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Boxhall's Green Flares

Discussion in 'On the Night of the 14th April' started by Jim Currie, Nov 11, 2012.

  1. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    There has been disagreement about the nature of the green signals used by Boxhall to attract the attention of Carpathia. Some say they were hand-held flares others that they were Roman Candles. What were they?

    During his evidence, Captain Rostron told his questioners that he first saw the green flares at 2:40am that morning. If we assume a speed of 15 knots for Carpathia and she arrived at Boxhall at 4pm then Carpathia was within 20 miles of Boxhall when Rostron saw the flares.
    If Boxhall fired Roman candles then Rostron's claim is spot on. I am not certain of Rostron's height of eye but I have estimated it to be 55 feet. If so then a height of eye of 55 feet and a sighting distance of 20 miles gives a signal height above the water of 100 feet. That being the case, Boxhall was using Roman Candles.

    If we reverse the situation and start with Boxhall standng in the stern of rescue boat 2 holding a flare aloft then his visible horizon would be 3.25 miles. Carpathia's would be 8.5 miles giving a maximum distance of 11.75 miles between Boxhall and Carpathia. This means that Rostron did not sight Boxhall until about 03:13am not 2:40am that he claimed he did.

    Possibly Rostron made a mistake about the time, but I don't think so. He remarked that he thought the green flare was a White Star Line night signal and that Titanic was still afloat. If that were the case then he would be assuming that he was seeing Titanic's upper bridge. Titanic's upper bridge would be about 85 feet above sea level. If this were so then the maximum range that such a signal could be seen would be just over 19 miles... more or less the estimate made by Rostron.

    We know the bridge was gone by that time so Rostron must have been seeing a Roman Candle. I understand a member of the number 2 boat crew, Steward James Johnston actually mentioned the use of Roman Candles.

    What do you think?

    Jim C

    Jim C.
  2. Dave Gittins

    Dave Gittins Member

    As I demonstrated as long ago as 1998, Rostron's timing is all wrong. The flares used were hand flares, much like those in use today. They were required for the White Star line's night signal. Rostron saw the first from 10 miles or so away.

    Remember that Rostron's account is based on the incorrect assumption that he covered 58 miles in about 3½ hours. He therefore had trouble getting his timing right.
  3. Dave Gittins

    Dave Gittins Member

    Here are the signal details.

    Green pyro light, followed by rocket throwing 2 green stars, rocket being followed by another green pyro light; or two green pyro lights exhibited simultaneously.

    Not a Roman candle in sight!
  4. I don't know Dave Gittins work, but he is right regarding the flares.

    Regarding the time, the only one which can be say for sure is that by 4:10 a.m. (Carpathia clock) the first lifeboat (No.2) was alongside and the first survivors were taken on board. Carpathia was not there were Rostron and Boxhall believed, which lead to the popular myth of her making 18 knot.
  5. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    I'm curious about Carpathia time.

    If we work backward from when Carpathia stopped her engines at 4am and factor-in a hand held flare at say 8 feet above sea level, we can get a very good idea of when Rostorn would have first seen Boxahall under such conditions

    Using Rostron's height of eye of 55 feet, it will be found that Boxhall' flare would have been below Carpathia's horizon 11.3 miles away. If we allow for abnormal refraction, this could be up to 13 miles away. Although Carpathia may have been making 15 knots on paper, she was probably covering no more that 14 miles in a straight line. She was iceberg-dodging. This would point to Rostron being an hour away when he first saw Boxhall's green light. That would also be 15 minutes after he gave orders to fire the first comfort rocket and the time when the second such rocket was fired.

    All very neat but there is one anomoly here and it is highlight it in Rostrons' evidence given in the US.

    "At 2:40, I saw a flare, about half a point on the port bow, and immediately took it for granted that it was the Titanic itself, and I remarked that she must be still afloat, as I knew we were a long way off, and it seemed so high.

    Now anyone who has been at sea on a clear, dark, moonless night, using binoculars to search for a light, will know that you automatically point the glasses at the horizon. It is seldom that you cannot actually see where sky ends and sea begins. Rostron would be scanning the horizon with his glasses as would everyone else who had them. Yet he distinctly mentions the relative word 'high'.

    Any comments?

    Jim C.
  6. Hi Jim,

    the strange thing is that this seemed to be the only time he mentioned that. Looking at the British Inquiry there is no mention that "it seemed so high".

    25401. Will you go on and tell us? - At twenty minutes to three I saw a night signal, as I was saying, and it was just about half a point on the port bow, practically right ahead. At a quarter to three I saw what we knew was an iceberg by the light from a star - I saw a streak of light right on the iceberg. We saw it, I cannot say the distance off, but some distance - not very far; and from then on till four o'clock we were altering our course very often to avoid the bergs. At four o'clock I considered I was practically up to the position, and I stopped, at about five minutes after four. In the meantime I had been firing rockets and the Company's signals every time we saw this green light again. At five minutes past four I saw the green light again, and I was going to pick the boat up on the port bow, but just as it showed the green light I saw an iceberg right ahead of me. It was very close, so I had to port my helm hard-a-starboard and put her head round quick and pick up the boat on the starboard side. At 10 minutes past four we got alongside.

    I guess it is one of those statements made by Captain Rostron which he did not think much about. If you look closer at his testimony you will find more of them. For example what about this one? He as the Captain of the ship must have known were he was going, but instead you have this one;

    Senator Smith: And where were you headed?

    Mr. Rostron: We were bound for Liverpool, Genoa, Naples, Trieste, and Fiume.

    Senator Smith: Your first stop would have been Gibraltar?

    Mr. Rostron: Gibraltar; yes Sir.

    Why did he say that they were bound for Liverpool??? Next port of call was Gibraltar.
  7. As you see above Senator Smith noticed that Carpathia was going for Gibraltar and that is also why he asked Rostron who said yes after stating first that it was Liverpool. (A look into the sailing list also show Gibraltar as the next stop.)
  8. Rostron claimed that this sighting was at 2:40am, ship’s time. However, as already pointed out, a handheld flare the kind that Boxhall was holding, could be seen at most about 11 miles away from the bridge of Carpathia. Even assuming Carpathia was averaging about 15½ knots, by 2:40am she would have been still too far away for a handheld flare in a lifeboat to be seen. Rostron also said that at 2:45am he ordered rockets to be fired to “reassure Titanic.” However, the earliest that rockets were seen from those in the boats was about 45 minutes before the first boat was picked up. (See Boxhall, American inquiry p. 911). Distress rockets (actually socket signals) of the kind used on passenger vessels of the time would go to heights of 600 to 800 feet. If Carpathia started to send them up as early at 2:45am they should have been seen by those in the boats. They were not. Furthermore, the earliest report that some ship was telling another ship to look out for rockets comes from the wireless log of Caronia. The time was logged at 6:16am GMT, or 1:16am NYT. Confirmation that Carpathia was sending up rockets comes from the wireless log of Mount Temple which logged that event at 1:25am NYT. In terms of Carpathia time, these would correspond to about 3:15-3:20am. Carpathia's rockets were also seen from Californian about 3:20am her time.

    It seems Rostron simply got his timing all wrong as Dave pointed out 14 years ago; Carpathia's Rescue Mission.
  9. Mila

    Mila Member

    TIP | British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry | Day 7 | Testimony of James Gibson (Apprentice, SS Californian)
    BTW Gibson testified that at twenty minutes to four he saw three rockets. Were these the rockets from the Carpathia?
  10. Mila

    Mila Member

    Sam, Where this 3:20 comes from?
    Was not this 3:40, when Gibson saw the rockets?

    7579. What?
    - I saw three more rockets, Sir.

    7580. How much after?
    - That was about twenty minutes to four.

    Also Roston said he was at the wreck site at 4 a.m. and we know he was there at 4 a.m. So how come he was mistaking about earlier times, but got correct 4 a.m. time?
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2018
  11. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Have another look at Rostron's evidence.

    "At 2:40, I saw a flare, about half a point on the port bow, and immediately took it for granted that it was the Titanic itself, and I remarked that she must be still afloat, as I knew we were a long way off, and it seemed so high."

    He does not say it was a green flare, just a flare. Took it for granted he was seeing Titanic but must have had doubts since to him" it seemed so high."

    At 2-40 am, Carpathia had been underway for about 2 hours. During that time Rostron would estimate that his ship had covered 29 miles of the estimated 58 miles she had to steam. We know what speed used in his mental calculations since he stated:
    "I sent a message to the Titanic - telling them, "Coming immediately to your assistance. Expect to arrive half-past 4-" No; it was, "Expect to arrive in four hours," because I had not then got up full speed."

    58 divided by 4 = 14.5 knots.

    Therefore, at 2-40 am, Rostron thought Carpathia was 29 miles away from the sinking Titanic. He would know Titanic was low in the water so the sight of that flare must have caused confusion. I cannot find evidence of him making mention of the colour of the flare in the US., only in UK and that was after hearing Boxhall's US evidence.
    If Rostron did see a flare at 2-40 am that morning we can be sure that it was not from Boxall because at that time, Boxhall in Boat 2 would be on Carpathia's starboard bow, not her port bow. We should ask the question: Why would he not mention the colourof the flare he saw at 2-40 am?
  12. Rob Lawes

    Rob Lawes Member

    One for the Californian defence, if Boxhall had fired a Roman Candle then in all probability the Californian crew would have seen it.

    If, as we believe, it was a hand held flare it puts Californian further away than 10 or 11 miles as they never reported seeing it. That also supports the fact Californian wasn't 5 or 6 miles from Titanic.
  13. I am afraid it is very likely Boxhall would have set emergency boat No. 2 at fire with a Roman Candle.
    (It were green flares he had.)
    Rob Lawes likes this.
  14. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Spot-on, Rob.
    Here's something to chew-over.
    If the flashes seen at the limit of range by Stone and Gibson were from the Carpathia and the maximum altitude was as Sam states 600 to 800 feet, then at an absolute minimum, Carpathia's rockets would have risen to 650 feet above the sea.
    If the eyes of those on the Californian were 50 feet above the sea level then those on the Californian, seeing the light of Carpathia's rockets on the horizon at 3-30 am, would be a minimum of 37.5 miles away. Captain Lord never claimed anything like that. In fact, if at 3-30 am that morning, California was where he said she was, a mere 32 miles would have separated these vessels. This suggests that rather than rising to 650 feet above the sea, Carpathia's rockets rose to a mere 430 feet above sea level. Sam claims that Carpathia carried socket signals the same as Titanic. However, Titanic also carried conventional rockets. Perhaps Carpathia did too, and Captain Rostron used the old, less effective versions as comfort signals?
  15. Mila

    Mila Member

    I know there was 12 minutes difference between times of the Californian and the Titanic, but what about Carpathia? Their radio operator used NY time when he was talking about messages he got from the Titanic. What time Roston used?
  16. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    Hi Mila.

    From Day 1 of the US Inquiry:

    "Mr. ROSTRON.
    The New York time at 12:35 was 10:45 p. m. Sunday night."

    If Rostron was quoting EST and not New York Time then the ship time on Carpathia was 5 minutes behind the ship time on the Californian.
    Last edited: Jan 21, 2018
  17. Mila

    Mila Member


    Then it appears that the Californian and the Carpathia had the same time 12 minutes ahead of the Titanic time?
  18. Jim Currie

    Jim Currie Member

    It depends on whether or not, like me, you believe that Titanic's clocks were set back by 24 minutes before impact.

    Titanic's clocks were 2 hours and 2 minutes FAST of EST New York and 1 hour 57 minutes FAST of the LMT Ambrose Light Vessel at Noon on April 14.
    The clocks were due to be retarded 47 minutes...24 minutes at Midnight, April 14 and 23 minutes, 23 minutes later, when the clock read midnight once again
    If the first change took place as I believe it did, then when Titanic sank, her clocks were 1 hour 38 minutes FAST of EST New York, and 1 hour 33 minutes FAST of LMT Ambrose. If Carpathia and Californian clocks were 1 hour 55 minutes FAST of EST and 1 hour 50 minutes FAST of LMT Ambrose, then at that time, then Titanic's clocks were 12 minutes behind the clock on these two ships. Seems you agree with me?
  19. Mila

    Mila Member

    please do not tell anybody :) but I am not sure I agree with myself. I completely lost in all these times :)
  20. Aaron_2016

    Aaron_2016 Member

    Major Peuchen said one of the lifeboats had - "a sort of a bluish light......we thought at first was a steamer or something." Was this bluish light coming from Boxhall's flares? Was the atmopshere causing the light to turn blue?

    Titanic fired rockets which were reportedly white, but Hichens said - "They were blue."

    John Poingdestre said he saw an emergency boat with - "a blue or a green light."

    Ernest Gill on the Californian saw the tail end of the rockets and said - "They looked to me to be pale blue, or white. It would be apt to be a very clear blue."

    Was something in the atmosphere affecting the colours?

    Last edited: Jan 22, 2018