December 2014 Topic Of The Month


Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Hi all,

A couple of weeks ago some brainstorming went on about how numbers of visitors and posts to the discussion board could be improved. I'm adopting a method that i've seen used on other forums here of coming up with a monthly topic, which members can then discuss and debate during that time. Some of it will be going over old ground but it's a great way to get involved. So, here goes:

In your opinion, once the Titanic had struck the iceberg, is there anything which could/should have been done to a.) get more people into the lifeboats; and b.) keep the ship afloat for longer?

Fire away.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Dan Johnson

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Jan 9, 2012
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Great idea.

To keep the ship afloat longer they should not have moved it. Maybe they could have dropped all the anchors to reduce as much weight forward as possible. Make sure all port holes were closed too.

To get more people into the lifeboats your options were limited. If you cause a panic what would the outcome be? I think the first thing is that the crew needed to know the severity of the situation and that the boats had been tested when fully loaded. Then take control from the passengers. Never mind that they don't want to get into a small boat, take the option away from them. The officers should be the authority figure with Capt. Smith the ultimate authority. He should have ordered the passengers to the boats, directly, not via another officer but by his voice.
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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Good idea Adam. That was why I started the tread about appetites. I have always thought that not going back to old subjects because they have been worn-out is the excuse of the self-righteous. New people join every day and they have their own ideas about things. It is great to see how other people think. This starter of yours just proves it. I won't reply to these two posts after your's but will keep reading. If I see nonsense then I'll react. Keep up the good work!

Jim C.


Jim C.
 
Apr 18, 2014
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Well, I dont think the ship would keep afloat with the extent of the damage of the watertight compartments. And I agree with Dan Johnson, too. But I would add that the crew should have known better how to deal with situations like that - they should have had some tests and courses before the ship set sail. The crew shouldnt have been afraid to fill all the lifeboats to full state. I think, if this statement is true, that Mr.Andrews should have been listened out with his suggestion on adding more lifeboats to her as well. And the "women and children first/only" thing is also important to mention. In my opinion, more people from 3rd class should have been allowed to get to the boat deck.
 

Dan Johnson

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Jan 9, 2012
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The problem with "more lifeboats" is that they didn't have enough time to launch the 20 they had. They really needed to speed up the evacuation process early on.

Yes, there should have been a direct path to the boat deck from 3rd class.
 

Doug Criner

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Dec 2, 2009
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Maybe they could have dropped all the anchors to reduce as much weight forward as possible.
It sounds plausible, but compared to the flooding rate, the weight of the anchors and their chains was insignificant. I looked at the numbers some time ago. And anyway, deploying the anchors would have distracted from the important task of loading and lowering the lifeboats.

Theoretically, the port and stbd anchors could have been let go quickly by disconnecting the chain stoppers and allowing the anchors to drop freely through the hawse pipes. The bitter end of each chain probably was connected to the bulkhead of the chain locker with a frangible link, but I don't know for sure. The center anchor, which was connected to a wire rope, had to be lifted overboard with a crane, requiring more time to deploy.
 

Doug Criner

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Dec 2, 2009
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Mr.Andrews should have been listened out with his suggestion on adding more lifeboats to her as well.
This raises another question. Lightoller testified that he didn't completely fill the boats for fear that they hadn't been designed to carry a full load when hanging from the falls. Wouldn't Andrews have been in a position, assuming he saw boats not being fully filled, to advise Lightoller and any other officers that the boats were designed for full load while on the falls? For that matter, it's surprising the Lightoller (and perhaps Smith and Murdoch, as well) didn't know that. Seems pretty basic.

I don't know what the common belief was in 1912, but I'm certain the British Board of Trade would have specified that design criterion. The idea of filling boats after they were launched presents some obvious problems - and evidently that was never the official plan, or else the passengers wouldn't have been initially directed to the Boat Deck.

Some of the confusion might have been avoided if there had been a required boat drill. But that couldn't be done, at least as nowadays, since passengers couldn't be pre-assigned to specific lifeboats for a boat drill, since there weren't enough boats.

One thing that might of helped is to have specific crew members assigned to lower each boat rather than a few members of the crew lowering them more-or-less one by one. That could have required additional manning, of course.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Hi all,

Thanks for the interesting replies so far!

Over the years there have been other suggestions such as that the Titanic could have been kept afloat longer by keeping the watertight doors open, therefore allowing the ship to sink on an even keel. There was a documentary some years ago now where this was tested on a scale model, but it was found that the slightest shift in the water would have caused the ship to capsize and actually sink earlier than she really did. Does everyone agree with this point of view or do some think that on the real ship, such a move may actually have worked? Moving the anchors and other heavy material from the bow may have bought a couple of extra minutes, but nothing major I wouldn't have thought.

On a side note, has anyone seen that documentary where the flooding of the Titanic is detailed from the point of view of the water itself? Fascinating stuff.

As for loading of the lifeboats, IMO it comes back to the fact that the passengers had never had a lifeboat drill. When the order to lower the lifeboats was given, none of them actually knew where they were supposed to go or what they were supposed to do. This only added to the confusion - I think that if a lifeboat drill had been carried out at the start of the voyage, and it had been made clear to the passengers that in such an event they were required to follow the instructions of the crew and board the lifeboats as quickly and in as much of an organised fashion as possible, then it may have made the job of the officers much easier when they actually had to do it. No doubt many still would not have left the ship - and many couldn't leave the ship - but even another 100 lives saved would have been a vast improvement.

Cheers,
Adam.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Hi Michael,

Do you think, then, that the crew should have told the passengers the ship was going to sink pretty much as soon as they knew it themselves? Would this have created a huge panic? I guess there's no certain way of answering that but judging by the testimony of many survivors, they actually felt safer staying on the ship and did not take the threat seriously until very late in the piece, when it was probably too late to get off the Titanic even if they had wanted to.

Cheers,
Adam.
 
Jan 27, 2011
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Hi Adam, Yeah I mean in a way I could see where that would cause some panic if they would have known a lot sooner than they did. I understand the testimony of the survivors, pretty much what I was trying to say is that you wouldn't have had a lot of the crew that were asleep in their beds and passengers that were in their cabins trying to be awakened thinking that the whole "ship is sinking or put lifebelts on at once" was nonsense and that the ship couldn't sink.
 

Adam Went

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Apr 28, 2003
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Hi Michael,

Good points. A lot of passengers went back to bed or just didn't realise the danger until it was too late. I think it really all comes back to the need to have adequate lifeboat drills and make passengers aware that in such a circumstance, they are to follow the instructions of the crew immediately and efficiently. I don't buy into this idea that because articles had been published labelling the ship as "unsinkable" that people couldn't see for themselves that the ship was in strife. What does everyone think?

Cheers,
Adam.
 

TimTurner

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Dec 11, 2012
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A lot of factors come into play with the lifeboats. One think I think is commonly overlooked is the culture of lifeboats. We look at them as emergency escape pods that you jump into and viola! you are safe.
In 1912, seafaring was much more dangerous and had been pretty accident prone up to then. Ships were tossed about on the sea and torn apart by the waves. The Titanic, then larger than any building in the world, was stable, dry, and completely unlike anything these people thought about sinking ships. It was like a rock in the ocean, where their idea of a shipwreck was some storm-drenched broken-masted wreck. It just didn't fit the picture, as if you were sitting in a beautiful mint-condition 1963 Cadillac and someone tells you that it was totalled in an accident. It just doesn't compute with what you know about wrecked cars. Likewise, the people on the Titanic couldn't accept that this massive satationary object in a peaceful sea was actually violently sinking.

Second, lifeboat culture then is different from now. Getting into a lifeboat at sea meant a death by slow starvation and thirst, lost at sea. There were no radio beacons. If you were lost in a lifeboat at sea, you were just about as good as dead. The primary functional purpose of lifeboats was to transfer passengers to another ship, and there was no other ship there. I think it is possible that most officers were thinking along these lines somewhere in the back of their minds. The lifeboats didn't need to be full, because they could make more than one trip. As soon as the Carpathia or Californian got there, they could get another load and be helped out by the other ship's boats.

People weren't prepared to treat lifeboats as a substitute for a good ship, and the Titanic didn't seem like anything but.
Lifeboat drills might have helped, but there are certain factors with which they would not have helped:
1. Some officers thought that they would lower the boats down, and once on the water the boats would pick up more people from lower access doors. This assumption was false. A dry-run lifeboat drill as written in that day probably would not have actually included this step. therefore it would not have revealed this mis-assumption.
2. Helping people think that the Titanic was actually sinking.
3. Getting the word out that the ship was sinking. What they really needed was a PA system.
What might have helped is a shipside ladder to allow passengers to climb down to the water. Also, self-launching lifeboats would have been beneficial.
 

TimTurner

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Dec 11, 2012
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I think lifeboat drills might have helped, but something to keep in mind is that you are dealing with amatuers. I see this in my industry sometimes, it is not enough to design your system for intelligent professionals who know how to use it. A well-designed system has to be used by an idiot amature who has never seen it before, has only the vaguest ideas of its workings, and doesn't bother to read instructions.

You can't expect a group of civilian passengers to become experienced seamen after a single lifeboat drill.

So, while useful, I don't think a lifeboat drill would have been a silver-bullet.
 

TimTurner

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Dec 11, 2012
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Hm, double posted.

Guess I might say something else here while I'm editing.

How about an alarm system, like a modern fire alarm? I think that would have given people more vicereal evidence that the ship was in fact sinking.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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A few years ago there was a popular song called "The One Note Samba." I'm reminded of that title whenever I read discussions about Titanic's lifeboats. History has fixated on just he boats. They have become that one note of the song title. The trouble is that in 1912 lifeboats were designed for quite a different function than what populist and socialist politicians turned them into. Politics created the idea that somehow everyone could or would have been saved if only there had been "one seat for everyone on board." Nice rhetoric for whipping up public anger against those evil capitalists, but nonsense in terms of 1912 technology. To understand the situation on Titanic that night you must understand the whole lifesaving system of which the boats were just one part.

Among other things, the lifesaving system of Titanic included the boats, the davits, the Marconi radio, the emergency dynamos, navigation, the ship's bulkheads and pumps, the strong arms of stokers, and even the lifebelts worn by passengers. The concept was for the pumps and bulkheads to keep the ship afloat long enough form the wireless to call other vessels to aid the stricken liner. Then, skilled seamen would use the latest davits to lower 16 boatloads of human cargo to the sea. Each boat would row to a nearby rescue ship and discharge its load before coming back to the sinking liner for more people. As long as the combination of pumps and bulkheads did their job there would be time enough to ferry everyone to safety -- or at least those that didn't fall into the sea loading into small boats or clambering up the side of a ship with a sea running. High and dry, the emergency dynamos would keep enough electric power flowing for enough lights to make it possible for passenger housed in interior cabins to find their way topsides.

Lifeboat drills in the modern sense were not critical to this system. In 1912 people were quite used to queuing up for public transit, the theatre, etc. And, the structured nature of society could be relied upon to maintain order during an evacuation. In 1912 it was more important that the crews who launched the lifeboats were properly drilled in their duties. It was the seamen who would actually handle the falls and release the boats who needed proper training. The legally required drills of the day were intended to make sure the hands had the necessary skills. (Whether or not the drills accomplished their goals is debatable, but drills were conducted.) In the end, the sailors of Titanic demonstrated a high degree of skill under pressure that night.

Night. That's a factor seldom discussed with regard to launching boats. Despite Titanic's 10,000 electric lights, the ship was barely out of the dark ages once the sun went down. Powerful exterior lighting needed for a modern lifeboat launching operation still did not exist. The best that could have been done was to hoist electric arc lamps into the rigging. That might have been possible in calm conditions, but hardly in a storm or if the wallowing ship was being washed by surging waves. All rescue operations anticipated awaiting daylight so the people involved could see what they were doing.

The part of Titanic's lifesaving system that failed was not the lifeboats. It was the combination of bulkheads and pumps. For whatever the reason, they did not provide enough time for Carpathia and other vessels to come alongside Titanic in daylight so that a transfer of passengers could have been accomplished. The boats in their davits actually worked quite well in the hands of Titanic's 48 capable seamen. Obviously, the wireless succeeded in calling for help. Proof of that was the appearance of Carpathia. Unfortunately, any system is only as good as its individual parts. Titanic sank out from underneath its lifeboats, its davits, its seamen, and its passengers in lifevests.

By the way, there were 48 seamen in Titanic. It took two men per boat to handle a successful launch. That accounts for 32 of those hands. Lowering a boat required four hands, two on each fall. The remaining 16 men could handle four boats at a time. Note that the ship's boats were grouped in four locations. This symmetry of hands to boats was not likely by accident. Once all boats were away and all passengers and hotel staff evacuated to safety those 16 men plus the officers in charge would have been left aboard a damaged and (presumably) sinking ship. They were not bereft of resources, however. Four collapsible boats remained for their use when the time came to "leave her, Johnny."

-- David G. Brown
 

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