Could the Carpathia have seen Titanic's rockets

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Paul Lee

Once again, another delve into the realms of hypothetical mathematics driven scenarios.

For a start, I have assumed that the Carpathia started its north-westerly dash at 12.30am at a point slightly away from its deduced position: my method is the same as David Gittins on his website, and yields the same answer (not surprisingly!). I assume that the Carpathia was heading to the Titanic at 14 knots, as the oft quoted value
of 17 knots seems a mechanical impossibilty. Starting closer to the wreck site reduced the speed somewhat.

Now, we know roughly that the last of the Titanic's rockets was fired at 1.45am local time.

Now, this is where it gets slightly more maths driven. I don't know how far the Titanic's rockets reached, but I am guessing that it is between 600 and 800 feet. These give a distance to the visible horizon of 27.9 and 32.2 miles. The Titanic's slight trim of about 8 degrees at this point doesn't make much difference.

Now, someone on the Carpathia's bridge would be about 55 feet above the waterline; the lookouts would be about 75 feet above the waterline, giving a distance to the horizon of 8.5 and 9.9 miles respectively.

So, from the bridge, rockets fired to 600 feet could be seen at a distance of 27.9 + 8.5 = 36.4 miles. From the crowsnest, we have 27.9 + 9.9 = 37.8 miles.

For rockets reaching an altitude of 800 feet, we get the following: from the bridge, 40.7; and the crowsnest, 42.1miles.

This gives a range of values between 36.4 and 42.1 miles. However, at 1.45am, the Carpathia was now about 32 miles from the wrecksite - well within the distance over which the rockets could be seen, even though
they would be very low on the horizon. But all the officers on watch saw nothing.

Now this could mean one of any things: the Titanic's rockets didn't go up as high as specified above:
the DR position for the Carpathia at 12.30 is still wrong; she was travelling slower than 14 knots; the Titanic's rcokets were finished with before 1.45am (possible given that the times are rough); the time difference
between the Carpathia and the Titanic might make the timing of the last rocket sufficiently sooner to prevent it being seen.

Opinions anyone?



Alicia Coors

Former Member
The bursts were not very persistent, and Carpathia's crew were probably looking mostly downish (for ice in the ship's path) rather than outish towards the horizon. For them to be seen, a horizontal glance would have had to coincide with the launching of a rocket.

In other words, they well may have been visible (and I think your math backs this up), but Carpathia just didn't see them.

Paul Lee

Possibly. But the Carpathia's rockets, although transient, were bright enough to attract Californian's crew. I think a bright flash on the horizon would have attracted anyone's attention - and there were plenty of people keeping watch for anything straight in Carpathia's path!


>>Opinions anyone? <<

I tend to agree with Alicia on this. By the time Titanic sank, the Carpathia was still well over two hours away even at her best speed. That would place any rockets/socket signals exploding well beyond the Carpathia's visual horizon. Considering that they knew that they were heading into ice, they made looking out for that a priority. Good thing too as they did have some close calls with some bergs.

Paul Lee

>>That would place any rockets/socket signals exploding well beyond the Carpathia's visual horizon.<<

Not if the numbers I've calculated are anything to go by....

Yes, they were looking for ice - they were looking ahead of the ship, which is exactly where the detonations would have been seen..



>>Not if the numbers I've calculated are anything to go by.... <<

I'd be interested in seeing those numbers...bearing in mind the time when the last of the socket signals was fired which...IIRC, was 1:45am. As for the Carpathia's crew, they may have been looking for signals, but I'm not aware of any who stated that they in fact saw any until the flare from one of the boats was seen at 4:00a,.
Paul, you are forgetting the good old inverse square law. The brightness of the rockets matters more than the geometry. A modern parachute flare of 30,000 candela has a range of 22 nautical miles. I can't imagine a 1912 socket signal doing any better.

Paul Lee

Hi Dave,
You're right of course. One thing that did occur to me was the alledged 20 degree angle that the socket signals were fired at - but even that taken into account would still reveal the rockets to the Carpathia.

It would be great to do a trial with replicas of the real socket signals to see how far they could be seen!

Best wishes


Nothing "alleged" about the 20°. That was Board of Trade rules to ensure the socket signals went clear of the ship.

Funnily enough, the only movie that gets the socket signals right is the 1953 Titanic. Watch closely and you'll see Rowe using the firing lanyard and the angled sockets.
14179. What sort of height would you judge? - They ranged from a matter of 50 or 60 feet to perhaps 200 or 300 feet.

The often sighted 600-800 feet seems too high. And the Carpathia wouldn't have seen the 200-300 ft socket signal flash, needless to mention the much lower 50-60 ones.
Lightoller simply got it wrong. The socket signals had to meet Board of Trade standards, which were 600-800 feet. The same goes for the colour. There's a lot of strange testimony on this from Hichens but the manufacturers did not supply special July 4th mixtures or surprise packages of assorted colours.
I've tried to search for any Board of Trade standards regarding rockets or socket signals. I found out from here and elsewhere they were made by the Cotton Powder Co.

- Lights! Inaction!

"Her rockets, made by The Cotton Powder Co. Ltd, reached a height of 600 to 800 feet, according to Lloyd's Calendar."

More information on any of that would be instructive.

RE Lightoller, the difference between 50' and 800' would a HUGE mistake, especially for an experienced seaman. The lower lying rockets/socket signals would coincide with what the California saw.

That the Carpathia didn't mention seeing the rockets tells me that....well...she didn't see them.
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