United States Senate Inquiry

Day 17

Testimony of John J. Knapp

(The witness was sworn by Senator Smith.)

Senator SMITH.
Captain, will you state your name and what official position you hold ?

Capt. KNAPP.
John J. Knapp. I am a captain in the United States Navy. I am the hydrographer of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, Washington, D. C.

Senator SMITH.
Will you tell the committee what special branch of the public service you have in charge?

Capt. KNAPP.
I am in charge of the Hydrographic Office, which is under the Bureau of Navigation of the Navy Department. The duty of the Hydrographic Office, under the law, is to improve the means of safe navigation of the seas, for the benefit of the Navy and the maritime marine, by providing nautical charts, sailing directions, navigators, and manuals of instruction. In carrying out this duty it becomes necessary to collect information of all kinds that may affect the charts of the various seas and harbors of the world, and the sailing directions, which latter are what might be called guidebooks of the seas. To accomplish the work above outlined, the Hydrographic Office collects information not only from original surveys made under its direction, but from the surveys made by the Coast and Geodetic Survey of the United States, and from those made under the supervision or direction of the hydrographic offices of the Governments. In order that the charts and sailing directions may be at all times accurate, showing the conditions that exist in the various seas and harbors which in any way affect the navigation thereof, our office collects from mariners and those conversant with the sea reports affecting the publications of the office. The office has voluntary observers aboard the seagoing ships of all nations. These observers report to the office by radio messages or by letter, and their reports are scanned and criticized by technical experts, and the information so gained is given to the Navy and to the merchant marine.

Whenever reports are made which have immediate effect upon the safety of navigation, they are given at once to the maritime community and the public generally and are again flashed out to the sea by means of radiograms, the latter, as a rule, from the wireless stations under the control of the Navy Department.

For more than a quarter of a century the Hydrographic Office of the Bureau of Navigation, Navy Department, has been publishing graphically from month to month a series of charts known as the Pilot Chart of the North Atlantic Ocean, depicting thereon the physical conditions of the ocean and of the atmosphere for the current month, as well as the location of dangers to navigation as reported by incoming ships. A summary of these dangers and a more detailed description than the space on the pilot chart would permit was in time given from week to week on a printed sheet known as the Hydrographic Bulletin. These publications were circulated freely among the shipmasters and shipping people in return for their news of the sea, the point of contact between the office at Washington and the marine world being a chain of branch hydrographic offices at the principal seaports.

Practically all the captains in the trans-Atlantic trade cooperate in this work by handing in their information upon arrival in port to the branch hydrographic offices. In recent years the collection of marine data has been immensely accelerated by the use of radio telegraphy and the Hydrographic Office is thereby enabled to publish daily in a so-called daily memorandum whatever important reports of dangers have been received. This sheet is prepared every afternoon and is mailed to the branch hydrographic offices and there given publicity to all concerned. By this means, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Norfolk, etc., are daily put in possession of the accumulated reports of dangerous derelicts and icebergs, which have been edited by experts in this line of work. Thus in the case of the recent loss of the Titanic, the shipping companies and shipmasters had been put in possession of the experience and judgment of a trained staff in the Hydrographic 0ffice as summarized in a pamphlet printed in April, 1909, entitled "North Atlantic ice movements," giving a study of the entire question with diagrams to show the usual limits of ice for a period of 10 years. More specifically, the shipping community had been provided from month to month with the pilot chart showing the conditions of ice up to the time of printing and with the weekly Hydrographic Bulletin giving all pertinent details in regard to ice and derelicts and also the daily memorandum summarizing the collected reports of each day.

A trained seaman can and does estimate the probable speed and direction of drift of any dangerous obstruction, so that if he had knowledge of the existence of an iceberg or a derelict in a certain location at a given date he reckons its future position for an interval of a few days.

Senator SMITH.
Captain, have you any means of knowing the ice conditions in the North Atlantic Ocean in the vicinity of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland on the 14th day of April last, or on any preceding day of that week?

Capt. KNAPP.
The Hydrographic Office, prior to the 14th of April, was constantly receiving reports of ice in the North Atlantic. These reports began to come in early in the winter, as the ice moved down to the eastward of Newfoundland. These ice reports as received, as heretofore stated, are given out to the maritime world daily, and prior to the 14th of April, in what is called the Daily Memorandum issued by the office, there had been on several days ice so published that had been reported near the spot of the Titanic disaster.

The April Pilot Chart, which was issued March 28, 1912, showed that in March ice had come as far south as latitude 44° N. The Daily Memorandum prior to the 13th instant showed that the trend of ice was to the southward, icebergs being sighted below the forty-third parallel on April 7, 8, 9, and 11; on the 9th and 11th it had reached the forty-second parallel, and on the 11th some of it was seen south of latitude 42°.

The Daily Memorandum of April 15 contains a message from the steamship Amerika via steamship Titanic and Cape Race, Newfoundland, April 14, 1912, to the Hydrographic Office, Washington, D. C.:

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


On the morning of the 15th of April, the day following the accident, the office received a radiogram sent by the steamship Amerika via the Titanic to Cape Race, and from there forwarded to Washington, reporting ice in latitude 41 27' N., longitude 50 8' W. The ice so reported was about 19 miles to the southward of where the Titanic struck.

Senator SMITH.
Have you the message sent to you by the Amerika through the steamship Titanic, to which you refer?

Capt. KNAPP.
Yes. It was as follows:

S. S. Amerika via S. S. Titanic and Cape Race, N. F.,
April 14, 1912.

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


Upon request, the Hamburg-American Line, to which line the steamship Amerika belongs, furnished to the Hydrographic Office this copy (hereunto appended). As will be seen by a reference thereto, the wireless message was sent from the Amerika to the Titanic at 11:45 A.M. (New York time, it is understood):

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


Senator SMITH.
Captain, will you kindly tell the committee how extensive this ice flow was, to which you have just referred?

Capt. KNAPP.
I submit to the committee this chart (Chart No. 1), which shows the ice as reported by the various steamers which passed through those waters at about that time and, in connection therewith, the following copies of ice reports made by said steamers.

Link - Chart 1 - Large Copy.

[Chart 1 - "Ice as reported on and near Titanic."]
[Click on image for larger copy.]

The ice reports referred to are here printed in the record, as follows:

[Memorandum - Reports of Wrecks, Derelicts, Ice and Other Obstructions to Navigation.]

In this connection the attention of the committee is especially invited to the report made by the master of the steamship Mesaba, wherein he reports on April 14, at 2 P.M., in latitude 42° north, longitude 50° west, that he "passed another field of pack ice, with numerous bergs intermixed, and extended from four points on the starboard bow to abeam on the port side. Had to steer about 20 miles south to clear it. Ice seemed to be one solid wall of ice at least 16 feet high, as far as could be seen. In latitude 41° 35' north, longitude 50° 30' west, we carne to the end of it, and at 4 p.m.- April 14 - we were able to again steer to the westward."

The ice so reported by the master of the steamship Mesaba was directly in the track on which the Titanic is reported to have been steaming when she met with the accident. Chart No. 2, submitted to the committee, shows the ice barrier as it was on April 14, judging from the various reports made to the office, and from the testimony as given before your committee by the master of the steamship Mount Temple, Capt. Moore.

Link - Chart 2

[Chart 2 - "Titanic Ice Barrier - Nearby Ships."]
[Click on image for larger copy.]

[Memorandum - from John Knapp - Ice Barrier - Nearby Ships.]

The attention of the committee is further invited to the report made by the steamship Athinai. This is the same steamer whose report by radio of icebergs and field ice was received by the steamship Baltic, as testified to before your committee by wireless operator Balfour, and which was transmitted by him to the steamship Titanic on April 14, 1912, at about 11:50 A.M., receipt of which was acknowledged at 12:05 P.M., on the 14th of April by Capt. Smith of the Titanic. This ice, as shown on our chart, was on or near the track of the Titanic.

Senator SMITH.
Have you any means, from the description of the ice to which you have just referred and the speed of the Titanic, which was at that time making about 75 revolutions of her propeller per minute, of knowing the force of the impact?

Capt. KNAPP.
It is impossible, under the testimony as given, to state just how direct a blow the Titanic struck the ice, but an idea may be formed as to the possible blow by using the accepted formula, the weight multiplied by the square of the velocity divided by twice the gravity. Multiplying the weight of the ship by the square of its speed in feet per second and dividing by twice the force of gravity will give the blow that would have been struck if she had kept straight on her course against this apparently solid mass of ice, which, at a speed of 21 knots, would have been equal to 1,173,200 foot tons, or energy enough to lift 14 monuments the size of the Washington Monument in one second of time. I think from the evidence before your committee it is shown that the ship struck the berg before she had appreciably lost any headway, due either to change of helm or stoppage or reversal of engines, in which event her striking energy would be practically that given above.

Senator SMITH.
Captain, in view of the strength of this blow, can you account for the apparent absence of shock, the shock seeming to have been scarcely noticeable by the passengers and crew?

Capt. KNAPP.
A comparison might be made to striking a sharp instrument a glancing blow with the hand. There would be no apparent resisting shock. That part of the ice which cut into its outer skin was struck by the ship very much like the edge of a knife would be so struck by the hand. If the ship had struck end on solidly against the mass of ice, then there would have been the shock that takes place when a moving body meets an immovable body.

I submit also another chart (Chart No. 3) and the following memorandum:

Link - Chart 3

[Chart 3 - "Ships positions near Titanic."]
[Click on image for larger copy]

[Memorandum - Ships' position as shown on chart.]

Senator SMITH.
Captain, can you think of anything else that you desire to say that will tend to throw any light upon the inquiry being made by the committee into the causes leading up to this wreck, and subsequent events, including any memorandum or data bearing upon the position of the steamship Californian on the night of this accident?

Capt. KNAPP.
I desire to submit the following "Memorandum on chart," marked "Titanic - Ice barrier - Near-by ships," which is explanatory of chart No. 2, which I have introduced in evidence.

[Memorandum - Ice Barrier - Nearby Ships.]

I invited especial attention to that part of the memorandum referring to the hypothetical position of the Californian, as shown on that chart, and, in connection therewith, it is desirable to explain that the arcs of circles drawn about the position of the steamship Titanic and about the position of the steamship Californian were drawn to graphically illustrate the testimony of certain witnesses before your committee.

Senator SMITH.
What do these arcs indicate?

Capt. KNAPP.
The outer arc around each ship is drawn with a radius of 16 miles, which is approximately the farthest distance at which the curvature of the earth would have permitted the side lights of the Titanic to be seen by a person at the height of the side lights of the Californian, or at which the side lights of the Californian could have been seen by a person at the height of the side lights of the Titanic. The inner circle around each ship is drawn with a radius of 7 miles. This is approximately the distance after reaching which the curvature of the earth would have shut out the side lights of the Californian from the view of one in a lifeboat in the water. It appears, therefore, that if the Titanic's position at the time of the accident was as fixed by the testimony and if it was the side light of the Californian that was seen from the boat deck of the Titanic, the Californian was somewhere inside of the arc of the 16-mile circle drawn about the Titanic. It further appears that if the above hypothesis be correct and if the side light of the other steamer could not be seen, as is testified to, from one of the lifeboats of the Titanic after being lowered, the Californian was somewhere outside of the circle with the 7-mile radius drawn about the Titanic.

In the case of the Californian, if the steamer which in the testimony given by members of the crew of the Californian, including the captain and the donkey engine-man and others, is said to have been seen by them, was the Titanic, she must have been somewhere inside of the circle with the 16-mile radius drawn around the Californian. If that be the case, as the Californian's side light was shut out by the curvature of the earth from the view of anyone in a lifeboat of the Titanic after being lowered into the water, then the Titanic must have been outside of the circle drawn with the 7-mile radius around the Californian.

Further reference to this chart will show plotted a hypothetical position of the Californian. On the hypothesis that the Californian was in this position, a dotted line is drawn on the chart on the bearing given by the captain of the Californian as that on which the steamer was sighted. This bearing is drawn on the chart to intersect the track of the Titanic. Another dotted line is drawn parallel thereto from a point on the course of the Titanic where she apparently was at 10:06 P.M., New York time, April 14, that being 11:56 P.M. of that date of the Californian's time, at which Ernest Gill, a member of the crew of the Californian, in his testimony before your committee, stated that the large steamer was seen by him. If the Californian was in the hypothetical position shown on the chart, the Titanic could have been seen by the officers and crew of the Californian at the time mentioned.

Senator SMITH.
Captain, are you able to state to the committee whether there was any vessel between the position of the Titanic just preceding and following the accident and the position of the Californian at that time?

Capt. KNAPP.
From being present at hearings before your committee and from reading the printed testimony of witnesses examined by the committee I am led to the conclusion that if there was any vessel between the Californian and the Titanic at the time referred to she does not seem to have been seen by any of the ships near there on the following morning, nor have there been any reports submitted to the Hydrographic Office which would indicate that there was any such steamer in that locality. The evidence does not indicate to me that there was any such third steamer in those waters, especially in view of the fact that no such steamer was seen by other steamers or by those in the lifeboats the following morning, and as the ice barrier, from all reports, between the reported position of the Californian and that of the Titanic was impassable to a vessel proceeding to the westward, and there is no testimony to show that if such a steamer was between the Californian and the Titanic she proceeded to the eastward, the captain of the Californian, having testified that he last saw the said steamer proceeding to the westward and being on a bearing to the westward of the Californian. Nothing appears in the testimony to show that the steamer so seen reversed its course and proceeded to the eastward.

Senator SMITH.
Captain, it appears from the testimony that there are established, by mutual agreement between the steamship lines, certain fixed courses, tracks, or lanes across the north Atlantic, and that the steamship companies order their captains to follow these. Has the captain of a ship any discretion in this matter which would enable him to depart from the given track or course to avoid to avoid danger ?

Capt. KNAPP.
It is, of course, understood by all seafaring people, and, in fact, it should be understood by the public generally, that the trans-Atlantic steamers in following certain tracks in crossing the ocean are not supposed to adhere rigidly to those tracks when good seamanship dictates that they diverge therefrom. A seaman is supposed always to handle and navigate a ship in a seamanlike manner, and no hard and fast, rigid rules are laid down that require him to do otherwise. The following is from the International Rules, enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States:

ART. 29. Nothing in rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner or master or crew thereof from the consequences of any neglect to carry lights or signals or of any neglect to keep a proper, lookout, or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

This rule affirms a sea maxim that a captain must, in an emergency, handle or navigate his ship in a seamanlike manner.

(Witness excused.)