Were Lightoller's actions logical?

Apr 20, 2007
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You know, my Titanic-related friends, I wanted to share with you a personal confession: and this is that no matter how many books and magazines and documentaries I watch--- in ALL of them, it is the Character of 2'nd officer Charles Lightoller that kind of 'gets on my nerves' (Sorry, but it does).

I mean, I'm sorry, but here's the man who WOULD NOT allow a young bridegroom (John Jacob Astor) to accompany his pregnant wife!! So, OK: I get that the rule is "women and children first"--- but then this guy (Lightoller) doesn't even do that!! He doesn't even fill that boat (Madleine Astor's) to full capacity, and just sends it down with many places yet empty!! Is empty air better suited to "fill a space" in a lifeboat than that of a human male?

This Lightoller has always come across to me, everytime I read or saw something of Titanic, as a very strict and not too-logical or understanding or considerate a man... and he was an officer on the Titanic.
His harsh strictness and utter lack of compassion, seems anything but officer-like to me. His actions seem anything but what is expected of a decent and understanding human being in a time of crisis.

In many places, he's accounted as if he were a hero. But, I just can't get over the fact, that in a time of such great and terrible tragedy and crisis, this person had NOT the logic or the understanding or the compassion to choose to act "NOT as a robot following an illogical book".

What do you feel about his behavior? I myself find it seriously inadequate.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>What do you feel about his behavior? I myself find it seriously inadequate.<<

I think he did what he had to, and if he was strict with everybody else, he was just as strict with himself. He didn't get in a boat, and even refused a spot with the retort of "Not damn likely" when somebody tried to get him in one. He rode the ship down and took his chances like the other 1500+ people who found themselves in the freezing water.

Was he perfect?

No.

Was he perhaps too literal in his understanding of his orders?

Very possibly.

But keep in mind that this was a crisis situation. He had to make some very hard choices and had no time for sentimentality.
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Leaving aside his conduct during the sinking, the thing that I find intriguing about Lightoller is his failure to understand how badly he served White Star in the two inquiries.

His evidence amounted to an admission that Captain Smith and his officers were aware they were heading into an ice region, that the bergs would be hard to see and that practically nothing was done to ensure the ship's safety. This was used as ammunition against White Star in the civil courts, especially in England.

In his book, Lightoller tells how White Star let him go without thanks or fanfare. I'm not surprised that happened.
 
Apr 20, 2007
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In Walter Lord's "The Night Lives On", Walter also comes to the conclusion that Lightoller has a big part in "considerably speeding up" the sinking process of the his own ship, Titanic.

He'd ordered the opening of the gangway doors located on the side of Titanic. He sent two crewmen down there to open the gangway door.
The two crewmen did that--- and never returned to him again (You know, if this was not such a significant part of such a horrific tragedy--- this is actually the stuff of comedy. What kind of crewmen were these, who NEVER bothered to report back to their superior officer after finishing the task he ordered? Is it possible, that they didn't respect Lightoller or "count him" enough to do that?).

By (ordering and) having the side gangway doors open, Lightoller, in fact, transformed the SCOTTLAND ROAD into a vast tube taking in water running alongside the entire length of the floundering Titanic!!
I mean, what was he thinking?!
This person is a "certificate officer"? what...?

Who opens huge gangway doors, which are rapidly getting closer and closer to the atlantic surface water--- WHEN THE SHIP IS SINKING?!

I'm sorry, Lightoller is just... There's something seriously illogical and untidy about this man.

Harsh strictness, not in it's place, is one thing, in this cold and inconsiderate person.

Then, there is also this complete lack of logic in his actions to add to that.
 
I guess I would try to find out why he ordered the gangway doors opened. I have no idea, never being on a sinking ship.

But, my assumption on the two men not returning was that they died. They were still on duty and the risk of being reprimanded for not following the duties of an officer would have pushed them to follow through with the orders.

Do we know who the two men were? What would the rationale be for opening the gangway doors?
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Who opens huge gangway doors, which are rapidly getting closer and closer to the atlantic surface water--- WHEN THE SHIP IS SINKING?! <<

Apparantly, the officers do if the idea is to try and complete loading the boats from this point...which was supposedly the game plan in this instance. In any event, what evidence do we have that this order was actually carried out? There are a number of shell doors open visible on the wreck, but how do we know they were deliberately opened or not just sprung open by the ship hitting bottom?

>>By (ordering and) having the side gangway doors open, Lightoller, in fact, transformed the SCOTTLAND ROAD into a vast tube taking in water running alongside the entire length of the floundering Titanic!!<<

Not quite. Scotland Road was a vast tube for water to backflow regardless of whether or not any doorways leading out of the ship were open. In point of fact, this would explain the list to port the ship took later on in the course of the sinking.
 

Tad G. Fitch

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Dec 31, 2005
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Paul,
Who knows whether this is reliable evidence or not, but Fourth Officer Boxhall, in his 1962 radio interview (excerpt posted at very end of this message), claimed that at least one set of the gangway doors were open, although this was supposedly on the starboard side. There are some details that are inconsistent or slightly different from his testimony, which is to be expected given the time-lapse.

What I find myself wondering regarding the gangway doors is that since the details about a crowd being there, and not coming alongside for fear of being swamped is not present in his testimony, is this a result of his mind playing tricks on him, or is it a detail he intentionally left out at the inquiry because of how painful it must have been to think about, or because it would make the White Star Line look bad, even though Boxhall's course of action would have been the prudent choice for the lives of those already in the boat, and the way others would have to have jumped down in? If this actually happened, the same may have been the case on the port side, who knows? I'm just speculating though.

Kind regards,
Tad

"And the captain looked over the side from the bridge and sang out and said, told [sic] me to go ‘round to the Starboard side to the gangway doors, which was practically at the opposite side to where I was lowered. I had great difficulty in getting the boat around there. There was suction. [And?] I was using the stroke oar standing up and there was a lady helping, she was steering the boat around the ship’s stern. When I passed ‘round the boat to try and get to this gangway door on the Starboard side her propellers were out of water. I’m not certain if I didn’t pass underneath them.

"But when I did eventually reach there I found that there was such a mob standing in the gangway doors, really, I daren’t to go alongside because if they’d jumped they’d swamp the boat. She was only a small boat, could hold about thirty five people. No, no buoyancy tanks in her at all -- the boat that was always turned out ready for emergency purposes, like man overboard. However I decided that it was not, that I daren’t go along the side again, and I pulled off and laid off … until I pulled away about a quarter of a mile, I suppose. And I couldn’t, what struck me as being strange, that all the other boats, I couldn’t see one of them."

Full transcript of interview is available on this website.
 

Tad G. Fitch

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Dec 31, 2005
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Hi Solomon, how are you doing? Good I hope.

You wrote:
"Who opens huge gangway doors, which are rapidly getting closer and closer to the atlantic surface water--- WHEN THE SHIP IS SINKING?!"

I agree that on the surface, Lightoller's action seems illogical, but it really was not. Lightoller was fully aware that the lifeboats he was sending away were not completely full. His stated intentions at that stage of the sinking were to lower the boats that way, then have them pick up more passengers at the gangway once afloat, which unfortunately did not happen.

You wrote:
"I'm sorry, Lightoller is just... There's something seriously illogical and untidy about this man...Harsh strictness, not in it's place, is one thing, in this cold and inconsiderate person."

In all fairness Solomon, and you are completely entitled to your opinion, but I believe you are being overly harsh on Lightoller. In hindsight, we can second-guess his, or alot of the officers actions, but he was simply following the procedures and rule-of-thumb of the day, in an attempt to save more lives. Unfortunately, loading more passengers from the gangway doors did not work out, but to call him "cold and inconsiderate" doesn't really seem justified for a failed attempt to save lives does it?

Just my opinion.

All my best,
Tad
 
Apr 20, 2007
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Hi, Tad. How are you?
Phew, I guess you're right. I am a bit harsh on Lightoller's actions. I really don't know why his actions anger me so much, but each time I come across his actions in Titanic literature and film, that happens.
It's just that, I so strongly feel that it is important to be at your utmost human best, in terms of consideration and help--- in a time of crisis--- instead of blindly following an unseen set of inconsiderate rules, which make no sense at all, from any perspective.

More than one third of the passengers who survived have First Officer William Murdoch to thank for their saved lives, correct?

Now, Murdoch was a superior ranked officer than Lightoller. I am absolutely certain, that he was more than aware to the rules of evacuation in the sea--- even more than Lightoller, I would presume. But he DID let almost anyone, without DISCRIMINATION (unlike Lightoller) on the boats--- because he had a better sense of judgement and a better understanding of the situation at hand (even and inspite of his own pyshcological mindset in that time, I imagine...).

Once he (Murdoch) knew that, and although he surely must have been feeling a range of emotions, for his actions on the bridge regarding the iceberg--- in the heart of the crisis, Murdoch did his outmost human best to try to help AS MANY HUMANS (male and female of all classes) as he could.

Now that is officer like behavior.
With all due respect, Murdoch was far more an Officer than Lightoller.
I have no doubt that Murdoch was smarter. But in a deeper level, Murdoch was also more human and considerate, which is what his actions show him to be.

In many films and Titanic literature, it's Lightoller whose shown as if he were a hero. He's many times painted as such.
And I guess that's what I'm having trouble with.
 
T

Timothy Trower

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Astor was 47 -- not quite a "young bridegroom." Frankly, Lightoller may have even thought that Astor's wife was his daughter (she was 18).
 
May 3, 2005
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>>In many films and Titanic literature, it's Lightoller whose shown as if he were a hero. He's many times painted as such.
And I guess that's what I'm having trouble with.<<

IMHO- Possibly one "redeeming quality or feature" of "Titanic (1997)" is that Lightoller comes off a bit less than perfect, especially when compared to "A Night to Remember (1958)"
 

Julie Goebel

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Murdoch did his outmost human best to try to help AS MANY HUMANS (male and female of all classes) as he could
One of the very first boats that left from Murdoch's side was only full of 12 people when it could have carried 65. Why he didn't fill them is beyond me, unless he didn't think the ship was going to sink at that time either.

I'm not even going to try and get inside the heads of men who are under that much stress. But I do know after reading about Titanic for years is that people have their favorite officers (for lack of a better word) and in some cases, we see them as either doing no wrong or doing no right.

As for Lightoller, I have seen many "stories" going into legend with no real source for the story. Such as his animosity of Wilde. Most of it is just guessing on the part of the writer. All I have heard him say is that he was disappointed in going from first to second officer, and who wouldn't be? Maybe if Murdoch lived to write a book, he would have mentioned being disappointed as well.

Unfortunately at the inquiry, Lightoller had no choice in being the company man. Being a sailor was all he knew how to do and he needed a company to do it with. If he ripped on the WSL, how long would they have kept him? Who else would have hired him? Some may say he said too much or not enough, some may say he flat out lied. To me it would seem to be a no win situation.

I think they both did the best they could under the circumstances they had, I hope I never have to know what I would do.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>With all due respect, Murdoch was far more an Officer than Lightoller. <<

That's a highly subjective matter of opinion. Will Murdoch was, by all accounts, a good officer and a brilliant shiphandler but Lightoller was no slouch in this regard either, and I have no doubts about his personal courage at all. The Royal Navy had enough confidence in him to give him command of a destroyer during the Great War, and there is the matter of his taking the Sundowner to Dunkirk to help evacuate a substantial number of trapped British soldiers while under heavy enemy fire. (The Sundowner was unarmed!)

If his conduct on the Titanic was less then steller, he had quite a bit of company. The simple fact of the matter was that this was a crisis situation and there was no real gameplan to deal with it. They literally had to work things out as they went. He could have done better, Nobody is disputing that, but in view of the circumstances, they all could have done a helluva lot worse.

Frankly, I see no point in getting angry about it. I might have a few years ago, but if there's one thing I've learned here, things aren't always as cut and dried as we might wish. Whatever his actions, Lightoller had his reasons for them. They may be forever a mystery to us, but he had his reasons. We're not in a position to know what he knew or have his understanding of the situation, and he didn't have the benefit of hindsight that we enjoy to help him along. He had to make do with what he had, which wasn't much. As such, we're on rather thin ice in second guessing him.

And if he insisted on a lot of people taking their chances, he took his right along with them. Might want to think about that a bit.
 
Dec 29, 2006
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Charles H.Lightoller was a self-made man who went to see at the age of 13 and survived ship-wrecks, riots, wars, a fire, and at least one near-mutiny. He rammed and sank a German U-boat in World War I and took his motor boat to Dunkirk in World War II. He was, by any definition, an old-time hero, and that is, perhaps, the reason why his judgement and character are being questioned in this thread. Perhaps, in this "politically-correct" age, such heroes are unfashionable. Or perhaps he is simply perceived as being too WASPish and too British?
 

Inger Sheil

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Lightoller, far from being cold and inconsiderate, strikes me as quite a compassionate man. In the aftermath of the disaster he spent a good deal of time answering queries from those inquiring after the victims of the sinking.

He was also admired by his colleagues, both before and after the disaster, as not only a competant officer, but also a warm personality. James Moody was delighted when he learned that Lightoller was to serve on the Titanic's maiden voyage, calling him 'awfully decent'. Another White Star Line officer observed he was both 'charming' and 'very able'. Joseph Boxhall, a quietly cerebral man of rather different temperament to the expansive, lively Lightoller, remained a lifelong friend.

Gracie, who had the opportunity of observing him in action that night, spoke in the highest terms of his performance.

As for his specific actions during and after the evacuation, I believe he did the best he could with the knowledge and resources available to him - and that best was better than many, if not most, men in that position. Which is not to say that he didn't make mistakes and that there was not scope for improvement in his performance...and, of course, he has been been both praised and criticised since.

Unfotunately for him, much of the scrutiny and responsibility for what took place fell on his shoulders as the senior surviving officer. While occasionally he has been placed on something of a pedestal, he has also been subjected to very harsh revisionism in recent years, rising in some cases to near vilification.

Personally, I admire and respect the man, while recognising his very human flaws.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Unfotunately for him, much of the scrutiny and responsibility for what took place fell on his shoulders as the senior surviving officer. <<

Can any of you imagine what would have happened to Captain Smith if he had the misfortune to survive? I can all but gaurantee that Lightoller would have been a blip on the official and media radar screen.
 
B

Brian R Peterson

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>>I can all but guarantee that Lightoller would have been a blip on the official and media radar screen.<<

Oh yes, had Smith survived he would have seen much harsher media and private thrashings than J. B. Ismay or even Capt. Turner of the Lusitania would ever see.....

Best Regards,

Brian
 

Jason D. Tiller

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What do you feel about his behavior? I myself find it seriously inadequate.
My feelings are the same way as the others; Lights did the best he could at the time, with the knowledge he possessed. Sure he could have done better; they all could have, but no one is perfect. Hindsight has and always will be 20/20.

I actually consider him one of the heroes that night, for his actions on Collapsible B and am very fond of him, considering his faults.
 

Melanie Bous

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If we look at his actions after Titanic I think we see he was a proper gentleman and a good soul. I think he was acting in accord with his interpretation of the duties of his station. I like who I think he was, a good man following British Officers protocol.