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The loss of the R.M.S. Titanic: Chapter 8
  Posted on Mon 11 Oct 2004 (35364 reads)
CHAPTER VIII

THE LESSONS TAUGHT BY THE LOSS OF THE TITANIC


One of the most pitiful things in the relations of human beings to
each other--the action and reaction of events that is called
concretely "human life"--is that every now and then some of them
should be called upon to lay down their lives from no sense of
imperative, calculated duty such as inspires the soldier or the
sailor, but suddenly, without any previous knowledge or warning of
danger, without any opportunity of escape, and without any desire to
risk such conditions of danger of their own free will. It is a blot on
our civilization that these things are necessary from time to time, to
arouse those responsible for the safety of human life from the
lethargic selfishness which has governed them. The Titanic's two
thousand odd passengers went aboard thinking they were
on an absolutely safe ship, and all the time there were many
people--designers, builders, experts, government officials--who knew
there were insufficient boats on board, that the Titanic had no right
to go fast in iceberg regions,--who knew these things and took no
steps and enacted no laws to prevent their happening. Not that they
omitted to do these things deliberately, but were lulled into a state
of selfish inaction from which it needed such a tragedy as this to
arouse them. It was a cruel necessity which demanded that a few should
die to arouse many millions to a sense of their own insecurity, to the
fact that for years the possibility of such a disaster has been
imminent. Passengers have known none of these things, and while no
good end would have been served by relating to them needless tales of
danger on the high seas, one thing is certain--that, had they known
them, many would not have travelled in such conditions and thereby
safeguards would soon have been forced on the builders, the companies,
and the Government. But there were people who knew and did not fail to
call attention to the dangers: in the House of Commons the matter has
been frequently brought up privately, and an American naval officer,
Captain E. K. Boden, in an article that has since been widely
reproduced, called attention to the defects of this very ship, the
Titanic--taking her as an example of all other liners--and pointed out
that she was not unsinkable and had not proper boat accommodation.

The question, then, of responsibility for the loss of the Titanic must
be considered: not from any idea that blame should be laid here or
there and a scapegoat provided--that is a waste of time. But if a
fixing of responsibility leads to quick and efficient remedy, then it
should be done relentlessly: our simple duty to those whom the Titanic
carried down with her demands no less. Dealing first with the
precautions for the safety of the ship as apart from safety
appliances, there can be no question, I suppose, that the direct
responsibility for the loss of the Titanic and so many lives must be
laid on her captain. He was responsible for setting the course, day by
day and hour by hour, for the speed she was travelling; and he alone
would have the power to decide whether or not speed must be slackened
with icebergs ahead. No officer would have any right to interfere in
the navigation, although they would no doubt be consulted. Nor would
any official connected with the management of the line--Mr. Ismay, for
example--be allowed to direct the captain in these matters, and there
is no evidence that he ever tried to do so. The very fact that the
captain of a ship has such absolute authority increases his
responsibility enormously. Even supposing the White Star Line and Mr.
Ismay had urged him before sailing to make a record,--again an
assumption,--they cannot be held directly responsible for the
collision: he was in charge of the lives of everyone on board and no
one but he was supposed to estimate the risk of travelling at the
speed he did, when ice was reported ahead of him. His action cannot be
justified on the ground of prudent seamanship.

But the question of indirect responsibility raises at once many issues
and, I think, removes from Captain Smith a good deal of personal
responsibility for the loss of his ship. Some of these issues it will
be well to consider.

In the first place, disabusing our minds again of the knowledge that
the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank, let us estimate the
probabilities of such a thing happening. An iceberg is small and
occupies little room by comparison with the broad ocean on which it
floats; and the chances of another small object like a ship colliding
with it and being sunk are very small: the chances are, as a matter of
fact, one in a million. This is not a figure of speech: that is the
actual risk for total loss by collision with an iceberg as accepted by
insurance companies. The one-in-a-million accident was what sunk the
Titanic.

Even so, had Captain Smith been alone in taking that risk, he would
have had to bear all the blame for the resulting disaster. But it
seems he is not alone: the same risk has been taken over and over
again by fast mail-passenger liners, in fog and in iceberg regions.
Their captains have taken the long--very long--chance many times and
won every time; he took it as he had done many times before, and lost.
Of course, the chances that night of striking an iceberg were much
greater than one in a million: they had been enormously increased by
the extreme southerly position of icebergs and field ice and by the
unusual number of the former. Thinking over the scene that met our
eyes from the deck of the Carpathia after we boarded her,--the great
number of icebergs wherever the eye could reach,--the chances of
_not_ hitting one in the darkness of the night seemed small.
Indeed, the more one thinks about the Carpathia coming at full speed
through all those icebergs in the darkness, the more inexplicable does
it seem. True, the captain had an extra lookout watch and every sense
of every man on the bridge alert to detect the least sign of danger,
and again he was not going so fast as the Titanic and would have his
ship under more control; but granted all that, he appears to have
taken a great risk as he dogged and twisted round the awful
two-hundred-foot monsters in the dark night. Does it mean that the
risk is not so great as we who have seen the abnormal and not the
normal side of taking risks with icebergs might suppose? He had his
own ship and passengers to consider, and he had no right to take too
great a risk.

But Captain Smith could not know icebergs were there in such numbers:
what warnings he had of them is not yet thoroughly established,--there
were probably three,--but it is in the highest degree unlikely that he
knew that any vessel had seen them in such quantities as we saw them
Monday morning; in fact, it is unthinkable. He thought, no doubt, he
was taking an ordinary risk, and it turned out to be an extraordinary
one. To read some criticisms it would seem as if he deliberately ran
his ship in defiance of all custom through a region infested with
icebergs, and did a thing which no one has ever done before; that he
outraged all precedent by not slowing down. But it is plain that he
did not. Every captain who has run full speed through fog and iceberg
regions is to blame for the disaster as much as he is: they got
through and he did not. Other liners can go faster than the Titanic
could possibly do; had they struck ice they would have been injured
even more deeply than she was, for it must not be forgotten that the
force of impact varies as the _square_ of the velocity--i.e., it
is four times as much at sixteen knots as at eight knots, nine times
as much at twenty-four, and so on. And with not much margin of time
left for these fast boats, they must go full speed ahead nearly all
the time. Remember how they advertise to "Leave New York Wednesday,
dine in London the following Monday,"--and it is done regularly, much
as an express train is run to time. Their officers, too, would have
been less able to avoid a collision than Murdock of the Titanic was,
for at the greater speed, they would be on the iceberg in shorter
time. Many passengers can tell of crossing with fog a good deal of the
way, sometimes almost all the way, and they have been only a few hours
late at the end of the journey.

So that it is the custom that is at fault, not one particular captain.
Custom is established largely by demand, and supply too is the answer
to demand. What the public demanded the White Star Line supplied, and
so both the public and the Line are concerned with the question of
indirect responsibility.

The public has demanded, more and more every year, greater speed as
well as greater comfort, and by ceasing to patronize the low-speed
boats has gradually forced the pace to what it is at present. Not that
speed in itself is a dangerous thing,--it is sometimes much safer to
go quickly than slowly,--but that, given the facilities for speed and
the stimulus exerted by the constant public demand for it, occasions
arise when the judgment of those in command of a ship becomes
swayed--largely unconsciously, no doubt--in favour of taking risks
which the smaller liners would never take. The demand on the skipper
of a boat like the Californian, for example, which lay hove-to
nineteen miles away with her engines stopped, is infinitesimal
compared with that on Captain Smith. An old traveller told me on the
Carpathia that he has often grumbled to the officers for what he
called absurd precautions in lying to and wasting his time, which he
regarded as very valuable; but after hearing of the Titanic's loss he
recognized that he was to some extent responsible for the speed at
which she had travelled, and would never be so again. He had been one
of the travelling public who had constantly demanded to be taken to
his journey's end in the shortest possible time, and had "made a row"
about it if he was likely to be late. There are some business men to
whom the five or six days on board are exceedingly irksome and
represent a waste of time; even an hour saved at the journey's end is
a consideration to them. And if the demand is not always a conscious
one, it is there as an unconscious factor always urging the highest
speed of which the ship is capable. The man who demands fast travel
unreasonably must undoubtedly take his share in the responsibility. He
asks to be taken over at a speed which will land him in something over
four days; he forgets perhaps that Columbus took ninety days in a
forty-ton boat, and that only fifty years ago paddle steamers took six
weeks, and all the time the demand is greater and the strain is more:
the public demand speed and luxury; the lines supply it, until
presently the safety limit is reached, the undue risk is taken--and
the Titanic goes down. All of us who have cried for greater speed must
take our share in the responsibility. The expression of such a desire
and the discontent with so-called slow travel are the seed sown in the
minds of men, to bear fruit presently in an insistence on greater
speed. We may not have done so directly, but we may perhaps have
talked about it and thought about it, and we know no action begins
without thought.

The White Star Line has received very rough handling from some of the
press, but the greater part of this criticism seems to be unwarranted
and to arise from the desire to find a scapegoat. After all they had
made better provision for the passengers the Titanic carried than any
other line has done, for they had built what they believed to be a
huge lifeboat, unsinkable in all ordinary conditions. Those who
embarked in her were almost certainly in the safest ship (along with
the Olympic) afloat: she was probably quite immune from the ordinary
effects of wind, waves and collisions at sea, and needed to fear
nothing but running on a rock or, what was worse, a floating iceberg;
for the effects of collision were, so far as damage was concerned, the
same as if it had been a rock, and the danger greater, for one is
charted and the other is not. Then, too, while the theory of the
unsinkable boat has been destroyed at the same time as the boat
itself, we should not forget that it served a useful purpose on deck
that night--it eliminated largely the possibility of panic, and those
rushes for the boats which might have swamped some of them. I do not
wish for a moment to suggest that such things would have happened,
because the more information that comes to hand of the conduct of the
people on board, the more wonderful seems the complete self-control of
all, even when the last boats had gone and nothing but the rising
waters met their eyes--only that the generally entertained theory
rendered such things less probable. The theory, indeed, was really a
safeguard, though built on a false premise.

There is no evidence that the White Star Line instructed the captain
to push the boat or to make any records: the probabilities are that no
such attempt would be made on the first trip. The general instructions
to their commanders bear quite the other interpretation: it will be
well to quote them in full as issued to the press during the sittings
of the United States Senate Committee.

_Instructions to commanders_

Commanders must distinctly understand that the issue of regulations
does not in any way relieve them from responsibility for the safe and
efficient navigation of their respective vessels, and they are also
enjoined to remember that they must run no risks which might by any
possibility result in accident to their ships. It is to be hoped that
they will ever bear in mind that the safety of the lives and property
entrusted to their care is the ruling principle that should govern
them in the navigation of their vessels, and that no supposed gain in
expedition or saving of time on the voyage is to be purchased at the
risk of accident.

Commanders are reminded that the steamers are to a great extent
uninsured, and that their own livelihood, as well as the company's
success, depends upon immunity from accident; no precaution which
ensures safe navigation is to be considered excessive.

Nothing could be plainer than these instructions, and had they been
obeyed, the disaster would never have happened: they warn commanders
against the only thing left as a menace to their unsinkable boat--the
lack of "precaution which ensures safe navigation."

In addition, the White Star Line had complied to the full extent with
the requirements of the British Government: their ship had been
subjected to an inspection so rigid that, as one officer remarked in
evidence, it became a nuisance. The Board of Trade employs the best
experts, and knows the dangers that attend ocean travel and the
precautions that should be taken by every commander. If these
precautions are not taken, it will be necessary to legislate until
they are. No motorist is allowed to career at full speed along a
public highway in dangerous conditions, and it should be an offence
for a captain to do the same on the high seas with a ship full of
unsuspecting passengers. They have entrusted their lives to the
government of their country--through its regulations--and they are
entitled to the same protection in mid-Atlantic as they are in Oxford
Street or Broadway. The open sea should no longer be regarded as a
neutral zone where no country's police laws are operative.

Of course there are difficulties in the way of drafting international
regulations: many governments would have to be consulted and many
difficulties that seem insuperable overcome; but that is the purpose
for which governments are employed, that is why experts and ministers
of governments are appointed and paid--to overcome difficulties for
the people who appoint them and who expect them, among other things,
to protect their lives.

The American Government must share the same responsibility: it is
useless to attempt to fix it on the British Board of Trade for the
reason that the boats were built in England and inspected there by
British officials. They carried American citizens largely, and entered
American ports. It would have been the simplest matter for the United
States Government to veto the entry of any ship which did not conform
to its laws of regulating speed in conditions of fog and icebergs--had
they provided such laws. The fact is that the American nation has
practically no mercantile marine, and in time of a disaster such as
this it forgets, perhaps, that it has exactly the same right--and
therefore the same responsibility--as the British Government to
inspect, and to legislate: the right that is easily enforced by
refusal to allow entry. The regulation of speed in dangerous regions
could well be undertaken by some fleet of international police patrol
vessels, with power to stop if necessary any boat found guilty of
reckless racing. The additional duty of warning ships of the exact
locality of icebergs could be performed by these boats. It would not
of course be possible or advisable to fix a "speed limit," because the
region of icebergs varies in position as the icebergs float south,
varies in point of danger as they melt and disappear, and the whole
question has to be left largely to the judgment of the captain on the
spot; but it would be possible to make it an offence against the law
to go beyond a certain speed in known conditions of danger.

So much for the question of regulating speed on the high seas. The
secondary question of safety appliances is governed by the same
principle--that, in the last analysis, it is not the captain, not the
passenger, not the builders and owners, but the governments through
their experts, who are to be held responsible for the provision of
lifesaving devices. Morally, of course, the owners and builders are
responsible, but at present moral responsibility is too weak an
incentive in human affairs--that is the miserable part of the whole
wretched business--to induce owners generally to make every possible
provision for the lives of those in their charge; to place human
safety so far above every other consideration that no plan shall be
left unconsidered, no device left untested, by which passengers can
escape from a sinking ship. But it is not correct to say, as has been
said frequently, that it is greed and dividend-hunting that have
characterized the policy of the steamship companies in their failure
to provide safety appliances: these things in themselves are not
expensive. They have vied with each other in making their lines
attractive in point of speed, size and comfort, and they have been
quite justified in doing so: such things are the product of ordinary
competition between commercial houses.

Where they have all failed morally is to extend to their passengers
the consideration that places their lives as of more interest to them
than any other conceivable thing. They are not alone in this:
thousands of other people have done the same thing and would do it
to-day--in factories, in workshops, in mines, did not the government
intervene and insist on safety precautions. The thing is a defect in
human life of to-day--thoughtlessness for the well-being of our
fellow-men; and we are all guilty of it in some degree. It is folly
for the public to rise up now and condemn the steamship companies:
their failing is the common failing of the immorality of indifference.

The remedy is the law, and it is the only remedy at present that will
really accomplish anything. The British law on the subject dates from
1894, and requires only twenty boats for a ship the size of the
Titanic: the owners and builders have obeyed this law and fulfilled
their legal responsibility. Increase this responsibility and they will
fulfil it again--and the matter is ended so far as appliances are
concerned. It should perhaps be mentioned that in a period of ten
years only nine passengers were lost on British ships: the law seemed
to be sufficient in fact.

The position of the American Government, however, is worse than that
of the British Government. Its regulations require more than double
the boat accommodation which the British regulations do, and yet it
has allowed hundreds of thousands of its subjects to enter its ports
on boats that defied its own laws. Had their government not been
guilty of the same indifference, passengers would not have been
allowed aboard any British ship lacking in boat-accommodation--the
simple expedient again of refusing entry. The reply of the British
Government to the Senate Committee, accusing the Board of Trade of
"insufficient requirements and lax inspection," might well be--"Ye
have a law: see to it yourselves!"

It will be well now to consider briefly the various appliances that
have been suggested to ensure the safety of passengers and crew, and
in doing so it may be remembered that the average man and woman has
the same right as the expert to consider and discuss these things:
they are not so technical as to prevent anyone of ordinary
intelligence from understanding their construction. Using the term in
its widest sense, we come first to:--

_Bulkheads and water-tight compartments_

It is impossible to attempt a discussion here of the exact
constructional details of these parts of a ship; but in order to
illustrate briefly what is the purpose of having bulkheads, we may
take the Titanic as an example. She was divided into sixteen
compartments by fifteen transverse steel walls called bulkheads.
[Footnote: See Figures 1 and 2 page 116.] If a hole is made in the
side of the ship in any one compartment, steel water-tight doors seal
off the only openings in that compartment and separate it as a damaged
unit from the rest of the ship and the vessel is brought to land in
safety. Ships have even put into the nearest port for inspection after
collision, and finding only one compartment full of water and no other
damage, have left again, for their home port without troubling to
disembark passengers and effect repairs.

The design of the Titanic's bulkheads calls for some attention. The
"Scientific American," in an excellent article on the comparative
safety of the Titanic's and other types of water-tight compartments,
draws attention to the following weaknesses in the former--from the
point of view of possible collision with an iceberg. She had no
longitudinal bulkheads, which would subdivide her into smaller
compartments and prevent the water filling the whole of a large
compartment. Probably, too, the length of a large compartment was in
any case too great--fifty-three feet.

The Mauretania, on the other hand, in addition to transverse
bulkheads, is fitted with longitudinal torpedo bulkheads, and the
space between them and the side of the ship is utilised as a coal
bunker. Then, too, in the Mauretania all bulkheads are carried up to
the top deck, whereas in the case of the Titanic they reached in some
parts only to the saloon deck and in others to a lower deck
still,--the weakness of this being that, when the water reached to the
top of a bulkhead as the ship sank by the head, it flowed over and
filled the next compartment. The British Admiralty, which subsidizes
the Mauretania and Lusitania as fast cruisers in time of war, insisted
on this type of construction, and it is considered vastly better than
that used in the Titanic. The writer of the article thinks it possible
that these ships might not have sunk as the result of a similar
collision. But the ideal ship from the point of bulkhead construction,
he considers to have been the Great Eastern, constructed many years
ago by the famous engineer Brunel. So thorough was her system of
compartments divided and subdivided by many transverse and
longitudinal bulkheads that when she tore a hole eighty feet long in
her side by striking a rock, she reached port in safety. Unfortunately
the weight and cost of this method was so great that his plan was
subsequently abandoned.

But it would not be just to say that the construction of the Titanic
was a serious mistake on the part of the White Star Line or her
builders, on the ground that her bulkheads were not so well
constructed as those of the Lusitania and Mauretania, which were built
to fulfil British Admiralty regulations for time of war--an
extraordinary risk which no builder of a passenger steamer--as
such--would be expected to take into consideration when designing the
vessel. It should be constantly borne in mind that the Titanic met
extraordinary conditions on the night of the collision: she was
probably the safest ship afloat in all ordinary conditions. Collision
with an iceberg is not an ordinary risk; but this disaster will
probably result in altering the whole construction of bulkheads and
compartments to the Great Eastern type, in order to include the
one-in-a-million risk of iceberg collision and loss.

Here comes in the question of increased cost of construction, and in
addition the great loss of cargo-carrying space with decreased earning
capacity, both of which will mean an increase in the passenger rates.
This the travelling public will have to face and undoubtedly will be
willing to face for the satisfaction of knowing that what was so
confidently affirmed by passengers on the Titanic's deck that night of
the collision will then be really true,--that "we are on an unsinkable
boat,"--so far as human forethought can devise. After all, this
_must_ be the solution to the problem how best to ensure safety
at sea. Other safety appliances are useful and necessary, but not
useable in certain conditions of weather. The ship itself must always
be the "safety appliance" that is really trustworthy, and nothing must
be left undone to ensure this.

_Wireless apparatus and operators_

The range of the apparatus might well be extended, but the principal
defect is the lack of an operator for night duty on some ships. The
awful fact that the Californian lay a few miles away, able to save
every soul on board, and could not catch the message because the
operator was asleep, seems too cruel to dwell upon. Even on the
Carpathia, the operator was on the point of retiring when the message
arrived, and we should have been much longer afloat--and some boats
possibly swamped--had he not caught the message when he did. It has
been suggested that officers should have a working knowledge of
wireless telegraphy, and this is no doubt a wise provision. It would
enable them to supervise the work of the operators more closely and
from all the evidence, this seems a necessity. The exchange of vitally
important messages between a sinking ship and those rushing to her
rescue should be under the control of an experienced officer. To take
but one example--Bride testified that after giving the Birma the
"C.Q.D." message and the position (incidentally Signer Marconi has
stated that this has been abandoned in favour of "S.O.S.") and getting
a reply, they got into touch with the Carpathia, and while talking
with her were interrupted by the Birma asking what was the matter. No
doubt it was the duty of the Birma to come at once without asking any
questions, but the reply from the Titanic, telling the Birma's
operator not to be a "fool" by interrupting, seems to have been a
needless waste of precious moments: to reply, "We are sinking" would
have taken no longer, especially when in their own estimation of the
strength of the signals they thought the Birma was the nearer ship. It
is well to notice that some large liners have already a staff of three
operators.

_Submarine signalling apparatus_

There are occasions when wireless apparatus is useless as a means of
saving life at sea promptly.

One of its weaknesses is that when the ships' engines are stopped,
messages can no longer be sent out, that is, with the system at
present adopted. It will be remembered that the Titanic's messages got
gradually fainter and then ceased altogether as she came to rest with
her engines shut down.

Again, in fogs,--and most accidents occur in fogs,--while wireless
informs of the accident, it does not enable one ship to locate another
closely enough to take off her passengers at once. There is as yet no
method known by which wireless telegraphy will fix the direction of a
message; and after a ship has been in fog for any considerable length
of time it is more difficult to give the exact position to another
vessel bringing help.

Nothing could illustrate these two points better than the story of how
the Baltic found the Republic in the year 1909, in a dense fog off
Nantucket Lightship, when the latter was drifting helplessly after
collision with the Florida. The Baltic received a wireless message
stating the Republic's condition and the information that she was in
touch with Nantucket through a submarine bell which she could hear
ringing. The Baltic turned and went towards the position in the fog,
picked up the submarine bell-signal from Nantucket, and then began
searching near this position for the Republic. It took her twelve
hours to find the damaged ship, zigzagging across a circle within
which she thought the Republic might lie. In a rough sea it is
doubtful whether the Republic would have remained afloat long enough
for the Baltic to find her and take off all her passengers.

Now on these two occasions when wireless telegraphy was found to be
unreliable, the usefulness of the submarine bell at once becomes
apparent. The Baltic could have gone unerringly to the Republic in the
dense fog had the latter been fitted with a submarine emergency bell.
It will perhaps be well to spend a little time describing the
submarine signalling apparatus to see how this result could have been
obtained: twelve anxious hours in a dense fog on a ship which was
injured so badly that she subsequently foundered, is an experience
which every appliance known to human invention should be enlisted to
prevent.

Submarine signalling has never received that public notice which
wireless telegraphy has, for the reason that it does not appeal so
readily to the popular mind. That it is an absolute necessity to every
ship carrying passengers--or carrying anything, for that matter--is
beyond question. It is an additional safeguard that no ship can afford
to be without.

There are many occasions when the atmosphere fails lamentably as a
medium for carrying messages. When fog falls down, as it does
sometimes in a moment, on the hundreds of ships coasting down the
traffic ways round our shores--ways which are defined so easily in
clear weather and with such difficulty in fogs--the hundreds of
lighthouses and lightships which serve as warning beacons, and on
which many millions of money have been spent, are for all practical
purposes as useless to the navigator as if they had never been built:
he is just as helpless as if he were back in the years before 1514,
when Trinity House was granted a charter by Henry VIII "for the
relief...of the shipping of this realm of England," and began a system
of lights on the shores, of which the present chain of lighthouses and
lightships is the outcome.

Nor is the foghorn much better: the presence of different layers of
fog and air, and their varying densities, which cause both reflection
and refraction of sound, prevent the air from being a reliable medium
for carrying it. Now, submarine signalling has none of these defects,
for the medium is water, subject to no such variable conditions as the
air. Its density is practically non variable, and sound travels
through it at the rate of 4400 feet per second, without deviation or
reflection.

The apparatus consists of a bell designed to ring either pneumatically
from a lightship, electrically from the shore (the bell itself being a
tripod at the bottom of the sea), automatically from a floating
bell-buoy, or by hand from a ship or boat. The sound travels from the
bell in every direction, like waves in a pond, and falls, it may be,
on the side of a ship. The receiving apparatus is fixed inside the
skin of the ship and consists of a small iron tank, 16 inches square
and 18 inches deep. The front of the tank facing the ship's iron skin
is missing and the tank, being filled with water, is bolted to the
framework and sealed firmly to the ship's side by rubber facing. In
this way a portion of the ship's iron hull is washed by the sea on one
side and water in the tank on the other. Vibrations from a bell
ringing at a distance fall on the iron side, travel through, and
strike on two microphones hanging in the tank. These microphones
transmit the sound along wires to the chart room, where telephones
convey the message to the officer on duty.

There are two of these tanks or "receivers" fitted against the ship's
side, one on the port and one on the starboard side, near the bows,
and as far down below the water level as is possible. The direction of
sounds coming to the microphones hanging in these tanks can be
estimated by switching alternately to the port and starboard tanks. If
the sound is of greater intensity on the port side, then the bell
signalling is off the port bows; and similarly on the starboard side.

The ship is turned towards the sound until the same volume of sound is
heard from both receivers, when the bell is known to be dead ahead. So
accurate is this in practice that a trained operator can steer his
ship in the densest fog directly to a lightship or any other point
where a submarine bell is sending its warning beneath the sea. It must
be repeated that the medium in which these signals are transmitted is
a constant one, not subject to any of the limitations and variations
imposed on the atmosphere and the ether as media for the transmission
of light, blasts of a foghorn, and wireless vibrations. At present the
chief use of submarine signalling is from the shore or a lightship to
ships at sea, and not from ship to ship or from ship to the shore: in
other words ships carry only receiving apparatus, and lighthouses and
lightships use only signalling apparatus. Some of the lighthouses and
lightships on our coasts already have these submarine bells in
addition to their lights, and in bad weather the bells send out their
messages to warn ships of their proximity to a danger point. This
invention enables ships to pick up the sound of bell after bell on a
coast and run along it in the densest fog almost as well as in
daylight; passenger steamers coming into port do not have to wander
about in the fog, groping their way blindly into harbour. By having a
code of rings, and judging by the intensity of the sound, it is
possible to tell almost exactly where a ship is in relation to the
coast or to some lightship. The British Admiralty report in 1906 said:
"If the lightships round the coast were fitted with submarine bells,
it would be possible for ships fitted with receiving apparatus to
navigate in fog with almost as great certainty as in clear weather."
And the following remark of a captain engaged in coast service is
instructive. He had been asked to cut down expenses by omitting the
submarine signalling apparatus, but replied: "I would rather take out
the wireless. That only enables me to tell other people where I am.
The submarine signal enables me to find out where I am myself."

The range of the apparatus is not so wide as that of wireless
telegraphy, varying from 10 to 15 miles for a large ship (although
instances of 20 to 30 are on record), and from 3 to 8 miles for a
small ship.

At present the receiving apparatus is fixed on only some 650 steamers
of the merchant marine, these being mostly the first-class passenger
liners. There is no question that it should be installed, along with
wireless apparatus, on every ship of over 1000 tons gross tonnage.
Equally important is the provision of signalling apparatus on board
ships: it is obviously just as necessary to transmit a signal as to
receive one; but at present the sending of signals from ships has not
been perfected. The invention of signal-transmitting apparatus to be
used while the ship is under way is as yet in the experimental stage;
but while she is at rest a bell similar to those used by lighthouses
can be sunk over her side and rung by hand with exactly the same
effect. But liners are not provided with them (they cost only 60 Pounds!).
As mentioned before, with another 60 Pounds spent on the Republic's
equipment, the Baltic could have picked up her bell and steered direct
to her--just as they both heard the bell of Nantucket Lightship.
Again, if the Titanic had been provided with a bell and the
Californian with receiving apparatus,--neither of them was,--the
officer on the bridge could have heard the signals from the telephones
near.

A smaller size for use in lifeboats is provided, and would be heard by
receiving apparatus for approximately five miles. If we had hung one
of these bells over the side of the lifeboats afloat that night we
should have been free from the anxiety of being run down as we lay
across the Carpathia's path, without a light. Or if we had gone adrift
in a dense fog and wandered miles apart from each other on the sea (as
we inevitably should have done), the Carpathia could still have picked
up each boat individually by means of the bell signal.

In those ships fitted with receiving apparatus, at least one officer
is obliged to understand the working of the apparatus: a very wise
precaution, and, as suggested above, one that should be taken with
respect to wireless apparatus also.

It was a very great pleasure to me to see all this apparatus in
manufacture and in use at one of the principal submarine signalling
works in America and to hear some of the remarkable stories of its
value in actual practice. I was struck by the aptness of the motto
adopted by them--"De profundis clamavi"--in relation to the Titanic's
end and the calls of our passengers from the sea when she sank. "Out
of the deep have I called unto Thee" is indeed a suitable motto for
those who are doing all they can to prevent such calls arising from
their fellow men and women "out of the deep."

_Fixing of steamship routes_

The "lanes" along which the liners travel are fixed by agreement among
the steamship companies in consultation with the Hydrographic
departments of the different countries. These routes are arranged so
that east-bound steamers are always a number of miles away from those
going west, and thus the danger of collision between east and
west-bound vessels is entirely eliminated. The "lanes" can be moved
farther south if icebergs threaten, and north again when the danger is
removed. Of course the farther south they are placed, the longer the
journey to be made, and the longer the time spent on board, with
consequent grumbling by some passengers. For example, the lanes since
the disaster to the Titanic have been moved one hundred miles farther
south, which means one hundred and eighty miles longer journey, taking
eight hours.

The only real precaution against colliding with icebergs is to go
south of the place where they are likely to be: there is no other way.

_Lifeboats_

The provision was of course woefully inadequate. The only humane plan
is to have a numbered seat in a boat assigned to each passenger and
member of the crew. It would seem well to have this number pointed out
at the time of booking a berth, and to have a plan in each cabin
showing where the boat is and how to get to it the most direct way--a
most important consideration with a ship like the Titanic with over
two miles of deck space. Boat-drills of the passengers and crew of
each boat should be held, under compulsion, as soon as possible after
leaving port. I asked an officer as to the possibility of having such
a drill immediately after the gangways are withdrawn and before the
tugs are allowed to haul the ship out of dock, but he says the
difficulties are almost insuperable at such a time. If so, the drill
should be conducted in sections as soon as possible after sailing, and
should be conducted in a thorough manner. Children in school are
called upon suddenly to go through fire-drill, and there is no reason
why passengers on board ship should not be similarly trained. So much
depends on order and readiness in time of danger. Undoubtedly, the
whole subject of manning, provisioning, loading and lowering of
lifeboats should be in the hands of an expert officer, who should have
no other duties. The modern liner has become far too big to permit the
captain to exercise control over the whole ship, and all vitally
important subdivisions should be controlled by a separate authority.
It seems a piece of bitter irony to remember that on the Titanic a
special chef was engaged at a large salary,--larger perhaps than that
of any officer,--and no boatmaster (or some such officer) was
considered necessary. The general system again--not criminal neglect,
as some hasty criticisms would say, but lack of consideration for our
fellow-man, the placing of luxurious attractions above that kindly
forethought that allows no precaution to be neglected for even the
humblest passenger. But it must not be overlooked that the provision
of sufficient lifeboats on deck is not evidence they will all be
launched easily or all the passengers taken off safely. It must be
remembered that ideal conditions prevailed that night for launching
boats from the decks of the Titanic: there was no list that prevented
the boats getting away, they could be launched on both sides, and when
they were lowered the sea was so calm that they pulled away without
any of the smashing against the side that is possible in rough seas.
Sometimes it would mean that only those boats on the side sheltered
from a heavy sea could ever get away, and this would at once halve the
boat accommodation. And when launched, there would be the danger of
swamping in such a heavy sea. All things considered, lifeboats might
be the poorest sort of safeguard in certain conditions.

Life-rafts are said to be much inferior to lifeboats in a rough sea,
and collapsible boats made of canvas and thin wood soon decay under
exposure to weather and are danger-traps at a critical moment.

Some of the lifeboats should be provided with motors, to keep the
boats together and to tow if necessary. The launching is an important
matter: the Titanic's davits worked excellently and no doubt were
largely responsible for all the boats getting away safely: they were
far superior to those on most liners.

_Pontoons_

After the sinking of the Bourgogne, when two Americans lost their
lives, a prize of 4000 Pounds was offered by their heirs for the best
life-saving device applicable to ships at sea. A board sat to consider
the various appliances sent in by competitors, and finally awarded the
prize to an Englishman, whose design provided for a flat structure the
width of the ship, which could be floated off when required and would
accommodate several hundred passengers. It has never been adopted
by any steamship line. Other similar designs are known, by which the
whole of the after deck can be pushed over from the stern by a ratchet
arrangement, with air-tanks below to buoy it up: it seems to be a
practical suggestion.

One point where the Titanic management failed lamentably was to
provide a properly trained crew to each lifeboat. The rowing was in
most cases execrable. There is no more reason why a steward should be
able to row than a passenger--less so than some of the passengers who
were lost; men of leisure accustomed to all kinds of sport (including
rowing), and in addition probably more fit physically than a steward
to row for hours on the open sea. And if a steward cannot row, he has
no right to be at an oar; so that, under the unwritten rule that
passengers take precedence of the crew when there is not sufficient
accommodation for all (a situation that should never be allowed to
arise again, for a member of the crew should have an equal opportunity
with a passenger to save his life), the majority of stewards and cooks
should have stayed behind and passengers have come instead: they could
not have been of less use, and they might have been of more. It will
be remembered that the proportion of crew saved to passengers was 210
to 495, a high proportion.

Another point arises out of these figures--deduct 21 members of the
crew who were stewardesses, and 189 men of the crew are left as
against the 495 passengers. Of these some got on the overturned
collapsible boat after the Titanic sank, and a few were picked up by
the lifeboats, but these were not many in all. Now with the 17 boats
brought to the Carpathia and an average of six of the crew to man each
boat,--probably a higher average than was realized,--we get a total of
102 who should have been saved as against 189 who actually were. There
were, as is known, stokers and stewards in the boats who were not
members of the lifeboats' crews. It may seem heartless to analyze
figures in this way, and suggest that some of the crew who got to the
Carpathia never should have done so; but, after all, passengers took
their passage under certain rules,--written and unwritten,--and one is
that in times of danger the servants of the company in whose boats
they sail shall first of all see to the safety of the passengers
before thinking of their own. There were only 126 men passengers saved
as against 189 of the crew, and 661 men lost as against 686 of the
crew, so that actually the crew had a greater percentage saved than
the men passengers--22 per cent against 16.

But steamship companies are faced with real difficulties in this
matter. The crews are never the same for two voyages together: they
sign on for the one trip, then perhaps take a berth on shore as
waiters, stokers in hotel furnace-rooms, etc.,--to resume life on
board any other ship that is handy when the desire comes to go to sea
again. They can in no sense be regarded as part of a homogeneous crew,
subject to regular discipline and educated to appreciate the morale of
a particular liner, as a man of war's crew is.

_Searchlights_

These seem an absolute necessity, and the wonder is that they have not
been fitted before to all ocean liners. Not only are they of use in
lighting up the sea a long distance ahead, but as flashlight signals
they permit of communication with other ships. As I write, through the
window can be seen the flashes from river steamers plying up the
Hudson in New York, each with its searchlight, examining the river,
lighting up the bank for hundreds of yards ahead, and bringing every
object within its reach into prominence. They are regularly used too
in the Suez Canal.

I suppose there is no question that the collision would have been
avoided had a searchlight been fitted to the Titanic's masthead: the
climatic conditions for its use must have been ideal that night. There
are other things besides icebergs: derelicts are reported from time to
time, and fishermen lie in the lanes without lights. They would not
always be of practical use, however. They would be of no service in
heavy rain, in fog, in snow, or in flying spray, and the effect is
sometimes to dazzle the eyes of the lookout.

While writing of the lookout, much has been made of the omission to
provide the lookout on the Titanic with glasses. The general opinion
of officers seems to be that it is better not to provide them, but to
rely on good eyesight and wide-awake men. After all, in a question of
actual practice, the opinion of officers should be accepted as final,
even if it seems to the landsman the better thing to provide glasses.

_Cruising lightships_

One or two internationally owned and controlled lightships, fitted
with every known device for signalling and communication, would rob
those regions of most of their terrors. They could watch and chart the
icebergs, report their exact position, the amount and direction of
daily drift in the changing currents that are found there. To them,
too, might be entrusted the duty of police patrol.




CHAPTER IX

SOME IMPRESSIONS


No one can pass through an event like the wreck of the Titanic without
recording mentally many impressions, deep and vivid, of what has been
seen and felt. In so far as such impressions are of benefit to mankind
they should not be allowed to pass unnoticed, and this chapter is an
attempt to picture how people thought and felt from the time they
first heard of the disaster to the landing in New York, when there was
opportunity to judge of events somewhat from a distance. While it is
to some extent a personal record, the mental impressions of other
survivors have been compared and found to be in many cases closely in
agreement. Naturally it is very imperfect, and pretends to be no more
than a sketch of the way people act under the influence of strong
emotions produced by imminent danger.

In the first place, the principal fact that stands out is the almost
entire absence of any expressions of fear or alarm on the part of
passengers, and the conformity to the normal on the part of almost
everyone. I think it is no exaggeration to say that those who read of
the disaster quietly at home, and pictured to themselves the scene as
the Titanic was sinking, had more of the sense of horror than those
who stood on the deck and watched her go down inch by inch. The fact
is that the sense of fear came to the passengers very slowly--a result
of the absence of any signs of danger and the peaceful night--and as
it became evident gradually that there was serious damage to the ship,
the fear that came with the knowledge was largely destroyed as it
came. There was no sudden overwhelming sense of danger that passed
through thought so quickly that it was difficult to catch up and
grapple with it--no need for the warning to "be not afraid of sudden
fear," such as might have been present had we collided head-on with a
crash and a shock that flung everyone out of his bunk to the floor.
Everyone had time to give each condition of danger attention as it
came along, and the result of their judgment was as if they had said:
"Well, here is this thing to be faced, and we must see it through as
quietly as we can." Quietness and self-control were undoubtedly the
two qualities most expressed. There were times when danger loomed more
nearly and there was temporarily some excitement,--for example when
the first rocket went up,--but after the first realization of what it
meant, the crowd took hold of the situation and soon gained the same
quiet control that was evident at first. As the sense of fear ebbed
and flowed, it was so obviously a thing within one's own power to
control, that, quite unconsciously realizing the absolute necessity of
keeping cool, every one for his own safety put away the thought of
danger as far as was possible. Then, too, the curious sense of the
whole thing being a dream was very prominent: that all were looking on
at the scene from a near-by vantage point in a position of perfect
safety, and that those who walked the decks or tied one another's
lifebelts on were the actors in a scene of which we were but
spectators: that the dream would end soon and we should wake up to
find the scene had vanished. Many people have had a similar experience
in times of danger, but it was very noticeable standing on the
Titanic's deck. I remember observing it particularly while tying on a
lifebelt for a man on the deck. It is fortunate that it should be so:
to be able to survey such a scene dispassionately is a wonderful aid
inn the destruction of the fear that go with it. One thing that helped
considerably to establish this orderly condition of affairs was the
quietness of the surroundings. It may seem weariness to refer again to
this, but I am convinced it had much to do with keeping everyone calm.
The ship was motionless; there was not a breath of wind; the sky was
clear; the sea like a mill-pond--the general "atmosphere" was
peaceful, and all on board responded unconsciously to it. But what
controlled the situation principally was the quality of obedience and
respect for authority which is a dominant characteristic of the
Teutonic race. Passengers did as they were told by the officers in
charge: women went to the decks below, men remained where they were
told and waited in silence for the next order, knowing instinctively
that this was the only way to bring about the best result for all on
board. The officers, in their turn, carried out the work assigned to
them by their superior officers as quickly and orderly as
circumstances permitted, the senior ones being in control of the
manning, filling and lowering of the lifeboats, while the junior
officers were lowered in individual boats to take command of the fleet
adrift on the sea. Similarly, the engineers below, the band, the
gymnasium instructor, were all performing their tasks as they came
along: orderly, quietly, without question or stopping to consider what
was their chance of safety. This correlation on the part of
passengers, officers and crew was simply obedience to duty, and it was
innate rather than the product of reasoned judgment.

I hope it will not seem to detract in any way from the heroism of
those who faced the last plunge of the Titanic so courageously when
all the boats had gone,--if it does, it is the difficulty of
expressing an idea in adequate words,--to say that their quiet heroism
was largely unconscious, temperamental, not a definite choice between
two ways of acting. All that was visible on deck before the boats left
tended to this conclusion and the testimony of those who went down
with the ship and were afterwards rescued is of the same kind.

Certainly it seems to express much more general nobility of character
in a race of people--consisting of different nationalities--to find
heroism an unconscious quality of the race than to have it arising as
an effort of will, to have to bring it out consciously.

It is unfortunate that some sections of the press should seek to
chronicle mainly the individual acts of heroism: the collective
behaviour of a crowd is of so much more importance to the world and so
much more a test--if a test be wanted--of how a race of people
behaves. The attempt to record the acts of individuals leads
apparently to such false reports as that of Major Butt holding at bay
with a revolver a crowd of passengers and shooting them down as they
tried to rush the boats, or of Captain Smith shouting, "Be British,"
through a megaphone, and subsequently committing suicide along with
First Officer Murdock. It is only a morbid sense of things that would
describe such incidents as heroic. Everyone knows that Major Butt was
a brave man, but his record of heroism would not be enhanced if he, a
trained army officer, were compelled under orders from the captain to
shoot down unarmed passengers. It might in other conditions have been
necessary, but it would not be heroic. Similarly there could be
nothing heroic in Captain Smith or Murdock putting an end to their
lives. It is conceivable men might be so overwhelmed by the sense of
disaster that they knew not how they were acting; but to be really
heroic would have been to stop with the ship--as of course they
did--with the hope of being picked up along with passengers and crew
and returning to face an enquiry and to give evidence that would be of
supreme value to the whole world for the prevention of similar
disasters. It was not possible; but if heroism consists in doing the
greatest good to the greatest number, it would have been heroic for
both officers to _expect_ to be saved. We do not know what they
thought, but I, for one, like to imagine that they did so. Second
Officer Lightoller worked steadily at the boats until the last
possible moment, went down with the ship, was saved in what seemed a
miraculous manner, and returned to give valuable evidence before the
commissions of two countries.

The second thing that stands out prominently in the emotions produced
by the disaster is that in moments of urgent need men and women turn
for help to something entirely outside themselves. I remember reading
some years ago a story of an atheist who was the guest at dinner of a
regimental mess in India. The colonel listened to his remarks on
atheism in silence, and invited him for a drive the following morning.
He took his guest up a rough mountain road in a light carriage drawn
by two ponies, and when some distance from the plain below, turned the
carriage round and allowed the ponies to run away--as it
seemed--downhill. In the terror of approaching disaster, the atheist
was lifted out of his reasoned convictions and prayed aloud for help,
when the colonel reined in his ponies, and with the remark that the
whole drive had been planned with the intention of proving to his
guest that there was a power outside his own reason, descended quietly
to level ground.

The story may or may not be true, and in any case is not introduced as
an attack on atheism, but it illustrates in a striking way the frailty
of dependence on a man's own power and resource in imminent danger. To
those men standing on the top deck with the boats all lowered, and
still more so when the boats had all left, there came the realization
that human resources were exhausted and human avenues of escape
closed. With it came the appeal to whatever consciousness each had of
a Power that had created the universe. After all, some Power had made
the brilliant stars above, countless millions of miles away, moving in
definite order, formed on a definite plan and obeying a definite law:
had made each one of the passengers with ability to think and act;
with the best proof, after all, of being created--the knowledge of
their own existence; and now, if at any time, was the time to appeal
to that Power. When the boats had left and it was seen the ship was
going down rapidly, men stood in groups on the deck engaged in prayer,
and later, as some of them lay on the overturned collapsible
boat, they repeated together over and over again the Lord's
Prayer--irrespective of religious beliefs, some, perhaps, without
religious beliefs, united in a common appeal for deliverance from
their surroundings. And this was not because it was a habit, because
they had learned this prayer "at their mother's knee": men do not do
such things through habit. It must have been because each one saw
removed the thousand and one ways in which he had relied on human,
material things to help him--including even dependence on the
overturned boat with its bubble of air inside, which any moment a
rising swell might remove as it tilted the boat too far sideways, and
sink the boat below the surface--saw laid bare his utter dependence on
something that had made him and given him power to think--whether he
named it God or Divine Power or First Cause or Creator, or named it
not at all but recognized it unconsciously--saw these things and
expressed them in the form of words he was best acquainted with in
common with his fellow-men. He did so, not through a sense of duty to
his particular religion, not because he had learned the words, but
because he recognized that it was the most practical thing to do--the
thing best fitted to help him. Men do practical things in times like
that: they would not waste a moment on mere words if those words were
not an expression of the most intensely real conviction of which they
were capable. Again, like the feeling of heroism, this appeal is
innate and intuitive, and it certainly has its foundation on a
knowledge--largely concealed, no doubt--of immortality. I think this
must be obvious: there could be no other explanation of such a general
sinking of all the emotions of the human mind expressed in a thousand
different ways by a thousand different people in favour of this single
appeal.

The behaviour of people during the hours in the lifeboats, the landing
on the Carpathia, the life there and the landing in New York, can all
be summarized by saying that people did not act at all as they were
expected to act--or rather as most people expected they would act, and
in some cases have erroneously said they did act. Events were there to
be faced, and not to crush people down. Situations arose which
demanded courage, resource, and in the cases of those who had lost
friends most dear to them, enormous self-control; but very wonderfully
they responded. There was the same quiet demeanour and poise, the same
inborn dominion over circumstances, the same conformity to a normal
standard which characterized the crowd of passengers on the deck of
the Titanic--and for the same reasons.

The first two or three days ashore were undoubtedly rather trying to
some of the survivors. It seemed as if coming into the world
again--the four days shut off from any news seemed a long time--and
finding what a shock the disaster had produced, the flags half-mast,
the staring head-lines, the sense of gloom noticeable everywhere, made
things worse than they had been on the Carpathia. The difference in
"atmosphere" was very marked, and people gave way to some extent under
it and felt the reaction. Gratitude for their deliverance and a desire
to "make the best of things" must have helped soon, however, to
restore them to normal conditions. It is not at all surprising that
some survivors felt quieter on the Carpathia with its lack of news
from the outside world, if the following extract from a leading New
York evening paper was some of the material of which the "atmosphere"
on shore was composed:--"Stunned by the terrific impact, the dazed
passengers rushed from their staterooms into the main saloon amid the
crash of splintering steel, rending of plates and shattering of
girders, while the boom of falling pinnacles of ice upon the broken
deck of the great vessel added to the horror.... In a wild
ungovernable mob they poured out of the saloons to witness one of the
most appalling scenes possible to conceive.... For a hundred feet the
bow was a shapeless mass of bent, broken and splintered steel and
iron."

And so on, horror piled on horror, and not a word of it true, or
remotely approaching the truth.

This paper was selling in the streets of New York while the Carpathia
was coming into dock, while relatives of those on board were at the
docks to meet them and anxiously buying any paper that might contain
news. No one on the Carpathia could have supplied such information;
there was no one else in the world at that moment who knew any details
of the Titanic disaster, and the only possible conclusion is that the
whole thing was a deliberate fabrication to sell the paper.

This is a repetition of the same defect in human nature noticed in the
provision of safety appliances on board ship--the lack of
consideration for the other man. The remedy is the same--the law: it
should be a criminal offence for anyone to disseminate deliberate
falsehoods that cause fear and grief. The moral responsibility of the
press is very great, and its duty of supplying the public with only
clean, correct news is correspondingly heavy. If the general public is
not yet prepared to go so far as to stop the publication of such news
by refusing to buy those papers that publish it, then the law should
be enlarged to include such cases. Libel is an offence, and this is
very much worse than any libel could ever be.

It is only right to add that the majority of the New York papers were
careful only to report such news as had been obtained legitimately
from survivors or from Carpathia passengers. It was sometimes
exaggerated and sometimes not true at all, but from the point of
reporting what was heard, most of it was quite correct.

One more thing must be referred to--the prevalence of superstitious
beliefs concerning the Titanic. I suppose no ship ever left port with
so much miserable nonsense showered on her. In the first place, there
is no doubt many people refused to sail on her because it was her
maiden voyage, and this apparently is a common superstition: even the
clerk of the White Star Office where I purchased my ticket admitted it
was a reason that prevented people from sailing. A number of people
have written to the press to say they had thought of sailing on her,
or had decided to sail on her, but because of "omens" cancelled the
passage. Many referred to the sister ship, the Olympic, pointed to the
"ill luck" that they say has dogged her--her collision with the Hawke,
and a second mishap necessitating repairs and a wait in harbour, where
passengers deserted her; they prophesied even greater disaster for the
Titanic, s
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