach the iceberg. In actual fact the ship made its fatal collision at an estimated 37 seconds after the iceberg had first been sighted.,

Samuel Halpern, an American Titanic expert who has led the research, said: “If the First Officer had reacted sooner – maybe even 15 seconds sooner – the ship would have missed the iceberg.” Researchers found that Murdoch had been involved in a similar incident on another ship, the Arabic, which narrowly missed another vessel in 1903 after he decided to maintain course, rather than his ship turn away from the other vessel.

In any case, the Titanic’s rudder was too small for a ship as large as the Titanic meaning she could not turn sharply enough to avoid the iceberg. I blame the designer for that mistake. 

Murdoch didn’t survive the sinking of the Titanic.  Samuel Hemming, Second Officer Charles Lightoller and Colonel Archibald Gracie  said they saw Murdoch hard at work attempting to free Collapsible A from the falls on the boat deck just before the bridge submerged in the final stages of the sinking. They said that a huge wave washed him overboard into the sea.

The seventh person to blame was Quartermaster, Robert Hitchins who was the helmsman at the time of the collision.

The ship still had time to miss the iceberg after Murdock gave the order but the helmsman panicked and turned the wheel the wrong way. By the time the catastrophic error was corrected, it was too late and the starboard side of the ship had fatally brushed against the iceberg. It all happened because of confusion about steering orders in that era.

When the Titanic sailed, shipping communications were in transition from sail to steam. Two different steering commands were in operation: Tiller Orders for sailing ships and Rudder Orders for steamships.

Tiller and Rudder orders were the complete opposite of one another. The command to turn “hard a-starboard,” for example, meant to turn the wheel right under one system and left under the other system. Normally a ship’s wheel is turned to the right so that the ship can turn to the right and the rudder of a sailing ship is moved to the left so that the craft will also turn right. However, not all steamships followed these rules during the era of the Titanic’s sinking. On the North Atlantic, liners, there persisted the use of the ‘tiller rules’, meaning that the helmsman moved the wheel in the opposite direction to the command. The practice was abolished in 1933, but in 1912 it was thought to be safer because so many seamen including Hitchens had trained in sail.

As Murdoch spotted the iceberg, his “hard a-starboard” a tiller command which would turn the ship to port (left) by moving the tiller to starboard (right) order was wrongly interpreted by Hitchens, who was trained under the more archaic ‘Tiller Orders’. He turned the ship’s helm to the right instead of left and for this reason the ship turned right and headed directly towards the iceberg. By the time the mistake was corrected, the ship’s hull on the starboard side had already been gashed by the iceberg. After 1933, turning the helm in the direction the ship is to go was required in all ships powered by anything other than sails.

This was one of reasons why the Titanic hit the iceberg which had never come to light until years later. Even then the passengers and crew could have been saved if it had stayed put instead of steaming off again. For ten minutes, Titanic went ‘Slow Ahead’ through the sea. This added enormously to the pressure of water flooding through the damaged hull, forcing it up and over the watertight bulkheads.  Once the hull was moved from the iceberg, water began to pour rapidly into the gashed hull. It is possible, even if remotely that the crew might have been able to stem the flow of water into the compartments if the iceberg blocked part of flow of water pouring into the ship from the gash and the ship was not moving.

Officer Lightoller was not on watch at the time of the collision, but heard of the fatal mistake during the dramatic officer meeting which took place in the First Officer’s cabin immediately after the collision. More on Hitchens later in this article.

I had a similar experience happen to me when I was a helmsman of a warship during the time when I was serving in the Canadian Navy in 1952.

While our ship, the Ontario (11,100 ton cruiser) was plodding northward up the Pacific coast of the United States, we did some maneuvers with some American warships. I was in the bowels of the ship doing my turn at the wheel. The petty officer in the wheel house told me that shortly there was going to be an order piped down from the bridge that he and I in the wheel house were to go back aft to the aft wheel house and carry on in that wheel house. We were going to simulate a battle situation where the contact between the main wheel house (in the bowels of our ship) and the bridge had been severed and as such, that would be the reason why we were to go back aft. I was told that once the alarm was sounded, everyone was to clear the decks so that I and the petty officer in the wheelhouse could run the length of the ship unimpeded.

Moments later, the order came down to us. I climb the ladders to the main deck and as my shipmates watched me, I ran as fast as I could along the main deck (feeling very important at this moment since everyone was clearing the decks for me and the petty officer, as we were the only persons moving on the ship). I arrived at the wheel house back aft which was on the main deck. I noticed on my way aft that there was an American destroyer moving along the starboard side of us and it was quite close to us.

As soon as I stood behind the wheel, (facing aft) I yelled into the microphone, “Ordinary Seaman Batchelor, here Sir.” The captain replied, “Hard to port.” I replied, “Hard to Port, Sir." I immediately turned the helm to my left since left is port.

“Jesus Christ, Batchelor!” yelled the petty officer standing beside me. “Turn the bloody helm to your right.” I yelled back, “But Sir, the captain said hard to port.” The petty officer screamed back again, “Turn the helm hard to your right, Batchelor.” I followed his order. A good thing I did. We almost smashed into the American warship ship running along side of us.

It then dawned on me what I had done wrong. Normally the helmsman is facing the forward part of the ship and hard to port is hard to one's left. But being back aft, I was facing the ship's stern and hard to my right was the only way to get the ship to go hard to port. Since I turned the wheel to my left; the ship had veered sharply to starboard and almost into the side of the America ship beside us. Was I embarrassed? Is the Pope Catholic? The answer to those two questions is academic.

Soon after that I was transferred to another ship but it was not because of my blunder at the aft helm but it was because I had finished my sea training on the first ship. And would you believe it? Despite that blunder on the first ship, I was one of the four helmsmen on that second ship. And no—I did not do any more blunders while I served on the second ship. I survived my blunder as did the helmsman on the Titanic. It’s ironic when you think about it—it was such a small move on Hitchens’ part but that small move contributed to the death of so many people who died that fateful night.

The eighth person to blame for the loss of life was 38-year-old Second Officer Charles Lightoller who was the only senior surviving officer of the Titanic. He was in charge of the loading of the lifeboats. I realize that Lightoller was under extreme pressure but I blame him for leaving many of the passengers on the ship, as there was room for more passengers in most of the lifeboats on his side of the ship.

At the British investigation, Charles Lightoller was questioned about the fact that the lifeboats were not filled to capacity. They had been tested in Belfast on the 25th of March 1912 and each boat had carried seventy men safely. When questioned about the filling of lifeboat number six, Lightoller testified that the boat was filled with as many people as he considered would be safe. Lightoller believed that it would be impossible to fill the boats to capacity before lowering them to sea without the mechanism that held them collapsing. He was then questioned as to whether he had arranged for more people to be put into the boats once they were afloat. Lightoller admitted that he should have made some arrangement for the boats to be filled once they were afloat. When asked if the crew member in charge of lifeboat number six was told to return to pick up survivors, the inquiry was told that the crew member was told to stay close to the ship. Lifeboat number 6 was designed to hold 65 people. It left the immediate area of the ship with only 28 people in the lifeboat.

When the ship originally scraped against the iceberg, it was hardly noticed at all by the passengers, as almost all of them were asleep in their cabins. When they were woken up by the stewards as the latter moved from cabin to cabin, many of the passengers were still not alarmed because it didn’t appear to most of them that they were in any danger. For this reason, they chose to remain in their cabins. Even when they finally left their cabins and reached the decks and the women were told to climb into the lifeboats, many of them had to be forced into the boats. For this reason, after lifeboats were lowered, most of them were only half full. However, when it became clear that the ship was in real danger of sinking and there were far less lifeboats than was needed, then the violent shoving by passengers to get on board the remaining lifeboats began in earnest. The remaining boats were so full of passengers that after the boats were lowered into the water, people in the water tried to get on board some of them but they were forcibly pushed away from them.

As an interesting aside, I want to tell you about two of the lifeboats as they were being lowered into the water. As lifeboat 13 was being lowered with 50 people in it, it passed an opening in the hull in which the condenser exhaust was just above the ship’s waterline in which in which water was shooting out of the opening. Several men were able to unsecure the oars which had been lashed to the seats and push the lifeboat away from the surging water gushing at them. Then the lines holding the boat stopped and they were suspended in the air. Suddenly they saw Lifeboat 15 which was now above them heading down towards them. If they didn’t move their boat out of the way, the fifty people in Lifeboat 13 would be crushed to death. Two men tried to push their boat out of the way but were unsuccessful. Then they ran to opposite ends of their life boat and began hacking at the ropes with knives. Their boat broke free and landed the short distance to the water with Lifeboat 15 coming down right beside it seconds later.

Only 705 people were found alive when the Carpathia came onto the scene of the disaster. There were 500 empty seats in the lifeboats that could have been filled if Lightholler had done his job properly.

Lightholler survived the Titanic sinking and later became a twice-decorated war hero during the First World War. He had been given command of the destroyer HMS Garry and was awarded a bar to the Distinguished Service Cross for sinking (by ramming) the German U-Boat UB110. He finished the war with the rank of Lieutenant-Commander.

The ninth person to blame for the sinking of that ship was David Blair who was the Second Officer who was supposed to sail on the ship but was replaced by Charles Lightholler. Blair was relieved of his duty shortly before the ship set sail and in his haste to leave the ship before it pulled away from the dock, he forgot to turn over the key to the telephone in the crow’s nest and the crow’s nest binoculars. By the time the lookouts in the crow’s nest first saw the iceberg without the help of the binoculars, it was almost too late to give a warning unless of course they could first call the bridge by the telephone in the crow’s nest. Alas, they couldn't make the call because it was locked since Blair still had it in his pocket, thousands of miles away. The delay in making that call resulted in the Titanic hitting the iceberg.


One person who was not to blame for the loss of many of the lives was Captain Stanly Lord although he was blamed at the time for being negligent.  He was the captain of the ship, Californian. While his ship was between 11 to 20 miles away from the Titanic, eight rockets that had been fired into the air from the Titanic that were seen by some of the crew of the Californian. There's no real mystery why the Californian did not respond to the Titanic's rockets. The watch officer of the Californian saw rockets, but did not see a distress signal. Protocols for using rockets or cannon to signal distress at night were well defined in 1912. A firing interval of one minute was specified. Signals at longer intervals were used to signal a ship not underway and requesting extra clearance from passing vessels. The Titanic fired eight rockets over a period of one hour - an average of once every seven to eight minutes. Responsibility for the confusion on the watch of the Californian rests with the poorly trained crew of the Titanic failing to follow protocols and sending a signal most logically interpreted as the exact opposite of their intent. It was entirely reasonable for the watch of the Californian to interpret the signals as being from another ship in the Californian's situation - not underway due to ice. Captain Lord of the Californian was not awoken because nothing seen by the watch officer warranted it.


It was the Californian that was the mysterious ship whose lights were seen by those on the Titanic even though the Californian was over the horizon. This was because of a freak in nature. The air was cold and this caused a phenomenon called Super Refraction. The Titanic was sailing from Gulf Stream waters into the frigid Labrador Current, where the air column was cooling from the bottom up, creating a thermal inversion: layers of cold air below layers of warmer air. Extraordinarily high air pressure kept the air free of fog. A thermal inversion refracts light abnormally and can create a superior mirage: Objects appear higher (and therefore nearer) than they actually are, before a false horizon. What those people on the Titanic saw was a reflection of the lights of the Californian over the horizon and not the Californian closer to the Titanic.

Later in the morning, the Californian searched for people in the water but it only found debris since the Carpathian had previously picked up the survivors and the bodies still floating in the water.

This is a good time to tell you something more about Robert Hichens (who was the helmsman when the Titanic struck the iceberg). Second Officer Lightoller told lookout Fred Fleet to get into Lifeboat 6 on the port side and he put Hichens in charge of that lifeboat. The lifeboat that had a capacity to hold 65 people left the ship at about 12.55 am with only 28 persons on board with Lightoller’s order that they were to make for the lights of the Californian that could be seen in the distance.

Hichens’ conduct on the lifeboat would later come under intense scrutiny. It was established that while in the lifeboat, his actions were that of a coward. Passengers accused him of refusing to go back to rescue people from the water after the ship sank and that he called the people in the water ‘stiffs’ which was his way of describing the people in the water as being dead when in fact many were still alive then. He also claimed that bringing them on board the lifeboat would cause the lifeboat to capsize. Lifeline ropes on the boats' sides would enable the people already in the lifeboats to save additional people from the water. The builders of the lifeboats knew that bringing people on board the boats from the water wouldn’t capsize the boats. A Canadian retired army officer suggested to Hichens that he turn the tiller over to one of the women and go to one of the oars. Hichens yelled, “I am in charge of this boat! It’s your job to keep quiet and row. A short time later, the captain’s voice could be heard as he shouted into the megaphone, summoning Hichens’ boat to return to the ship for more passengers. The creep ignored his captain’s order and said in response to the order, “It’s our lives now, not theirs.” Many of the women protested but Hichens continued swearing at them.

When the RMS Carpathia came to rescue Titanic's survivors, Hichens told the others in the lifeboat that the ship was not there to rescue them, but to pick up the bodies of the dead. By this time the other people in the lifeboat had had enough of Hichens, especially Denver millionaire Margaret ‘Molly’ Brown. Although Hichens protested, Molly Brown told others to start rowing to keep warm. After a last attempt by Hichens to keep control of the lifeboat, Molly Brown threatened to throw him overboard.  Had those in the boat known how Hichens foolishly steered the ship into the iceberg, they may well have thrown the creep overboard. Molly Brown and the others in the lifeboat including Hichens all survived the sinking of the Titanic. Hichens lived long enough to serve on other ships and on the 23rd of September 1940, Hichens died of heart failure aboard the English Trader which was moored off the coast of Aberdeen, Hong Kong.

I will give you some information about Margaret (Molly) Brown. She was born on July 18, 1867 and she was a wealthy American socialite. Her husband had previously struck it rich at a gold mine in one of Colorado’s mountains 20 years before she boarded the Titanic. She was a philanthropist, and activist who became famous due to her survival of the 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, after exhorting the crew of Lifeboat No. 6 to return to look for survivors. She was on the Titanic because it was the first boat that was available to her as she was anxious to get home to visit her ailing grandson. It is unclear whether any survivors were found after Lifeboat No. 6 returned to search. She became known after her death as The Unsinkable Molly Brown. She was given this epithet by historians because she helped in the ship's evacuation, taking an oar herself in her lifeboat and protesting for the lifeboat to go back to try to save more people. Incidentally, she was not called Molly during her life. Her friends actually called her Maggie.

Her fame as a well-known Titanic survivor helped her promote the issues she felt strongly about—the rights of workers and women, education and literacy for children, historic preservation, and commemoration of the bravery and chivalry displayed by the men aboard the Titanic. During World War I in France, she worked with the American Committee for Devastated France to rebuild areas behind the front line and helped wounded French and American soldiers. She was awarded the French Legion of Honour for her good citizenship including her activism and philanthropy in America. During the last years of her life, she was an actress.  She died on October 26, 1932, exactly one year and one day before my own birth.

Many people on the Titanic were confused about where they should go after the order to launch the lifeboats had been given. There should have been a lifeboat drill on 14th of April, but Captain Smith cancelled it to allow people to go to church. The ship sank the next day with many of the passengers having no idea where they were to go to the lifeboats assigned to them. It’s ironic. Attending church services instead of attending lifeboat drill cost many of the passengers their lives.

There was also a delay of more than an hour between the time of impact and the launching of the first lifeboats. As a result there was not enough time to successfully launch all the lifeboats. Collapsible lifeboats A and B were not launched like they should have been but instead they floated away as the water washed over the ship.

When my wife and I sail on cruise ships, lifeboat drill is generally held within an hour of the beginning of our trips. Because I can’t stand about for the hour while the names are being called out by the officer in charge because of my disability which makes it difficult for me to remain standing on the deck next to the lifeboat we are assigned to for an hour. Instead, I remain in my cabin while my wife goes to the lifeboat station and when my name is called out, she tells the officer that I am disabled and in our cabin and that she will later take me to the lifeboat station that we are assigned to. As soon as she returns to our cabin, she and I go to our lifeboat station so that I will know where it is if the boat is sinking.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you about two other really undesirable people—the kind of people you wouldn’t want to share a lifeboat with. The incident took place in Lifeboat 1. Only 12 people were in it when in fact, it was large enough to hold 40 people. As the occupants in the lifeboat watched the Titanic sink below the waves, it was suggested by some of the passengers that they go back and pick up some of the survivors in the water. Lady Duff Gordon objected. Then her husband, Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon offered each of the seven crew members on board 5£ each if they would leave the survivors in the water so that they wouldn’t overturn the boat in the attempts to bring them aboard. He wrote them each a cheque for 5£. He later said that it was to replace their kits that they lost. No one really believed him. Those still in the water soon succumbed to the freezing water.

Duff Gordon was one of many men in First Class who were allowed into lifeboats despite Captain Smith's ‘Women-and-children-first’ rule, while many women and children, mostly from Third Class, never reached the upper deck where the lifeboats were stowed, because it was a First-Class deck and they were prevented from reaching that deck. It is known that lifeboat 1 of the Titanic was barely filled as many onboard still believed the Titanic to be ‘unsinkable’ and that First Officer William McMaster Murdoch was glad to offer Duff Gordon and his wife a place (simply to fill it) after the couple had asked if they could get on. Gordon Duff died on April 20th 1931.

Well, there you have it. The cause of the deaths of 1,517 people was brought about because of the mistakes of the eight people directly connected one way or another with the sinking of the Titanic—along with the loss of lives in the water—people who should have known better but didn’t.

It is ironic when you think of it. If any one of the eight men I have blamed for this tragedy had not acted in the manner in which they did, the Titanic would not have hit the iceberg and if it did, it wouldn’t have sunk and if it did sink, many more of its passengers and crew would have been saved. The saga of the Titanic reminds me of dominos standing one behind the other. When the first one falls, the others will in turn fall one after another.

There were other acts of stupidity taking place on board the doomed ship. Some of the passengers didn’t think that the Titanic would sink so they remained steadfast inside their cabins until it was too late for them to escape. When 21-year-old tennis star, Norris Williams and his father saw a steward trying to open a cabin door to free a woman trapped inside, the young man smashed the door in. The steward promptly told him that he would have to report him for damaging company property. Doing that would be as stupid as rearranging deck chairs while the ship was floundering. There were several crew members dragging large post office bags of mail up the stairs while the ship was slowly sinking. Did they really believe that the mail would be placed in lifeboats?

There were acts of bravery in the ships final moments. Captain Smith was one of the other brave souls who went down with his ship. Another one of them was Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer. The last time anyone seen him on the sinking ship was when he was throwing wooden chairs overboard so that people in the water would have something to keep them afloat. When there was nothing else he could do to save lives, he then went into the saloon to die. The band members also died. They played music as long as they could in order to keep the passengers calm. They continued playing even when hope of any kind of rescue was gone. It is believed that the last piece they played on the deck was Nearer my God to Thee.

The engineers were responsible for keeping the engines, generators, and other mechanical equipment on the Titanic running. They were the highest paid of the crew and had the education and technical expertise to operate, maintain, and repair the engineering plant. All 25 engineers as well as the 10 electricians and all the boilermakers were lost since they all remained below decks in the engine and boiler rooms fighting a losing battle to keep the ship afloat by operating the pumps in the forward compartments as well as keeping the steam up in the boiler rooms and kept the generators running to maintain power and lights throughout the Titanic up until two minutes before the ship sank. It is speculated that their actions delayed the sinking for over an hour and helped keep the ship afloat for nearly all the lifeboats to be launched. When the ship finally slipped under the surface, those brave men went down with the ship.


Of the firemen, only three leading firemen and around 45 other firemen survived. Several of the firemen that survived got into the lifeboats dressed only in their undershirts and shorts in 28F degree weather. The remaining 161 firemen went down at their posts when the ship sank below the surface. 

Imagine if you will the terror these men suffered from as the ship was sinking below the surface. The machinery and boilers broke free and no doubt crushed some of them when they and the machinery and boilers slammed against the bulk heads.

Many passengers showed remarkable courage in the crisis and did their utmost to save others. Charles Hayes, automobile designer, Agustus Roebling II, Howard Case and Thornton Davidson turned down offers to enter Lifeboat 3 and instead remained behind to offer assistance to women and children at various lifeboat stations. These men also died.

The sinking of the troopship the HMS Birkenhead off the coast of South Africa in 1852 is worth writing about. The soldiers' commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Seton, ordered his men to help get the women and children on board the three lifeboats as the Birkenhead began sinking in shark-infested waters. Not a single woman or child lost their life, thanks to all the soldiers who stoically stood on deck as the ship went down. Their sacrifice has gone down in maritime history as the Birkenhead Drill—women and children first.

Unfortunately, the concept of women and children first has almost become a thing of the past. Captain Christer Lindvall who is the president of The International Federation of Shipmasters’ Association said that there is no longer a rule that states that women and children should be rescued first. If that is so, it is a sad commentary of our times. After analyzing passenger lists, ship’s logs and registers, it has been established that out of 15,000 people who died at sea in 18 sinkings, only 17.8 percent of the women died compared with 34.5 percent of the men. The Titanic was the exception because Captain Smith wandered over the decks with his revolver in hand threatening any men who climbed into the lifeboats ahead of the women and children.As a result, 73.3 percent of the women survived and 50.4 percent of the children survived and only 20.7 percent of the men survived.
Bruce Ismay survived because he was the worst coward on the Titanic.  Despite the law of the sea that woman and children are the first to abandon a sinking ship, Ismay sneaked into one of the lifeboats that was about to be lowered and was filled with women and children.

I don’t know if he had any say as to what compensation was to be given to the survivors by the White Stare Line but if so; his actions were typical of a tightwad. Each passenger was given $15 and two railway tickets. With respect to the ship’s crew, their pay stopped the moment the ship submerged under water. Their families got nothing after that.


The sinking of the Titanic became reknown all over the world. But what isn’t known as much is the sinking of the German passenger liner, MV Wilhelm Gustloff . It was a German military transport ship which was sunk on January, 30,  1945 by the Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea while evacuating German civilians, Nazi officials and military personnel from Gdynia (Gotenhafen) as the Red Army advanced. By one estimate, as many as 9,400 people died in the sinking which makes it the largest loss of life in a single ship.  

And finally, let me tell you about a decision that made this possible for me to write this article. It will blow your mind.

My grandparents were missionaries in Northern Nigeria between 1905 and 1935. In 1912, they decided to return to Toronto for a year as my grandmother was pregnant with my mother who was born several weeks later on May 4th 1912; nineteen days after the Titanic had sunk. When they arrived in England, on the 2nd of April, my grandparents were given the choice of taking a Belgium ship across the Atlantic or a British ship with all expenses paid by the organization that sponsored them in Nigeria. They were told that the Belgium ship wasn’t as good as the British ship but the Belgium ship would sail a week ahead of the British ship. My grandmother told my grandfather that she didn’t mind sailing on the Belgium ship—which they did.

Now you may have guessed by now where this is going. The British ship was the Titanic. One day in the 1960s my grandmother told me that if she and my grandfather had sailed on the Titanic, she would have refused to go into a lifeboat and instead, she would have remained with him as the ship sank. That is fate which is hard to explain. Not only would you not be reading this article nor would my two daughters and five grandchildren be born,  the United Nations bill of rights for young offenders that benefits the lives of millions of kids world-wide would not have come about when it did since I am the precursor of that bill of rights. 










Part 3 will be The Sinking of the Titanic: How fate played a role in it.

1 comment:

msmariah said...

Wow, this a great post. What a detailed accounts of the sinking. Better than Wikipedia. Thanks.