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Binn's Story Of Wireless Work

by John R. Binns
New York Times, January 27, 1909

I had just turned in for a few hours after the previous day's work when the shock of the impact shook me out of my bunk. A crunching ripping noise followed as the "Florida's" bow crumpled up on our side. The panels and side of our cabin fell in, one panel being smashed to splinters, but fortunately the wireless apparatus was unhurt and remained standing.

I had a fear, however, that the aerial wires between the masts might have been shaken down, so I hastily tested them, and most fortunately they were still intact.

My first impression was that we had run ashore, which was strengthened when I peered through the interstices of the wrecked woodwork of my cabin and saw a dark object outside over which the sea was washing. This I took to be rock, but later found it was Boat #15, which is always swung out from the ship and which had been torn from its davits.

The First CQD Message Sent

Five minutes after the collision the lights all through the ship went out and we were all in total darkness. I tried to make my way to the bridge in order to report to the Captain that my gear was all right, but unable to make my way through the wreckage, I returned to my wrecked cabin. The dynamics of being stopped, greatly handicapped the working distance of our station, but the accumulators were in good condition, and so I immediately sounded the CQD. signal, which announced to surrounding ships the peril of our position.

Just then the Captain's steward came to me from the bridge and piloted me through the debris. On the boat deck all the passengers were assembled and the crew had already got the boats swung about, for, despite the darkness, everything was done in an orderly and smart manner.

I reported to Captain Sealby that everything was all right with my wireless instruments and he hastened to reassure the passengers, brave but anxious, with this most comforting bit of news.

This having been done, I returned immediately to my cabin and had the satisfaction of gaining the attention of our station at Siasconsett on Nantucket Island. This is the message flashed to A.H. Glaman, the operator there:
The Republic. We are shipwrecked. Stand by for Captain's message.
This was the answer that was immediately flashed back to us:
All right old man. Where are you?
At this stage our chief officer came and anxiously inquired if I had yet got in communication with anybody and was greatly relieved to learn that Siasconsett had answered me. He at once hastened to the Captain to convey this intelligence. Captain Sealby then sent me this message for transmission:
Republic rammed by unknown steamer. Twenty-six miles southwest of Nantucket Lightship. Badly in need of immediate assistance, but no danger to life.
Five minutes later Siasconsett informed me that he had sent for the revenue cutter Acushnet, then lying at Wood's Hole, and that it was to proceed to assist us. Word had also been sent to the steamships "Baltic," "La Lorraine," and "City of Everett."

I was now working under extreme difficulties, as it was very dark. I had unfortunately broken the lever of my sending key just after the lights went out, but eventually managed all right by holding the broken lever with one hand and sending with the other.

The Dead Discovered

Then came the first respite I had had since the force of the crash had hurled me from my bunk. It was now getting light, and with the first streaks of dawn I was enabled to look about me and comprehend the damage that had been wrought, together with the extreme peril of our position. This was more vividly brought home to me when, glancing at the door just outside my wrecked cabin, I saw the mangled bodies of two passengers. The light was not strong enough for me to make out who they were or whether they were the bodies of men or women, but both were mangled beyond recognition, and for the first time I knew that human lives had been sacrificed in the crash of the fog-bound ships.

Capt. Sealby was on the bridge all this time, but soon after I discovered the bodies lying near me. Dr. Marsh came along, and, after examining the bodies, announced that both had been killed outright. Blankets were stretched over the two still forms, and a little later they were laid in coffins. It was not until a roll call had been made that the identity of the dead was established.

Sick with the horror of the scene that had been enacted before my very eyes, I was indeed grateful for the brief respite that followed. I drew on my boots and a waistcoat and was lucky enough to find an apple and some water at hand, but it was bitterly cold in the cabin, for a stiff breeze was blowing through the splintered wood work, and then, too, the blinding fog filtered all about me, chilling me to the marrow. I was soon busy again, however, and once more in communication with the Siasconsett station, doing my utmost to locate the "Baltic." I could hear the "Baltic's" wireless signals as they were being flashed to shore, but my disabled spark was too weak to reach the "Baltic's" operator.

Just as the "Florida" returned to us the "Baltic" began to pick up my signals, and from then on I was kept busy notifying that ship of our position, and from that time forward it was a steady interchange of messages between Tattersall and Balfour, the "Baltic's" operators, and myself.

The passengers were successfully transferred to the "Florida," and not a single mishap occurred to mar this perilous work. The fog lifted for a few minutes shortly before noon on Saturday, and I happened to look out at that moment and saw the "Florida" with her bow gone almost to the bridge, the majority of her remaining plates forward of the bridge, being in ribbons and twisted beyond recognition.

About 2 o'clock I realized for the first time than I was hungry and Douglas, my steward, who had been running to and from the bridge all morning with messages for and from the Captain, was able to get a bite of food and a cup of coffee for me, which I devoured while sending and receiving messages.

The Lorraine Gets in Touch

Early in the afternoon the Lorraine was able to read us, and we began to give her steering directions, but it was very difficult for her navigator to find us on account of the blanket of fog that enveloped the sea. The hours of the afternoon dragged slowly, and they were filled with anxiety for the Captain and all on board. Darkness set in early, superinduced, of course, by the thick weather. The most anxious hour of the day was at about 6 o'clock in the evening, when Captain Sealby heard, only faintly, the explosion of a bomb in the far distance. He at once communicated with me and I made inquiries, learning that the "Baltic" had been exploding bombs in an effort to apprise us of her whereabouts. We, too, had been exploding bombs, but exhausted our supply, and, from now on, had nothing but our almost exhausted and fast-weakening wireless apparatus to which we could pin our hopes of rescue.

The "Baltic" then informed me that she had but a solitary bomb left, and arranged with us that this would be exploded at a certain moment. This was done, and as we heard the faint rumble there was no further doubt in our minds that the Baltic would soon find us as we tossed about, marooned, as it were, in the fog, and not knowing how long we could remain afloat.

Capt. Sealby took the direction from which the sound came, and so I was then able to give the "Baltic" Capt. Sealby's orders as to which course the sister ship was to steer to reach us.

These steering directions Capt. Sealby changed at times in accordance with the change of sound direction, and a little later we heard the "Baltic's" fog horn blowing faintly, and this increased in volume as she lessened the distance between us. Occasionally we fired rockets, but they cold not be seen through fog although, a little later the "Baltic's" siren was heard so plainly that we know the ship was close by. Realizing this, Capt. Sealby issued orders that the "Baltic" be told to proceed as carefully as possible, as she was now too close on our port side to be safe.

The "Baltic" at Hand at Last

I had just communicated this message when I heard a cheer and I at once realized that these sounds of rejoicing could not come from our men, as only Capt. Sealby, the officers, myself and the crew were aboard our ship, and they were all busily engaged in standing by the boats. Looking aft through my splintered cabin I made out the "Baltic" quite near the stern of our ship, the fog having again lifted somewhat. She was a blaze of light and as I sat there in my little cabin the thought occurred to me that the most beautiful sight in the world is a ship at sea, especially then that ship is needed to supply a link between life and death. Time and again it occurred to me, as I worked away in feverish haste, a mere machine voicing the words of our gallant Captain who so heroically watched over the safety of those who had intrusted their lives to him, that the end was near; that it was only a question of how long the ship could withstand the wound that pierced her very vitals, and I had practically resigned myself to the fate that every seafaring man has before him at some time in his career. I never expected to see New York again and as I sit here writing this narrative it all comes back to me like a terrible nightmare.

Come to our leeward and take up our boats. Have Lorraine and Lucania convey the Florida.
This message concluded with the words: Wireless now closed.

The Captain then sent word to me to come forward from my cabin as soon as I had sent the message off. Reporting to the Captain, I was told to take to the boats with the officers and the crew who were about to be transferred to the "Baltic." By that time the weather had cleared to a considerable extent, but a heavy swell was running. After a stiff pull we reached the "Baltic," whose people gave the heartiest kind of a cheer as we came alongside. Our sailors were about to respond to the welcome when Mr. Williams, the second officer, who was at the tiller, said: "Now my heartiest, steady, Keep cool and let them see us come up in good style!" And without a word, we ran in alongside the gangway.

As soon as all the sailors and officers were aboard, with the exception of Capt. Sealby, Chief Officer Crossland, the boatswain, and a boat's crew, who were standing by the ship, Capt. Sealby megaphoned to Capt. Ranson of the Baltic, asking him to go to the assistance of the "Florida" and "leave me, as I am alright."

Perilous Transfer Successful

When the "Baltic" came alongside of the "Florida," the "Baltic's," and "Republic's" officers and sailors, using the "Republic's" boats, began to transfer the passengers from the disabled "Florida" to the "Baltic." This task was extremely difficult and perilous, as there was a heavy swell running, with the sea momentarily increasing, causing the boats to bump violently against the gangway. The greatest difficulty had was in inducing the women passengers to leap at the right moment.

Upward of 2,000 people were transferred during the night, and the greatest credit is due to our officers and seamen for the magnificent and cool manner in which they conducted this most arduous undertaking, as it was it was only their strenuous and unceasing efforts that prevented loss of life. Cowards? Not a bit of it! Never, and I mean it absolutely, was there a braver lot of men whose courage was put to the most crucial test. They came through the trying ordeal with colors flying, and reflected wonderful credit upon that most splendid and bravest of masters, Capt. Sealby.

Our officers and crew had no sleep Saturday night. I was more fortunate, having snatched a few hours rest in one of the cabins. The following morning the "Florida" (she had a very perceptible list to port Saturday night) had righted herself somewhat and her Captain apparently had decided to go to New York without assistance.

The "Baltic" steamed back to the "Republic," and Capt. Sealby shouted across asking for volunteers to go and stand by the "Republic." The officers, many sailors, a cook, and one or two stewards, including Chief Steward Stanyar and the second class chief steward, the saloon steward, and myself, all went over, which including the Captain, who had remained aboard all night, made thirty-eight of us all told.

Arriving on board, I tested my wireless apparatus, found it to be all right, and so reported the same to the Captain, who at once made wireless inquiries for the tugs that had been sent to our assistance.

By this time the "Furnessia" had arrived and had been standing by; then the Florida came alongside of the "Republic," remaining there as a safeguard for those of us left on our ship and the "Baltic" took up her journey to New York with her tremendous burden of human freight. As she steamed by our stern, where our Captain and officers had assembled, every living soul aboard the Baltic gave us a hearty cheer.

After seeing the "Baltic" vanish from view, I bethought me of my wrecked cabin, and later, nailing up some blankets around the rent sides, I soon made it more habitable, and was able to keep sheltered from the chill air. Once more I was ready for business.

The volunteer cook had prepared us a meal, and this we had just partaken of when the revenue cutter "Gresham" arrived. She took one of our lines on board, and, steaming ahead, commenced to tow us, with the "Furnessia" attached by two lines to our stern, to steer us.

Ordered to Abandon Ship

At about 4 o'clock Sunday afternoon we had shipped so much water that Capt. Sealby decided to order the crew to the boats, and transfer them to the "Gresham." I had put a box of cigarettes at my side, so that in case we left in a hurry I could snatch them up, but so unexpectedly did the order come that I forgot to take them, and, being somewhat addicted to the tobacco habit, and with nothing to smoke, my pangs became more and more acute as the night wore on.

One of the officers then ordered me to the boat, Capt. Sealby and Second Officer Williams remaining on the fast-settling "Republic."

This time we were taken aboard the Gresham. Reaching across the stern of the Gresham were two steel hawsers, which were attached to the "Republic's" bows. Capt. Perry then ordered that a nine-inch rope hawser be attached to that end of the steel hawser, and then paid out until the rope was wrapped around the bit of the Gresham. An axe was laid alongside of the rope hawser, so that in case the "Republic" settled further or sunk the rope could be cut, and thus set free the Gresham. A boat was lying alongside the Gresham, ready to rescue Capt. Sealby and Williams in case it was necessary.

At about 5 o'clock the derelict destroyer "Seneca," under command of Capt. Reynolds, came along, and put a line aboard the Gresham and helped the latter tow the "Republic." Two hours later we missed the lights of the "Furnessia." At 8 o'clock a signal was sent up from the "Republic" and the Gresham's hawser was severed. The crew was in the lifeboat, and the searching was playing upon the spot almost before the rest of us, who were standing around, could realize it. We caught one fleeting glimpse of the poor "Republic's" bows, which were shown up by the searchlight. After that we saw no more of her.

Cheers for Sealby and Williams

A heavy seas was running and every man standing on the Gresham's quarter-deck was straining his eyes to follow the movements of the little boat that was casting about in search of Capt. Sealby and Second Officer Williams. On account of the high sea running we could not make anything out, and it was an anxious time we spent until we finally hailed her and learned that Capt. Sealby and Williams were safe. Rousing cheers were given and it was with the heartiest of warm welcomes that we received the two men on board who had last trod the decks of the "Republic."

The officers of the "Gresham" and the "Seneca" are men and sailors in every sense of the word, and too much praise cannot be bestowed upon them for the part they played in the stirring incidents that have just closed, and the treatment they accorded us while under their care.

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