Captain Smith's role in the disaster


Jul 9, 2000
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>>One exception is that I find binoculars useful when looking for an object that I know is around and whose bearing is roughly known. <<

So do I. The issue I have is the idea that the things are useful for searching as opposed to identifying. I was genuinely surprised the first time I ever tried it at just how useless they were for that, but it was a lesson I never forgot.
 
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Captain Smith's role in the Titanic tragedy was huge – but it could not have been properly recognized in 1912. The concepts and the language to describe his error in bridge team management did not exist until late in World War II. We are at an advantage a hundred years on. Research into the causes of airplane, train, bus, car, and even ship accidents has revealed the primary cause is a condition known as “loss of situational awareness.” It was the real problem Titanic's master faced that night. This condition allowed his ship to run down an iceberg that had been spotted by the lookouts and of which the bridge team was fully aware.

The iceberg was originally reported by the crow's nest when it was approximately 2.2 miles ahead. We can calculate this from the single most overlooked (deliberately so by some Titanic historians) piece of evidence: the testimony of seaman Scarrott. He was in the crew's galley and heard the sound of the three strikes on the crow's nest bell. In a sworn statement he said the bell sounded some five to eight minutes prior to impact. If we split the difference and use six minutes as the duration the math is easy. Six minutes equals 1/10th of an hour. So, at 22 knots the berg was reasonably about 2.2 miles ahead.

It is vital to understand that neither lookout -- Fleet or Lee -- quantified the duration between bell strokes and impact. In fact Fleet painted himself the fool in his testimony when he stated that he couldn't differentiate between the passage of an hour or a minute.

Lots of people use quartermaster Olliver's testimony to estimate the duration. They assume that Olliver was leaving the compass platform when the three strikes sounded Since the walk back to the bridge should have take under a minute, they assume the crow's nest bell sounded 45 to 50 seconds before impact. The problem with this is that Olliver never said he was just leaving the platform when he heard the bell, just that he was on the platform at that time. How much longer he remained there was never established. He could have climbed down immediately or remained there for five to eight minutes. Olliver did not say. For this reason it is impossible to use Olliver's testimony to determine the duration between bell warning and impact.

The only specific reference to the duration between crow's nest bell and iceberg impact came from Scarrott -- five to eight minutes.

Landsmen often make the mistake of assuming that objects can only be seen by light reflecting off their surfaces. Seaman (lookouts especially) know differently. Objects are often spotted not by the light they reflect, but the light they block. When a lookout sees a black area against an otherwise illuminated background, he knows that darkness represents danger. If it happens to be dead ahead, the dark spot requires 3 strikes on the lookout's bell. And, Titanic's lookouts reported just such a scenario. They noted a hazy look to the horizon. There was no possibility of meteorological haze that night, so this luminosity could only be starlight reflected from the ice floating across the ship's track. Then, the lookouts described spotting the iceberg as a "black mass" against that background.

It is true that an iceberg can hardly be spotted a quarter mile ahead by reflected light on a moonless night. It just does not reflect enough light. But, a silhouette is something quite different. It can be seen as long as the luminous background remains visible. That distance can be enormous. Scientists now search for planets orbiting distant stars by the silhouettes which darken the light as the planets occult their stars. In Titanic's more mundane situation the lookouts simply did their duty. There was nothing particularly outstanding about their ability to report an iceberg more than two miles ahead of the ship because what they saw was the silhouette of that berg and not the ice itself.

Now, back to the topic of this thread...Captain Smith allowed situational awareness to slip away during the hours after he returned from dinner. In essence the concept of loss of situational awareness means that while everyone is doing their job, nobody has a grasp of the overall situation. This was the result of Smith inadvertently splitting the two command functions of the senior officer in charge of the ship. Until Smith arrived, Second Officer Murdoch as officer of the watch had both "the deck" and "the con." Although these are naval terms not usually associated with merchant ships, they still describe the OOD's two functions. "The deck" means overall command of the vessel at the moment. "The con" refers to the officer actually issuing the rudder and engine orders. Naval ratings learn to listen only to the officer who has "the con."

In Titanic that night, the presence of Smith as an active member of the bridge team silently moved "the deck" from Murdoch's shoulders and put it on the master. In itself, this did not have cause the accident. But, when Smith began issuing orders to alter course, he also unwittingly removed "the con" from Murdoch as well.

If we look at Titanic's boat deck one thing is obvious: the standard compass is more than 200 feet aft of the bridge where Murdoch paced in the cold night air. Not as obvious is that anyone on the platform has no view forward. All vision is blocked by the huge bulk of funnel #2. To alter course it was first necessary for the navigating officer (Boxhall in this case) to apply variation and deviation to the desired new direction. This would give him the compass course to be steered on the standard compass. He would then go aft to the platform and use bell signals to instruct the quartermaster how to bring the ship's heading to the desired new course. Obviously, while directing the quartermaster Boxhall would de facto have taken “the con.”

At this point the stage was set for disaster. Murdoch was still perceived as having “deck” and “con” but, in fact, had neither.

Who was really in charge as the clock ticked down to disaster? Captain Smith assumed Murdoch was acting as the officer of the watch. Murdoch knew that Smith was calling the navigation shots. Boxhall was under the assumption that Murdoch had “the conn” when, in fact, he was instructing the quartermaster how to steer to make good Captain Smith's orders. Unfortunately, Boxhall could see nothing ahead of the ship because of funnel #2. Likewise the captain was blind to events outside his private navigation room. Murdoch knew about the iceberg report. He heard those three bell strikes with his own ears. But, he also knew that Boxhall had instructions to turn the ship to the left in order to go south of any ice danger. As the final seconds ticked away Titanic's bridge was a textbook case of loss of situational awareness. Each man was doing his duty, yet no one had the big picture until Murdoch looked into the gloom and muttered “oh excrement,” or words to that effect.

Captain E.J. Smith may not have understood the concept of “loss of situational awareness,” but he was still master of Titanic. As such, he still held ultimate responsibility for conducting a safe voyage.

– David G. Brown
 

Jim Currie

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The concepts and the language to describe his error in bridge team management did not exist until late in World War II.

That must have been on US Ships David. I went to sea just after WW2 and the term was never heard of at that time.

“loss of situational awareness.”It was the real problem Titanic's master faced that night. This condition allowed his ship to run down an iceberg that had been spotted by the lookouts and of which thewas fully aware.

"Situation awareness" and "bridge team" were unheard -of terms before the 1970's David.

The iceberg was originally reported by the crow's nest when it was approximately 2.2 miles ahead. We can calculate this from the single most overlooked (deliberately so by some Titanic historians) piece of evidence: the testimony of seaman Scarrott.

Another bit of evidence you overlook David is the fact that Scarrott hadn't a clue when he heard the three bells, he made a 'stab' at it:

"336. What did you hear?- Three bells.
337. Do you know what time that was?- Not to be exact I do not, but it was round about half-past eleven.
[B,[/B] I could hardly recollect the time; but I should think it was - well, we will say about five or eight minutes; it seemed to me about that time.

Hardly the sure-fire evidence on which to build a case!

He was in the crew's galley and heard the sound of the three strikes on the crow's nest bell.

If he "did not take much notice of the three strikes on the gong" That's contrary to what the man told his questioner David.

It is vital to understand that neither lookout -- Fleet or Lee -- quantified the duration between bell strokes and impact.

If you mean by quantify, they didn't give you a minute and second interval between events then your right. However, when their evidence is combined with that of the helmsman QM Hichen. then their is little doubt of the timing and sequence of events..
Lee stated that he turned, trang the bell then went immediately to the phone and contacted Moody on the Bridge. The latter answered immediately. Fleet dropped the phone and turned to look ahead again. In the time between putting down the phone and turning, Titanic's bow began to swing left. "Ding, ding, ding...3 seconds. Turn round to phone...2 seconds? Murdoch orders hard-a-starboard (Fleet on the phone with Moody) 2 seconds. Helm hard over then impact. 6 seconds. Total 13 seconds at absolute most

Lots of people use quartermaster Olliver's testimony to estimate the duration. They assume that Olliver was leaving the compass platform when the three strikes sounded Since the walk back to the bridge should have take under a minute, they assume the crow's nest bell sounded 45 to 50 seconds before impact. The problem with this is that Olliver never said he was just leaving the platform when he heard the bell, just that he was on the platform at that time. How much longer he remained there was never established. He could have climbed down immediately or remained there for five to eight minutes. Olliver did not say. For this reason it is impossible to use Olliver's testimony to determine the duration between bell warning and impact.

Unless we have a typo in the transcript, QM Olliver stated he was at the "Standing", not "Standard". compass and when he heard the three bells he looked up. He also said he saw the top of the iceberg as it passed the bridge. To do that, he must have been at the entrance to the wheelhouse no more than 6 seconds after impact. This had to be no more than 13 + 6 = 20 seconds from hearing the three bells. The only way he could have done that was for him to have been at the steering compass outside and in front of the enclosed wheelhouse where Hichens was esconced. Remeber he looked up when he heard the bells. No point in that if he had been behind Funnel 2.
.

Landsmen often make the mistake of assuming that objects can only be seen by light reflecting off their surfaces. Seaman (lookouts especially) know differently. Objects are often spotted not by the light they reflect, but the light they block. When a lookout sees a black area against an otherwise illuminated background, he knows that darkness represents danger. If it happens to be dead ahead, the dark spot requires 3 strikes on the lookout's bell. And, Titanic's lookouts reported just such a scenario. They noted a hazy look to the horizon. There was no possibility of meteorological haze that night, so this luminosity could only be starlight reflected from the ice floating across the ship's track. Then, the lookouts described spotting the iceberg as a "black mass" against that background.


First of all David, at night, a lookout looks directly at the horizon, not at the areas of water below it. In this case, the horizon was 11 miles ahead of the lookouts. For it to have been sticking above the horizon two miles away, it would have been towering above them when they were almost on top of it. it was not, it was below their eye level. It was a relatively small berg.. not much more than a big growler.

Captain Smith allowed situational awareness to slip away during the hours after he returned from dinner. In essence the concept of loss of situational awareness means that while everyone is doing their job, nobody has a grasp of the overall situation. This was the result of Smith inadvertently splitting the two command functions of the senior officer in charge of the ship. Until Smith arrived, Second Officer Murdoch as officer of the watch had both "the deck" and "the con." Although these are naval terms not usually associated with merchant ships, they still describe the OOD's two functions. "The deck" means overall command of the vessel at the moment. "The con" refers to the officer actually issuing the rudder and engine orders. Naval ratings learn to listen only to the officer who has "the con."

I'm not sure what you "class as situational awareness". I'm afraid that in pre 1970s British Merchant vessel term, that's gobbledigook David. It's also mis-leading.

Smith was fully aware at all times what was going on within and out with his vessel. All heads of departmens would have his frequently updated Standing Orders. These would essentialyy require them to keep him constantly updated. That's what all compitent master did and still do. The master is always in command and will, if necessary, over-rule and action of the OOW. We know that he was on and off the bridge the entire time. He was on the bridge at about 9-30pm discussing the ice situation with Lightoller.

In Titanic that night, the presence of Smith as an active member of the bridge team silently moved "the deck" from Murdoch's shoulders and put it on the master. In itself, this did not have cause the accident. But, when Smith began issuing orders to alter course, he also unwittingly removed "the con" from Murdoch as well.


David, their is no evidence pointing to it and you do not know that Smith ordered a change of course. That's just an idea that you have.

" He [Boxhall] would then go aft to the platform and use bell signals to instruct the quartermaster how to bring the ship's heading to the desired new course. Obviously, while directing the quartermaster Boxhall would de facto have taken “the con.”


In making such an observation, you illustrate a lack of knowledge as to what went on a board a British merchant vessel. 99% of the time, a junior officer will not give a helm order. The OOW may do so but usually only when avoiding possible danger or on the instructions of the master or a Pilot.

First and foremost: If Smith had intended altering the vessel's course he would have discussed it with Boxhall then Murdoch. Boxhall in particular would need to have that information for his on-going nav. work and for the log book. The procedure would be as follows:
Smith would calculate the amount of course change. he would then alert Boxhall to the impending change. The he would discuss it with Murdoch.You must remember that in the vent of an accident to the master. the OOW musy know of his intentions. Smith would then, at the appropriate moment order Hichens to "bring her head rounf to **** Quartermaster". When she was on her new course, Hichens would report accordingly. Since they were using mmagnetic compasses, time would be allowed for the compasses to settle. Following that, Boxhall; would do a compass comparison with the standard compass. It would never be a 'seems like a good idea at the time' situation.

I will take a rain check on your last paragraph David because regretfully it is not a situation I can identify on any of the very many ships I have sailed in.

Jim C.
 
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>>"Situation awareness" and "bridge team" were unheard -of terms before the 1970's David.<<

I think that's the point overall he's trying to make. When making judgements about the way the Titanic's officers reacted, there's a lot of the woulda, coulda, shoulda language being thrown about, much of which assumes that they had the benefits of lessons learned over a centuries worth of time. Lessons which had NOT been learned in 1912, and operating and management concepts which had either NOT been learned in 1912 or were so poorly understood as to be unrecognizable.

It's called "Anachronism." It's a pitfall we need to be wary of.
 

Jim Currie

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I agree Michael regarding the then and now thing. However, I firmly believe that on that sad night so long ago, modern management concept Lessons and operating and management concepts would have been as much use as mammary glands to a bore-hog as our southern cousins so picturesquely observe.
Such management concepts require the back-up of modern management tools to be effective. I think principally of radar and vhf voice communications. At the end of the day, it's the ultimate decision which creates the outcome and that decision has always always lain with the peson in command. My experience of modern bridge management does not make me feel any more confident than it did way back in 1955 when I was first in charge of a ship's bridge. There seems to me to be a bit too much overloading. When you have too many segment to an operation, there can be a very long break in the chain from the second man position to the second last one. I believe the buzz phrase nowadays is 'joined-up management!

Jim C.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>However, I firmly believe that on that sad night so long ago, modern management concept Lessons and operating and management concepts would have been as much use as mammary glands to a bore-hog as our southern cousins so picturesquely observe. <<

Maybe, maybe not. I don't much care to speculate on how things would have turned out if they had tools and management concepts at their disposal which were either poorly understood or simply did not exist. When you get down to it, there's no point.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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To answer a few of Jim's comments --

First, I agree that Scarrott's evidence is not the best, but there is no doubt it is the best evidence we have of the duration between the three strikes on the lookouts bell and impact on the iceberg. In fact, it is the only duration estimate. So, we are stuck with using it. That's why I split the difference between his maximum of eight minutes and minimum of five. My use of 6 minutes was based on that being pretty near the middle of that time range and also being 1/10th of an hour for convenient math. In my opinion, the fact that Scarrott made little of the three bell signal is significant. It indicates that such signals were routine and did not mean that a dire, life-threatening situation had developed as the movies depict.

As far as Fleet's use of the word "immediately," it came in context with his claim not to have been able to judge the passage of time. To him, or so he wanted us to believe, an hour was the same as a minute. This really has the look of a coached witness. Only a lawyer would know that the word "immediately" does not mean "quickly," but rather the next occurrence in a series of occurrences. Thus, "immediately" does not really mean with great haste even though that's the way his words have been interpreted. Do you really think that Fleet would have claimed he couldn't judge the passage of time unless he had not been coached?

Olliver is quoted in the transcript as saying "standing" compass. True. That's most likely a misunderstanding of his accent coupled with a lack of nautical knowledge on the part of the transcriptionist. I know of no compass object that is "standing," but we all know that the platform contained the "standard compass." The two words are so nearly alike I see no doubt as to Olliver's meaning. Besides, what other compass was both outdoors and would have needed trimming of the glim at that time of night?

One place I really quibble with Jim (and we'd probably settle this issue quickly over sailor pop) is his misinterpretation of my description of Boxhall's actions regarding the 11-degree course change. I do not believe that he did this on his own. As a junior officer Boxhall could not and would not have changed the ship's course under any circumstance. That was the Captain's job alone. Only Smith had the authority to change Titanic's course from 266 to 255 degrees. But, Smith did not conduct the maneuver. That was done by sending a junior officer to the standard compass on the platform amidships. Once there, Boxhall (the junior officer on duty) would have adjusted the ship's heading in conformance to Captain Smith's orders. I am quite certain that Smith informed the OOW, First Officer Murdoch, of this course change. Most likely this was done by "word of mouth" through Boxhall, but the Captain may also have come on deck long enough to discuss it with the OOW. We have no evidence of that, however.

I must apologize to Jim for one thing. I have not introduced the "kicker" to my theory. The 11:30 o'clock in April 14th time course change was not...repeat not...to dodge the fatal iceberg. It was to take the ship south of the ice becoming visible across the ship's track. It was not the two-point swing of the bow to the south talked about by Boxhall and Hichens immediately (word used as described above) prior to impact.

Going back to the lookouts...I they did see and describe a hazy horizon against which there was a "black mass." This is a pretty good description of the silhouette of a nearby object against a lighter horizon. And, that observation was made after 7 bells, which puts it after 11:30 o'clock crew time. We know that crew time was 24 minutes behind April 14th time, so the three bell strikes came between 11:54 and 12:02 o'clock in April 14th ship's time. Where should Boxhall have been at roughly 12:00 o'clock in April 14th hours? The answer is on the compass platform conducting one of the compass checks/comparisons required every 30 minutes by White Star Line protocol and the 1912 conventions of good seamanship. And, where should Olliver have been? As the "runner" QM, he would have gone ahead of Boxhall to uncover the standard compass binnacle and check the oil lamps. We have pretty good circumstantial evidence that's what took place. When Fleet rang the three strokes Boxhall said he was just coming out of the officers quarters and Olliver said he was at the standing (sic) compass. Hmmm. Both men were doing exactly what was in their job descriptions just when they should have been doing it. That's what we expect to see in a well-run bridge.

Boxhall even lied about events surrounding the accident. Hichens seems to have been more an evader than a liar. Even so, I have no doubt that from their testimonies Titanic turned left two points within a minute or so of impact on the berg. This is the left turn that has become characterized as an emergency iceberg evasion maneuver. I don't think the facts support that conclusion. First, if Murdoch did issue a "hard a-starboard order (turning to port in 1912 parlance), then given the advance & transfer characteristics of an Olympic-class vessel he perforce turned left for an object that was passing down his port side. That is, Murdoch turned left to run into an iceberg that Titanic should not have struck. I don't think Murdoch was such a dunderhead, quite the opposite. Beyond that, the lookouts said the ship approached that "black mass" straight on. A straight-on approach precludes the mythical "hard a-starboard" order shouted too late by Murdoch. It never happened.

But, that two-point turn to the left did happen. No doubt.

As Jim and I agree, a course change could only be issued by the Captain. And, since Boxhall was heading for the standard compass...and a course change was made...it seems logical enough to believe that the two-point swing of the bow reported by the fourth officer and Hichens was in response to an order by Captain Smith. If so, Smith must have decided to swing farther to the south to avoid the ice prior to the lookouts ringing the crow's nest bell three times. Boxhall must already have had Smith's instructions prior to when he stepped out of the officers quarters and heard those bell sounds. So, if I'm correct, as per standard operating procedures in Titanic, Boxhall mounted the platform and checked the compasses. He then conducted a two point turn to port in accordance with the captain's orders. There was now a minute to go before impact.

Using trigonometry I discovered something interesting based on the ship's advance & transfer, a 22 knot speed, and 2.2 miles distance when the iceberg was first spotted. At about a minute before impact the berg should have been a bit over 22 degrees to port. Hichens and Boxhall confirmed a two-point left turn, which is a bit more than 22 degrees to port.

At this point lookout Fleet did something very odd. He picked up the telephone to the bridge. That was against the unwritten SOP in Titanic. Other lookouts said so in their testimonies. The phone was for the bridge to call the crow's nest and never the reverse. Why did Fleet break protocol? I think the answer is clear. He was facing a situation not covered in the rules -- written or unwritten. An iceberg he had properly reported about six minutes ago was suddenly dead ahead. Again! So, Fleet took the unusual action of calling the bridge to report, "Iceberg dead ahead!" Fleet's breaking of protocol indicates something else. He had been snapped into reality. Any loss of situational awareness had been wiped from his mind. He took action.

Oh what I'd give to know when Murdoch had the same epiphany. Boxhall was on his way forward at that time. Per White Star rules, his next duty was to go the rounds of the men of the starboard watch. That meant going down the stairway on the starboard side of the bridge to B deck and then crossing the beam to go down a ladder into the well deck. The fourth officer heard Murdoch ring down an engine command as he entered that stairway. Olliver was behind Boxhall. He did not hear the engine telegraphs ring, but he did see Murdoch at the switch to close the watertight doors. Olliver also heard Murdoch yell, "hard a-port" to push the starboard bow against the ice and swing the starboard side and stern away from danger. And, the runner QM also heard Hichens sing out when the helm was hard over. We know the rest of the story.

In the aftermath, the surviving bridge team members were like three-legged cats in a sandbox trying to cover up what they'd done. The truth was that a maneuver ordered by the captain caused Titanic to run down an iceberg. Worse, it was the second attempt to avoid the ice -- the first course alteration having failed to get the job done. And, even worse, the accident took place despite adequate warning from the lookouts. Scratch, Scratch -- Scarrott's five to eight minute duration between warning bell and impact was discounted. Scratch, scratch -- Boxhall lied about not seeing an ice report he wrote out in his own hand. Scratch, scratch -- Fleet said he couldn't tell a minute from an hour. Scratch, scratch -- Boxhall and Hichens implied the two-point turn to port was a last-ditch attempt to avoid the iceberg. Scratch, scratch -- everyone ignored the "hard a-port" helm order in Olliver's testimony. Scratch, scratch -- the myth of the "iceberg from nowhere" was born. But, as anyone with cats knows, even if the mess is covered up the smell remains.

-- David G. Brown
 
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I've stayed out of this for one until now. But I can't resist any longer.

David just said: >>First, I agree that Scarrott's evidence is not the best, but there is no doubt it is the best evidence we have of the duration between the three strikes on the lookouts bell and impact on the iceberg. In fact, it is the only duration estimate. <<

That is not exactly correct.

Lee was up in the crow's nest along with Fleet. This is what he said:

2420. Then what was the first thing you did report? - The first thing that was reported was after seven bells struck; it was some minutes, it might have been nine or ten minutes afterwards. Three bells were struck by Fleet, warning “Right ahead,” and immediately he rung the telephone up to the bridge, “Iceberg right ahead.” The reply came back from the bridge, “Thank you.”

Well I don't know anyone who would quantify 'immediately' as 5 to 8 minutes of elapsed time. Do you?
A more quantifiable interval from that 3-bell warning to when the order to turn came comes from Hichens.

969. (The Attorney-General.) I think we can get at it in this way. What was the first notice to you that there was something ahead? - Three gongs from the crow’s-nest, Sir.
970. That you would hear in the wheelhouse, would you? - Certainly.
971. And you knew what that meant? - Certainly, Sir.
972. That meant something ahead? - Yes.
973. How long was that before the order came “Hard-a-starboard”? - Well, as near as I can tell you, about half a minute.

Then there would be some added seconds seconds for the ship to respond to her helm before striking the berg.

I wouldn't necessarily take Hichens' half a minute as precisely 30 seconds, it being a subjective estimate, but it certainly is more in keeping with a phone call coming down from the nest within a few seconds of the 3-bell warning, followed by Moody's report to Murdoch as to what Fleet reported to him on the phone before Murdoch ordered his famous 'hard-astarborad' call.

As far as Olliver, it clear that he was on the standard compass platform when those 3 bells were struck. (Yes, the transcriber put it down as 'standing' but that was a misunderstanding of what Olliver, who spoke with a Jersey accent [not a New Jersey accent like me] actually said). Olliver said he looked up, a natural thing to do, but could not see anything. Of course the 2nd funnel was directly in front of him which would block his view of anything that was between 1 point to either side of dead ahead. He said he then left the compass and headed back to the bridge. He also said he was just entering the bridge when the ship struck. The timing of this dove tails nicely, more or less, with what Hichens described.

>>The truth was that a maneuver ordered by the captain caused Titanic to run down an iceberg. Worse, it was the second attempt to avoid the ice -- the first course alteration having failed to get the job done<<

That is the truth according to your overly imaginative mind David.
 

Jim Currie

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"Then there would be some added seconds seconds for the ship to respond to her helm before striking the berg."

How many 'added seconds' Sam? Perhaps that's why Titanic was so far off course before Noon that day? :rolleyes:

Think about that for a moment. If Titanic took 'added seconds' to respond to a hard-over action, how long do you think she would have taken to react with the small amounts of corrective helm required when steering from minute to minute in calm weather during the voyage? Worse still;what would have happened to the steering with a following sea?
A vessel moving at 22 knots+ needs almost instant helm response. Hardly possible I know but to have to wait for 'some seconds' for a response is totally unacceptable. By the way, I do know about the limitations of steam-assisted stearing gear.

This Olliver thing is a bit of a puzzle that needs to be properly thought-out. Let's think constructively.

The deffinition of a 'brisk walking pace - i.e. when you start to breath hard, is between 3.5 and 4 mph. That's between 5 and 6 feet per second. QM Olliver had no need to run, the three bell signal had nothing to do with him. If he was at the Standard Compass Platform behind funnel 2, he would not be able to walk in a straight line between there and the wheelhouse. He also had ladders to negotiate therefore it is highly unlikely that he would have been able to achieve an averge walking speed greater than the lower value of 5 feet/sec. He would have had a distance to travel of 230 feet. This means he could not have arrived at the entrance to the bridge less than 46 seconds after the last bell was sounded. In reality, probably nearer 50 seconds.

David, if you and Sam want to get a proper handle on QM Olliver's movements in the interval between 3 bells and impact, read all of the evidence and interpret.... with a little informed imagination if need-be. Sometimes if you forget about how it was, a little bit of constructive imagination can make things a lot clearer:cool:

After the third bell, QM Olliver was still wherever he was. He did not move off until after the last bell sounded.
3 bells had nothing to do with him. Even then, Olliver would not leave wherever he was until he had finished his duty and, if doing compass work, replaced either the compass cover, the hood over the compass light or both. His evidence tells us that he had not completed his work when he heard the 3 bells. He heard three bells then looked up after the last one, saw nothing then must have completed doing his work. If so then it must have taken him at least three seconds after hearing the last bell to see that all was in it's proper place before he left his location and headed back to the wheelhouse.
Meanwhile, what was happening on the bridge and in the Crow's nest?

We know from Lookout Fleet that he one after the other performed six (6) separate actions. Almost without a pause, he(1) rang 3 bells, (2) turned to the the phone, (3) called up the bridge, (4) spoke briefly to Moody, (5) put the phone down then(6) turned back to his lookout duty. However at the moment he did so, he saw that Titanic was already turning to the left. If we allocate time to each action they might look like the following:

Action (1)..3 seconds.
1. second.
Action (2)..1 second.
1 second.
Action (3)..2 seconds.
1 second.
Action (4)..3 seconds.
1 second.
Action (5)..1 second.
Action (6)..1 second.

I have allowed a 1 second interval between actions 1 to 4. The total time from the first bell until the end of Action (6) comes to 15 seconds. If you subtract three seconds for the bells and 1 second for Murdoch ordering hard-a- starboard then we have an intrval of 11 seconds between the last bell and when Murdoch ordered the emergency helm order.
Since we know that it took about 6 seonds maximum to apply full left rudder and that impact came almost at the moment it was fully applied, we can then deduce that impact occurred no later that 17 ((11 + 6) seconds after the last bell was sounded. Further more, since Titanic was making 38 feet/seconds, the lookouts clearly recognised danger when it was no more than 600 feet ahead of the ship. They would have seen something earlier but would have waited to be certain. No doubt that accounts for Fleet's remark that "it was so close to us. That is why I rang them up."


Here is a reminder of Fleet's sworn evidence given on Day 4 of the US Senate Inquiry when the event was still very fresh in his mind.

"Mr. FLEET.
I struck three bells first. Then I went straight to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge.I got an answer straight away ..Did you get a prompt response?
Mr. FLEET.
I did.
Senator SMITH.
The fact that you did ring them up on the telephone indicated that you thought there was danger?
Mr. FLEET.
Yes, sir.

As you now Fleet's mate in the Crow's Nest was . Here is his corroboration of Fleet's evidence. It was given under oath on Day 4 of the Wreck Commisioner's hearings.

"2420. Then what was the first thing you did report?
- The first thing that was reported was after seven bells struck; it was some minutes, it might have been nine or ten minutes afterwards. Three bells were struck by Fleet, warning "Right ahead," and immediately he rung the telephone up to the bridge, "Iceberg right ahead." The reply came back from the bridge, "Thank you."
2425. Did you notice what the ship did?
- As soon as the reply came back "Thank you," the helm must have been put either hard-a-starboard or very close to it, because she veered to port, and it seemed almost as if she might clear it, but I suppose there was ice under water."


Unless you both want to rubbish the evidence of these men who were actually there, I think you have to completely re-think the evidence of QM Olliver. There is absolutely no way he could have been at the standard compass platform after the last bell had been struck and have arrived at the bridge 17 seconds later as Titanic hit the ice berg. To do that he would have needed to have been running at a speed of over 9 mph. That would put him in the 4 minute-mile league.

Incidentally David, the above corrobarative evidence completelty contradicts the evidence of AB Scarrott.


Jim C.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Scarrott's testimony about the “five to eight” minutes between the three strikes on the lookout's bell and impact is not contradicted by the testimonies of Boxhall, Hichens, Fleet, or Lee. Rather, it fits into the standard pattern of the every half hour compass checks done in Titanic.

As Jim points out, Olliver was already on the standard compass platform when the lookouts sounded their bell. And, his words strongly suggest he had not completed his work there when the sounds of those bell strokes faded in the wind. Since those three strikes had nothing to do with Olliver's work, Jim is correct in saying that other than taking mental note the quartermaster would otherwise have disregarded them as he resumed trimming the binnacle lamps. My objection to Jim's analysis is that he assumes Olliver left the platform within a few seconds of the crow's nest bell. Truth is, we don't know how long he remained. However, we can make a reasonable estimate by putting Olliver's actions into context with the bridge routine, and particularly the duties of the fourth officer, Boxhall.

Those same strikes on the crow's nest bell were heard by Boxhall as he came out of the officers quarters. The man never said what mission sent him out into the cold night on the boat deck. We know, though, that ever half hour he had to do a compass check or comparison. That involved him going to the standard compass and settling the ship on its correct course per standard compass so the reading on the steering compass could be verified. And, we know from the White Star/IMM Rules that as fourth officer Boxhall was to go rounds of the men of the Starboard Watch, those men being his responsibility. Logic dictates that both of these jobs be done on the hour. And, it would be rational to combine them into one departure from the bridge — first to the standard compass and next to check on the men of the Watch.

As we have shown, the time of the accident was 11:40 on the crew clocks, which corresponded to 12:04 o'clock based on April 14th ship's time. Knowing the actions required of Boxhall, we would expect him to start for the compass platform a couple or three minutes before 12 o'clock. The middle of Scarrott's “five to eight” minutes is 6.5 minutes. I round this down to 6 minutes for mathematical convenience. Six minutes before impact puts Boxhall exiting the door of the officers quarters at 11:58 o'clock in April 14th time. Expressed in crew time, that was 11:34 o'clock, or about four minutes past seven bells (struck at 11:30 o'clock crew time).

Boxhall should have taken nearly two minutes just in walking to and from the compass platform. That gives him four minutes on the platform to make the compass check and do any course change maneuver Captain Smith may have instructed. Added up, in six minutes we should find Boxhall nearing the bridge on his way forward. In his testimony the man says just that. But, he obfuscated somewhat by combining the three strokes on the lookout's bell with another set of three bells.

We know from various testimonies that some sort of engine order was sent by Murdoch on the telegraphs. In this sort of situation, it would have been common practice to “double ring” this unexpected order to call attention to it. Murdoch would have pulled the telegraph handle all the way back to Astern Full, then pushed it up to Ahead Full before rotating the handle to the desired order. In this case that order was apparently Astern Full. Each of those movements of the handle would have caused a distinct ringing of the telegraph bells. Boxhall said he heard three bells both when he was just coming out of the officers quarters. He also said he heard three bells when he was opposite the captain's quarters just abaft the starboard bridge wing. Those two locations are about 45 feet apart. It is impossible for Boxhall to have heard one set of bells in two locations simultaneously. So, despite the implications of his testimony, the fourth officer must have been talking about two different sets of bells. Logically, the first was from the crow's nest and the second set sounded about six minutes later when Boxhall was returning forward from the compass platform. This second set of bells was Murdoch's engine order.

Quite obviously, Boxhall needed some time to move from the doorway of the officers quarters to the compass platform, do his work, and return to the forward end of the starboard boat deck. That time span is provided by Scarrott's testimony. In fact, without Scarrott's “five to eight” minutes, Boxhall's story is a physical impossibility. Nobody can be in two places at one time.

The lookouts, Fleet and Lee, quite obviously tried to imply that things happened bangity-bang in rapid-fire order. As I have said many times, however, it is obvious they have been coached. And this applies particularly to Fleet's testimony. No professional lookout would so willingly admit he was so blind as to not see some danger until it was too late. Fleet's willing support of this version of events calls into question his veracity. But, he then compounded things by claiming he could not tell the difference between a minute and an hour. Huh? The man obviously did not want us to know how long transpired between sounding the warning bell and that famous phone call to the bridge.

Yes, Fleet did use the word “immediately” in his testimony. And, he was correct. The strict definition of the word refers to the next event in an unbroken series of events. Certainly, the events in the crow's nest from spotting the “black mass” through the bell strokes, phone call, and impact were “immediate” one upon another. But, the use of this word does not refer to the duration of time between those events. It is often taken to mean “quickly,” which would apply in this case. But, “quickly” does not me only a second or two interval between events. And, to a man who could not judge the passage of time, a few minutes would have seemed no time at all.

Boxhall did not stop even when he heard the telegraph bells. His task was not to maneuver the ship, but to oversee the men of the Starboard Watch. Note that he said he was opposite the captain's quarters when he heard the second set of bells. That's exactly in way of the companionway entering the stairway down to A and B decks. To check on his men, Boxhall would have had to go down that stairway before crossing over to the port side on B deck to descend another ladder into the well deck. An oddity in Boxhall's testimony is that he said he did not see the ship hit the berg, but he went on to give a vivid and detailed description of the ice at the “bluff of the bow.” How could he have been so specific in his description of something he did not see? The answer is the stair enclosure leading down to B deck.

Impact occurred while Boxhall was descending that stairway. The steel enclosure blocked his line of sight. He came out on B deck just in time to observe the berg alongside what he described as “the bluff of the bow.” Moments later he was in the well deck where he saw and was seen be members of his Starboard Watch.

What about Olliver? When did he return to the bridge? White Star/IMM Rules required those compass checks every half hour. It is critical to understand that these evolutions were done on 30 minute intervals — the position of the hands on the clock being of no consequence. So, when the crew clocks were retarded 24 minutes, there was no change in the pattern of compass comparisons. The 12 o'clock compass check in April 14th hours now had to be done at 11:36 on the crew's clocks. Olliver's responsibilities in these compass evolutions was to assist the officer by removing the canvass cover from the platform, adjusting the oil lamps, and generally preparing things for the work to be done. That meant he had to go to the platform a few minutes before Boxhall. We would expect that at 11:34 on the crew's clocks Olliver should have been doing exactly what he said — trimming the standard compass lamps — when the lookout's sounded their three strokes on the crow's nest bell.

As discussed, Boxhall needed some time between the bells he heard at the doorway and those he heard near the bridge wing. We also know that as fourth office he should have made a trip to the standard compass virtually at the moment the lookouts sounded their bell. Logic, White Star/IMM Rules, and the ordinary conduct of ships in 1912 all indicate Boxhall was going to the standard compass when the bell warning sounded. Olliver was already there to assist. When the compass checks and other work was done, Boxhall would have departed and been just at the companionway oppsite the captain's quarters when Murdoch double rang an engine order. Olliver would have been a bit behind Boxhall. The quartermaster had to close up the standard compass before he could return to the bridge. So, he did not hear the telegraphs ring. By the time Olliver got there Murdoch was closing the watertight doors and about to issue a “hard a-port” helm order.

--David G. Brown
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Sam,

I once received a present of a coffee mug from my son. It had a graphic of an extremely smug gremlin on it with the banner advice: "Everyone is entitled to my opinion" . That is so true but some how, I don't think he was making a factual point. He has since been disiherited.:rolleyes:

Unfortunately David, I think you mis-read my opinon concerning QM Olliver. I remind you:
If the bells, phone, helm and impact all came as described in the factual evidence available then he did not have time after the third bell to look-up, look down, replace the cover and head for the bridge to arrive there at the moment of impact. Not unless he was moving at a fast jog. He would not so jog. That was a no-no on a passenger ship's passenger decks.. at least the ones I was on. Because of this, I doubt very much that he was where we all think he was or where his evidence suggests he was when he heard the last of those three bells.
The engine room evidence picks-up from the evidence of QM Hichens at the moment of the first crucial engine order and takes us to the forward end of boiler room 5 when Titanic broke loose from the berg. Thus, we have firm markers to work with.
We are discussing a continuous flow-line of evidence here David. You are basing your entire theory on the evidence of man who quite clearly had at best, a vague idea of when he heard the 3 warning bells.
You must read Boxhall's evidence carefully. You must also have faith in your own convictions. If you believe that impact happened at or about 4 minutes after midnight April 14th time, then you will understand that Boxhall would not go to the Standard Compass platform before about 12-15am April 14 time. The end of Watch Log Book entries on any vessel - not just Titanic - have to be the very latest intelligence for passing-on to the relieving Watch. Boxhall would leave final checks until the latest moment before the end of his Watch. That would be midnight April 14 time plus 24 minutes.

Incidentally; Rules are written to be broken.

Jim C.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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I was always curious about the rationale behind that particular IMM rule 253. I fully understand the requirement within that rule that says that compasses must be compared every watch. But once the difference between standard and steering compasses are noted, steadying on a particular standard compass course should correspond to a particular steering compass course. The course for the helmsman to steer by was noted on the steering course board in the wheelhouse after the ship was steadied. There is also a standard compass board which shows the standard compass course that the ship was steadied on. Why the need to steady by standard every 1/2 hour during a watch if the course is not being changed unless there is reason to suspect that differences in deviation error will change over a run of a 1/2 hour? And why should that be?
 

Jim Currie

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There's no technical reason why compasses should be checked at such short intervals except following multiple course changes. I suspect that the Rule in question has less to do with ascertaining the accuracy of the compasses and more to do with checking-up on the Quartermaster on the wheeel at the time. If the man n question knows that the OOW or one of his juniors will be looking over his shoulder at such regular intervals, he'll be less inclined to let his mind wander.
Additionally, such practices become standard, acceptable and reduce adverse phsycological resentment in the lower ranks. i.e. "don't you trust me to do the bloody job I've been doing for years?"

Jim C.
 

Doug Criner

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The only ships I've sailed on had a gyro compass in addition to a magnetic compass. We relied on the gyro compass for steering and for taking bearings from gyro repeaters. We considered the magnetic compass an obsolete throwback to times of yore, there to be used in an emergency. If we had to rely on magnetic compasses, which only Titanic had, there would have been a major increase in nervousness. My impression is that magnetic compasses tend to be a bit erratic, and subject to variation and deviation, unlike gyros.

Would these concerns have occasioned the seemingly obsessive cross-checking prescribed by White Star's rules?
 

Jim Currie

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Hello Doug.

The cross-checking of compasses on Titanic was a very necessary part of the Watch-keeping routine. I agree it seems to have been 'obssesively' frequent but on a GC course across 'The Pond', there would be frequent planned course changes and enforced ones due to external influences such as weather and ocean currents. An additional problem was the frequency of heavy cloud cover which normally prevented obtaining regular fixes by cellestial observation. This would mean that it might be a long time before the captain knew exactly where his vessel was.
A wonky compass would be dangerous making land-fall and coastal navigation, not foregetting that it might cost delayed arrival and hence money.

After WW2. vessels were fitted with gyro and many of us had additional qualifications in the use and maintenance of Gyro and Radar. Like you, we exclusively used the gyro for all navigation purposes. (It wasalso hooked-into the radar ppi.)

However, the magnetic compasses were considered every bit as important at that time as they were was back in 1912. If you've ever seen a master gyro take a severe 'tilt' you'll understand why.
We were all trained in Deviation and the use of the Deviascope and had to pass a BoT exam to show in theory that we knew about the subject and to demonstrate in practice that, if need be, we could correct a magnetic compass.
We still had pelorus rings for the magnetic versions but did not use them unless there was a serious gyro failure. Never-the-less, the readings of all compasses were recorded at the end of each Watch and after a significant course change. At the same time, the Magnetic Deviation of the compass was noted. It was also recorded every time a Gyro error was obtained. Variation was usually obtained from the Compass Rose on the chart.

Does that bring back memories?

Jim C.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Sorry for this belated post, but I've been laid up with a sprung port shaft. Confined to drydock until the docs figured out how to straighten it.

Anyway, check or comparing the steering compass against the standard was serious business. I have somewhere a record that eludes discovery of an "SOP" from the Titanic era spelling out the navigator's "days work" beyond position fixes, etc. It includes half-hourly compass comparisons. Lacking that for the moment, I found the same information in a rather contemporary U.S. Navy training document: NAVEDTRA 144220 "Quartermaster 1 & C." (www.hnsa.org/doc/pdf/quartermaster.pdf) The training manual was published in April, 1995. On page 2-18 it contains the statement, "When under way, the compasses must be compared every one-half hour and at each course change."

Anyone who has been in the military knows the power of the word "must." There is no alternative but to do the work.

The 14220 manual goes on to say that when in formation making frequent course changes each course change does not need to be recorded. "Use the following statement in the Remarks column," the manual advises, "Steering various courses while alongside (in formation)." The next sentence once again is quite specific. "A comparison must still be made every one-half hour."

-- David G. Brown
 

Jim Currie

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Hello David.

In the British Merchant Service, "Day's Work" was a specific examination exercise. It simply meant a recording in tabular form, all the specific events which might effect navigation during a specific period. It was done to ensure that as much as possible, a reasonably accurate record of events was available for the working of a DR position after a period without an opportunity to obtain a fix.
In many cases, it was not a formal requirement but was taught by navigation schools as a means of working methodically. In most cases, a practical navigator would not, as was done for an exam, rule a page and set-up a table; the Deck or Scrap Log Book contained all the required information. These included Compass Course, Deviation, Variation, Wind direction, Leeway and Distance Travelled between positions.. Fixed and/or DR. Here's an example from the examinantion papers:

At Noon. log 0, a point in Lat.51-23'N., Long 9-36'W., bore E.S.E., by compass, distant 7 miles : ship's head S.W. by compass, dev. 10 W., var. 22 W. This course was steered till 6pm. when a/c to W.S.W., dev. 13 W., log 64. At 4am. a/c to W. by S., dev. 15 W., log 169. This last course was maintained till noon when the log read 252.
Find noon position and the course and distance made good during the 24 hours.



Hope you get things traightened-out for Xmas.

Jim C.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Jim -- I put "days work" in quotes because I was sort of making a pun on the traditional daily round of fixes, etc. that are traditionally called a "day's work." However, checking or comparing compasses wasn't a direct part of those duties. It was one of the background jobs that had to be done so the navigation of the ship could be done with certainty of effort. It didn't surprise me that an ol' sailor would recognize this.

My point in the post, of course, is that there are supporting documents to show that in the days when magnetic compasses were the only way to determine direction sailors paid a lot of attention to them. It's interesting that when gyro compasses came into the picture that the timing of comparisons gyro-to-magnetic compass dropped from every 30 minutes to once an hour.

-- David G. Brown
 

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