Interesting comment about the "Blue Duster." I didn't conjure up the term myself, I have seen it in references from the 1910-1930 period. I bought a W.A. state flag in Perth about 20 years ago and it has "Blue Duster" stamped on the hoist. I have also talked with RAF personnel who refer to their flag as the "Blue Duster." But, I won't argue the point with you as the Merchant Marine may specifically NOT refer to their Ensign as a "Blue Duster" because of their own unique traditions. I am willing to stand corrected on this point unless information to the contrary comes along. If you can provide more illumination on why the Merchant Marine does not refer to their Ensign as a "Blue Duster," I would be very interested to learn from it.
David, I simply don't have enough time to read through every thread in this forum. I have not read -- therefore I am not aware of -- your thoughts on how Titanic's officers put their ship in an extremis situation with an iceberg. I was not being smart with you...given your protestations that I happened to run across in this thread, I am genuinely interested to learn your version of events.
In your protestations, I have to assume that you include me in the number of people that you accuse of wrongly judging the actions of Titanic's officers. But as I read your latest post, I have to wonder if we really are coming from different directions. I share the view expressed in your statement that the crew (Murdoch, specifically) reacted according to his training, experience, and gut instinct to the situation as he saw it. There was no time for a careful consideration of CPA geometry or to -- as you say -- "experiment" with the capability of the vessel.
The manoeuvre of turning left and ordering FULL ASTERN is corroborated by Fourth Officer Boxhall and, as you point out, a standard gut reaction. Now, as those who know me might attest, there is no single person who sailed in Titanic that night that I respect and admire more than First Officer Murdoch. Regardless, or maybe even because, of this, there are reasons to question his final orders, as reported by Boxhall and assumed by an army of pundits since 1912:
- In the evidence: none of the surviving engine-room personnel testified to a FULL ASTERN order. The only order reported by eyewitnesses was STOP.
- In the evidence: boiler-room personnel testified that the first change in order (FULL to STOP) was before the collision. As you undoubtedly know, boiler-room personnel would neither know nor care if the ship were running ahead or astern.
- Absence from the evidence: any description of events that would be consistent with crashing back the engines. From my own experience in ships of Titanic's tonnage (and larger), I find the lack of any mention -- by both crew and passengers -- of the kind of shuddering vibration that accompanies a reversal in shaft direction to be illuminating.
- Indirect interpretation of the evidence: The character of the collision itself, as described by both crew and passengers, is more consistent with a grounding strike than impact along the side. If the collision was strong enough to shear rivets and displace steel, why didn't surviving crewmembers from the bow area recall being thrown sideways off their feet? Third Officer Pitman's recollection that the collision felt to him like the chain was being run out sounds to me -- with my experience as a reference -- like a grounding.
- Forensic evidence: The character of the damage brings in question a simple port turn. Why wasn't the damage carried farther aft?
- From the evidence: Eyewitness testimony that as the berg slid aft, the stern of the ship was seen to move away from the ice. Yes, the ship would react to the berg (and vice versa), but that quickly? Not a ship of Titanic's size, in my experience.
- From the evidence: QM Olliver's recollection of Murdoch's order for a starboard turn.
- From the evidence: QM Rowe's recollection that Titanic's bow pointed north.
- Forensic evidence: The bow section of the wreck points north. Repeated tow tank tests with a wreck model consistently indicated that that section of the wreck would tend to settle with no deviation in heading. How does Titanic's bow end up pointing north if she turned turned to port and backed engines from a westerly base course?
- Interpretation of the evidence: Murdoch's reported actions during the 1903 Arabic near-collision. In that situation, First Officer Fox reacted to a close-aboard hazard with what you described as a gut reaction...he ordered the helm to port upon seeing the light of the other vessel. Murdoch, coming on to relieve the watch, at the same instant, sized up the situation differently. Murdoch physically shoved the helmsman aside and held the wheel steady. The other ship passed down the Arabic's side with almost no room to spare. Had the deck officer's order been carried out, the Arabic would have turned into the vessel. Murdoch did not "experiment" with the helm orders, but he possessed -- at least in this situation -- a better eye for the situation than the deck officer. I do not feel it disrespectful of Murdoch to speculate that he might have done more at Titanic's conn than Boxhall's testimony indicates. In fact, I feel that I am giving the man respect that he consistently is denied by pundits.
There is more, but for purposes of this discussion, this should be enough for me to make my point.
I agree with you that we may never know the exact causal factors behind the collision. However, there is evidence to be examined and conclusions should be drawn from it. Along with any appraisal of evidence comes the question of responsibility, as it does in every maritime mishap with which I have had experience. Not guilt, mind you, but responsibility. Do I understand correctly that you hold a Master's license? As such, I would think that you would understand the need for evaluating Captain Smith's orders for the night.
I sincerely hope that you do not include me in your accusation that posters criticising Titanic's officers have no respect for the men. As I have consistently maintained, I have a deep professional respect for the manner in which they navigated their vessel. At the same time, I have accused Captain Smith of imprudent navigation. As a ship's Master, you should understand that even the most expereinced and talented Masters are forced -- by a variety of factors -- to take calculated risks. If nothing untoward happens as a result, then the Master adds to his reputation. If a mishap occurs, then that Master is held to account. The sea can strike even the best down, so evaluating a Master's actions that led to mishap is by no means an assault on the man's professionalism, experience, or talent. In my view, this is the nature of the business. If anything, my own conclusions of the causal factors behind the collision are more critical of the prevailing attitudes of the passenger shipping industry -- prompted and reinforced by Line management -- than the decisions carried out by any of Titanic's crew. However, since Smith laid down the orders that put Titanic in harm's way, he shoulders the burden of responsibility for the disaster. Knowledge that the practice of steaming full speed through a known ice field during clear conditions was accepted among Mail Boat captains (and encourgaed by Line management) at that time does not relieve Smith of his burden. I do not feel that I am being disrespectful of the man in saying this.
I have also found, throughout the course of my evaluation of the night's events, additional cause for respect of the professionalism of Titanic's crew. The manner in which they evacuated their ship was as perfect as I think it could be, others' criticism notwithstanding. I am supported in this by the fact that they managed to launch 18 boats in an orderly fashion with the gear that they had, in the time available to them. That is simply amazing to me.
So why do I feel that I should involve myself in this appraisal? Because of frustration with the implications regarding the crew's fitness for duty in the popular history of the disaster. Because the ship foundered, and because people naturally tend to assign blame, some historians either directly accuse or insinuate through omission that Titanic's crew were not professionally competent. In order to rebut this, one must be prepared to address the question of responsibility. If one is unable to do, then a full argument cannot be made. I believe that a full appraisal of the responsibilities and actions of Titanic's crew is the only way to credibly demonstrate their true professionalism to detractors. Failing to do so gives the appearance that one is avoiding painful truths. Essentially, then, it is out of respect for Titanic's crew that I examine their responsibilities and hold them accountable for their actions.