Titanic repeatedly warned of icebergs (1912)

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Titanic repeatedly warned of icebergs by Parisian’s operator

Donald Sutherland tells graphic story of floating ice, and of his constant messages to the Titanic — Night was clear and starlit, he says — Believes Captain Smith must have known of danger.

With one expedition leaving this port today to search for the Titanic dead and another preparing to leave tomorrow, the Allan steamship Parisian crept through the fog to her dock tonight hearing the first big authentic news known of the stupendous tragedy of the sea.

The great glaring fact, as given by Donald Sutherland, the wireless operator of the Parisian, was his unqualified statement that the night of the disaster, judged from the position of the Parisian, which he estimates to have been about fifty miles southwest of the Titanic at the time she struck, the weather was remarkably clear. In all the course through the day no fog had been encountered.

“The night was so clear,” said Sutherland, “that the Parisian’s look out several times mistook stars on the horizon for ship’s lights. You have seen beautifully clear winter nights when you went skating and it seemed just like day. It was just such a night you could have played a game of football.”

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And what is more, Sutherland says that from his instrument through most of the evening he was sending out warnings to other ships as to the unusual condition of ice floes in the usual winter course of Atlantic travelers. All navigators agree that the condition was unusual, that constant north easterly gales had driven ice hundreds of miles further south than is usually to be expected at this time of the year. Usually the greatest danger from derelict bergs is to be found in May and June, and even as late as July in the trans-Atlantic avenue in which the Titanic was passing.

Sutherland says that while he has no positive information, he is sure the warning that he and other wireless operators sent out must have reached the Titanic. He said:

“On Sunday, the 14th, I was at my instrument until 10 o’clock at night. The Masaba of the Atlantic Transport line was ahead of us. The Californian was about fifty miles in our rear and the Titanic was following the Californian at a distance, I judge, of 75 to 100 miles. The Masaba was passing me warning messages about the unusual icy condition of the course and warned me of the presence of big bergs, I passed the information to the Californian. I sent this message repeatedly: ‘Running into ice — very thick — and big bergs.”

“I assume, although I do not know, for I did not talk directly to the Titanic that the Californian passed to the Titanic the messages I had sent and which I had myself previously received from the Masaba.

But next morning, when we were fifty miles further south of our course than the Parisian had ever before gone, our route being between Glasgow and Boston, with Halifax as a port of call, and we were on our way to Halifax, but, of course, had to dig southward to escape the ice line I got a wireless from the Asian stating that she had picked up the Deutschland, and so we have come on to Halifax.

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“I left my instrument at exactly 10 o’clock. I was ordered to do so by Captain Hains because I had been up many hours in an effort to get a ship to go to the aid of the tank steamship Deutschland, which I had heard was in distress. The Deutschland had no wireless, so I could not get into direct communication with her, but our information was that she was pretty far to the south, and Captain Hains was heading in that direction as fast as he could go. He wanted me to get on the wireless at 4 o’clock next morning and do what I could with the wireless to discover if possible what news was crossing the sea regarding the Deutschland.

“I received a query on the night of the disaster from Captain Haddock, of the Olympic, the Titanic’s sister ship, traveling east, as to the condition of the ice, and I sent to him the same message that I had relayed from the Masuba to the Californian, and that, of course I believe was as promptly relayed to the Titanic: ‘Running into ice — very thick — and big bergs.’

“I want to add,” said Sutherland, who is about thirty years of age, “that I have been traveling on this course for seven years and there has never been In my experience such a condition of the Ice as we found on this voyage. The floes have come extraordinarily early and have spread way out of the usual run of what is known as the ice belt.

South of ice line

“Certainly the Titanic when struck was far south of what the chart defines as the ‘ice line.’ She was fully 75 to 100 miles south of it.”

A report that the Parisian had picked up survivors of the Titanic and had then passed them to the Carpathia proved to be untrue.

“The first news of the disaster I got about 10 o’clock on Monday morning from the Carpathia,” said Operator Sutherland. When he was asked Just what this message from the Carpathia was the wireless operator replied that he could not reveal it. He said it was confidential in nature and intended only for the ears of Captain Hains, of the Parisian.

There had been a theory advanced that a berg of the size that could send the Titanic to destruction might on a clear night throw out of its own humidity so great a haze as to enmesh mariners in a fog for a mile or more. Sutherland was asked as to this out of his own experience. He said it was absurd, and exclaimed:

“Why, on a clear night you can see a berg away off by its glitter. They glisten like an illuminated glass palace.”

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Captain Hains said: “There is no question that the course used at this time of the year was never so invaded by ice in the knowledge of even the most experienced seamen it has been extraordinary the truth is that northeasterly gales began very early last winter and were almost continuous. The result has been to drive the ice hundreds of miles further south than is usual. Moreover, in the swift drive of the great current from the north, bergs shot off the turn that it takes off the Breton coast as mud might fly from a wheel, and these bergs by the score got into a course usually considered free of such dangerous impediments at this season of the year.”

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Has strange history

The Parisian, by the way, which has played so conspicuous, if a minor, part in this tragedy ot the sea, has herself a most remarkable history. She has been reclaimed from the bottom of Halifax harbor. She went down at a wharf here eight years ago after her old Scotch captain, whom Captain Hains succeeded, had made a thrillingly heroic run from outside Chebucto Head, the Sandy Hook of Halifax harbor, smack up against his dock with a ship crippled in a collision with the Albania.

There were 200 passengers aboard the Parisian. No sooner had she been cleft to her wharf and all the passengers got off than the old captain shouted to the crew to leap for the wharf. The Parisian sank with the sailors leaping for the dock and the old Scotch captain standing on his bridge with a set jaw, not knowing whether the harbor waters were of sufficient depth to engulf his ship. The water came up to his knees as he stood on his bridge.” The Parisian was raised, drydocked, made all seaworthy and has been successfully navigating the dangerous current of the Nova Scotia coast ever since.

Halifax remains in complete ignorance of whatever story the Carpathia may be able to tell to the intimately grief-stricken and to the horrified public generally. Her wireless operator is said to be a novice, who can only manage to send off messages fragmentary. However, that may be the operator at Champerdown, the Halifax station, is certain that nothing was sent to him to enlighten the situation.

Todav there passed only twelve messages sent by Titanic survivors to those nearest them. The operator refused to divulge these names, saying that he was sure the messages had been duly delivered and that no publlo service could be done by broadcast publication of the names. Under these conditions, he said, he had one course only before him, which was strictly to preserve their privacy. But it was admitted that these messages all contained only one word a word of a single syllable. But it is easily to be imagined the thrilling dramatic effect it had on those who received it from the loved ones whom they had feared were lost. The word in all these messages was this: “Safe.”

Wireless tangle

Experienced men on these waters also account for the cruel blankness of the wireless news by stating there had been such a crossfire of wireless questions, demands and messages, as hopelessly to entangle all and that the Carpathia’s silence may be broken when she gets out of range of the thicket of ships that go pounding eastward and wayward in this lane of ocean caravans.


Top photo: The US Revenue Cutter Miami near an iceberg similar to that which destroyed the Titanic (April 27, 1914). Image courtesy of NOAA Photo Library. Shown: Daily Memorandum from the Hydrographic Office reporting Titanic disaster — April 15, 1912

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