British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Day 35

Final Arguments, cont.

The Commissioner:
I do not think it will be useful.

The Attorney-General:
No, my Lord. It did not seem so to me, because when you have located the spot there is very little importance in going through the evidence which tells you where the spot is which is now indicated on the section. Your Lordship will see that this ship, as she is veering to port under the starboard helm during this period of something like 40 seconds - because that is what it must be now; I am dealing with the wounds inflicted -strikes at about five places indicated on the section, and it is worth noting that she is considerably torn. I will indicate what they were. I have no doubt your Lordship has them well in mind, and I do not wish to dwell at any length upon the detail because I cannot conceive it will be of any assistance.

The Commissioner:
No.

The Attorney-General:
But what I want to do is to point out what the result of the whole evidence is, beyond all question, and therefore it is unnecessary to dilate upon it at any length. In the first place you have a blow struck in the forepeak tank. There is an undoubted puncture of the skin there - penetration. Then you have it further in 1, 2 and 3 holds; you have that clearly proved. Then you have a very serious blow which was struck in the firemen's passage. That I say was very serious for this reason. Your Lordship will remember according to the evidence the blow struck there must have penetrated through the outer skin and through the inner skin of the firemen's passage and the distance between the inner skin and the outer skin at the nearest point was 3 feet 6 inches. So that one can form some conception of the force of the blow, and also of the penetration which must have taken place there if you realise that at least - we do not know the exact spot - 3 feet 6 inches of that ship was penetrated by some spur or something on that iceberg, which was under water; that is plain because otherwise you would not have got the blow struck which went right through the two skins and opened up that part of the firemen's passage through which, as your Lordship remembers, the water was coming in such great gushes.

Later we have the evidence also of the blow struck between No. 6 and No. 5 boiler sections. There again we have evidence which is very plain, at least as to this, that there were external wounds which were proved in the side of the vessel. They must have been struck outside and probably between the bulkheads, or at a distance, which penetrated both, before the after bulkhead of No. 6 section, and also abaft of it, and the consequence of that would be that as the blow struck the bulkhead as the ship struck like that, of course, it would hole both No. 5 and No. 6, and there is no doubt water came through that part in No. 6 and No. 5.

The only element of doubt that is left in the case as to actual penetration of the outer skin of the vessel is in No. 4 boiler section. We do not know really what happened there, and I do not think, as far as I am able to judge, anything in the evidence enables us to say, at any rate with any precision, what happened. What we do know is that water was rising there. That we have got quite clearly proved by the evidence. It is indicated on the plan that the blow was under the stokehold plates, and I think that must be plain also. The water was coming in under the stokehold plates, because your Lordship will remember it was rising there; we have very clear indications of that.

The Commissioner:
I am reminded that it was something like an hour and three quarters before they were driven out of that stokehold by the water.

The Attorney-General:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
It seems to support the suggestion that the water came over the top and then found its way down into the bunker, and then gradually rose from the bunker so as to rise above the plates.

The Attorney-General:
No doubt that is a possible view, but I think the evidence shows the water was rising above the plates.

The Commissioner:
Yes, but an hour and three-quarters afterwards; it was that that drove the men away.

The Attorney-General:
After a time, yes.

The Commissioner:
It is suggested that it was so long after the collision that the water was found coming up above the plates, that the probability is the water found its way from the top and went down into the bunker and filled the bunker, and then rose.

The Attorney-General:
That depends on the evidence of Dillon and Cavell.

The Commissioner:
However, I do not think you need dwell upon it.

The Attorney-General:
I quite appreciate it may be so; it is well to bear it in mind, because no doubt the result of the evidence shows that eventually, as the water was rising, the firemen were driven out of that particular section, and they had to get up the escape in order to get clear. I do not think that it is of very great importance, because we know certainly from Mr. Wilding's evidence that, supposing you stop at the wound inflicted in No. 5 boiler section, and do not travel further aft than that, it is quite sufficient, apparently, to show that with the wounds that there were, the vessel was irretrievably doomed; that is quite plain. The only question is how long she would float.

The Commissioner:
What is your theory as to the number of sections filled with water at the time she sank?

The Attorney-General:
At the time she plunged down?

The Commissioner:
Yes, at the time of the foundering.

The Attorney-General:
According to Mr. Wilding's view - I am speaking from his view - I do not profess to be able to say anything, except what is based upon his evidence to your Lordship - according to him the water must by that time have got as far aft as the reciprocating engine room. That I think is shown by the plan which he handed up to you with the coloured pencil upon it, because the doors are open by that time, your Lordship will remember.

The Commissioner:
Yes.

The Attorney-General:
The watertight doors are open. It is not as if you could say the watertight doors are all closed and then up to a certain section you get the water coming in, because your Lordship will remember once the water gets over the bulkheads and begins to flow in, - these watertight doors were open all the way aft.

Mr. Laing:
They all shut mechanically.

The Attorney-General:
Only with the float, yes - but that is as the water rises.

The Commissioner:
There is, of course, the automatic effect of the rising waters upon the doors.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, the float we have heard about; that is quite right. Assuming that operated, and I see no reason to doubt it (there is no evidence to show it failed and I do not see why it should.), it certainly would have the effect of closing the door before the water got above the stokehold plates. That I have seen put into operation, and I have no doubt your Lordship did, upon the "Olympic."

The Commissioner:
That does not answer my question. How many sections do you think were filled at the time she foundered?

The Attorney-General:
I put it up to No. 4.

The Commissioner:
Inclusive?

The Attorney-General:
Yes, because the water is rising there your Lordship sees, and when we have got to No. 4 the water was rising, quite clearly and drove the men up. It got up to their knees and drove them away.

The Commissioner:
That means to say that this vessel, which was constructed to float with any two compartments filled, did float until four had practically been filled. That is what it comes to?

The Attorney-General:
Yes. May I add this to it, my Lord, that, according to Mr. Wilding's evidence - your Lordship has those who are more familiar than ever we can hope to be, after a lifelong study of these questions - but as I follow Mr. Wilding's evidence the effect was this, that, loaded as she was at the time she sailed on this voyage, she would have floated with three compartments filled. That is what he said, and I see no reason to doubt it. She was constructed, as your Lordship will remember, to float with any two adjoining compartments flooded - that is not unimportant and when so flooded she would have floated with the waterline 2 1/2 to 3 feet below the height of the bulkheads. That is the position. That is what the design was with the vessel loaded in a certain way; but he pointed out that, loaded as she was at that particular time for that particular voyage, although she was not designed for that purpose, she would actually have floated with three compartments flooded.

The Commissioner:
That is to say, she was lighter in the water?

The Attorney-General:
Yes. Your Lordship will remember - I only give the reference in passing - this is all dealt with by Mr. Wilding at page 515. He explains his view and how the water overcame the vessel, and how it was that she sank. It is all dealt with very well, and your Lordship will remember he gave us a very graphic explanation of it.

I think the result quite clearly, beyond controversy, of this evidence is this, that no height of bulkheads would have saved that vessel, holed as she was. I think that is established.

The Commissioner:
It is said that if the bulkhead on the after-side of No. 5 boiler section had been taken higher it would have prevented the flooding of No. 4 boiler section, and the ship would either have floated, or have floated, at all events, longer than she did.

The Attorney-General:
That, assumes, of course, that there is no injury to No. 4. That assumes that.

The Commissioner:
Yes, it does.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, it must.

The Commissioner:
It really comes to this, that if No. 4 boiler section was holed, no bulkhead would have saved the ship.

The Attorney-General:
That is it.

The Commissioner:
But if No. 4 boiler section was not holed, and the bulkhead aft of No. 5 boiler section would have saved the ship or kept her longer afloat if it had been carried higher.

The Attorney-General:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
I think that was admitted by Mr. Wilding.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, I agree; he deals with it at page 518.

The Commissioner:
If this part of the case is really important - I do not know that it is - it is important to ascertain as nearly as we can whether No. 4 was holed or not.

The Attorney-General:
Yes. That depends upon the evidence of Dillon and Cavell. Dillon's evidence begins at page 98. He is the trimmer. He gives evidence, first of all, about opening the watertight doors after they had been closed, with which I am not going to trouble you, because that is quite clear in your Lordship's mind. Then at page 100, Question 3817, we get, I think, to the point which is material upon the question we are now examining. Perhaps I had better read a question or two before to introduce it: "Did you see any water before you went up in any of the boiler rooms or the engine room? - (A.) Yes, there was water coming in forward. (Q.) The furthest point forward you reached was No. 4 boiler section? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Was it coming in there? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Where was it coming in? - (A.) Coming from underneath. (Q.) From underneath the floor? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) And from what part of the floor, the forward part or the afterpart? - (A.) The forward part. (Q.) Did it come in large quantities or only in small quantities? - (A.) Small quantities. (Q.) Was there any depth of water standing on the floor? - (A.) No. (Q.) Do you mean the floor was just damp? - (A.) That is all. (Q.) And it seemed to be coming through the floor? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Did you see any coming through the side of the ship at all? - (A.) I never noticed. (Q.) Was there any water anywhere else in any of the other sections? - (A.) No. (Q.) Then you got this order about a quarter-past 1, and you went up on deck."

If you look also at Questions 3810 and 3811, just preceding those, there is evidence of the time which your Lordship commented upon just now: "Can you give us any idea of how long it was after the ship had struck that you got the order to go on deck? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) About how long was it? - (A.) An hour and 40 minutes. (Q.) That would make it about 1 o'clock? - (A.) No. (Q.) After that - a quarter-past one? - (A.) Yes."

Then Cavell is at page 107, Question 4247: "When you came back to No. 4, and you found the lights were on again, did you see any water in No. 4? - (A.) No. (Q.) When you got back to No. 4, do you remember hearing an order being given? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) What was it? - (A.) Draw fires. (Q.) Is that any part of a trimmer's work, as a Rule? - (A.) In an emergency. (Q.) In an emergency you would do it, of course? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) And did you lend a hand to draw the fires in No. 4? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) And were they drawn? - (A.) Partly drawn. (Q.) What would there be - 30 furnaces? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Were the firemen there helping to draw, too? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) You say they were only partly drawn? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) What happened then? - (A.) The water started coming up over her stokehold plates. (Q.) In No. 4? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Did that happen gradually or did it happen suddenly? - (A.) It came gradually. (Q.) The water - you moved your hand, you raised it; did it seem to come up from below? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) As far as you saw in No. 4, did any water come in from the side of the ship? - (A.) Not so far as I saw. (Q.) When the water came up through the plates what was done then? - (A.) We stopped as long as we could. (Q.) That is right? - (A.) And then I thought to myself it was time I went for the escape ladder. (Q.) They were still drawing the fires, these men, were they? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) How high did the water get above the plates they were standing on? How much water were they standing in before they left? - (A.) About a foot. (Q.) Working up to their knees? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) Scraping the cinders out? - (A.) Yes." I think that is all the evidence there is.

The Commissioner:
What that comes to, it appears to me, is this, that the water, as far as these two Witnesses could tell, was not coming from the side of the ship.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, neither of them certainly saw it coming from there.

The Commissioner:
That looks as if that part of the ship was not holed, and if that part of the ship was not holed then that water that they saw must have come over the bulkhead.

The Attorney-General:
Of course, there is another possibility which you must take into account, that they are standing on the plates; they would not see whether the water was coming in below the plate; they would not see whether the water was coming in at the side of the ship below the plate.

The Commissioner:
No, their impression is apparently - that is all I can say - that the water was not coming in from the side of the ship. That seems to me to show if their impression is a well-formed impression that that part of the ship was not holed. I quite agree it is speculation, because that part of the ship might be holed and might have been holed below the plates on which they were standing.

The Attorney-General:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
But they do not seem to have thought there was any water coming in from the side of the ship, and if it was not it must have been coming in over the bulkhead.

The Attorney-General:
I do not think really that is the effect of the evidence, with all respect. Look at what Cavell said. I do not know that it is of any importance, but if it is -

The Commissioner:
It is only important upon this question whether the ship would have been saved by having a higher bulkhead.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, but it is a question you will not have to decide.

The Commissioner:
I do not think it is necessary to decide that.

The Attorney-General:
I rather understood that you were not going to decide that.

The Commissioner:
But if I am to give a description as well as I can of the circumstances which sent this ship down to the bottom, I should have to consider that, I think.

The Attorney-General:
All I want to observe with reference to it is this: If your Lordship notices the form of the question which is put to both witnesses, Dillon and Cavell, and the answer, what they are asked is whether they saw water coming in.

The Commissioner:
And what you say is she may have been holed all the same.

The Attorney-General:
Quite; the water was coming up the stokehold plates.

The Commissioner:
And the hole might have been beneath the plates from which they saw water coming up.

The Attorney-General:
Yes.

The Commissioner:
All I mean is the answer "We saw no water coming in from the side," that probably meant they did not believe the ship was holed in the side at that place. It is pointed out to me, it is of no importance unless it is maintained that putting the bulkhead higher would not have saved the ship or prolonged the life of the ship.

The Attorney-General:
I am going to point out the position we are in with regard to it. I will deal with it at once, because it will be an answer to what your Lordship was putting. That part of the case as to whether it is desirable to carry the bulkheads higher or whether it is desired to have a watertight deck, so far as I understood from what your Lordship said at an early period, is a part of the case which you do not intend to deal with; that is to say, that you do not intend to make any specific recommendation with regard to that. Your Lordship's view, as I follow it, is that there is a Special Committee which has been appointed for the purpose of considering the spacing and construction of the watertight compartments, and as I followed your Lordship's view, it was that you could not and would not go into that matter in this Enquiry; it would take a very long time, and necessitate naturally the examination of a great many Witnesses in order to enable you to deal with it; but no doubt, if you thought right, your Lordship would make some general recommendation with regard to that. I presume, of course, I am only stating now what occurs to me with regard to it - that your Lordship would ask the Committee to deal with those two questions into which we have examined, in some little detail, without arriving at some conclusion in consequence of the view your Lordship did take.

The Commissioner:
I am thinking of the description which I may have to give of the circumstances which brought the ship down to the bottom of the sea, and one of the things I must consider, I think, is whether the water in No. 4 came from the hole in the side of the ship, or whether it came over the bulkhead.

The Attorney-General:
I quite follow for that purpose it would be necessary.

The Commissioner:
It is for the Committee to say whether it is desirable that the bulkhead should be necessary.

The Attorney-General:
I quite agree, my Lord, it would be necessary.

The Commissioner:
As far as I can go, I must make up my mind upon the question whether No. 4 was holed or not. But you will remember this - if the evidence is so vague and uncertain that I cannot form any opinion upon the question which will be of any value, I shall say so.

The Attorney-General:
I was going to say this, my Lord, and I will leave it with this observation: That so far as I am able to gather from the evidence, there is not sufficient to make it clear - I suggest to your Lordship, and one must be clear about it before coming to a conclusion - whether or not she was holed in No. 4. There is not sufficient to make it clear. I believe really that is the true effect of the evidence. I certainly cannot say that it is made clear that she was holed, because there is not any evidence of that. But from what we know of the water rising it is quite possible that she was holed below, and therefore that nobody would have seen it, and there is no evidence before you to explain it. I submit that is how the matter stands.

Now, my Lord, I do not propose to dwell any further upon that part of the case. I want to deal at once with the steps that were taken after the collision. We have proceeded by stages, first of all, of the vessel approaching the iceberg, then she struck the iceberg, she has been injured, and now I want to see what steps were taken after that. That involves a consideration in the main of two matters - one is what was done with regard to the watertight doors and the other is with regard to the boats. Substantially those are the two questions. There are minor points, but of no real importance because certainly they had no effect whatever upon the saving of life.

Now, my Lord, in the first instance, as to the closing of the watertight doors. I think the evidence is fairly clear and establishes this, that immediately after the impact the watertight doors were closed from the bridge in a way with which your Lordship has become familiar, and I also have become familiar, on the "Olympic." These watertight doors were closed, and it is equally clear that these watertight doors were opened some time after from No. 4 aft so as to enable a suction pipe to be brought from the aftermost tunnel. Those doors I was just referring to, are those which would no doubt have been closed, so far as one is able to judge, when the water rose sufficiently high by means of the float to liberate the clutch and allow the door to drop down again. I will assume that was done. The only other questions which have arisen as to watertight doors are as to those doors on decks E and F. There has been a good deal of question with regard to that, and, of course, I can give you what happened - the evidence in detail - with reference to that. But so far as I have followed all the criticism that has been directed to what happened afterwards, no complaint was made, if I understand aright, by my friend Mr. Edwards, who specially dealt with the question of bulkheads, and watertight doors, with regard to these two decks after the examination that we have had. And it seems fairly plain that those doors were closed. It is gone into by the Witnesses up to a point that the emergency doors were opened and that there was access along the alleyway.

As your Lordship is going to deal with the history of what was done, I will just give your Lordship the reference to it. I do not think it is of sufficient importance for me to dwell upon it in detail , but I will state shortly what happened, and give you the pages and questions. At page 236, Brown, in Question 10669 to 10672, says that the first order he got after he was wakened by the shock was to close all the watertight doors. That is what first happens: "Did you hear an order given in the alleyway about the watertight doors? - (A.) That was the first order I heard after I was woke by the shock. (Q.) Just tell us what you heard? - (A.) Who gave it I do not know, but I heard an order in the alleyway outside our quarters, to close all watertight doors. (Q.) There are watertight doors in the alleyway? - (A.) Yes, lower down, further aft than our quarters are. (Q.) And you heard that order given? - (A.) Yes.

Then, Mackay, on page 236, Questions 10691 to 10694 - he was the bath room steward - says: "The first order I heard was from the second steward to close all watertight doors on F deck.

The Commissioner:
These references were all given to me by Sir Robert Finlay.

The Attorney-General:
All I wanted to do was to show your Lordship what had happened. I do not want to go through them, because I attribute very little importance to this part of the evidence.

The Commissioner:
I have them all marked.

The Attorney-General:
Very well, my Lord. I am very glad because it will save me dealing with it. The conclusion of the whole matter is in Wilding's evidence on page 517, and that is the only evidence your Lordship need be troubled with.

The Commissioner:
I will see whether I have that reference.

The Attorney-General:
I have no doubt your Lordship has it. It has been referred to several times. At Question 20360 you get the conclusion of the matter and I only call attention to it because it does summarise what had happened. He is asked: "Does it throw any light to your mind upon the question of whether the watertight doors in the bulkheads were or were not shut." That is on the question of the wounds and how long she floated, and he says, "No." The same scale, if I may so use it, of the sinking is not sufficiently definite, because closing the watertight doors between E and F deck would only have made a delay of a few minutes, perhaps five or ten minutes. The evidence is not accurate enough upon that. That is really the substance of the matter.

I would like to make one observation in passing, not so much to bring it to your Lordship's notice, as because I know some comment has been made with regard to it. There is no question in this case but were the pumping arrangements were satisfactory and worked satisfactorily. Your Lordship will remember we began to go into it. and it was made quite clear that there was no complaint about it, and therefore your Lordship thought it was unnecessary to go into it, and also that you were satisfied, and those who were assisting you, that the pumping arrangements were satisfactory; so that we need not deal in any detail with that. No question was put to you Lordship with regard to it.

But what I do want to address myself to now, in dealing with the steps that were taken immediately after the collision, is how soon after the collision it was realised that the injury or injuries were very serious.

The Commissioner:
How soon it was realised?

The Attorney-General:
Yes. My view of the evidence which I submit for your Lordship's consideration, is that it was realised immediately, or almost immediately, by the Captain.

The Commissioner:
Within 20 minutes.

The Attorney-General:
Yes, certainly, within 20 minutes, but I think one might even say within a shorter time; but it is sufficient to say within 20 minutes certainly, by the Captain and by the Chief Engineer, by Mr. Andrews, who represented the builders, by those, of course, who spoke to Mr. Andrews who were only taking his view, and by Mr. Ismay himself. The only importance of that is to show that we do get from Mr. Ismay's questions to the Captain and to the Chief Engineer within a short time after the impact, conversations which show what their view was of the injury. I will not trouble your Lordship with references to it, because I have no doubt it is present to your Lordship's mind. It is stated really in a couple of sentences. The effect of it was that the Captain said, "It is very serious." The effect from the conversations with the Chief Engineer was: "It is very serious; I hope that I may be able to keep it under with the pumps." That is how it stands. And, of course, there is further evidence of the conversations with Mr. Andrews, to which reference has been made, but which indicate, in any event, that he put the life of the vessel at the moment that he was asked as 1 1/2 hours only. I am taking the extreme view. According to one Witness he said half-an-hour, but according to another Witness he said an hour-and-a-half, and I will take the longer time.

There are just a few passages upon it to which I wish to direct your Lordship's attention. Mr. Lightoller says that he realised that it was serious when Mr. Boxhall came to him half-an-hour after the impact and told him that the water was up to F deck. That is at page 310, Questions 13784 to 13791. My friend the Solicitor-General says: "Time is very difficult to calculate, especially when you are trying to go to sleep, but seriously, do you think it was half-an-hour? - (A.) That I was in my bunk after that? (Q.) Yes? - (A.) Well, I did not think it was half-an-hour, but we have been talking this matter over a very great deal, and I judge it is half-an-hour, because it was Mr. Boxhall who came to inform me afterwards we had struck ice, and previous to him coming to inform me, as you will find out in his evidence, he had been a considerable way round the ship on various duties, which must have taken him a good while. It might be less, it might be a quarter of an hour. You will be able to form your judgment. (Q.) He is the Fourth Officer? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) How would his time of duty run? - (A.) He was on duty till 12 o'clock. (Q.) 10 to 12? - (A.) 8 to 12. (Q.) It was Mr. Boxhall who came to your room and gave you the information? - (A.) Yes. (Q.) What was it he told you? - (A.) He just came in and quietly remarked, 'You know we have struck an iceberg.' I said, 'I know we have struck something.' He then said, 'The water is up to F deck in the mail room.' (The Commissioner.) Well, that was rather alarming, was it not? - (A.) He had no need to say anything further then, sir."

The Commissioner:
By F deck he meant G deck; is not that so?

The Attorney-General:
Yes, that is quite right.

The Solicitor-General:
Yes, it was cleared up afterwards. He said Boxhall did say F deck, but he meant G deck.

The Attorney-General:
Then at page 316, Mr. Pitman says, at Questions 14931 to 14956: "(Q.) You were aroused, and at first did you think much had happened? - (A.) No, I did not. (Q.) What was it aroused you; was it a noise, or a jar, or what? - (A.) A noise; I thought the ship was coming to anchor. (Q.) Did you lie on in your bunk for some few minutes? - (A.) I did. (Q.) At the end of those few minutes did you do anything? - (A.) Yes, I went on deck. (Q.) Was that curiosity, or what took you there? - (A.) Yes, I suppose it was. (Q.) Getting on deck, what did you see or hear? - (A.) I saw nothing and heard nothing. (Q.) Did you go to the forward part of the navigation bridge? - (A.) No, I only just went outside the quarters." It comes a little later: I will leave out the intervening part. Question 14948 is: "(Q.) While you were dressing did you receive any information? - (A.) Mr. Boxhall came to my room and said the mail room was afloat. (Q.) How long do you think had elapsed between the time you were aroused and Mr. Boxhall coming and telling you this? - (A.) I should think it must be 20 minutes. (Q.) Did he give you any information as to what had caused the mail room to be afloat? - (A.) Yes; I asked him what we had struck, and he said an iceberg. (Q.) After that did you quickly proceed with your dressing? - (A.) Yes, I put my coat on and went on deck. (Q.) When you got on deck, did you see anything being done? - (A.) The men were uncovering the boats."

Then Mr. Boxhall, at page 361, Questions 15607 to 15613.

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