Lightoller's granddaughter claims steering error sank Titanic


Aug 8, 2007
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From the Daily Telegraph: "Titanic sunk by steering blunder, new book claims"

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8016752/Titanic-sunk-by-steering-blunder-new-book-claims.html

Quote: "It was always thought the Titanic sank because its crew were sailing too fast and failed to see the iceberg before it was too late. But now it has been revealed they spotted it well in advance but still steamed straight into it because of a basic steering blunder. According to a new book, the ship had plenty of time to miss the iceberg but the helmsman panicked and turned the wrong way."

The book, written by Charles Lightoller's granddaughter, Lady Louise Patten, claims the iceberg was spotted two miles away but the hard-a-starboard order was misinterpreted by Quartermaster Hitchens, who turned the ship the wrong direction. Also claimed by Lady Patten is that Bruce Ismay was responsible for giving the order to steam slow ahead for 10 minutes after the collision.
 
Dec 8, 2000
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Heh. I've just posted about Louise Patten's novel in the fiction section. Slow news day, evidently, not that the Melbourne Museum will object with the Titanic exhibition still to run until early November.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Maybe she knows something that we don't, and that's why Hichens was sent away after the sinking! The plot thickens!
 
Dec 8, 2000
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Well, yes.

This could be true, it could be a theme and variation on the truth, or something else entirely. Interesting to mull over even if I think some of Louise Patten's extrapolations don't stand up. There's also the context of this all coming to light alongside the release of her latest novel.

Anwyay, we know what Lightoller said about the Board of Trade inquiry: "In London it was very necessary to keep one's hand on the whitewash brush."
 
C

Crystal Von

Guest
Quote from link:
>>Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, persuaded the Captain to continue sailing<<

This is evidence that Ismay could over rule Smith's orders,we can put the Ismay/Smith theory to rest!

This was the case,Smith was at no fault at all.

Do you think,Lightoller would save Smith's bacon (if Smith survived) by telling this story to the courts? or save face for his other ship mates and his employers by holding the truth in,which he had done in the first place?

Where can I get my hands on Lightoller's grand daughter's book?

Thanka.
 
Dec 8, 2000
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I don't think I'd take the Lightoller family story to that extent without some more information.

Crystal, I don't know where in the world you're located but the UK publisher's site states the book will be released on 30 September. If you're in the US, I'm sure you could pre-order via Amazon or another similar bookseller.

It is a novel though, not a serious work of history. See the thread in the Titanic fiction section, where it belongs: Good as Gold by Louise Patten.
 
May 1, 2010
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A steering mistake? c'mon, that is about the same as saying that Jeffrey Dahlmer had an eating disorder.
Sounds like so much fiction, although steering decisions were certainly involved in the disaster.
 
Here are the news articles regarding Lightoller's granddaughter Louise Patten's finally revealing a "family secret":

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/22/titanic-secrets-criminal-decision-officers
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8016751/The-truth-about-the-sinking-of-the-Titanic.html
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/8016752/Titanic-sunk-by-steering-blunder-new-book-claims.html

An interesting read, but overlooking that this seems to be a carefully timed press release to publicise her fictional book, the 'revelations' are:

1. That due to confusion over rudder orders Murdoch/Hitchens steered the ship into the iceberg
2. That after the collision the ship kept sailing causing it to sink quicker.

I personally don't think either of these are particularly "new" as we have heard them before, but do believe the confusion is more on the part of Sylvia and Loiuse's later retelling and interpretation of Lightoller's words.

I would like to open this up for debate, but from my point of view Murdoch did indeed give two orders -"Hard-a-starboard" and then as they approached "hard-a-port", but not due to confusion over rudder orders but due to a procedure known as 'porting around' the berg to avoid a collision with the stern.

And I have heard evidence that there was an order of "half speed ahead" after the collision, but this must have been shortly thereafter changed to "stop" otherwise they would have been unable to lower the lifeboats, and there is no evidence that mentions lifeboats being lowered into moving water. So again a misunderstanding of an order that was given but later changed. Not to mention that the physics involved are debatable do not necessarily mean that such an order would have caused the ship to sink faster.

Any other thoughts?...
 
Jun 27, 2002
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This is making the rounds big time online and on the cable news shows. According to 2nd Officer Lightoller's granddaughter, Louise Patten, QM Hitchens steered the wrong way in confusion, and steered into the berg. She also alleges that Ismay convinced Smith to continue sailing for ten minutes, exacerbating the damages, and hastening the ship's demise "by hours."

Frankly, this "theory" smells to high heaven.

First, the originator of this "theory" has a fiction book coming out soon, that is not about Titanic, but incorporates some of her memories in it. It reeks of calculation to sell more copies, and get free publicity.

Second, what evidence is there? No letters, nothing from Lightoller himself. We're relying upon hearsay, second or possibly even third hand anecdotal evidence. As both a documentary filmmaker and historian, I can say you don't build anything upon such a flimsy foundation as that!

And I see so many problems with the story as she relates it:

She claims Lightoller covered up what he knew, to protect White Star. This sounds plausible initially, because Lightoller was indeed suspected of obscuring details, regarding the misplaced binoculars, the speed at which Titanic traveled, and Ismay's role in day-to-day running of the ship, all to protect his employer.

Yet where this claim fails (in my mind) is that Lightoller is not the only witness who would have to be bought off. What about QM Hitchens, who supposedly made the steering error? What about Boxhall, who was in a far better position to see what happened than Lightoller. What about Lookouts Lee and Fleet? They would have seen the ship turn the wrong way. And what about any other crewman on watch, or how about any passengers who were in the right position to witness the collision? There are too many witnesses, and considering how swiftly the Senate held hearings on the disaster, it seems hardly enough time for White Star to get everyone's stories straight. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe they did, since all the accounts are fairly in agreement.

Ms. Patten also says they had "four minutes" between the sighting and the collision. This seems way too much time. Hasn't it been fairly well settled upon that they had far less time, 60 to 90 seconds?

Some might say, "How could Lightoller know, since he wasn't on the bridge, but in bed?" She anticipates this by saying he was told of the error at a meeting of the officers. How convenient.

Yet the evidence up to now has always said this meeting never happened, that it was a product of movies (see "A Night to Remember.") Lightoller has always said he was alerted by Boxhall. And of course Officer Lowe was forgotten about entirely and didn't awake until he saw passengers in lifebelts on the boatdeck! If such a meeting had happened, why was it Lowe wasn't missed?

Of course, at the end of the day, since everyone involved is now dead, there is no way to definitively refute Ms. Pattens' claims, and I fear she will sell a great many paperbacks as a result of it.

A shame, because this theory of hers is bullsh*t.
 
Jun 27, 2002
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Another flaw in all this: if indeed Lightoller et. al were paid off/bought, why would White Star have taken such a risk in treating them so shabbily? Neither Boxhall nor Lights captained a White Star ship, and their careers were effectively capped as a result of the taint of the association with the disaster. They could have become disgruntled and told "the truth" to the press.

And in later years, with renewed interest in the sinking, and after White Star was abosrbed by Cunard, what was left to hide? They could have made a good deal of money telling their story. Ms. Patten assumes they were all loyal to a fault.

Yeesh!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>This is evidence that Ismay could over rule Smith's orders,we can put the Ismay/Smith theory to rest!<<

Sorry Crystal, but it's nothing of the kind. Keep in mind that what's being discussed here is a book which is being presented as a novel, not a "Just-The-Facts-Ma'am" history.

Now, if we had something in writing from Lightoller's own hand, unfiltered and unedited in it's complete context, that would be evidence. Second hand to be sure since he was not on the bridge at the time of the accident, but it would qualify as evidence.

>>This was the case,Smith was at no fault at all.<<

As the master of the vessel, the final responsibility in fact would be Captain Smith's, not only as a matter of custom, but as a matter of black letter law. Bruce Ismay would have no legal authority whatever to give orders in regards the navigation of the vessel.

As regards the whole "misunderstanding" over the steering orders, given that the custom was reckoned on tiller commands rather then "steering wheel" commands, it simply beggers belief that an experienced quartermaster on any British vessel would be unaware of this. Hitchens, regardless of his flaws was experienced.

Ironically, the way the helm would have been handled as presented in Cameron's movie was one of the details that they got right.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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For whatever it's worth, I don't think Lights was bought off or even needed to be. It can in fact be shown that he tried to mislead the inquiries. A well known example which bears that out was when he tried to assert that they were unaware of the ice but Senator Smith tripped him up on this, and forced him to admit that they did.

The catch in all of this is that whatever "spin" that Lights resorted to wasn't done with an eye towards helping White Star. A lot of his testimony...especially in the civil lawsuits which followed...was very unhelpful to the line.

My own opinion, is that like Boxhall, he was out to protect the reputations of shipmates who were unable to stand for themselves from the depradations of the lawyers.

As a sailor myself, this is something I understand.
 
Jun 27, 2002
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Frankly, this "theory" smells to high heaven.

First, the originator of this "theory" has a fiction book coming out soon, that is not about Titanic, but incorporates some of her memories in it. It reeks of calculation to sell more copies, and get free publicity.

Second, what evidence is there? No letters, nothing from Lightoller himself. We're relying upon hearsay, second or possibly even third hand anecdotal evidence from a grand daughter. As both a documentary filmmaker and historian, I can say you don't build anything upon such a flimsy foundation as that!

And I see so many problems with the story as she relates it:

She claims Lightoller covered up what he knew, to protect White Star. This sounds plausible initially, because Lightoller was indeed suspected of obscuring details, regarding the misplaced binoculars, the speed at which Titanic traveled, and Ismay's role in day-to-day running of the ship, all to protect his employer.

Yet where this claim fails (in my mind) is that Lightoller is not the only witness who would have to be bought off. What about QM Hitchens, who supposedly made the steering error? What about Boxhall, who was in a far better position to see what happened than Lightoller? What about Lookouts Lee and Fleet? They would have seen the ship turn the wrong way. And what about any other crewman on watch, or how about any passengers who were in the right position to witness the collision? And after the disaster, with all the confusion over who survived and perished, how could White Star know which witnesses had made it? It would have been a huge risk, to try and cover up something like that, only to have a witness emerge to contradict their story.

Considering how swiftly the Senate held hearings on the disaster, it seems hardly enough time for White Star to get everyone's stories straight. Yet somehow we are supposed to believe they did, since all the accounts are fairly in agreement on the events of the collision itself.

Ms. Patten also says they had "four minutes" between the sighting and the collision. This seems way too much time. Hasn't it been fairly well settled upon that they had far less time, 60 to 90 seconds? It seems she doesn't even have her own details straight.

Some might say, "How could Lightoller know, since he wasn't on the bridge, but in bed?" She anticipates this by saying he was told of the error at a meeting of the officers. How convenient.

Yet hasn't the evidence up to now shown that this meeting never happened, that it was a product of movies (see "A Night to Remember.") Lightoller has always said he was alerted by Boxhall, that he waited in his cabin so he could be located easilyi. And of course Officer Lowe was forgotten about entirely and didn't awake until he saw passengers in lifebelts on the boatdeck! If such a meeting had happened, why was it Lowe wasn't missed, or was excluded.

And if White Star had covered this up, it doesn't explain why they would then proceed to treat these same people so shabbily...Lights and Boxhall's careers were effectively capped by the disaster, and neither achieved a command of their own within the line. What about a payoff? Did they get money from the line for their silence? I want details like that before I'll buy a coverup.

And why bother to keep their silence, years later when White Start line was absorbed by Cunard. Surely there was a statute of limitations? And I'd imagine that there would have been a nice payout by a newspaper to anyone who came forward to reveal "the truth."

Of course, at the end of the day, since everyone involved is now dead, there is no way to definitively refute Ms. Pattens' claims, and I fear she will sell a great many paperbacks as a result of it.

A shame, because this theory of hers has more holes in it than the...
 
Jun 27, 2002
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I just found a different thread discussing my topic. Perhaps the mods could delete this one?

[Moderator's note: Two or three threads and individual messages from two or three others have been merged to form this thread. That process will continue without further notes with respect to messages about the comments Lady Patten attributes to her grandfather. Discussion of her book, if any, will take place in the "Titanic Fiction" subtopic. MAB]
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Hasn't it been fairly well settled upon that they had far less time, 60 to 90 seconds?<<

Actually, this has been debated, but that would be reasonable. In light of the claim made by Fleet in testimony that the ship was starting to turn while he was waiting for somebody to answer the phone, it may have been a tie between him and Will Murdoch as to who saw the iceberg first.

However, that's also debatable.
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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The word 'tosh' comes to mind but good luck to the lady!

The newspaper article showing pages from Lightoller's notes conveniently exhibits the page which mentions 'Californian' being "a couple of miles away" and rockets being " sent up every minute".
Add to these gems of misdirection, the fact that poor Mr. Moody, the 5th Officer- who's job it was to stand beside the QM and make sure that a helm order was carried out properly - was conveniently drowned.
But hang on a minute! If there was a meeting to keep the wrong helm order quiet - why wasn't Boxhall, Moody nor the two duty lookouts at that meeting? After all, they would have had to collude in any such subterfuge and any such meeting had to have taken place before any of the 'players' left or remained with the
ship. Incidentally, it must have been a heck of a short meeting considering that Lightoller gallantly filled and launched boats right to the bitter end when he too was 'launched' off the top of the wheelhouse.

I would have thought that if Lightoller was prepared to put his career on line for his employers, he would have got his reward later - at least in the form of a much earned command. he never did! (in the Merchant Service that is).

This story's got more holes in it than the Titanic herself!
 

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