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?
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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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

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Nov 5, 2000
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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).
 

Kyrila Scully

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Apr 15, 2001
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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
 
Oct 28, 2000
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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
 
Aug 14, 2002
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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

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Aug 24, 2000
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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??
 
Oct 28, 2000
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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)
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Jason, rather then go into all of this here, click on https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/5666/10341.html?1033480011 where you'll see some of your points discussed and dissected at length.

On the matter of the wireless, it might help if one has an understanding of the attitudes towards wireless at the time. Expensive plaything for the rich, usefulness questioned, decidedly mistrusted (What newfangled device isn't?). And with the radioed position of the Titanic close to 14 miles inthe wrong direction, a potential source of confusion.

On the question of statements made in the testimonies and to the contemporary media, let the reader beware. A lot of what was said came after leading questions and certainly qualified as "wise after the event". The key is what did these people actually know and understand at the time?

It wasn't much.
 
May 12, 2002
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Hi Dave,

If we're picking black specks out of the pepper, there is no mention whatsoever of the intervals between firings being regular. The standards only mention "short intervals" (see Tracy's post above).

Cheers

Paul
 
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Jason Veichman

Guest
Do we REALLY know how big the intervals Boxall had fired the rockets? Yes, there have been many theories put forward (and indeed many statements - I have one from a book that states he was ordered to fire them at 5 minute intervals), and I agree, surely if they were timed at regular intervals then surely common sense would prevail - something isn't quite right and help maybe needed. Obviously, the question lies (and always will!!!) if it WAS the Californian or the Samson who saw the flares fired. As a footnote, although the distress calls from Titanic may have been different from the actual position of the liner by approximately 14 miles, has anyone taken into account that the ship would have been still travelling a distance after it hit the iceberg, plus the inevitable shunt forwards as it hit the ocean bottom, plus the obvious forward direction whilst plunging through the sea (a boat would not "nose-dive" straight to the bottom surely, but rather travel at an forward angle of approximately 45 degrees). I'm not a marine expert by any means, and although these distance would doubtly amount up to 14 miles, it may be that the position given by Boxall was the position as it hit the iceberg and not as it was when stationary. But like I say, I'm not an expert (story of my life LOL)
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Whatever Boxhall's position was, it wasn't the position of the iceberg. It was arrived at by deduced (Ded) and would have taken into account such factors as course, any known course changes, speed and the distance known to have been traveled since the last reliable fix.

While I have no doubt now that the Titanic did move some distance north, we don't know what speed she moved at or for exactly how long. What her exact position was by the time she stopped is one of those things that will never be known.

On the matter of the Samson, you can rule her out as the asserted mystery ship. Dave Billnitzer pointed out the following on his website;

In 1963 author Leslie Reade conducted a search of shipping records in Iceland, and found that the Samson was actually in the port of Isafjordhur on April 6, and again on April 20, when she paid her dock taxes. His 1992 posthumous book, The Ship That Stood Still, contains a notarized photostat of government tax documents, including Captain Ring's signature on the dates in question. In short, the Samson would have had to cover 1,500 miles between April 6 and April 14 to arrive at the scene of the Titanic's sinking in time to witness it - absolutely impossible for a six-knot ship, and she could not possibly have been within ten miles of Titanic on April 14, and been back in Isafjordhur on April 20.

I would point out that Leslie Harrison, a Lord supported came to much the same conclusions. Quite an indictment of this particular tale. For more information, go to http://home.earthlink.net/~dnitzer/Frameset.html and click on SAMSON in the frame on the side.

As to the direction and angle of the plunge, I recall that this was done by way of tank testing shown on one of the Discovery Channel documentaries and from what was plotted, the bow section planed away at a very sharp angle downwards, occasionally tipping up, then stalling in a progressive seesaw motion on the way down. The computer plot that was shown described an angle far steeper then 45 degrees. Closer to 75 plus or minus would be my guess.

I'm sure Roy Mengot could give you the data if he gives this thread a look. His website gives an outstanding overview of the sinking from a forensics standpoint and may be viewed at http://www.flash.net/~rfm/index.html
 

Arne Mjåland

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Oct 21, 2001
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I have a copy of an article in The Washington Post June 30 1991 - "The Ship that Passed in the Night"
Some of the article is about David Eno who was determined to find out if the Samson had been in the area. He went to a nursing home in Iceland to find out more.
"Two men older than the Titanic confirmed that the Samson had been in Isafjordur in May 1912 - and not before, he said.¨
The disputed dates in April Eno says, displaying affiadavits from port authorities, were actually the recorded dates when the ship had been expected to arrive, and when the Norwegian consul had made an advance payment of half the Samson s harbour fees. The 1912 shipping lists from Lloyds of London place the Samson in Isafjordur on May 14. Eno got further help from Irene Erickson of Leesburg, a Norwegian woman he met in church in Purcellville, who happened to be from the town of Arendal, Norway where the Samson was built, and who volunteered further research on the vessel while home on a visit.
The many contradictions.
Walter Lord pointed out that the Titanic`s rockets were not the only ones the Californian ignored that night. The ship and its crew also shrugged off rockets the Carpathia fired to encourage the Titanic survivors as it raced towards the site of the sinking"
My question is : Were the Lloyds of London`s records relieable in 1912? Why were not Samson`s 2 arrivals in April that year listed there?
 

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