Altering clocks


Paul Lee

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Can someone please confirm that it was the duty of the wireless operators to alter ship's time? I recall reading this somewhere.

AAlso, would it be possible for the ship's clocks to be altered without anyone knowing it? For instance, Hichens speaks specifically of the collision being at 11.40, and being relieved at 12.23. There were two
clocks in the wheelhouse and I feel he must have noted the time from these clocks. Could the time changing be overlooked?

Thanks

Paul
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Dec 2, 2000
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>>Can someone please confirm that it was the duty of the wireless operators to alter ship's time? I recall reading this somewhere.<<

I'd be interested in knowing where as the Magenta clocks used for this were controlled from the navigation bridge IIRC.

>>Could the time changing be overlooked?<<

It's possible. One of the officers (his name escapes me at this moment) was asked about this issue and replied that they had other things on their mind or words to that effect. I guess having ship sink from beneath you can be quite a distraction but an understandable one.
 

Noel F. Jones

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Clockshifts are the responsibility of the designated navigating officer (usually the second mate), having due regard to ship's routine.

Noel
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Pitman said the clocks were not retarded. He was correct in that neither the official ship's time nor the passenger clocks were set back. And, the cause was the ongoing emergency.

For those who want to explore the timekeeping on Titanic, keep in mind that there were three possible times: 1.) civil day and time; 2.) passenger time; and, 3.) crew time. All three coincided during most of the day. However, the nature of changing from April 14 to April 15 civil time required more than just one pushing back of the clock hands.

Per Lightoller's U.S. testimony, all of the clock changes must be done at "midnight." And, from crew testimony, 7 bells (11:30 p.m.) rang about 10 minutes before the accident. The normal "midnight" change of watch started about 20 minutes afterward.

And, neither April 14 nor April 15 time can be based on the longitude of the wreck which is roughly 50 W, or GMT - 3:20. (Lightoller came up with GMT - 3:27 for the U.S. inquiry.) All civil time was based on the ship's longitude at "local apparent noon," or the moment when the sun was highest overhead as viewed from the ship.

And, just to make the calculations more fun, hours are in base 10, while minutes are in base 60. Happy computing!
 

Paul Lee

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When I say "overlooked", I mean by Hichens. I had an idea that the clocks would be altered whilst he was busy at the wheel, so he may not have noticed the extra 23 minutes added on until it came time for his watch to end.

However, I suppose QM Olliver, also at wheel to assist in delivering messages etc. would have noticed......

Paul
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Mar 22, 2003
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Wireless operators did not control the ship's clocks. That was delegated to one of the junior officers. The wireless cabin had two clocks, one set to ship's time, the other set to either GMT or NY mean time (5 hours behind GMT) depending on whether the ship was east or west of 40° W longitude. On the night of April 14th the ship's clocks keeping Titanic time were to go back by 47 minutes, and this was normally done at midnight as Dave said. For the crew the setback was to be split into two adjustments, 23 minutes for the First Watch section, and 24 minutes for the Middle Watch section. What Hichens said is that he was not sure if they had set the clocks back that night. He did say he stayed till 23 minutes after 12 before being relieved. I don't think it was Hichens who overlooked something. I think it was Hichens who was overlooked since there was no reason for him to stay at the wheel with the ship stopped dead in the water at that time.
 
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>>However, I suppose QM Olliver, also at wheel to assist in delivering messages etc. would have noticed...... <<

Possibly, but with the ship going down by the head, and they being aware of it, I doubt very much that questions of time changes and zones were a top priority with any of them. Trying to stay alive has a way of sharpening your focus on more important matters real quick.
 

Paul Lee

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Hi Samuel,
You could be right - Rowe was overlooked too and did an extra 20 minutes too (probably because all the action was located forward, not aft).

By the way, if the clocks were to be changed, would they have been altered at the start or the end of the watch?

Paul
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Mar 22, 2003
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Hi Paul: You are asking a very good question. It depends on who you want to believe. I need to say up front that my friend Dave Brown and I differ on this issue, and this does have a consequence on the collision time and observed other event times that night. That said, let me give you what I believe and why.

It was the practice on the Titanic and other White Star Line ships to set the clocks at midnight so that at local apparent noon the next day the clocks would read 12:00. That I think we could all agree. We also know that for the crew the setback of the clocks was to be split between the two deck watches. For the night of April 14th the clocks were supposed to go back 47 minutes. It is my understanding from the research done by others that several gentlemen had made it a habit to stay up late in the smoking room waiting for the clocks to change so they could accurately set their pocket watches. If there were not an accident, this would have happened when the clock struck 12 midnight. Instead of becoming April 15th, the time would have gone back to 11:13 PM April 14th time delaying the official start of April 15 by 47 minutes. Now the crew on watch was the First Watch, normally from 8 PM to 12 midnight. In my opinion clock set for watchkeeping time would have gone back by 23 minutes when the all other clocks were set back 47 minutes. This would extend the First Watch by 23 minutes. At the end of this extended time, the Middle Watch would come on and the watchkeeping clock would go back by 24 minutes putting it into sync with the rest of the ship's clocks and extending the time of the oncoming Middle Watch by 24 minutes. This would have minimized any difference between the official clock time and that on a watchkeeping clock used by the crew. It also avoids the confusion to the passengers of setting the clocks back twice each night.

Now Dave believes, and he could correct me if I get it wrong, that a watchkeeping clock would be setback at the start of the First Watch by 23 or 24 minutes, not at the end. The time in GMT that the change of watch sections takes place is the same as in what I described above except that crew time and passenger time would have been different for almost 4 hours. Confused yet?

Without going into all the details here, I believe the clocks were to have been set back as I first described it; for the First watch section near the end of their watch, and for the Middle watch section at the start of their watch. Support for this comes from several places. First we have lookout Frederick Fleet who was asked about the length of time of his watch up in the nest. Fleet replied that it was "two hours, but the time was going to be put back that watch. We were to get about 2 hours and 20 minutes." Notice he said the time was going to be put back, not that it was. And Fleet's watch up in the nest began at 10 PM, not 8 PM.

Another input comes from Lightoller when asked about the length of Boxhall's watch. When asked if Boxhall's watch would have taken him [Boxhall] two hours beyond the end of Lightoller's watch, Lightoller said it was "more than two hours considering the clock went back," meaning near the end of Boxhall's watch is when the clocks are changed. Now Lightoller was on from 6 PM to 10 PM. If the clocks went back at the start of the First Watch, 8 PM, then he too would have be on for more that 4 hours, and Boxhall's watch would have ended exactly 2 hours after his. By the way, Lightoller was off duty in his cabin when midnight took place and probably had no idea if the clocks were ever changed that night until much later on. Around midnight, give or take am few minutes, all hands were called so the normal change of watch never happened. That was the situation when Boxhall was asked to call upon Lightoller and Pitman in their cabins to get them up and about.

There is more and it concerns the exact time of the collision and other observed events. But I don't have time to get into all that right now.
 
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Sam is correct that he and I have been at odds over the method of timekeeping. However, it has been a healthy academic argument which I for one have enjoyed.

The key to my timekeeping system is time meridians. That is, the meridian of Local Apparent Noon (LAN) on which the day's time was based. By tradition and necessity time was reckoned noon-to-noon even though the clocks were change at "midnight."

The LAN meridian for Sunday, April 14 was roughly 44 32 W longitude for an approximate 2:58 minute diference to Grenwich (GMT) time.

A 47 minute setback of the clocks would have placed Titanic on about 56 16 W longitude at noon on Monday, April 15 for a 3:45 difference to GMT.

But, the time being used on Titanic to measure the moment of the accident was not based on either noon Sunday or noon Monday. Proof of this came in the following exchange during examination of Third Officer Pitman by Senator Smith. When Pitman could not say, Lightoller jumped in with the time difference betweeen Titanic and GMT.

Senator SMITH: ...What was the Greenwich time compared with the ship's time?
Mr. PITMAN: I cannot say.
Senator SMITH: Can you say, Mr. Lightoller?

Mr. LIGHTOLLER: I can give the Greenwich time.
Senator SMITH: I wish you would.
Mr. LIGHTOLLER: 5:47 -- 2:20 -- 5:47 Greenwich mean time; 2:20 apparent time of ship.

Using Lightoller's numbers, it is possible to calculate what he considered to be difference between ship's time and Greenwich.

5:47 a.m. GMT - 2:20 = 3 hours 27 minutes

Lightoller said 2:20 a.m. for Titanic was the equivalent of 5:47 a.m. in Greenwich. Inspection of the time differences shows that Lightoller's was roughly halfway between Sunday and Monday hours.

April 14th Difference -- 2:58
Lightoller Difference -- 3:27
April 15th Difference -- 3:45

Quite obviously, Lightoller was using a clock retarded about half of the total setback between April 14th and April 15th hours.

One way to check Lightoller's testimony is to compute the time difference for the boiler field on 49 56.5 W longitude. That works out to 3:19, quite close to the second officer's numbers and well within the accuracy expected of 1912 navigation.

To me, this is pretty substantial proof that at the clock by which the accident was timed was retarded by half the 47 minute setback. There was no compelling reason to retard the passenger clock in two steps. However, we know from numerous testimonies that the crew did split the setback between the 8-to-12 and the 12-to-4 watches.

All of the above led me to conclude that the crew used a fictional time which I dubbed "wheelhouse time" for keeping track of the 8-to-12 watch. And, based on Lightoller's testimony, it was this time reference by which the accident was recorded. If I am correct, the following relationships exist for a time of 11:40 p.m. on the wheelhouse clock:

April 14th hours -- 12:04 a.m.
Wheelhouse hours -- 11:40 p.m.
April 15th hours -- 11:17 p.m.
New York Time -- 10:02 p.m.
Greenwich Time -- 3:02 a.m.

Remember, all of the above are the exact same moment in the history of the universe, but referenced to differnt time meridians.

Now to the question of whether the extra time caused by the two setbacks was served at the beginning or end of each watch period. The answer is that no matter when the physical hands of the clock were cranked back, all of the extra time comes at the end of the watch. This sounds paradoxical but it is an outgrowth of how "midnight" was used. "Midnight" was the start of the new day, not the end of the previous day.

The 8-to-12 watch started at 8 p.m. in April 14th hours. By retarding the wheelhouse clock, they made it possible to have the next change of watch occur at "midnight." But, that was not 4 hours later. It was 4 hours 24 minutes. Setting back the clock did not reverse the arrow of time. No minutes could be added to the start of any watch without reducing the time worked by the previous watch. So, although the hands of the clock might have been turned back at the start of the 8-to-12 watch, the extra minutes were served at the end of that watch period.

Applying this to Lightoller's description of Boxhall's watch it is easy to see why the second officer spoke as he did. Boxhall worked, or more correctly, would have worked his extra time at the end of his watch and 8 bells would have marked the time he got off duty. That's not what happened, but only because of an iceberg.

I turn the hands back at the start of the 8-to-12 watch and again at the start of the 12-to-4. This makes a neat symmetry with everything done the same on each watch. Most important, this system results in the wheelhouse clock being "correct" for April 15th hours at "midnight" as required by Lightoller's testimony.

Sam suggests a different approach. He would have the 8-to-12 watch keep April 14th hours until a "first midnight." Then the hands would be retarded and the extra time served. Immediately upon this "second midnight" the watch would change bringing the 12-to-4 on deck, and the hands would be retarded again so as to make the wheelhouse clock corect for the next day. While this system works mechanically, it seems awkward. It also does not allow for the orderly ringing of ship's bells by which time is noted.

Ship's bells ring one strike for every half hour of the watch. One bell is 30 minutes, two bells mark the end of the first hour and so on until 8 bells which marks change of watch.

Under my system, 8 bells rings to mark the change of watch at 8 p.m. (actually, it was 4 bells due to a mutiny, but that's a long story). The wheelhouse clock is reset to 7:36 p.m. Technically, 8 bells should strike at 8 p.m on the wheelhouse clock, but that has already sounded so no bells ring. One bell does not come 30 minutes into the watch, but 54 minutes at 8:30 p.m. on the wheelhouse clock. From there on, the bells ring as usual until 8 bells marking the midnight change of watch. The same pattern of setback and long first bell would have been followed by the 12-to-4 watch.

Pitman said that the clock was not set back that night due to the ongoing emergency. In terms of official civil time he was correct. And, in terms of his watch, the 12-to-4, he was also correct. The setting back of the wheelhouse clock was an unofficial "fiction" strictly for the convenience of the crew.

I will have to leave it at this for the next five days while I am away on business.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Ah, the famous 05:47 GMT sinking time mentioned by Lightoller at the US Inquiry. This does not at all prove that he was using a clock retarded by half the 47 minutes. Where did Lightoller get that from you all ask? This actually did not originate with Lightoller at the US Inquiry. It came from a wireless message sent by Capt. Rostron on the Carpathia to Capt. Haddock on the Olympic at 4 PM NY time on April 15th: “Titanic foundered about 2.20 a.m., 5.47 G.M.T.”￾ This is what Lightoller remembered at the American Inquiry, and which led the American Inquiry to adopt 1 hour 33 minutes as the official difference between NY time and Titanic time in their report. But this was a mistake that nobody wanted to correct, not even Lightoller.

So how did 5:47 GMT come about? Capt. Rostron on the Carpathia obtained the foundering time from the Titanic's officers when they were picked up. The foundering time was noted at 2:20 AM on an unadjusted clock still set to April 14th time. If Titanic's clocks had been set back by the 47 minutes that they were supposed to, that would make a foundering time of 02:20 - 00:47 = 01:33 AM on an April 15th clock. All this was probably discussed between Rostron and some of Titanic’s officers. But confusion was just waiting to happen. Rostron must have mistook the 01:33 AM foundering time expressed in April 15th hours as the difference between Titanic time and NY time. He then subtracted this 1:33 from 5:00 to get what he thought was the difference between Titanic clock time and GMT. This difference comes out to be 5:00 - 1:33 = 3:27. Then to get to GMT of the foundering, he just added 3 hours 27 minutes to 2:20 AM and got 5:47 AM GMT. And it this that he put as the foundering time in the message to the Olympic. Unfortunately, it was accepted without question.

By the way, at the Limitation of Liability Hearings in NY in 1915 questions were raised as to the time of the collision and the time of the foundering of the Titanic. In the amended answers of the petitioner, the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company (A.K.A. White Star line), to the interrogatories annexed to the answers of Frederic K. Seward, the time of foundering was given as 12:41 AM NY time April 15, 1912. That means 2:20 AM Titanic time was equal to 12:41 AM NY giving a time difference between Titanic and NY of 1 hour 39 minutes. This is the same as 3 hours 21 minutes behind GMT. Guess what famous location that corresponds to? You got it, the famous Boxhall CQD longitude of 50° 14' W, the longitude that the lawyers were told the accident happened. It was a simple thing to do by the White Star Line, and I guess lawyers don't know enough to question how these times were derived.

The actual time difference between Titanic clocks and those in NY, based on Titanic's noon longitude and the equation of time on April 14th, would be 2 hours 1 minute, or 3 hours 59 minutes behind GMT. At least Dave Brown and I are close on that one.

As far as the orderly ringing of ship's bells there is no problem in scenario I proposed. In the First watch, normally from 8 to 12, the bells would be rung every 30 minutes except between the ringing of 7 bells and 8 bells. That would be a gap of 53 minutes due to half the setback taking place. For the oncoming watch, the Middle watch, there would be a gap of 54 minutes between the ringing of 8 bells at the time they came on to the ringing of 1 bell due to the other half of the setback taking place. Thereafter, the bells would be rung every 30 minutes as usual. The two extra gaps are symmetrical around the ringing of 8 bells when the watch was changed. Symmetry preserved!

Anyway, I agree with Dave in that it has been a healthy argument which I too have enjoyed. And like Dave, I need to get back to doing some real work over the next few days.
 

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