RMS Carpathia - glory in times of disaster

RMS Carpathia is another of the famous shipwrecks to dot the coasts of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Nonetheless, she is not so much know for her sinking but rather for her role in rescuing survivors of the Titanic six years earlier. Here we pay a short tribute to the Carpathia by telling her story.

RMS Carpathia sailing past Gibraltar. Source: www.greatships.net

The Beginning

The Carpathia was a transatlantic steam liner that was operated by Cunard Line, one of the main competitors to the White Star Line that operated the Titanic. The Carpathia was built in Newcastle, England between 1901 and 1902. She was much smaller than the Titanic at around 13,500 tons and a length of about 170 meters, compared to the Titanic’s 46,328 tons and 269 meters. After some restructuring in 1905 she could carry over 2,500 passengers. She left for her maiden voyage on May 4, 1903 on the route Liverpool to Boston. For the next fifteen years she served routes from Liverpool to Boston and New York, as well as destinations in the Mediterranean.

The Titanic

On Sunday, April 14, 1912 the Carpathia was traveling from New York to Rijeka (also known as Fiume), a port in what is today Croatia. Wireless operator Harold Cottam received the Titanic’s distress signal and immediately notified the captain, Arthur Henry Rostron, who had been resting in his cabin. The captain ordered the ship to sail at the full speed of 17 knots, towards the Titanic’s position about 60 miles away. Indeed, since the ship was working on steam, to ensure maximum speed he commanded that no hot water should be used for any reason so that maximum heat could be used to drive the engines.

He also ordered that all lifeboats be made ready for launching, all spare blankets be made available for survivors, all available cabins including those of officers, hot food be prepared, and other similar arrangements. These were bold actions especially the command to travel at full speed. The area had many floating icebergs and traveling at full speed could put the Carpathia in a similar danger to the one that sunk the Titanic. Nonetheless, captain Rostron was determined to offer whatever help he could, even at the risk of his own ship. Carpathia arrived at the scene of the Titanic disaster at around 4:00 in the morning, about two hours after the disaster, and rescued the 712 people who were floating in the lifeboats. Rostron’s prompt actions helped save the Titanic survivors, in contrast to the less alert response of the Californian, another steamer in the vicinity. For their bravery and dedication the crew were awarded medals of honour.

RMS Carpathia in New York. Source: www.greatships.net

The Sinking

During World War I the RMS Carpathia continued her travels between Europe and the US. On July 17, 1918, as the war was nearing its end, Carpathia was part of a convoy traveling from Liverpool to the US. At a little over 100 miles west of the southern coast of Ireland she was hit by two torpedoes fired by the German submarine U-55 and began to take water. As the crew were preparing the lifeboats, a third torpedo hit, the explosion killing five of them. Despite this painful loss, it was fortunate that the ship carried only a relatively small number of passengers and everyone else apart from the five, was rescued by HMS Snowdrop, also part of the convoy.

The wreck was discovered in 1999 in fairly good shape at a depth of about 150 meters. The wreck lies 120 miles west of Fastnet in Ireland and nearly 190 miles from Land’s End in England.

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