Captain Smith's actions before collision


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Jul 9, 2000
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>>do you think that it's possible that the ship may have sunk quicker than initially thought...and that it caught them by surprise?<<

Yes...it's possible. Whether or not that was what anyone actually beleived I can't say since I've seen no testimony which speaks to that.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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BOXHALL: The Captain did remark something to me in the earlier part of the evening after the order had been given to clear the boats. I encountered him when reporting something to him, or something, and he was inquiring about the men going on with the work, and I said, "Yes, they are carrying on all right." I said, "Is it really serious?" He said, "Mr. Andrews tells me he gives her from an hour to an hour and a half." That must have been some little time afterwards. Evidently Mr. Andrews had been down.
 
Feb 24, 2004
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I've heard lots of people ask how the Titanic could have sunk so quickly. Perhaps they just can't fathom how such a huge ship could have filled and gone under in only 2 3/4 hours. Just a couple of after-the-fact comparisons:

Britannic: 50-55 minutes.
Lusitania: Under 20 minutes.

Not that this info contributes a great deal...

Roy
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Warning--temporocentrism is creeping into this discussion. That is, there seems a general assumption that the officers knew the ship would sink from the outset. They did not. Knowledge of the sinking was hidden from them at midnight when the crew began preparing the lifeboats. The only certainty in their world was that Titanic was injured--but the outcome of those injuries was still obscured from their eyes by the veil of time.

The testimonies of officers and crew are all quite specific, however, that there was a universal sense that the ship would "act as its own lifeboat." Most of the professional seamen professed holding the belief that Titanic would never sink.

If there is a question which begs answering, it's what did Andrews say to Smith? At midnight the ship did appear to be holding its own. There is enough testimony to that point that the Captain's actions of ordering boats away must have seemed the height of foolhardy seamanship. After all, it the ship were acting as its own lifeboat, then putting people into boats was risking their lives to a much greater degree than keeping them on the ship.

Smith came back from his tour of the ship and immediately ordered the lifeboat evacuation. He would not have done that if he thought, as his officers apparently did, that Titanic would function as its own lifeboat. His brief words with Boxhall give scant clues as to what the captain really learned from Andrews, Bell, and others below.

Given the state of shipboard communications in 1912 (either written notes or spoken orders), and given the hierarchical structure of both the ship and society in 1912, it is not surprising that Captain Smith did not pass along everything he knew. He was unconcerned about frustrating latter-day historians.

Anyway, I urge everyone when examining the actions of people to put things into the context of the moment. That is, first learn what those people knew about their situation. Then, use only that information to analyse their actions. Forget what you know. The ship sank, but only in the unknown future when Murdoch and Lightoller began supervising the swinging out of boats.

-- David G. Brown
 
Feb 7, 2005
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I've been wondering why they decided to put passengers into the boats and lower them ever since I watched the "Final Moments" special--if they really believed the ship was holding its own, why risk it? Could they have observed the beginnings of some sort of structural failure on their tour of the ship? Or, was that too early for something like that to have started (in an observable way)?

Forgive these questions from a non-engineer/naval architect!

Denise
 
Mar 22, 2003
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quote:

His brief words with Boxhall give scant clues as to what the captain really learned from Andrews, Bell, and others below.
True, we don't know all the details, but we do know from what Smith told Boxhall at that time is that the ship was not going to stay afloat. The uncovering and swinging out of the boats began before that just minutes after Boxhall came back from his trip to the mailroom, his 2nd trip below. Smith knew at that time that the ship was seriously damaged, already having been given reports of flooding in several compartments, but it is doubtful he knew at that time that the ship would actually founder. Getting the boats ready was a precaution and a prudent thing to do, but it was only after he was certain that the ship could not last was the order given to load and lower them. As Dave Brown said, he would not have done that if he thought that Titanic would function as its own lifeboat. From Gracie's inquiries, we can place that at about 45 minutes after the accident.

In the meantime, Boxhall was asked to call upon Lightoller and Pitman, and then was put busy with uncovering and swinging out the boats for about the next 20-25 minutes after reporting back what he saw from his trip to the mailroom. Also, according to Bride, Phillips and he were told that they were to get ready to send out a CQD but to hold off sending until an inspection was made. The order to load the boats came only after Smith came back from his personal inspection below where he met up with Andrews. It was about the same time, when they started to load up the boats, that Phillips started to send out the 1st CQDs with the position that Smith had given them. We also know that Boxhall came onto the bridge when someone reported seeing the light of a steamer up ahead. It was then that Boxhall apparently met Smith, as described in my post of April 22 above, and was told about what Andrews said when he asked about the seriousness of the situation. It is also about that time that he, Boxhall, would have been asked to work out a corrected ship's position to give to Phillips in the wireless cabin. In the wireless message sent out by Phillips exactly 1 minute after Boxhall's updated position was first sent out, the words "Require immediate assistance" and "sinking" were included. The CQDs in the previous 10 minutes of transmission only said "require assistance," which does not quite convey the same sense of urgency. It makes me wonder what Boxhall may also have written on his note to Phillips beside the updated position. Boxhall knew from Smith by that time that the ship would not last.

As far as informing the other officers as to the full extent of what he knew, remember that steam was blowing off from the escapes and it was very difficult to hear anything without shouting especially out on the boat deck near the lifeboats. I can easily understand how some folks may not have received the word.​
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Could they have observed the beginnings of some sort of structural failure on their tour of the ship? Or, was that too early for something like that to have started (in an observable way)? <<

I think in some sense it was a little too early, but that doesn't mean there weren't some visible signs that were to serve as a red flag flapping in the breeze. I seem to recall at least one instance where the water flooding the post office was at some point actually starting to drain away. It wasn't for long but it happened.

It had to go someplace, and it wasn't out into the ocean. To me, this speaks to some sort of failure somewhere in a transverse bulkhead. Whether or not stresses on the rest of the hull girder caused this or the failure compromised the strength of the hullgirder in some fashion is debatable, (It's debating whether the Chicken or the Egg came first) but it was still enough to let anyone with eyes know that something is badly wrong.

Since Captain Smith was the one who had information being given to him by Bell, Andrews, and later on Joe Boxhall, he was the only one we can be certain knew the whole picture. However he percieved it, it was enough to convince him that staying with the ship was becoming a health hazard and that it was time to get as many people off as they could. Taking to the lifeboats is not a call that's made lightly by the commander of any vessel. It's the court of very last resort when you can't stay with the ship and you're fresh out of options.
 

Erik Wood

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quote:

Could they have observed the beginnings of some sort of structural failure on their tour of the ship?


This is curious to me.

If so, if it was possible the only man on the ship really qualified to make such a judgement was Andrews. We do not know his exact words to Smith, or do we know what he saw and how is analized it. We do know he gave a fairly accurate time frame. He must has seen something, other then flooding to cause him to worry in my estimation. What that is???? Don't know.

As to ordering folks into boats. As Mike said, it is the VERY last result. There are numerous accounts post Titanic, in which the Captain kept the passengers on the ship for there safety, even when the ship was on fire. The ship itself is the ultimate lifeboat.​
 
Jul 14, 2000
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Do we even know the route Smith and his inspection party took on their inspection? And what areas did they observe?

We know they appeared in the forecaste at the top of the stairs, did they descend into the firemans' passage? Boxhall observed the mailroom, and all would have noticed the canvas covers over the hatchways billowed outward and the sound of air escaping.

BTW, at what rate of flooding does air become so compressed as to billow out the covers of the cargo hatches anyway? That seems like rapid flooding to produce such a dramatic effect. (A little bit too rapid almost...hmmmm)

Anyway, I wonder what was the last area observed by the captain and his inspection party? Could they have even entered the fireman's passage around midnight? The last location visited might have told them the grim truth about the situation and no further inspection beyond that was needed. The Captain knew at that point what he was facing. But what did he see? And where?

Excellent questions.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>Do we even know the route Smith and his inspection party took on their inspection? And what areas did they observe? <<

I think that information is lost to history. We know that the tour was made and that ultimately, it was enough to convince them that the ship was a bad place to stay for anyone who wanted to die of old age.

>>That seems like rapid flooding to produce such a dramatic effect. (A little bit too rapid almost...hmmmm)<<

Well, you don't get that by somebody forgetting to turn a bathroom tap off. As to whether or not they made it as far as the fireman's tunnel, I don't know that they did, but since this event was observed and reported, I doubt it was unknown. Hendrickson saw this and reported it to the Second Engineer and I don't think he kept it to himself.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Yuri. Smith's inspection took place some time shortly after midnight. Boxhall had already returned from his 2nd inspection forward, which was about 20 minutes after the collision, and reported again to Smith what he saw in the mail room. Smith went to the wireless cabin before going on his inspection tour to give a "heads up" to Philips that they may have to send out a distress call according to Bride. Look at the testimonies of stewardess Anni Robertson, steward Charles Mackay, passenger Norman Chambers (who saw 3 officers but didn't know their rank). By about 12:25 Smith was back on the bridge and the order was given to load the boats. He apparently met up with Andrews who gave him a grim assessment. Smith apparently did not go as far forward to look down the spiral staircase. There were no reports of seeing him in that part of the ship.

Anybody else know of other reports of seeing Capt. Smith below decks?
 
Jul 14, 2000
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Let me dig through some testimonies and see if I can find anything about who visited the spiral stairs or the forepeak.
 
Feb 24, 2004
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>>However he percieved it, it was enough to convince him that staying with the ship was becoming a health hazard and that it was time to get as many people off as they could.

And that's where the issue of not sufficient lifeboats and knowing there were not sufficient lifeboats would become critical. How do you get as many people as possible off without creating a stampede for those too few boats? No general alarm, no evacuation order, the band playing, "It's just a precaution, madam", taking only what few people managed to reach the boat deck early enough. Yet there was still Andrews' time assessment to be reckoned with. Those 20 boats had to be launched and they had precious little time to do it once they got started. And then, there was the reluctance of a good many women to get into the early boats at all because it seemed like such a stupid idea. "Are there any more women??" - and they still stood back. It's no wonder those early boats went away only partially loaded.

Sadly, even a couple of the last boats (2 and 4, wasn't it?) went away underloaded because, I suspect, by then people were migrating aft.

Roy
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>How do you get as many people as possible off without creating a stampede for those too few boats? <<

You do it by playing it cool. At least that appears to be how they percieved it and that's how they played it. Based on past casualties, they knew that the possibility of a panic was very real, so the last thing they were going to do was run through the passageways yelling "This ship is bloody sinking! Get the hell off while you can."
 
Feb 24, 2004
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"Just play it cool, boy, reeee-al cool."

Sorry Michael, I couldn't resist - there's a live professional production of West Side Story (recreated Jerry Robbins choreography, etc.) playing in town even as we "speak." '-)

Roy
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I'm not much on Broadway plays but in terms of "Just play it cool, boy, reeee-al cool." there really weren't any other options that wouldn't make matters worse. The blunt facts are that they had a sinking ship, a shortage of lifeboats, a surplus of people, and no help in sight.

Spooking everybody aboard would solve no problems and potentially could make matters a lot worse. It wasn't as if there was a lack of precedent for passenger/crew panic in a crisis. There was a substantial body of it and some quite recent. What chance would only a few lightly armed officers have against a frigtened mob of over 2000 people?

Yeah....damn right you play it cool!
 
Feb 24, 2004
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Hi, Michael!

If Broadway shows aren't your cup of tea, how about Gene Wilder in The Producers: "No way out...no way out...no way out..."

Roy
 
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