Boxhall - Simulation of his Testimony


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Aaron_2016

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Do you believe Boxhall's testimony? Here are two scenarios using a ship simulator.


Let's see how it looks. The second scenario is my own personal belief. Any ideas what might have happened?





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Boxhall was the fourth officer and he was on duty at the time of the accident. As such, his job was to assist the officer of the deck at all times. The senior officer was always on the bridge. Thus, Boxhall had to stay within earshot of the officer of the deck (no walkie-talkies in 1912) when not performing his other duties.

Why would anyone ever believe that while on duty he went to his cabin for a cuppa?

Boxhall did have other duties which removed him from the navigating bridge. One of those was making the compass comparisons and, if necessary, conduction a course alteration per captain's orders. The other duty which took him off the bridge grew out of his being the direct supervisor of the Starboard Watch. He had to "go the rounds" of his men every hour per IMM/WSL regulations.

The time of the accident in unaltered April 14th hours was 12:04 o'clock (which was 11:40 per crew clocks). A compass comparison was due at 12:00 in unaltered time. Boxhall might have nipped into his cabin (on the starboard side of the officers quarters as he was in charge of the starboard watch), but it would only have been for some warm garment to fight the ship's 22 knot wind. If so, he would have come out of the door to the officers quarters some few minutes prior to when the ship struck the berg.

Thus, Boxhall hearing the three strikes on the crow's nest bell when leaving the deckhouse is in keeping with what he should have been doing at that moment. But, Aaron's animation leaves out the critical minutes when Boxhall would have been walking to the compass platform, conducting any compass evolutions (including a two point left turn on starboard helm reported by Hichens) and then walking back toward the bridge. This would account for three to five minutes of time.

Recall that Boxhall had to go rounds every hour. Because of the added time gained by its westward passage, the crew had to work 47 extra minutes that night before true midnight which would not have come until 12:47 o'clock in unaltered April 14th time. This created need for Boxhall to make an extra round that night. From the compass platform he would have gone forward along the starboard boat deck to the scuttle over the ladders down to B deck. His eventual goal on a Sunday night would have been the crew galley where he knew the men would have been doing routine maintainance of the coffee pot. (On other nights they would have had work to perform, but not Sunday.)

Boxhall said he heard bells both coming out of the officers quarters and when he was "abreast of the captain's quarters." This latter set of bells could only have come from the engine telegraphs as the lookouts did not strike any more warnings. But, Sam has nicely shown that no engine order was sent down to the engine room prior to impact. So, Boxhall must have been lost in his own sea story. Happens. But I don't believe Captain Smith would have taken it lightly if one of his officers trundled off in the middle of his on-duty time for tea. Especially not that night of nights. Boxhall himself said that Captain Smith had him constantly fetching ice messages and other information for a plot the master was building on his personal chart table.

Anyone going down the ladders to B deck would have been hard pressed to see what was happening dead ahead of the ship. Boxhall said he did not see the ship strike the iceberg, then gave a perfect description of it at "the break of the bow." Huh? This seeming contradiction is proof he was descending the stairs when the ship struck and that is why he took particular notice of the motion beneath his feet. Going down a stairway at sea requires good balance. In rough water this is why seasoned sailors go down backwards. Once out on B deck, Boxhall was able to see the berg which by that time was passing the forward break of the well deck and dropping chunks of ice onto the deck.

We know Boxhall claimed he overheard Murdoch's report to Captain Smith. Nice try, Joe, but you weren't there. That whole part of Boxhall's sworn testimony is a complete fabrication, a lie. And, Boxhall was caught in that lie by one member of the Starboard Watch noted a junior officer in the well deck as the berg passed astern. He did not recognize the officer by name. However, we know Murdoch was on the bridge and Moody in the wheelhouse. The only unaccounted for officer on duty at that moment was Boxhall. Note that the fourth officer covered his appearance in the well deck by claiming he went there only as part of checking on the third class berthing areas.

Lightoller famously wrote about applying whitewash to the whole affair, especially at the American hearings. That was probably true, but if so I'll bet the white splatter was all over Boxhall's hands. That is, if he wasn't trying to put out his flaming pants.

-- David G. Brown
 

Rob Lawes

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Hang on a sec. Why would Boxhall feel the need to make up a story if he wasn't there?

In his case it would be far easier if there was a whitewash to say he was on his rounds as per his duty so he had no idea what went on than to make up a complete lie that could be pulled apart at subsequent inquiries.

That lie would also involve Hitchens and Oliver.

Given that Smith, Moody and Murdoch all perished there would have been no need for Boxhall to suggest anything if he wasn't there. The bridge officers would have then taken their story to the depths of the ocean.
 
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Rob --

There are parts of the story I've not included just for brevity and to avoid arguments not germane to Boxhall's lies. But, the surviving officers knew Hichens would have to testify about the starboard helm turn and would say it was two points. That alone should have sounded alarms in the head of any competent investigator. The surviving officers also knew the duration between the sounding of the crow's nest bell and impact. Once again, that five to eight minute duration blows apart the "berg from nowhere" theory. Worse, it implies the ship was in peril for that length of time and nobody did anything to correct the situation. And, if Boxhall admitted he was doing his normal rounds somebody would certainly have asked why at 11:40 o'clock when they were not due until 12:00 o'clock.

Why did the officers have used 11:40 o'clock for the time of impact? Properly, they should have used unaltered April 14th hours. By using crew time they hid from notice that the fourth officer should have been walking to the compass platform. They hid the duration of the compass evolutions and avoided questions about the embarrassing five to eight minutes. LIkewise, they explained away why Boxhall was off the bridge. None of those should have been happening at 11:40 o'clock. But, if they had used 12:04 in unaltered time, all would have been exposed.

The surviving officers also knew that somebody had to give a plausible explanation of Murdoch's actions that would make two deliberate lies seem true. They had more to do than just explain how the ship ran into something reported five to eight minutes earlier. The also had to make sure the cover story contained the possibility of both a starboard and a port helm maneuver in Murdochs story to explain the inconsistencies between the testimony of Hichens and that of Olliver.

So, Boxhall had to create a fiction about why he was walking forward when the lookouts rang their bell. He had to put himself on the bridge at the right moment to hear Murdoch's alleged "port around...too close" story. Then, he had to get himself off the bridge but not say why he left as he could not say he was going rounds.

I must point out that while we have corroborating witnesses to the presences of Olliver, Hichens, Moody, Murdoch, and Smith all on the bridge after the accident, there is no such corroboration for Boxhall. Nobody saw him there at the moment he was supposedly overhearing Murdoch's report to Captain Smith.

It is my belief that the officers of the bridge team did not fully comprehend why the accident took place. Everyone on watch had apparently been doing their duty just as they had many nights previously. Likewise for the ratings. The lookouts made their report in plenty of time to avoid an accident. From what we know Olliver and Hichens were steady at the wheel and executed their other duties with care. What went wrong? They had never heard of "lack of situational awareness" in 1912. No one yet understood the concept nor how to recognize this deadly problem when it occurs.

Titanic's loss of situational awareness began when Captain Smith came on the bridge and prudently began plotting ice reports. While I do not want to argue the point now, there is pretty good evidence that Titanic's master took action at least a half hour prior to the actual iceberg accident. He turned one point to the south at 11:30 o'clock in unaltered April 14th time. From the survivor's testimonies nothing was said, and nobody noticed. But Captain Smith had quietly begun taking the two key aspects of bridge management off the shoulders of First Officer Murdoch and placed them on himself. These aspects are known to the Navy as "the deck" and "the con." The officer with the deck decides where the ship is to go and when it is to maneuver. He does not issue the orders necessary to accomplish this. That duty goes to the officer who has the con. This officer issues steering and engine orders to make good what the deck requests.

Until the captain returned to the bridge that night both "the deck" and "the con" rested in Murdoch. This is a quite normal situation well out to sea on a merchant vessel. By starting his own plot, Captain Smith began to erode the first officers' deck responsibilities. And, at 11:30 o'clock in unaltered time Smith issued an order that moved the deck responsibility went from first officer to captain in an unnoticed transfer of responsibility. Neither man was aware it even happened. So, nearly a half hour later when the fatal berg was spotted more that two miles ahead nothing happened. Murdoch expected Smith to issue another order. Murdoch would then have conned the ship as requested. Captain Smith remained in his personal navigation room out of visual contact with the world around Titanic. He still expected Murdoch to handle the deck responsibilities. Two men -- one responsibility -- nobody responsible -- nobody aware of problem.

Murdoch undoubtedly observed the ship approaching the iceberg. In relative motion his experienced seaman's eye would have told him the berg would pass safely off the port side. As a result, any expectation he head of an order from Captain Smith waned. The danger was actually subsiding. Meanwhile, Captain Smith was issuing orders to Boxhall to alter course at 12:00 o'clock by two points (per Hichens recollection) to the south. As Boxhall walked out of the officer's quarters he took with him the responsibility of "the con." Once again, nobody really noticed the subtle change. Murdoch thought he had the conl. Smith had the deck but thought it was Murdoch's responsibility. Meanwhile, an iceberg was moving rapidly off the starboard bow.

Whether Murdoch knew about the planned two-point course change or not is mootl. He would not have countermanded the captain's orders without some specific reason. With danger passing safely to port there was no reason. The timing of Boxhall's helm instructions from the compass platform was inopportune. Due to bad luck the iceberg was about two points off the port bow when Titanic began curving left. Boxhall was quite deliberately pointing Titanic at its doom. It was accidental, yes, but never-the-less effective.

At that moment Captain Smith was confident his ship was being taken away from danger. He was probably looking forward to when another maneuver might be needed. Murdoch was expecting the Captain's maneuver to take the ship clear of the berg. Boxhall was following orders as was Hichens. Moody was noting everything for the scrap log. All that changed when Hichens sang out that Titanic was steadied up on its new course. Two famous words must have slipped from Murdoch's mouth and been blown away by the 22 knot ship's wind.

Everyone in the bridge team was doing his job, but nobody was overall in charge of the ship. Loss of situational awareness was no in command of Titanic.

After impact. After the lifeboats were launched. After the hull split in two. After Carpathia's arrival. After all that the officers gathered aboard the rescue ship. We know they did. There is at least one photo. We can be reasonably certain they were not discussing the weather. Those men had just lost their ship and more than 1,500 lives. They knew there would be an investigation and somebody would be blamed. Careers, livelihoods and perhaps even personal freedom were all at stake. Put yourself in their position. What would you have been discussing?

-- David G. Brown
 

Rob Lawes

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Interesting stuff there David and a lot to mull over. Suffice to say I remain deeply sceptical.

I think I'll have to sleep on it

Recently I've been looking at the testimony of Leading Stoker Barrett which I know is another area you have looked at closely. Interestingly I've started looking at his testimony quite differently so I look forward to discussing that as well.

Best regards.

Rob.
 
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Aaron_2016

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Interesting. If they were attempting to alter course and steer the ship further south just prior to the collision, why not mention this at the Inquiry as it would be beneficial to their innocence and show they were being extra cautious before the collision? The iceberg was described as a black mass that was difficult to see. If this same iceberg had possibly caught Captain Rostron by surprise couldn't it take Murdoch by surprise? Ernest Shackleton told the Inquiry that icebergs were much easier to detect the closer one is to the waterline. The bridge of the Titanic must have been as high as the Carpathia's crows nest. Captain Rostron said all of the icebergs he witnessed were spotted by the bridge before the lookouts. If Murdoch had the same disadvantage as the lookout aboard the Carpathia then he would probably not see the iceberg at all until it was close to the ship.

My understanding is that the iceberg appeared as a black mass and was easy to miss. When it came closer its peak became visible but it was still impossible to tell how big it was or how far away it was until it was right up against the Titanic. The lookouts believed the iceberg caused the helm to shift. Perhaps this caused her to turn 2 points to port, and Hichens immediately tried to correct this and instinctively turned the wheel right as she veered more and more off course because of the iceberg pushing her helm over. Moody or Murdoch probably yelled at Hichens and said "What the Hell are you doing, man! Keep the helm straight!". The iceberg then bashes against the foredeck dropping ice across the deck, and once it passes the bridge Murdoch orders "Hard a-port!" to swing the stern out of the way.

In seconds the Captain entered the bridge and wanted to know what happened. His quick arrival could explain how sudden the event was. Hichens was heard calling out to another lifeboat asking if they knew which officer was on duty. He probably was aware he did something wrong and did not want to be blamed for the collision as he tried to correct the helm and inadvertently turned the ship into the iceberg.


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Aaron -- the problem is timing. If five to eight minutes passed between spotting the berg and impact...and, if the ship turned left at just the right moment to run that berg down...Titanic's surviving officers have a problem. The public press would been correct to investigate the sinking as a case of barratry (the deliberate destruction of one's own ship). Even if that could not be proved, it would still not have been good for Boxhall to admit he had altered the course at just the right moment to cause the tragedy. Never, never, never think that an official governmental hearing is about the truth or preventing future accidents. Such affairs have only one intention, to fix blame on somebody. Think of what happened to Captain Lord of Californian. What would Lord Mersey have done with Boxhall if the fourth officer admitted he conned the ship into the iceberg? Certainly Boxhall would have lost his license and he might even have been brought up on charges. After all, he was the sole surviving officer. It was his word against John Bull in the most jingoistic of times.

The iceberg was far more easy to see as a "black mass" than as some amorphous blob. Remember the lookouts' alleged haze? What would a "black mass" appear to be against a hazy horizon? A silhouette, naturally. One of the oldest trickes in the book for lookouts is to "see" a danger not by reflected light, but by that object's silhouette as it occults a light (or hazy horizon) beyond. The lookouts did their job quite well that night. But, it was made easier by the "black mass" silhouette of the berg.

There is no evidence Hichens made any error at the wheel. He may have been a bit of an odd duck in later life, but nobody ever questioned his seamanship. He could hand, reef, and steer with the best of 'em.

Olliver was quite clear about the timing of the "hard a-port" order. It was given before the berg passed the bridge wing. However, the helm was not fully over until the iceberg was astern of the bridge.

Hichens needed to know the name of the officer in charge for one simple reason -- he knew an inquiry would follow as sure as day follows night. Normally, he didn't care who was in charge. The accident changed that. He would be facing a thorough examination during the inquiry. Hichens couldn't look a fool by not knowing which man was acting as First Officer. Remember, there had been a change of the command structure right at sailing. This might have put some uncertainty into the quartermaster's head. In addition Hichens needed to be part of the official explanation, not some scapegoat.


Rob -- please remain deeply skeptical. The problem with Titanic research over the years has been the lack of skepticism. Conventional wisdom has been taken as gospel and never properly vetted. Everything should be subject to harsh scrutiny, including what I write. Or, from my point of view especially what I write because that keeps my research honest and improves my work.

-- David G. Brown
 
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