Captain Herbert Haddock
- Audacious Rescue
After the 1912-1913 refit of the RMS Olympic, Haddock is subsequently listed as master aboard the RMS Olympic for multiple voyages between the 2nd of April 1913 and the 3rd of October 1914.
Then, on the morning of 27 October 1914 Haddock found himself in another rescue mission, after the HMS Audacious struck a mine off the coast of Ireland. The Olympic was 10 miles away and raced to be of assistance, launching lifeboats to rescue the crew:
Carrying only 153 paying passengers and painted drab gray, White Star Line’s Olympic was on what would be her last civilian voyage before conversion into a World War I troopship. Suddenly, on the 27th of October 1914, her wireless operator picked up a message that the British battleship HMS Audacious had struck a mine and was sinking. Olympic, inbound to Glasgow (White Star, unlike Cunard Line, wisely believed that the U-boat infested approaches to both Southampton and Liverpool were far too dangerous to use), immediately steamed to Audacious’ location: Tory Island, off Irelands’ northern coast. (Olympic Aids Sinking Battleship, John Edwards, oceanlinersmagazine.com)
At 13:30, Captain Haddock suggested that his ship attempt to take the Audacious in tow. The Audacious' Captain Dampier agreed, and with the assistance of the destroyer Fury, a tow line was passed 30 minutes later. The ships began moving, but the line snapped as Audacious repeatedly tried to turn into the wind. The Liverpool and the newly arrived collier SS Thornhill then attempted to take the battleship in tow, but the lines broke before any progress could be made and ultimately, the Audacious was lost. However, Haddock was able to rescue 230 of Audacious’ 900-man crew.
Due to the bad press of losing a new ship so early in the war to only a single mine, all news of the loss was suppressed, which meant that the Olympic was briefly interned at Lough Swilly.
It was not until the 14th of November 1918 that the loss was officially acknowledged. However, one witness to this event and Haddock's actions was a stewardess who had survived Titanic (and later the sinking of the Britannic) and would later write a book recounting her experiences: Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs Of Violet Jessop, Stewardess. She wrote about the incident in detail in her book:
The smell of land on a beautiful autumn morning brought us that satisfying odor of peat-fires as we skirted the coast of northern Ireland on our way to Scotland.
We had noticed at a distance gray shapes that proved to be some cruisers out for target practice, we thought. Suddenly there was a dispersal and change of tactics indicating that something was amiss. Putting on speed, we soon found one of the largest cruisers had been struck. As we hurried to the scene, all our lifeboats, with voluntary crews including a great many stewards, stood ready to lower.
On the swell of enormous waves, the huge battleship rhythmically rose and dipped. Serrated ranks of men in blue lined her decks, watching groups of their comrades being swept over as monster waves washed the decks. The next wave, however, brought them back again and not one man lost his life through drowning.
The lifeboats laboriously made the crossing, appearing at times to be completely submerged in the trough of the sea, we held our breaths. Then as they came and went, transfering groups of those extraordinarily well-disciplined men with their cheery, grateful faces, the whole ship began to smile as one man. We watched those somewhat embarrassed men being rendered still more tongue-tied by the warmth of welcome they found as willing hands pulled them aboard Olympic. Their eyes lit up at the sight of the comrades already brought to safety. I was touched by their eager, simple wonder as they made comparisons between the appointments of a luxury liner and their own austere surroundings.
All day we labored frantically to take that huge hulk in tow. Everybody not otherwise engaged, including passengers, helped transfer the large steel hawser from one part of the ship to another, after our first cable had snapped. It seemed a superhuman effort to move its unwieldy end on to the waiting tugs and destroyers standing by, waiting to connect it to the distressed ship.
But it was all hopeless. It snapped again. As evening drew near we left the Audacious a wounded and tired giant, heaving herself up every now and then, only to sink lower and lower in the restless sea with the setting sun’s rays illuminating her doom. (Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs Of Violet Jessop, Stewardess, Violet Jessop)
Another vessel had been dispatched, the battleship Exmouth, which arrived on the scene at 8.45pm but not before the Audacious suddenly capsized at 9pm, along with an explosion that threw wreckage 300 feet, including a piece of armour plate that killed a petty officer aboard the Liverpool. Thanks to the rescue efforts of Haddock, it was the only casualty during the sinking.
With the British Admiralty insisting that the sinking be kept a secret, the Olympic was subsequently interned to avoid any leaks to the press. Nevertheless, the many Americans aboard the Olympic were beyond British jurisdiction. Jessop continues:
We steamed for Lough Swilly, near those Donegal hills where the lights and shadows of indigo and purple always wove a different picture. Here and there, tiny spirals of smoke from the cottagers’ peat-fires curled heavenward
like incense at evening prayer, filling the crystal clear air with its unforgettable odor. The only sound was the tinkling church bells echoing faintly through the valleys, calling the faithful to early mass.
A fairy-tale setting discovered by accident, it was a most realistic place in which to be “interned.” It was hoped by this internment to avoid the publicity about this latest disaster. The news would doubtless leak out once the passengers—some of them most important—were free to go their different ways; many, moreover, stood to be great losers by the enforced delay.
I am afraid all the precautions to keep the news from leaking were in vain, for while we were still living in that pool of peace, Lough Swilly, the news was already being yelled abroad by newsboys in the capitals of Europe.
With regret, we weighed anchor from that beautiful spot where we had got familiar with jolly Royal Navy men, who had the entire freedom of our ship when duty permitted. I noticed that they never lost an opportunity to take advantage of our hospitality, accepting things that sailors appreciate. (Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs Of Violet Jessop, Stewardess)
Jessop's Description of Haddock
Although the sinking of Audacious resulted in the loss of the battleship and a news blackout, Haddock's efforts were not ignored. Violet Jessop herself, in her memoirs, makes particular mention of Haddock, describing him in great detail:
Our commander, Captain Haddock, was himself a Royal Navy man, a lovable character and a true English gentleman of the old school. His unpretentious appearance, quiet manners, old-fashioned side whiskers and a coachman’s top coat when ashore, often caused landsmen to mistake his calling. He loved to relate such incidents to the passengers at his table, chuckling softly with one eyebrow whimsically raised.
Once he went in person to a well-known nursery in Southampton to choose a large quantity of stuff for his garden. When the transaction completed, the salesman, a new employee, said confidentially: “If you can arrange to get us Captain Haddock’s regular orders, we will give you a good commission.” Whereupon the good captain was forced to admit he was not his own coachman-cum-gardener.
To a stranger, perhaps the attraction of this rather unprepossessing man lay in his charming and restful voice, probably the result of generations of good breeding, and his steadfast eyes. When surprised, they would widen into a questioning, slightly bewildered stare and, without a word, he would turn to whoever was with him and invariably scratch the top of his head with a sort of childish perplexity.
But to us all, the thing that drew our unquestioning loyalty was his naturalness and his intensely human manner of dealing with his fellow men.
Later in the war, when he was in command of Q-boats [sic], there was a scramble amongst his old crews to serve with him. (Titanic Survivor: The Memoirs Of Violet Jessop, Stewardess)
Jessop's description aligns with a 1911 story in The New York Times which described Haddock as the "only skipper in the Atlantic trade who wears the mid-Victorian mutton chop whiskers without a beard or mustache."