Gunshots On The Titanic by Earl Chapman


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Dec 12, 1999
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Thanks for the article, Earl. I enjoyed reading it. I don't know why there's such a debate about this --it seems obvious that in such conditions, some sort of panic was likely to break out, and shots fired. When shots are fired, someone often gets hurt. The fact Officer Lowe fired his gun shows, in and of itself, that a panic was taking form. Many researchers on this board make much of "silence" of passengers, i.e., that if this had happened, then so and so would have said something. Having taken many depositions of witnesses, I've always found that people don't mention something, even really important stuff, unless asked. Based upon what you've offered here, I think it's very likely that persons were shot, and killed, by officers of the Titanic that night.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Earl,

I'd like to commend you for this fascinating piece. It's really interesting and helpful to have all the various accounts described and explained and linked in a suggested timeline. I also think you made all your points well and with good judgement and fairness.

I'd like also to echo Jan's feelings. He's in a position to know better than most how witnesses behave and his view makes a lot of sense.

One correction, if I may. Lucy Lady Duff Gordon's comments regarding gun shots were given in an exclusive interview/article in Hearst's New York American of April 19, 1912. This is the only authorized story she gave though it was very much exaggerated by the reporters and/or editors who passed it for publication.

The articles you quote from the London papers were reprints of a single article that appeared in the New York World and syndicated papers (April 19). This story and several others that were published later were completely erroneous. Lucy Duff Gordon didn't give any interviews apart from that given to the American.

Therefore it would be more correct to say that, at the hearings later, she "denied" or "repudiated" the story/stories, rather than "retracted" them.

Lucy Duff Gordon did repeat the story of hearing pistol shots in her 1932 autobiography and it was repeated orally to family members over the years, so I have no doubt that she heard shots fired. It was just that the fact was not occassioned by as much drama as was stated in the tabloids.

Your suggested time for Officer Lowe's gun shots (about 1:15)makes sense to me as this would have been around the time her lifeboat, boat 1, was either being launched or was in the process of being launched from the forward starboard boat deck. She could easily have heard them at that juncture.

Thanks again for this thought-provoking article.

Randy

PS) The transcripts for the British Inquiry hearings refer to Lucy Duff Gordon's story in the NY American both during her own testimony (May 20, Day 11,questions 12920-12970) and in Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon's (May 20, Day 11, questions 12642-12646). Unfortunately Lucy Duff Gordon was not asked specifically about the gun shots so there is no official record of what she heard or saw about that.

PPS) If the shots supposedly fired by Murdoch really took place, she would obviously have heard those too.
 

Earl Chapman

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Jan, Randy:

Thanks for your comments re my gunshot article. The article is most certainly a work in progress, and I appreciate Randy's suggestions.

Randy, you mentioned that Lady Duff-Gordon's exclusive interview/article appeared in Hearst's New York American of April 19, 1912. Do you have a copy of this article?

Earl Chapman
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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Most of the evidence on gunfire is pretty dubious stuff. The Rheims letter would be far and away the best if it reaches us untouched by the press. If Rheims really was writing purely to his wife it would seem likely that he would not have been overly inventive. Has anybody sighted the original manuscript letter in French? Without it, I'm inclined to doubt even Rheims.
 
Mar 20, 2000
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Earl,

Yes, I have a copy of the NY American article attributed to Lucy Duff Gordon and would be happy to send you a copy if you'd like. It was widely syndicated and also appeared as a chapter in one of the books published just after the sinking; I forget which.

Randy
[email protected]
 
Apr 27, 2000
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Earl,

I'd like to thank you for a very useful article, organizing the accounts of the various purported shootings. I think you could go further into the putative shots during the launching of Collapsible C. In particular I think you might look more closely at the accounts of Woolner, Thayer, Gracie and Lightoller.

Three of them agree to shots (sort of--Woolner testifies initially to seeing 'two flashes of a pistol in the air', and Gracie only reports what he heard from Lightoller, who does not claime to having fired shots or heard shots fired). In many other respects however--what boat was involved, who fired the shots, where the witness was when it occurred, etc.-- the testimony of each is both confusing, self-contradictory, contradictory to the others, and lastly, contradictory to the testimony of many other witnesses. It would be nice to sort it all out, so that one could come to more definitive conclusions.

As to the question of whether there was a 'panic' brought about by Third Class men rushing the lifeboats, I don't think your findings corroborate such a view.

If you read Lowe's account of his own shooting carefully it was aimed at preventing individual men from jumping into the lifeboat as it was being lowered. When Lowe was asked for details he mentions 2 men who tried to enter the boat 'illegally'. Jumping into a boat once it was launched was how a large proportion of men who survived (e.g. Beesley) apparently entered boats. Thayer and Lightoller also suggest the same reason why there was a problem in loading some boat(s) at the forward end.

The point is there is no indication here of a 'panic', but rather it would seem of individual desperate men who tried as best they could to save their lives as time was running out.

DG
 
Oct 28, 2000
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David -- Panic situations start with one or two individuals. I witnessed a rush on the box office at a Cincinnati theater one time when the main act failed to appear. The orderly movement of people to get a refund became a panic when a few disgruntled people started pushing their way through the crowd.

In the 1930s, my father witnessed something similar at a college football stadium. The stands were about half filled after the game and people were leaving in an orderly fashion. Suddenly panic erupted in one grandstand. Later, they learned a couple of students had been playing a form of the child game "tag" and started running. That triggered a panic.

In both cases, only a few individuals started the problem. And, I am glad to admit that in both cases only a few people were injured. We have all seen reports of similar panic situations where deaths were the result.

My point is that a "rush for the boats" would not have been done by any particular group of people. Rather, it would have started as a few individuals pushing their way through, or running. Those individuals probably would not have been panicked, just determined to get into a lifeboat. By blunting the efforts of a few, the officers (in particular Lowe) may have nipped a major panic in the bud.

--David G. Brown
 
Apr 27, 2000
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David,

I don't think we're on such different wave lengths here (and having been a college student in the US during the late-sixties I've seen many a mob scene as well). I'm not saying that Lowe was necessarily wrong to have fired two shots in the air to prevent a possible panic, as you suggest he did, though he risked setting one off by doing so.

Apparently, however,no panic ever materialized, at least any that seriously hindered the rescue effort. A minimal amount of force was required to control the Third Class men, despite all the allusions by officers and passengers alike to the wild 'Italians' 'French' 'Chinese' and simply the generic 'foreigners' who were threatening to run amuck.

These kinds of ethnic allusiions are a form of demonization. In reality, many of the men on the Titanic who survived, whatever their class, did so by seizing a chance to get into a lifeboat either through pretending to be a woman under the cover of darkness (like Buckley) or by jumping into a boat as it was being lowered (like Beesley, Woolner and Ismay). They weren't demons, just normal men.

DG
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Does anyone know the make and model of the firearms employed by Titanic's officers? In the article, Mr. Chapman mentions a "Browning automatic pistol" being fired by Lowe, but the inquiry testimony reveals it to be a revolver. I really doubt that ANY officer possessed an automatic weapon that night. Semi-automatic pistols were not very popular even with the military at that time. Colt's M1911 had only been recently adopted by the US. It seems more likely that the officers of Titanic had revolvers. Does anyone know the exact model and caliber?

Nathan Robison
 
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Scott Blair

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Nathan

As I recall matters-don't have the reference to hand -Lowe had his own pistol and it was indeed an automatic .

Whilst rare relative to revolvers, automatics had been in use since the mid 1890s.Winston Churchill carried a Mauser automatic at Omdurman in 1898 .

I think it likely that the revolvers on Titanic would have been the then current mark of the Webley which was the standard British military and naval revolver of that period .

Scott Blair
 

Inger Sheil

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Feb 9, 1999
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I think you're correct there, Scott.

As an interesting side note, while not standard issue, Jellicoe carried a Browning automatic as his personal sidearm during the Battle of Jutland (of course he didn't use it...that battle was a far cry from the Nelsonic days of naval combat where ships would draw alongside each other so closely that their spars might become entangled).

Lowe was a very good marksman and keen hunter, even though his career committments sometimes interferred with his competitive opportunities in the sport of shooting.

~ Inger
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Thanks for the information Scott.

But I wonder why more people didn't report gunshots? Certainly, the report of Lowe's sidearm would be heard by everyone on the boat deck, but probably fewer folks inside the vessel.

Nathan Robison
 
May 8, 2001
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Best guess here is a Webley, 38 or 45 caliber, break-top, 6 shot revolver. These were standard British military issue pistols of the time, and it wouldn't be unlikely that the White Star line would have had the same. (Colleen) Robert
 
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Scott Blair

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Thanks Inger .

I remember seeing the pistol which was carried by Jellicoe at Jutland in the National Maritime Museum .

Scott Blair
 
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