Were Lightoller's actions logical?

Jan 10, 2006
95
0
76
Julie Goebel wrote:

"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."

You are referring to Lifeboat 1, which was probably the sixth boat launched, at around 1 to 1:10AM. It was an emergency boat, was loaded by Lowe (by his own account, not Murdoch, had already gone aft and was launching Lifeboat 9.

One general comment about this discussion. There is no doubt in my mind that Lightoller was the least effective of the senior officers. He barely managed to supervise the loading and launching of a mere a our Lifeboats--Lifeboats 6,12,4, and Collapsible D--in an hour and half at less on average than 50% capacity. In the most egregious case, Lifeboat 4, which Lightoller took charge of at about 12:15, the boat did not finally depart the ship until about 1:55.

By comparison, Murdoch loaded and launched seven starboard-side boats--Lifeboats 7,5,3,9,11,13 and 15--at an average capacity of about 70%. And it was Chief Officer Wilde--virtually ignored in popular accounts--who covered for Lightoller, loading six boats--Lifeboats 8,10,14,16,2 and Collapsible C, even as he also directed the coordination and staffing of all the boats!

DG
 
Mar 22, 2003
5,360
745
273
Chicago, IL, USA
Hi David. Is "covered for Lightoller" the right words, or should it be "preempted Lightoller?" The notion has long been that Murdoch was "in charge" of the starboard side boats while Lightoller was "in charge" of the port side ones. It seems that Wilde was the one who actually took charge of the port side boats. With three senior officers and two sides of the ship to cover, it seems the two most senior of the three were the ones actually in charge overall.
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
34
208
I'll address the loading of Boat 1 in another post - I need to draw on some material that I don't have to hand.

I do query the idea that Murdoch was directly involved in the loading of Boat 13. He might have been supervising the loading of the aft starboard boats in general, but I believe that Lee's testimony suggests that it was Moody who loaded 13, and was probably assisting Murdoch at some of these boats.

Without the evidence of Murdoch and Wilde in particular, how the loading responsibilities broke down is always going to be controversial. Wilde and Murdoch, as I interpret the evidence, had the assistance of more junior officers than Lightoller did. The evidence, for example, for Wilde's role in the loading of the aft port boats isn't consistent. That he was in the vicinity is indicated, as is the fact that he was active in loading at least some of these boats, but 14 and 16 were primarily loaded and launched by Moody and Lowe. Murdoch, meanwhile, had Pitman and Lowe at the forward starboard boats.
 
Jan 10, 2006
95
0
76
Inger and Samuel,

Inger,there is ample evidence that Murdoch organized the loading of 11, 13 and 15, directing crewmen to A Deck to assist. The three boats were launched simultaneously. In similar fashion (although the boats left from the Boat Deck) Murdoch had previously organized the launching of 7, 5, and 3.

Of course Murdoch made use of Junior Officers but I'm speaking about the Senior Officers, who were in charge; Wilde also was assisted by Junior Officers (not to say Captain Smith). But this primarily goes to show that both of them actually handled the task with some competence. They knew what they were doing.

Lightoller on the other hand-despite his false claim at one point of having launched seven of the boats--never really got started. Unlike Murdoch, he didn't organize the loading of Lifeboats 4,6 and 8, but rather apparently intended (for some reason) to load and launch them in a serial manner. He managed to launch Lifeboat 6 early on, but then thoroughly botched Lifeboat 4, and for virtually the rest of the evening he spent inordinate time and energy getting that one single boat into the water. I'm not saying he didn't mean well, I'm just saying he badly bungled things.

Samuel, if Wilde preempted Lightoller, the question is what then did Lightoller do? Here's a hint, when it came to Lifeboats 8 and 10: "I think, if I remember rightly, at No. 8 I left the lowering to the chief [Wilde]. He came along and, of course, being Senior Officer, took charge, and so I went then, I think, to No. 4, to complete the launching of No.4." (Brit. Inq. 13929-31)

Later, having finally gotten to the afterend, Lightoller ordered Lifeboat 12 to be launched, but then left 14 and 16 again to Wilde, assisted toward the end by Lowe and Moody. Where did Lightoller go? He went forward to, again, Lifeboat 4. There he worked away, on A Deck, while above him the loading and launching of Collapsible C and Lifeboat 2 was supervised by, again, Wilde (with the help, as with Lifeboat 8, of Smith).

Lightoller finally arrived on the Boat Deck in time to load and launch Collapsible D. Even this one accomplishment is marred however by the fact that he half-filled the boat with the remaining women on the deck, and then senselessly did not let any of the men who were right there to enter it, needlessly dooming them to a near-certain death. What a guy!

DG
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
34
208
Inger,there is ample evidence that Murdoch organized the loading of 11, 13 and 15, directing crewmen to A Deck to assist. The three boats were launched simultaneously. In similar fashion (although the boats left from the Boat Deck) Murdoch had previously organized the launching of 7, 5, and 3.

Of course Murdoch made use of Junior Officers but I'm speaking about the Senior Officers, who were in charge; Wilde also was assisted by Junior Officers (not to say Captain Smith). But this primarily goes to show that both of them actually handled the task with some competence. They knew what they were doing.
Dave, can you please cite specifically any evidence that Murdoch specifically loaded Boat 13? Of course he was overseeing the general area, but as I read the evidence he had delegated this task to Moody, and possibly other work in that area. Quite properly, too, I might add - it freed his hands up to work at other boats.

I realise of course that you are comparing the performances of the senior officers, but my point is that both Murdoch and Wilde had the support of the juniors and were thus able to delegate more work. I'd say that the fact they were the two most senior officers had something to do with this.

I suspect that Wilde, although initially involved in the loading of of the aftmost port boats, delegated this job to juniors as soon as they were on the scene. Crewmen like Poingdestre and Scarrott see him there at the initial loading, but the evidence of passengers like Clear Cameron has no senior officer in charge:
There was no Captain and no First Officer to be seen, just two young Officers shouting and giving orders for Women and Children to get into the boats as quickly as they can
Charlotte Collyer saw a senior officer she identified as Murdoch (but whom I believe was more likely to be Wilde, particularly given the physical description) stationing guards at access points to prevent engine room crew coming on to the boatdeck, but it was Lowe she saw working at the very aftmost boats.

Again, I'm not offering this as any criticism of Wilde whatsoever - I believe he did entirely the correct thing in delegating responsibility of loading specific boats as soon as he had junior officers on hand to do so.

Lowe, emerging on deck, actually went to assist Murdoch at the forward starboard boats specifically because it did not appear that assistance was needed at the forward port boats:
I went down the port side and found that the crew were there working quietly and methodically getting the boats ready. There were a considerable number of passengers about and there were a large number of stewards there with them. The officers were passing up and down the boats on each side superintending the preparation of the boats.

I went down the port side till I got about amidships on the boat deck and seeing that the boats were all being attended to properly I went over to the starboard side to No. 7 filled with women and children. Mr Murdoch the First Officer was standing by giving orders as to filling the boat and I assisted in lowering the boat away.
Lightoller, as stated by those posting above, did make mistakes - not loading men when there were no available women is one. He also encountered difficulties with Boat 4, but how much that is due to specifically to him is debatable (and, indeed, has been the subject of much discussion).

In addition to the loading and launching boats - largely without being in a position to delegate charge of specific boats to junior officers (although I believe Moody was at the forward A deck early on) - Lightoller organised the suvivors on board Collapsible B.

Murdoch and Wilde never had the opportunity - or the misfortune - to sit through a gruelling cross examination. While this means that they were deprived of the opportunity that Lightoller had to speak for himself, it also means that they could offer no testimony to be poured over and scrutinised.
 

James Smith

Member
Dec 5, 2001
490
1
146
Hi David. A few thoughts:--

1) Don't forget that at some point during all this, Lightoller also had to go tell someone (Wilde?) where the firearms were stored. That's probably another 5 to 10 minutes right there.

2) If memory serves, the debacle of lowering Boat 4 to A-deck level was Smith's idea, not Lightoller's. (And perhaps not a half-bad one, considering how crowded the Boat Deck probably was at the time, except for those dadgum windows on A-deck that Smith apparently forgot about). Once the deed was done, it was 10 feet closer to the water than the other boats and therefore (quite properly, in my mind, and probably in Lightoller's) took priority in loading over boats 14 and 16 once enough time had passed to get the windows on A-deck open. If Titanic had sunk with Boat 4 still hanging empty from its davits at A-deck, I doubt anyone would be leaping to his defense today.

2) If Lightoller had fully loaded his boats, and one of them split in half on the falls sending seventy people plunging to their deaths, then again--I doubt anyone would be springing to his defense today.

I believe, as Mike said, that Lightoller simply did the best with what he had to work with.

--Jim
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,590
380
283
Easley South Carolina
>>I believe, as Mike said, that Lightoller simply did the best with what he had to work with.<<

And with the imperfect understanding of the situation that just about everybody had that night.

I would add that if senior officers were not Johnny-On-The-Spot in all cases and in all times, it's because there was no way they could be. Nobody there was a superman so delegating taskings to junior officers and perhaps even some of the ratings was essential.

It still is by the way. No matter how sharp and capable you are, you can't possibly be everywhere and do everything. If you try, you'll end up spending so much time in multitasking to accomplish everything that you'll end up accomplishing nothing.
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
4,956
206
193
In my book, I pointed out that the boat 4 fiasco could easily have been remedied if Lightoller had some expert old shellbacks on hand. Half a dozen of them could have hoisted the boat back to the boat deck in a minute or two. Another coulda!
 

Paul Lee

Member
Aug 11, 2003
2,239
2
108
Perhaps the issue of how many people could have been saved hinges on three issues:

Some people didn't seem to want to be saved; Some people did want to be saved but were rebuffed and never tried again (J.J. Astor) Some people did want to be saved and found a place in another lifeboat (Mr.Carter for instance)

An analysis of the lifeboats, those in the vicinity, their intentions etc. may help here to determine how many could potentially have been saved.

Paul -- http://www.paullee.com
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,046
57
208
UK
The Chapmans certainly would have been home and dry if Sarah hadn't elected to stay behind with John after Lightoller refused him a place in boat 4.
 
Jan 10, 2006
95
0
76
Inger and James,
Inger, no one was preventing Lightoller from using Junior Officers to help in the loading and launching of lifeboats. The problem is, Lightoller did not undertake any organized effort to load and launch boats (he was involved in the early organizing of the preparation of lifeboats at the forward end), so the question of assistance is moot.

There is detailed testimony from Stewards Wheat and MacKay and Fireman Barrett that Murdoch, after he'd launched Lifeboat 9, organized some 70 crewmen to clear entrance to the three boats, 11, 13 and 15 on A Deck, where women and children were to be directed. It appears he supervised the operation from the Boat Deck and that he remained there until the boats were launched. (This last is somewhat vague. Murdoch eventually went to the forward end, but his exact whereabouts between about 1:30 and 2 is a mystery.) The question is not about who directly loaded people into boats. It is the senior officers we are talking about, and there is no doubt that Murdoch was in charge of these three boats, including 13. Here's some testimony from Wheat that backs this up:

SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Did you hear the orders which Mr. Murdoch gave as to what you were to do?
WHEAT: Yes; he told me to take the rest of the boat's crew down on to the next deck as they had to send the people off A deck.
SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Did you hear the orders which Mr. Murdoch gave as to what you were to do?
WHEAT: Yes; he told me to take the rest of the boat's crew down on to the next deck as they had to send the people off A deck.

SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Who was it you were to take down to A deck?
WHEAT: Our own men.
SOLICITOR-GENERAL: The stewards who were to go into different boats as crew?
WHEAT: Yes.
SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Did you do that?
WHEAT: Yes. I took about 70 men down altogether, I think.
SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Stewards?
WHEAT: Yes.
SOLICITOR-GENERAL: When you got your men down to A deck just tell us what you did - how you arranged them?
WHEAT: When we got the men down to A deck, I lined them all up two deep round the boats, for fear there was a rush.
SOLICITOR-GENERAL: Did that keep a clear space next to the boats?
WHEAT: Yes, about six feet from the bulwarks (A, 1912: 13187-98).

James, the notion that it was Smith who gave Lightoller the idea of loading Lifeboat 4 from A Deck, which was enclosed on the forward end, was floated by Lord in The Night Lives On (89-90), loosely based on a bit of highly dubious testimony of Hugh Woolner (Amer Inq 882-3). Proof that this was not the case is that Lightoller himself (to his credit) took full responsibility for the debacle: "that was through my fault" he bluntly testified (Amer Inq 81).

DG
 
D

Doni McLerran

Guest
Not ever having met the man, I don't really want to judge Lightoller's character based on how he behaved on one single night in his life. I've heard and read so much about him that actually makes me think he was a pretty decent fellow, and quite heroic. (Think Dunkirk.) As as for April 14-15, 1912, I don't particularly think he did anything that was particularly horrifying. Remember, his actions were based on his culture and expectations at the time. Edwardian society was very different from us in 2007. He did what he felt was right, and kept things as orderly as he could. He may have made some mistakes in retrospect, but he wouldn't have been the only one. And then, consider how he managed to keep himself and others alive on an upside down collapsible.

Since everything I know about him is second- or third-hand at best, it's very difficult for me to make a judgment about his character.

-Doni
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Dec 3, 2000
5,342
34
208
David, I really think that the fact that the fact Murdoch had junior officers available to assist him, as did Wilde, is an important point that is often overlooked in comparisons of their performances. There were only four, and of these Pitman was sent away by Murdoch comparatively early in the loading and Boxhall had been detailed to other duties by Smith for most of the evacuation. This left two available for most of the evacuation, and they were deployed by the two most senior officers. Moody we run into fairly early through Gracie, controlling access to the boats and passing women through. Either he was acting off his own bat, or he'd been ordered to do so. Wilde is most probable here, as Lightoller states he did not see Moody at all during the evacuation. This would also explain why Moody made his way to the aft port boats - he was, at that point, acting with Wilde before making his way across to starboard to assist Murdoch.

It is also noteworthy that Lowe, after crossing the boatdeck following the launch of the forward starboard boats, mentions encountering Lightoller. When questioned by Smith, he says "Lightoller was there part of the time, and he went away somewhere else. He must have gone to the second boat forward." Lightoller effectively was delegating, or at least seeing that the area was well covered - he knew Lowe and Wilde had the aft port quarter. Apparently, though, he didn't see Moody or know his whereabouts at that stage. Wilde, of course, could have ordered either Moody or Lowe forward to assist Lightoller, but must have thought it better to have them working on 14 - 16.

Wheat, MacKay and Barrett place Murdoch working on the starboard aft quarter generally, but they do not specifically address boat 13. This boat is grouped with the others in interpretations of what happened because it is part of the general area where Murdoch took responsibility. Moody is the officer identified as being in charge. Wynn's evidence - that Moody ordered him into 9 - also suggests that Moody was active at more than one of these boats. There is a trend among Titanic commentators to give Murdoch sole credit for these launches - one recent biography of Murdoch even contains the line "The 1st officer even managed to lower 13 and 15 nearly at the same time." Hardly - 13 at least was, I believe, Moody's work. Murdoch did do a very creditable job at loading and lowering boats - however, he had the support of Pitman, Lowe and Moody successively.

There are considerable gaps in our knowledge due to the loss of Wilde, Murdoch and Moody. Moody, in particular, could have detailed much about Murdoch and, I suspect, Wilde's actions. Murdoch performed well - probably the best of all the senior officers - but he also had the support he needed to do so.

Doni, I agree that it is useful to look at Lightoller's actions in the context of his entire life. Lightoller was a man admired by his peers, both before and after the disaster - as one colleague described him, he a 'very able' officer. His actions in WWI indicate that he was a lateral thinker rather than one who was narrow in his problem solving - actions for which he was decorated. And his conduct during the evacuation of Dunkirk is indicative of his personal courage.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,590
380
283
Easley South Carolina
Making judgements is unavoidable, as much as we would like to steer clear of that sort of thing. With that much said, I think we need to be very careful of the judgements we make and try to see things in the context of the times. It's often been said that hindsight is 20/20 and nowhere is that more evident then with the Titanic.

We've had 95 years to look at the whole of the picture, and all from the reletive comfort and safety of our warm studies and computer screens. Even if it's distorted by the vagaries inhearant in human memory, we can at least see the whole of the picture because we have to recollections of everyone invloved who lived to tell the tale.

Nobody on Titanic had that luxury. They didn't have Lord Mersey, Senator Smith, a flock of lawyers or any of us there to whisper in their ear "Hay Lights, you might want to rethink this." They didn't have 95 years to study the situation either. From collision to sinking, they had to work things out on the fly because they had no game plan to give them any guidance, and they had a mere 2 hours and 40 minutes to do it.

That's it.

Them's the numbers.

2 hours and 40 minutes, and no more.

In light of that, while we have to make some judgements, we need to be very careful of the judgements we make. That they managed as well as they did is no small accomplishment.
 
P

patrick toms

Guest
all this discussion about lightoller is intresting and the point brought out about two crew members who were sent down the stairs and never reportede back to lightoller probably because they were drowned,he like all the officers played it by ear and had to make decisions about something that they had not been trained to do in the circumstances ,he survived this disaster therefore he could talk about it unlike some of the officers.
pat toms president shannon ulster titanic society
 
P

patrick toms

Guest
Doni McLerran from texas,makes some interesting points about Lightoller,he made mistakes in fact everything about titanic was a mistake from it,s inception to it,s doom,an accident that was compounded by doing nearly everything wrong,also the evidence was important,in not what was said but that which was not said.
Patrick.Toms relative of victim Andrew John Shannon,under the name of Lionel leonard on the Titanic.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,590
380
283
Easley South Carolina
Huh???
eh.gif


I'd hardly call everything about the Titanic a mistake from it's inception. The mistakes were in the navigation practice, all of which could have been avoided by the simple expediant of steering south of the icefield.
 

Jude

Member
Apr 8, 2012
58
2
38
England
I know this is an old thread, but I just wanted to add a bit that I don't think has been covered.

In his “Titanic and other ships”, Lightoller states that he was not aware of the extent of the damage or told that the ship would go down. He wrongly assumed that she had been dealt a glancing blow, which had opened up one or two of the compartments and knowing that the ship had been designed to withstand such an accident, he was not unduly alarmed. He wrote:
“There had been no chance or time to make enquiries, but I figured up in my own mind that …….. she would go so far until she balanced her buoyancy, and there she would remain…”
He also indicated that he was not given any order to fill the lifeboats, but when he saw Captain Smith, cupped his hands and yelled into his ears (this was during the noise of the steam) “Hadn’t we better get the women and children into the lifeboats?” The main reason for doing this was that he could see a steamer that he thought was coming towards them and again, he wrongly assumed that they would be able to transfer all the passengers onto it.

“My idea was that I would lower the boats with a few people in each and when safely in the water fill them up from the gangway doors on the lower decks, and transfer them to the other ship.

…it is a risky business at the best of times to attempt to lower a boat between seventy and eighty feet at night time, filled with people who are not “boatwise.” It is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception for some mishap to occur when lowering boats loaded with people, who, through no fault of their own, lack this boat sense. in addition, the strain is almost too much to expect of boats and falls under ordinary conditions.....

I got just on forty people into No. 4 boat, and gave the order to "lower away" and for the boat to go to the gangway door, with the idea of filling each boat as it became afloat, to its full capacity. At the same time, I told the bosun's mate to take six hands and open the port lower-deck gangway door, which was abreast of No 2 hatch. He took his men and proceeded to carry out the order, but neither he or the men were ever seen again."
(From Titanic and other ships. C H Lightoller)
 

Rich Hayden

Member
Jul 17, 2014
20
8
13
Apologies for reopening an old thread (and hello to everyone on the forum!). Lightoller's actions have always been of interest to me. I've read other people's replies on how we should consider the cultural standards of the time, or not judge the events with the benefit of hindsight, etc. but I'm afraid I agree with those who are critical of Lightoller's actions on the night of the 14th/15th. I just cannot understand how anyone could've sent away so many unfilled lifeboats when there were people stood on the deck who could've got in. To bar men from entering seems to me an act of negligence and pig-headedness.

The reasons for Lightoller's actions seem so muddled: Was it because he was concerned the boats would break? That he thought the boats would return for those in the water? That he thought people would get on board through the shell doors of the Titanic itself? Now we hear that it might've been because he didn't think the ship was in much danger anyway. I find it very hard to believe that, as one of the senior officers, Lightoller wasn't fully aware of the predicament. He must've been privy to those conversations between Andrews and Smith about the inevitability of the ship's foundering.

I have no idea why Lightoller interpreted Smith's remarks as 'Women and children only' rather than 'Women and children first'. Surely, even by the standards of Edwardian society, it would've made sense on every fundamental level to fill the boats with any women and children in the vicinity and then, if there were no more around, at least to give some of the remaining places to the men who were still on deck.

As someone else said up thread, everyone has their preferences re. the officers but Lightoller is the one whose actions I find most incomprehensible and the one who makes me feel most exasperated when I read any account of the sinking.
 

Jude

Member
Apr 8, 2012
58
2
38
England
The reasons for Lightoller's actions seem so muddled: Was it because he was concerned the boats would break? That he thought the boats would return for those in the water? That he thought people would get on board through the shell doors of the Titanic itself?
You obviously haven't bothered to read Lightoller's own explanation in my post above. Perhaps you should read his autobiography "Titanic and Other Ships" which I quoted from above and also the best biography "Titanic Voyager: The Odyssey of C. H. Lightoller" by Patrick Stenson before you jump to assumptions.

I have no idea why Lightoller interpreted Smith's remarks as 'Women and children only' rather than 'Women and children first'. Surely, even by the standards of Edwardian society, it would've made sense on every fundamental level to fill the boats with any women and children in the vicinity and then, if there were no more around, at least to give some of the remaining places to the men who were still on deck.
If you read what I wrote above, according to Lightoller, Smith didn't give him any directive. It really is so easy with hindsight to be critical, but we weren't there, we didn't have to make decisions that we believed were the safest at the time but which we would probably regret for the rest of our lives, not to mention being attacked over.