Heroes and Villains (that really were not)

Arun Vajpey

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In the aftermath of the Titanic disaster, some people were lauded as heroes while others were criticised or even considered as villains. Invariably, the outlook has changed somewhat over the decades with new information, discovery of the wreck etc. But I'd like to know what individual opinions among ET members are.

Personally, ever since I got "into" the Titanic, I have had misgivings about the "heroic" Second Officer Lightoller. He has always given me the impression of being a born survivor, one who lives by instinct and thinks primarily of Number One, including safeguarding his own reputation. I believe that Lightoller never had any second thoughts about his own survival at any cost but rather than make advance plans, kept his options open and saw out how events transpired.

I do not criticize Lightoller for that attitude but during subsequent investigations he appears to have carefully measured his statements and responses so that they could not be verified because those that could contradict his statements had not survived the disaster.

Do others have similar favourable or unfavourable impressions about individual crew and passengers?
 

Kyle Naber

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I think Ismay’s reputation didn’t deserve the amount of damage that it received. He helped a lot of people into boats and he was ordered into a boat. He didn’t chicken out like so many said. He even told Olympic not to come to the scene so that survivors wouldn’t have the hysteria of seeing a ship they thought just sank.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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I think Ismay’s reputation didn’t deserve the amount of damage that it received.
Absolutely true. By most accounts, he entered Collapsible C only when there were no more women and children left in the vicinity. As it was not launched till almost 2 am. his survival should not have been vilified in the manner that it was.

I feel for Murdoch. IMO he was by some distance the best officer on board the Titanic and it was unfortunate that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time ie - the Senior Officer on watch on the bridge at the time of the collision. I do not believe that it would have been any different if one of his colleagues had been there instead.

While Murdoch has never been cast as a 'villain' as such, there has been some implied criticism about him, especially in some early Titanic books. I feel even that was not fair.
 
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Captain Lord. I know this one has been debated to death but since you asked...I think Captain Lord was the designated scapegoat to shift blame away from the board of trade at least as far as the inquries go...especially the british one. When they concluded that the California could have saved all or some of the passengers at the hearing my take on it was.."see it was his fault, not the board of trade for not doing their job and making sure ships had enough life boats for all." Sure Captain Lord could have done some things different and it would have made for better optics but the outcome would have been the same. Anyway thats my choice for villian who really wasn't. And yes I know the inquiry come up with the recommendation for more boats but how could they not? As for hero's who really wern't...well thats a tough one for me because the press at the time made so much up.
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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I think Ismay’s reputation didn’t deserve the amount of damage that it received. He helped a lot of people into boats and he was ordered into a boat. He didn’t chicken out like so many said. He even told Olympic not to come to the scene so that survivors wouldn’t have the hysteria of seeing a ship they thought just sank.
I agree that I think he got hammered more than he deserved. It was just something at first glance that looked bad. But after looking at it more I've come to the conclusion that he did what what he could and it got to the point where he couldn't really do more. If you can't make any more difference theres no point in throwing your life away. Maybe its just a case of time heals all wounds. Unless your shoemaker...then time wounds all heels.
 
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mitfrc

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Captain Lord was in some sense the designated scapegoat for the failure of the Board of Trade to require subdivision on the best known principles of naval architecture of the time, but in failing to act as a gentleman and merchant officer of the time was expected to act in the circumstances, he bears full personal responsibility for opening himself up to being that scapegoat. His moral culpability in the eyes of society in 1912 was profound and legitimate and I think ultimately fair. I am however not convinced his conduct was criminal, and do not believe in any circumstance it was driven by criminal intent.
 

Arun Vajpey

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While there was some laxity on board the Californian that night (to quote Captain Lord himself), I do believe that the poor man ended up as an unfair scapegoat for the disaster. The problem was partly his personality; he has been described as something of a martinet, more feared than liked by his officers. He probably knew this and while I am sure it would have upset him to some extent, he was too proud a man to show it.

A Captain's first responsibility is his own ship and as far as that was concerned, Lord did very well on the night of Sunday 14th April 1912. As soon as he was made aware of the ice field, he ordered warnings sent out to other shipping, slowed and eventually stopped his ship. It was not his fault that Cyril Evans was the only Wireless Operator available to him; he could not possibly have ordered the man to carry on duty without sleep. I believe that the fiasco with the Titanic's stoppage and subsequent distress rockets was at least partly due to poor communications with the officers on the bridge. They very likely did not pass on their concerns with sufficient urgency to Lord, who, I understand, was actually not even in his cabin but resting in full uniform in the chart room.

Finally, even if the Californian had reacted immediately upon the very first distress signal, I don't think they could have made much difference. At best, they probably would have picked-up 20 to 25 half dead people from the sea.
 
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mitfrc

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I think like you do that the problem stemmed in poor information management on the Californian. In modern aircraft terms, "crew resource management" broke down. They had sufficient information to realise what was going on, but nobody synthesised it into a form that would permit them to act on it.
 
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Rob Lawes

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That's exactly it. The missing piece of the puzzle that never gets discussed. The unavoidable fact of the matter is that regardless of distance, the crew on watch on the Californian saw the Titanic's distress rockets. The human factors element of the story needs a proper examination. Why did Herbert Stone behave the way he did? How did he rationalise each rocket seen as something that didn't require greater action?

Human factors is vital to understand the sequence of events.

The actions of the crew of KLM Flight 4805 involved in the Tenerife Airport Disaster can be used as an excellent yardstick for the role of human factors in a sequence of events leading to a major disaster.
 

Arun Vajpey

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.

The actions of the crew of KLM Flight 4805 involved in the Tenerife Airport Disaster can be used as an excellent yardstick for the role of human factors in a sequence of events leading to a major disaster.
On principle you are right but by 1977 there was straight voice communication with the planes and ATC and since this was on record, it was quite clear what happened. Captain van Zanten took off without ATC clearance under very poor visibility conditions and no matter how the Dutch supporters argued, there was no way around that. Van Zanten had the necessary information and chose to ignore it because he did not want to overrun the crew duty hours stipulated by KLM. Captain Stanley Lord on the other hand, followed all the recommended safety procedures as far as his ship was concerned but with the Titanic, he did not have enough information to start acting. Putting it another way, Lord failed to stitch together a clear picture of what was happening 12 miles away from the bits and pieces information that he received from his crew.
 

Rob Lawes

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I'm talking about the actual human factors involved in the decision making process. I am not saying they are like for like events.

On the KLM flight, the Flight Engineer has doubts that the Pan Am plane is clear of the runway and can be heard asking "Is he clear then?" or words to that effect.

In modern crew resource management, the Flight Engineer would be trained as would all the crew to interject in an incisive way. It wouldn't be "is he clear yet?" it would be "Captain, the Pan Am isn't clear of the runway, recommend we cancel the take off"

Air Accident investigations have learnt over the years that the missing piece of the puzzle between all of the physical evidence and voice records and testimony is the Human Factors.

Captain Van Zanten had just returned to front line flying from running KLMs simulator pilot training. He didn't have to wait for ATC clearance to take off in the simulator because he ran the simulation and filled that role. That ingrained human factor contributed to his actions.

The questions I like to consider are the human factors of the Titanic's and Californian's crews and their contribution to the disaster. The loss of what we would describe as "situational awareness" on both bridges and the crew resource management that followed.

I don't think there has been any significant work done in this area.
 

mitfrc

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I agree with you completely. We teach the same thing in Process Safety Management / Risk Management Planning for ammonia refrigeration plants. The technicians need to be fully involved in the Process Hazard Analysis writeups for each step in the SOP. If you don't have that coordination and information sharing (they also have representatives on the PSM committee) then you are in dangerous ground because you are not effectively sharing and routing information from the lowest source up.

For some reason, Stone didn't initially assess the rockets as serious. That he alerted Captain Lord about them to me suggests he later changed his mind... And then realised how bad it looked and semi-intentionally minimised how bad it sounded to Lord. I don't think at any time that Californian believed it was a sinking ocean liner. So I think the real reason for this is that Stone thought that he missed an opportunity for a salvage tow and if Lord found out he would be furious at the lost money. To me the most significant piece is that they thought it was a tramper firing the rockets and if they interpreted it as an emergency, it would be salvage money. That strongly suggests that the deck officers simply did not initially class the rockets as a distress signal and then nervously tried to backtrack and do this problematic thing I encounter in life, where you report the truth to your superior in a way that it doesn't get you in trouble. ("Spin", if you will.)
 
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Jim Currie

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Let's get this right.

It should be understood what the regulations regarding distress were in 1912 and what the British Board of Trade expected of those who wished to be properly qualified to serve as a Deck Officer in relation to such regulations....no matter at what level.
"2nd Officer Stone of the SS Californian was qualified to the level of "Mate (FG)". Theoretically. this meant that he had passed the Government examination which would allow him to legally serve on any British ship (including Titanic) as Chief Officer.
However, on his way to that level, he would have passed for "2nd Mate "FG)" after serving 4 years as an Apprentice. I quote from Syllabuses for the BoT Exams:
"SECOND MATE (FOREIGN GOING)...Oral and Practical...
5. (a) A full knowledge of the content and application of the regulations for preventing collisions at sea...
(b) Distress and pilot signals; penalties for misuse."


The Manual of Seamanship used i preparation for the Oral Exams contained the following insruction:

"Rules 17 to 32 must be learned word for word...........
Rule 31 Distress signals."

Often in these pages, I have seen the suggestion that Stone failed to recognise the rockets seen as ones of distress. That is plainly absurd. In fact, he did not see them as anything other than signals which did not convey any specific message to an observer.

Actually, it seems that those on Titanic were using their sockets signals in accordance with the then Rule 12...Signals to attract attention.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Jim, may I request you to comment on Captain Rostron of the Carpathia in this post? A lot of people consider him a hero that night but I know that you and some others don't. I have not done any research into that subject and so remain neutral in my opinion.
 

mitfrc

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Let's get this right.

It should be understood what the regulations regarding distress were in 1912 and what the British Board of Trade expected of those who wished to be properly qualified to serve as a Deck Officer in relation to such regulations....no matter at what level.
"2nd Officer Stone of the SS Californian was qualified to the level of "Mate (FG)". Theoretically. this meant that he had passed the Government examination which would allow him to legally serve on any British ship (including Titanic) as Chief Officer.
However, on his way to that level, he would have passed for "2nd Mate "FG)" after serving 4 years as an Apprentice. I quote from Syllabuses for the BoT Exams:
"SECOND MATE (FOREIGN GOING)....
And like many experienced men in many accidents and incidents, he mis-assessed a situation and failed to act appropriately. The inability of experience to handle human factors is precisely why Rob brought up the Tenerife disaster and why CRM was developed. The understanding of how this happens and why CRM is important to mitigate it is quite real. It also wasn't understood and wasn't implemented or even named in 1912, which is a mitigating factor by all means, but certainly we can still use it as a basis for understanding what went wrong.
 

Jim Currie

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You use the words "miss assessment".

The idea of distress signals and their use was and still is, to convey an urgent need of assistance and to reduce or eliminate any doubt as to their meaning.
The whole idea of Regulation 31 is to prevent the need for assessment and to dispell any doubt regarding the use of distress signal rockets. I suggest to you that an observer should not have to tick multiple choice boxes in the brain.
Nothing "went wrong". In simple terms, Captain Smith was not using pyrotechnics as prescribed by Rule 31 of the regulations. Stone did not know that. consequently, he could not possibly have recgnised them as signals of distress but as signals to attract attention. It's not rocket science.
 
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mitfrc

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Certain things require no ambiguity in your response even if there is ambiguity in the presentation. They are things going down for which looking like an idiot is much preferable to doing nothing. I have rolled myself and my technicians in full turnout gear for a chemical spill before, knowing that it was highly implausible that the chemical in question was at an IDLH level; however, the campus manager used the emergency at-hoc system so we got our full respirators and I ended up standing around next to a wheel loader and a bunch of trucks with flashing light bars for fifteen minutes as I talked to the Campus Manager, walky-talky in hand as confused people milled around. Bottom line is that under life health and safety regulations we had to temporarily ask people to leave a building--but in the non-urgent "yes you can go back in to get your things".

But, the system had been used, so even though I knew it was a sustained, not an acute exposure hazard, we rolled in turnout gear anyway because you do not ignore that alarm. Ever.

I have read the regulations as presented in multiple threads and Stone should not have treated those rockets the way he did. Period.

Lord should have also not ignored them, but by the time it reached him of course the person who had delayed the message now had a vested interest in presenting it to his superior as non-urgent to "CYA", putting it bluntly. I simply do not see any flexibility in the regulations you quoted on many prior occasions here. To me they are just as proscriptive as the ones which made me turn my techs out, and the response should have been the same.

Pull a fire alarm in an industrial building and the fire department shows up even if you call them and say it was an accident. They must visually confirm it is safe. Goes off in the break room because the toast burnt? They still roll. No ambiguity in the response whatsoever. If it was standard practice at the time to use rockets for other purposes then that is a massive indictment of the safety culture. However, Lord himself said he hadn't seen them used frivolously since 1900 (on inland United States waters where different regulations might apply to the internal navigation of the US, no less) so I do not believe that the case.
 
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Jim Currie

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Jim, may I request you to comment on Captain Rostron of the Carpathia in this post? A lot of people consider him a hero that night but I know that you and some others don't. I have not done any research into that subject and so remain neutral in my opinion.
Will do Arun, but after I've fried some other fish.
 

Jim Currie

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Certain things require no ambiguity in your response even if there is ambiguity in the presentation. They are things going down for which looking like an idiot is much preferable to doing nothing. I have rolled myself and my technicians in full turnout gear for a chemical spill before, knowing that it was highly implausible that the chemical in question was at an IDLH level; however, the campus manager used the emergency at-hoc system so we got our full respirators and I ended up standing around next to a wheel loader and a bunch of trucks with flashing light bars for fifteen minutes as I talked to the Campus Manager, walky-talky in hand as confused people milled around. Bottom line is that under life health and safety regulations we had to temporarily ask people to leave a building--but in the non-urgent "yes you can go back in to get your things".

But, the system had been used, so even though I knew it was a sustained, not an acute exposure hazard, we rolled in turnout gear anyway because you do not ignore that alarm. Ever.

I have read the regulations as presented in multiple threads and Stone should not have treated those rockets the way he did. Period.

Lord should have also not ignored them, but by the time it reached him of course the person who had delayed the message now had a vested interest in presenting it to his superior as non-urgent to "CYA", putting it bluntly. I simply do not see any flexibility in the regulations you quoted on many prior occasions here. To me they are just as proscriptive as the ones which made me turn my techs out, and the response should have been the same.

Pull a fire alarm in an industrial building and the fire department shows up even if you call them and say it was an accident. They must visually confirm it is safe. Goes off in the break room because the toast burnt? They still roll. No ambiguity in the response whatsoever. If it was standard practice at the time to use rockets for other purposes then that is a massive indictment of the safety culture. However, Lord himself said he hadn't seen them used frivolously since 1900 (on inland United States waters where different regulations might apply to the internal navigation of the US, no less) so I do not believe that the case.
You are absolutely right...no flexibility in the Regulations. If you are in distress, you send out signals which cannot be mistaken for anything other than distress, if you do so, you are liable for some very hefty costs.

Signals at sea were not used "frivolously". You must understand that every signal by whatever means, had a purpose...even if simply to show respect to a passing warship.
Because Captain Lord hadn't seen such signals since the beginning of the century, did not mean they were not in use. That very same morning, Carpathia's captain used Cunard Company signals to "comfort" Titanic's captain. Should an observer have rushed toward these?

Consider the following:

Titanic had 2 powerful 360-degree visibility signaling lamps. These were in use continuously to inform a vessel nearby that she was sinking. They were never seen from the Californian. These could never have been missed by witnesses using binoculars. The only reason they could have been ignored would have been that the observers could not read English. Yet these wee a verbal cry for help which was ignored then and now.
 

mitfrc

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Jim, the signals were discharged on Titanic at a regular, short interval as the regulations specified. "Short" is not defined.

It is quite possible that there was a foreign steamer between Californian and Titanic. This would match reports from both Titanic and Californian crew. Perhaps she was a Brazilian tramper out of Halifax bound for Sao Paulo with a crew panicked of the ice and literally held in line with whips, the officers all asleep. That's the third world, then and now.

That is also completely unprovable and forever shall be.

What is documented, however, is that Californian saw signals which a cautious, conservative, by the book professional should have interpreted as a distress signal, but did not. She may not have arrived in time to save anyone, and the exact circumstances of what she saw are too disputed to assign /criminal/ liability, and duplicating Carpathia's run would be unreasonable and stupid, but she should have still gotten underway, or at least woke the wireless operator.