Were Lightoller's actions logical?

Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
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.
Most people are more complex than they often realize themselves. Individuals can surprise themselves and others around them by either unexpectedly rising to the occasion or collapsing in a heap. Most of us though, come somewhere in-between.

I believe this thread is about Lightoller's actions during the 2 hours and 40 minutes that the Titanic took to sink and not an overall character study. And his actions (or otherwise, depending on how one looks at it) that night invariably get compared with those of Murdoch.

Putting this in another way, if Murdoch and the others on the starboard side had followed exactly the same principle as Lightoller - ie "Women and children, only.......period," then the actions of both men would have seen by some of us with raised eyebrows and perhaps mild criticism but Lightoller would not then have stood out. Most of us would have considered what took place as convention of the day and sort of accepted it. But because Murdoch did NOT follow that approach and allowed men, including crew, to board if there was room on the starboard side, it does make Lightoller's actions seem less logical by comparison. Adding to that fact is that by his actions Murdoch did not deprive any woman or child a place in any lifeboat.
He made mistakes, but he was certainly no villain.
I don't think anyone here is claiming that he was a villain.
 
Seumas

Seumas

Member
Arun, if you look through a number of old threads from down the years, you'll find a few morons who have accused Lightoller (and even Lowe !) of being an idiot or even an outright murderer.

I don't disagree that Lightoller royally cocked things up superintending his portside boats. That he most certainly did, and it did display a lack of logic.

It is a pity Lightoller did not live a few more years so that we may have had either his detailed defence or humble apology for how he handled things on the boat deck that night.

However, at the same time, his exemplary leadership aboard Collapsible B did display logic.

Lightoller asserted his authority on a group of confused, freezing and shocked men and took charge when they needed a leader. He kept the men calm and focussed them upon the tasks of trimming the boat, keeping each other awake and trying to attract the attention of other boats. The man should be given the credit for that.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Arun, if you look through a number of old threads from down the years, you'll find a few morons who have accused Lightoller (and even Lowe !) of being an idiot or even an outright murderer.
Can't do anything about such people. I think I know the one you mean - in fact it might have been you who told us about a dreadful blog belonging to a certain.....shall we say "strongly opinionated" member. His idea of a research tool is a book about Syrians on the Titanic which makes several utterly ridiculous claims, including Lowe having shot a male survivor through the head as he sat next to his girlfriend or something.

Such posts sometimes provide comic relief, even if in bad taste.
 
Kareen Healey

Kareen Healey

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 pas
Thank you Jude for your answer and sweet words ; however, my view is that there is here some people who are judging others without either knowing their backgrounds nor answering it before giving such an view which they think it to be so worthless while being in fact quite useless. For appreciation of those, I would allow myself to let them know that I have a MA in History and consider myself as Historian. A scientific methodology which I have long since learned, taught me which books are serious enough to be read -- unfortunately Jude's never crossed my way.
Next, pardon me if I didn't put my "scientific Historian Suit" for writing here about Lightoller, however I didn't know we were on the Forum of "History Today" and that some people here were part of the publishing Board ! I thought that we were rather on a friendly forum were we can put our "human suit" to write some personal views, sometimes ; a place where we are not judged. Sorry for this misunderstanding of this Forum. My mistake.
That being said, let's get back to Lightoller.

As almost everybody had seen here, it was my view as human being. But here is something that will please the so call "Publishing Board" ( everybody had understood I am ironic, right ?? :p) I have read a Research in one of the Psychology Reviews (maybe "Psychology Today", as far as I can remember) and that said that when someone is in a situation which put his / her life is in danger, this is the medial temporal lobe that is in command (part of the Limbic system) and it takes a good deal of blood amount to function, letting other parts with less blood -- which include the front part of the brain. The front part is what make us human, with our cleverness and common sense (compared with animals which has that part of the brain less prominent and far more less developed, as you can notice seeing a cat, a bird, a dog or whatever can cross your path. As example, a spider has 27 brain cells and a human being has 27... billions -- the majority are in the front part). So the hypothesis of the Author was that that being so, when human being experimented fear for his life for a long period (and we are all agree that 2 hours and 40 minutes is a very long period of time) that one becomes dummy, and the author do gave the example of one being lost at sea and drinking water while perfectly knowing that it is a dangerous behavior. Therefore, we can infer that this is what happened to Lightoller, who lost his commons sense, opening doors when the ship was sinking. For that we cannot really blame him for his queer behavior. However, on the other side, we can make of us the Devil's Advocate and suggest that Murdoch was in the same situation as he was, but nevertheless did better than his colleague. I heard a TITANIC's expert who dived to the wreck saying that Murdoch tried to the very end to save passengers, and lost his life doing it, along with Moody, for we still can see today a davit being retract again, ready for the A boat -- and that's where Lightoller would have seen them being swept away by a big wave when the ship tipped over. Lightoller, on the contrary, didn't even tried to get to Moody and Murdoch and helped them out to carry their project (and I know that some of you will say "Murdoch shot himself !" but I am very dubious about that hypothesis : for me it is more logical that Wilde shot himself, especially after reading the interview of his great nephew -- but that's another matter that we can't debate here) and simply choose to leave and starting swimming toward the Crow's Nest, preferring finding a way to save his own life.
Lightoller appeared to me to be a very selfish guy and so vain, basis on the answer he gave to Pitman ("yes evidently") when the third officer asked him what have happened. My view is that this answer was so patronizing, like "I am the Second Officer ; you're only the Third ; you're dum ; I am much more clever !" He seemed to be the kind of lad you shouldn't contradict if you don't want trouble. The attitude of someone tells a lot about that one, even thought he's been dead a long time. And his heir seems to be the same today.
That was my view on that matter. But unlike some person, I don't mind to be wrong. When it is suitable, I can objectively take another view when it is appropriate. This is what we call to be scientific : nothing is cast in stone, and that's how the Humanity moves forward. :)
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
I heard a TITANIC's expert who dived to the wreck saying that Murdoch tried to the very end to save passengers, and lost his life doing it, along with Moody.
Personally, I have always believed that and my own research (which was not even about Murdoch when it started), points very much that way.

And thanks for mentioning Moody. While more and more people acknowledge that Murdoch did his selfless duty till the very end, we often tend to forget that James Moody did likewise.
I know that some of you will say "Murdoch shot himself !" but I am very dubious about that hypothesis : for me it is more logical that Wilde shot himself, especially after reading the interview of his great nephew -- but that's another matter
I agree with you carefully. Again, my own research into survivor John Collins very strongly indicates that Murdoch (and very likely also Moody) was among those overcome by the 'wave' that was generated by the Titanic giving a sudden downward lurch sometime between 02:15 and 02:16 am. There is also indirect comment about the shooting incident, which, while not mentioning any names or other form of ID, suggests that it might have been Wilde. Walter Lord, who in his 1986 book The Night Lives On had conjectured that it might have been Murdoch, had changed his mind by the time he was involved with a TV interview in 1989; I have seen it and Lord was quite clear that he believed that it was Wilde but did not elaborate.
Lightoller appeared to me to be a very selfish guy and so vain
I am not a fan of Lightoller by any stretch of imagination, but could your comment be a tad harsh? In my view Lightoller was someone with a tremendous sense of self-preservation and what is known about his movements after the collision and his later testimonies on both sides of the Atlantic made me feel that unlike Murdoch, the thought if going down with the ship was never in Lightoller's mental agenda. I am not claiming that he had any specific plan in mind but was subconsciously always aware of any chance that might come his way in the later stages of the sinking. To that end he did his duty as he saw it, and then took his chance to save himself when it came. Of course it might not have worked out, but it did.

While I certainly think that Lightoller's actions with loading his lifeboats with women and children only even when there was room with no one to fill the spaces were illogical, I do not blame him for saving himself. God, providence or whatever else you believe in, made us rather differently in that regard. Most of us (including me, I readily confess) have that subconscious sense of self-preservation but there are a few, like Murdoch and Moody, who are capable of overcoming that and rising to the occasion if it means putting others first. In other words Lightoller, rather than being "selfish and vain" was an ordinary man perhaps given to a bit of corporate subservience at the time. But his actions that night will invariably get compared with those of Murdoch and the Second Officer comes off as very much.....well, second.
 
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P

parmstrong

Member
Charles Lightoller commanded an 1890s vintage River class destroyer, HMS Garry following the loss of his earlier ship, HMS Falcon in the Humber estuary, following a collison with the trawler John Fitzgerald. A rating lost his life in this collision and once again the judgement of Charles Lightoller was brought into question. Garry was scarcely fit even for escort duties. This is hardly evidence of the Royal Navy showing faith in his judgement. And then there are the accusations that Lightoller stood by while his men murdered the surrendering crew of UB-110 in July 1918.
 
Seumas

Seumas

Member
Dozens of collisions between warships big and small happened during both world wars. Read about the "Battle of May Island" which was an almighty RN cock up during a fleet exercise during WW1. People forget that even today, many captains still experience at least one grounding or collision during their careers.

Lightoller's record with the RN appears to have been a good one and he would not have been awarded a DSC had he been incompetent or a glory seeking maniac.

I've read that story of the supposed "massacre" of men from UB-110, and it makes for utterly ludicrous reading. It was alleged they were throwing lumps of coal at the heads of men in the water. Why keep running down to the boiler rooms for a piece of coal when you could get a rifle from the arms locker ?

It's such a ridiculous story and obviously made up. Other prisoners did not corroborate it, which is a key give away.

The massacre of prisoners under Lightoller's watch never happened. Both sides during WW1 frequently accused each other of atrocities (the crucified Canadian soldier being perhaps the most infamous tall tale) that never occurred. This is one of them.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
I've read that story of the supposed "massacre" of men from UB-110, and it makes for utterly ludicrous reading. It was alleged they were throwing lumps of coal at the heads of men in the water. Why keep running down to the boiler rooms for a piece of coal when you could get a rifle from the arms locker ?
I have read about that supposed incident but so far have not believed it. But I am a bit disturbed by the fact that I have not seen any non-British sources denying that it ever happened. Kaptanleutnant Furbringer may well have been exaggerating but we cannot entirely rule out the story.

I cannot comment on WW1 but in 1994-5 I was treating a WW2 veteran who fought in the Desert War and later in Italy. He told me that it was not unknown for surrendering German soldiers to be shot by the British as it was feared that they would use up limited water and other rations.
 
Seumas

Seumas

Member
I have read about that supposed incident but so far have not believed it. But I am a bit disturbed by the fact that I have not seen any non-British sources denying that it ever happened. Kaptanleutnant Furbringer may well have been exaggerating but we cannot entirely rule out the story.

I cannot comment on WW1 but in 1994-5 I was treating a WW2 veteran who fought in the Desert War and later in Italy. He told me that it was not unknown for surrendering German soldiers to be shot by the British as it was feared that they would use up limited water and other rations.
The key fact for me is that Furbringer is the only one to make such allegations. It's not enough to take one man's word. Crucially, none of the other surviving submariners ever made claims to back up Furbringer.

Furbringer's very strong militaristic and nationalistic tone in his post war memoirs suggest a very angry, bitter man who could not accept Germany's defeat and wanted some kind of revenge. It's hard to take such a person seriously, especially when he's talking about lumps of coal being thrown at them which just sounds silly.

One possibility is that Furbringer and his men might have attempted to man the submarine's deck gun and fire a couple of shells at the already damaged HMS Garry before the sub sank. If this was the case then Lightoller would have been fully justified in opening fire on them.

I should also add that the current Wikipedia article is ridiculously biased towards Furbringer's account of events.

Both sides during WW1 routinely accused one another of killing civilians and prisoners of war. Occasionally they were true (German's mowing down civilians at Dinant in Belgium, Turks brutalising British and Indian POW's captured at Kut-al-Amara) but often they were made up for propaganda purpose
 
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Dan Parkes

Dan Parkes

Member
The key fact for me is that Furbringer is the only one to make such allegations. It's not enough to take one man's word. Crucially, none of the other surviving submariners ever made claims to back up Furbringer.
You may well be right, although how do we know that no one else ever mentioned it? Or alternatively, did anyone else ever say it did not happen?

Most importantly, Lightoller himself did not take the opportunity in his autobiography to contradict the claims. In fact, Lightoller's ill-feeling towards the U-boat crew was very clear when he wrote: “Towards the submarine men, one felt an utter disgust and loathing; they were nothing but an abomination, polluting the clean sea.”
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Lightoller's ill-feeling towards the U-boat crew was very clear when he wrote: “Towards the submarine men, one felt an utter disgust and loathing; they were nothing but an abomination, polluting the clean sea.”
I think that "sentiment" is rather telling. We all know about the ant-German backlash that occurred in Britain and elsewhere following the sinking of the Lusitania 3 years earlier. In particular, there was a lot of hatred directed towards the torpedo-firing German submarines and their crews. Lightoller, being a sailor himslef, would have been one of those who took a particularly strong exception to them. In that kind of scenario, I can understand his expressed feeling about them and we cannot rule out that he did order firing upon the crew of UB 110 in the water that day. However, I think throwing lumps of coal onto the swimmers does sound rather fanciful.

During the early days of my medical practice in the UK in the late 80s to mid 90s, I have treated several WW2 veterans; I has assumed that for them the anti-German feeling was considerably greater than for those encountering the Kaiser's armed forces of WW1 for obvious reasons. As was my habit, I often talked to them about their WW2 experiences and discovered some surprising responses. In general, most Brit veterans considered the "average Japanese soldier" considerably more cruel and fanatical as opposed to their German counterparts; in fact, many felt that the Wehrmacht soldiers and non-Nazi Luftwaffe airmen were not much different from themselves except that they fought for the "wrong side". Like the LRDG veteran's comments I mentioned in the earlier post, there were unacceptable wartime acts committed by the Allies as well; apparently it was not unusual for the Brits to shoot surrendering German soldiers if it was felt that they would become more of a burden as POWs under the harsh desert conditions.
 
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Seumas

Seumas

Member
You may well be right, although how do we know that no one else ever mentioned it? Or alternatively, did anyone else ever say it did not happen?

Most importantly, Lightoller himself did not take the opportunity in his autobiography to contradict the claims. In fact, Lightoller's ill-feeling towards the U-boat crew was very clear when he wrote: “Towards the submarine men, one felt an utter disgust and loathing; they were nothing but an abomination, polluting the clean sea.”
I don't deny such sentiments existed in the RN but it still does not constitute proof for me.

Modern historians of WW1 wouldn't just take Furbringer's word for it and would be wary of his obvious political and nationalistic motivation. It's just his word for it, when there were other witnesses, that is far from enough.

I still am far from convinced that any massacre took place of the UB-110 and consider Furbringer's post-war memoirs the vindictive and imaginative rantings of a blood and soil German nationalist wanting revenge for Versailles.

If Lightoller did have to open fire again, then there may have been something Furbringer wasn't telling us.

Did Furbringer and his men try to man the deck gun or make a last ditch attempt to manoeuvre UB-110 so that the torpedo tubes could be brought to bear on HMS Garry ? If they made such a move then Lightoller would have been fully justified under the rules of war (then and now) in ordering a withering fire upon them.

There is one other very good fact going against the "massacre".

How long does Furbringer say Lightoller stopped his already damaged warship so that Lightoller and his men could pick off the German submariners ?

By 1918 the Royal Navy had begun to develop "rules" for anti-submarine warfare. One of the top rules was never to stop your own ship, in waters where U-boats were known to be, for any more than a few minutes to pick up survivors.

Picking off men in the water with lumps of coal is going to take quite a while, don't you think ? In the meantime HMS Garry is taking on water after ramming the UB-110 and another U-boat could be lurking nearby for all they know.
 
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Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
I don't deny such sentiments existed in the RN but it still does not constitute proof for me
It would be almost impossible to "prove" isolated events like that in a modern war, let alone in 1918 with limited communication and investigation facilities. We will never know the truth but it is interesting that there is no wholesale denial of the incident anywhere else.

Also, we tend to look at Naval submarines today from a bigger perspective and accept them as an effective but just another weapon source. But in WW1, German U-boats were considered almost the Devil's Weapon. Who was it who described them as "That Goddamn un-British weapon!" or something similar?

A lot of British propaganda during WW1 rose from the love-hate relationship between Churchill and the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher.

I still am far from convinced that any massacre took place of the UB-110
How do you define "massacre" during a war which is all about killing the opponent or those perceived as opponents? Where the victims are civilians, the perpetarators have argued that they were in fact armed partisans, not always truthfuly, of course. The picture becomes even more grey where only uniformed combatants are involved.

Did Furbringer and his men try to man the deck gun or make a last ditch attempt to manoeuvre UB-110 so that the torpedo tubes could be brought to bear on HMS Garry ? If they made such a move then Lightoller would have been fully justified under the rules of war (then and now) in ordering a withering fire upon them
I very much doubt it. Contrary to what they show in films, a man in the water is relatively helpless against an armed opponent on a firm surface like the deck of a ship. I am a retried scuba diver and even with a BCD on, bobbing on the surface feels very alien anduncomfortable and there is always a sense of gladness getting back on the boat's deck. Even though naval personnel are well trained, they have to keep swimming or at least treading firmly to keep their heads above the water and to be rescued would be paramount in their minds. Trying to overcme armed opponents on the deck of a ship ould have been tantamount to suicide.

Also, it probably was not a wholesale massacre. Lightoller might have ordered OR not stopped some of his crew from firing upon the much hated U-boat crew until a few died and realization dawned. Of course, Furbringer and others who survived who would have seen it from a different perspective.
 
Seumas

Seumas

Member
It would be almost impossible to "prove" isolated events like that in a modern war, let alone in 1918 with limited communication and investigation facilities. We will never know the truth but it is interesting that there is no wholesale denial of the incident anywhere else.

Also, we tend to look at Naval submarines today from a bigger perspective and accept them as an effective but just another weapon source. But in WW1, German U-boats were considered almost the Devil's Weapon. Who was it who described them as "That Goddamn un-British weapon!" or something similar?

A lot of British propaganda during WW1 rose from the love-hate relationship between Churchill and the then First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher.


How do you define "massacre" during a war which is all about killing the opponent or those perceived as opponents? Where the victims are civilians, the perpetarators have argued that they were in fact armed partisans, not always truthfuly, of course. The picture becomes even more grey where only uniformed combatants are involved.


I very much doubt it. Contrary to what they show in films, a man in the water is relatively helpless against an armed opponent on a firm surface like the deck of a ship. I am a retried scuba diver and even with a BCD on, bobbing on the surface feels very alien anduncomfortable and there is always a sense of gladness getting back on the boat's deck. Even though naval personnel are well trained, they have to keep swimming or at least treading firmly to keep their heads above the water and to be rescued would be paramount in their minds. Trying to overcme armed opponents on the deck of a ship ould have been tantamount to suicide.

Also, it probably was not a wholesale massacre. Lightoller might have ordered OR not stopped some of his crew from firing upon the much hated U-boat crew until a few died and realization dawned. Of course, Furbringer and others who survived who would have seen it from a different perspective.
Massacre I would define as killing people who can do little or nothing to fight back.

Furbringer would have us believe that is what took place. However, his obvious political and ultra-nationalist beliefs ring alarm bells here. He was bitter he got taken prisoner by an enemy he hated, and furious about the consequences of Versailles. They have to be taken with a big pinch of salt.

I think you may have misunderstood me, Arun when I'm talking about Furbringer and his men trying a last ditch attempt to man the UB-110's 3.5" deck gun or get off a torpedo before UB-110 sank. This would be whilst they are still on their sub, an immediate danger to HMS Garry, and not in the water.

If they did try the undeniably brave but ultimately foolish act of trying to get off a couple of shells at HMS Garry or tried to manoeuvre UB-110 and get enough distance (too close and the torpedo won't explode) between them and Garry to fire a torpedo - then they would be perfectly "fair game" as targets, even under today's rules of engagement.

Widely respected modern historians of WW1 such as Nick Lloyd, Gary Sheffield, Prof. Hew Strachan or Sir Max Hastings who are all known for their accuracy, incredible attention to detail and excellent referencing would not touch Furbringer's claims with a bargepole. I gently suggest Titanic historians do the same. There are three reasons for that - firstly there is a clear political and nationalistic bias displayed on Furbringer's part, secondly there is nobody else to corroborate his account and thirdly the account is just so bizarre (lumps of coal) and illogical (Lightoller stopping his ship in dangerous waters whilst this strange killing spree of his men goes on) in content.
 
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