The Facts Bill Wormstedt's research article

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Mar 20, 2000
I appreciate Bill Wormstedt's compilation of survivor accounts, bearing out who saw (or didn't see) what. So many people saw the break-up yet many didn't. Then there are those accounts that seem to reveal that the observer was confused about what he or she saw.

Not just the darkness but the vantage point and also the attention of the observer seem to come into play here. When the ship cracked into, this may not have happened as dramatically as is portrayed in the film but it must have happened quickly. Depending on the angle of one's perspective, as well as on whether or not one happened to be looking closely at the crucial moment, the split may or may not have been plain to see. The inky night and the clarity of one's own vision and one's proximity would have been factors, too.

As an example of confused observation, I cite Lucy Duff Gordon's early accounts, both published and unpublished, in which she refers to seeing "the forward half of the liner drop beneath the waves" while the stern "dropped back a bit." This seems to indicate that she was seeing the break up but was not sure that that was what it was.

I think this was because of the angle she was at to the ship. I believe boat 1's position at the time of Titanic's sinking was forward of the ship, slightly starboard and well within 200 yards. This would have created an unusual perspective with the ship's decks inclined toward the lifeboat. When she broke, it would have been hard to see that as clearly as it would have been from a boat that was broadside of Titanic when she split.

Anyway, just a pet theory of one account.

The article is a good study with all the facts as we know them from sworn testimony conveniently recorded in one succinct document.

Well done, Bill.

Nicolas Roughol

I appreciated that article too, although it is just a compilation and that any of us who has read both US and British hearings already knew what the witnesses had said. It is nice though to have it all cross-compiled that way

It also makes you wonder under what circumstances officers Lightholler and Pitman lied during the inquiries and insisted on the fact that Titanic sank in one piece. Were they deceived by their own eyes during the sinking? Maybe, though Lightholler is very affirmative. Did they think that their own career and/or White Star Line's future would be jeopardized if they acknowledged the breakup of Titanic? Probably. Which means they would have lied on purpose. Btw, did the crew men who acknowledged the break-up suffered in any way throughout their White Star Line careers from their testimonies?

Pat Cook

Apr 26, 2000
Hi, Nicholas,

For what it's worth, I wouldn't be so hasty when claiming that Lightoller and Pitman lied. They told what they believed they saw that night. And they were not the only ones. You must remember that the ONLY TWO passengers on the Titanic who wrote books about the catastrophe just after the event - Col. Archibale Gracie (1st Class) and Lawrence Beesley (2nd Class) BOTH stated the ship sank intact. Gracie even went to far as to get other eyewitnesses to back up his claim.

It could be that these two popular books, even more than the hearings testimonies, helped cement the idea of the ship remained in one piece as she went down.

JMHO here.

Best regards,

Nicolas Roughol

Hi Pat,

I agree with you there, that's why I mentionned that Lightoller and Pitman were maybe deceived by their own eyes. Either that, or they lied on purpose. Which one it was will probably never be known for sure...

Mike Herbold

Dec 13, 1999
Nice job. Another good example of your tireless efforts for accuracy, thoroughness, and truth, with no idle speculation. For some mysterious reason, I unfortunately never seem to be able to see pictures or charts that appear in the Titanic Research Articles. Can you e-mail those to me when you have a chance.
Warm Regards,

Tom Pappas

I suspect that a lot of people (especially city folk) greatly underestimate how dark a moonless night with no city glow really is. I have been on astronomy outings in such conditions where I couldn't see the telescope I was looking through. I had to locate the eyepiece and focusing rack by feel. I could make out the outlines of my colleagues only by the stars they blocked out. And I had the advantage of fully acclimated night vision - which Titanic's company did not.

To suggest that anyone involved in the sinking could see anything directly strains credibility to the limit. Most likely, they saw the silhouette of the ship against the star field. Those directly forward or aft of the hull had the worst view; those looking perpendicular to her length had the best. But no one really "saw" anything the way I can see the computer in front of me.
Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
>>although it is just a compilation and that any of us who has read both US and British hearings already knew what the witnesses had said<<

Uhhhh....yeah...if anyone actually took the trouble to read through them and take the time to put it all together. Bill did. it's nice to have it all in one place so anyone can see just how prevelant accounts of the breakup really were.

>>Lightholler and Pitman lied during the inquiries and insisted on the fact that Titanic sank in one piece. Were they deceived by their own eyes during the sinking?<<

Lights was not in a really good position to observe much of anything at the time. The ship was too busy trying to drag him down to the bottom, and both these officers had a vested interest in holding some things close in that they still had to make a living. This becomes a problem if you honk off the wrong people by revealing awkward facts nobody wants known and suddenly end up on a blacklist.

Junior crewmen and passengers...who couldn't be easily silenced...could be dismissed as unqualified observers or simply ignored. Take a look at the people who spoke to this in the U.S. Senate inquiry. Nothing they say is even factored into the final report, and at the British inquiry, Mersey would ask somebody if they saw the ship sink...and if the answer is "yes", Lord Mersey instantly changes the subject.

One gets the feeling they didn't want to know. or that they did know, but really didn't want certain things said.
Mar 18, 2000
Thanks for the compliments, people!

I agree 100% with what Michael said - reading the testimonies, especially one after the other, it sure feels like the assessors either did not want to know, or didn't want certain things said. Especially at the British Inquiry, were witness after witness was asked "Did you see the ship sink?". Then, when the witness said yes, the Assessor completely changed the subject, and refused to get any more detail.
Oct 28, 2000
Bill's compilation is the stuff of research. Dull and sometimes discouraging work like what he accomplished lies at the base of all brilliant insights, whether into Titanic or the nature of the universe.

As many as five years ago I realized that Lord Mersey and the BOT were "hiding something. More recently I had come to the conclusion the forbidden subject was the breakup of the ship. Now that Bill has broached the subject in public I must second his assessment of the Assessors.

-- David G. Brown

Dave Fitzpatrick

I too was very interested in the accounts of the survivors and what they said about the break-up and sinking.

As a secondary analysis has anyone done any positional analysis as to where each lifeboat was in relation to the Titanic when she sank as I would imagine that depending on which angle you viewed the wreck from this would affect the perception of what each witness thinks they saw particularly for those boats at a distance.
Mar 18, 2000
I've been out of town for a couple of days at a gathering, so I'm only just now getting a chance to attend to this.

(Hmmm - didn't somebody else (M.S.) say that?)

Dave F. - I did consider getting into what lifeboats saw what. But when *so many* survivors did not leave statements at the Inquiries, there just wasn't a lot of point to it.

Off the top of my head, and getting away from the Inquiries a bit: Collapsible B - Lightoller and Gracie say it went down intact, Thayer said it broke up. Also, as Michael said, both Lights & Gracie were fighting for their lives, and may not have been in a position to really see what was going on.

I do have a few minor points I want to comment on, but those will have to wait for a day or two, until I get dug out around here.

Dave Fitzpatrick

Hi Bill,

I understand the difficulties in doing the analysis particularly as there are so few "independent" witnesses that actually say they saw anything as you say. Another question just came into my head regarding your article. I agree that the then employees of the White Star Line would have had a reason to tow the company line on the break up but did any of them later tell any different stories (not just about the break up) in later articles/book when they had left the employ of TWSL that would lend any weight to the argument that they where give their evidence at the enquiries under some kind of company order?

I know I have only just started joining in on ET but at the moment all I am reading and particularly your article just brings up more questions!! Sorry if I'm taking this a bit too far.


Jun 8, 2002
Dear Bill,

I'm going to add my congratulations to all the others on your fine research article. Thank you for adding to our understanding of the perceptions, at least, of the sinking among those who witnessed it, and very interestingly the possible motivations of those who might have had reason to "embroider". Food for thought, indeed!

Best regards,
Oct 13, 2000
Bill, congratulations on another insightful article. it capitalizes once again on your skill at collecting and collating information. this is the kind of research that makes the study of a subject so much easier for the rest of us!

as we discussed in person in South Carolina, I don't think Lightoller was lying when he stated the ship sank intact. as Mike pointed out, the man had other things on his mind besides what the ship might or might not have been doing, like trying to stay alive. that plus his position in the water, essentially looking down the length of the ship in the darkness, I don't think he could have seen the breakup even if he had been watching for it. it was certainly in his best interests to tow the company line, but in this instance I think he could honestly say he didn't see the ship break apart, and therefor, it must have sank intact.

all the best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
Mar 18, 2000
Hi, Mike - thanks for the compliment.

I hear what your saying, and I do believe Lightoller really didn't see it actually sink. I'll have to check my data when I get home (I'm within spitting distance of the other ocean right now!), but I seem to recall Light's statements indicating he *did* see the ship - and also that it did not settle back.

I do have some things I want to check later this week when I get home, I have a few more details I'd like to pull out, and post here.

Luke Owens

Jan 18, 2007
I haven't posted in these forums until now, but I have to speak up on this one. <g> First of all, yes, the article is great. However, the question of what Lightoller and/or Gracie did or didn't see is moot.

As stated in many places, both men were under water, then blown to the surface by an "explosion". One has to wonder 1) if they were both blown to the surface at the same time, and 2) if this "explosion" was caused by the break-up of the ship? If so, neither one of them could possibly have seen the break-up; the ship would have been under water by the time they were in a position to see.

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