Marconi versus Lightoller

  • Thread starter Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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All right, folks, this is where the flap started. From C.H. Lightoller: Titanic and Other Ships London, Ivor Nicholson & Watson, 1935, pp 222-223.
Copied at the Science Business and Industry Library, (SIBL) New York Public Library.

"The one vital report that came through but which never reached the bridge was received between 9-40 p.m. and 10 p.m. from the Mesaba stating 'Ice report in Latitude 42N to 41-25N. Long.49 to Long.50-30W. Saw much heavy pack ice, and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear.' Philips, the wireless operator on watch who received the message was not to know the extreme urgency of the warning or that we were at that time actually entering the area given by the Mesaba, an area literally packed with icebergs, field ice and growlers. He was very busy working wireless messages to and from Cape Race, also with his accounts. The junior operator, Bride, of course knew nothing about this vital warning, being off duty and turned-in. Later, when standing with others on an upturned boat, Phillips explained when I said that I did not recollect any Mesaba report: 'I put the message under a paper weight at my elbow, just until I squared up what I was doing before sending it to the Bridge.' That delay proved fatal and was the main contributory cause to the loss of that magnificent ship and hundreds of lives. Had I as Officer of the Watch, or the Captain, become aware of the peril lying so close ahead and not instantly slowed down or stopped, we should have been guilty of culpable and criminal negligence."

That is the original passage. Now this is the revision. From C.H. Lightoller: Titanic and Other Ships London, Ivor Nicholson & Watson, 1935, pp. 222-223. in the Library of Congress, available on microfilm.

"The one vital report that came through but which never reached the bridge, was received at 9-40 p.m. from the Mesaba stating 'Ice report in Latitude 42N to 41-25 N. Long.49 to Long.50-30W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear.' The wireless operator was not to know how close we were to this position, and therefore the extreme urgency of the message. That he received the message is known, and it was read by the other operator in his bunk. The operator who received it was busy at the time, working wireless messages to and from Cape Race, also with his accounts, and he put the message under a paper weight at his elbow, just until he squared up what he was doing and he would hae brought it to the bridge. That delay prooved fatal and was the main contributory cause to the loss of that magnificent ship and hundreds of lives.

As you might expect, Marconi was no better pleased with the second version than with the original. The book had to be withdrawn.
 
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Jemma Hyder

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Pat,

You can hardly blame Marconi. The whole thing is sussed when you consider that Jack Phillip's was most likely never on Lifeboat B...
 
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Jemma Hyder

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and on the second one, Harold Bride would have been reading the message in his sleep... He is still claiming that what Jack Phillips supposedly said on boat b is true, and yet he has had to withdraw the statement that he was actually on boat b...
 
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Jemma Hyder

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I am having a very long day at work. I just want to reassure everybody that what I am posting is making sense to me when I write it, even if you have no clue what I am talking about
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Apr 22, 2012
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It makes sense, Jemma. Harold Bride was asleep at 9:40 P.M., so he could not have read that message. I have my doubts about whether or not Jack Phillips made it to Collapsible B, as well. Even so, I have never heard of the man even being conscious while he was on the boat, let alone talking about the messages recieved. The reports I've heard about him being on that boat had him just lying there quiet.


Cheers,
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-B.W.
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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Yes, it's a very tangled story that emerges here as to how Lightoller first heard of the Mesaba message. However, the reason that the Marconi Company sued him is that he laid blame for the Titanic disaster squarely on their employees' non-delivery of said message. Whether it actually would have is questionable, but that was his opinion, and he was going to say it. Apparently, Marconi thought he spoke with enough authority that they would have a lot of wrongful death lawsuits to contend with, if his book remained on public sale.

Pat W.
 
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sharon rutman

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I don't get the connection between Marconi and Lightoller. I don't think Lightoller heard about the Mesaba until he was aboard Collapsible Boat B. Remember the left hand really didn't know what the right hand was doing on 4/l4/l2. Phillips and Bride were far more preoccupied with passenger traffic overload than with ice reports.
 
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Patricia Bowman Rogers Winship

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The connection is that the Titanic's wireless operators were employees of the Marconi Company. The White Star Line paid Marconi for their services. Therefore, if Marconi's men screwed up, with disastrous results, Marconi might be held liable. Lightoller said in print, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, and the authority of the only surviving senior officer, that they HAD screwed up. The Marconi Company wanted that book off the shelves before some cranky, litigious Titanic widow-- or a lot of them-- saw it, and sued them for wrongful death.
 
Feb 9, 2006
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As much as I admire Lightoller and sympathize with the weight of being the most senior officer survivor, I do think he was too hard on Phillips.

Policy should have had handling ice reports and inane passenger chatter done by different people, or not done the passenger stuff at all. There were plenty more mistakes than Phillips', and he was massively overworked. Obviously you all know that, but Lightoller's blame does rub me the wrong way.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Policy should have had handling ice reports and inane passenger chatter done by different people, or not done the passenger stuff at all. <<

The problem with this is twofold. One being that the Marconi room had only two operators who were expected to keep tabs on things 24/7. There were no others. The other problem is that in this day and age, the radio service was a for profit business. Marconi and it's competitors such as Telefunken were out to make money.

All else aside, the much storied Masaba message is misdirection in any event. Absent that message, Titanic's officers already had seen enough reports that they knew that ice was a potential problem. They didn't tell the lookouts to keep a special watch for growlers and bergy bits because they were guessing about it or because it was a dull day with nothing better going on.

They told them that because they knew!
 
Feb 9, 2006
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Of course. It wouldn't have been impossible, though, to have more than two operators, would it? Just some way to dive the for-profit and the for the good of not freezing to death in the Atlantic. Seems like someone sensible like that could have been in the budget.

I guess that reflects more poorly on the officers, then. And Smith most of all.

Lightoller putting the majority of the blame on a dead man, even though I understand the situation he was in and remained in, just seems a bit disappointing.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Of course. It wouldn't have been impossible, though, to have more than two operators, would it?<<

To what end beyond a saner relief schedule that didn't run the operators into the ground? The Titanic had only one set.
 
Feb 9, 2006
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Well that's what I mean, generally. I suppose I am still putting importance on the Mesaba wire, though I know of course that all the officers were aware of the ice. I feel like it wouldn't have hurt and might have further driven the point in.

Did ships operate with more than one wireless set then or ever? I am clueless in the technology as you may note.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I suppose I am still putting importance on the Mesaba wire,<<

I wouldn't. To attatch any importance to it presumes that the Titanic's officers were ignorant of what they were sailing into, and this just wasn't the case. Ice reports were being broadcast to all and sundry by a number of ships. Titanic was just one of the recipiants. That they gave special instructions to the lookouts who were stood up before Fleet and Lee went up for their watch tells me that they had a reasonable understanding of where the icefield was, and about when they would encounter it.

Simply put, ignorance of the icefield was not the problem. Seriously over estimating their ability to see in time to avoid it was.

>>Did ships operate with more than one wireless set then or ever?<<

I'm sure they have, and these days, ships carry all kinds of radios which can transmit on a wide veriety of frequencies, and by voice rather then code. Shucks, these days, even cruise ships have a virtual forest of antenneas which cover everything from short range ship to ship, to satillite links to the internet.

However, in 1912, it was a single radio set that was a decidely cumbersome affair which took up two whole rooms, worked on a frequency so low that the antennea if stretched out from it's rig would have been four times longer then the ship herself, and which had only *one* operating station. This is excruciatingly clumsy by our reckoning but in 1912, the Titanic's rig was literally cutting edge technology.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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"Simply put, ignorance of the icefield was not the problem. Seriously over estimating their ability to see in time to avoid it was."

Very well put Michael. Even if the Mesaba message was delivered to the bridge, would Lightoller have slowed down or stopped as he claimed he would? No, that is not the way things worked at that time. As Lightoller testified, he expected to be up to ice as early as 9:30. So who is he kidding by that statement? To me it is a case of trying to shift blame away from Titanic's officers and the practice was in effect at the time, nothing else. Even WSL could not be blamed since they had Sailing Order No. 4 posted up in the officer's chart room instructing them to sacrifice time or impose any other temporary inconvenience rather than incur the slightest risk.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Even if the Mesaba message was delivered to the bridge, would Lightoller have slowed down or stopped as he claimed he would? No, that is not the way things worked at that time.<<

Indeed it wasn't. It was "Put the pedal to the metal in all conditions short of bad visibility" and the latter part was a matter of interpretation. Titanic's loss didn't really change that attitude either, and some ships paid the price. Need I mention that lightship the Olympic ran over.

One question that goes unasked...much less answered...is just how it was that Lightoller even knew what he claimed he did in regards the Masaba message.
 
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- Even WSL could not be blamed since they had Sailing Order No. 4 posted up in the officer's chart room instructing them to sacrifice time or impose any other temporary inconvenience rather than incur the slightest risk.-

I certainly didn't know that! But I guess presidant and practice was full speed ahead for the good of the company in spite of that, correct? Do as I do, not as I say, from WSL? Or more subtle pressures, than Ismay twirling a mustache and giving orders...

Well, thanks for the lesson, gentlemen. This what these boards are for, in my my mind! I wish all the history I am interested in had such information and plenty of informed people readily available. I am find it thrilling.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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The instructions to officers is another example of what I mentioned. On paper, everything was to be done at the highest standard. The reality was more like the following verse, which was written by a man who worked in marine insurance years ago.

UNSAID

‘She’s your command, skipper,’ the company says to me,
‘For better or worse, you’re the boss of this hearse
As soon as she puts to sea.

Use your judgement, skipper —hold her well off the coast,
Keep a true log — heave to in the fog
Safety first is our boast.’

Slave to a sea tradition, I listen and bow my head,
But the orders I hear with my inner ear
Are the ones that are left unsaid.

‘The hooker’s insured, skipper — get her out and in.
Our sailing dates and cargo rates
Mean twelve knots — thick or thin.

From here to there is our motto. To hell with the wind and the tide.
You make these joints by cutting the points —
Not by playing ‘em wide.

So use your own judgement, skipper, but think of the penalty.
There’s better captains than you on the beach
We know where they are — they’d be easy to reach,’
The company whispers to me.
 
Feb 9, 2006
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Both very interesting, thanks Dave! I am impressed and surprised at how the instructions seem to stress safety. Regardless of what was unsaid and all that, it's surprising somehow to see that there was at least such a stress on safety in print.
 

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