What happened to the Mesaba Ice Warning?


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Aaron_2016

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The wireless operator on the Mesaba testified that he successfully delivered the ice warning to the Titanic and received a confirmation from the Titanic that it was received. Yet the crew told the Inquiry that this message was not received. What happened to this message? Lightoller was on duty on the bridge at the time and he said:

"It is customary for the message to be sent direct to the bridge......Captain Smith’s instructions were to open all telegrams and act on your own discretion."

Is it possible that Lightoller had received the warning and used his own discretion and simply told the lookouts to keep a sharp lookout for ice ahead and he did nothing more and was ashamed that he could have done a great deal more, so rather than take on the allegations of negligence he instead denied that the message was received?

Many years later Lightoller would later claim that he spoke to Phillips shortly before his death on the collapsible boat and that Phillips confessed with his dying breath that he accidentally placed the Mesaba ice warning under a paper weight and forgot to deliver it to the bridge. Is this likely? Harold Bride refuted that allegation and told the British press that Phillips would never do such a careless thing as that and he challenged Lightoller and said if this allegation were true then why did he refuse to tell the Inquiry about it, because he could have shifted the entire blame of the disaster onto Phillips and yet he chose not to. Is it possible that Lightoller failed to mention his encounter with Phillips during the Inquiry because he wanted to protect Phillips' family and spare them any more grief at that traumatic time because the press had turned Phillips into a hero for staying at his post and hailing the rescue ship Carpathia, and therefore the last thing Lightoller wanted to do was blame Phillips for the disaster?

Is it possible that Lightoller did receive the ice warning and failed to take it seriously?

Any thoughts on the Mesaba ice warning?
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Personally, I think it is more than likely that the Mesaba ice warning was received on the bridge while Lightoller was on duty and he either did not take it too seriously or (more likely) put it in his pocket and forgot about it because of the various other things he had in his mind at the time. That explains why he made-up that cock-and-bull story about Phillips' 'confession' later, while fighting for his life on top of Collapsible B.

As per Paul Lee's research paper, the Mesaba ice warning was received in the Titanic wireless room at 9:52 pm Titanic time (TT); Stanley Adams of the Mesaba received a "message received" acknowledgement from Phillips, but not a Captain's official response. By then Lightoller was about to finish off his bridge duty and go to bed. Earlier, he had phoned the Crow's Nest and warned them to look out for ice and told Hemming to make sure that the fresh water did not freeze. Therefore, when he received that Mesaba warning (which I believe that he did), Lightoller might have felt that he had already taken sufficient precautions against ice and so not bothered too much about the new message. IMO, he very likely forgot to mention it to Murdoch during the handover some 10 minutes later. Considering what happened afterwards, Lightoller would have realized his error and in a face-saving gesture, felt compelled to transfer the blame to a man who would not be able to defend himself - Jack Phillips.

No wonder Harold Bride responded angrily to those statements about Phillips by Lightoller. But Bride himself was not in a position to push too far any accusations against Lightoller regarding Phillips because he himself had claimed to have seen Phillips' body on Collapsible B (albeit for entirely different reasons) all those years earlier - as they were rescued by the Carpathia. IMO, it is possible, even probable that the wily old sea dog Lightoller recalled that statement by Bride years later when he wrote his book Titanic and Other Ships and used it as basis for the so-called "Phillips' confession".
 

mitfrc

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Say the warning had been passed to Murdoch and Smith. Do we have any grounds to believe it would have resulted in a change in engine revolutions?
 

Arun Vajpey

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Well, one can only offer opinions and conjectures on such matters. My own personal one is that if the Mesaba warning had been seen by Murdoch, he would have taken some precautionary measures. He would almost certainly have slowed the ship down and alerted the lookouts, who by then would have been Fleet and Lee.

Of course, others might have different opinions.
 

mitfrc

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The reason I ask is because if you figure out the consequences of the notice that should inform where to look. Why was it different enough from the other notices that you think it would prompt those actions from Murdoch?
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Why was it different enough from the other notices that you think it would prompt those actions from Murdoch?
Good question but not an easy answer. In fact there may be 2 answers.

In my opinion - and I stress that this first of the two answers to your question is only an opinion - Murdoch was a more organised Officer than Lightoller and less likely to defer action based on as assumption. This might sound odd considering that he was the Senior Officer on watch when the collision occurred but IMO it would not have made a difference who was on watch at the time. All of them would have reacted within the same timeframe as soon as they heard the 3 bells from the lookout but by then it was already too late and the collision inevitable no matter what helm order had been given.

The second answer is the high likelihood that the way things panned out Murdoch had less exposure to the ice warnings than Lightoller on that Sunday right up to the collision. There has been some vague and contradicting statements made about what messages were or were not posted on the Chart Room notice board and since Lightoller and Boxhall survived and Murdoch and Moody did not, we can only look at one side of the coin.

Lightoller was the SO on duty when the ice warning from Caronia came in. Later during his testimonies, he was very vague about if he discussed this with Murdoch - according to Paul Lee's paper, Lightoller used a lot of "I could not say" and "cannot recall" type statements.

The ice report from Noordham was transmitted by Caronia (again) to the Titanic but the Caronia's wireless log is reportedly confusing about the times. But it is possible that Murdoch was the SO on the bridge when this was delivered.

The Amerika's ice warning appears to have been dealt with mainly by Boxhall. It was received by the Titanic's Marconi Room at 1:47 pm but not certain about when it was delivered to the bridge. Very likely Murdoch was off duty by the time the ice warning arrived on the bridge. This message was important because it was the first one showing the ice field to the south of the Titanic's intended route later that night. But for some reason, Boxhall seemed to believe that this was not the case.

The next ice warning was the Baltic one, received just after 2 pm on Sunday was delivered direct to the Captain most likely. (Not sure who the SO on the bridge was at the time - Wilde?). This is the infamous one that did the "Ismay rounds" and was probably in Captain Smith's pocket when he went to the Wideners' party. He might have given it to Lightoller when he went to the bridge around 9 pm but if smith did that, Lightoller 'did not recall' about it.

Bride was not clear about the time at which they received the Califorinan's first ice earning but seemed to indicate that it was around 5:30 pm. It might have reached the bridge either when Wilde was still on duty or only after Lightoller came back on duty at 6 pm. This was followed by the Mesaba ice warning and finally the second Californian message that elicited the infamous "shut up!" response from Jack Phillips.
 
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mitfrc

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If the warning would have altered Murdoch's course of action, then Murdoch didn't get it, because we're here talking. What's the plausible chain of custody?
 

Arun Vajpey

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What's the plausible chain of custody?
Other than the wireless logs of various other ships involved, I cannot think of any. The reports from the hearings would be based on crew and passenger testimonies and so there is bound to be an element of bias.
 

mitfrc

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Sorry, Arun, what I meant was, what's the list of people on Titanic who might have handled it? How many alternates are there?
 

Arun Vajpey

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Your guess is as good as mine. I understand that captain Smith's instructions were that MSG type messages were to be handed to him asap and if he were not immediately available, to the Senior officer on the bridge. In the latter case, it was up to the SO to use his discretion about what action to take.

We are speaking with hindsight of course, but IMO the most logical action to take when those ice warnings came in was to slow the ship down and post additional lookouts till the passed the ice field. Since Smith knew about at least some of the ice warnings - certainly that of the Baltic - he could have either ordered the ship slowed right then or left instructions for the SO to do so under their discretion. The way I see it, the situation became far more vital after sunset, at which time Smith was at the Wideners' dinner party. Contrary to some of the other members, I believe that the SO on duty, Lightoller at that time, knew about at least one more ice warning (the first Californian-Antillian message), possibly even two (the elusive Mesaba warning). As the SO on bridge duty he could have slowed the ship down and posted additional lookouts but obviously he felt that alerting the lookouts in the Crow's Nest was enough.

Murdoch's position is harder to guess. IMO, he was the sort of man who would have taken additional precautions had he known the full picture about the ice field that they were approaching. Obviously, he must have known something about it but probably believed that Lightoller, from whom he took over bridge duties at 10 pm, had done enough. Lightoller was vague in his testimony about what exactly he told Murdoch during the handover (see Paul Lee's article).

Finally, I have no idea if there was any corporate pressure on Smith and others not to slow down the ship unless absolutely necessary, maiden voyage and all.
 

N. D. Risener

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Apparently it is not an element of the corporate mindset to look at it this way. White Star was in competition with Cunard. With its new ships Cunard offered speed. Passengers could cross the Atlantic rapidly. White Star however offered luxury. Even Third Class passengers could travel in unaccustomed comfort and for First Class the luxury was truly impressive. Speed of crossing was not necessarily desirable. It might even undercut White Star's appeal to potential customers and possibly send them to Cunard if company policy was to deliberately reduce as much as possible the time available to enjoy that luxury.
 
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Arun Vajpey

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Speed of crossing was not necessarily desirable. It might even undercut White Star's appeal to potential customers and possibly send them to Cunard if company policy was to deliberately reduce as much as possible the time available to enjoy that luxury.
That's an interesting way to look at it. If I was customer, I certainly would appreciate that extra day of luxury on board. If some businessman was in a rush, he could always have taken the Mauretania.
 

mitfrc

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Well, if Captain Smith's orders required his notification or that of the OOW then the chain of custody was Marconi->OOW, if and only if we have no example of an intermediary being used. Was an intermediary ever used?

I am intentionally being super methodical.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I don't think an intermediary was used. As far as I know the SOP was that if an MSG message arrived it was logged and the off-duty operator too it to the bridge and handed it to either the Captain if he was readily available or the SO on duty on the bridge.
 

mitfrc

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So the off-duty operator was responsible for delivering messages? If so, there would always be a delay in their receipt by the bridge whenever he was sleeping, using facilities, going to get food, etc. I'm not surprised that would be procedure because wireless messages were not necessarily regarded as highly urgent at the time, but that immediately suggests there are some failure points in the Marconi shack other than Phillips being irresponsible with the message.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Well, I expect it worked very much like what it would these days. If an important message like an MSG Ice warning came in and was acknowledged, whoever was available would have to take to the bridge. This might be the off-duty operator or even the duty operator himself if it was very urgent.

Remember that in 1912 radio was a new facility and not all ships had wireless. Of those which had, some like the Californian, had only one operator who had to eat, sleep, go to the loo etc.
 

mitfrc

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Quite so, but was it a supposition that the off-duty officer would take the message, or was that a documented practice? Again, forgive me for being pendantic, but I am trying to analyze your question rigorously.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Frankly, I don't know. But I expect that there are some people with hands-on nautical experience on these forums who might have the answer. It might be an idea to post your query as a separate thread; as present it is getting buried in the Mesaba message one and so not all concerned might be looking.
 

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