"YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH"
-COL. JESSUP, USMC
|I'M THE CAPTAIN, BARKING ORDERS THROUGH MY BIG MEGAPHONE.|
Abby-Doo continuing with more Titanic revelations. .Just as I predicted, the hoopla associated with the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic has been building. This article appeared in last Saturday's (St.Patrick's Day) London Telegraph. The odd part is that this same information was made available by the same author in 2010, but she hhas a book out and would probably like to "raise sales," to use a nautical metaphor.
Saturday March 17th, 2012
THE LONDON TELEGRAPH
The truth about the sinking of the Titanic
Louise Patten, whose grandfather was the only surviving officer on the Titanic, reveals the truth about how it sank.
Photo: JEFF GILBERT
All families have their secrets, but usually about things that don’t matter to anybody else. Not in the case of Louise Patten, though – or The Lady Patten to give her her full title, the wife of former Tory Education minister, Lord (John) Patten, though her own career as one of the first women board directors of a FTSE 100 company, and as a successful author of financial thrillers, means that she has plenty of achievements in her own right.
As a teenager in the 1960s, Patten was let in on a secret by her beloved grandmother, which, if revealed, she was warned, would result in two things. The first was awful – it would destroy the good name of her dead grandfather, Charles Lightoller, awarded the DSC with Bar in the First World War, and a hero again for his part in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940. But the second would change history, overturning the authorised version of one of the world’s greatest disasters, the sinking of the Titanic with the loss of 1517 lives in April 1912.
The tension between these two outcomes goes some way to explaining why, for 40 years, Patten kept quiet, not even, she reveals with a girlish chuckle from underneath the fringe of her striking black bob, telling her husband what she knew. What did he say when she finally did? 'I think it was “Good God”.’ Now, though, 56-year-old Patten has finally decided to come clean with the rest of the world in her latest novel, Good as Gold.
But can there really be anything new to say, almost 100 years on, about the Titanic? 'My grandfather was the Second Officer on the Titanic,’ Patten explains. 'He was in his cabin when it struck the iceberg. Afterwards, he refused a direct order to go in a lifeboat, but by a fluke he was saved.’
Astonishingly, he jumped into the ocean as the boat sank, was being sucked down into the depths - but was then carried back to the surface by the force of an explosion beneath the waves and was rescued by a passing lifeboat.
As the senior surviving officer, he was asked at both official inquiries into the sinking [by the US Senate and the British Board of Trade] whether he had had any conversation after the collision with the Captain or the First Officer, William Murdoch, who had been in charge at the time. In other words, did he know exactly what had happened? And both times he said no. But he was lying.’
What then did he know that he wasn’t telling? 'After the collision,’ Patten goes on, 'my grandfather went down with the Captain and Murdoch to Murdoch’s cabin to get the firearms in case there were riots when loading the lifeboats. That is when they told him what had happened. Instead of steering Titanic safely round to the left of the iceberg, once it had been spotted dead ahead, the steersman, Robert Hitchins, had panicked and turned it the wrong way.’
At first glance it sounds extraordinary that anyone – much less the man put in charge of the wheel on the maiden voyage of what was then the world’s most expensive ocean liner – could have made such a schoolboy error. But, Patten explains, requisitioning knives, napkins and even the breadbasket on the table of the London hotel where we meet for breakfast to give a practical demonstration of what she means, there was a very particular technical reason for this otherwise incredible error.
'Titanic was launched at a time when the world was moving from sailing ships to steam ships. My grandfather, like the other senior officers on Titanic, had started out on sailing ships. And on sailing ships, they steered by what is known as “Tiller Orders” which means that if you want to go one way, you push the tiller the other way. [So if you want to go left, you push right.] It sounds counter-intuitive now, but that is what Tiller Orders were. Whereas with “Rudder Orders’ which is what steam ships used, it is like driving a car. You steer the way you want to go. It gets more confusing because, even though Titanic was a steam ship, at that time on the North Atlantic they were still using Tiller Orders. Therefore Murdoch gave the command in Tiller Orders but Hitchins, in a panic, reverted to the Rudder Orders he had been trained in. They only had four minutes to change course and by the time Murdoch spotted Hitchins’ mistake and then tried to rectify it, it was too late.’
Patten’s grandfather – who later set up his own marine-repair business at Richmond-on-Thames and is commemorated to this day by a blue plaque where the boatyard used to stand – shared with his wife, Sylvia, a second and potentially even more damning secret. If the steersman Hitchins had made a human error, Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic, and another survivor of the sinking, gave a lethal order.
'Titanic had hit the iceberg at her most vulnerable point,’ explains Patten, 'but she could probably, my grandfather estimated, have gone on floating for a long time. But Ismay went up on the bridge and didn’t want his massive investment to sit in the middle of the Atlantic either sinking slowly, or being tugged in to port. Not great publicity! So he told the Captain to go Slow Ahead. Titanic was meant to be unsinkable.’
Cue more demonstrations with napkins and cutlery. 'Am I boring you?’ she asks, as she arranges them. On the contrary, I am gripped by the feeling of getting inside history and Patten has clearly checked her grandfather’s account lines up with all the other evidence gathered over the decades. 'If Titanic had stood still,’ she demonstrates, 'she would have survived at least until the rescue ship came and no one need have died, but when they drove her 'Slow Ahead’, the pressure of the sea coming through her damaged hull forced the water over the bulkheads and flooded sequentially one watertight compartment after another – and that was why she sank so fast.’
It is an extraordinary claim that, after all the inquiries, films, books and, more recently, pinpointing of the wreck on the bottom of the Atlantic, the unlikely figure of a highly respected but apparently unconnected businesswoman in London rather than some Titanic obsessive holds the key to the mystery of what happened on that fateful night. Why, though, I puzzle, would Patten’s grandfather, who sounds like a thoroughly honest and brave man, have lied and carried on lying? 'Because,’ she explains, 'when he was on the rescue ship, Bruce Ismay pointed out to my grandfather that if he told the truth, the White Star Line would be judged negligent and its limited liability insurance would be invalid. Ismay pretty much said that the whole company would go bust and everyone would lose their jobs. There was a code of honour among men like my grandfather in those days. So he lied to protect others’ jobs.’
But why didn’t her grandmother speak up after her husband’s death in 1952? 'She was worried about showing this heroic figure to be a liar. And my mother, who also knew the secret and was even uncomfortable with Granny having told me, felt even more strongly about it. She hero-worshipped my grandfather.’
So there this secret sat, locked in a family circle from which Patten is now the only survivor. 'I have an older sister but she was away at boarding school most of the time. Because I was ill as a teenager, I spent a lot of more time at home with my grandmother’.
Why speak up now? 'Well everyone else is dead, but’ – she pauses, clearly still in two minds about what she has done – 'I can still hear my mother’s voice saying my grandfather must be remembered as a hero’.
This is the sort of tale that most writers would have tackled years ago, and treated as a non-fiction, best of all a memoir. So why work it in to a novel? 'Because I write thrillers,’ Patten replies crisply, and makes me think what an effective chairman of the board she must be. 'I started planning a thriller about a family with secrets, about a private banking dynasty involved with shipping, and then I suddenly thought I have this massive family secret myself and it is about shipping.’
After all those years of silence, could it really have been that straightforward? 'Well, not really. This sounds mad, I know, but once I started thinking about it, I felt as if I owed it to the world to share the secret. If I died tomorrow and then it would die with me.’Good as Gold by Louise Patten (Quercus Publishing Plc £20) is available for £18.00 plus £1.25 post and packing from Telegraph Books, please call 0844 871 1515 or go to books.telegraph.co.uk
Titanic sunk by steering blunder, new book claims
It was always thought the Titanic sank because its crew were sailing too fast and failed to see the iceberg before it was too late.
But now it has been revealed they spotted it well in advance but still steamed straight into it because of a basic steering blunder.
According to a new book, the ship had plenty of time to miss the iceberg but the helmsman panicked and turned the wrong way.
By the time the catastrophic error was corrected it was too late and the side of the ship was fatally holed by the iceberg.
Even then the passengers and crew could have been saved if it had stayed put instead of steaming off again and causing water to pour into the broken hull.
The revelation, which comes out almost 100 years after the disaster, was kept secret until now by the family of the most senior officer to survive the disaster.
Second Officer Charles Lightoller covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried it would bankrupt the liner's owners and put his colleagues out of job.
Since his death – by then a war hero from the Dunkirk evacuation – it has remained hidden for fear it would ruin his reputation.
But now his granddaughter the writer Lady (Louise) Patten has revealed it in her new novel.
"It just makes it seem all the more tragic," she said.
"They could easily have avoided the iceberg if it wasn't for the blunder."
The error on the ship's maiden voyage between Southampton and New York in 1912 happened because at the time seagoing was undergoing enormous upheaval because of the conversion from sail to steam ships.
The change meant there was two different steering systems and different commands attached to them.
Some of the crew on the Titanic were used to the archaic Tiller Orders associated with sailing ships and some to the more modern Rudder Orders.
Crucially, 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 the Tiller system and left under the Rudder.
When First Officer William Murdoch spotted the iceberg two miles away, his "hard a-starboard" order was misinterpreted by the Quartermaster Robert Hitchins.
He turned the ship right instead of left and, even though he was almost immediately told to correct it, it was too late and the side of the starboard bow was ripped out by the iceberg.
"The steersman panicked and the real reason why Titanic hit the iceberg, which has never come to light before, is because he turned the wheel the wrong way," said Lady Patten who is the wife of former Tory Education minister, Lord (John) Patten.
Whilst her grandfather Lightoller was not on watch at the time of the collision, her book Good as Gold reveals that a dramatic final meeting of the four senior officers took place in the First Officer’s cabin shortly before Titanic went down.
There, Lightoller heard not only about the fatal mistake, but also what happened next, up on the bridge.
While Hitchins had made a straightforward error, what followed was a deliberate decision.
Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s owner, the White Star Line, persuaded the Captain to continue sailing.
For ten minutes, Titanic went "Slow Ahead" through the sea.
This added enormously to the pressure of water flooding through the damaged hull, forcing it up and over the watertight bulkheads, sinking Titanic many hours earlier than she otherwise would have done.
"Ismay insisted on keeping going, no doubt fearful of losing his investment and damaging his company’s reputation,” said Lady Patten.
"The nearest ship was four hours away. Had she remained at ‘Stop’, it’s probable that Titanic would have floated until help arrived."
The truth of what happened on that historic night was deliberately buried.
Lightoller, the only survivor who knew precisely what had happened, and who would later go on to be a twice-decorated war hero, decided to hide what he knew from the world, including two official inquiry into the sinking.
By his code of honour, he felt it was his duty to protect his employer – White Star Line – and its employees.
Lady Patten said: "The inquiry had to be a whitewash. The only person he told the full story to was his beloved wife Sylvia, my grandmother.
"As a teenager, I was enthralled by the Titanic. Granny revealed to me exactly what had happened on that night and we would discuss it endlessly."
"She died when I was sixteen and, though she never told me to keep the knowledge to myself, I didn’t tell anyone.
"My mother insisted that everything remained strictly inside the family: a hero’s reputation was at stake.
"Nearly forty years later, with Granny and my mother long dead, I was plotting my second novel and it struck me that I was the last person alive to know what really happened on the night Titanic sank.
"My grandfather’s extraordinary experiences felt like perfect material for Good As Gold. ”