Captain Smith where were thou


Dec 4, 2000
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Patrick -- My research shows that Captain Smith to an active role in the navigation of Titanic from the moment he arrived on the bridge. That took place about 8:58 p.m. by April 15th time which was being kept in the wheelhouse. However, it was really 9:45 p.m. in April 14th hours still being used by passengers. This is what allowed Daisy Minihan to apparently see the captain depart the ala carte restaurant after he arrived on the bridge.

Smith departed the restaurant at 9:30 in April 14th hours, which was 8:43 in wheelhouse time.

The captain arrived on the bridge at 9:45 p.m. in April 14th hours, which was 8:58 p.m. in wheelhouse time. This is when he first spoke to Lightoller about the cold and the ice.

Boxhall saw the captain on the bridge shortly after the hour, say 9:08 p.m. in wheelhouse time or 9:47 p.m. in April 14th hours being kept by passengers like Minahan.

There are several curiosities about Smith's return to the bridge. He arrived just about the time that Lightoller said the ship might be coming up to the ice. In other words, the captain's departure from dinner appears to have been motivated by knowledge of the ice conditions and not serendipity. Secondly, Smith was on the bridge during the period of time when the famous Mesaba ice message was received by Jack Phillips in the Marconi office. Smith did not personally acknowledge receipt of this message, but that does not prove he never saw it. According to Boxhall, officers returning from the rounds routinely delivered unopened messages to the master. I fear Lightoller's paperweight story about the Mesaba messages may be a sea story.

After arriving on the bridge Boxhall described how the captain commenced to plotting on one of the ship's two chart tables. We don't know whether he used the one in the officers chartroom or the table in his private navigation room. Boxhall provided some of the needed information for this plotting.

Boxhall also testified that the captain was on the bridge the whole time until the accident. By "the bridge," Boxhall meant the open forebridge, the wheelhouse, or the chart rooms.

I have found evidence of at least three occasions when Captain Smith ordered the ship to divert from the "Outbound Southern Track" on the night of April 14, 1912. These diversions were to the south and would have placed the ship east and south of its dead reckoning position based on the steamer route. One of the diversions occurs a short time after receipt of the Mesaba message by Titanic.

Curiously enough, Captain Turner of Lusitania also elected to go south of ice on his westbound trip.

Based on the speed of the ship (37 feet per second), the iceberg had not passed QM Rowe on the poop when Boxhall noticed Captain Smith standing next to him on the forebridge. This early appearance of Smith indicates he was already up an about at the time of the accident. Most likely, he was actively working in one of the chartrooms.

Most people who claim the captain was in bed cite his statement to Lightoller that he would be "just inside." A cursory examination of Titanic's bridge shows that the captain would have been "just inside" had he been in the wheelhouse, officers chartroom, or his personal navigation room. Smith's use of the word "just" indicates he did not plan to go into his personal quarters which were deeper inside, beyond his personal navigation room.

Prior to the accident an initial ASTERN FULL engine order was sent on a single set of telegraphs. Immediately following the accident an ALL STOP was sent down on both the emergency and the standard engine order telegraphs. The first order could have been done by one man. Sending the second order required two men, one for each set of telegraphs. Boxhall and Olliver were both on the bridge with Murdoch. Neither man testified to working the telegraphs. That leaves only Captain Smith to have assisted Murdoch in sending ALL STOP.

Summed up, I believe Captain Smith discharged his hospitality duties only insofar as they did not interfere with the safety of his ship. As the hour neared when Titanic might enter known ice danger the Captain returned to the bridge. Upon his return, Smith took an active role in the conduct of the voyage to the extent of diverting from the designated steamer track on more than one occasion. He was "on the bridge" at the time of the accident and may have participated in the last order issued in conjunction with the iceberg, the order to stop the engines.

Any of the legendary discussions between Andrews and Smith about damage to Titanic could not have taken place prior to midnight. First, the ship had not been properly sounded during that period of time, so the extent of the damage remained unknown. Second, Titanic resumed making way. No one but a lunatic would have restarted the engines on a ship if the builder said it was sinking. So, until around midnight the evidence is strong that Captain Smith did not know the extent of damage. If he and Andrews spoke after that, the conversation would only have been to confirm what was obvious.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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The popluar story that Captain Smith was not on the bridge seems to be the begining of a snow ball of a story that results in the theory that captain was not a captain during and after the accident.

The curious thing about what Dave suggests is that in order for his theory to be correct 99% of the witness's need to be telling the truth, but only answering the question at hand and not elaborating on anything, a very common practice amoung sailors on the stand, whether they are guilty or not.

Based soley off David's post and not any information that I have of my own or any personal conversations that the two of us have had it would appear to me that David is saying that Captain Smith was not only an active particpant during Titanic's final hours before the accident, but that he was acting somewhat prudently and inventing a technique used by mariners with radar some 30 years later.

Captain Smith's appearance before the change of watch and before the predicted time in which ice would appear gives us the impression that he was being prudent, what occurs directly before and directly after the accident shows us that Smith was far more inovative then some have given him credit for.
 
Oct 31, 2003
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>>Prior to the accident an initial ASTERN FULL engine order was sent on a single set of telegraphs. Immediately following the accident an ALL STOP was sent down on both the emergency and the standard engine order telegraphs.<<

Does that mean that, if only for a few seconds, a "crash stop" was intended?

>>No one but a lunatic would have restarted the engines on a ship if the builder said it was sinking. <<

But on whose's opinion was the decision to restart the engines based on? Was the extent of the damage misjudged? I do believe that, at one point after the accident, someone indeed told Captain Smith the ship was sinking fast (and I guess it could have been Andrews, who seemed to know the ship better than anyone on board), otherwise I don't think the decision to put people into lifeboats would have been made so early.

Thank you,

Patrick C.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Patrick -- Personally, I do not believe that Murdoch intended a crash stop with his ASTERN FULL order. My view is that he intended this as a warning to the men in the engine room that something bad was about to happen. However, I will admit that I have had very little luck trying to read the minds of dead men. Murdoch took with him his intentions. We can only guess from the few facts available within the transcripts.

As to restarting the engines, that's a thorny issue. At the moment, I am leaning toward everyone's favorite villain--J. Bruce Ismay. Captain Smith acted as a prudent man up until Ismay arrived on the bridge. And, the captain became his "old self" afterward. However, he re-started Titanic's engines in conjunction with Ismay's visit to the bridge. Just what transpired between the captain and his boss is lost to history.

Two salient facts are known. The first is that Captain Smith operated the telegraphs to re-start the engines. This is not impossible in 1912, but odd. Normally, a master would have instructed a subordinate to do that work.

My view is that Smith did not agree with re-starting the engines, but felt he was trapped into doing so. As a captain, he enjoyed great loyalty among his officers. That only happens when a captain has even greater loyalty to his subordinates. I view the captain operating the telegraphs as Smith taking full responsibility for that act, thereby shielding his officers from any responsibilty or blame for whatever followed.

The other issue has to do with the message to White Star in New York. Somebody sent a Marconi message that resulted in a train being started for Halifax to pick up at least first class passengers from the wounded ship. I believe that message was intercepted on both sides of the Atlantic and became the basis for news accounts that the ship was "safe" after striking an iceberg.

IMM/White Star regulations required the master to inform company offices of any accidents. However, there is no point at which Smith was in the Marconi office for that purpose. Ismay, on the other hand, would have walked past the Marconi suite on his way aft to the grand staircase. Draw your own conclusions.

As to Andrews' input-- I can find very little direct evidence. Perhaps someone else has found more on that topic. It is generally not necessary for the crew of a sinking ship to need the builder to inform them of that fact. My guess is that if Andrews had an input into the outcome of the evening it was in keeping Titanic upright so that the lifeboats could be launched from both sides.

-- David G. Brown
 
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>>Boxhall also testified that the captain was on the bridge the whole time until the accident. By "the bridge," Boxhall meant the open forebridge, the wheelhouse, or the chart rooms.<<

What then, in your opinion, made people believe Captain Smith was sleeping, or drunk, or both (I've actually read these things, although I can't remember the source - it's funny how much information has found its way out of my little head in only 30 years of living...)?? Take for example the way Captain Smith was portrayed in Cameron's movie (a ghost, at best)...where has this perception emanated from? I don't want to give too much importance to a Hollywood flick, but movies "based" on historical facts tend (in my opinion of course) to reveal a lot - purposely or not - about how (or for what) certain people or events have been remembered. Why hasn't Boxhall's testimony regarding the Captain's whereabouts been emphasized as evidence that Captain Smith did in fact do a lot to ensure the ship's smooth sailing - maybe because the smooth part pretty much ended at 11:40 that night...
 

Erik Wood

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NOTE: I am not speaking for on the behalf of or in any way representing David Brown's theories.

I have never read that he was drunk, that is a new one to me. People have assumed that Captain Smith was sleeping, after all it was late at night and according to the popular myth and the misinterpretation of Boxhall's testimony Captain Smith was off the bridge, and according Mr. Lightoller Smith said he would be "just inside". As Dave Brown pointed out what he considers to be the real meaning of "just inside" I happen to agree with him.

There are a lot of arguments about Cameron's movie and Parks Stephenson would probably be the best person to answer that question. My own opinion is that Smith was protrayed the way he was because it added drama and a sense of doom to the over all story line. Remeber that Cameron's movie was just that, a movie and in order for a movie to make money it has to have certain elements, and I believe that Cameron used Smith, Jack, Rose and a few other characters to expand on this.
 
Oct 31, 2003
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>>I have never read that he was drunk, that is a new one to me.<<

I should've been a little clearer when I mentioned that I had read Captain Smith was drunk the night of the sinking. I'm sorry about that. What I actually remember reading were statements from people who were relegating to myth status the allegations that Captain Smith got drunk in the evening of April 14th (an example of this can be found at this link -http://www.coe.ilstu.edu/jabraun/fall02/ci258.02/public/webpages/lockhart/FAQs.htm - If you scroll down, you can read this "Myth: Captain Smith was a dirty drunk and was dead asleep at the helm when she collided with the iceberg.
Truth: Number one, Captain Smith wasn't even in the bridge when the collision occurred, number two there is no evidence that Captain Smith had been drinking but had been know to drink a bit.
"). Once again, I'm sorry for failing to be clear the first time around.

>> My own opinion is that Smith was protrayed the way he was because it added drama and a sense of doom to the over all story line. Remeber that Cameron's movie was just that, a movie and in order for a movie to make money it has to have certain elements, and I believe that Cameron used Smith, Jack, Rose and a few other characters to expand on this. <<

Mr. Wood, I had naively believed that there had necessarily been an attempt at historical accuracy in the portrayal of characters based on real-life people. But your explanation makes a lot of sense, and you're probably right on the money, the very thing I had forgotten about...

Patrick C.
 

Carl Ireton

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Hi, I know this is an old post, but I feel I should weigh in on this. As to Captain Smith's whereabouts prior to the striking of the berg, one must remember that his quarters were right abaft the bridge, followed by the quarters of his bridge officers. As to his drinking, my researching the subject came to the conclusion he was a teetotaller, not prone to drink. As to those allegations of his drinking and making all sorts of mistakes after the sinking, one must keep in mind, he didn't arrive at his position or his post on the Titanic without having certain professional qualities. In my mind, he was just as prudent a captain when it came to the safety of his passengers as the passenger liner captains of today. He did his duty until the end.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Except Smith was not out on the forebridge while the ship was running at its fastest speed of the voyage into a known region of ice (being in his chartroom is not the same thing as adding another pair of eyes); he did not take any additional measures to post additional lookouts as some captains had done; and he never put into place a plan that would insure that all women and children, including those of 3rd class, were given priority access to the boat deck.

He did go down with his ship, so his myth lives on.
 

Paul Lee

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>As to his drinking, my researching the subject >came to the conclusion he was a teetotaller, >not prone to drink.

“But,”￾ said Mr. Hoyt, “I feel like taking a drink before I take the plunge, don’t you, captain?”￾ The captain said he agreed with him and repairing to the captain’s stateroom each took a big drink, to fortify him against the bitter cold.

from:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/item/1292/
 

Erik Wood

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As I have stated several times over E.J. Smith is the only one that came shoulder the blame for the foundering of his ship, regardless of where he was, and what he did or didn't do, his ship foundered under his command, that is the burden of having your own cabin and four bars on your shoulder.

However, something is to be said for his location if it was indeed in the chartroom or at his private chart table as some of Boxhalls testimony would indicate. This to me would indicate that Smith at least understood that a formal course of action needed to taken. I would argue that he was in the middle or in the later stages for formulating and setting into action that plan. What that plan is we don't know.

As to the women and children. One must remeber that Smith had an obligation to the greater good. My understanding of the situation he faced is a very dark one. Moving passengers in large numbers from one section of a ship to another is a risking operation, seperating them from family members, while moving them is close to a death warrant and an endorsement of panic. No captain in his right mind would even suggest such a course of action in my view.

Smith's obligation was to get as many people as he feasibly could off the ship in a safe and prudent manner. Once the order was given, I believe that his officers carried out his order in two different ways. One was by strict word for word. Meaning ONLY women and children, the other was more open and allowed anyone. I believe the later is more of what Smith intended.

Given the time frame and nature of the incident at hand, I don't think that isolating solely the women and children of all three class's would have been the wise choice or even feasible. Some will argue with me that that is favoritism towards the rich. Well in a way yes it is, but not by Smith's choice. It was by layout of the ship. Those closest to the boats both women and children had a better chance to get off then those that where further away, aka the steerage folk.

You can't discredit Smith for the design of the ship. An evcuation is not a easily defined nor easily carried out order. Smith wisely (in my view) decided against an all out alarm.

A plan like Sam suggests would have taken some creative thinking, and would have required that the very men in charge of preparing the boats be preoccupied with fairness, which in all fairness isn't there job. There job is to carry out the order of the ships commander.

Smith gave the order and it was carried out, there are several hundred variations of what he could or could not have done. The one he opted for in my view worked well. It wasn't the best course of action, but Smith didn't have the luxury of time to actually sit and think about and formulate a plan. Instead, he ordered the abandonment of his command. This order was carriend out, without a loss of life in the process of abandonment.

Smith did his job after the accident, but was slow prior to.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Hi Capt. Erik: I'm not quite sure why you believe Capt. Smith understood that a formal course of action needed to be taken because he was in his chartroom? From Lightoller we know he went to his quarters about 9:30 after being out on the bridge for about 1/2 an hour with his 2/O. We know from Boxhall the ship's 7:30 PM celestial fix was put on his chart about 10 PM. We know he had access to a number of ice reports all day and may have put those positions on the chart too. We know that Lightoller expected to be up to the ice anywhere from 9:30 PM on, and that Moody expected them to reach ice by 11 PM based on a more recent ice report than what Lightoller used. We know from Hichens that Smith came rushing onto the forebridge from his quarters after the ship struck ice, not before. Both Boxhall and Olliver confirmed that Smith was not on the bridge when she struck, otherwise why would he bother to ask Murdock "What have we struck?" or tell him to close the WTDs. The only plan we know about was to maintain speed until ice was seen or unless the WX conditions got bad, in which case he was to be called. If he was working on some plan, then when should we expect him to implement it, after the ship was clear of the ice region?

Now compare this to what Capt. Lord of the Californian had done.

Mr. LORD. We doubled the lookout from the crew, put a man on the forecastle head - that is, right at the bow of the ship - and I was on the bridge myself with an officer, which I would not have been, under ordinary conditions.
Senator SMITH. What time did you increase the watch?
Mr. LORD. When it got dark that night?
Senator SMITH. As soon as it got dark?
Mr. LORD. About 8 o'clock. I went on the bridge at 8'o'clock.
Senator SMITH. And you remained on the bridge how long?
Mr. LORD. Until half past 10.
Senator SMITH. And this increased watch was maintained during all that time?
Mr. LORD. Until half past 10.
Senator SMITH. You thought that was necessary in your situation at that time?
Mr. LORD. Well we had had a report of this ice three or four days before, so we were just taking the extra precautions.

At 10:21 PM the Californian had stopped because of an ice field ahead of them, an ice field first seen and identified as such by Capt. Lord himself.

On the Titanic there was only one watch officer on the bridge, the OOW, at the time the ship struck. The Captain was in his quarters, possibly in his own chart room, of no help to Murdoch whatsoever. One J/O was occupied in an enclosed wheelhouse overlooking the QM, of no help in watching for ice. The other J/O was either coming back from making a periodic compass check, stopping off in his cabin, or returning from making rounds of the ship, depending on which version you want to believe. No additional lookouts posted on either the bridge wings or up front on the forecastle head where they had a telephone available for communicating to the wheelhouse if they chose to take advantage of manning that position.

Now I'm not saying that if extra precautions were taken that the outcome would certainly have been different. What I am saying is that on the Titanic extra precautions, such as exemplified by the actions of Capt. Lord on the Californian, were just not taken.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Boxhall's testimony is quite specific that Captain Smith was "on the bridge" from 9 p.m. until the time of the accident. Boxhall also described working with Smith on charting. As the iceberg was passing astern Boxhall noted the captain standing beside him on the bridge. None of Boxhall's comments about the captain's whereabouts and/or actions was disputed in 1912.

The captain's comments about being "inside" make perfect sense in the context of Boxhall's remarks. Both chartrooms were located "inside" to anyone in the covered forebridge or the open air bridge wings. To reach either chartroom it was necessary to go through the wheelhouse. However, also from Boxhall we learn that in keeping with nautical tradition Titanic considered the chartrooms, wheelhouse, forebridge, and bridge wings collectively as "the bridge." So, there is no inconsistency in saying that the captain was both "inside" and "on the bridge."

Captain Smith's question, "What have we struck," was entirely proper even if the master knew bloody well it was an iceberg. It was necessary for there to be a formal question and answer in front of witnesses. This may sound odd to those not involved in a heavily regulated business with constant governmental oversight, but it was good backside protection for both men.

(Aside--the question had to be asked because it could have been that the ship struck a sailing vessel while dodging the iceberg. Captain Smith might have seen the berg, but would not have seen the wooden splinters. His reaction to a collision with another ship would necessarily have been quite different from striking on an iceberg.)

As Sam points out, there was only one officer keeping look-out on the bridge and that was the OOW. This was standard procedure on WSL ships and represented nothing unusual with regard to the night of the accident. The two junior officers had their hands full with compass checks, making hourly rounds, etc., so were not generally available to assist in look-out duties. Boxhall was specific about this during the U.S. inquiry.

Captain Smith is often criticized for not stationing extra lookouts. However, this may not have been as critical an oversight as something that is never mentioned. Smith also failed to request a maneuvering watch in the engine room. Titanic was operating with just a steaming watch of engineers, so there were not the trained "hands" available to perform rapid engine evolutions which might be anticipated in maneuvering in ice.

Speculating about Smith's motives (or lack of motive) regarding look-out and a maneuvering watch is about as useful as a losing ticket to last week's lottery. We cannot know the inside of a dead man's thoughts. All we know is that he did not request extra manpower either on deck or in the engine room.

However, as I have said so many times before, it is improper to assume that Captain Smith had foreknowledge of Titanic's fate. We judge his actions with full knowledge that the ship sank with loss of life. Smith did not and could not have known that. Instead, he operated under the then-current practice of steaming up to ice and then picking the shortest way around. He assumed that ice would be seen in time to avoid and that running into a berg would not be fatal as it typically was not in smaller ships of less mass.

-- David G. Brown
 
W

Wayne Keen

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"Smith also failed to request a maneuvering watch in the engine room. Titanic was operating with just a steaming watch of engineers, so there were not the trained "hands" available to perform rapid engine evolutions which might be anticipated in maneuvering in ice."

Fascinating!

Was there a ... specially trained team that was on board the Titanic that night that could have been ordered to stand by for these operations, or would it have simply been additional men from other watches.

Wayne
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I don't know if "Specially trained team" is quite the term we're looking for here. The Titanic had six men designated as lookouts who's sole job consisted of that sort of watchstanding and nothing else. Still, most any one of the AB's if I'm not mistaken would be expected to at least know how to do that sort of thing and could be tasked for that if need be to beef up the watch.

Regards the engine room, the people who would be standing by the throttle controls for any special manuevering watch would be the same people who would normally be tending to their duties for at sea routine anyway. It's just that out in the middle of the ocean, there's no reason to have anybody standing on top of these controls since about all you're doing is going in a straight line from point "A" to point "B" with point "B" still being a good 1200 or so miles away.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Wayne-- Big steam engines (and some other power plants) took a small crew of engineers to operate the various valves and levers needed to change speed and direction. In effect, harbor maneuvering was an "all hands" evolution for the engineers. At sea, however, the engine needed only periodic checks on its operation much as you glance at the gauges of your car from time to time on a long drive. So, at sea the number of engineers was reduced to a "sea watch."

The requirement to call out a maneuvering watch of engineers is written into the current International Rules of the Road even though most ships have bridge engine controls now.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Good point about a maneuvering watch Dave. On the Mount Temple Capt. Moore rang down STANDBY on the engine telegraph once he turned his ship around to head for the CQD location at full speed. Obviously a warning that addition maneuvers may be called for and engineers should stay at maneuvering stations just in case. And you are correct in that Capt. Smith was technically "on the bridge" all night. But my point is that he was not in a position to assist Murdock and neither were Moody or Boxhall for the reasons stated. And yes, Smith was doing what others have done before following the practice of steaming at full speed under clear conditions until ice was seen under the assumption that it would be seen in time to avoid. And as you have pointed out many times, he was handling a ship that was moving at least 25% faster than all the other other ships in the WSL fleet (excluding the Olympic of course). It is obvious to me that he was fully confident in their ability not to run into icebergs. But in contrast to the measures taken by Capt. Lord, Capt. Smith didn't deem it necessary to take extra precautions which may or may not have made a difference.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>The engine room telegraphs were located where in the engine room? I can't seem to locate them on any drawings.<<

Unless you can find some detailed working drawings, you probably won't. From what I've seen of some engine rooms...in photos and in person...these things would be located close by to whatever controls were used to carry out the orders.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Sam--

I've been "wooding down" a 1950 vintage Chris-Craft this past week. As a result, I sort of ran out of steam in my post about Captain Smith. Needed more horse liniment for my muscles. Anyway, thanks for finishing up what I was saying.

You put said it right. Titanic was larger and faster, but the standard procedures for conducting voyages had not caught up with those new behemoths. That always seems to be the case. It takes the human part of the equation longer to be refined than the hardware side.

-- David G. Brown
 

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