Unsinkable The Full Story

Jim Currie

Absolutely Sam!

There is an unfortunate tendency in this particular instance for some people to be 'kind'.

If Captain Smith had survived the disaster - there is little doubt the public would have been calling for his head and rightly so.
As I have remarked elsewhere - he and and the 'hero' of this tale Captain Rostron; despite their combined marine experience, were the two least responsibly acting Captains directly associated with the saga. It also seems they had much in common as individuals in that each would have been very comfortable in front of a modern press and TV interview scrummage! I suspect they both had media 'image'. Perhaps I'm being 'unkind' if I say that Rostron and his band-waggon 2nd Mate were the 'winners'.(notwithstanding all those who were saved of course).

Hi Jim. Glad to hear from you.

As you pointed out, Capt. Rostron in an effort to be the hero decided to risk the hundreds of lives of all of those on board his ship. He was fortunate that his ship didn't suffer the same fate as Titanic. In his case, he took a risk and won. The headlines might easily have been:
Desperate Calls for Help From Titanic and Carpathia
Sparked the Night as Thousands May Be Lost in Icy Atlantic Waters
>>Perhaps I'm being 'unkind' if I say that Rostron and his band-waggon 2nd Mate were the 'winners'<<

Not unkind. Just accurate, and you're not the only one who's pointed out Captain Rostron's conduct was reckless. Captain Erik Wood, for example, has made that same point on this forum and quite bluntly at that.
I think you're being too censorious of Captain Rostron. He risked his ship and company to save lives, not 'in an effort to be the hero'. Isn't every captain obligated to go to the rescue of a vessel in distress? He increased his lookouts, got his off duty crew on their feet and doing their various duties (making warm drinks, stoking the boilers, keeping Carpathia's passengers off the decks.) What else could he have done to keep his people safe while hastening to the Titanic?
Who else was doing anything constructive? The Olympic, Virginian and all the others were squaking like chickens: "Titanic is sinking?" "Say it isn't so!" "Are you steering south to meet us?" Californian was tucked up on the other side of the ice field and either couldn't go or couldn't be bothered to go.
Meanwhile, people were freezing in the lifeboats - inadequately provisioned - and freezing in the water. Rostron must've known that, being a veteran of the North Atlantic. I think he did a pretty fine job of rescuing the survivors. In emergencies, you have to take risks.

Trevor Rommelley

Former Member
The regulations of the day said, more or less, that ships were to effect assistance where possible and where it did not affect the safety of their own ship (I think this was an act passed in 1911 and adopted internationally?). Then there was advice given to captains by their own shipping lines. I remember the Leyland Line one advising Captains to be cautious saying, amongst other things, that their own ships were not insured, and I think the WSL also dictated that Captains had to practise safe navigation.
I don't have enough time to go back to the inquiry transcripts, but wasn't Rostron lucky not to have run into a berg himself?
You;'re also being a bit unkind on the other vessels involved. Squaking like chickens they might be, but they did head towards the disaster site even though they were a long distance away. Some were so far away that they didn't need to worry about ice conditions, unlike Rostron.
Marilyn, I understand what you are saying about Rostron taking precautions such as increasing the number on lookout and getting everything in place to effect a rescue. But the undeniable fact is that he placed the safety and lives of hundreds of innocent passengers on board his vessel in extreme danger by continuing to rush at full speed into a dangerous region even after icebergs were spotted. He already knew that ice had claimed one other ship, and for all he knew at the time, Titanic could have had taken similar precautions before entering the known ice infested region.

In the list of ship's rules and regulations put out by the IMM Co., the owners of White Star Line, it clearly states in IMM 112(d):

Commanders of all steamers are cautioned that under no circumstances are they, in assisting vessels in distress, to unduly risk their own vessels, or expose the lives of those on board to hazard.
It would be surprising to me if Cunard didn't have similar regulations governing the actions of their commanders. Trevor recalls correctly about Carpathia missing an iceberg. That berg went unseen until they were within 1/4 mile from it. Rostron was lucky in that he was able to successfully port around that berg. At 15 knots he was only a minute away when it was first seen despite all the extra lookouts he had posted.

And what did his passengers know about the danger they were put in? Nothing. Most were fast asleep in their cabins during the preparations and mad dash into the region of ice. In my opinion, if another tragedy would have happened, the world's view of Rostron would not be that of a hero, but as the irresponsible commander who unnecessarily put at risk the lives of those that placed their trust in him.​
"In my opinion, if another tragedy would have happened,...."
But it did not. Now, if he raced to the aid of the Titanic's passengers for just a bit of a laugh then that would be different. But he did not he took a calculated risk, we all take them.
So Rostron's rush to aid the victims of Titanic paid off and more people lived because of it.
>>So Rostron's rush to aid the victims of Titanic paid off and more people lived because of it.<<

Yes it did, but it wasn't as if there weren't some close calls. Several were testified to. The point is that while a captain may have a legal as well as a moral obligation to render aid to a distressed vessel, the line is drawn when it comes to placing his own vessel, as well as his crew and passengers at risk. In 1912, a successful gamble allowed one to get away with a lot, but these days, Rostron almost certainly would have lost his licence.
I feel that Captain Smith was acting the way any other Captain at the time would have acted. The fact that the wireless messages were handled inappropriately, the same as any other ship could have possibly handled them. There were no rules about how they were to handled, and like they always say, "hindsight is always 20/20". You say that if he had survived he would not have been a hero. I agree. I think that because he knew the ship was doomed, combined with his knowledge of the shortage of lifeboat seats, he would never have even thought to even approach a lifeboat. You say that he knew "full well what lay ahead" But there were several of the wireless iceberg warnings that he was fully unaware of.
I agree with senator smith, yes what captain smith did was wrong, but he was only doing what any other captain in his position would have done. ANd besides he paid for his mistake, willingly, with his life.
Kendra, I agree that Capt. Smith may have acted the way some other commanders would have acted in that he decided to keep to his course and speed until danger was actually seen. However it is not true that all commanders would have done so. A good example is Capt. Moore of the passenger vessel Mount Temple who took his ship well south before turning for his destination because of the ice reports received by wireless. Smith had enough warning about the danger that lurked ahead. He expected to be up to the ice region that Sunday night. He shared that information not only with his senior officers but also with special 1st class passenger Bruce Ismay who went on to brag about it to other passengers. Ice messages were posted in the chartroom but it did not matter because Smith was not going to change anything until ice was visually spotted or unless visual conditions became questionable. He also had the opportunity to take other precautionary measures, such as increasing the number on lookout, or personally remaining out on the navigation bridge on lookout along with his officer of the watch as the ship came up to and went through the ice region. In sharp contrast, Capt. Lord of the Californian stayed on the bridge of his ship and posted an extra lookout as well as his ship approached that vast ice region that was reported ahead.

As I said above, as commander of the vessel, the lives and safety of all those who sailed upon her were Smith's responsibility. He knew he was taking a risk, he took that risk, and lost. Similarly, Capt. Rostron also knew he was taking a risk rushing to the rescue. The difference is that he took that risk, and got away with it. They both endangered the lives and well being of those who sailed upon their ships without their consent.
>>You say that he knew "full well what lay ahead" But there were several of the wireless iceberg warnings that he was fully unaware of. <<

While there may be something to that, that doesn't take away from the reports which Captain Smith did know about, which were posted, which he discussed with his officers, and for which special instructions were given to the lookouts to be on the watch for pack ice and bergy bits at a specific time when the knew they would be in the region of ice.

While a lot can be said in Captain Smith's defence, the claim of ignorance is unsupportable.

He knew.
A couple of questions regarding the book. He said in there that Quartermaster Rowe was "quite possibly the last man to learn what was happening", due to his secluded position on auxiliary bridge. He saw the iceberg pass by, and later "called" the bridge to report a lifeboat adrift. At which point he was instructed to bring the rockets, by Fourth officer Boxhall. In yet another book I read that Captain Smith "called" him to bring the rockets. Which of these is true? I am slightly confused...Or are they both true?? Please help me understand. I do know that people can make things up, so i try not to accept everything I read as fact. I would simply like to know which of these are true.

Thanks a ton!
Yes, Rowe called the bridge after noticing the lifeboat in the water. Boxhall picked up the call, just after he had finished firing a rocket (probably his first).

Though Rowe did bring rockets forward, he also testified that rockets were also kept on the fore bridge. Which explains where Boxhall got the rocket to fire *before* Rowe came forward.