Who would you save


Sep 5, 2001
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Hello,

I am a junior History major at Allegheny College, working on an independent study project that focuses on Titanic. Eventually, this research will form several components of my senior project.

With research centered around varied topics, my professor-advisor recommended this message board as a good place to find educated opinions and information.

Some of my writing assignments will include:

First Officer William Murdoch - did he commit suicide?

Pumps and Watertight doors - how do they work and how were they employed during the disaster?

iceberg damage - what really happened to Titanic's hull? ( I find David Brown's theory that the ship "ran over" an underwater ice shelf to be very convincing.

Changes adopted after the disaster - how did the accident affect future ocean travel and especially what modifications were made to Olympic and Brittanic?

I'm slowly making my way through the message board, but if anyone can help with these questions, I would be interested in their suggestions.


Finally, to the heart of this post...

One of my writing exercises includes a hypothetical What If? So, the question is: Of those who perished in the disaster, whose testimony would have been most beneficial in resolving the mysteries and unanswered questions concerning the loss of Titanic? In other words, who would you save???

Certainly, there will need to be a hirearchy of crew and passengers that could give additional insight into the disaster.

After much deliberation, I posit that First Officer Murdoch would be the best choice for the following reasons: 1) he was on the bridge at the time of the collsion and can provide a detailed account of his evasive actions; 2) he could provide valuable information as to the ship's purported movement ten minutes after the collision; 3) his presence on the bridge might also invite him to testify about Ismay's hand in the post-collision decisions.

Other thoughts on this subject?

Nathan Robison
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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Interesting question, Nathan. Murdoch would be a good choice, as in addition to the above reasons you give he was also active in loading and lowering the lifeboats from when they were first swung out right up to attempts to launch collapsible A.

Smith is also an obvious choice as a witness. Although he wouldn't have Murdoch's insight into the actual dynamics of the collision, his point of view (and role) in the navigational decisions taken up to the time of the disaster and his commands immediately afterwards and during the evacuation would hopefully answer a good many questions.

I'd also like to call James Moody to the stand (admittedly this is at least partially because I'd simply like to see him - like everyone else - get off the ship alive). He was a highly intelligent young man with excellent observational skills and an ability to communicate what he saw - I've always felt that, had he lived by getting onto collapsible A, he would later have written the most powerful and incisive work on the disaster by a survivor. As he was present on the bridge during the collision, was active on both the port and starboard sides loading boats, and was last seen loading A he would have had a fairly comprehensive overview of events. In some ways this would have been more limited than Murdoch's - from his position at the time of the collision he did not even see the iceberg - but it would have been very broad.

Bell would also be another important witness - it would be fascinating to get his perspective on the discussion(s) with Ismay and find out just what commands the bridge gave the engine room during the collision, as well as what happened below decks as they attempted to keep her afloat.

In an event of this scale it's impossible for any one person to have a complete overview (at least in terms of their personal experience), but I agree that Murdoch is as central as anyone to what took place.

~ Inger
 
Sep 5, 2001
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An interesting response to be sure. I've never given as much consideration to Bell (maybe because I'm just partial to Murdoch) because NONE of the engineers survived. Since none of them survived, there is no testimony concerning the efforts made to save the ship below decks. Bell's tetimony would shed light on subjects that, now, are purely speculative. On the other hand Murdoch's testimony would serve to clarify many inconsistencies in the hearings.

Also, your praise of Sixth Officer Moody made me wonder this:

Can it be truthfully said that ALL of Titanic's officers were among the best seamen of the day? Was their training and experience vastly superior to seamen of the competing lines (Cunard, for instance) or of Naval officers of the period?

Nathan Robison
 
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James Maxwell

Guest
Hi Nathan,
A question like this was posted some time ago on the board, but i guess you might have missed it.
For myself, I would save Andrews because he would be able to give information about the damage to the ship as he inspected it after the collision. Perhaps he would be able to throw some light on the idea that Titanic "ran over an ice ledge", which I also found convincing.I would also save Capt. Smith in the hope that he could explain why the ship was travelling so fast - a thing that many people since then have found inexplicable.
regards,
Jim
 

Inger Sheil

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Dec 3, 2000
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G'day Nathan -

It would be true to say that they were among the best seamen of their time - the WSL could afford to be selective, and all had been tested on other ships in the fleet and promoted - but they were certified by the Board of Trade, the same as any officer qualified to serve as a mate or a master on a foreign-going vessel, whether it be a small tramp steamer trundling over to Iquique or an crack Atlantic liner. Cunard and WSL insisted on their officers holding a Master's certificate, so all had fulfilled the same critera; all had done the required sea time and to have passed oral and written examinations in order to first gain their 2nd mates, 1st mates and then masters.

Frank Bullen, a commentator on maritime matters and experienced seaman himself, wrote in 1900 of the 'brevet rank' of distinction that went with serving in some of the more prestigious lines - WSL, Cunard and P&O prominant among the names he mentions. Their experiences would be much the same - all started in sail and then worked their way up through smaller companies in order to get their sea time up.

I'd be happy to send you the extracts from the Maritime Acts pertaining to certification if you're interested. There are also some very interesting WSL minutes that comment on the selection process for Titanic, describing how crew who performed well in any capacity (not just deck officers) would be 'marked down' for transfer to the Olympic or Titanic if possible.

~ Inger
 

Sam Brannigan

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Feb 24, 2007
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Personally, I think that the most valuable witness in many respects was saved.

Lightoller had direct conversation with Smith shortly before the collision, and because Smith then turned in for the night he seems to have been the last person to have had any contact with the captain before the ship struck the iceberg. Therefore, it is known what Smith's intentions were in the run up to the collision from Lightoller's testimony alone:

1) Maintain course and speed

2) If anything changes, call me.

Lightoller then had a major hand in the loading of the boats, and as a result much of the major drama of the night, and he then had a grandstand view of the sinking and activity on the forward boat deck as the collapsible were being freed.

It has been noticed that Lightollers recollections in later life differed subtly from his original testimony. What I would like to know is, what did Lightoller see on the forward boat deck before it went under. More specifically, who put a gun to their head??

I am sorry to veer of the original point of the thread. If I could save one valuable witness on the night it would be Murdoch.

If I could change one thing on the night, I would head off the Allison's maid and return baby Trevor to his parents before one of the most awful incidents on such a night of tragedy took place.

Regards

Sam
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Sam,

Lightoller certainly was the best witness that survived, but it seems likely that he bowed to pressure from Ismay regarding certain dramatic events. When asked if the ship broke apart at the surface or sank intact, he replied, "Absolutely intact." What made Lightoller veer from the truth? It seems that we'll never know. However, I find it interesting that for his trouble, Lightoller never held such a significant rank on another important White Star ship - even though he remained on White Star's payroll. Somebody - read Ismay - seems to have forgotten the pains that Lightoller took to put the disaster in some positive light. (His theory that "everything was against us for instance. It shifts the blame from human error to a supernatural force!)

Nathan Robison
 

Inger Sheil

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Nathan -

I don't think that Lightoller necessarily lied about thinking the Titanic sank intact - Gracie, also in the water, believed she sank intact and went to some pains to explain why he believed this was so in his book.

I don't think it's that exceptional that Lightoller did not receive a promotion to command, although Lightoller did suggest that the Line had treated him poorly. He went from the Titanic incident to the Majestic, and was promoted aboard her within a fairly short period. He then went to the Oceanic (which I'd call an 'important' WSL ship, and Lightoller's favourite) and held a senior position aboard her right up to and beyond the outbreak of war. After the war, given heavy merchant losses, it was difficult for former RNR offices to simply slip back into the top of the line ships...many WSL officers wound up serving aboard minor IMM ships until they could be reassigned to WSL ships. Lightoller became impatient, but had he endured a bit longer in the post-war period he might have eventually been given his own command.

~ Inger
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Inger,

Thanks for the information about Lightoller. While not to say that he lied, I would argue that because he was the most senior officer to survive, he was under more pressure to present his testimony in a way that would be least damaging to White Star.

Also, I would find the minutes concerning White Star's selection process for Olympic and Titanic's crew very valuable, could you direct me to that source?
 
Sep 5, 2001
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In defense of my position that Murdoch's testimony would be the most valuable, I devised the following hirearchy of testimony importance:

On the first level, I would include Moody, Wilde, any other member of the deck crew (maybe the purser), any of the engineers OTHER than Bell.

Moody - While he may have been an outstanding young officer, and an extremely brave man, I really wonder if he could add anything more than Lowe or Pitman were able to.

Wilde - He really seems to have no identity in the disaster. Helping with the life boats, going on inspection of the damage, and probably overhearing some of the Captain's conversations are points all in his favor, but he doesn't seem to be a forceful man, one that would state the truth irrespective of Ismay's wishes.

Other Engineers - Would be able describe the events below decks, but that is all. Since none of them ventured up, they had no knowledge of the events on boat deck. They may not even know the extent of the damage beyond the fact that Titanic will founder.

I would place Thomas Andrews and Captain Smith above the previously mentioned group.

Andrews - Information regarding the flooding and PROBABLE damage would be invaluable. However, the man could not know the exact extent of the hull's damage unless he ventured into the icy waters to inspect it or waded through flooded compartments, searching for leaks. He did neither. During the later stages of the sinking, he seems to have faded from the action. His testimony, although invaluable, may not have been much different than Wilding's.

Captain Smith - Ranked low because I feel that he would be a reluctant witness. Reputation was a key ingredient in his character, and he would have done anything to preserve it or preserve White Star's image.

The top of this hirearchy is occupied by Murdoch and Bell.

Bell - His testimony about damage to the hull and efforts to extend the ship's life would be very important. Would he reveal the contents of Captain Smith's mysterious hand-written message? Or the numerous contacts he had with Ismay? The only strike against him is not venturing to the upper decks in the later stages of the sinking to provide any insight on the happenings there.

Murdoch - Is the best choice for the following reasons: presence on the bridge (after all, he made the helm and engine orders); he was likely to be involved in any discussions on the bridge after the accident and could provide testimony regarding the attitude and body language of Andrews, Ismay and Smith after the collision; he played a central role in the loading of the boats and might also reveal the extent of gunplay on the ship that night!

Nathan Robison
 

Inger Sheil

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Nathan -

Here's the section commenting on the selection of crew:

Having fitted out this magnificent vessel, the "Titanic", we proceeded to man her with all that was best in the White Star organisation, and that, I believe, without boasting, means everything in the way of skill, manhood and esprit de corps. Whenever a man had distinguished himself in the service by means of ability and devotion to duty, he was earmarked at once to go to the "Olympic" or "Titanic", if it were possible to spare him from his existing position, with the result that, from Captain Smith, Chief Engineer Bell, Dr. O'Loughlin, Purser McElroy, Chief Steward Latimer, downwards, I can say without fear of contradiction, that a finer set of men never manned a ship, nor could be found in the whole of the Mercantile Marine of the country, and no higher testimony than this can be paid to the worth of any crew

(White Star Line Special Meeting, April 22 1912, Minute No. 8424)

Re Moody: I believe he could add substantially to the evidence Lowe and Boxhall provided. He was the only man on the bridge during the collision other than Hichens and Murdoch, and he was the one who relayed Murdoch's helm orders. He was also the one who calculated that they would be up among the ice at around 23.00, leading to Lightoller's later speculation that he was working from a different icewarning than the one Lightoller had been using. He was also on the bridge during the initial damage assessments. I also have reason to believe that he was sent to alert the other department heads, none of whom survived, but would need his confirmation of this. He also worked his way around the boat deck during the evacuation, from the forward port boats, aft to 14/16, over to the aft starboard boats, then finally forward to A - a complete circuit of the lifeboats (although obviously the was not at the launching of every one).

Re Wilde, I think our perceptions of the man have been distorted somewhat due to the fact that he is overshadowed by the other senior officers. The Captain was a focus of interest simply because he was master of the ship, and easily identifiable even to passengers. Murdoch became a target of media interest because he was the man at the helm during the collision - much discussion centred around his actions during the action, controversy which continues to this day. Lightoller, of course, lived to tell the tale - as senior surviving officer he was naturally a focus of attention.

I also find it very doubtful that Wilde would have proved as successful as he was in his career if he lacked 'force' - indications are that he was very active, and seems to have had a particular role in overseeing the distribution of manpower. Men like Scarrott and Boxhall later testified to his pro-activeness. Much has been put on Lightoller's recollection of their discussion over whether to begin loading the boats, but on this point we are forced to rely on Lightoller's pov - Wilde never had an opportunity to explain his reasoning. There is no other evidence that I'm aware of for passivity on his part.

I note that you've included in your assessment the factor that men like Wilde and Smith might be reluctant witnesses, but in fairness the same can also be said of Murdoch.

~ Inger
 
C

Christine Geyer

Guest
Hello everybody...

I joined this discussion rather late as I see, nevertheless regarding the fate of the ship my burning question would've been to someone who actually survived.

In the testimony of the american inquiry Mrs. Crosby swore that on board the Carpathia she heard passengers quote Frederick Fleet saying that he had warned the bridge about ice bergs already three or four times (!) before they struck the berg.

Under the given conditions I find this very convincing. Ice bergs and growlers had been all around and been seen by other ships, so why should they have been so totally "innocent" and not having seen it as well, BEFORE they struck the berg !?

I find it a highly difficult question to answer who I think should've been saved but regarding only the evidences of the fate of the ship I'd then like to have Murdoch, Moody and Hichens saved to answer this question. In addition Cpt. Smith because if there had been reports by Fleet before I would've liked to hear if he already knew about them and what his exactly instructions really were.

Lightollers testimony before the two inquiries was full of contradictions. I refuse to really believe in his claims. In some points it looks like the lack of other witnesses is almost advantageous to cover the truth.

Regards
Christine
 

Inger Sheil

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G'day Christine -

Actually, George Behe has written a book that explores the prior icewarnings theory among other ideas - 'Titanic: Safety Speed and Sacrifice' (May have got the Ss in that mixed up - I tend to when quoting from memory). If you want to read the supporting evidence for the idea, I recommend you get a copy.

Personally I remain unconvinced re the evidence George presents supporting his theory, for reasons I've discussed at length (!) here on the board in the past. If you do a search you can probably find some of the past threads. But if you're interested, read the book and make up your own mind :)

~ Ing
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hi Christine...in regards Fleet's (And Lee's!) comments, two possibilities occur;

1)They really did see and report ice at an earlier time as they asserted. It's not outside the realm of possibility as they were pretty far into the icefield when the Titanic ran into grief.

2)They were saying things with the intention of being heard. As the lookouts at the time of the collision, they had to know that their conduct would come under close official scrutiny as it did with all the survivors of the watch team. They would have a vested interest in putting themselves in the best possible light. This is known as "covering one's a$$" An old and time honoured practice which continues to this day!

The problem I have with the first possibility is that all these events happened at night and you would be amazed at how little is visible even on a clear night at sea. Further, if they were seeing a lot of ice and the bridge knew about it, one has to wonder why Captain Smith was apparently never called to the bridge. If I was the officer on watch, that's what I would do.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Michael,

It seems that your second proposed scenario regarding Fleet and Lee is most likely to have occurred.

Fleet, Lee and Hitchens are the only survivors that could detail Titanic's efforts to dodge ice before the collision. I dare say that these three men were unexceptional. The lookouts attempted to deflect blame from their failure to sight the iceberg sooner. Hitchens wanted to deflect blame from his actions as commander of Boat 6. Certainly, they realized that the only men who could refute their claims about the bridge's activity around 11:40, Moody and Murdoch, were dead. Upon discovering the officers' death, they might have conspired to alter events in a way to make themselves appear better.

Fleet AND Hitchens were in the same boat - coincidence?

Nathan Robison
 

Inger Sheil

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Given some of the comments that Fleet is reported to have made in NY about Hichens after Hichens decided to comment to the media, I don't think there was any love lost between the two...! If the report is accurate, Fleet was quite vocal in declaring that Hichens wasn't 'one of us'.

~ Ing
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Many thanks to everyone that has participated in this discussion. The abundance of thoughtful opinions has influenced me to reconsider my own position on a number of topics.

It has also persuaded me to include an additional section in my research paper: Whose account can be trusted? Who makes a good witness? And, what is the best way to evaluate secondary sources written in the years following the disaster?

One of the most common discrepancies concerns the breaking apart of the Titanic. Some thought that it broke up (stokers and seamen) while others claimed it went down intact (officers). This may be a simple question, but I think it may be worth some consideration. What could anybody really see after the ship's lights went out? Account after account indicates that it was very dark that night - difficult to distinguish anything. So, how could anyone say, definitively, whether or not the ship broke, or slid down intact?

I've never been at sea on a moonless night to know for sure just how dark it really is, but I will posit the following suggestion to gauge its reaction:

Many witnesses testified to "explosions" and the sound of "crashing" machinery around the time of the break-up. I believe that the lights went out just before it happened. These sounds would have drawn the attention of everyone in the water to the dying vessel. But since the lights were out, could anyone really see the vessel? Or were their eyes just catching the movement of a large, dark object? There may be a simple answer to this that I have not considered. While it may stray from the original intent of this thread, I would be interested in the explanation.

One final question that is along these lines, but a bit more scholarly is: How many inconsistencies can be accepted in any account of the disaster before one may conclude that is information is probably not reliable?

Nathan Robison
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I've never been to sea on a moonless night...

I have and it's hard to see much of anything. Trust me on this one!
wink.gif


What you're looking at here is the typical confusion among witnesses who see the same thing, but don't notice the same details. Even if they do, they seldom tell the same story, and it's not always a given that they understand what they're looking at.

So who can be trusted? Whose account can be believed? These are good questions, better then you know, as any investigator or street cop can well attest!

What any witness would see would depend on their proximity to the event and their vantage point as well as whether or not their night vision was up to snuff. Lights was actually in a poor spot to observe what was happening back aft, and with the No#1 stack playing the role of Damocles sword, potentially at his expense, he had other things on his mind. But the guys in the boats at a different point would be in a better position to observe what's happening to the mid-section of the ship.

In the case of the break-up, you have to put witness statements up agaist the actual forensics and what was known about what sort of stresses the ship's structure could actually survive. To make a long story short, the forensics back up those in the boats as well as swimmers like Jack Theyer who insisted that the ship broke up. This in and of itself would have been a noisy event BTW. As for any explosions heard after the ship was gone, this one is easy; implosion of air filled compartments. With sinking ships, it happens all the time.

I hope this helps.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Sep 5, 2001
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Michael,

Is there any other standard that the darkness of a moonless night can compare to? I have no point of reference for this, which makes it difficult to comprehend what people were able to see.

Also, I thought of another point regarding witnesses to the break-up, especially those in lifeboats. Many witnesses testified that they were a mile or more away from the sinking vessel. I haven't checked to see if anyone in these distant boats testified about the break-up, but if they did, wouldn't that extreme distance compound the difficulty of examining the foundering ship? Some claimed that other boats in the vicinity (much nearer than one mile) were not discernable.

What do you think the ship would have looked like, after the lights went out, from the prodigious distance of some boats? The lookouts barely spotted the iceberg from less than 1/2 mile. I'm wondering if people were actually able to see the ship split, or if they heard the violent tearing of metal, along with the sterns subsequent crash back to the surface and merely extrapolated that the ship broke. I think that because I have never experienced the darkness seen that night, my mind is unable to visualize what people in the water were able to see.

Nathan Robison