Why did so few survive?

Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
I subscribe to the school of thought that believes Captain Smith walked a very fine line - he maximised lifeboat capacity as quickly and quietly as possible, and got the boats in the water to hopefully ferry/pick up survivors before the inevitable panic set in.
Yes, I believe that was what Captain Smith hoped but he might have failed to consider how most people would react under duress. Many crew members like QM Hichens, in charge of Lifeboat #6, were reluctant to go back to pick-up more survivors from the water for fear of being swamped. But the sad part is that Hichen's conjecture might have been right, even though in saying "it's our lives now, not theirs" (or something like that), he put it rather crudely. After a while, that thought might have crossed the minds of the other occupants of his boat, including the 4 women who had left husbands behind on the sinking Titanic. I concede that it is possible that Helene Baxter, whose son Quigg was lost in the sinking, thought differently. The instinct for self-preservation among humans is extremely high, even though most of us like to think otherwise.

The strategy was correct, the execution was lacking due to issues such as Lightoller's obstinacy with men getting in the boats.
Right again and I think "Lightoller's obstinacy" that you allude to played a significant part in loss of lives overall. We often discuss how many men, perhaps close to a hundred, survived the Titanic disaster because of Murdoch's sensible policy of "Women & Children first, but men of there was room afterwards" on the starboard side. But what is not mentioned as often is how many people needlessly lost their lives because of Lightoller's illogical policy of allowing "Women & Children only" under any circumstances on the port side. Paradoxically, this included a few women like Ida Straus and perhaps Bess Allison, who had every chance of getting into a lifeboat but would not leave their husbands; of course, in case of Bess, it resulted in the death of poor Loraine Allison as well. In fact, of the 15 or so male passenger survivors on all launched port lifeboats, only Major Peuchen was actually allowed in by Lightoller, to help the crew. He was not involved with launching of Lifeboats #2, #14 and #16 and with the other portside boats just 6 male passengers survived, all sneaking into the boats one way or another behind Lightoller's back. These were al Zainni (#6), Gurshon Cohen (#12), Woolner, Stefansson, Duquemin and Fred Hoyt (all Collapsible D).
 
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Brad Walton

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No one had ever evacuated such a large ship with so many on it before 1912.

To repeat what I posted in another thread back in September, there are many handicaps to the evacuation of third class that people today frustratingly do not consider, such as:
  • Less than fifty personnel were available to Chief Kieran. And some of them had been ordered to the boat deck rather than to third class.
  • He had only one interpreter steward, Muller, available, how many languages other than German and English he was fluent in is unknown.
  • During the early stages of the sinking there was great confusion, even amongst the crew, as to just what on earth was going on.
  • Some third class stewards were just young, inexperienced lads from Liverpool or Southampton. This was an experience some would have found themselves way out of their depth in. Older stewards seem to have had a good grip on things.
  • Some surviving crew (even Lightoller) found the ships layout to be confusing and easy to get lost in. This is especially true of those men who had not previously served on the Olympic.
  • Passengers also ended up getting lost (see Mrs Coutts, who said she owed her life to one of the third class stewards) and this consumed precious time during the evacuation.
  • There is still an element of personal responsibility that the passengers must accept. We know there were not nearly enough stewards to attend to everyone, and they were severely overworked. So it is only commons sense that some passengers had to show initiative and find their own way to the boat deck. The overworked crew could not do everything for them.
  • Some families got separated and took time to meet up and some did not want to go topside until it was too late. We also know that many people wanted to take their luggage with them and cluttered up passageways with it.
  • Whilst the aft well deck does appear to have been guarded during the early part of the sinking by crewmen who themselves must have had no idea what was happening. It does not appear to have been guarded during the entire evacuation.
  • Given that both the third class passengers and their stewards suffered heavy casualties, for all we know there may have been more large groups guided to the boat deck but none survived. It is worth remembering that getting to the boat deck is one thing, getting into a boat is quite another.
It was a nightmare situation the third class stewards were confronted with. They did the best they could but time and circumstances were heavily against them. I highly doubt whether any of us could have done any better.
Thanks, Seumas, for this list of considerations. The most important seem to me to be numbers 1, 2, 3, 7, though the others are also weighty. Taken together they present a situation of formidable difficulty. However, I do feel compelled to reject the assertion that "they did the best they could." There is no way that one can know that. I find interesting John Hart's apparently tall tale that he had conducted two large groups of women and children to the boat deck. There is no evidence, I understand, that he actually did this, and considerable evidence that he didn't. But the story must to some extent have represented to Hart himself not only what he ought to have done, but also, if the story was to have any verisimilitude, what he believed he could have done (though he might have been mistaken about this). I should add, perhaps, that I am also skeptical of Hart's story that he and his fellow stewards allowed a large number of steerage men (and only men), up the "Saloon companionway", ie. the main, first class passage up the grand staircase. This, too, would seem to be something that Hart believed he (and his fellow stewards) ought to have and could have done (though again, me might have been mistaken about this).
 
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Brad Walton

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Who said so conclusively? Pickard found a door from Third Class leading to the Second Class areas open and went through it, eventually making it to the boat deck on the starboard side, where he was rescued on Lifeboat #9. So, he could not have known that the door through which he had come was later locked. Other survivors would not have known which door Pickard used and so they would not have been in a position to claim that it was later closed and locked.
Hi, Arun, I believe that the door Pickard found (on E-Deck) was that leading to the main second class stairway. This seems to have been the avenue by which a number of third class families were led to the boat deck rather late in the sinking. Had the door not been locked behind them, there would surely have been a flood of third class men surging upward. In any case, when they got to the top of the stair case, they found an officer barring the men from going beyond that point. So even had other steerage men passed through that door, they would not have gotten on to the boat deck.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Third Class passenger and survivor Carl Olof Jansson said that he was awakned by the impact, which he described as a loud crash. This is likely as he was berthed in one of the lowermost cabins in the bow section. Jansson said that he then rushed out and up several levels to the boat deck to discover that the Titanic had collided with an iceberg. He then returned to his cabin to dress more warmly but it started to flood while he was doing so and he had to retreat and go back up. He does not specify the route(s) he took but it is likely to have taken him quite some time to do it three times. He gave several interviews afterwards and as far as I am aware, never said anything about his way being barred by a locked gate or door or a human barrier.

It seems very likely that Jansson remained at or near the bow on the starboard side after he came up for the last time and by then all the lifeboats there - #7, #5, #3 and #1 - had been launched. He was still in the vicinity over an hour later when he heard shots fired and saw people running aft. He was caught-up in that crowd when the 'wave' hit washing him overboard. Carl Jansson managed to swim to and was hauled aboard the waterlogged Collapsible A.
 
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Brad Walton

Member
Third Class passenger and survivor Carl Olof Jansson said that he was awakned by the impact, which he described as a loud crash. This is likely as he was berthed in one of the lowermost cabins in the bow section. Jansson said that he then rushed out and up several levels to the boat deck to discover that the Titanic had collided with an iceberg. He then returned to his cabin to dress more warmly but it started to flood while he was doing so and he had to retreat and go back up. He does not specify the route(s) he took but it is likely to have taken him quite some time to do it three times. He gave several interviews afterwards and as far as I am aware, never said anything about his way being barred by a locked gate or door or a human barrier.

It seems very likely that Jansson remained at or near the bow on the starboard side after he came up for the last time and by then all the lifeboats there - #7, #5, #3 and #1 - had been launched. He was still in the vicinity over an hour later when he heard shots fired and saw people running aft. He was caught-up in that crowd when the 'wave' hit washing him overboard. Carl Jansson managed to swim to and was hauled aboard the waterlogged Collapsible A.
Yes, the evidence seems to be that in the half hour (or more) immediately subsequent to the collision, a number of third class male passengers were able to find their way to the upper decks with a minimum amount of interference. Thereafter their natural avenues of escape seem to have been shut to them.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
Yes, the evidence seems to be that in the half hour (or more) immediately subsequent to the collision, a number of third class male passengers were able to find their way to the upper decks with a minimum amount of interference. Thereafter their natural avenues of escape seem to have been shut to them.
I do not believe so. Those passengers who were motivated enough to find out what was going on did make to the top, although many of them were unable to find places in lifeboats. And, there was no 'natural route of escape' for the Third Class passnegers; they had to negotiate a complicated route of corridors, doors, stairs etc to find their way and it was easy to get lost. Those berthed in the bow section might have had friends and relatives at the other end of the ship and likely spent time looking for them. With large families, the most natural thing for the head was to ask the rest to wait while he checked what was going on, which was not easy. The checker could easily have got lost himself or got caught-up in crowds while his family waited for him, sometimes trying to kep the frightened children under control.

Thus, there are any number of logical reasons why many Third Class passengers did not make it to the top till too late; out of others who did, many could not find places in the lifeboats. While many might have congregated near previously locked gates (which were never opened) believing wrongly that they were their only ways to reach the top, I do not believe that the stewards deliberately 'locked out' Third Class passengers within their own areas of the ship.
 
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Brad Walton

Member
Whoops, in my reply to Seumas, I wrote, "I should add, perhaps, that I am also skeptical of Hart's story that he and his fellow stewards allowed a large number of steerage men (and only men), up the "Saloon companionway"" It was not Hart who made this claim, but Alfred Pearcy. However, I am quite skeptical this this claim represents what actually happened. I am inclined to agree with Gleicher that the claim actually represents what Percy, in hind-sight, thought that he ought to have done, but did not do. The "saloon companionway" entered from E-deck, was one of the three designated avenues for steerage passengers to get to the boat deck in emergency situations. However, there is no evidence that any steerage passengers were admitted through this door.
 
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Brad Walton

Member
I reiterate that IMO the doors that many Third Class passengers found locked when they tried to get to the upper decks were those that had been locked during normal voyage before the disaster -
Absolutely true. However, at the British Inquiry, Edward Wilding, senior designer of the Olympic and Titanic, testified that there were three officially designated avenues to the boat deck which steerage passengers berthed in the bow were supposed to take. 1. From the forward well deck up the ladder to B deck, then up either of the companion ways, port or starboard, to the boat deck. 2. Through an emergency exit on E deck leading to the "saloon companionway" and going up to the boat deck. 3. Via the "stewards' stairway" (further aft than 2). There is little to no evidence that any of these officially designated routes were opened or, if they were, that the stewards actually directed the steerage men to them, although stewards had been posted all along Scotland Road during the migration of the steerage men from the flooding bow to the third class landing at the stern (which was _not_ one of their designated routes to the boat deck). Steward Albert Percy claimed to have sent large numbers of steerage men up the saloon companion, but his story, like that of Steward John E. Hart, is very dubious. Percy was apparently claiming to have done what he knew he ought to have done, according to Board of Trade regulations, but didn't.
 
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Brad Walton

Member
And, there was no 'natural route of escape' for the Third Class passnegers;
Perhaps I should have said "officially designated," of which there were three (see my message immediately preceding this one). However, I would suggest that the route from the forward well deck up to B deck and thence to the boat deck comes pretty close to a "natural" avenue of escape. Fifty to a hundred steerage men had gathered in this very place, according to one witness, within ten or fifteen minutes of the collision. And a few hardy souls tried to "crash" the upper decks via this route.
 
Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
As mentioned elsewhere, over 80% of the Third Class stewards died in the sinking. It is just that a combination of slow realisation for some, language barriers, mixed messages, reluctance of family members to leave each other, the long, convoluted route from most Third Class spaces to the boat deck etc contributed to so many deaths. Certainly not inefficient stewards or enforced barrricades.

But that sort of cold logic won’t impress movie audiences. They’d rather see snarling staff holding back the pitiful masses while the elite made their escape.

The 2 hours and 40 minutes that the Titanic took to sink from the moment of impact can be short or long depending on the perspective with which one looks at it.
 
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Arun Vajpey

Arun Vajpey

Member
However, at the British Inquiry, Edward Wilding, senior designer of the Olympic and Titanic, testified that there were three officially designated avenues to the boat deck which steerage passengers berthed in the bow were supposed to take.
I am sure that's all correct but the question is, how many of the Third Class passengers knew about those routes? More importantly, how many of the Third Class stewards knew about them? Considering the reshuffling of passengers and crew due to the coal strike prior to the Titanic's maiden voyage, probably very few stewards and none of the passengers.

Steward Albert Percy claimed to have sent large numbers of steerage men up the saloon companion, but his story, like that of Steward John E. Hart, is very dubious.
I do not consider Steward Hart's story entirely "dubious" because it is almost certainly the group of Third Class women and children (perhaps with the odd male interloper) which was led by him to the boat deck opposite Lifeboat #8 and whom Wilde then sent towards the aft boats on the port side. After leaving them there, Hart probably did go back, but I do not believe that the second group that he might have escorted to Lifeboat #15 were anything like 25 or so women and children like he testified because there were not that many women on that lifeboat in the first place. I think Hart, relaizing that not much time was left, did not waste too much time deep below decks on his second trip but took a few willing women and children - probably less than 10 - to Lifeboat #15 and was then allowed to enter it himself.

We cannot prove or disprove Steward Pearcey's (there was no Steward 'Percy' on board) claims but considering that over 80% of his colleagues died and he was saved only late on Collapsible C, there might be truth in his statement. More importantly, while Hart and Pearcey survived, a lot of his colleagues did not; although proportionately few Third Class passengers survived by comparison to the other two classes, more of them did survive than can be attrtibuted entirely to the surviving Third Class stewards' actions.....or lack of them. It follows then that other stewards must have played their part in trying to help their charges but most of them did not make it themselves to be able to testify. When one is a frightened steerage passenger following a line to the upper decks through narrow passages, one woud not necessarily have known who was leading that group, let alone if that person survived.
 
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