A Titanic Secret?

lightoller1While the final resting place of the RMS Titanic was discovered in 1985, historians have never fully understood the events leading up to its fateful collision with an iceberg. Now Louise Patten, popular novelist and granddaughter of the ship’s Second Officer, Charles Lightoller, may have cleared up the mystery by revealing a century-old family secret:

Two different [steering] systems were in operation at the time, Rudder Orders (used for steam ships) and Tiller Orders (used for sailing ships).

Crucially, Mrs Patten said, the two steering systems were the complete opposite of one another, so a command to turn ‘hard a-starboard’ meant turn the wheel right under one system and left under the other.”

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She said when the helmsman, who had been trained in sail, received the direction, he turned the vessel towards the iceberg with tragic results.

Why would Lightoller have remained silent about the story, even during the post-disaster investigation? A sense of duty, apparently.

Lightoller was the only survivor to know that after the iceberg was hit, Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, persuaded Captain Smith to continue sailing….

“By his code of honour, he felt it was his duty to protect his employer — White Star Line – and its employees,” Ms Patten said….

“The enquiry had to be a whitewash. The only person he told the full story to was his beloved wife Sylvia, my grandmother.”

  • Brian Saint-Paul

    Brian Saint-Paul was the editor and publisher of Crisis Magazine. He has a BA in Philosophy and an MA in Religious Studies from the Catholic University of America, in Washington. D.C. In addition to various positions in journalism and publishing, he has served as the associate director of a health research institute, a missionary, and a private school teacher. He lives with his wife in a historic Baltimore neighborhood, where he obsesses over Late Antiquity.

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