SS. Birma (off Dover), Monday, April 22.
We left New York in the Birma, of the Russian East Asiatic Company, on Thursday afternoon, the 11th inst., bound for Rotterdam and Libau (Russia), in splendid weather. The Carpathia, of the Cunard Line, sailed three hours earlier on the same day, heading for Gibraltar, and the Baltic departed about the same time for Liverpool, but both steamers having a somewhat greater speed than the Birma, and travelling the more southerly course, soon were out of touch with our ship.
The SS Birma
Better known by its old name, the Arundel Castle. [original caption]
We received, as usual, the regular reports by wireless, our boat being fitted, not with the Marconi service, but with the De Forest system. The installation is owned by the steamship company, and operated by two English wireless operators under contract with the Russian steamship concern.
The regular Press reports were received nightly, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the American coast station, and were published on board our ship for the benefit of the first and second class passengers, and although the Marconi Company, for obvious reasons, holds no intercourse by wireless method with ships not installed with their instruments, we were, nevertheless, in touch with the usual number of steamers along the coast up to the banks of Newfoundland, a voyage occupying about three days – i.e. from Thursday noon until Sunday evening.
Captain Stulping’s original chart, as printed in the Daily Telegraph, April 25, 1912.
(Courtesy of Senan Molony)
TITANIC’s first call.
On Sunday evening, the 14th inst, at 11.45 p.m., while the wireless operators were receiving news items of the day, the service was suddenly interrupted by a distress signal reading in the wireless code, “C.Q.D.” and sent out from a call[er] designated as “M.G.Y.” The latter stands for the letters of the Titanic and our news service was at once stopped, so that we could get into touch with the Titanic.
We were, I believe, the first vessel spoken by the Titanic, and our response was immediate. Mr J. Cannon, of Palmerston Road, Bowes Park, N., our telegraphist, and his colleague, Mr Thomas George Ward, of Bassett, Southampton, telegraphed to the Titanic immediately after reporting to Captain Stulping, who at once altered our ship’s course to the north. At that time we were some 100 miles away from the scene of the tragedy.
The full message from the Titanic read to the effect that the ship had struck an iceberg; that she was sinking fast, and that the position of the ship was in Lat. 41° 44' N., Long. 50° 14' W. Our message to the Titanic, to the effect that we were rushing there at full speed, met with the response that they were grateful to us.
Fifteen extra stokers were rushed to the fires, and at [the] fullest speed possible (14½ knots) we hastened northward to the position given us. Our officers and crew are Russians, but the freemasonry of the sea knows no nationality, and it is impossible to describe the big-hearted energy which at once possessed the hearts and souls of those brave mariners.
Preparations on board.
The head steward, believing that in six to eight hours’ time he would be called upon to feed, warm, and comfort, as we hoped and fervently prayed, hundreds and hundreds of survivors, after exposure to icy cold in open boats, rushed every man in his department to prepare food.
The ovens were were kept steaming with bread baked in enormous quantities, food of every sort was prepared, stewards and stewardesses got ready rooms, couches, even blankets, in the saloons, for the reception of travellers in distress. Everywhere was activity, coupled with the intensest anxiety I have ever witnessed.
Meanwhile the Captain and all officers were grouped on the bridge, with grave, set faces, counting the minutes. The cry of distress heard through the wireless had stirred the hearts of all, so that perhaps never were prayers uttered more than that God should grant us speed to help, to save, to minimise, the horror which we knew but too well would be appalling.
A View of the Icefloes
The photograph taken from the bridge of the Birma at seven a.m. on April 15th, indicates a break in the ice, which, it is suggested, was made by the Titanic.
(Courtesy of Senan Molony)
Hardly a word was spoken on the bridge as we sped through the darkness. The operator in the wireless-room hailed Cape Race, giving them briefly the facts as then known, and then getting in touch with, first, the Baltic (which ship, however, was so far to the east that its signals were not distinguishable), then the Megantic, known to be in the locality; then the Frankfurt, being a slower boat, which was about 100 miles to the rear of us, and although we knew they were loyally rushing to the Titanic’s aid, we were fast outdistancing them.
Position wrongly given.
We ascertained from the Frankfurt that the ship’s position, as given by the Titanic, had been confirmed by them. Nevertheless, the position was given wrongly, and the only explanation pending official facts would seem to be the one that the Titanic, having struck an iceberg, must have been shrouded in fog or hazy weather, and, this being so, may have had such uncertain atmosphere preceding the disaster that the position was ascertained by dead reckoning, i.e. that the officers of the Titanic thought that they were in Lat. 41° 44' N., and Long. 50° 14' W., while in reality the true position was a different one, as our continued recital will show. The Carpathia, which in the morning picked up the survivors, was at that time not heard of by us.
After a delay of perhaps twenty minutes after the first signal of distress had been heard by us (and it may be remarked here that the distress signal being C.Q.D. in American usage, and S.O.S. in European code, it was given in both descriptions by the Titanic’s operators at the first and subsequent instances), we again spoke to Titanic, repeating our position and distance and she answered clearly as follows: “O.K. – O.M.” This in wireless talk stands for the cordial and fraternal saying, “All right, old man.” She then called C.Q. (which means “anybody”), saying she would not last much longer, and that the passengers were being put into the boats. At 1.30 the Titanic sent a report that the women and children were then in the boats, and that the ship was sinking fast, with all the rest on board.
Immediately following this call the end must have come, for all further signals we sent were unanswered; not even the usual “A.R.”, which is the salute* [*? illegible] sign, or the goodbye, so that we knew the end came quicker than it was possible for the operators to send a word as their last. During the night we were called by boats installed with the Marconi system of wireless. i.e. M.W.L., which is the ss. Californian; M.G.N., which is the ss. Virginian; and M.G.T., another Marconi-fitted boat, etc., all asking for reports, which were willingly given.
[Contributor's note: M.G.T. was the call sign of the tanker British Sun. It may be an error.]
|Captain Ludwig Stulping with his sons Aleksandras and Napoleonas (standing) and wife Veronika.
Courtesy © Senan Molony
In the ice region.
After daylight we reached the position given us, and found at once that it must be wrong, for although we passed enormous icebergs of a size seldom seen at this season of the year so far south, yet it was obvious that none of those could have damaged the Titanic, for to the north-east of us lay enormous icefloes, extending for miles. The Titanic, coming westward, would have been warned by those floes that large bergs were about. We soon heard by wireless that the Carpathia was picking the boats up north of the ice-floe, and this is the first intimation we, or the other boats we had spoken to, had of the presence of the Carpathia. We soon sighted the Carpathia, and then got in touch with her boat [sic], and seeing that they were then taking in the survivors, we steamed round the ice-floe. Captain Stulping ordered our operators to offer our help to the Carpathia, and the reply came asking us to “stand by.” We came closer, and then we offered provisions or stores, if needed, as we had heard that twenty boatloads of women and children had been taken up. The reply to this query was again “Stand by,” and nothing further, and when we asked if we should send provisions, the reply came: “Shut up.” This is vouched for by the two operators. Mr Ward is an experienced telegraphist, who would make no mistake, and the same signal came to us many times in the subsequent attempts to gain or give information.
It is a known fact that the Marconi Company will give no information to any ship not Marconi-fitted, nor answer its calls, unless the ship is in distress. This may be a commercially fair system, but, at the same time, while our ship was not in distress, we were trying to help. When it was found that our help was not needed, there came no word of thanks, no reply to our question as to whether more boats might be adrift, but only a salute from the flag at the stern of the Carpathia as she steamed on her way to the west. All day, and days following, we were refused any information. Every ship we spoke to replied: “Are you a Marconi ship? If not we have orders to give you no information.” This after the energy of our officers and crew and the thirty hours’ vigil day and night to help!
I attach herewith a statement, signed by the officers and operators, to show that the facts are as stated. There is no rumour or envy in this report. No one questions the usefulness of the Marconi system nor their commercial right to protect their interest in a commercial sense, and we gladly and with grateful joy welcome the fact that the Carpathia reached the scene in time to save life. What our officers have done has been done for humanity, in the broad sense of Christianity, which is never so feelingly shown as on the deep, “for those in peril on the sea.”
There was and is no precedence in this matter. The Carpathia got there in time and saved the survivors, whether by chance in striking the position or warned in time by being on a different course, but the fact remains that we did all in our power and met with a refusal to tell us even the most vital facts. The writer holds no brief for the De Forest or any other system, the officers or the operators, but he is an Englishman by blood, if not by naturalisation, and is solicitous that England should give credit where credit is due.
What followed? On the Russian ship a handful of Englishmen gathered to hold a memorial service for their dead last Sunday. No English flag being available, one was made on board. The Captain and officers were present at the service and joined with full-hearted love in the English hymns and prayers.
We firmly believe, and have convinced the officers of this ship, that the error lies not with the management of the Marconi Company, but with the employés on the ships. These men are in a more or less subordinate position, and tied by hard and fast rules, and it is even to an extent excusable that an operator, in the midst of the hustle and excitement – perhaps with the memory of the famed Jack Binns, of the Republic disaster, in mind – exceeded his authority or good judgement in forcing the rule of keeping other ships “incommunicado” at a time when a man of riper judgment would have set rules aside in the common eagerness to help save life.
The near future, when I intend to have the matter brought before Parliament, will show to what extent this suggestion is correct. No harm has been done in any event, for no ship could have reached the sinking vessel in time. The night, while dreadfully cold, was favoured by a perfectly calm sea, so that with care even in a panic those boats which got away would be picked up without difficulty.
As stated before, the only feeling aboard this vessel is one of rejoicing that the saving of even twenty boats was possible, irrespective of the nationality of the actual salvage-craft, though it is a matter of pleasure to realise that the English vessel was in a position to render help.
Search for the wreck.
We herewith enclose a rude chart, drawn for the purpose of illustrating the course of the steamship Birma on the memorable morning of the 15th inst., and the approximate location of the disaster. The ice-floe was approached by us from the south-west until we reached the point marked X, when it was obvious that the location given must be wrong.
We then saw the Carpathia on the north-easterly [sic] side of the floe, and, being asked merely to stand by, and seeing the vessel in picking up the boats with the survivors, we circled around the floe, first to the south, in order to avoid being crushed by the ice; then, after turning the lower corner, we turned north-eastward, up to the point marked XX, which is the spot on which the Carpathia “stood” while picking up the boats.
When we reached the Carpathia men of her crew were still in the rigging, keeping a vigorous outlook for further boats, and she steamed in a circle while we were within hailing distance, then she turned to the west at full speed, and as our question, whether some boats were still missing, was not met with a reply, and the constant order by the Marconi operator to “Shut up” could only convey the one thought that the ship was trying to talk with the Cape Race station, and our “cutting in” would “jam” her instruments, we steamed back to our course.
Special photograph of the iceberg
believed to be the one with which the Titanic collided.
The photograph shows the north-east side of the ice floe. Its height was about 140ft and length 200ft and its depth, underwater, estimated at 980ft. The photograph was taken from the bridge of the Ss. Birma at seven a.m. on April 15th. [original caption]
The night having been dark and the sea calm, it is presumed that the twenty lifeboats circled around the spot until daylight, and that the Carpathia then appearing, of course, was enabled to render immediate help. Since then we have had practically no facts beyond those to which we were witnesses, excepting an erroneous report which went the rounds of all Marconi boats to the effect that we, the Birma, had picked up five boats with their survivors. This is entirely wrong, as we kept a look-out for the entire Monday, but saw no sign of life.
The icebergs such as we passed on the southwesterly side of the floe were photographed, but, owing to the distances, the picture is not clear. The largest bergs were on the south and north-easterly side, but, while a magnificent sight, they could have had little bearing on the tragedy, as the ice-floe lay between them and the course of the Titanic.
Hence it it is obvious that one of the bergs we photographed on the easterly side must have caused the disaster. The ice-floe was larger than has ever been so early in the year in this part of the Atlantic, and the bergs extended as far south as 41 deg. In fact, our last effort after the tragedy was to wire to all Marconi boats and all Westbound vessels to be on the lookout for the enormous bergs, so as to prevent further loss of life.
Officers of S.S. Birma after assisting in the memorial service held in remembrance of Titanic disaster Sunday, April 21, 1912. The British flag with crêpe edges was specially printed aboard. The Russian & American flags are at half mast. [Daily Sketch, Friday, April 26, 1912. Courtesy Senan Molony.]
The sight of the Carpathia steaming to the West, her ensign hanging at half-mast, was one to leave intense sorrow in the hearts of all. The terrible masses of ice surrounding us told their story but too well. More than likely the reason why no wreckage of any kind was seen is due to the fact that the ice-floe was dragged by suction towards the grave of the big ship, and then, like a pall, spread itself over the spot.
The approximate depth in that location is about 2,000 fathoms, or 12,000 ft, more than two miles in extent, and the spot is comparatively near the scene of the Republic disaster. The Guion liner Alaska struck a berg near this scene in the early Eighties, but it is unusual that a ship meets with icebergs so far south during the early part of the year, as is the case now.
To the Editor of “The Daily Telegraph.”
Dear Sir – We, the undersigned, Commander, first officer, wireless operator, and wireless operator’s associate, of the ss. Birma, herewith beg to state that the facts in the foregoing report, handed you by Mr Charles Edward Walters, journalist, of San Francisco, California, are correct to our knowledge and belief. The chart attached thereto has been prepared by Captain Stulping, of the ss. Birma. The photograph has been taken from the bridge of the Birma on the morning of the rescue of the survivors by Mr Nielsen, first officer of this ship. The facts stated re the wireless reports are correctly given, as entered upon the log of the wireless station on ss. Birma, and Mr Walters has carefully stated all the facts as we know them correctly, in substance and detail. They are given herewith for the first time to the Press, after careful and painstaking preparation, with the object of furnishing a true and correct report, free from bias or animosity against other ships, officers, or operators, but with the desire to record facts and minute details of the disaster the likes of which has never befallen any other nation.
(Signed) Ludwig Stulping, Captain.
(Signed) Alfr. Nielsen, First Officer.
(Signed) G. Hesselberg, Purser.
(Signed) Joseph. L. Cannon, Wireless Operator.
(Signed) Thomas George Ward, Wireless Operator.
Witness to all the above signatures: Mr. Charles Edward Walters.