Cunard’s RMS. Carpathia was a single funnel four masted ship, originally designed for the immigration service, plying the north Atlantic between Europe and America. Built by Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson in Newcastle, Carpathia’s first voyage departed Liverpool on 5 May 1903, bound for New York.
Cunard installed a high quality fit out aboard Carpathia, with third class accommodation being noticeably superior to what was offered on many rival liners of a similar size. Carpathia boasted numerous public rooms for third class passengers, as well as meals, which were included in the fare (this wasn’t always the case on other lines at the time).
in 1904, Carpathia’s primary route was changed to take in a Mediterranean service. A major internal refit saw Carpathia’s accommodation modified to accommodate 100 first class, 200 second class and an 2,250 third class. This is a huge figure, meaning the Carpathia carried more people than the far larger QE2!).
Carpathia and Titanic
Carpathia became famous when she made a late night dash to rescue up the survivors of the ill-fated Titanic. Titanic struck an iceberg on 14 April 1912 at 11:40pm, causing the ship to sink early in the morning of 15 April 1912.
Realising his ship was domed – Titanic’s Master, Captain E. J. Smith – ordered the international distress signal C.Q.D to be sent on the wireless radio. With few responses from nearby ships, the Titanic’s radio operators also opted to send the newer S.O.S message, which wasn’t widely used at the time.
At the same time, Carpathia’s wireless operator – Harold Cottam – was listening to messages being sent to Titanic from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a Marconi wireless station was based.
Carpathia’s operator decided to try and alert Titanic to this backlog of messages. Cottam sent Titanic a message stating: “I say old man, do you know there is a lot of traffic for you at Cape Cod?”
The response from Titanic was clear and chiling: “We are sinking, come at once, this is C.Q.D, old man”.
Cottam immediately alerted Captain Rostron – Master of Carpathia – of the Titanic’s plight. Captain Rostron immediately set a course to Titanic’s last known position, over 60 miles away.
Travelling at it’ maximum speed, Carpathia made a heroic dash to save the Titanic survivors. Captain Rostron ordered all available steam to be diverted to the ship’s engines, with lighting and heating reduced throughout the ship, to free up steam that would have been used for hotel services and redirect it to boost the speed of the engine.
Carpathia’s bridge officers negotiated surrounding ice fields on her late night journey, while other crew members were instructed to rig up electric lighting on the side of the ship and prepare vacant cabins for survivors. Chefs were awoken to prepare hot meals and beverages while the ship’s doctors were briefed.
At around 4am on 15 April 1912, Carpathia arrived at the scene and identified the Titanic’s lifeboats in the water. Here they collected all of the Titanic survivors.
Tragically, over 1,500 people died aboard Titanic when the doomed ship went down – largely due to the fact there were not enough lifeboats carried aboard the White Star Liner (as was common at the time).
Having remained on site during the day, and with all survivors safely aboard, Carpathia made way to New York. The ship departed the wreck site before a large storm front approached. Once in New York, Titanic’s passengers were disembarked and the true magnitude of the disaster became known.
Captain Rostron and his crew were heralded as heroes for their actions that night. Captain Rostron went on to become a Commodore of the Cunard fleet and later commanded Aquitania.
Carpathia after Titanic
The now famous Carpathia continued to sail on her regular schedule, until the outbreak of World War I. During the war, she was requisitioned for military purposes and participated in several trooping convoys.
On 17 July, 1918 Carpathia was traveling in convoy when she was hit by two torpedoes near Fastnet, United Kingdom. Taking on water, the order was given to abandon ship.
A third torpedo struck the ship as the lifeboats were being manned, killing several crew members, and leading to Carpathia founding. The survivors were rescued by the Royal Navy.
Image source: Simplon Post Cards