Captain Smith's actions before collision


Jun 10, 2004
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I have a bad habit of browsing about on this site, finding interesting points and then forgetting where they were or who exactly made them. That is why I am posting this.

The point was made by either Sam Halperne or David Browne. It was in a discussion about how much involvement Captain Smith had in the direction of the ship in the last few hours leading up to the collision. The point made was that Captain Smith was apparently using techniques later adopted on radar equipped ships, and that he was prudent to do so.

I have been intrigued by this statement for the last few days, but have not been able to relocate it. Could the poster please elaborate on what he meant by his statement?

On a wider point, I think it is fascinating that the version of the collision that everybody knows is what happened turns out to be wrong. It is not even subtly wrong, it is quite blindingly obviously wrong when you stop to think about it. I just can't get over how uncritical we human sheep are, that we uncritically accept a story obviously flawed just because the herd has always thought it true. Think of all the film directors who have re-enacted that scene without ever reflecting deeply enough to appreciate it cannot be correct. Does a guy like James Cameron (who must be a pretty clever and imaginative bloke to have made all those block-busting sci-fi films) really not grasp that he had to fudge the famous scene to make it work?

I was taken in too - hook, line and sinker. But I never made a film about it.

So why would a ship turn towards an iceberg off the port bow, when it would probably have missed it had it stayed on course? Interesting question!
 
Mar 22, 2003
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"The point made was that Captain Smith was apparently using techniques later adopted on radar equipped ships, and that he was prudent to do so."

Not by me, that's for sure. By the way, did someone really suggest that the ship was turned toward an iceberg off the port bow?
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Malcom--

On occasion both Captain Erik Wood and I have noted that some of Captain Smith's actions were "modern" that night. In particular, his apparent plotting of ice with regard to the ship's progress. We get this information from Boxhall's testimony about assisting Smith in this effort.

In 1912, little graphic plotting in the modern sense was done. Rather, positions were calculated using mathematical techniques. On some ships, the lat/lon coordinates were never put down on a chart. Other ships (the process varied by captain) plotted positions at regular intervals, typically, every four hours at change of watch. This gave a general impression of the ships progress. The implication of Boxhall's testimony is that Smith seems to have done this as well as plotted the ice positions from reports received by wireless.

In other words, Smith seems to have been creating a graphical picture of the ice with regard to Titanic. His actions were decidedly "modern" by the standards of the day, although by no means were they unique or unusual.

The scene in the movie of the ship turning left while scraping its starboard bow, and then pulling away from the iceberg is pure Hollywood special effects. No rudder-steered ship could have acted in that manner. However, in defense of entertainment this depiction of the accident makes sense to an audience of automobile drivers. In story telling sometimes too much reality gets in the way.

There are those who have suggested that Titanic actually turned left (the "hard a-starboard" order per 1912 conventions) two points (22 1/2 degrees) prior to impact as an ice avoidance maneuver. This is absurd. It means that Murdoch turned the ship left to avoid an object already on its left side. And, it is in direct opposition to the lookouts who said the ship steamed straight at the berg. Curiously, Fleet's drawing of the berg off the bow shows it more off to starboard--which makes sense with regard to the actual accident.

The alleged "hard a-starboard" turn of two points has always confounded me. In the traditional context, it makes no real sense except as whitewash for the general public. An emergency turn seems like the right thing to do. The court of public opinion operates in the same way as popularity in movies. Success comes from giving people what they expect to see instead of reality.

Recently, I've been able to construct a theory of Titanic's striking on the iceberg in which that two-point turn was part of the accident, but not as an attempt to dodge that fatal berg. Going back to the topic of this thread--Captain Smith's actions--this turn was most likely on his orders.

I'm thinking that the iceberg accident was the unintended consequence of Smith's desires to avoid the larger field of ice across the ship's path.

In a couple of weeks I'll be driving Titanic around icebergs to prove or disprove my new theory as well as other theories about the accident. Captain Weeks has obtained an e-iceberg for the full-size ship's bridge simulator at Maine Maritime Academy. We have arranged a few hours of extremely valuable time on that simulator to drive an e-Titanic around that e-iceberg. Everything will be as it was...except that nobody drowns from e-damge to e-ships.

As I say, we plan to try a variety of scenarios with regard to helm and engine orders. While not definitive, the results should be illuminating with regard to the likely outcome of those various combinations.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Trevor William Sturdy

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G'day David, I will be waiting anxiously for the findings of you're little test drive so please be sure to post the results quickly. My own belief in the theory that they steered into the berg, by way of a course adjustment or dodging ice, grows stronger by the day....Two words keep going around in my head "situational awareness".
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Damn, I wish I could be there for this. I've been itching to get my hands on that new simulator since it was put in, but the cancellation of the planned symposium threw a monkey wrench into that. I'll be looking forward to the results that David comes up with.
 
Jun 10, 2004
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David, many thanks for this clarification.

I'll await the e-collision tests. Any chance you can bring me back an e-icecube for a martini?
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Malcom -- it will have to be an e-martini, very dry of course.

Mike S was our QM when we went through some maneuvers on the old bridge simulator a couple of years back. We lacked a realistic iceberg and the sophistication of the new computers. Our results were interesting, but not conclusive back then. This time, we still won't be able to come to hard-and-fast conclusions, but the results should have substantially more validity as a research tool.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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In addition to Smith's actions being modern, so where his inactions.

After giving the order to abandon his vessel his left the task to his officers and did not mettle with how each officer handled the task. Unlike what most people think, that is the proper thing to do. He removed himself from the task therefore gaining a more accurate picture of the entire situation, however helpless that it was.

Would say that the simulation proving nothing is a harsh statement. The reality is that it will prove nothing, even if the characteristics can be plugged in (which given the state of modern simulators I am willing to bet they can). Every ship reacts differently, we don't know the sea state, we don't know what if any effect current had, we don't exactly what orders where issued, if they where carried out, or when they where issued relative to the object.

However, if more where able to take the helm in this simulator, more would be able to see just how difficult a task Murdoch was faced with. As well as see that even with modern technology the traditional set of events is pure imagination and nothing more. It is physically impossible. I dare say that that is the basis for Capt Weeks, and Browns work.
 
Jan 11, 2006
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quote:

There are those who have suggested that Titanic actually turned left (the "hard a-starboard" order per 1912 conventions) two points (22 1/2 degrees) prior to impact as an ice avoidance maneuver. This is absurd.

Should we take this to mean your are discounting the evidence of QM Hitchens and 4th/Officer Boxhall?

quote:

It means that Murdoch turned the ship left to avoid an object already on its left side

What object? What evidence? How could the manoeuvre be executed before coming abreast of the object?

quote:

And, it is in direct opposition to the lookouts who said the ship steamed straight at the berg. Curiously, Fleet's drawing of the berg off the bow shows it more off to starboard

Fleet and Lee said the ship was turning to port just before impact. Fleet also stated "It was a narrow shave"

quote:

The alleged hard a-starboard"[helm]" turn [to port] of two points has always confounded me.

The hard-a-port turn of two points has always been one of the factors convincing me Titanic did not collide with an iceberg or ground on an underwater shelf of an iceberg. If Titanic at 22 knots, with rudder hard-a-port, had impacted her starboard bow unto an iceberg or the underwater shelf of an iceberg she would have sheered uncontrollably to port AWAY past two points (22 1/2 degrees). With engines going FULL ASTERN she would have lost all rudder effect and continued the turn to port until all headway was off. During this time the starboard hull would be in continuous contact, rending the hull from point of impact to the aft extreme.

On the other hand, because she entered heavily concentrated pack ice she came under the effect of the pack ice on both bows which negated the rudder effect, while she followed the line of least pressure. causing her to steady up even though the rudder was still hard-a-port.

I have often experience uncontrolled steering, whilst transiting pack ice, with the bow going opposite to the hard over rudder. I have often experienced icebreakers unable to control steering whilst steaming ahead, and having to turn and back, steering with the twin propellers.

quote:

In the traditional context, it makes no real sense except as whitewash for the general public. An emergency turn seems like the right thing to do.

If Murdoch did not believe it was an emergency, why would he order "HELM HARD-A-STARBOARD" and engines FULL ASTERN?

quote:

Going back to the topic of this thread--Captain Smith's actions--this turn was most likely on his orders. I'm thinking that the iceberg accident was the unintended consequence of Smith's desires to avoid the larger field of ice across the ship's path.

Why would Murdoch execute an emergency manoeuver to make a port turn in accordance with Smith's decision to avoid the larger field of ice across the ship's path? How did Smith know there was larger field of ice across the ship's path? In my professional opinion, the idea of dodging ice at full speed on a dark night is absurd and beyond the realm of probability.

Dave, enjoy, sailing the simulator!

Regards,
Collins​
 
Dec 4, 2000
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First to Sam-- You are correct that we will not be able to say definitively what happened. But, you are totally wrong in saying that it will prove nothing. As you know, simulations are approximations and we will have a ship with a reasonable approximation of Titanic's characteristics. The results will not be definitive, but rather helpful when interpreting what the witnesses claimed as well as the traditional historical interpretations.

As to the berg off to port--No, it was never there. And, that's my point. If Murdoch ordered a hard left turn...and if the ship were still engaged in that turn at impact...the implication is that Murdoch turned left for an object off his port side. That's the only way for a "narrow shave" experience as the lookouts described. I see Murdoch turning left for a danger on his port side as preposterous.

Duke-- I am not discounting the evidence of QM Hichens and 4/O Boxhall. However, I do believe they were being somewhat free with Lightoller's famous whitewash brush. Bluntly, I do not believe the "hard a-starboard" order was ever given. What I do believe, however, is that a left turn (on starboard helm in 1912 parlance) was performed and that this turn did become part of the accident scenario.

It is my interpretation that Captain Smith was aware of the ice across Titanic's path. Contrary to Lightoller's charming paperweight fable, I believe the Mesaba ice message was delivered to Captain Smith and this prompted his chartwork after 10 p.m. as described by Boxhall.

Which brings us back to the simulator. No, it won't be definitive proof either pro or con. But it will give a lot of insight into what sort of actions might or might not have led to the type of accident recorded by the eyewitnesses.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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I agree, saying the simulation will prove nothing was a bit harsh on my part. Capt. Eric has some good points, especially about learning how difficult Murdoch's task was that night. If, however, one is trying to prove some particular result would or would not have happened if some specific action was or was not taken, then my point about using dynamics that match closely the ship in question has some validity. It's like trying to set up a collision scenario on a flight simulator to see what may has caused a crash with the wrong airplane characteristics programmed in.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Dave,

Maybe its me, but I still don't understand your comment: "If Murdoch ordered a hard left turn...and if the ship were still engaged in that turn at impact...the implication is that Murdoch turned left for an object off his port side."

Why would the implication be that Murdoch turned left for an object off his port (left) side under the conditions noted above? Who would turn to port to avoid an object on the port side? It does not make sense.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Sam-- We are arguing over agreement. Murdoch would never have turned left for something on the port side.. Yet, a two-point left turn resulting in a starboard bow accident tends to indicate that the object was originally to port of the ship's centerline, which given Murdoch's proven abilities is improbable.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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"Murdoch would never have turned left for something on the port side." That is right. But he would have turned left for something on his starboard side or ahead. And that is what we were told happened by Fleet, Lee, Hichens and Boxhall. So my point is that a 2-point left turn with the ship still engaged in that turn at impact that resulting in a starboard bow accident tends to indicate that the object was originally to starboard, not to port, of the ship's centerline.

To me your statements are confusing and contradictory. First you say that if Murdoch turned left 2 points resulting in a starboard side accident it was because of an object on his port side.
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Then you agree that he never would have turned left if there were an object on the port side.
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Am I the only one having a problem with this here?
 

Don Tweed

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It was 50/50 wasn't it? Which way to go? I am not as knowledgable as my fine friends here, but wasn't Cptn. Smith simply doing what all commanders of his day were doing? Damn, the torpedoes,and full speed ahead !
Complacency. That word haunts me.
Thinking aloud, Don
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>but wasn't Cptn. Smith simply doing what all commanders of his day were doing? Damn, the torpedoes,and full speed ahead !<<

When you get down to it, that fairly well sums it up, and that may well have been what was so supremely embarrassing about the whole affair. It wasn't just that a ship that was touted as the biggest, the best, the most luxurious and the safest took almost 1500 people with her to a watery grave. It was that there was absolutely nothing unusual about the way the ship was operated. "Everybody else did it" was the clarion cry and the frightening thing is that they were right!
 

Don Tweed

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Hi Linda,
The mind set of the day was that almost all commanders went at full speed no matter what ship was under his command. If the seas were clear and calm they put the petal to the metal.
There are other threads here concerning Cptn Smith and where his assuredness came from.
The collision with the Hawke when he was in charge of the Olympic is a fine example.
He was also quoted as saying that ship building had gone beyond any forseeable situation that would cause a ship to founder.
Arrogance and complacency were the main factors as to why the great lady went down, in my opinion.
Thinking out loud, Don
 
Jan 5, 2001
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I've always seen the belief that the ship was 'unsinkable' as a red herring as far as excessive speed was concerned...even if a ship was unsinkable -- and no ship is -- then you would not want to damage your ship by hitting an iceberg.

Particularly with the summer season coming up.

Best wishes,

Mark.
 

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