Smith files Titanic disaster report (1912)

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Smith files Titanic disaster report

Washington, May 28 (1912) – Senator Smith of Michigan, chairman of the Senate investigating committee on the Titanic disaster, today filed his formal report.

The most startling charge in that report is that every soul aboard the liner might have been saved but for the indifference, inattention and almost criminal neglect of Captain Stanley Lord and the other officers of the Californian.

Five hundred lives lost are charged up as a needless sacrifice to the lack of discipline, which allowed the lifeboats to leave the liner only partly-filled.

The shipping laws of the British Board of Trade are called obsolete and antiquated, the regulations of the Board lax, and its inspections hasty.

Captain Smith is blamed for ignoring ice warnings and forcing the Titanic through the Northern waters at a speed of 24-1/2 miles, but the report says that Smith expiated his fault by a heroic death.

Phillips and Bride, the two wireless operators of the Titanic, are praised for their heroism. The lack of discipline among the crew and the cowardice that was shown by some of its members are bitterly arraigned. There is no blame for J Bruce Ismay, the managing director of the White Star line, who escaped with the women; but the line is blamed for withholding the news of the disaster for sixteen hours.

Those in the half-filled life boats who stood by, just waiting for the cries to stop, are condemned bitterly.

Legislation requiring liners to carry more lifeboats, to have trained, disciplined crews and to keep them under regular drills, is urged.

Says the nation needs’ severe lessons

When the investigating committee report on the Titanic disaster had been filed today, Senator Rayner of Maryland, one of the most forceful speakers in the country, arose and called the nation to answer for that disaster.

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“The sooner we awaken to a realizing sense of our responsibility the better it will be for the elevation of the country. We are running mad with the lust of wealth and of power and ambition,” he said. “May the heartrending scenes upon that night of anguish and woe on which the Titanic sank give us faith and lead us hack to the altars of our fathers. What this nation needs are severe lessons that will strengthen the pillars and the altars of its faith. We are today defying the ordinances of God. We are separating society into castes, with fabulous fortunes upon the one side and destitution and poverty on the other.

“It takes a terrible warning to bring us back to our senses. If the Titanic disaster teaches us no lesson, points no moral, then let us passed it by with stoical indifference until the next disaster comes and, meantime, let carnival go on. But surely the memory of that awful night on the sea is enough. Father of the universe, what an admonition it was to the nation!”


The full report was published with the descriptive, if not concise, title: “Titanic” Disaster: Report of the Committee on Commerce, United States Senate, Pursuant to S. Res. 283, Directing the Committee on Commerce to Investigate the Causes Leading to the Wreck of the White Star Liner “Titanic,” Together with Speeches Thereon by Senator William Alden Smith of Michigan and Senator Isidor Rayner of Maryland (Senate Report 806, 62nd Congress, 2nd session). Read the report online here.


Top photo: Senate committee hearings held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City

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