April 15, 2012

Remembering Real Bravery

Special Note: This is a post from an online acquaintance that I am re-posting with his permission.  I have added some editing and additional text.

You may have noticed we are about to pass the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster in the Atlantic. Which means 100 years since the night that saw many stories of tragedy, loss, bravery, stoicism and loss that pretty much changed the way we travel. It changed the rules for life boats on ships from a calculation based on tonnage to the simple one seat for every soul. It changed the way we viewed the class system, with the difference of survival rates of women and children between the three classes of passengers (with second class men having the lowest over all survival rate, suffering a 92% loss), and the way that ships and crew were drilled on evacuation procedures from that day onwards, how icebergs are tracked and removed from shipping lanes, and much more.

But it also means it is almost 100 years since one of the bravest rescue attempts you will ever hear of.
Unfortunately an awful lot of people have never even heard of the Carpathia, which is terrible shame. The Cunard line steamer was one of the first to recieve the QCD call (Titanic also sent the first recorded SOS, but more ships responded to the known code of QCD) and Harold Cottam the wireless operator ran to the captains quarters with the message in hand. Captain Rostron read the message and considered his options for only a few seconds. You would have to be a maniac or a fool to try and reach the ailing Titanic. He was hours away, even at full steam, it was night, and there was a mine field of ice that had already claimed the unsinkable ship. To stand any chance at all of reaching the Titanic you would need all spare hands as look outs, every system except the drive closed down to eek all the available steam for the drives. The passengers would have to be confined to their staterooms while the steamer ploughed through the night, weaving blindly through ice with out slowing, maintaining a consistant speed that exceeded the official maximum speed of the craft.

That is EXACTLY what Rostron ordered, immediately on reading the message. The Titanic had run at speed into the ice unknowingly. Rostron was ready to follow, even faster. While the ship careered through the night in a desperate race to reach the Titanic before it slipped under the waves, the Carpathia readied itself for action. Oil was taken to all the toilets, ready to be flushed down them to still troubled waters. Block and tackles, with sacks and chairs to retrieve children or those too badly hurt to climb a ladder were readied at all the outer doors. Ladders and cargo nets prepared. Stewards were readied with coffee and tea in the dining rooms. The ships doctors were placed in each of the lounges ready to administer care. Blankets were made ready, and the staff briefed about how to help the survivors aboard and direct them by class to the relevent state room. In short, all hands were ready.

It was only at dawn, hours too late to evacuate the Titanic before it sank, that the Carpathia reached the survivors. It was however able to retrieve all of those who still clung to life in, or on, the boats and collapsables. It is fair to say that a great many of those survivors would not have lasted in the freezing water until other ships reached them. It was only then, as the sun rose, that the passengers and crew of this brave ship could appreciate the absolutely terrifying amount of ice they had manouvered around. They were greeted by the early sun being reflected by bergs and growlers of all shapes and sizes, that could very easily have caused a second disaster if it were not for the skill (and luck) of the crew and officers.

If we are determined to remember the Titanic, perhaps unfairly, as a story of Hubris, we should never forget the Carpathia, as a tale of spirit and bravery, saving many lives with her break neck run that night.

The Carpathia was sunk on July 17, 1918 after being torpedoed three times by a German U-Boat.  Five crewmembers went down with her while the rest were rescued.  She was found in May 2000 120 miles off of Fastnet, Ireland in 500 feet of water.

A Night to Remember
Titanic: Voices from the Archives

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