Were Lightoller's actions logical?

J

Jude

Member
Lightoller had been in the Merchant Navy from the age (if memory serves) of 13, on sailing ships, experiencing terrible hardship. He was not a military man. But duty and obedience were of paramount importance in those days, which can be difficult to understand in these days of lawlessness and doing whatever we like, with no thought to the outcome.

Read the books and listen to his interview and try to understand that a hundred years ago things were very different. He (and the others) were doing the best they knew. It was pitch dark, it was freezing cold, the passengers had no desire to leave a nice warm ship to start with. Yes, they made mistakes, but we weren't there, we can't even imagine what it was like and have no right to condemn.
 
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Ioannis Georgiou

Member
In his own, “Titanic and other ships”,

I would be careful with his book "Titanic and other ships". It is fully of mistakes.


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?”

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.

Lightoller was not honest here, there are crew members who contradict Lightollers version.

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.

He told Gracie that he had to use his gun and fire a warning shot, while aboard Carpathia. Later he claimed the order was splendid.
As for Wilde (Wilde was Chief officer and not 1st officer) ordering him to leave with No. D it is what Lightoller claimed in his book. No one else confirmed that version. According to steward Hardy Lightoller stepped back on board as there was no one to work on the forward fall.
And there were two young ladies left behind when No. D was lowered, the boat had plenty of room.

How dare he survive? Well, just as well he did, as he saved 127 men at Dunkirk 28 years later.

What does Dunkirk had to do with what he did on Titanic? He did not allowing men to board a lifeboat aside from Peuchen, did not want to let a 13 year old boy into lifeboat No. 4 and send stewardesses away from Lifeboats because they were crew members.
 
Steven Christian

Steven Christian

Member
Lightoller had been in the Merchant Navy from the age (if memory serves) of 13, on sailing ships, experiencing terrible hardship. He was not a military man. But duty and obedience were of paramount importance in those days, which can be difficult to understand in these days of lawlessness and doing whatever we like, with no thought to the outcome.

Read the books and listen to his interview and try to understand that a hundred years ago things were very different. He (and the others) were doing the best they knew. It was pitch dark, it was freezing cold, the passengers had no desire to leave a nice warm ship to start with. Yes, they made mistakes, but we weren't there, we can't even imagine what it was like and have no right to condemn.
Yes. You wrote it better than I could.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
While I certainly never felt that Lightoller was a bully or had any ulterior motive during loading of of lifeboats during the time the Titanic was sinking, there is no question that he displayed very poor logic in his interpretation of "women and children first"; I don't think there ever has been a rule "women and children only" under those circumstances but it looks like that's what Lightoller - and to some extent Wilde - did with many port lifeboats that night. Lightoller deliberately stopped many men from boarding lifeboats - often with their families - even when there was plenty of room available and no more women or children were immediately forthcoming in the vicinity. This had a major impact on the number of male passenger survivors from all classes on the port side. In fact, leaving Major Peuchen aside for obvious reasons, only Fahim al-Zainni aka Philip Zenni (Lifeboat #6) and Gus 'the cat' Cohen (Lifeboat #12 but that was more Wilde than Lightoller) managed to sneak on board boats of which Lightoller had charge. Of course, I am only talking about male passengers because with crew it is very difficult to determine who was allowed and who managed to sneak in. Collapsible B was not properly launched but used as a raft after it was every man for himself and so that is not under consideration.

Lightoller's stand appears even more illogical compared with those of Murdoch on the starboard side where men were allowed when there was room and no other women or children in the immediate vicinity. It is often estimated that between 60 and 100 male survivors owed their lives to Murdoch; I wonder if anyone has ever taken stock of how many men needlessly died because of Ligtoller's lack of logic.
 
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Ioannis Georgiou

Member
Of course, I am only talking about male passengers because with crew it is very difficult to determine who was allowed and who managed to sneak in.

As Lightoller stated he only allowed 2 crew member per boat. In one case, it was Collapsible D, he ordered Lucas out of the boat. Lucas finally got back into it as there were not enough crew. But who knows how many he (Lightoller) had ordered out of boats who did not survive to tell.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Lightoller stated he only allowed 2 crew member per boat. In one case, it was Collapsible D, he ordered Lucas out of the boat. Lucas finally got back into it as there were not enough crew. But who knows how many he (Lightoller) had ordered out of boats who did not survive to tell.
Thanks for that post IG and I agree. This is a topic that was often discussed in the old British Titanic Society meetings in the 1990s. Some Titanic works are of the opinion that there was a "shortage of available crew members" - at least in the earlier stages - on the port side. I have heard several others oppose this view, stating - as you are - that this 'shortage' arose only because Lightoller himself was restricting the number of crewmen he allowed to enter lifeboats of which he was in charge. I also feel the same way as you do; maybe this was true even with Lifeboat #6 where Lightoller was so restrictive with male crew that a shortage was noted just as the lifeboat was being lowered and Major Peuchen got his chance.

I agree that not only were there a lot of male passengers that Lightoller did not allow into lifeboats even when there was room, but also male crew whom he either did not allow or ordered out after they were in. That is why I feel that even a rough calculation of the number of men - passengers and crew - who needlessly lost their lives because of Ligtoller's lack of foresight is relevant.
 
Keith H

Keith H

Member
I don't think his actions were illogical , "women and children first " but who were supposed to find and bring them to the lifeboats ? well the crew were ,so it seems there was a break down of order on the boat deck and below decks to carry this out as we know many women and children died when the ship sank .
There were unfounded worry that the falls wouldn't support a fully loaded life boat plus I imagine people in panic would hardly be sitting still in either , and the idea to fill them from a gang way door that went failed to happen .
with the ship starting to sink more quickly then the more the rush to get boats launched as well as mounting panic making things more unmanageable as time went on .
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Murdoch also very much applied the principle of "Women and children first" on the starboards side but when it was obvious that there were no more women or children ready to board in the immediate vicinity of a given lifeboat, he allowed men - both passengers and crew - to get in. That is logic - or using common sense, if you like. Lightoller on the other hand, used his own "Women and children only" decision, actively stopping men from boarding even when there was room in the lifeboat and no women or children available to board it. He even tried to stop 13-year old Jack Ryerson from joining his mother on Lifeboat #4. Several men died needlessly because of that dictum, including Michel Navratil Sr, who handed over his children aged 4 and 2 years and stepped back. IMO, that action by Lightoller was definitely illogical.

I am not claiming that Lightoller had any sinister motive is applying that 'women & children only' dictum, but used his own brand of warped logic. Like most crew members, he would have known that there were not enough lifeboats for everyone on board and so many people would die when the ship sank. Therefore, he had to have some sort of explanation - to officialdom, general public, God, his own conscience, whatever - for loading lifeboats like he did. But in real life such an approach always turns out to be flawed because human beings are unpredictable especially under difficult circumstances. Therefore, it is better to try and save as many as possible while sticking to a certain order of things - which is exactly what Murdoch did.
 
Kareen Healey

Kareen Healey

Member
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.
I know this post is old, but Salomon, I am thinking EXACTLY like you considering Lightoller. For me, if we erase him of the story, far less passengers would have been killed ! I am feeling this same anger as you did.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
IMO, Lightoller did not do what he did (or didn't) with any malicious intent and so we have to moderate any personally felt animosity towards him in that respect. That said, he did display a certain degree of lack of logic in his attitudes towards loading lifeboats that he was involved with. Irrespective of whether it was Captain Smith, Wilde or just convention that placed Murdoch mostly with the starboard lifeboats and Lightoller with the port side, there appeared to be a significant difference in the way things flowed on the two sides - and that even before we consider the loading policies of the two men.

On the starboard side, Murdoch followed a straightforward procedure starting with the forward lifeboats. Thus, loading started with the rearmost forward starboard boat - #7 and they worked their way to the front #5, #3 and #1. Then there was a brief hiatus during which the so-called "firearms meeting" might have taken place, after which it was #9, #11, #13 and #15. Although some ET members disagree, there is support to the belief that Murdoch might also have been involved with loading and lowering Lifeboat #10 on the port side before returning to the starboard side and Collapsible C.

On the port side, a fly on the wall observer would be excused for thinking that things did not progress as smoothly. Wilde might have had overall authority but certain decisions, like lowering Lifeboat #4 to A-deck or opening gangway doors appear to have had input from Lightoller. Lowe, who started with Murdoch on the forward starboard boats, ended-up on the aft port boats with Moody and, separately, loading and lowering of Lifeboat #10 was delayed. There must have been 'local' reasons for all that.

It is difficult to believe that Second Officer Lightoller alone could have enforced the "women and children only" dictum on the port side. Wilde and/or Captain Smith must have had a say in the matter, but it might have been a passive one under the circumstances. But whichever way we look at it, Lightoller did prevent several men from entering lifeboats even when there was room and even when by such entry the men in question might not have denied any women or children places in those boats. In addition, some women might not have got into port side lifeboats knowing that their husbands and adult sons would not be allowed in while others like Ida Straus (#8) and Bess Allison (#6) got out of the boats they were already in for that same reason. In case of Bess Allison, there was also 3-year old Loraine Allison who lost her life as a result of her mother's actions.

The argument that Lightoller was forced to use his "women and children only" stand to avoid men rushing his lifeboats is without evidence. Murdoch allowed men - even additional crewmen - when there was room and there were no women or children in the immediate vicinity to take up that room in the lifeboats. As far as is known, until they came to Collapsible C that was lowered at 01:58 am, there was no trouble on the starboard side with Murdoch's policy. But on the port side there was some near Lifeboat #14 around 01:25 am and paradoxically, the belief among surrounding male passengers that men would not be allowed in might have actually contributed to that disturbance.

People have often speculated that by his lifeboat loading policy, Murdoch might have saved the lives of 50 to 100 men (passengers and crew) without compromising a single woman or child. I agree with that. But what is not often considered is how many men needlessly died on the port side because Lightoller would not let them into lifeboats even when there was room. Indirectly, one can also add Ida Straus, Bess and Loraine Allison to that list of culpability.

'Logic' in many situations can sometimes depend on the way it is applied and/or interpreted.
 
Jim Currie

Jim Currie

Senior Member
Just popping back in to give the link where I covered this some years ago. Were Lightoller's actions logical?
Lighgtoller was a first class seaman and Extra Master. However it was his seamanship abilities he was using when loading boats and he tells everyone his thought process in that quote you refer to, Jude. I remind you:
" in addition, the strain is almost too much to expect of boats and falls under ordinary conditions..
..."
In addition to the normal strain, the method of lowering- 'surging'- ensured that there would be sudden stops which imposed a shock load into the falls. Such a shock load if heavy enough - would break a manila rope fall. In other words, it was good seamanship to lower the boat to the water safely loaded then fully load it at sea level if conditions permitted.
Keep in mind that up until the advent of these super liners, boats were normally lowered little more than 40 feet from any ship.
As for the logic in loading?
At the time of loading, Titanic was a 'tender' ship. This means that her center of gravity was too high due to the load of people above her normal center of gravity. A 'tender' ship will list very easily, even if a small weight is moved from one side to the other. Some of you may remember that Wilde ordered people from the port side to the starboard side. Here is a possible reason why.

Lifeboats were first launched from the starboard side - boat Nos 7, 5 & 3.
This would cause a slight list to port, so when No3 was launched - No.8 on the port side was also launched. This seems to have levelled things up. Then No1 and No.8 were launched - one from each side.
After that, four boats were launched on the port side - none on the starboard side. To compensate, four boats were then loaded and launched from the starboard side.
The last three lifeboats were launched from the port side.
If you look carefully, you can see the pattern of attempting to keep the ship upright while lowering and loading. There was nothing random about the process.
After the last starboard side boat is launched, there is no signs of Murdoch or Lightoller until the last two lifeboats are launched from the port side.

At all times, Lightoller conducted himself in a seamanlike manner.


Whether modernist like it or not - back then and right up until the enlightened 60's UK women were normally considered the "the fair (but helpless) sex. Children were the future. The "women and children first" idea was first established at sea 60 years, one month, and two weeks before the Titanic disaster.

As for the concept of women and children first? I suggest everyone reads the stories of two ships - the HMS 'Birkenhead' and the SS ' La Bourgogne'. the latter story was in the public domain less than a year before Lightoller sat for, and passed, his Master mariner (FG) Certificate. At that time that story would have been most recent in the minds of men like Lightoller, Murdoch, Wilde and Smith.
 
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J

Jude

Member
Thank you for this Jim - so good to read some logical, intelligent and informed common sense here, instead of emotional wailings from people who have probably know very little about the past and not even read Titanic Voyager by Patrick Stenson - the best researched book about Lightoller.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
No one was or is questioning how good a seaman Lightoller was. But since this thread is about his actions regarding people into lifeboats after the accident, those actions are open to discussion and...if need be, criticism......because the majority of those other people were "ordinary" people who (looking at it in a modernist manner) had placed their trust in the system. More importantly, considering the sequence of events during the sinking, Lightoller's actions will invariably get compared with those of Murdoch, who was on the same ship and carrying out similar actions.

With that in mind, the fact that Murdoch allowed men - even additional crewmen - when there was room and no more women or children were available to board in the immediate vicinity indicates a certain amount of logic. Inevitably, Lightoller's actions do come out as rather less logical by comparison and one does not have to read the "best researched book" about him to realize that.
 
Seumas

Seumas

Member
My thoughts regarding Lightoller are that his actions constitute a mixed bag.

On the one hand, he undoubtedly dropped a simply massive clanger in not letting men aboard the port boats once all the nearby women and kids were in.

However, he also saved a number of lives aboard Collapsible B that night. The men aboard that boat needed a no nonsense authority figure to keep them focused on survival, and they got one. Had they been left to their own devices, their survival rate would probably have been the same as those aboard Collapsible A.

Lightoller's insistence upon the men keeping their discipline and accepting his orders, trimming the boat and keeping their minds focused on a task rather than drifting off to an eternal sleep undoubtedly saved lives. By the WW2 the RN was teaching it's men similar lessons if they ended up on a Carley float such as keep together, keep talking, keep moving your limbs, keep the man next to you awake at all costs.

Charles Herbert Lightoller was a complex man and to this day remains hard to figure out. He was deeply flawed but as he proved in both world wars, brave as a lion. He made mistakes, but he was certainly no villain.
 
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