Lang's Titanic: A Fresh Look at the Evidence

Aug 2, 2007
Lang, John, Titanic: A Fresh Look at the Evidence by a Former Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012).

Lang, a respected former head of MAIB, offers a very careful and well-informed analysis based on the same facts everyone else knows. His conclusion is that the Californian's bridge watch did see the uppermost lights of Titanic but was unable, for a variety of reasons, to recognize what they were seeing. He doesn't indict Lord directly, but plainly feels the master was remiss in not checking the sighting out more vigorously.

I would add, based on some experience as a watch officer calling the captain in the middle of the night, that captains roused from a deep sleep have a very natural human tendency to have difficulty in fully assessing the significance of information unless it is presented in very clear and forceful terms. I suspect that the watch aboard Californian felt they had good reason to fear that Lord would respond very negatively if they pressed.

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hello William,

It's a wee bit above my budget but I have one comment. If John Lang suggests that Titanic's bridge and upper decks were in line of sight of the men of Californian then he has to completely discount the evidence of Californian's 2nd Officer who wrote that the rocket burst he saw "appeared to come from a good distance beyond her". Later Stone told his UK questioner that they barely rose to the height of the nearby ship's masthead light.
The first statement was written before Californian reached Boston and the second merely reinforces the impression of distance. If these were Titanic's rockets then they would have been over 700 feet above sea level ( 650 + deck height). To an observer 5 miles away, they would have appeared at a tremendous height above the masthead light. Significantly, they would never have been seen at the same height as the white masthead light.

I'm sure the mathematically gifted members of this forum are capable of calculating the distance between the two ships as suggested by Stone's evidence.

Incidentally, this will give you an idea of how a ship the size of Titanic would appear to the men of Californian. The vessel in the following picture which I tool 10 minutes ago, is slightly bigger that Titanic and is 5 miles away. Imagine her in darkness and lit up like a Xmas tree.

today 002.jpg

As for the author of the book:

John Lang is a respected and hugely gifted officer of great experience. Of that there can be no doubt. However, his gifts and experience do not seem to stretch to very much hands-on Merchant Navy or Marine Accident Investigation work.
I understand he entered the Executive Branch of the MCA (MAIB Branch) as late as 1997. Since during his time at the MCA, he would have gad access to it's facilities, I'm quite sure his book will be a well written, precise volume of great interest and well-worth the money.

Jim C.

today 002.jpg


Apr 6, 2012
Californian was stopped, that is undisputed but Capt Lord was strict but fair, when he asked a junior to check a position he would give them time then go down and politely check: let's face it a message going out would be in his name not the Juinior. Thus, if his message gave a position that position was correct allowing for a 1knot SE current. Capt Smith left it to his officers and the one who worked out the position was FOURTH Officer Boxhall who took the course as a change of course at mid-day then 11.5 hours at 22.5 knots and there was the position. Soon after he got back to the bridge he realised that there was a 1knot SE current so the ship's speed was 21.5 knots. He went down and worked out the new position. These were known as CQD 1 and CQD" with about 11 miles and the icefield between them and both positions were about 17 miles from Californian BUT either nobody told Boxhall, nobody marked on the chart or Boxhall forgot but Titanic did not change course at mid-day she went further south for about twenty minutes and then changed and this would have placed her course about 7 miles south of Boxhall's Dead Reckoning course and putting Titanic 26 miles SE of Californian and at exactly the position wher Capt Robert Ballard found the wreck and at this distance Californian would have seen the rockets as the smaller signal rockets but QM Hitchen stated at the British Enquiry that he fired almost 3 boxes of socket signals, some red, some blue, dome green and some white. There were 12 in a box so 32 would give 8 of each colour but at that distance Californian would only be able to see the white ones against a dark sky.

Jake Peterson

Mar 11, 2012
Iowa, USA
Looks like an intriguing read. Too bad I didn't see THIS book at my local B&N (among others that people here have talked of). Might have to give it a read as soon as it comes down from $35, as Amazon lists it.
Mar 18, 2008
QM Hitchen stated at the British Enquiry that he fired almost 3 boxes of socket signals, some red, some blue, dome green and some white. There were 12 in a box so 32 would give 8 of each colour but at that distance Californian would only be able to see the white ones against a dark sky.

Quartermaster Hichens never fired any rockets.
Regarding the colour, I would recommend this work by Sam Halpern;

Jim Currie

Apr 16, 2008
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hello Don. Seasons greetings to you.

Obviously you are not a mariner but heck, so what? Perhaps I might be able to help your thought process in that direction.

Californian was heading almost due West from when she altered course at 9-40am that morning. A man of Captain Lord's experience could easily have worked out his ships approximate (DR) position in his head. The same goes for Joseph Boxhall or any of Titanic's officers. In fact Lord did work-out the DR position for Californian when she stopped that night.

Despite what has been written, there is no evidence of a south or southeast setting current that night.
(See "The Scapegoat Part 2" Amazon $5)

Boxhall did not think the ship altered course at Mid-day. She possibly did but if so, it would have been a minor adjustement.

As for Boxhall's navigation:

2nd Officer Lightoller took observation of no less than 6 stars at dusk that night. Pitman and then Boxhall worked the ship's position from these and according to Pitman found that she was 'right on the line'. The line in question was a fixed track- line drawn on Titanic's chart by her owners. It was from the turning point at The Corner to a point south of the Nantucket Light Vessel. From there she would head for the Ambrose Channel Light ship where Titanic would commence her final approach under pilotage toward New York.

There has been a great deal of speculation about Captain Smith altering course at The Corner too early or too late but that is all it is speculation and fill-in guesses at gaps in the evidence. In fact, if, as Pitman claimed, Titanic was right on the track from the The Corner to Nantucket Light ship she would be on a course of 265 True at time of impact. The coures from The Corner to a position 1 mile north of the wreck site is 265 True. In other words, Titanic was indeed right on course when she hit the iceberg and more than likely, Captain Smith turned her exactly at The Corner.

All the evidence needed is available. Unfortunately, the saying " a little knowledge is a dangerous thing" is often well illustrated in these pages and the book pages of self-appointed 'experts'. Be careful!

By the way, Robert Ballard is not a 'captain' as far as I know.

Californian was just over 21 miles NNW of where Titanic hit the iceberg. I totally agree with you there.


Jim C.

Doug Criner

Dec 2, 2009
I just finished reading Lang's book, and I recommend it. The format is a bit unusual - it adopts the format of a modern, official, accident investigation report as for airplanes or ships. No quotations of witnesses, just opinions, findings, and recommendations. Everyone here will likely find much to agree with (Capt. Lord, he concludes, was treated badly, but there were also mistakes made by Californian.)

On Amazon, I would normally give it 5 stars - but not the Kindle version! There are many photos, drawings, and illustrations that are rendered much too tiny on Kindle to be of any use. If you can't afford the book, forget Kindle - wait for it to show up in the library.

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