Chain of command on the bridge of the Titanic


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Catherine Ehlers

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Once again I will probably show my ignorance of proper maritime protocol, but, anyway, here goes: Re the chain of command on the bridge: Again I quote from the testimony of the good Mr. Robert Hitchins, helmsman on duty at the time of the collision with the iceberg. He indicates in his statement that when the lookout, Frederick Fleet, phoned the bridge to warn of the iceberg ahead, First Officer Murdoch, O.O.W., answered it. On hearing of the iceberg, Murdoch addressed Sixth Officer Moody, who was also on watch, and requested that Moody issue an order to Hitchins to turn the helm hard-a-starboard, which Moody proceeded to do. Hitchins then turned the helm as ordered. My no-doubt-dumb question: Why didn't Murdoch give the order to Hitchins directly instead of going through Moody? Weren't precious seconds lost while all this protocol was being so meticulously followed? Wouldn't it have made more sense for Murdoch simply to have said, "Helmsman! Hard-a-starboard immediately!"

By the way, when I asked my husband this question, he simply said, "You don't understand the military mindset, do you?"

(I guess I don't. I've never been in the military.)

Having embarrassed myself once again, I will quietly fade into the nearest bulkhead.

Catherine Ehlers
 
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Steve Kiger

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Hello, Catherine. Doubtless, Hichens turned the wheel as soon as he heard the order from Murdoch. Having spent way too many years in the military, I would suggest that Hichens is reporting in a exaggerated fashion the normal process of issuing orders and replying to them. Murdoch gave the order, and Moody, standing at the phone, repeated the order as a means of being certain that the order was clearly understood (this is routine military redundancy to leave no room for doubt). Hichins would have replied that he was turning the wheel, and then that the wheel was hard over once he had turned it to its limits, which Moody likely would have repeated, even though Murdoch was standing right there. It seems silly from a distance, but the idea is to make certain the order is received, understood, and acted upon.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Echoing Steve's remarks, the deck officer can give the orders to the helm directly if he wishes or pass it on to a subordinate who would relay it to the helm. In repeating back orders, the idea is to make sure they are understood and carried out exactly. Nor is this limited to the helm. Repeating back messages and orders exactly as relayed over the phone system or as given on watch is standard practice so there is NO room for misunderstanding.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Aug 24, 2000
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I have found that it is easier to give the command to the OOD and then have them relay it rather then me telling the helm everything. This way if for some reason I say something screwed up hopefully the other officer will catch it. I echo both Mr. Standarts and Stevens posts with this added message. During times of emergency I make it part of my standing orders that demand that if I give an order the person who hears it and is responbile for the task just ordered does it whether they get it from some one else or if the only command they hear leaves my mouth. However it must still be echoed by the person carrying it out. For instance,

Senior Watch Officer or Captain: Hard Astarboard
Junior Deck Officer: Helm, hard astarboard
Helm: Hard a starboard aye
Helm: Helm is Hard over sir.
Junior Deck Officer: Helm is hard over sir.
Senior Deck Officer or Captain: Very well or something saying that they understand.

In Emergency:
Senior Watch Officer or Captain: Hard Astarboard
Helm: Hard astarboard aye
Helm: Helm is hard over

This has been my experience anyway.

Erik
 
Sep 20, 2000
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"Mr. Robert Hitchins, helmsman on duty at the time of the collision with the iceberg ... indicates in his statement that when the lookout, Frederick Fleet, phoned the bridge to warn of the iceberg ahead, First Officer Murdoch, O.O.W., answered it."

Hi, Catherine!

I know this may sound incredibly "nit picky", but that's not my purpose. It's just that you got my immediate attention by "quoting" Hichens as saying that Murdoch had answered the phone call from Fleet. From a quick survey of the US Inquiry, it seems that Hichens didn't make it at all clear there who answered the phone, and in the British hearings he specifically identified Moody, not Murdoch, as the recipient of the call. Is there another account you had in mind as the source of that observation?

No big deal, really, especially within the context of this thread! But I did want to ask, and perhaps correct any misconceptions there. With all the pounding Hichens has taken lately, he certainly doesn't need any additional "bad press".
wink.gif


Cheers!
John Feeney
 

Erik Wood

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Sometimes it is the little things that we enjoy so much. In fact I am in a rather large debate over where exactly Mr. Moody was before and during the incident it self. I have contested that he was in the enclosed wheelhouse, to answer the phone went to the door way to yell what he saw and then stood by as Hitchens carried out the orders and then went out into the Captains bridge. But who knows.

Erik
 
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Catherine Ehlers

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Mr. Feeney: The account I was relating was from "The Titanic Disaster Hearings: The Official Transcripts of the 1912 Senate Investigation", edited by Tom Kuntz. On pg 234 of that book is this, when Hitchens reported on the collision: "All went along very well until 20 minutes to 12, when three gongs came from the lookout, and immediately afterwards a report on the telephone, 'Iceberg right ahead.' The chief officer (this was Wilde, right? Did he mean Murdoch here?) rushed from the wing to the bridge, or I imagine so, sir. Certainly I am enclosed in the wheelhouse, and I cannot see, only my compass. He rushed to the engines. I heard the telegraph bell ring; also gave the order 'Hard astarboard,' with the sixth officer standing by me to see the duty carried out and the quartermaster standing by my left side. Repeated the order, 'Hard astarboard. The helm is hard over, sir.'" Senator Smith then asked, "Who gave the first order?" Hitchens replied, "Mr. Murdoch, the first officer, sir; the officer in charge. The sixth officer repeated the order, 'The helm is hard astarboard,sir.' But during the time, she was crushing the ice...we could hear the grinding noise along the ship's bottom. I heard the telegraph ring, sir. The skipper came rushing out of his room--Capt. Smith-
and asked, 'What is that?' Mr. Murdoch said, 'An iceberg.' He said, 'Close the emergency doors.'" Senator Smith then wanted to know who had ordered the doors closed. Hitchens replied that the captain had said that to Murdoch, to which Murdoch replied that they were already closed.

So it seems you are right. It's not really clear who Hitchens was referring to here. In the Cameron film, I don't even recall who they showed answering the phone--everything was moving so fast. But as regards what you said--you are right. It even seems that Hitchens may have Wilde and Murdoch confused with his mention of the chief officer. (By the way, where was Wilde at the time of the collision?) He seems to say that it was Murdoch who was on the bridge and took the call and that Moody was there in the wheelhouse with him, so that Murdoch would have run in, shouted the order, Moody repeated it, and Hitchens acknowledged it while heaving the helm over.

Cathy Ehlers
 
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