British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 21

Testimony of Francis S. Miller

Examined by the ATTORNEY-GENERAL.

21906. Are you Assistant Hydrographer at the Admiralty?
- I am.

21907. And you attend here on behalf of the Admiralty to give the views of the Admiralty to my Lord and the Court?
- Yes.

21908. I want to ask you particularly with reference to searchlights. First of all, in the Admiralty you have searchlights on board ship, and they are certainly more used there than in the mercantile marine?
- Very much so.

21909. They have a greater experience of searchlights, or the best experience at any rate. In your view, are these searchlights on board ship of great value in detecting an ice-field or an iceberg?
- Yes, I should imagine they were.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I do not gather that this gentleman has any experience, because, in answer to the question, he said: "I should imagine they were."

The Attorney-General:
I do not understand you. Are you objecting to the evidence?

Sir Robert Finlay:
Yes, I do object. The witness is asked whether searchlights are of value in detecting ice. In reply, the witness does not say that he has any experience with regard to the use of searchlights; he simply says: "I should imagine they were."

The Attorney-General:
I really do not quite understand what the objection is. I will tell my friend what the object of the evidence is. I am calling this gentleman from the Admiralty in order to give the Court some information with regard to the Admiralty's experience of searchlights, and that is the point of the evidence. It is not directed against anybody or anything.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I will not put it as an objection to the admissibility of the evidence, but I wish to guard against any particular weight being attached to it unless it proceeds on some experience.

21910. (The Attorney-General.) I think you will see that it does. (To the witness.) I do not know whether I am right, Captain Miller, but are you speaking from actual experience or are you speaking from information supplied to you by the Admiralty, and which you are attending here to give?
- I am speaking, if I may say so, on behalf of the Admiralty as far as I can. I am not speaking my own individual experience. I have had some, but I am here, I believe, to speak on behalf of the Admiralty.

21911. To tell the Court what the result of the Admiralty's experience has been with regard to searchlights; that is so, is it not?
- I am speaking, More or less, as to the advantages or disadvantages of searchlights on board ship.

21912. That is quite right - so as to put, at any rate, the information that the Admiralty has, before the Court?
- Yes, the Admiralty's view.

21913. Representing, as we understand you do, the views of the Admiralty to the Court, will you tell us whether the use of searchlights is of value in detecting icebergs or ice-fields?
- Yes. As far as our own ships are concerned, we have not had many ships in the ice region, but for other purposes, such as picking up buoys and land searchlights have been frequently used.

21914. Or rocks?
- Or rocks. They are also useful in passing through a channel, or through a canal. I submit they are also useful in cases where a ship is stranded.

21915. To assist in life-saving?
- And also for salvage work, and for life-saving. Those are the advantages.

21916. Then there are some disadvantages, are there not?
- Yes.

21917. I want you to tell the Court the Admiralty's view as to the disadvantages?
- The disadvantages of searchlights, with regard to searchlights on board the ship itself, are that they may dazzle the Officers and the look-out men on board the ship, and in that case specially so, if they happen to be badly placed with regard to the people who are observing. Secondly, they cause a good deal of interference with general navigation, and they would do so very much indeed in crowded waterways. If on the open sea, of course, the objection would be less. The effect of interference on other vessels would be, as is well known, to blind the Officers of the watches on board those ships, and, consequently they would make it difficult for them to detect other vessels in their vicinity, and so possibly bring about collision. Thirdly, the lights would have the effect possibly of reducing the brilliancy of the ship's navigation lights from which the searchlight was being exhibited.

21918. (The Commissioner.) That is the green and the red lights?
- Yes, and possibly the masthead light.

21919. (The Attorney-General.) Are there any more disadvantages?
- They might also, especially in thick weather and in fog, be mistaken for electric lights of the lighthouses on shore. They also have the effect of screening those shore lights from passing vessels. Another thing with regard to searchlights on board ships might be that a vessel so fitted might depend too much on her searchlights, and get into dangerous proximity to the land and shoal water and buoys, trusting to her searchlights. Further, she might be induced to continue at a high rate of speed, trusting again to her searchlights when, under similar circumstances with regard to weather and so on she would - and rightly so - reduce her speed. I think, too, that the advantages of having searchlights on board ship may not be so great as the disadvantages of causing general interference with the navigation of the ships themselves, and, as I have said, leading vessels to go on at a high rate of speed when they ought to reduce speed. But, in any case, if searchlights are established on board ship very stringent regulations should be laid down as to how they should be worked, especially avoiding doing so in crowded waterways.

21920. I suppose the question of where they are fixed is of importance too?
- Yes, that would be very important, and would depend on the number of searchlights established.

21921. Have you found in the experience of the Admiralty that from time to time inconvenience is caused to vessels approaching by the use of searchlights at the defended ports?
- Yes, frequent complaints have been received, and early this year a notice to mariners, No. 274, was issued, and a system of signals was introduced to enable vessels to ask the people on shore who were working the searchlights to take the lights off their vessel, by sound, signal, and by flashing.

21922. Has the Admiralty recently called upon Officers who have had experience in navigation of ice-fields to report to them upon the use of searchlights?
- Yes, they have recently sent a communication out to the Officers who have been in command of ships on that station, but so far we have only received the report of one Officer. The other reports, no doubt, will come in, and the Admiralty will be prepared to lay them before the Court.

21923. Will you tell us, just shortly, the result of the one report which you have got?
- One report was received, and the Officer stated that in all cases in clear weather the iceberg was sighted before the searchlights picked it up. The iceberg was sighted at about two miles; the searchlight was then switched on, and lit up the iceberg very clearly, showing a white clear light. Then they detected the ice -floe at a distance of about one and a half miles from the ship, and also low pans and pieces of ice floating between the ship to a distance of about a mile off.

21924. What is not quite clear to me from what you have said is whether it is a fact that the iceberg was first discovered by ordinary sight?
- Yes I believe with ordinary sight. I do not know whether it was with binoculars or not.

21925. Was that because the searchlight was not being used, or because the searchlight failed to pick it up?
- The report does not say whether the searchlight was actually being used at the time, but it said that they picked up the ice first by sight.

21926. And then turned on the searchlight afterwards?
- Yes, and then they saw it beautifully lit up.

21927. (The Commissioner.) I do not quite see what the value of that report is. I thought the object was to ascertain whether searchlights could pick up ice before the eyesight could pick it up?
- That is the only report that has come in.

The Commissioner:
It does not seem to me to be to the point.

21928. (Sir Robert Finlay.) Have you got the report here?
- I have it here, but I do not know that I am permitted to produce it.

21929. (The Attorney-General.) You will not object to produce it to me? I can see it. If you will show it to me I can see whether it throws any light upon the question or not?
- Yes, I can hand it to you.

The Attorney-General:
Will you get it for me, please? Your Lordship will understand that we have been inquiring about this matter of the searchlights to see what assistance we could render to the Court. In the mercantile marine I think they are practically not used at all.

The Commissioner:
Yes, that I understand.

The Attorney-General:
And therefore the only evidence that we can get of value as regards actual experience is from the Admiralty.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I think, My Lord, in reference to what your Lordship said that the searchlight must have been in use at the time, otherwise the whole report would be meaningless.

The Attorney-General:
I am not so sure about that.

The Commissioner:
As the report is described in the witness-box it seems to me to entirely fail in its object.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I think the searchlight must have been in use, but it was the naked eye that picked up the iceberg first. However, we will see. (The Report was produced.)

The Attorney-General:
I think your Lordship had better see the actual Report. I have seen it, and there are three questions which I think, perhaps, I might read.

The Commissioner:
Is there any reason why you should not read them?

The Attorney-General:
Not the slightest.

The Commissioner:
Then I wish you would read them.

The Attorney-General:
I was proposing to read three questions and answers. There is some other matter which is not of much importance.

The Commissioner:
You can omit anything which you think it is not advisable to read.

21930. (The Attorney-General.) The Report says:

23rd May, 1912.

Sir, With reference to your letter M.12645/12, of 17th May, 1912, I have the honour to submit herewith for the information of the Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty a Report of my experience as to the value of searchlights for detecting floating ice. Dealing seriatim with your questions -

(a.) Have you had any opportunity of lighting up an iceberg with a searchlight? - Yes.
(b.) Are icebergs, growlers, and others made conspicuous at a distance by searchlights? - Yes, in dark, clear weather.
(c.) At what distance do you consider on a clear dark night a 24-inch projector would reveal an iceberg? - It has never been my experience on a dark night to first detect a large or moderate -sized iceberg with a searchlight, but after having detected an iceberg with the naked eye I have on several occasions lighted the berg up with a searchlight, and on one occasion the searchlight illuminated the berg at a distance of more than two miles, and clearly showed the edge of ice-field at a distance of at least 1 1/2 miles also revealing low ice pans and small ice at a distance of about 2,000 yards, which floated between the ship and ice-field, and which had not previously been detected. I have on other occasions, in clear and thick weather, used searchlights with view of detecting ice, and consider that on dark clear nights, provided that the observer does not look into the beam of light, and when a 24-inch projector is situated as in case of foremost projector in H.M.S. "Brilliant," namely, on top of chart house or fore bridge in centre line of ship, if the beam is thrown from above and behind, but on side of observer, a path of from 800 to 1,000 yards ahead of ship is clearly illuminated, in which path any ice must be revealed at once, and within these distances the instant the beam of a searchlight touches floating ice, the ice appears brilliantly white, and its size and description can be determined at once.

It was my further experience, when using a searchlight from after bridge of "Brilliant" to sweep on beam of ship to bow if the observer stood well forward, and at a lower level than, and was well screened from the searchlight, a path of over 2,000 yards was well lighted up.

That is about double what he said before.

In fog, thick mist, drizzling rain, or snow, a 24-inch projector throwing a white beam was found to be practically no use.

Then there are some questions as to the best position of a light for this purpose, which I will not trouble your Lordship with, because that is a matter for subsequent consideration. The letter is dated the 23rd May, 1912, in reply to a letter of the 17th May, 1912, putting these questions in consequence of this disaster. (To the witness.) Can you tell me how far a searchlight of the character mentioned here, a searchlight, called here a 24-inch projector, would be of any use ordinarily?
- About 2,000 yards.

21931. Not more?
- No, you cannot depend much beyond that.

The Attorney-General:
I do not think there is any point in keeping this document. It will get on the notes from my having read it.

Sir Robert Finlay:
I have nothing to ask the witness.

21932. (The Commissioner.) I should like to ask you a question. You gave us what I may call the pros. and cons. with reference to the use of searchlights. You pointed out to us the advantages and the disadvantages. Weighing the one against the other, what is the conclusion, if any, that you have arrived at as to the desirability of using searchlights on this track in ships of the mercantile marine?
- I think the Admiralty's view is that it would be advisable not to use them.

21933. That you think is the result of your experience?
- Yes. Taking the general navigation throughout - not limited only to the immediate vicinity of ice, but the use of searchlights generally, if they were established in ships in the mercantile marine they might be used in any locality - in the English Channel or in any crowded waterways.

21934. You think it is better that ships of the mercantile marine should be without them?
- Yes.

21935. (The Attorney-General.) I want to follow up what my Lord said to you. Would it be possible to do this, to have searchlights which could be fixed, supposing it was known that upon a particular night there was a possibility of encountering either icebergs or an ice-field?
- Would it be possible to have them fixed?

21936. To have them there ready to be fixed for use, but not otherwise fixed in position for use; that is what I want to know?
- Yes, they could be moved up or down, as necessary - yes, certainly.

21937. Supposing that that was the case, and there was a report received that icebergs or ice-fields would be encountered in the night, do you think it would be an advantage to use a searchlight on that night for the purpose of illuminating the space in front so as to detect the icebergs or ice-fields?
- Yes, it might possibly be of advantage.

21938. As I understand with regard to the disadvantages which you have pointed out to my Lord, on balance, you are afraid of their being used in places where they will create confusion and danger?
- Yes, that was the idea.

21939. Or being used on the particular track even in that respect?
- If they are established there ought to be stringent regulations as to their use.

21940. They should only be used in certain conditions such as I have described?
- Yes, under certain conditions.

21941. (The Commissioner.) Are those observations of yours that you have just made intended to qualify the opinion that you expressed to me just now, that, on the whole, it is desirable that ships should not have them?
- Yes, I think the summary of the conclusion would be rather that they should not carry searchlights, but that if they did they should be under stringent conditions.

21942. Then it comes to this: You think, on the whole, it is better that they should have no searchlights at all, but if they should have them then there must be some stringent regulations governing the use of them?
- Yes.

(The Witness withdrew.)