RMS Carpathia

Famous ocean liner, known for rescuing Titanic's survivors, sunk viciously by a German U-Boat off Ireland in 1918.
by Matthew Anderson


Year Built

1903

Year Sank

1918

Depth

600 ft (182.9 m)

Difficulty Level

Technical


RMS Carpathia

Wreck Location


The RMS Carpathia lies southwest of the southern tip of Ireland at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean in 600 feet of water. The wreck is covered in marine growth and tons of fishing nets. Her superstructure has long since collapsed as well as her four masts and lone funnel. The bow is mostly buried in the sea floor and her brack is broken, bent amidships. The bow bent downward at an angle while the stern is lying on an even keel with both propellers and rudder visible. Her hull plating is coming loose in areas, but many of the portholes and entrances originally seen by Titanic survivors on that fateful morning are still intact and visible. Carpathia lies in deep water and can only be accessed by technical diving, manned submersible or ROV. Carpathia also lies surrounded by her own ammunitions and those of the Snowdrop from when the British sloop fired at the U-55Carpathia is the legal property of RMS Titanic Inc. meaning all artifacts aboard her are property of the American based company.

~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude:   49° 31' 15.9672" N      Longitude:   -10° 39' 4.1616" W

Description

Most people don't realize the struggle the RMS Carpathia and her crew had to endure the night of April 14 and morning of April 15, 1912. The small single funneled Cunarder, who's role was to carry freight and non-elite passengers to lesser destinations suddenly found itself in the greatest race against time, safety and what was considered one of the greatest acts of heroism in the history of the North Atlantic. Her voyage to Flume, Austria Hungary had been cancelled. Captain Arthur Rostron spared no time in his mad dash north through perilous icebergs that could have easily sunk Carpathia. In fact, this ice field had already claimed a victim; the "usinkable" RMS Titanic and she was going down fast. All the lives aboard the Titanic depended on the Carpathia for survival and she was pushing well beyond her safe steam pressure limits to get there, going 17 knots, three knots higher than her designed top speed.

(RMS Carpathia of the Cunard Line.)

By the late 1890s, early 1900s, the British owned and operated Cunard Line had decided to build three new ships for a different less than glorious or elegant purpose. These new ships were to help maintain a lesser cargo and passenger services for Cunard. The three new vessels were built to carry vast amounts of cargo in order to gain larger profits. The new liners would have four masts, not for sails, but to help load and unload large amounts of cargo in and out of their hulls. The most defining feature would be the single very large funnel in the center of each vessel. The first two ships of the trio, RMS Saxonia built by John Brown and Company in Clydebank Scotland, along with her sister ship RMS Ivernia at Swan and Hunter Limited in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England, were both completed around the year 1900. The third ship began construction in 1901. She was built slightly different. RMS Carpathia was launched in 1902 at Swan and Hunter where Ivernia had previously been constructed.

Carpathia was not the largest or grandest ship afloat and unlike her half sisters Saxonia and Ivernia, she did not cater to any first class passengers whatsoever. Carpathia only carried second and third class accommodation. That said, the accommodations provided to her passengers were higher than the standard. The third class had their own promenade deck, which was a rarity for third class travelers aboard any vessel and contained a vast library for her second class passengers. Carpathia was powered by two quadruple expansion steam engines each driving its own three bladed propeller. Carpathia made her maiden voyage on May 5, 1903 from Liverpool to Boston and also ran services between New York City and the Mediterranean. In 1905, Carpathia was refit to handle a larger number of passengers and finally cater to first class.

In early April 1912, Carpathia left New York on what was to be a routine passenger/cargo voyage for Cunard to Fiume, Austria-Hungary (now Rijeka, Croatia) via Gibraltar. On April 14, 1912, she was steaming far south of any ice fields for the warmer waters of the Mediterranean. At the same time, the crew had kept in mind that the new flagship of the White Star Line, the four funneled triple screw steamer RMS Titanic, was making her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. Captain Arthur Rostron, in command of Carpathia, decided to retire for the night and left control to his officers.

After midnight, Carpathia's wireless operator Harold Cottam recieved a message from Cape Race, Newfoundland stating they had wireless messages relayed from New York for the Titanic that the large White Star Liner had not bothered to recieve. Cottam decided to message the Titanic informing the ship of messages awaiting them. Titanic's wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride responded back with distress signals including the phrase CQD (Come Quick Danger) and the newly approved mayday call, SOS (Save Our Ship). Titanic had hit an iceberg and was taking on water fast. Cottam, realizing all too well the gravity of the situation, woke up Captain Rostron and alerted him to Titanic's distress. Unlike other masters aboard vessels such as the Mount Temple and Virginian, Captain Rostron chose to believe the so called "unsinkable" Titanic was truly foundering and ordered an immediate change of course due north. The only other ship to respond to Titanic's distress call was her sister ship the RMS Olympic. Saldy, Olympic was over 10 hours away and quickly was forced to give up, her captain knowing full well they wouldn't reach Titanic in time. The entire fate of Titanic's passengers and crew now solely rested upon the Carpathia.

Carpathia turned off her designated course and began steaming ahead in full fury. Captain Rostron ordered every last ounce of steam and everything the stokers and engineers could muster into Carpathia's twin engines. The boilers were fired hotter than ever and steam gauges read past the danger point. Smoke belched out of Carpathia's giant lone funnel as she pushed herself harder than ever towards the sinking Titanic. Rostron calculated it would take more than 5 hours to reach her. Carpathia however decided to show she had far more power than her crew was lead to believe. She was going at an impressive 17 knots, three over her recorded top speed on sea trials almost ten years earlier. Carpathia was now slated to arrive at Titanic's position in four hours. The passengers aboard put concerns of their cancelled trip to Gibraltar and Flume behind them, instead focusing all their attention on the safety and well being of Titanic's passengers and crew. Anxious crew and passengers on Carpathia prayed and hoped with everything they had that their vessel would reach Titanic in time. Unfortunately, they did not.

(Carpathia rescuing the exahusted and weary survivors of the Titanic.)

By the time Carpathia reached the Titanic's last known position, the great liner had already broken in half and sunk to the bottom taking with her 1,502 passengers and crew. The passengers and crew aboard the Carpathia started believing they had arrived too late and that all aboard the Titanic had gone down with her. A green flare shot up from the ice field and out of it appeared 18 lifeboats along with 706 survivors. Immediately, the passengers and crew of Carpathia got to work helping the survivors aboard. A number of survivors were suffering hypothermia and had to be lifted aboard with cargo nets and ropes. Once aboard the ship, Titanic's survivors were given selfless hospitality by all aboard the Carpathia. Some passengers aboard Carpathia had even gone as far as to willingly give up their bunks or staterooms to survivors. With all the survivors accounted for, all the lifeboats brought aboard and nothing remaining of Titanic besides floating bodies and debris, Carpathia steamed for New York City carrying her load. While on the way, Carpathia's wireless operator fell ill and Titanic's only surviving operator, Harold Bride, took over for him despite his feet having nearly been frozen off.

(Carpathia unloading the lifeboats of the sunken RMS Titanic. Some of these lifeboats would be refurbished and later find themselves aboard Titanic's sister ship Olympic.)



(Note that some of the so called footage of Titanic was actually her older sister Olympic. Besides that all footage of the Carpathia entering New York with the survivors and the aftermath is genuine.)

On April 18, 1912, Carpathia arrived back in New York City at Pier 54, carrying with her, the news and aftermath of Titanic's sinking. Newsreels and cameramen caught multiple moving pictures and photographs of the scene, documenting the Carpathia brilliantly. In the aftermath of the disaster, for their selfless and heroic efforts, the crew of RMS Carpathia not only recieved great praise, but multiple trophies and awards, some of which were presented by Titanic survivors, for their gallant role and heroic endeavor to save Titanic's passengers and crew. The trophies were put on display and proudly kept within the purser's office of the Carpathia for all to see. Captain Rostron was later promoted and would go on to command many of Cunard's more extravagent liners.

The story of Titanic was soon to be overshadowed by a larger more serious event. In 1914, World War I was started in Europe, with Britain being directly involved. Carpathia was drafted into use as a troopship and often carried Canadian soldiers across the Atlantic to the European battlefields. On July 15, 1918, just months before the war would end, HMT Carpathia left Liverpool bound for Boston as part of a large convoy. Carpathia was under command of Captain William Prothero. Escorting the convoy was the British sloop HMS Snowdrop.

(The Carpathia sinking after being torpedoed twice by U-55 seen in the foreground on the left. The crewember who took this no doubt saw this as a joyous trophy and was well aware of Carpathia's identity.)

Southwest of Baltimore, Ireland, tragedy struck. Carpathia was singled out by the German submarine U-55. The U-55 fired two torpedoes into the side of the Carpathia, not only fatally wounding the vessel, but kiling two of her crewmen. As the once proud ship began sinking, the crew aboard U-55 grew satisfied with their kill, having sunk one of the greatest ships to ever sail the ocean. Thankfully all the remaining passengers and crew including Captain Prothero were able to get into the lifeboats and safely escape Carpathia. To add further insult to injury, the U-55 fired a third torpedo into her hull. As the sub approached the lifeboats and survivors, the HMS Snowdrop began firing upon the U-55 and chased it away. The Carpathia's stern rose high out of the water and she slipped beneath the waves bow first. Snowdrop immediately picked up Carpathia's survivors and brought them aboard. The heroic little ship now lay in an oceanic grave just like the Titanic. The U-55 had earlier sunk the hospital ship Rewa in an atrocity directly violating the Hague conventions.

In 1999, famous author and shipwreck enthusiast, Clive Cussler funded a private expedition to locate and find the wreck of the Carpathia. Canadian diver Mike Fletcher, Canadian maritime historian Dr. James Delgado and American diver John Davis lead the effort. Initial efforts to locate the Carpathia instead located the upturned wreck of the German freighteer Isis which had gone down in a storm around 1932. Several days later, the sonar picked up a promising target, but the ROV died. Cussler's team waited another year before they were finally able to dive and visit the wreck. The strange wreck, covered in Snowdrop's shell casings turned out to indeed by the Carpathia and her discovery was announced at a worldwied press conference in 2000. Carpathia is currently owned by RMS Titanic Inc.

Footnotes

The Carpathia's fate is mostly unknown to many who have heard of her via the Titanic sinking. Like the Carpathia, her near sister Ivernia was also lost during the war to U-Boat action. Out of the three ships, only the Saxonia survived and would continue operating for Cunard into the 1930s.




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3 Comments & Ratings

anonymous by Bryan on 2/9/2017

Thankful That someone has taken the time to acknowledge the Carpathia and sadly no one knows much about her sinking

Thank you Bryan! It is an amazing story. Such a shame she was lost to a U-Boat in WWI.
anonymous by Jjerry on 4/10/2018

It Fiume not Flume...nowdays City of Rijeka in Croatia.In city maritime museum you can see one of Titanic lifejackets....

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