THE BURNING OF THE 'VOLTURNO' - PAGE 5
LITERARY DIGEST ARTICLE - OCTOBER 25, 1913
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Here is another page of data, exclusively respecting a two page article that was published in "The Literary Digest" of Oct. 25, 1913, as follows:
THE LOSS OF THE "VOLTURNO"
THE DESTRUCTION of the Volturno instantly calls up memories of the Titanic, and tho the death list is shorter in the case of this second sea disaster within eighteen months, it seems to the New York Sun that the details of the story are "equally tragic and perhaps actually more painful." The earlier catastrophe did not surpass the later in dramatic quality, agrees the New York Evening Post, for there was never before on the ocean such a scene as that of the night of October 9 - "a great steamer burning helplessly in a gale, which prevented the safe launching of life-boats, with ten or eleven ocean liners rolling in the high sea nearby in the hope that the gale might abate in time to save some of the hundreds of lives menaced by the waves and by fire." The cry for a really "unsinkable" ship that went forth after the loss of the Titanic now gives place to the demand for a ship that is truly "fire-proof." There was no lack of life-boats on the Volturno, but they were rendered useless, and became, indeed, a source of peril; and these circumstances call out many an editorial utterance on the need of better fire-fighting apparatus and more satisfactory methods of transshipping passengers in a heavy sea. The only cause for congratulation found by the press, save for the acknowledgements of the seamanship and courage displayed in the work of rescue, is the work of the wireless. It seems to be the unanimous opinion that, had there been no S.O.S. call, instead of the rescue of 532 from a total of 657, there would have been none left to tell the tale of the loss of the Volturno, save by the rarest chance. As the Philadelphia Record remarks, "there was no confusion in the working of the wireless, no interference and breaking into the conversations between the calling vessel and those who answered, and every ship within hail responded with alacrity, so that at the time of the rescue there were ten steamers standing by." Evidently, concludes The Record, "the lessons of the earlier disaster have been heeded, and the wireless has become a well-managed life-saving device."
But as the world realizes its debt to Marconi for his great invention, it is at the same time, as the New York Globe observes, compelled suddenly to recognize in the Volturno's loss the fearful menace of fire - fire at sea. According to figures compiled in Paris, we are told, "in the last seven and a half years a ship a day has either been damaged or destroyed by fire." while "those that have been lost by shipwreck are comparatively few in proportion." Hence, to be safe, says the Philadelphia Inquirer, "we must have not only the unsinkable ship, but the fire-proof ship." Now, it continues,
"The Volturno was not only not fire-proof, but its supply of apparatus for fighting fire was wofully deficient. The firefighters were practically helpless, and the guilt that burdens the shoulders of the management of the line was in sending out a vessel so poorly prepared to cope with flames."
While the final investigation may or may not substantiate The Inquirer's charge, there is now no disposition to question newspaper assertions that the disaster has its lesson for ship-owners and ship-builders. "The fact that builders virtually have obviated the perils of tempest, that foundering in a storm is, for the great steamships, a danger not to be considered, makes it," in the Chicago Tribune's opinion, "the less excusable that they should be destroyed by man-made dangers." "The brains of the world" should now be enlisted in an effort to make ocean liners absolutely fire-proof, declares the Washington Post. "Cabin and gangway partitions should be built of steel on passenger ships as they are on battleships," adds the New York Times. Nor are improved materials and methods of construction the only things needful, thinks the Syracuse Post-Standard, and it suggests "means of fire prevention by something at sea corresponding to the automatic sprinkler used in large buildings" as a necessary step in the direction of perfect safety.
If, in spite of all precaution, disaster does come, we may now feel assured that "in the ocean lanes other steamers can usually be brought to the spot y wireless"; but, asks the Springfield Republican, "has the utmost been made of this fact in the way of providing apparatus for transshipping passengers?" We must be prepared for any eventuality, The Republican reminds us -
"It is useless to try to predict what form danger will take - the thing is to be prepared for any contingency. If a ship sinks in still water, life-boats for all are needed. If she is destroyed slowly in a storm, with other ships standing by, a life-saving service is the vital thing, and should not be beyond the resources of inventors. The need of such an equipment seems to be the lesson most urgently brought home by this shocking catastrophe."
The wireless possibilities for rescues at sea should, in the Brooklyn Eagle's opinion, persuade all governments of the necessity of having liners supplied with guns or rockets for carrying lines to another vessel or to the shore. "When a line is thus thrown over a vessel, sinking or burning, a cable can be hauled aboard, a 'breeches-buoy' service established, and one by one every human being can be saved." It should be stated that American regulations compel the carrying of such equipment, and Captain Garden, of the United States Life-saving Service, believes that in the light of this disaster the forthcoming international conference at London to consider safety at sea "will recommend that each passenger steamer carry appliances of this sort."
But it may be well to turn from this discussion to consider the actual history of the Volturno's loss, as far as it may be gleaned from the mass of statements by survivors of the burned ship, and the officers and passengers of the rescuing fleet. The Volturno, a vessel of about 3,600 tons, built in 1906, owned by the Canadian Northern Steamship Co., but leased to the Uranium Steamship Co., left Rotterdam for Halifax and New York on October 2. Beside her crew of 93, she carried 564 passengers, mostly immigrants. She carried also a miscellaneous cargo of freight, of an unusually inflammable character, as the New York World and Evening Post now point out. The latter paper is inclined to think that the perusal of the Volturno's manifest sheet goes far to explain what happened later:
"Among other things, she carried 90 drums and 740 casks of various kinds of oils, 1,189 bales of peat-moss, 125 drums and 207 casks of chemicals. 1 case of celluloid plates, 559 casks and 1,003 cases of wines, 310 cases of gin and other liquors, 120 packages of straw envelops, 160 bales of burlap, 278 bales of rags, 370 packages of straw envelops, and 6 cases of cottons. There were plenty of things in her hold that might have exploded spontaneously, and a fire once started in such materials must have been almost impossible to check with the best firefighting apparatus in the world, let alone on a ship that was pitching violently, with a gale of wind to fan the flames."
According to the wireless dispatch sent by Capt. Francis Inch of the Volturno to the company's headquarters in New York, fire was discovered in a forward hold at 6.55 A.M. on Thursday, October 9. The flames rapidly gained despite the strenuous efforts made to extinguish them. A wireless call for help was sent out. Several life-boats were lowered, but all were smashed by the heavy seas, except two, which were probably lost with their occupants. At 11 A.M. the Carmania arrived, and during the afternoon the other ships which had heard the wireless call made their appearance. The fire on the Volturno was steadily tho slowly gaining. Efforts made by the other ships to take passengers from the Volturno failed because of the gale and high seas. During the evening passengers were induced to jump and they were saved by the boats from the rescuing squadron. Early in the morning, the wind having abated and the waters being further smoothed by oil from the Narragansett, the remaining passengers, who had been huddled in the stern all night, were easily taken on board boats and carried to various ships. According to figures still subject to correction, 532 persons, of a total ship's company of 657, were saved by the Carmania, Grosser Kurfürst, La Touraine, Asian, Narragansett, Seydlitz, Minneapolis, Devonian, Czar, and Rappahannock. One who saw the rescue noted that:
"It was a strange company that filled the last boat to put off from the side of the flame-swept Volturno. It carried Captain Inch, it carried the officers, it carried a dog. And it carried a cook who was one of the big heroes of the tragedy, for he stood at his post and baked and made coffee until the flames were so close that his shoes were literally burned off."
We have also the vivid stories told by the rescuers and the rescued. The bravery of Captain Inch, half-blinded after twenty-four hours of fire-fighting, and the daring of Second Officer Lloyd and the crew who went with the last sound boat to the Grosser Kurfürst as an experiment to see whether other boats could live in that sea, are nearly equaled by the valor of other officers and members of the crew during that day and night of combating the perils of fire and storm. Then too, the splendid seamanship displayed by the navigators of the helping ships, and the nerve of the sailors who manned the boats and saved lives in a raging sea are fully acknowledged in the many stories that filled the front pages of the newspapers last week. Earlier reports of cowardice and panic on the Volturno seem to be disproved by later news. There is debate as to the relative shares of the different vessels in the work of rescue. But the work that had to be done was well done, all who remained on board the burning ship till the storm abated were saved, and, as the New York Sun observes: "The best reassurance of the safety of ocean travel is in the fact that ships are officered by men of the type of the captains who played their part in the rescue of the Volturno."
If YOU have any new data about the Volturno, or in any way related to the Volturno, I would welcome your dropping me a line.
A copy of the magazine sold via e-Bay in Feb. 2005 for U.S. $15.51.
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