Blame on Captain Smith

Mark Chirnside

Mark Chirnside

Member
Hi All!

A quick post from me. I am back properly at week's end. I believe after considering all of the evidence available to me -- from Ismay's enquiry testimony to the Liability hearings in the United States, and private accounts from Olympic and her third voyage -- that Ismay wanted Titanic to beat Olympic's maiden voyage time, but I think that while he made his hopes/desires about the crossing known to Smith, Smith would have judged their safety for himself. I do not feel that Smith would have felt unsafe doing 22.5 knots, for example, compared to 21 knots, nor that he would have felt need to slow down.

On the night of the accident, Titanic was actually consuming coal at a faster rate than her bunkers could have sustained for a full 7 days. Fortunately, the first part of the trip was slower and there was barely enough coal for a safe passage.

I strongly believe this to be untrue. Olympic had burned 3,500 tons of coal on her maiden voyage and Titanic had 5,892 (or 5,400 depending on your belief/source) tons of coal aboard. This is 1,900 tons extra -- enough for more than one thousand miles of high-speed steaming -- even at the lowest estimate.

Although I did not want to put forward my extensive and detailed calculations on this public forum, especially as they await publication, I must say respectfully that I am surprised Dave that you still view that there was a coal shortage, or 'barely enough for passage,' since you have seen them in that table I presented -- that shows that there was far more than enough for a safe passage. Ismay himself admitted in America that there was a notable reserve of coal, hardly advisible when he was accused of excessive pressure for high speed.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
Kyrila Scully

Kyrila Scully

Member
Now that makes a great deal of sense to me, David. I appreciate your logic and simplistic explanation. To me, this is a very significant observation that will probably stick in my mind, and when I'm asked about the influence Ismay had over Capt. Smith concerning the ship's speed and a race to NY, I'll surely remember your post. It always helps to have the POV of one who has experience with such things.

All the best,
Kyrila
 
E

Erik Wood

Member
Dave said something to the effect, that Captain Smith was acting in a prudent manner before 1140. I strongly disagree with that. If he had been acting in a prudent manner we wouldn't be having this conversation. I agree that he did the right thing by appearing on the bridge for the change of watch, I agree that he was prudent in staying up and plotting things. But the rest.... I disagree with.

In any accident we go off what was happening before the accident and what happened after the accident. The fact that there was an accident says somebody did something wrong. For now I am going to stay out of the Ismay debate. Whether or not he told Smith to go faster or slower, or whether or not he threatened Smiths command doesn't matter. As Dave and I have tried to point out it was Smith's decision, a decision that the rest of the officers would have backed up and Ismay tried to pull something stupid, something I personaly don't think he did. He may have wanted to do his little speed stunt but when the Captain told him the situation he agreed (although pouting all the way) with Smith's assesment.

I have said this many times, if 14 knots was as fast as Titanic could go, then 14 knots was to fast for Titanic to be going. Whether or not the lookouts or bridge team was accostumed to being a lookout at 22 knots isn't an issue. There company employed them to do that duty, and employed Smith to ensure that the crew did there job to the best of there ability. That being said the company is also liable for not properly training there crew, if this is the case.

In my view Smith was grossly negligent in the operation of his vessel, and Murdoch was also negligent but to a lesser degree. I come to this conclusion but adding three things together.

22knots + several ice warnings + improper lookout = shipo hitting isceberg.

As an investigator I could care less what the common practice of the day is. Obviously the common practice is wreckless. As an investgator I have to look into what caused the accident. Speed was one of the factors. Whether it was 14 knots or 24 knots it doesn't matter, it was a factor and no matter what speed the ship was going the person in charge of the vessel was negligent in his use of speed.

The lookout issue is two fold. If Smith was up and around just before the accident he would have been aware that both Boxhall and Oliver were not on the bridge, leaving only Murdoch to look forward. Had Boxhall and Oliver been on the bridge and in a lookout capacity this lookout thing wouldn't be an issue. Because then you have 5 pairs of eyes dedicated to looking forward. But there where only three pairs of eyes looking forward, and out of that three only one had binocs.

So not only had Smith known that ice was in the area he should have been aware that the bridge team was short two people, if these two folks where sent on an errand, it was Murdochs job to tell Smith he felt uncomfortable with the numbers, besides the change of watch was 20 minutes away. Doesn't make much sense.

Several times I have been known to throw things at owners. Especially clip boards, charts, hats you name it and I have probably tried to throw it at them. I always have won the argument though. They understand that I am going to do what is safe for the vessel. If what they want is unsafe, then I won't be doing it. Simple as that. In fact in todays test that is a question on the oral board.

The coal consumption thing I am leaving to Mark and Dave as well. I have some other research regarding the use of coal that I am digging up. Besides those two gentlemen are far more knowledgeable then I on the subject.

Erik
 
Mark Chirnside

Mark Chirnside

Member
Hi Dave!

Pitman said later in his tesimony, what you quoted, that there wasn't sufficient fuel to make 24 all the way across. This I agree with, as if the ship had made 24 knots through the whole passage then only 400 tons of coal would have remained by New York. I agree with the point that there was not quite enough coal for such a full-speed dash throughout the passage, but there was more than enough for a 24 knot dash from April 15th 1912.

What is not speculation is that the officers believed they faced a coal shortage. Pitman would not have mentioned it in his testimony if there had not been discussion of the problem during the voyage.

Well, er... It might be. Considering the continual theme following the sinking of excessive speed, what better way for the officers to put this down by saying that boilers were off (there still were boilers off by Sunday April 14th 1912); and, that there was a coal shortage? Loyal to WS, loyal to their careers, half loyal top the truth? Problem is, that's speculation too.

There may have been a perception of the ship not carrying a full complement of coal (Olympic once carried 7,500 tons on one 1911 trip); but I do not think that there was a perception of an actual shortage, based on Olympic figures. Though a perception that the bunkers weren't as full as they could have been.

Judging from Olympic, Smith was comfortable with minimum 1,000 tons of coal in the bunkers; allowing 4,892 (4,400) tons to burn.

It's a good debate, but there are two others I should be in and this week's hectic again tommorrow; I've more points but for now I am forced to sign off.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
J

John M. Feeney

Member
Hmm. Just to throw out some crude calculations here:

4:00 p.m. New York Time (Tuesday) = c. 5:50 p.m. Titanic Time (Final) = about 5:40 p.m. Local Time (at the wreck site).

From Sunday at 11:40 p.m. (Titanic Time), that's roughly 1 day, 18 hours -- 42 hours total. (I lopped off about ten minutes -- the local time adjustment -- for convenience, but I doubt it makes any real difference.)

1084 miles [Franklin] + about 13 miles error in the CQD position = 1097 miles.

1097 miles / 42 hrs. = 26+ knots average!

(Do I have that right? I didn't confirm Franklin's "1084", although independently I get 1082 Nmi. from the wreck site to Ambrose Light.)

So it sounds like they should have known a *long* time before the accident that they were never going to meet any Tuesday, 4:00 p.m. deadline. Not that I doubt Ismay was pushing for speed -- "good press", and all that. Ismay, in fact, really appears to have just been covering himself with that "Wednesday morning" testimony. Some other calculations I did show Titanic would actually have had to SLOW DOWN significantly to come in as *late* as 7:00 a.m. Wednesday (9:40 T Local time).

That luxurious 57 hours demands only 19-1/4 knots average speed for the remaining distance. (Throw in a Monday speed trial, and they'd really need to "slam on the brakes" afterwards!)

But Beesley does relate accounts that confirm a prior generalized anticipation that the ship *would* be in by Tuesday night, at least. And that was still quite feasible up to the time of the disaster, *if* you consider passing the Ambrose Channel Light by midnight as the definition of "arriving Tuesday night". (In that case they'd only have to slow down just a little.) ;^)

Cheers,
John
 
Paul Rogers

Paul Rogers

Member
A few minor questions:

Phil stated: "I would suggest that a reading of Smith's previous record indicates that his position as commodore at WSL was arrived at by something other than his exemplary seamanship."

I believe, from reading past threads on ET, that Smith did not actually hold the title "Commodore."

"And, as this was Smith's retirement voyage, what a fantastic note to go out on...."

I haven't seen any evidence that this was indeed Capt.Smith's retirement voyage, despite this being a regular rumour. Again, I believe this topic has been discussed on a previous thread.

I don't think the above points detract from your argument as such Phil but, if you have any further info on the "Commodore" and "retirement" issues, I'd be very interested in it.

Sorry for the digression!

Regards,
Paul.
 
P

Philip Kellingley

Guest
Hmm. David, your reading of Boxhall's testimony is slightly different to mine.

"Mr. BOXHALL. I did not know that the captain was anywhere away from the bridge the whole watch. I mean to say from the bridge taking the whole bridge together; all the chart rooms, and the open bridge. They are all practically on one square, and I do not think the captain was away from that altogether." Note - "I did not know that the captain was anywhere away" and "I do not think..."

Boxhall's testimony also makes it quite clear that Smith reached the bridge almost at the same time as he did because he overhears Smith asking "What have we struck?".

Lightoller says Smith was on the bridge at 9.35, which is when he says he is to be called. At that point he leaves the bridge and doesn't return until the collision.

Hichens (who was present during Lightoller's and Murdoch's watch) doesn't mention the presence of Smith until the accident: The skipper came rushing out of his room - Capt. Smith - and asked, "What is that?" Mr. Murdoch said, "An iceberg."

The enquiry didn't pursue what was meant by "his room".

To go back to the lookout question - Boxhall is quite clear that the number of people on the bridge was the "normal" complement. But given the ice warnings received it seems strange that no forward lookout was ordered. Then again, Lightoller's evidence is extraordinarily suspect and one feels he may just be throwing some blame in Smith's direction.

The projected arrival time is somewhat interesting. Four o'clock Tuesday? Any other offers? Presumably WSL had a published schedule (I know they did - I just can't find it at the moment!) so they would have advertised departure dates/times. Allow for a turnround of up to a day and tides and one should get a reasonable idea of projected arrival. I know nothing about the limitations of ships of Titanic's size entering New York but assume that as Southampton had to have special facilities prepared so would New York and that part of the docking would be governed by tides. (Especially as Smith was prone to grounding ships...)

Phil
 
J

John M. Feeney

Member
Phil wrote: "... given the ice warnings received it seems strange that no forward lookout was ordered."

Phil: Not really, though at first glance this would seem to be true. If you do keyword searches for "haze" and "hazy" on the Titanic Inquiry Project web site, you'll find not only Titanic officers but a number of independent "expert witnesses" -- other professional mariners -- who testified that forward lookouts were NOT normally utilized except in limited visibility conditions like haze or fog. ("Haze" was mentioned by three Titanic lookouts, but dismissed as utterly insignificant by all but Reggie Lee.) Since ice alone does not reduce visibility, they just saw no need.

The overwhelming notion of those times was apparently that one could see as well from the bridge, and even further from the crow's nest, when visibility was good. Forward lookouts -- on the fo'c'sle -- were a contingency only exercised when being further forward might imply greater ability to pierce through less than ideal viewing conditions.

I'm not saying it was correct; though it's certainly sensible in theory. It just seems that's the way it was, with few exceptions. Captain after captain affirmed this.

Cheers,
John Feeney
 
Mark Chirnside

Mark Chirnside

Member
Four o'clock Tuesday? Any other offers?

Yes. 10 p.m., Tuesday April 16th 1912, New York.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
Tracy Smith

Tracy Smith

Member
FWIW, there was at least one captain who added extra lookout that night: Captain Stanley Lord

7040. One further general question. I want as to what you did. On your vessel on the Sunday evening, April 14th, when you came amongst the ice, did you take any precautions? - Yes, I did.

7041. Tell us what you did. I want you to tell my Lord what you did? - I doubled the look-out. We had one man at the crow's-nest and a man at the forecastle head, and I was on the bridge myself.

7042. Just let us understand that. Where had you a man on the look-out before you doubled your look-out? - In the crow's-nest.

7043. And then did he report ice? - As I reversed the engines that night there were two reports. I do not know which man reported them, or whether each reported one.

7044. I do not think you are quite following, or it may be I am not. At 8 o'clock you had a report about ice, had you, from your look-out? - No.

7045. When did you? - At about 22 minutes past 10.

7046. As late as that? - Yes, it was reported then.

7047. When did you double your look-out? - Eight o'clock.

7048. Why did you double the look-out? - Because we had passed bergs during the afternoon and we had had a report of bergs from east-bound steamers.

7049. You had reported to the "Titanic" that you had passed ice at half-past 6 that day? - Yes.

7050. You doubled the look-out. You had one man at the crow's-nest? - Yes, and one man right in the bows of the ship.

7051. Was that before you doubled the look-out, or is that doubling the look-out? - That is doubling the look-out.

7052. That is what I want you to tell us. What is the addition that you made? Was it the man on the forecastle head? - The man on the forecastle head.

7053. Knowing there was ice about you had one man in the crow's-nest? - Yes.

7054. And then as an extra precaution you put a man on the forecastle head? - Yes
 
David G. Brown

David G. Brown

RIP
This thread is becoming increasingly complex when the situation was quite simple. Titanic was making a fast passage, as fast as the amount of coal would allow. It's arrival time was never really established, probably because the management (Ismay) did not communicate effectively with the staff (Smith). But, all of this was just window dressing to the real problem that night.

For some period of time...probably only minutes, and maybe only seconds...the entire bridge watch became distracted. As Captain Erik would say, they lost situational awareness. For the past six weeks I have been working on a "white paper" focusing on just that aspect of the story. It will be presented for the first time in public at the Great Lakes Titanic Society meeting in Cleveland on June 29. I have agreed to keep the paper "under wraps" until then. (Contact me privately for details if you are interested.)

My research is focusing on the near absence of people from the bridge during the critical period of time leading up to the accident. What made it necessary for so many of the watch to be somewhere else except where they could have helped keep look out?

Under the circumstances, Moody should have been in one bridge wing cab and Boxhall in the other. Murdoch and Smith should have been in the forebridge with regular visits to the open bridge wing. Olliver should have been stationed where his eyes could have added to the lookout. What event, what emergency, what problem was so much more important than the danger of icebergs that it was necessary to remove so many people from the bridge?

The discussion about lookouts has almost always centered on why more men were not posted. That's not the critical question. The night was clear and up until 11:40 p.m. there does not seem to have been difficulty seeing and avoiding dangers. It could be said that no real need for additional manpower had been demonstrated. What has never been explained iswe why Boxhall, Moody, Olliver, and Smith were all somewhere else at a time when the ship's safety depended upon adequate lookout.

Every paper has to have a thesis which is either supported or attacked. Often, the paper ends up being a dis-proof of the thesis. Right now, my working thesis is this--

...during the last critical seconds when it was still possible to maneuver Titanic safely around the iceberg NO ONE WAS ACTUALLY LOOKING FORWARD WITH THE PURPOSE OF SPOTTING AND REPORTING DANGERS. If I am able to prove my thesis...which is by no means certain as of tonight...it would mean that 2,200 people were hurtling through an ice field with absolutely no one in control. At the instant when the first person realized that an iceberg was in the ship's path (probably Murdoch), it was already too late to prevent disaster.

As I said earlier on this thread, I believe that Captain Smith was operating within the usual practices of North Atlantic mail boats with regard to speed. Even though his speed was obviously excessive (else there would have been no accident), it was an acceptible risk in 1912.

However, if my thesis proves true, then Titanic's lack of lookout rises well beyond a simple human error or unusual "seeing" conditions.

-- David G. Brown
 
Kyrila Scully

Kyrila Scully

Member
I seem to recall that there was a brief delay from the time Fleet rang the bridge until the time the phone was answered. That would figure into your theory, wouldn't it? That they were distracted by something, which delayed them answering the phone from the lookout?

Kyrila
 
P

Philip Kellingley

Guest
I have a problem with the arrival time "not being established". There was a schedule for sailings which appeared in WSL's advertisements. In order to make those schedules they must have factored in both turn round times and times of voyage. To keep the ship in dock any longer than neccessary was a costly waste of money. Therefore, there must have been at least a window of arrival time. Indeed, for people to meet pasengers etc. this must have been known. However, I'm prepared to believe that this maiden voyage could have been regarded as falling outside the norm.

In regard to the questions that Paul asked (sorry for the delay) -
The title "commodore" was honorary and given to the senior captain of a merchant ship company. It's not the same as a military/ royal navy rank.

As to his retirement - I know the arguments on both sides. I believe (but obviously can't prove) that this was Smith's swansong. I do accept the possibility that he may have stayed on to captain the Gigantic/Brittanic on her maiden voyage but I'm not convinced. If his retirement was a rumour then it gained creedence very quickly.

Phil

PS Someone emailed me and asked if I was a Southampton resident but I deleted the email in error. The answer is that I live just outside Southampton (or, at present, in either the City Archives or Special Collections in the Library).
 
J

John M. Feeney

Member
Tracy: Agreed on Captain Lord, naturally. But he'd never been in the ice before, and was apparently exercising what those other mariners, more experienced with Grand Banks Region ice conditions, might well have considered excessive caution. After all, it's not clearly demonstrated that the forward lookout posted on Californian was any quicker to spot the ice.
7042. Just let us understand that. Where had you a man on the look-out before you doubled your look-out? - In the crow's-nest.
7043. And then did he report ice? - As I reversed the engines that night there were two reports. I do not know which man reported them, or whether each reported one.​
To the contrary, other accounts seem to indicate that Lord *independently* took evasive action at the same time as, or even before, he received those warnings, having already spotted the ice himself.

But the majority of the mariners called to testify, with decades of experience in North Atlantic ice conditions between them, simply refuted any need for forward lookouts in conditions of clear visibility. (It might not have hurt, but they apparently didn't see how it could ever help.)

I'm not making a judgment call here, just citing the consensus of the times. If you do that keyword search, and review the others called as "expert witnesses", I think you'll see what I mean. The explanations given (taken in the aggregate) do make a good deal of sense, whether ultimately correct or not.

Sorry if I seemed to mislead. I was, of course, aware of Captain Lord's extra lookout. But I also realized, from those other witnesses' statements, that his strategy was fairly unique.

Cheers,
John
 
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