Captain Smith's actions before collision


Status
Not open for further replies.
Feb 24, 2004
907
3
183
Smith's comments are ambiguous. On one hand, he said that an Olympic-class ship could be cut into three pieces and that each section would continue to float. On the other hand, if the source is accurate, he said that an iceberg could tear the whole bottom out of one of those ships and that "some of us" would join her on her way to the seabed. To yet another person (same caveat), he confided that he felt his career might have been "hoodoed" - so many accidents over such a short span - and that if he ever got into another one, he would resign from the sea. Of course, he wasn't given the chance to put up or shut up.

Roy
 
Jul 9, 2000
58,666
881
563
Easley South Carolina
>>But do you think he did it mainly because Titanic was supposed to be "unsinkable"?<<

I don't think so.

Assertions of the ship's practical unsinkability were no different from similar claims made for the Lusitania, Mauritania, Olympic, Empress of Ireland and just about any other liner of the day. The Titanic, like any of the crack mailboats and express liners was expected to keep to a schedule and even better it if at all possible. The contract stipulations they operated under all but required it. (If they didn't keep to that schedule, the contracts and the subsidies went elsewhere) and passengers demanded it as well. Nobody was going to book passage on a ship that would take three weeks to cross when they could get a berth on a vessel that would cross in one. In that day and age, such travel was seldom for pleasure save for the very wealthy. It was a means to an end and then as now, time was precious and nobody wanted to waste it if they could get where they were going and take care of business.

The bottom line was that keeping to the schedule was everything and you were expected to move the ship from Point A to Point B in a given amount of time or less and Captains who achieved this tended to have long careers. The captians who didn't achieve this tended to have very short careers and every ship driver on the North Atlantic run got the message.

This mindset encouraged a certain amount of risk taking and it was only a matter of time before somebody got bitten by that mentality.
 

Linda Kuai

Member
Apr 19, 2006
13
0
71
So I guess you are saying that ships have gone through ice fields before at full speed with no problems.
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
5,055
339
433
After all the talk over many years, Lord Mersey's remarks in 1912 still sum up the story.

"Why, then, did the Master persevere in his course and maintain his speed? The answer is to be found in the evidence. It was shown that for many years past, indeed, for a quarter of a century or more, the practice of liners using this track when in the vicinity of ice at night had been in clear weather to keep the course, to maintain the speed and to trust to a sharp look-out to enable them to avoid the danger. This practice, it was said, had been justified by experience, no casualties having resulted from it. I accept the evidence as to the practice and as to the immunity from casualties which is said to have accompanied it. But the event has proved the practice to be bad. Its root is probably to be found in competition and in the desire of the public for quick passages rather than in the judgment of navigators. But unfortunately experience appeared to justify it. In these circumstances I am not able to blame Captain Smith. He had not the experience which his own misfortune has afforded to those whom he has left behind, and he was doing only that which other skilled men would have done in the same position. It was suggested at the bar that he was yielding to influences which ought not to have affected him; that the presence of Mr. Ismay on board and the knowledge which he perhaps had of a conversation between Mr. Ismay and the Chief Engineer at Queenstown about the speed of the ship and the consumption of coal probably induced him to neglect precautions which he would otherwise have taken. But I do not believe this. The evidence shows that he was not trying to make any record passage or indeed any exceptionally quick passage. He was not trying to please anybody, but was exercising his own discretion in the way he thought best. He made a mistake, a very grievous mistake, but one in which, in face of the practice and of past experience, negligence cannot he said to have had any part; and in the absence of negligence it is, in my opinion, impossible to fix Captain Smith with blame. It is, however, to be hoped that the last has been heard of the practice and that for the future it will be abandoned for what we now know to be more prudent and wiser measures. What was a mistake in the case of the Titanic would without doubt be negligence in any similar case in the future."

In the 20 years to 1911, just 85 passengers died on British ships on the North Atlantic. Not one passenger death was caused by an iceberg. Just the thing to breed complacency.
 
Mar 22, 2003
6,527
1,811
383
Chicago, IL, USA
www.titanicology.com
Linda: As Dave Gittens posted above from the British Inquiry report, the accepted practice when in the vicinity of ice at night in clear weather had been to keep the course and maintain speed trusting a sharp look-out to avoid the danger. If danger was seen, then the course would be changed and/or speed reduced.

As far as some of the statements in the Mercey report that Capt. Smith "was not trying to make any record passage or indeed any exceptionally quick passage" is somewhat debatable. We know that the Titanic was not capable of beating the speed of the Lusitania or Mauritania, but there is quite a bit of circumstantial evidence suggesting that it was trying to do better than Olympic's maiden voyage passage. To those interested I refer you to the work of George Behe in his book "Titanic - Safety, Speed, and Sacrifice" and to the recent article by J. Kent Leyton in Voyage 54 called "The Arrival the Never Took Place."
 

Kyrila Scully

Member
Apr 15, 2001
2,079
35
243
South Florida
I am interested in the results of this simulation also. I don't pretend to understand everything that's being discussed here. But this discussion certainly gives me a clearer understanding from a layman's point of view and I want to continue following the conversation.

David, has your new book been published yet? I am anxious to read it.

Kyrila
 

Don Tweed

Member
May 5, 2002
590
12
183
I am no head shrinker, but I think Cptn. Smiths' mind set after the collision was of pure shock.
Lightoller almost had to coax him into filling the boats and the idea of lifeboats rowing to a ship in the distance and then returning for more passengers, to me, shows he was not really absorbing the situation correctly.
I think some walls went up in his mind to block out what was really happening, a sort of failsafe that kicks in in the human mind. To not see the inevitable unfolding before your eyes.
As Michael said, the almighty pound/dollar drove the ship and the loss of contracts for not meeting schedules would just not be accepted.
Not trying to get off on a tangent, but maybe that is why Cptn. Lord was a little more cautious. Was he under the same pressure to meet a deadline? I do not know.
Since Titanic was deemed an "emigrant ship" were there also contracts for that trade as well?
I think it was proper for Cptn. Smith to be exonerated of fault. This wasn't the Exxon Valdez, it was another liner making the same crossing that thousands had made before her.
She just happened to be carrying the hopes of an era with her.
Thinking out loud, Don
 
Feb 24, 2004
907
3
183
>>So I guess you are saying that ships have gone through ice fields before at full speed with no problems.

I don't think that's what anyone here is saying at all. Running at top speed until you actually see ice before taking evasive action isn't the same as bashing one's way through thick ice like a Coast Guard ice breaker. In the past I've posted lists and articles on the number (and names) of ships that were severely damaged and/or sunk because of 1912 Atlantic ice conditions. There were many. Titanic was just the biggest and most memorable is all.

>>I am no head shrinker, but I think Cptn. Smiths' mind set after the collision was of pure shock. . . . I think some walls went up in his mind to block out what was really happening, a sort of failsafe that kicks in in the human mind. To not see the inevitable unfolding before your eyes.

Don, that's certainly what Cameron's movie implied, but it's far removed from what most people who were actually there and observed Smith close up remember.

Roy
 

Don Tweed

Member
May 5, 2002
590
12
183
I have to disagree. Compared to the actions that night by Lightoller, Hemmings, Lowe, even Murdoch and hundreds others that sacrificed that night, he should have led more. One only has to look at Cptn. Rostron and his response in the face of adversity. Far removed? Camerons' movie.
Wading towards the bridge, knowing his command was doomed. Hindsight is 20/20, who can tell when the mind shuts all things out and goes on overload.
Thinking out loud, Don
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
5,055
339
433
Kyrila, my e-book has been out for several months.

To read all about it, just follow the link at the end of my signature.
 

Ernie Luck

Member
Nov 24, 2004
643
6
183
Don

Personally, I think Cameron's views on this issue, recently re-iterated, are a load of tosh. Capt. Rostron was a poor example for use as a comparison - he was hardly facing the same adversity.

You are not falling into the trap of believing what the movie portrayed are you? Because that seems to be where you are coming from.

I just can't believe that a Captain of Smith's experience would fall to pieces - even given the magnitude of what had happened.
 

Kyrila Scully

Member
Apr 15, 2001
2,079
35
243
South Florida
Roy wrote: "Don, that's certainly what Cameron's movie implied, but it's far removed from what most people who were actually there and observed Smith close up remember."

Actually, I have seen written documentation of people having observed the Captain in a state of shock, particularly the exchange between Lightoller and himself. Now, I have over 90 books on Titanic and I can't recall which one it's in (perhaps someone else can provide the quotes?) and besides which I'm on the road until mid-May and won't have access to them.

Kyrila
 

Linda Kuai

Member
Apr 19, 2006
13
0
71
I'm referring to the 1997 movie, because I'm an obvious novice...but didn't Lightholler warn Captain Smith that night that the calm, flat waters would make it harder to see the ice bergs at night? Then of course there was a moment in the movie when Capt Smith just had this incomprehensible look in his eyes as he said, "Yes", and then he told Lightholler to go full speed ahead, and that he was retiring for the night? I know that was for dramatic purposes and for poetic license. But...it was almost like he was gambling with fate for real.

I know Lightholler had survived, was at the oversight hearing and testified...but I haven't read what he had said. If the movie was correct...he had warned Captain Smith about the calm, flat waters that night...and Capt Smith must have shrugged it off I guess. What do you thnk?
 

Don Tweed

Member
May 5, 2002
590
12
183
I was not referring to Camerons' movie one bit.
Those were Roys' words. In my last post I should have said far removed?, Camerons' movie?, where did that come from!
I myself would never use 97 Titanic as a reference to historic facts.
My comments come from reading all the books I have.
But, as I said, it is just my opinion. Both Wilde and Cptn. Smith are absent from so many survivors stories. And, in my opinion, Cptn. Rostron is a perfect example. The way he barked out orders to his crew to prepare for the worst was a thing of beauty.
That's just my 2 cents mind you.
Best regards, Don
 

Ernie Luck

Member
Nov 24, 2004
643
6
183
Hi Don

in my opinion, Cptn. Rostron is a perfect example. The way he barked out orders to his crew to prepare for the worst was a thing of beauty.

Now why does that not sound like the way Rostron was portrayed in ANTR? Straight out of his book.

Movie's are a very powerful medium. You could read a thousand books but the image you carry is going to be the Movie. I find it a job myself. Did that really happen or did I just see it on the screen?

Sorry for digressing. Captain Smith is one of my hero's and occasionally I fail to restrain myself and take the bait, when he is subjected to unsubstantiated criticism.

Regards Ernie
 

Linda Kuai

Member
Apr 19, 2006
13
0
71
I didn't mean to refer to the movie as real life. I meant that if the captain knew the water was flat calm that night...was that still common practice to move full speed ahead in an ice field?

Yes, of course, hindsight is always better than foresight. And safety procedures were kind of brushed off at the time. But weren't the risks unnecessary? I don't know...it is easier to ask these kinds of questions after the fact I guess.

If Captain Smith was in shock after the collision...I would never have blamed him for that. He's only human.
 
Jun 11, 2000
2,524
26
313
If I had been Capt. Rostron, I would have understood two things. Firstly, that I had to try to save anyone that I could and, secondly, that it could be the making of my career. He was, after all, only human.

I think the reading of his testimony makes this fairly clear. His first priority was the sinking, and his second was his career. He took chances, but he very sensibly did everything he could to reduce the possibility of disaster to his own ship - the lookouts and other precuations etc. However, he was fairly lucky. He took chances, but it paid off. Nobody can cavil at that, surely?

Safety procedures were not brushed off that night - they simply didn't exist as we know them now.

Nor would I blame Capt. Smith for being in shock, but the positions of the two Captains cannot be compared. One knew what was inevitably going to happen - the other had all to go for.
 
Mar 18, 2000
1,384
21
313
Kyrila - could you be refering to "Unsinkable" by Dan Butler? He had a lot to say about Smith's mental state, post collision, pre sinking.
 
Jul 9, 2000
58,666
881
563
Easley South Carolina
>>I meant that if the captain knew the water was flat calm that night...was that still common practice to move full speed ahead in an ice field?<<

Not if they knew for sure they were in an icefield it wasn't.

What was common practice was maintaining course and speed in all conditions short of bad visibility or dangerous weather. At the time, Titanic's officers knew they were heading towards a region of ice. They had reports, some of which made it to the bridge, which they were acting on. The lookouts were given special orders to watch out for growlers, pack ice and bergy bits, and there is some evidence that Captain Smith may have been trying to keep a continuous plot of where they were in relation to the areas of reported ice.

What they did not know was that by the time of the accident, they were already in the icefield. If they had, I suspect that Captain Smith would have made some very different decisions.

Be that as it may, the presumption at the time was that so long as they could see what they were doing and where they were going, then even at high speed, they could see danger in plenty of time to avoid it. Hence the practice of "Cracking on." Of holding course and speed no matter what unless they had one compelling reason to alter course and/or slow down.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Similar threads

Similar threads