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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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U.S. Senate Inquiry into the RMS Titanic Sinking

william-alden-smithThe April 15, 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic, the trans-Atlantic passenger liner built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, results in an inquiry by the United States Senate, which begins at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City  on April 19, 1912. Chaired by Senator William Alden Smith (R-Michigan), the inquiry is a subcommittee of the Senate’s Committee on Commerce. The hearings later move to the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. and conclude on May 25, 1912 with a return visit to New York.

Seven senators serve on the subcommittee, with three Republicans and three Democrats in addition to Smith as chair. The other six senators are Jonathan Bourne (R-Oregon), Theodore E. Burton (R-Ohio), Duncan U. Fletcher (D-Florida), Francis G. Newlands (D-Nevada), George Clement Perkins (R-California), and Furnifold McLendel Simmons (D-North Carolina). The composition of the subcommittee is carefully chosen to represent the conservative, moderate and liberal wings of the two parties.

During 18 days of official investigations, punctuated by recesses, testimony is recorded from over 80 witnesses. These include surviving passengers and crew members, as well as captains and crew members of other ships in the vicinity, expert witnesses, and various officials and others involved in receiving and transmitting the news of the disaster. The evidence submitted varies from spoken testimony and questioning, to the deposition of correspondence and affidavits. Subjects covered include the ice warnings received, the inadequate (but legal) number of lifeboats, the handling of the ship and its speed, RMS Titanic‘s distress calls, and the handling of the evacuation of the ship.

The final report is presented to the United States Senate on May 28, 1912. It is nineteen pages long and includes 44 pages of exhibits, and summarises 1,145 pages of testimony and affidavits. Its recommendations, along with those of the British inquiry that concludes on July 3, 1912, lead to many changes in safety practices following the disaster.

The report is strongly critical of established seafaring practices and the roles that RMS Titanic‘s builders, owners, officers and crew had played in contributing to the disaster. It highlights the arrogance and complacency that had been prevalent aboard the ship and more generally in the shipping industry and the British Board of Trade. However, it does not find the International Mercantile Marine Company, an American consortium, or the White Star Line negligent under existing maritime laws, as they had merely followed standard practice, and the disaster could thus only be categorised as an “act of God.”

The inquiry is heavily criticised in Britain, both for its conduct and for Smith’s style of questioning. Many newspapers publish scathing editorial cartoons depicting Smith in unflattering terms. The British government is also hostile towards the inquiry. The British Ambassador to the United States, James Bryce, demands that President William Howard Taft dissolve the committee and refuses to recognise its jurisdiction.

Some British writers, however, applaud the inquiry. G. K. Chesterton contrasts the American objective of maximum openness with what he calls Britain’s “national evil,” which he describes as being to “hush everything up; it is to damp everything down; it is to leave the great affair unfinished, to leave every enormous question unanswered.” The American reaction is also generally positive. The American press welcomes Smith’s findings and accepts his recommendations, commending the senator for establishing the key facts of the disaster.

(Pictured: U.S. Senator William Alden Smith, chairman of the Senate inquiry into the RMS Titanic disaster)

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German U-Boat Visits Dingle, County Kerry

In one of the more intriguing episodes of World War II, German U-Boat U-35, under the command of Kapitan Werner Lott, disembarks 28 men from the Greek cargo ship Diamantis at Dingle, County Kerry, on October 4, 1939.

On the afternoon of October 3, the Diamantis is torpedoed by U-35 and sinks 40 miles west of the Scilly Islands. Because the lifeboats are not suited for use in the bad weather, Lott decides to take all crew members aboard and lands them the next day at Dingle.

The realities of World War II reach the shores of the Dingle Peninsula as a crowd of local people are amazed when they see a German submarine coming within 10 yards of the shore at Ventry. What they do not know at the time is that they are witnessing a most humane and unwarlike act by the German captain on board the submarine.

Twenty-eight Greek sailors from the Diamantis are landed at Ventry, two at a time in a small lifeboat. The submarine pulls away, none of the German crew having set foot on neutral Irish soil. The Greeks are brought to a local farmhouse owned by Thomas Cleary and his mother Joan.

In 1984, Werner Lott makes a nostalgic first trip to Dingle and even meets Jimmy Fenton of Ballymore, one of the locals who had witnessed the drama of that night.

“I was about 11 at the time and I remember we had just come home from school when the excitement began. I had to run about a quarter of a mile to the harbour when I spotted the sub. I think the first person there was a local customs man called Browne.”

After all this time the German captain hears how grateful the Greeks are to him. “Their English was bad but they kept saying ‘German gut man’,” says Fenton.

In a major interview, Captain Lott, who is reared in an African colony where his father is one of the first white doctors, describes how he came so close to Dingle shore during World War II, how he was shortly afterwards taken prisoner himself and how a life long friendship with Lord Louis Mountbatten began.

(Pictured: Jimmy Fenton with Werner Lott in 1984, at the point where U-35 landed the 28 Greek sailors at Ventry Harbor, Ireland in October 1939 courtesy of u-35.com | Content courtesy of https://stairnaheireann.net/2016/10/04/1939-in-one-of-the-more-intriguing-episodes-of-world-war-ii-german-u-boat-35-under-the-command-of-kapitan-werner-lott-disembarked-28-men-at-dingle-co-kerry-from-the-greek-cargo-ship-diaman-2/)