Encyclopedia Titanica

Lightoller of the the Forty Ninth

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Recent revelations by the grand daughter of Herbert Lightoller, the most senior surviving officer of the Titanic have brought a flurry of speculation and some cases downright indignation. However, they have also re-kindled an interest in the part played in the Titanic drama by the man himself.
Like not a few others, I too have been prompted by these revelations to have another, more detailed, look at what Lightoller said to his interrogators during the first Inquiry in the United States and the one that followed, in the United Kingdom. I have not been disappointed.

At the outset, let me say, I did not discover any evidence which would back-up his grand daughter's story but something else caught my eye, something which told me a great deal; something which has been easily eclipsed by the more juicy, romantic, mysterious bits of information. Until now, that is!

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We know that Mr. Lightholler was a highly qualified, experienced navigating officer and had been travelling back and forth across the North Atlantic for many years before joining the Titanic .
Consequently, he was well versed in the navigation practices peculiar to that part of the world. Indeed he could quite honestly be described as knowing the area like the back of his hand. - an old North Atlantic Hand!

At 6pm on Sunday, 14th April, 2nd Officer Lightoller took charge of Titanic's bridge. He would be there until 10 pm. by the bridge clock. During that time, he would be assisted by junior officers Moody, Lowe and Boxhall. However he would be relieved for half an hour by the First Officer Murdoch to enable him to go below for dinner.
Before handing over the Watch to Mr Murdoch at about 5 minutes to 7pm., he asked Mr. Moody, to work out when the Ship would arrive at the area where the ice had been reported. He wanted to know if Titanic would arrive there during his Watch.
When Lightoller arrived back on the bridge after dinner, 6th officer Moody informed him that the ship would reach the ice danger zone, at or near 11pm that same night.
Lightoller already knew that Captain Smith had been warned about ice earlier that day by the Captain of the SS Caronia. His boss had shown him the actual Marconigram warning of ice at or near the meridian of 49 degrees west longitude. However, to Lightoller, something about this latest ice information supplied by Moody did not seem to ring true. He mulled the problem over in his mind and, by simple mental arithmetic, decided that Moody was wrong and in fact, Titanic would be at the danger zone at or around 9-30 pm, a full hour and a half earlier than predicted by Moody. Since the latter had a full schedule of work, Lightoller did not confront him with this obvious disagreement; he did not wish to divert the young man's attention from more pressing tasks. It would keep!

Such a glaring difference between the calculations of the two men was obvious to Lightollers British questioners and he was closely interrogated about it. Lightholler dismissed the difference suggesting that Moody was not concerned with the same concentration of ice but perhaps about a different ice warning to the one received from Caronia.

Later that evening, just before 9pm, Captain Smith joined Lightoller on the bridge and passed some time with him.

Among other things, the two men discussed the cold weather and details of how ice might be detected. Curiously enough, they never discussed Caronia's ice warning nor the differing opinion as to when Titanic would reach the danger area. The time of 9-30pm. Was never mentioned!
Even more curiously; at 9-25pm, 5 minutes before Lightholler's predicted time for meeting with Caronia's ice, Captain Smith bid him good night and went off the bridge.
It should be noted at this point that this inconsistency in the natural run of things did not escape Lightoller's questioners. It was pounced on by The Commissioner and the Attorney General during the Board of Trade Inquiry. The details can be seen in questions 13607 to 13635.

Then comes the next bit of strangeness

At 9-30pm; after the captain had left the bridge , and after the ship had seemingly passed into the ice danger zone, Lightoller sent word to the lookouts in the crows nest to the effect that they should keep a sharp watch for ice from that time onward and to make sure they passed the same instructions on to their reliefs. As Alice cried; 'curiouser and curiouser'.

We have to ask the following questions:

A: Why did Lightoller fail to inform his superior of imminent danger?
B: Why did the same officer fail warn his lookout men well in advance of the time the ship would
enter a danger zone?

As I see it, the best way to answer these questions is to take the information that was available to Lightoller at the time – some time before 8 pm that night – and attempt to follow his mental arithmetic.

The information we have from Lightoller's evidence is:
That he reckoned the ship was traveling at 21.5 knots and that as far as he knew, her speed was not increased throughout his time on Watch.
That he knew that there had been a warning of ice at 49 degrees West Longitude.
That he knew that at 21.5 knots, Titanic would increase her westerly longitude by about 29 minutes every hour.
That at 21.5 knots, he calculated Titanic would reach the danger zone at 9-30pm.
That Titanic was heading on a course of 266°True.
We do not know exactly when Lightoller made his mental calculation but we can do one of our own using the arguments available to him but assuming the time of calculation to be 5-50pm when Titanic Turned The Corner the time when her course changed to 266°True.

Basically the calculation is in two parts:

Part 1: How long will it take a ship travelling at 21.5 knots to go from point A to point B and how far will she have travelled in that time given the departure time of 5-50 and the arrival time of 9-30 ?

Answer: She will have travelled for 3 hours 40 minutes and covered a distance of 78.8 miles.

Part 2: If the same ship travels a distance of 78.8 miles on a course of 266°T in latitude 42°North, by how much will her longitude change .?

Answer: 1°46' further to the westward.

From this calculation, we can see that if Titanic was exactly at 47°West longitude at 5-50pm , she would have arrived at 48°46'West longitude at 9-30pm. However, Lightoller calculated the ship would be at 49° West at 9-30pm. 14 minutes of longitude further west. Since the distance in terms of longitude is exactly 2 degrees, this would suggest Titanic was at 47°14' West longitude when she turned The Corner at 5-50pm.
So what was the real longitude of Titanic at 5-50pm on the Sunday the 14th of April?
We are told her engine revolutions did not exceed 75 per minute before she arrived in the vicinity of The Corner therefore her speed was probably somewhere between 21.5 and 22 knots up until then.
There is also evidence which suggests Titanic was 126 miles away from The Corner at Noon that day. Actually, 126 ÷ 5 hours 50 minutes gives a speed of 21.6 knots which suggests that when the ship's patent log read 126 miles, Captain Smith ordered an alteration of course to 266°True.
All of this works well with Lightollers claim that the ship was travelling at 21.5 knots throughout his Watch.
It was the opinion of some witnesses that Titanic turned onto her new course late. It also has been suggested by other researchers that she was capable of 22 knots at 75 rpm. Perhaps so, but it should be borne in mind that The Gulf Stream would be setting against her from about Noon until well after she turned The Corner. This would,without doubt, have had a detrimental effect on the ship's progress.
Even if Titanic had achieved 22 knots before 5-50pm., she would have overshot The Corner by no more than 2.3 miles and arrived at the longitude of 47°03'West. - not 47°14'West.
At this point, it's best to stop speculating and return to using the evidence given by Lightoller.
After all the quest is to find out why he neglected to properly inform his boss or the lookouts.

So, to continue:

Since Lightoller used a speed of 21.5 knots and 126 miles in 5 hours, 50 minutes from Noon to The Corner are near enough the same speed , we will use 21.5 knots as a 'tool' to produce the following simple diagram:

Corner Ice Wreck
A-47°West_________89.4 miles_____________B 49° West_______44.6 miles__________C 50' W
Time:5-50 21.5k Time: 9-59 21.5k Time 00-04
Log: 126 Log:215.4 Log: 260

Considering the foregoing diagram:

Since A to B in the latitude of 42°North equals 89.4 miles- at a speed of 21.5 knots, it would have taken Titanic 4 hours 10 minutes to cover that distance . This means that if Titanic turned at 5-50pm she would arrive at 49°West longitude at 10pm., not 9-30pm as calculated by Lightoller. It would also mean that Titanic had used-up 126+89.4 = 215.4 miles of the 260 miles shown on the ship's patent log when Titanic reached 'B'. This would leave 44.6 miles still to run from 10 pm to 'C'. At 21.5 knots Titanic would take 2 hours,4 minutes to cover the final distance from 'B' to 'C', making the time of impact, 4 minutes past midnight. Since the given time of impact was 11-40pm there is obviously a 24 minutes gap. This gap of 24 minutes equals the 8 to 12 share of a planned 47 minute set-back of the ship's clocks.

The White Star Line regulations stated that any necessary clock changes were to take place between 10pm and 6am the following morning. This was probably designed to be used on ships which had the same Watch-keeping system as Titanic or on ships which operated the traditional method of sharing Watch changes between the 8 to 12 and 12 to 4 night Watches.
Although I have no proof of it; I suspect that Titanic was no different from any other ship in sharing out clock changes.
Traditionally, on a British ship, if the change was an even number of minutes, it would be shared equally between the 3rd and 2nd Officers - the two junior Officers of the Watch . If the change was uneven then the largest portion would be allocated to the most junior OOW.
My guess is that on Titanic, any changes would be shared between Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Lightoller. Since Lightoller's Watch was 8 to 10 and he was not due back on the bridge before 6am the next morning, the clock would require to be changed at 10pm.
Murdoch's Watch was 10pm to 2pm , therefore the second change would take place no later than 2pm the next morning. Otherwise Murdoch and Wilde would have had to take the 'gain' or the 'pain' and Lightoller would have got off scott free.

So, back to Lightoller's seeming misdemeanor:

If I am correct and Titanic's clocks were to be set back at 10pm that night then Lightoller would factor this into any calculations.
When he working out the time the ship was to arrive at the 49th meridian, Lightoller would first have worked out the apparent ship's time of arrival at the ice danger zone. Then, if she was to arrive before the end of his Watch, he would add or subtract any planned time change to give the time which would show on the bridge clock at the time of arrival at the ice. Let's apply this theory to Lightoller's Watch

We have calculated that at an average speed of 21.5 knots from Noon that day, Titanic would arrive at the 49th meridian at 10pm that evening – clock retard time, and arrive in the vicinity of the wreck site 2 hours 4 minutes later, at 4 minutes past midnight.
Since the time of impact was 11-40pm., there was a 24 minute gap. Let's say this was due to Lightoller's retarding the bridge clock by 24 minutes at 10pm. He would have factored that into his earlier mental calculation as well. Thus, when he said Titanic would be up at the ice about 9-30pm, he meant 9-30pm AFTER he had adjusted clock. If he did then all becomes clear

At 9-25pm on an unadjusted clock, when Captain Smith left the bridge, the ship had still half an hour left to steam before arriving at the 49th meridian. Similarly, at 9-30 pm unadjusted time, when Lightoller instructed the lookouts, he was giving them half an hour warning. Consequently Lightoller felt no sense of urgency or aprehension at the time the Captain left the bridge.

Many have pounced on the 45 mile log reading at 10pm as proof that Titanic had speeded -up and was in fact making 22.5 knots. Additional supporting evidence came from a member of the engine room staff seeing a revolution counter showing 76 r.p.m. Yet more evidence came from passengers who 'felt' vibrations.
These bits of evidence should be treated with extreme caution.

In a ship travelling as fast as Titanic, a late or early reading of the patent log can make a considerable difference in that reading. For instance a 'few minutes late' in taking ar reading might amount to as much as 2miles.
As for the revolution: Lightoller did say he knew that one engine had been briefly run at that speed. And an engine room person said she he saw 76 r.pm some time in the 4 to 8 watch which would bear that out. However 'one swallow does not make a summer' and there were two engines!
As for the 'vibrations' - these are not by any means, exclusively caused by increasing speed and only a clear indicator to a person who has never been in such a ship before.

I wrote this as a result of finding a strange inconsistency in Mr. Lightollers's evidence. Since I do not subscribe to any ridiculous conspiracy theories, I sought to find an explanation for it. In doing so. I have merely used the evidence given by him. No 'ah buts' or speculation about meaning – just facts as they were related by him to his questioners. I have pointed out the need for caution when interpreting related evidence. I conclude with just a few word of warning,
An increased speed of 1 knot from 8pm onward to explain the missing 24 minutes does not work. Nor does 75 rpm against The Gulf Stream produce 22 knots!

Jim Currie - October 21,2010

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2010) Lightoller of the the Forty Ninth ( ref: #11717, published 22 October 2010, generated 23rd March 2023 10:03:44 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/lightoller-of-the-the-forty-ninth.html