TIP | British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry | Report | Account of Ship's Journey across the Atlantic/Messages Received/Disaster

British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry

Report

Account of Ship's Journey across the Atlantic
Messages Received

The "Titanic" followed the Outward Southern Track until Sunday, the 14th April, in the usual way. At 11.40 p.m. on that day she struck an iceberg and at 2.20 a.m. on the next day she foundered.

At 9 a.m. ("Titanic" time) on that day a wireless message from the s.s. "Caronia" was received by Captain Smith. It was as follows: -

"Captain, 'Titanic.' - Westbound steamers report bergs, growlers and field ice in 42° N. from 49° to 51° W., 12th April. Compliments. - Barr."

(Turnbull, 16099)

It will be noticed that this message referred to bergs, growlers and field ice sighted on the 12th April - at least 48 hours before the time of the collision. At the time this message was received the "Titanic's" position was about lat. 43° 35' N. and long. 43° 50' W. Captain Smith acknowledged the receipt of this message.

At 1.42 p.m. a wireless message from the s.s. "Baltic" was received by Captain Smith. It was as follows: -

"Captain Smith, 'Titanic.' - Have had moderate, variable winds and clear, fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer 'Athenai' reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice to-day in lat. 41° 51' N., long. 49° 52' W. Last night we spoke German oiltank steamer 'Deutschland,' Stettin to Philadelphia, not under control, short of coal, lat. 40° 42' N., long. 55° 11' W. Wishes to be reported to New York and other steamers. Wish you and 'Titanic' all success. - Commander."

(16176)

At the time this message was received the "Titanic" position was about 42° 35' N., 45° 50' W. Captain Smith acknowledged the receipt of this message also.

Mr. Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star Line, was on board the "Titanic," and it appears that the Master handed the "Baltic's" message to Mr. Ismay almost immediately after it was received. This no doubt was in order that Mr. Ismay might know that ice was to be expected. Mr. Ismay states that he understood from the message that they would get up to the ice "that night." Mr. Ismay showed this message to two ladies, and it is therefore probable that many persons on board became aware of its contents. This message ought in my opinion to have been put on the board in the chart room as soon as it was received. It remained, however, in Mr. Ismay's possession until 7.15 p.m., when the Master asked Mr. Ismay to return it. It was then that it was first posted in the chart room.

This was considerably before the time at which the vessel reached the position recorded in the message. Nevertheless, I think it was irregular for the Master to part with the document, and improper for Mr. Ismay to retain it, but the incident had, in my opinion, no connection with or influence upon the manner in which the vessel was navigated by the Master.

It appears that about 1.45 p.m. ("Titanic" time) on the 14th a message was sent from the German steamer "Amerika" to the Hydrographic Office in Washington, which was in the following terms: -

"Amerika" passed two large icebergs in 41° 27' N., 50° 8' W., on the 14th April."

(16122)

This was a position south of the point of the "Titanic's" disaster. The message does not mention at what hour the bergs had been observed. It was a private message for the Hydrographer at Washington, but it passed to the "Titanic" because she was nearest to Cape Race, to which station it had to be sent in order to reach Washington. Being a message affecting navigation, it should in the ordinary course have been taken to the bridge. So far as can be ascertained, it was never heard of by anyone on board the "Titanic" outside the Marconi room. There were two Marconi operators in the Marconi room, namely, Phillips, who perished, and Bride, who survived and gave evidence. Bride did not receive the "Amerika" message nor did Phillips mention it to him, though the two had much conversation together after it had been received. I am of opinion that when this message reached the Marconi room it was put aside by Phillips to wait until the "Titanic" would be within call of Cape Race (at about 8 or 8.30 p.m.), and that it was never handed to any officer of the "Titanic."

At 5.50 p.m. the "Titanic's" course (which had been S. 62° W.) was changed to bring her on a westerly course for New York. (Boxhall, 15315) In ordinary circumstances this change in her course should have been made about half an hour earlier, but she seems on this occasion to have continued for about ten miles longer on her southwesterly course before turning, with the result that she found herself, after altering course at 5.50 p.m. about four or five miles south of the customary route on a course S. 86° W. true. Her course, as thus set, would bring her at the time of the collision to a point about two miles to the southward of the customary route and four miles south and considerably to the westward of the indicated position of the "Baltic's" ice. Her position at the time of the collision would also be well to the southward of the indicated position of the ice mentioned in the "Caronia" message. This change of course was so insignificant that in my opinion it cannot have been made in consequence of information as to ice.

In this state of things, at 7.30 p.m. a fourth message was received, and is said by the Marconi operator Bride to have been delivered to the bridge. This message was from the s.s. "Californian" to the s.s. "Antillian," but was picked up by the "Titanic." It was as follows: -

"To Captain, 'Antillian,' 6.30 p.m. apparent ship's time; lat. 42° 3' N., long. 49° 9' W. Three large bergs five miles to southward of us. Regards. - Lord."

(Evans, 8943)

Bride does not remember to what officer he delivered this message.

By the time the "Titanic" reached the position of the collision (11.40 p.m.) she had gone about 50 miles to the westward of the indicated position of the ice mentioned in this fourth message. Thus it would appear that before the collision she had gone clear of the indicated positions of ice contained in the messages from the "Baltic" and "Californian." As to the ice advised by the "Caronia" message, so far as it consisted of small bergs and field ice, it had before the time of the collision possibly drifted with the Gulf Stream to the eastward; and so far as it consisted of large bergs (which would be deep enough in the water to reach the Labrador current) it had probably gone to the southward. It was urged by Sir Robert Finlay, who appeared for the owners, that this is strong evidence that the "Titanic" had been carefully and successfully navigated so as to avoid the ice of which she had received warning. Mr. Ismay, however, stated that he understood from the "Baltic" message that "we would get up to the ice that night." (Ismay, 18461)

There was a fifth message received in the Marconi room of the "Titanic" at 9.40 p.m. This was from a steamer called the "Mesaba." It was in the following terms: -

"From 'Mesaba' to 'Titanic' and all east-bound ships. Ice report in lat. 42° N. to 41° 25' N., long. 49° to long. 50° 30' W. Saw much heavy pack ice and great number large icebergs. Also field ice. Weather good, clear."

(Turnbull, 16221)

This message clearly indicated the presence of ice in the immediate vicinity of the "Titanic," and if it had reached the bridge would perhaps have affected the navigation of the vessel. Unfortunately, it does not appear to have been delivered to the Master or to any of the officers. The Marconi operator was very busy from 8 o'clock onward transmitting messages via Cape Race for passengers on board the "Titanic," and the probability is that he failed to grasp the significance and importance of the message, and put it aside until he should be less busy. It was never acknowledged by Captain Smith, and I am satisfied that it was not received by him. But, assuming Sir Robert Finlay's contentions to be well founded that the "Titanic" had been navigated so as to avoid the "Baltic" and the "Californian" ice, and that the "Caronia" ice had drifted to the eastward and to the southward, still there can be no doubt, if the evidence of Mr. Lightoller, the second officer, is to be believed, that both he and the Master knew that the danger of meeting ice still existed. Mr. Lightoller says that the Master showed him the "Caronia" message about 12.45 p.m. on the 14th April when he was on the bridge. He was about to go off watch, and he says he made a rough calculation in his head which satisfied him that the "Titanic" would not reach the position mentioned in the message until he came on watch again at 6 p.m. (Lightoller 13537, 13556) At 6 p.m. Mr. Lightoller came on the bridge again to take over the ship from Mr. Wilde, the chief officer, (dead). He does not remember being told anything about the "Baltic" message, which had been received at 1.42 p.m. Mr. Lightoller then requested Mr. Moody, the sixth officer, (dead), to let him know "at what time we should reach the vicinity of ice," and says that he thinks Mr. Moody reported "about 11 o'clock." Mr. Lightoller says that 11 o'clock did not agree with a mental calculation he himself had made and which showed 9.30 as the time. This mental calculation he at first said he had made before Mr. Moody gave him 11 o'clock as the time, but later on he corrected this, and said his mental calculation was made between 7 and 8 o'clock, and after Mr. Moody had mentioned 11. He did not point out the difference to him, and thought that perhaps Mr. Moody had made his calculations on the basis of some "other" message. Mr. Lightoller excuses himself for not pointing out the difference by saying that Mr. Moody was busy at the time, probably with stellar observations. It is, however, an odd circumstance that Mr. Lightoller, who believed that the vicinity of ice would be reached before his watch ended at 10 p.m., should not have mentioned the fact to Mr. Moody, and it is also odd that if he thought that Mr. Moody was working on the basis of some "other" message, he did not ask what the other message was or where it came from. The point, however, of Mr. Lightoller's evidence is that they both thought that the vicinity of ice would be reached before midnight. When he was examined as to whether he did not fear that on entering the indicated ice region he might run foul of a growler (a low-lying berg) he answers: "No, I judged I should see it with sufficient distinctness" and at a distance of a "mile and a half, more probably two miles." He then adds: -

"In the event of meeting ice there are many things we look for. In the first place, a slight breeze. Of course, the stronger the breeze the more visible will the ice be, or, rather, the breakers on the ice."

(13569)

He is then asked whether there was any breeze on this night, and he answers: -

"When I left the deck at 10 o'clock there was a slight breeze. Oh, pardon me, no; I take that back. No, it was calm, perfectly calm."

And almost immediately afterwards he describes the sea as "absolutely flat." It appeared, according to this witness, that about 9 o'clock the Master came on the bridge and that Mr. Lightoller had a conversation with him which lasted half an hour. This conversation, so far as it is material, is described by Mr. Lightoller in the following words: -

"We commenced to speak about the weather. He said, 'there is not much wind.' I said, 'No, it is a flat calm,' as a matter of fact. He repeated it, he said, 'A flat calm.' I said, 'Quite flat; there is no wind.' I said something about it was rather a pity the breeze had not kept up whilst we were going through the ice region. Of course, my reason was obvious, he knew I meant the water ripples breaking on the base of the berg. We then discussed the indications of ice. I remember saying 'In any case, there will be a certain amount of reflected light from the bergs.' He said, 'Oh, yes, there will be a certain amount of reflected light.' I said or he said - blue was said between us - that even though the blue side of the berg was towards us, probably the outline, the white outline, would give us sufficient warning, that we should be able to see it at a good distance, and as far as we could see, we should be able to see it. Of course, it was just with regard to that possibility of the blue side being towards us, and that if it did happen to be turned with the purely blue side towards us, there would still be the white outline."

Further on Mr. Lightoller says that he told the Master nothing about his own calculation as to coming up with the ice at 9.30 or about Mr. Moody's calculation as to coming up with it at 11.

The conversation with the Master ended with the Master saying, "If it becomes at all doubtful let me know at once; I will be just inside." This remark Mr. Lightoller says undoubtedly referred to ice. (13635, 13653)

At 9.30 the Master went to his room, and the first thing that Mr. Lightoller did afterwards was to send a message to the crow's nest "to keep a sharp look-out for ice, particularly small ice and growlers," until daylight. (13657) There seems to be no doubt that this message was in fact sent, and that it was passed on to the next look-outs when they came on watch. Hichens, the quartermaster, says he heard Mr. Lightoller give the message to Mr. Moody, and both the men in the crow's nest at the time (Jewell and Symons) speak to having received it. From 9.30 to 10 o'clock, when his watch ended, Mr. Lightoller remained on the bridge "looking out for ice." He also said that the night order book for the 14th had a footnote about keeping a sharp look-out for ice, and that this note was "initialled by every officer." (13700) At 10 o'clock Mr. Lightoller handed over the watch to Mr. Murdoch, the first officer, (dead), telling him that "we might be up around the ice any time now." That Mr. Murdoch knew of the danger of meeting ice appears from the evidence of Hemming, a lamp trimmer, who says that about 7.15 p.m. Mr. Murdoch told him to go forward and see the forescuttle hatch closed, "as we are in the vicinity of ice and there is a glow coming from that, and I want everything dark before the bridge." (Hemming, 17707)

The foregoing evidence establishes quite clearly that Captain Smith, the Master, Mr. Murdoch, the first officer, Mr. Lightoller, the second officer, and Mr. Moody, the sixth officer, all knew on the Sunday evening that the vessel was entering a region where ice might be expected, and this being so, it seems to me to be of little importance to consider whether the Master had by design or otherwise succeeded in avoiding the particular ice indicated in the three messages received by him.