Titanic's Distress Rockets


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Tim Gillis

Guest
Is it true that the rockets fired by Titanic were not really distress rockets and meant something else?
 
No. Standards for distress signals were prescribed by the Board of Trade. Titanic carried 36 socket signals, which were not rockets as commonly understood, but pyrotechnic signals fired from small mortars. Very similar things are used for entertainment today, though today they are fired electrically. They sent a small container some 600 to 800 feet into the air, where a second explosion caused bright stars to shower down.

It is true that ships sometimes used fireworks to indicate the line they belonged to. None of these remotely resembled distress signals. Very few included even one rocket and none lasted more than 2 or 3 minutes.

Some people fail to realise that pyrotechnics were strictly controlled by the various national authorities. A captain didn't just go out and buy rockets in his favourite colour and suppliers didn't sell a 4th of July assortment to the captains, just for laughs.
 
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Tim Gillis

Guest
Thanks for clearing that up. But I seem to recall reading that the rockets Titanic fired were not really distress rockets, and was the reason the Californian didn't make much of an effort to signal Titanic in any way.
 
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Jason Veichman

Guest
Approximately two years ago, I took a drive down to the coast in the early hours of the morning. Whilst walking by the sea, I noticed what I thought were distress flares being fired in the distance (sort of an orange-red colour). I called the coastguard who advised me that distress flares, are in fact, supposed to be "blood-red" in colour and should be fired every 20 seconds (it turned out that the "flares" I thought I saw were actually from some other coastline pier far in the distance). The question I'd like to ask is do you know if the Titanic's distress signals were the "blood-red" colour? I understand that they were fired approximately every 8 minutes - was that the standard interval back in 1912? I've searched but not been able to come up with anything conclusive on the above. Thanks!!!!!
 

Tracy Smith

Member
Here are the standards regarding distress signals in 1912:

Daytime
(1.) A gun or other explosive signal fired intervals of about a minute.
(2.) The international code signal of distress indicated by NC.
(3.) The distant signal, consisting of square flag, having either above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball.” 
(4.) The distant signal, consisting of a cone, point upward, having either above it or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball.
(5.) A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.
”  - This is purely a code signal, and is not one of the signals of distress given in the Rules of the Road, the needless exhibition of which entails penalties upon the master of the vessel displaying it.

At night;

(1.) A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute.
(2.) Flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc.).
(3.) Rockets or shells, throwing stars of any color or description, fired one at a time at short intervals.
(4.) A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.
 
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Jason Veichman

Guest
Well thank you both for your feedback. Forgive my ignorance on marine procedures - the only thing I know about precarious situations at sea is how to make an SOS broadcast by radio (and no - that's not by Morse lol).
 
When the steam escaped from the funnels and made that horrific sound (featured loudly in the film as Lightoller is trying to encourage passengers to get into the boats,) do you suppose it could have been heard from the Californian?

All the best,
Kyrila
 
Note that rockets used as distress signals were to be fired, "one at a time at short intervals." In reading the accounts, I get the impression that Boxhall fired rockets in addition to doing other duties. There seems to have been no attempt to fire them in a set pattern.

Gun reports as a distress signal were (and are today) to be sounded at intervals of about one minute. This specific pattern of equal time between reports is designed to call attention to the noise. Nobody hunts ducks by firing once an hour and a sea battle is hard an orderly event.

It is possible that the purpose of Titanic's rockets may have been better understood if Boxhall had been told to fire the lot at one minute intervals. The regularity of the display would have better indicated the unusual nature of the situation--Distress.

--David G. Brown
 
Stone testified he saw them fired at intervals of 3 to 4 minutes. I doubt one minute intervals would have made any difference to Stone. He either didn't know or pretended he didn't know their meaning anyway.

Chuck
 

Erik Wood

Member
Charles Barlow said: Stone testified he saw them fired at intervals of 3 to 4 minutes. I doubt one minute intervals would have made any difference to Stone. He either didn't know or pretended he didn't know their meaning anyway.

Great point, what does that mean to Captain Lord??
 
Charlie -- A signal by definition must convey some sort of meaning. The regulations required regular repetition of rockets and, by implication from the wording of gunfire, that was to be at approximately one minute intervals.

Regular repetition is the key here, not "every three or four minutes." The distress signal was more than just individual rockets. It was the regular repetition of rockets, which is something Titanic apparently did not do. In that sense it could be argued that Boxhall's rockets were not any sort of signal, but just a pyrotechnic display.

This may be picking black specks out of the pepper, but Stone may well have misunderstood the message because the signal was garbled.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Jason Veichman

Guest
But as Stone and James Gibson both saw the rockets and Stone observing "A ship isn't going to fire rockets at sea for nothing" and Gibson apparently replying "an indication of some sort of distress" (cited in Tibbals G TITANIC 1997 London Carlton). They HAD informed Lord of their observations by the speaking-tube - Lord decided to give the order of morse-lamp signalling.

Yes, I know that this has been dragged up in other discussions, but surely, being the Captain, Lord should have at least ordered that Evans be woken so he could hear anything through the radio?

Yes, I know this is going to anger a lot of Lord supporters out there, but I belive that Lord should have ordered a wireless watch instead of signalling by morse lamp. The signals of a morse lamp can easily be misinterpreted at distance - whereas if he had ordered a 10 minute wireless watch, say, he could have satisfied himself, Stone, Gibson and anyone else that the boat was either (a) firing rockets just for the sake of firing rockets or (b) actually in a real precarious situation and needed immediate assistance.

What did Lord do after being given the information (which he later had no recollection of!) - absolutely sweet F.A!!! Sorry for any offence caused to Lord supporters - but I think that at the enquiry Lord knew that his behaviour was reprehensible therefore could only recall Stone "opening the door and closing it immediately afterwards" - strange how he should say this at the situation that Stone was going to make him aware of the 8 rockets fired.
 
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Jason Veichman

Guest
Sorry - my mistake above there people!!! It was Gibson (not Stone) who actually went to inform Lord of the rockets by order of Stone (well come on guys - it IS 10.52am and I've not long come off a night shift lol)
 
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