Swan Hunter & Wigham Richardson built RMS Carpathia at the Newcastle upon Tyne shipyard. The 64 foot 6 inch ocean liner was launched on 6th August 1902, and undertook sea trials between 22nd and 25th April 1903. She then made her maiden voyage on 5th May 1903 from Liverpool, England, to Boston, USA, with additional services to New York, Gibraltar, Genova, Naples, Trieste and Fiume.
It was the night of 14th April 1912 that would define the Carpathia’s legacy. Whilst travelling from New York to Fiume, Austria-Hungary, RMS Carpathia finally received a distress call from RMS Titanic, as wireless operator, Harold Cottam, was on the bridge. Cottam quickly alerted Captain Arthur Henry Rostron, who was asleep in his cabin of the news. The captain immediately took control of the ship, instructing crew that the ship must travel at maximum speed to RMS Titanic’s last know position, which was approximately 58 miles away.
In order for the ship to travel at top speed, Captain Rostron cut off the ship’s heating and hot water supply, ensuring the engines received as much steam as possible. Thanks to Captain Rostron’s quick thinking, RMS Carpathia reached the RMS Titanic’s location in four hours at 4am. Tragically, RMS Titanic could only remain afloat for two hours and sunk before the rescue ship arrived. RMS Carpathia and it’s crew then rescued the ship’s 705 survivors. 1,523 lives were lost at sea.
Survivors arrived on RMS Carpathia to a supply of food, clothing and drinks that Captain Rostron ensured was readily available when they arrived on the ship. Many passengers aboard the ship also gave up their staterooms for the survivors; however, much of their generosity and many of their names have failed to be recognised in history.
Captain Rostron made the decision to turn back to New York to disembark survivors. When RMS Carpathia docked at Pier 54 in Manhattan, New York, 40,000 people turned up to welcome the survivors to America. Many organisations also offered passengers with clothing, accommodation and support.
The Carpathia crew received awarded medals from the survivors. General crew members received bronze awards, officers were presented with silver awards, whilst Captain Rostron received a silver cup and gold medal from passenger Margaret “Molly” Brown. He was also knighted by George V, and received the Congressional Gold Medal from President Taft – which was the highest honour the United States Congress could award him.
Life After RMS Titanic
RMS Carpathia was adopted as a troopship in World War I, and would transfer American and Canadian troops to Europe. She would often travel in convoy when sailing from New York to Liverpool and Glasgow. On 15th July 1918, RMS Carpathia left Liverpool in convoy to Boston, but she was torpedoed just two days later on the morning of 17th July in the Celtic Sea by the Imperial German Navy submarine U-55. Three torpedoes were fired at the ship, with two impacting the ship. One hit the port side of the vessel whilst the other hit the engine room, killing three trimmers and two firemen.
As the ship began to list to port, Captain William Prothero ordered its 57 passengers and 218 crew members to abandon ship and board lifeboats as the vessel started to sink. U-55 returned to fire a third torpedo at the ship as it begun to approach RMS Carpathia’s lifeboats; however. HMS Snowdrop quickly arrived and ultimately drove the submarine away by gunfire; she then rescued Carpathia’s survivors.
RMS Carpathia reportedly sank at 11:00am. The vessel was salvaged and is currently owned by Premier Exhibitions Inc. (Formely RMS Titanic Inc.), who also now owns the recovered RMS Titanic and many of its artefacts.