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Carpathia to the Rescue: The Ship That Saved Titanic

Events | August 10, 2019

Survivors of the sinking of the Titanic on April 18, 1912, aboard the RMS Carpathia the ship that rescued them. Washington, Library Of Congress. Source: (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Before the Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, the captain figured it might be a good idea to send out a distress call. It was worth a shot, right? Indeed, had the RMS Carpathia not been in the neighborhood, things could have been much worse. It was the captain and crew of the Carpathia who is credited with saving hundreds of people after the Titanic went down, but how much do you know about the second-most important ship in the Titanic story? Let’s look at this ship, her crew, and how she met the same watery fate as the Titanic

The Titanic sunk on its maiden voyage. Source: (cnn.com)

The Titanic Disaster

In case all you remember is the Celine Dion song, let’s take a moment and refresh our memories about the Titanic. This luxury British passenger liner was on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City with 2,224 people on board when it struck an iceberg and sank. The passengers included some of the richest and most famous people of the era partying up top as well as impoverished emigrants from England and Ireland who had booked cheap passage on the ship’s lower-class floors. The passenger liner was not equipped with enough lifeboats for all of the passengers and crew because the ship was thought to be unsinkable, a challenge the fates gleefully accepted. As a result, approximately 1,500 people died when the Titanic broke apart and sank. 

Carpathia sank on its final planned voyage. Source: (irishcentral.com)

The Carpathia

The British ship Carpathia was already 10 years old at the time of the Titanic sinking. In her early days, the ship transported immigrants from Hungary, Turkey, and other Mediterranean countries to the United States and Canada. By 1912, the Carpathia had been remodeled and took wealthy passengers on cruises around the Mediterranean as well as to the United States. She was a much smaller ship compared to the massive Titanic but still worthy of copious "yo mama" jokes at 541 feet long and 64 feet wide.

Captain Arthur Rostron of the Carpathia. Source: (pinterest.com)

The Titanic Distress Call

The Carpathia, captained by Arthur H. Rostron, left New York on April 11, 1912, with 700 passengers on board. Most of these people were wealthy Americans looking forward to a cruise through the Mediterranean before reaching Austria-Hungary. Just after midnight on April 15, the Carpathia’s wireless radio operator, Harold Cottam, received a distress call stating that the Titanic had run into a bit of a snag and needed the much smaller and less opulent ship to bail her out. Cottam hurried to wake Captain Rostron.

The ship's officers of the Carpathia. Source: (hatchingcatnyc.com)

Carpathia to the Rescue

Despite having his own boat full of passengers to worry about, Captain Rostron jumped into action. He ordered the Carpathia to turn around and head for the Titanic’s location, and he radioed a message to the doomed ship that help was coming but wouldn’t arrive for about four hours on account of that inconveniently big ocean between them.

The crew of the Carpathia spend four hours picking up survivors. Source: (titanicfacts.net)

Rescue Protocol

Captain Rostron immediately launched into action to clean up Titanic's mess and put in place many measures that, in the end, helped save many lives. He halted all heating and hot water use on the Carpathia so that as much steam as possible could be redirected to the engines, shaving nearly an hour off his estimated four-hour arrival time. He also ordered every available room, including public spaces, to be prepared with cots and bedding. He had the ship’s doctor prepare supplies to treat the wounded. He even asked the kitchen to get hot soup and beverages ready for the chilled survivors. He had the crew prepare the lifeboats and open the gangway doors. Lastly, he placed extra lookouts on deck to watch for ice, because that was just the last thing he needed.

Survivors were in the icy Atlantic. Source: (ehstoday.com)

Rescuing Survivors

When the Carpathia arrived on the scene, the crew immediately began plucking survivors from the frigid waters and didn't stop for nearly four hours. As dawn broke, the ship, now dangerously over its capacity, turned back to New York with 705 more passengers than it planned to carry. Word of the tragedy had reached the United States, so when the Carpathia entered New York Harbor, she was greeted by thousands of people looking for their loved ones amid the survivors. After rescuing the victims of the Titanic, the Carpathia finally resumed its own journey. Hopefully, everyone's spa appointments were rescheduled.

The Carpathia was sunk by a German U-Boat, not an iceberg. Source: (history.navy.mil)

A Twist of Fate

With the start of World War I, the British military commissioned the Carpathia to transport soldiers from Canada to England. It was on the Carpathia’s final scheduled voyage that tragedy struck. A German U-Boat attacked the ship with two torpedoes on July 17, 1918, sinking it off the Irish coast. Five crew members were killed, and the remaining crew and passengers took to the lifeboats, just as the passengers of the Titanic did five years earlier. This time, it was the Carpathia who needed rescuing. As the German U-Boat continued its attack, the HMS Snowdrop arrived on the scene and rescued the survivors of the Carpathia’s sinking. You'll be relieved to know that the Snowdrop survived until 1949, when it was broken down for scrap, ending this Final Destination--like series of sunken ships.

Tags: Carpathia

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.