Were Lightoller's actions logical?

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David Gleicher

Member
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
 
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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

Inger Sheil

Member
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.
 
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Member
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.
 
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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
 
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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.
 
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Member
Huh???
Eh


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.
 
J

Jude

Member
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)
 
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Rich Hayden

Member
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.
 
J

Jude

Member
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.
 
justiceismandatory

justiceismandatory

Member
What do you feel about his behavior? I myself find it seriously inadequate.
I think the surviving families who lost men under his direction deserved to have kicked him in the testicles a few times for his strictness. Especially those 13-yr old boys he allegedly turned away.
 
J

Jude

Member
Oh dear, here we go again, all the "armchair experts", who were not there, who have no idea of the mindset of a hundred years ago, passing judgement...

Hindsight is a wonderful thing – if only we had it when we were in the middle of dealing with an emergency, perhaps we wouldn’t make any mistakes! Tragically, as with most man-made disasters, it’s never one mistake, but a whole load of them, plus a breakdown in communications and surely the Titanic was a prime case of this.

In his own, “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 assumed that she had been dealt a glancing blow, which had opened up one or two of the compartments and the ship had been designed to withstand such an accident.

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 the Captain, 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."


Wilde seemed unduly cautious about allowing the boats to be lowered. Lightoller, a veteran of a previous shipwreck, knew differently and sought the permission of the Captain to lower the boats.

Collapsible D was lifted, righted and hooked to the tackles where Boat 2 had been. The crew then formed a ring around the lifeboat and allowed only women to pass through. The boat could hold 47, but after 15 women had been loaded, no more women could be found. Lightoller now allowed to men to take the vacant seats. Then Colonel Gracie arrived with more female passengers and all the men immediately stepped out and made way for them. While loading this boat, Lightoller was ordered by First Officer Wilde to go with her. "Not damn likely" was Lightoller's reply and he stepped back on deck. While the collapsible was lowered to the ocean, two men were seen to jump into it from the rapidly flooding A deck.

I wonder whether the fact that Lightoller was the only officer to survive causes illogical resentment by so many of you. How dare he survive? Well, just as well he did, as he saved 127 men at Dunkirk 28 years later. I suggest you read his own book about the sinking and also Patrick Stenson's brilliant Titanic Voyager: The Odyssey of C. H. Lightoller

And from a recording made in 1936 his own account of the sinking:

 
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Seumas

Seumas

Member
Oh dear, here we go again, all the "armchair experts", who were not there, who have no idea of the mindset of a hundred years ago, passing judgement...

Hindsight is a wonderful thing – if only we had it when we were in the middle of dealing with an emergency, perhaps we wouldn’t make any mistakes! Tragically, as with most man-made disasters, it’s never one mistake, but a whole load of them, plus a breakdown in communications and surely the Titanic was a prime case of this.

In his own, “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 assumed that she had been dealt a glancing blow, which had opened up one or two of the compartments and the ship had been designed to withstand such an accident.

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 the Captain, 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."


Wilde seemed unduly cautious about allowing the boats to be lowered. Lightoller, a veteran of a previous shipwreck, knew differently and sought the permission of the Captain to lower the boats.

Collapsible D was lifted, righted and hooked to the tackles where Boat 2 had been. The crew then formed a ring around the lifeboat and allowed only women to pass through. The boat could hold 47, but after 15 women had been loaded, no more women could be found. Lightoller now allowed to men to take the vacant seats. Then Colonel Gracie arrived with more female passengers and all the men immediately stepped out and made way for them. While loading this boat, Lightoller was ordered by First Officer Wilde to go with her. "Not damn likely" was Lightoller's reply and he stepped back on deck. While the collapsible was lowered to the ocean, two men were seen to jump into it from the rapidly flooding A deck.

I wonder whether the fact that Lightoller was the only officer to survive causes illogical resentment by so many of you. How dare he survive? Well, just as well he did, as he saved 127 men at Dunkirk 28 years later. I suggest you read his own book about the sinking and also Patrick Stenson's brilliant Titanic Voyager: The Odyssey of C. H. Lightoller

And from a recording made in 1936 his own account of the sinking:


Lightoller was not the only officer to survive. Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe all made it.

There are a few problems with his testimony as well. The two enquires and his memories all have different versions of events.

Personally, I don't buy the idea of Lightoller being some sort of bully or s~~~~~ that night on the Titanic as some people make him out to be. The men atop Collapsible B more than likely owed their lives to Lightoller's leadership.

Unfortunately, he made a bad call when it came to forbidding men entering the boats and that is what the he is arguably most remembered for.
 
J

Jude

Member
Lightoller was not the only officer to survive. Pitman, Boxhall and Lowe all made it.

There are a few problems with his testimony as well. The two enquires and his memories all have different versions of events.

Personally, I don't buy the idea of Lightoller being some sort of bully or s~~~~~ that night on the Titanic as some people make him out to be. The men atop Collapsible B more than likely owed their lives to Lightoller's leadership.

Unfortunately, he made a bad call when it came to forbidding men entering the boats and that is what the he is arguably most remembered for.
Apologies, I should have said Senior Officer! Also apologies, as I've now been re-reading through this and I had already posted about it, but I don't think I gave the BBC link, so members here may find that interesting, if you haven't heard it before.

During Edwardian days, "women and children first" was very much the norm.

I also don't think there was any deliberate lying to cover up their own responsibility for the accident, but certainly Lightoller admits to "whitewashing" in his book. He was scathing about the American inquiry, with its lack of knowledge of seamanship and of how the remaining crew were treated (for instance, being put up in a second-rate boarding house), but respected the British inquiry, where he felt there was some understanding of the rudiments of the sea. He wrote:

"...in London, it was very necessary to keep one's hand on the whitewash brush. Sharp questions that needed careful answers if one was to avoid a pitfall, carefully and subtly dug, leading to a pinning down of blame on someone's luckless shoulders."(Titanic and other Ships p 179)

"A washing of dirty linen would help no one. The B.O.T. had passed the ship as in all respects fit for sea, in every sense of the word, with sufficient margin of safety for everyone on board.... Personally, I had no desire that blame should be attributed either to the B.O.T. or to the White Star Line, though in all conscience, it was a difficult task, when handled by some of the cleverest minds in England, striving tooth and nail to prove the inadequacy here, the lack there, when one had known, full well, and for many years, the ever-present possibility of just such a disaster...
The very point, namely the utter inadequacy of the life-saving equipment then prevailing.....has since been wholly, frankly, and fully admitted by the stringent rules now governing British ships, "going foreign."

No longer is the boat-deck almost wholly set aside as a recreation ground for passengers with the smallest number of boats relegated to the least possible space.

In fact, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme... (page 180)
 
justiceismandatory

justiceismandatory

Member
Would you say that his actions were more positive when viewed in the militaristic sense, as opposed to civil?
 
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