Titanic's Rockets Timeline


Feb 12, 2007
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Does anybody know what time each of the individual rockets were fired? Any estimations? And what was the total number of rockets fired that night?
 
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João Carlos Pereira Martins

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Hello Eric! Eight rockets were fired during the sinking and I think the last one was fired between 1.50 and 2.00 am.

Hope this helps.

Best,
JC
 
Mar 18, 2000
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*Estimates* of the number of rockets fired range all the way from 7 (QM Rowe, who helped fire them), up to a dozen or more.

Other than the first was fired around the same time No. 5 lifeboat was launched, and the last shortly before Rowe, Bright and Boxhall left the ship, it's hard to tell. The last one could be as late as 1:50 or so, as Joao says.
 

Dave Gittins

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Very roughly, they were fired between 12-45 and 1-45. Evidence on the numbers varies from six up to a dozen or so. The intervals were not regular and seem to have been between four and eight minutes.

It's impossible to be dogmatic about this. Times throughout the story are flakey and people under pressure were not sitting around quietly counting signals. The best that can be done is to try to get some idea of the firing of the signals in relation to lifeboat departure times, which are themselves still debated.

Personally, I'm rather critical of the signal firing. Somebody should have been assigned the task of firing them at regular intervals, say three minutes, until all 36 were used. That might have even got the message through to Herbert Stone. As it was, Rowe, Boxhall and Bright flitted about, firing signals when they could.
 
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Paul Slish

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Dave Gittins makes a good point in asserting someone should have been dedicated to the task of firing the socket signals at short intervals. Captain Smith knew the Titanic didn't have long to live according to Andrews the builder. I'll go one step further and suggest they should have been fired at two minute intervals. 36 socket signals would have then consumed 70 minutes (one hour and ten minutes) which is at least as long as they were actually fired. This would have certainly more clearly communicated distress than the small number actually fired over an hour or so.

If only six rockets were fired, then the average interval was about 12 minutes. There is no interval for the first one, and five more over the next hour makes an average interval of 12 minutes. That does not clearly convey distress. 12 minutes is not exactly "short intervals."

Also if only six were fired, then there had to be another ship firing signals as Stone observed eight.

So eight is the minimum Titanic fired unless one wants to concede there was a ship also firing signals between Californian and Titanic.
 
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Timothy Trower

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But it twelve to fourteen were fired (as according to Senan Molony) then the intervals would have been that much shorter.

"...unless one wants to concede there was a ship also firing signals between Californian and Titanic."

There is absolutely no eyewitness on the Titanic that observed any other ship firing rockets that night.
 
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Jul 9, 2000
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>>Also if only six were fired, then there had to be another ship firing signals as Stone observed eight.<<

Therein lies a problem. The Californian wasn't firing any of the socket signals and the Titanic is the only vessel in the area that was. This much is not and never has been in dispute and there was no reason for it to be. Even the Pro-Lord "camp" doesn't make this assertion.

You would think that if there had been an interloper between the two firing signals, somebody would have stepped forward and said something. Nobody ever has. Further, as Tim points out, if there had been another vessel between the two, there would have been witnesses on the Titanic who would have testified to the fact.

It's a mighty loud silence out there!
 
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The problem of course with all this is that nobody was really counting. What is known is that only 8 rockets were noticed from the bridge of the Californian over a period of about an hour. The time frame of these sightings matched the time frame that socket signals were being sent up from the Titanic. Even if we assume that the Californian was as far as 22 miles away, those signals would have been seen from the Californian. Inserting a mystery ship between the two, firing their own set of signals while steaming off the SW is a dead concept. It died when the wreck site was discovered.

It is wrong to assume that only 8 signals were sent up because only 8 were seen. What we can say is that only 8 signals were observed when Stone and Gibson managed to look over the weather cloth. It is likely that about dozen were actually fired off at average intervals of about 5 to 6 minutes as Boxhall estimated. And there is evidence that he was firing off some these signals before Rowe and Bright brought those 2 extra boxes of detonators to the bridge.

As far as what they should have done with regard to timing, whether the intervals should have been timed at 2 minutes, 5 minutes, or 8 minutes apart is irrelevant. They were short enough for Stone to realize what they meant. That was never an issue with him. Is a poor excuse that people today are trying to make in a feeble attempt to divert attention away from the reality of the situation that prevailed.

Here's the proof directly from Stone himself.

8028. Do you mean to tell his Lordship that you did not know that the throwing up of “rockets or shells, throwing stars of any colour or description, fired one at a time at short intervals,” is the proper method for signaling distress at night? - [Stone] Yes, that is the way it is always done as far as I know.
8029. And you knew that perfectly well on the night of the 14th of April? - Yes.
The Commissioner: And is not that exactly what was happening?
8030. (Mr. Scanlan.) You have heard my Lord put that question. That was what was happening? -Yes.

Popping them up at 1 minute intervals would not have changed a thing as far as Stone was concerned because he was being fooled by the swinging of his own ship which made him believe the steamer started to steam away.

8031. (The Commissioner.) The very thing was happening that you knew indicated distress? - [Stone] If that steamer had stayed on the same bearing after showing these rockets -
...
8041. Did not those come in fairly quick succession one after another? - Yes.
8042. What do you mean by saying that you did not see them coming in quick succession one after another? - I said that the ship was altering her bearing from the time she showed her first rocket; she commenced altering her bearing by the compass.

Now here is the real problem. Stone thought this ship was moving soon after the first rocket was seen. He said in subsequent testimony as well as in a secret letter written to Capt. Lord while still at sea on Apr 18 that the steamer started to alter her bearings to the SW, shutting out her red sidelight and displaying a stern light. Yet we know from Gibson that her red sidelight did not disappear until after the 7th rocket was seen (after the second of the last three that Gibson himself had seen). So if the that mystery ship started to steam off to the SW after the 1st or 2nd rocket went up, as Stone had said, then it had to be steaming across that ice field going in reverse, or Stone was not telling the truth, or he was not a very careful observer.

This fiction of a mystery ship is a creation of those who are trying to excuse the inexcusable. The same can said about making the rocket intervals an issue.

As the MAIB concluded, Stone should have insisted that Lord come up on deck to see for himself what was going on, wake up the wireless operator and see if he can find out anything since the steamer had not responded to his earlier attempts at using the Morse lamp, and ring down standby on the engine telegraph in case they needed to move his ship.
 
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>>This fiction of a mystery ship is a creation of those who are trying to excuse the inexcusable.<<

Worse, it's completely irrelevant. There may have been zippo between the two but ocean, ice and a few intrepid seals, or the entire U.S. Sixth Fleet could have been time warped back there for combat manuevers. This doesn't in any way take away from the responsibility of the Californian's officers.

I'm open to the possibility that there might have been another ship between the two if somebody can show me some really convincing evidence that it was there in the first place, However, make no mistake about it, her accountabilty would be a seperate issue from the Californian's.
 
Apr 27, 2000
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Without getting into the issue of the Californian, I just wanted to re-emforce what Samuel Halpern said. It is likely--based on the testimony of Pittman, Rowe, Boxhall and Bright (also the observations of Beesley)--that a few rockets were fired from approximately 12:25 to 12:40, that were not noticed by Stone, at which point Boxhall called on Rowe to bring new detonators. Some seven to ten more rockets were then fired from 12:45 to 1:45. The average minutes between firings seems to have been around six minutes.

DG
 
Mar 22, 2003
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David. With all due respect, I never gave any specific times of the firings. I only said there is evidence that Boxhall was firing off some of these signals before Rowe and Bright brought those 2 extra boxes of detonators to the bridge. I don't believe any were fired earlier than about 12:45 on an unadjusted clock still set for Apr 14th time. I believe Rowe had set his watch back by about 22 minutes at midnight since he expected to stay on watch that much longer before being relieved by Bright. His times in his testimony were times taken off his watch, not time on an unadjusted clock. And that is a point of confusion for many. There is quite a bit of evidence that the swinging out and uncovering of the lifeboats first began very close to midnight, about 20 minutes after the accident when all hands were called, and the loading of the lifeboats with women and children first began about 25 minutes after that process was started, or about 12:25 on an unadjusted clock. It was also about that time that the lights of a steamer were first noticed just off the port bow. Boxhall was involved with uncovering and swinging out when his attention was first brought to the light. He also was asked to recalculate the CQD position and give that to the Phillips and Bride, which he did, before he got involved with firing any socket signals. The Boxhall CQD position was sent out about 10 minutes after the very first CQD message was sent out.

One other point. Boxhall did not call Rowe. It was Rowe who called the bridge and Boxhall answered just after he fired off one of those signals according to Boxhall's account. The first lifeboat was in the water at that time.
 

Paul Slish

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On February 13, Bill Wormstedt wrote, "*Estimates* of the number of rockets fired range all the way from 7 (QM Rowe, who helped fire them), up to a dozen or more."

Also on February 13, Dave Gittins wrote "Evidence on the numbers varies from six up to a dozen or so."

Neither Bill nor Dave claimed that less than 8 were fired. They were just quoting what the range was based upon testimony.

I never wrote that I believed less than 8 were fired. I simply made the point from arithmetic that if the Titanic only fired 6, then there had to be another ship firing rockets, as Stone's observation of 8 seems solid.

Other posters are of course free to believe that Titanic fired 8 or more.

I just find it interesting that someone on the Titanic, such as Rowe, did not believe 8 or more were fired.
 

Paul Slish

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Dave Gittins wrote on February 18, 2007, "Personally, I'm rather critical of the signal firing. Somebody should have been assigned the task of firing them at regular intervals, say three minutes, until all 36 were used. That might have even got the message through to Herbert Stone. As it was, Rowe, Boxhall and Bright flitted about, firing signals when they could."

On February 25, 2007 Sam Halpern wrote, "Popping them up at 1 minute intervals would not have changed a thing as far as Stone was concerned because he was being fooled by the swinging of his own ship which made him believe the steamer started to steam away."

That is your opinion Sam. I still believe Dave makes a very good point. Had Stone seen 20 or more, and Gibson 10 or more they may have reacted differently. Since none of us is omniscient, none of us can definitely say socket signals being fired at two or three minute intervals would have changed Stone's and Gibson's reaction. But it is possible their reaction would have been different.

I think Dave's point is that if you are going to signal distress, do it as forcefully as you can. Why only fire 6 to 12, when you can fire 36?
 

Paul Slish

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On February 25, 2007 Sam Halpern wrote, "Now here is the real problem. Stone thought this ship was moving soon after the first rocket was seen. He said in subsequent testimony as well as in a secret letter written to Capt. Lord while still at sea on Apr 18 that the steamer started to alter her bearings to the SW, shutting out her red sidelight and displaying a stern light. Yet we
know from Gibson that her red sidelight did not disappear until after the 7th rocket was seen (after the second of the last three that Gibson himself had seen). So if the that mystery ship started to steam off to the SW after the 1st or 2nd rocket went up, as Stone had said, then it had to be steaming across that ice field going in reverse, or Stone was not telling the truth, or he was not a very careful observer."

"then it had to be steaming across that ice field going in reverse, or Stone was not telling the truth, or he was not a very careful observer."

The first option is a possibility (and let me emphasize I am saying "possibility") as the other ship may have steamed in reverse for a while to get out of some ice before turning to starboard and steaming away forward. I am not convinced this happened, but I cannot say it was impossible.

The second option that he lied is also a possibility, but I have no basis to accuse Stone of false testimony (9th commandment in the Protestant numbering, 8th in the Roman Catholic).

The third option that Stone made an error in his initial observation of a bearing change is also a possibility.

Interestingly Gibson wrote to Captain Lord in his report of April 18, 1912:

"Nothing then happened until the other ship was about two points on the starboard bow when she fired another rocket [Gibson's second and Stone's seventh]. Shortly after that I observed that her sidelight had disappeared but her masthead light was just visible, and the Second Officer remarked after taking another bearing of her, that she was slowly steering away towards the S.W."

Gibson recalls that Stone takes another bearing of her and that Stone observes she was slowly steering away towards the S.W. So it is possible (and again I emphasize possible) that the ship did steam away to the S.W., but that Stone was in error as to when the bearing change by compass began.

In Stone's April 18 report to Captain Lord, Stone wrote:

"Gibson and I observed three more at intervals, and kept calling them up on our Morse lamps but got no reply whatsoever. The other steamer meanwhile had shut in her red side light and showed us her stern light and her masthead's light was just visible. I observed the steamer to be steaming away to the S.W. and altering her bearing fast."

So on April 18 both Gibson and Stone are in agreement as to when Stone observed a definite change in bearing. Let me make clear that Gibson is just recalling what Stone said and did not write he himself took a compass bearing.

So it is possible that the other ship after the seventh rocket (at a maximum) did steam away and alter her bearing by the compass.

There is another observation I find interesting in Stone's and Gibson's reports to Captain Lord.

Stone: 'I observed the other steamer S.S.E. dead abeam and showing one masthead light.' Also, "Gibson thought at first he was answering, but it was only his masthead lamps flickering a little."

Gibson: 'I saw a white light flickering' and "The light on the other ship, however, was still the same, so I looked at her through the binoculars and found that it was her masthead light flickering."

Both men observe a masthead light that flickers.
Gibson even observes that the light "was still the same."

Now when Stone observes the other ship steaming away to the S.W. he writes, "her masthead's glow was just visible."

This indicates a diminution of the masthead light which would be perfectly natural with a ship steaming away.

Gibson also wrote, "her masthead light was just visible" as he hears Stone remark she is slowly steering away to the S.W. Gibson also observes a diminution of her masthead light.

Stone and Gibson writing separately (as far as we know) both use the phrase "just visible" in regard to the masthead light of the steamer. This diminution would be in keeping with a ship steaming away.

I am just saying it is possible the ship steamed away to the S.W. and a reasonable interpretation of the men's accounts supports this.

Now I realize there are things in the men's accounts that others will interpret as better fitting in with the other ship being the Titanic. Gibson thought the rockets came from the ship he saw. Stone allowed for the possibility that they came "from a good distance beyond her."

So I am only writing about possibilities and am not being dogmatic. But if it is possible the other ship steamed away, then that is what may have really happened.

Now as far as the objection that a ship could not have steamed through the ice field at night, the readers will have to wait on that one.

I am working on an article about a ship that did steam through the ice field at night. It was a few nights earlier than April 15 and farther north. I will submit that article to one of the journals. Once I publish that evidence, it will demonstrate that a ship possibly (and again I emphasize possibly) could have steamed through the ice southwest of the Californian on April 15.

As far as there being enough time for the ship to change its bearing from SSE to SW X 1/2 W, I believe I have a reasonable explanation for that also.
 

Paul Slish

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Sam, you may be right that Stone and Gibson may not have reacted differently if they saw many more rockets. But we can't say for sure. It might have shaken them up enough. But then again maybe not. My point is Titanic's officers should have fired them all off at more frequent intervals. There was no reason to save them.

Stone admitted in his evidence that after he heard the Titanic sank, he realized the rockets possibly were distress signals. He did not flat out say he thought they were distress signals.

"7856a. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Did you think that they were distress signals? - No.

7857. Did not that occur to, you? - It did not occur to me at the time.

7858. When did it occur to you? Did it occur at some later time to you? - Yes.

7859. When? - After I had heard about the "Titanic" going down.

7860. So throwing your mind back after that information then you thought they were distress signals? - I thought they possibly might have been distress signals.

7861. (The Commissioner.) From the "Titanic"? - No, not necessarily.

7862. After you had heard that the "Titanic" went down, then it occurred to you that those might have been distress signals? - Yes.

7863. From the "Titanic"? - Not necessarily. They may have been from some other steamer. I did not think that vessel was the "Titanic.""

Gibson thought they were private signals.

"7696. Did you know when the rockets were being sent up that they were being sent up as danger signals? - No.

7697. What did you think they were sent up for? - I thought they were some private signals.

7698. Who told you they were private signals? - Nobody told me.

7699. Had you ever seen private signals of that kind? - No.

7700. And never heard of private signals of that kind? - I have heard of private rockets, private signal rockets."

Stone also twice said they were low lying. He also said they only went up to half the height of the masthead light of the other steamer.

So I am just saying it is possible they came from the Titanic farther beyond what they believed was the nearby "tramp." I'm not being dogmatic about it.

For whatever reasons they just didn't think at the time they were distress signals. You are right, the MAIB in 1992 did conclude Stone should have taken more action.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Couda, Woulda, and Shouda. No, not the Three Stooges, just the trio of errors of omission in Stone's account. Sam is absolutely correct that the young officer simply misinterpreted the situation and therefore failed to act properly. It really does not matter if the rockets Stone saw were Titanic's or not. He saw a ship firing rockets for no apparent reason and he failed to get is captain on deck by not properly reporting the events he was seeing.

I also agree with Dave Gittens that better use coulda and shoulda been made of the rockets available. A lot of good distress signals went down with the ship. Boxhall might have better spent his time firing the whole lot.

But, even if Boxhall had set off a 4th of July Grand Finale, would Stone have acted differently?

As far as another ship firing rockets goes, I guess there is no denying the possibility that two ships fired white star shells at the same time withing 10 miles of each other just as one of them--Titanic--was foundering. I suppose I could get hit on the head with a winning lottery ticket. Moses supposes his toeses to be roses. To hell with suppositions, what's the probability of another ship firing virtually identical pyro in the vicinity of history's most famous sinking?

Could there have been another ship in the vicinity that did not fire rockets? another ship that did not respond to Titanic? That's a greater probability considering the number of vessels on the North Atlantic steamer routes that night. But, is the probability high enough to rise to the level of consideration as a possible solution to the mystery of why Stone did not act properly when he saw what appeared to be distress signals?

Stone had no responsibility to wake his captain just because another ship steamed by out of harm's way. Proving that the whole Cunard fleet did maneuvers between Californian and Titanic does not in any respect change the failure that occurred on Californian's bridge.

Rockets fired at intervals were a distress signal. Titanic fired rockets at admittedly ragged intervals. Stone did not properly react. It was not for him to decide whether the rockets were or were not distress signals. His job was to get Captain Lord on the bridge to make a command decision about the situation. Stone failed.

--David G. Brown
 
May 12, 2002
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Hi Dave,

You wrote "What's the probability of another ship firing virtually identical pyro in the vicinity of history's most famous sinking?"

Not only that, but what's the probability of no-one on Titanic noticing?!

Cheers

Paul
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Not only that, but what's the probability of no-one on Titanic noticing?! <<

Effectively zero. Even though most were anything but trained observers, there were still over 2200 of them and 712 made it to the other side of the ocean to tell of what they saw. Quite a few testified to the rockets Titanic fired.

Not even one mentioned so much as a roman candle being discharged from the "mystery steamer" that they reported seeing.
 

Paul Lee

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Perhaps thats why Stone mentioned low-lying rockets. In his mind, he realised that rockets/flares/roman candles detonating so low in the sky could not have been seen by the Titanic, and could be blamed on another ship.

Similarly with Lord: only being told of one rocket means that his defence could have been "but distress signals are supposed to be fired one at a time, indicating more than one. I only heard of one rocket, so I didn't think it was distress".


 

Paul Lee

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Hi Sam, Perhaps you can clear something up? At about the time the red light "shut in", the Californian was heading SWxW I believe. If the red light was not visible and only the faintest hint of the mast light was visible, then this would mean that the heading of the so-called mystery ship can be calculated?

I worked this out myself, but I'm not too sure of my numbers!

TIA

Paul
 

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