How common was rocket use?

Nov 14, 2005
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Hi. Been off the puter for a few weeks so if this is redundant sorry in advance. But on the Titanic Channel there is a segment on "Rockets at Sea". It answered a lot of the questions I had originally. It is pretty good. The only thing I didn't get was the presenter if I heard right said that after Titanic it was agreed that red rockets to be used only for distress. I thought that wasn't decided for years after Titanic...like 25 years or so later. A minor point I know. It is a good segment to watch.
 

Moj

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Jun 16, 2018
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I was reading different opinions in here and I just wanted to say one thing.

Some people had mentioned the final change in number of survivers if Californian had reacted diferrently that night and said that the change would be just a few more.This makes me sad . Please remember that although it has been over a century and although compared to 3000 lives 10 or 20 isnt much but they are still human beings.
Humans that died in a very horrible way that night.
Im not saying that if Californian did anything differently that night the result would be better becuase we may never know that. I just get very sad reading again and again that even if tried the result would be a few more people.
Even that few more were somebodys husband or wife brother sister or child. And for the family of those victims even one person alive was very precious.
 

Julian Atkins

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Sep 23, 2017
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Hi Moj,

I can sympathise with your post.

There has been a lot of rubbish written in books about the rockets that night. We actually know far more about Titanic's distress rockets than was given in evidence at the British Inquiry in 1912, as we now know the specification of the rockets used supplied by the company who supplied them, and can access online what the Registered Company Signals were at the time.

The firing of the distress rockets on Titanic was in hindsight a very poor job, and my culprit on lots of mistakes is Boxhall, as ever. It was a very haphazard operation. We know from the examination of the wreck Titanic had lots of Cotton Powder Co. rockets, and we know that despite the impending inevitable disaster very few of the stock of distress rockets were fired. The requirement by regulations was to fire rockets or shells throwing stars (of any colour) at 'short intervals'. An explosive signal was to be fired at about a minute intervals. The Cotton Powder Co. signals supplied to Titanic were both explosive, and exploded into white stars in itself making a mockery of the regulations that were not kept up to date.

Anyway, either about a minute intervals, or short intervals.

There is a great deal of debate as to how frequently Titanic's rockets were fired and when. I think generally the consensus seems to be that Boxhall could have fired many more rockets with the assistance of Rowe, or simply directed Rowe to fire more whilst Boxhall was distracted dealing with loading boats etc. And that furthermore Boxhall ought to have ensured rockets continued to be fired by others once he left Titanic in one of the lifeboats.

What is now beyond any doubt is that Titanic had plenty of these rockets to fire, and that very few were used, and that they exploded very high in the sky with a 'bang' emitting a display of white stars.

It should perhaps be added that on that night there was no cloud, no fog, no swell on The Atlantic, and no moon, just a very star lit dark sky.

Stone on The Californian saw one flash then 7 white rockets bursting. According to Gibson, he may have seen the first 5 of these and reported to Captain Lord much earlier than his own account. Certainly by 2.05am when Gibson went to Captain Lord's chart room to report, he reported 8 white rockets seen.

Later on, Gibson saw 3 rockets fired from Carpathia (Stone missed the first, but saw the subsequent 2 further rockets), and Carpathia had sent a wireless warning to other ships she was firing rockets coming to the assistance of Titanic. Stone did not report these 3 further rockets seen to Captain Lord (he was unaware of Carpathia's wireless message warning) because he had simply given up by then in trying to alert Captain Lord and get him up onto the very short distance from the chart room to the flying bridge.

Had Captain Lord acted upon Stone's first report of the 5 rockets seen according to Gibson's timing around 1 am (there is some considerable debate over this), and if you take the view The Californian was say some 12 miles from Titanic as opposed to Captain Lord's 19.5 plus miles, then The Californian could have got to Titanic shortly before she sank. If you take Stone's timings, then The Californian could just about have got to Titanic after Titanic had sunk.

How many more could have been saved is very debatable. If only 10 or 1 had been picked out of the freezing water and saved, the attempt would have been worth it.

Maritime Law imposed certain duties upon The Californian, the obvious being to go to the assistance of any vessel in distress so long as The Californian was not endangered in the process.

Hence Captain Lord's map of the ice field of showing an ice field between The Californian Titanic on the eastern side of the ice field as discussed recently on another thread.

It is as complicated as you want to make it, or really very simple.

Cheers,

Julian
 
Mar 22, 2003
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The wording of the rules even today do not specify how short these firing intervals ought to be. When our condominium attorney reviewed one of our building's proposed rules concerning keeping dogs on a short leash when inside the building, his response was that that word 'short' is subjective. He said the rule needs to be specific about the length of the leash. So we put in the words '6 feet or less'. Yet, those responsible for creating the rules of the road for vessels at sea never bothered to define 'short', the only change was that they should be throwing red stars instead of stars of any color. They should have also put in words that they should be fired at intervals of 3 minutes or less, or some other number that would define what 'short' is.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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To quote from myself----

The 1948 convention, which came into force on 19 November 1952, formalised the new fire protection measures. To clarify the minds of future Herbert Stones, it introduced a new definition of pyrotechnic distress signals. Henceforth, they would consist of 'Rockets or shells, throwing red [author's emphasis] stars fired one at a time at short intervals.'

There was a practical limit on how short the interval could be. After a socket signal was fired, the socket had to be cleared of any burning fragments remaining before a new charge could be put in.

By the way, the only movie that gets the firing almost right is the 1953 flick. All that is wrong is that in the film the socket is on the deck. In reality it was on the top rail. Other movies are not even close.
 

Rob Lawes

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Jun 13, 2012
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I presume the 53 film got it correct because at the time, the equipment and the experience in using it, were still around.

Does anyone recall the UK series about 8 or 9 years ago where they recreated elements of the ship (cabins, part of the hull, the anchor etc). I seem to remember they recreated a socket signal. Does anyone remember this and did they get it right?
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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The technical advisor for the 1953 flick was Sir Gordon Illingworth, a retired Cunard commodore. He would have been familiar with socket signals. You can see the effect of socket signals at modern firework displays. The devices used today are very similar, except they are electrically fired.

Here's a better screen grab, showing the socket and lanyard. The socket is correctly shown as 20° off the vertical, to make sure the signal goes clear of the ship.

Socket signal from 1953 movie.gif
 

Julian Atkins

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Sep 23, 2017
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Ooeer... it isn't rocket science!

Titanic's rockets were fired from dedicated sockets attached to the vessel at an angle. A lanyard was required to fire them. There was probably some detonation 'bang' as they shot upwards to a considerable height, then a further 'bang' as they exploded into white stars. Apart from my guess as to the detonation 'bang', the above is as per the Cotton Powder Co. spec.

One would not want to insert a further unfired rocket into firing socket until same had cooled down after a previous firing and heat generated.

However, after 12.25am etc on Titanic on the 15th April, in the freezing cold conditions, this would have been of no worry, and a 5 minute delay or longer between firings, could have been considerably increased, and alternative socket fixings for firing utilised port and starboard, so that the distress rockets could have been fired alternatively from each side's socket in very quick succession, and there were ample stocks of boxes to fire off.

Boxhall knew the ship was going to founder and sink. He should have kept firing all those rockets in quick succession. The Titanic had no further need to retain any stock of distress rockets - she was doomed and sinking. If he was not personally able to give attention to this, he should have delegated far more frequent firing of all the stocks of rockets to Rowe and others.

It does not require any skill to insert a rocket into a socket, stand back, and pull the lanyard to fire it.

In the middle of the night, with a dangerous ice field stopping The Californian and knowing Titanic was fast approaching (from other Marconi reports from other ships) an extensive ice field some 20 miles southwards if both ships were on the correct tracks, Stone sees a 'flash' then 7 white rockets that 'burst', and Gibson sees 3 of these that exploded into white stars when he rejoined Stone on the flying bridge.

My personal view is that Stone ought to have realised the importance of the signals he saw, and had Boxhall done his job properly, with more rockets fired at closer intervals than there would be no doubt whatsoever.

Cheers,

Julian
 

Julian Atkins

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Sep 23, 2017
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However, after 12.25am etc on Titanic on the 15th April, in the freezing cold conditions, this would have been of no worry, and a 5 minute delay or longer between firings, could have been considerably increased,
Oops typo - "increased" should be "reduced".

I think the subsequent context makes this clear, but apologies nevertheless.

Cheers,

Julian
 
May 3, 2005
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Would Titanic's rocket flashes be in one large bright "blob" as shown in the 1953 movie or would they burst into "stars":as shown in other movies? I believe ANTR does show Quartermaster Rowe firing them from the of a ledge or railing ?

I don't know how to transfer this to this website from this nook, but searching on "White's Chapel Fireworks Show" for views from a drone. There are several shots of fireworks exploding into "stars" on this video. Someone on this website might be able to find this and transfer it to this website for comparison with the Titanic's rockets.
 

Mike Spooner

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Jan 31, 2018
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Looking Appendix B Distress Signals at Sea under Article 31of Rules of the Road.
There would appear there is daytime and night time distress rockets.
I guest Carpathia was firing night time rockets ever 15 minutes. Did those rockets throw out exploding shooting stars?
It also states for day or night time a ship in distress. A continuous sound any fog-signal apparatus!
As for Carpathia she was not in distress, therefore didn't require a fog horn.
But did Titanic use her fog horn continuous? And if she had used it, what was range that could be heard in Titanic position?
 

Harland Duzen

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Jan 14, 2017
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...But did Titanic use her fog horn continuous? And if she had used it, what was range that could be heard in Titanic position?
Titanic (according to TTSM: V1) had 2 whistles on the first 2 forward funnels*, a Norwegian fog-horn and a gong (the latter for use while anchored).

Her whistles (from memory I think) could be heard from between 8 -10 miles away. But on the night none of the above were use. However the sound of the boilers being vented of steam out of the funnels was also very loud and the fact that no one on the Californian mentioned hearing any of it (including Gill who would have used it to validate his claim had he heard it) shows they were further away than what Gill said they were.

Back to topic!

*The Aft 2 also had whistles but these were fake, didn't work and only there for aesthetic reasons so all the funnels matched visually.
 
Nov 14, 2005
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After reading thru the 1992 re-examination of the evidence that Mr. Standart posted in the Californian thread I got to thinking about the rockets as according to testimomy, Captain Lord asked more than once if the rockets were white...no color. Before and during the time of Titanic when wireless was still not that common aboard ships, did ships ever use rockets to signal ice hazards to other ships?