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Carpathia Remembered For Role In Titanic Disaster

By James Donahue

Marine historians remember the Carpathia as a ship that rescued survivors of the Titanic disaster on April 15, 1912. What they may not know is that this vessel, a Cunard Line transatlantic passenger ship, was torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic five years later by a German U-boat during World War I.

The Carpathia was steaming from New York to Fiume, Austria, the old name for Rijeka, Croatia, on the night the Titanic struck the iceberg and sank. The ship’s wireless operator, Harold Cottam missed the emergency messages from the Titanic because he was on the bridge, but later when passing on some radio traffic to the stricken liner he received the terrible news. He awoke Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, who turned the Carpathia and raced at maximum speed to the scene.

Rostron ordered the ship’s heating and hot water shut off to make as much steam as possible. He raced his ship at top speeds even though he was aware of the iceberg that sank the Titanic and knew that he may be putting his own vessel in jeapordy. It took the Carpathia four hours to reach the scene and was too late to save some 1,500 passengers who perished with the ship. But the Carpathia arrived in time to rescue 710 survivors adrift in the Titanic’s lifeboats on the cold and open sea.

The arrival of the Carpathia at New York harbor with those survivors was a well- publicized affair because the story of the Titanic disaster was just making headlines. The crew members of the ship were awarded bronze medals, the officers received silver medals, and Captain Rostron received a gold medal and a silver cup. He later was knighted by King George V, and the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress.

Rostron went on to become Commodore of the Cunard line and was no longer commanding the Carpathia when it was torpedoed.

When the war broke out, Carpathia went into service as a troopship for the Canadian Expeditionary Force. She also sailed in convoy from New York to England with supplies and troops.

On July 17, 1918, while traveling in a convoy from Liverpool to Boston and under the command of Captain William Prothero, Carpathia was hit by two torpedoes from the German submarine U-55. One struck the port side and the second torpedo penetrated the engine room killing two firemen and three trimmers. The other 218 crew members and 57 passengers escaped in the ship’s lifeboats as the vessel was sinking.

It was a dramatic time for the survivors. U-55 surfaced and fired a third torpedo into the foundering ship and was approaching the lifeboats when the sloop HMS Snowdrop arrived on the scene and opened its guns on the submarine. The vessel then picked up the survivors.

The wreck of the Carpathia was found in 2000 by author and diver Clive Cussler in 500 feet of water about 120 miles west of Fastnet. It rests upright on the seabed.

The Carpathia was 541 feet in length. It was launched in 1902.