Electricity During Sinking


Nov 14, 2005
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Steven Christian, ive just been trying to investigate Alfred Whites memory of what he did, given that he was one of the only ones who was in the electrical generation part of the turbine room, to escape prior to the sinking.. his memory, not surprisingly is a little muddled... and as others have noted, the ships plans show a spiral staircase from E deck to the boat deck, ( its exit point shown in the photo of Olympic above ) Alfred says he climbed inside the funnel. that's what i was trying to understand... in effect i think his interpretation of "inside" was the spiral staircase.. he would have known it well already, since it was a direct access up and down to the parts he would be asked to go to.. sadly the chances of accessing the turbine room now, to see whats left are almost if not impossible and few views of the ship show how the electrical staff did their work. but if we are to believe what Alfred White did in the last moments... we have to see how it was possible to do what he said he did... when Alfred says he went up inside the Funnel, he doesnt mean above the boat deck.. he means from deck E to boat deck. From that exit door he could go forward to the short ladder, climb it.. and look from there forward... he doesnt have to climb any further, and its unlikely he had time to. Exactly how he reached a boat isnt my interest, its what happened during the last minutes in the electrical control room. it a bit like this 1. Alfred White is told he can leave... 2. at that point there is still steam, the main generators, at least two of them. are still running.. the emergency generators as far as we know, are not. 3. Alfred climbs the ladders, out of the generator room, maybe he goes aft to the emergency doors on E deck, ( the third class locked gates ) sees folks there, decides to turn around and go up the spiral staircase, climbs the short ladder , and looks forward, but as he is watching, the decks start to fracture... 4, in the generating room, steam fails, as the pipes in the engine room , are fractured and torn away..., 5. cables fracture, short circuits happen etc, and as the generators run down from loss of steam, the lights flicker and fail. , 6. water is pouring in now from severed pipes and hull fractures, both from below and above... i doubt very much if those still in the turbine room area, had any time to reset circuit breakers, or change a fuse, the world is collapsing around them... being torn apart above below and around them.. 7. Alfred somehow escapes, but those below are drowned as the ship breaks apart completely. My guess is that even if those in the turbine room were still alive, the structure was being wrecked, it was pitch black in there.. there was no escape..
Thank you for the reply. Yes it is somewhat of a mystery from what you have written and interesting. I looked up Alfred White's bio. It says he transferred from the Oceanic less than 2 weeks before she sank. But it didn't say if he ever was on the Olympic. I just bring that up because I was curious if he had any experience on the Olympic class ships prior. For me it took longer on my ship to really know my way around. But maybe he was a smart guy and learned it fast. A minor point from my experience with generators and your point no. 4. The more I've looked into it from what witnesses have described I'm not sure there wasn't steam still going to the gens when the final trip happened. I think the final trip was the result of a massive short circuit. I need to go back and try and find what relay scheme they used for protection. I've seen generators that were still connected to the load when they lose their prime mover. The load acts like a dynamic break and they spin down faster. I know some witnesses described the lights going dim and then off for good. Anyway I hope you figure out how he got up there. Thanks.
 
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Incony

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a dc generator driving into a short circuit becomes an arc welder - such an event one can suppose might happen if a cable breaks and makes contact with ground ( the hull or part of it ) if that's a transient thing the lights still in circuit would flicker, dim - even go out and come back on again... if the circuit they are on remains intact... i sense as the hull fractured, it could even be that the switch board was severely damaged causing the same effect... i.e the cables through and into the engine room being pulled out of the switch board in the turbine room. but as equally it could be debris falling on the generators themselves as they turned... we wont ever know..
 

Keith H

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Thank you for the reply. Yes it is somewhat of a mystery from what you have written and interesting. I looked up Alfred White's bio. It says he transferred from the Oceanic less than 2 weeks before she sank. But it didn't say if he ever was on the Olympic. I just bring that up because I was curious if he had any experience on the Olympic class ships prior. For me it took longer on my ship to really know my way around. But maybe he was a smart guy and learned it fast. A minor point from my experience with generators and your point no. 4. The more I've looked into it from what witnesses have described I'm not sure there wasn't steam still going to the gens when the final trip happened. I think the final trip was the result of a massive short circuit. I need to go back and try and find what relay scheme they used for protection. I've seen generators that were still connected to the load when they lose their prime mover. The load acts like a dynamic break and they spin down faster. I know some witnesses described the lights going dim and then off for good. Anyway I hope you figure out how he got up there. Thanks.
It is interesting how Alfred White got up from the turbine room , he either used the spiral stair case from the engine room or up I assume ladders up the shaft from the turbine room to the funnel ,the way he could go from E deck is a bit puzzling , the only way up is a stair behind the turbine room casing , then through 2nd class dining room then up the aft stair case ( the one with the lift in the centre ) to the boat deck that way ,with all the water tight doors shut this would be his only route up .
I don't see any access to third class accommodation on his travels
The only thing I can think of are steps up from the aft well deck as they had three foot high gates at the top of them ?
The main generators were at the bottom of the ship under turbine room ,i imagine as the break up occurred these would be soon be flooded , they may have still ran under water till the steam failed being low voltage and water being a poor conductor ( a debatable point ) let alone what circuit protection they had in 1912 and would the emergency generator under the funnel be running also ,the flickering of lights might have been the emergency generator either cutting in or being manually brought on line , I think trying to re set the circuit breakers against a sort circuit would cause a high degree of arcing to the contacts .
The turbine room was separated from the engine room by a water tight bulkhead but how this stood up as the ship broke apart is a point for conjecture .
It does make you feel for the poor men down there when this occurred.
 
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Nov 14, 2005
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It is interesting how Alfred White got up from the turbine room , he either used the spiral stair case from the engine room or up I assume ladders up the shaft from the turbine room to the funnel ,the way he could go from E deck is a bit puzzling , the only way up is a stair behind the turbine room casing , then through 2nd class dining room then up the aft stair case ( the one with the lift in the centre ) to the boat deck that way ,with all the water tight doors shut this would be his only route up .
I don't see any access to third class accommodation on his travels
The only thing I can think of are steps up from the aft well deck as they had three foot high gates at the top of them ?
The main generators were at the bottom of the ship under turbine room ,i imagine as the break up occurred these would be soon be flooded , they may have still ran under water till the steam failed being low voltage and water being a poor conductor ( a debatable point ) let alone what circuit protection they had in 1912 and would the emergency generator under the funnel be running also ,the flickering of lights might have been the emergency generator either cutting in or being manually brought on line , I think trying to re set the circuit breakers against a sort circuit would cause a high degree of arcing to the contacts .
The turbine room was separated from the engine room by a water tight bulkhead but how this stood up as the ship broke apart is a point for conjecture .
It does make you feel for the poor men down there when this occurred.
I read Incony's link to the Pelligrino article last night and it made it a little clearer. Yes trying to keep reclosing the breaker would cause arcing eventually causing it to fail. Some circuits like a pump would act like a dead short also for about a half second because of locked rotor current. I've spent the first half of my day today rebuilding a DC generator that is only 6v at 40 amps max. Even that little gen will throw a nice arc.
 
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Rancor

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Steven Christian, ive just been trying to investigate Alfred Whites memory of what he did, given that he was one of the only ones who was in the electrical generation part of the turbine room, to escape prior to the sinking.. his memory, not surprisingly is a little muddled... and as others have noted, the ships plans show a spiral staircase from E deck to the boat deck, ( its exit point shown in the photo of Olympic above ) Alfred says he climbed inside the funnel. that's what i was trying to understand... in effect i think his interpretation of "inside" was the spiral staircase.. he would have known it well already, since it was a direct access up and down to the parts he would be asked to go to.. sadly the chances of accessing the turbine room now, to see whats left are almost if not impossible and few views of the ship show how the electrical staff did their work. but if we are to believe what Alfred White did in the last moments... we have to see how it was possible to do what he said he did... when Alfred says he went up inside the Funnel, he doesnt mean above the boat deck.. he means from deck E to boat deck. From that exit door he could go forward to the short ladder, climb it.. and look from there forward... he doesnt have to climb any further, and its unlikely he had time to. Exactly how he reached a boat isnt my interest, its what happened during the last minutes in the electrical control room. it a bit like this 1. Alfred White is told he can leave... 2. at that point there is still steam, the main generators, at least two of them. are still running.. the emergency generators as far as we know, are not. 3. Alfred climbs the ladders, out of the generator room, maybe he goes aft to the emergency doors on E deck, ( the third class locked gates ) sees folks there, decides to turn around and go up the spiral staircase, climbs the short ladder , and looks forward, but as he is watching, the decks start to fracture... 4, in the generating room, steam fails, as the pipes in the engine room , are fractured and torn away..., 5. cables fracture, short circuits happen etc, and as the generators run down from loss of steam, the lights flicker and fail. , 6. water is pouring in now from severed pipes and hull fractures, both from below and above... i doubt very much if those still in the turbine room area, had any time to reset circuit breakers, or change a fuse, the world is collapsing around them... being torn apart above below and around them.. 7. Alfred somehow escapes, but those below are drowned as the ship breaks apart completely. My guess is that even if those in the turbine room were still alive, the structure was being wrecked, it was pitch black in there.. there was no escape..

Agree with you here, this is one of the most fascinating parts of the event for me but most people seem to gloss over it with either "they all stayed to the end and died" or "they all made a run for it". As usual the truth is probably far more nuanced and somewhere between the two extremes noted above. I guess with not much in the way of witness testimony though it's going to be difficult to ascertain exactly what happened unless more evidence comes to light.

Would agree with your timeline with a couple of suggestions, it is in the testimony that the emergency generators were also running, which makes sense as they were normally run after nightfall as standard practice.

As I understand it Alfred White went up the ladder inside the 4th funnel. There was a platform at the top where he could have stood and seen the entire ship break in front of him. The funnel then fell over and he went with it into the water. You'd think it would be something too over the top for even an action movie but it has been confirmed by multiple witnessess!
 
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Agree with you here, this is one of the most fascinating parts of the event for me but most people seem to gloss over it with either "they all stayed to the end and died" or "they all made a run for it". As usual the truth is probably far more nuanced and somewhere between the two extremes noted above. I guess with not much in the way of witness testimony though it's going to be difficult to ascertain exactly what happened unless more evidence comes to light.

Would agree with your timeline with a couple of suggestions, it is in the testimony that the emergency generators were also running, which makes sense as they were normally run after nightfall as standard practice.

As I understand it Alfred White went up the ladder inside the 4th funnel. There was a platform at the top where he could have stood and seen the entire ship break in front of him. The funnel then fell over and he went with it into the water. You'd think it would be something too over the top for even an action movie but it has been confirmed by multiple witnessess!
Wow I never read anywhere where he rode the funnel over into the water. Yes would have made a good scene in the movie. Cameron took liberties with facts to make dramatic scenes. Being an action movie type guy you think he would have included that. As for the electricians I give them huge credit for staying with it as long as they did. I've read both ways about the emergency generators. Some say they were off, others say they the opposite. I know it was practice to start the back up gens at night to test them. But I will have to go back look up how long they ran them again. Seems like a waste of equipment to run them all night if not needed.
 

Incony

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To go up inside the funnel from the boat deck, would need Alfred to at least open a hatch into the funnel airway.. since from that point on the funnel is an open space, - down draft to the engines and likely to be pitch black in there, i don't think there were emergency lights inside the funnel, it must have been hatch access, or down draft would enter the boat deck above the smoke room.. so would rain etc... i don't know how the funnels were drained, but they must have been since storm rain would accumulate in the boat deck top housing if not. why would he try and access a hatch and climb inside the funnel, when he was already on the boat deck? did he know how to access the funnel even? i dont think so... and to climb that ladder in the pitch black with air now rushing up it instead of going down it, since air and even steam would be going up the funnel now as the ship sank, doesnt make sense, even in panic.. he had reached the boat deck.. the way out was straight onto the deck... The concept that he went all the way up the funnel on its internal ladder isnt logical... he cant escape , he cant jump can he? Using the deck maps, one can see the the spiral stair case reached down as far as deck E, but there were stairs down from there further aft - all the way to the generator room ive traced them. from the tank top to deck E, one can use stairs. they are marked up/down on the deck plans.. ive shown the stairs, and where the spiral staircase was, here...
1610780179448.png
 

Incony

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From the Tank Top, where the generators are - one climbs the steps near the turbine bulkhead, to the switch/ fuse platform on the Orlop Deck Titanic Deckplans : Tank Top from the Orlop Deck switch / fuse platform, one uses the stair case by Wines and Spirits and Dried Fruit.. not surprisingly it only is shown as " UP" to G Deck. Titanic Deckplans : Orlop Deck From G Deck one continues up by the Ice Cream Room... to F Deck.. Titanic Deckplans : G Deck From F deck to E Deck as ive said E Deck doesnt show the spiral Stair case start.. but D certainly does, i think the spiral staircase served the engineers access to the turbine room. and it also gave access to emergency generators on Deck D.. Titanic Deckplans : D Deck
 

Keith H

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There is no way aft from the turbine room to wines and spirits stairs .the only way up is via E deck using stair behind turbine room then through 2nd class dining room to the aft stair well with the lift up the centre.
I don't think he would have gone right up the top of the funnel that seems ludicrous ( I think there is an account of that early on in the voyage people may be getting confused by ) he would be in a hurry and also I imagine not just to have a look at what is going on but also to find an officer or some one to ask what the situation is with in mind to hurry back down to tell his mates below.
 

Rancor

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To go up inside the funnel from the boat deck, would need Alfred to at least open a hatch into the funnel airway.. since from that point on the funnel is an open space, - down draft to the engines and likely to be pitch black in there, i don't think there were emergency lights inside the funnel, it must have been hatch access, or down draft would enter the boat deck above the smoke room.. so would rain etc... i don't know how the funnels were drained, but they must have been since storm rain would accumulate in the boat deck top housing if not. why would he try and access a hatch and climb inside the funnel, when he was already on the boat deck? did he know how to access the funnel even? i dont think so... and to climb that ladder in the pitch black with air now rushing up it instead of going down it, since air and even steam would be going up the funnel now as the ship sank, doesnt make sense, even in panic.. he had reached the boat deck.. the way out was straight onto the deck... The concept that he went all the way up the funnel on its internal ladder isnt logical... he cant escape , he cant jump can he? Using the deck maps, one can see the the spiral stair case reached down as far as deck E, but there were stairs down from there further aft - all the way to the generator room ive traced them. from the tank top to deck E, one can use stairs. they are marked up/down on the deck plans.. ive shown the stairs, and where the spiral staircase was, here... View attachment 75226

From the letter written by Alfred White:

"Telling you the truth, Sir, I had a job to get up the engine room ladder. I had to go up the dummy funnel. There was a doorway there. The sight I saw I can hardly realize it. The second funnel was under the water and all the boats had left the ship. I could not get back [to the engine rooms] as the boat was sinking fast. We did not know ‘ they were [my friends,] all at boat stations [at emergency stations, at the engines]. I am sure that was where Mr. Parr was and so should I have been if they had not sent me up. That is all I can tell you. I must close this letter and I am truly sorry for Mr. Parr’s wife and all his friends. I remain yours truly, Alfred White."
 

Incony

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There is no way aft from the turbine room to wines and spirits stairs .the only way up is via E deck using stair behind turbine room then through 2nd class dining room to the aft stair well with the lift up the centre.
I don't think he would have gone right up the top of the funnel that seems ludicrous ( I think there is an account of that early on in the voyage people may be getting confused by ) he would be in a hurry and also I imagine not just to have a look at what is going on but also to find an officer or some one to ask what the situation is with in mind to hurry back down to tell his mates below.
I assumed the switchboard platform and the Orlop deck where wines and spirits were, and the up staircase, were at the same level or at least the staircase started from there?
1610806230067.png
 

Incony

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if this is the Orlop deck height, and this is the Titanic switchboard panel in situ - is the determination that from there, one went around the back of the panel at its end to reach the engineers passageway, or exit at its left , in the image where the wines and spirits staircase is... or both... ? there are no doors shown behind the panel or at its left or right on the plan... so where did one access the generating room space?

1610810140003.png
 
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Incony

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if the above image isnt the titanic switch panel .. and this one is -, and this is the orlop deck, and behind those vertical levers etc, is the air space and below that the generators... i see no access behind the panel.. or doors at the end ? so where is the access up?
1610811038978.png
 
Mar 18, 2008
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As for Alfred White there are different versions of his escape. In one newspaper he claimed to have thrown tables and chairs overboard.
I very doubt he made it on top of the 4th funnel and survived that the collapse and break up.
 
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Incony

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so we don't have a view of the Titanic switchboard.. ok... and the views we have are the Olympic, before the bulkheads were extended up after the titanic sinking? were the two identical before that? if so... both images tally, in that i can count about 35 fuses in each image, so both views are the whole length of the switch panel ie. its the whole panel and its just the perspective that make one look longer than the other... its important if we are to decide access... i sense there must be a route other than the keel watertight door. we need a schematic to show the ladder / step / door route, i.e we need to know for some certainty what route Alfred took... if - he did, and there must be a way down from deck that doesnt compromise class... i.e an exclusive route, the route the crew were told to use, and knew.
 
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Mar 18, 2008
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so we don't have a view of the Titanic switchboard.. ok... and the views we have are the Olympic, before the bulkheads were extended up after the titanic sinking?

Yes the image is from 1911.

White made it into lifeboat No. 4 (not Collapsible A as Mr. Pellegrino has it at his page).

White's story seems to change. First he is reported to have said that he was send up by engineers at 1:40 a.m., saw a lifeboat leaving and slid down the falls to her. Three days later in a longer version White was send up to see how things are and he made his way through a dummy funnel up to the bridge deck. By that time all the boats had left the ship. He was next to the Captain who said every men for himself. He slipped down some falls to the water and was picked up by a lifeboat.

Now 2 months later (June 1912) in a letter he claimed to have made it up on top of the funnel and was aboard till the end.
 
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Incony

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i dont disclaim Alfred White, we need to know what the possibilities were at that time, for one person to exit the generator room by normal means.. i.e everyday access and exit. One must assume that the float trips for the watertight door between the Generator Room and the Turbine room, worked, so flooding would close that door if it was still open, and Alfred makes no mention in any of his stories that he used that way, and went up from the turbine room, via the ladders to the engineers passage and the spiral staircase, i.e he doesnt say that. i am of the suspicion that there was an alternative to going down - to going up., and i see the wines and spirits staircase, right next to the switchboard platform on the orlop deck level, the same level as the platform was on.. as the option... if not how did one reach the engineers passageway and did the engineers passageway give access to the generator room.. and if so how?
 
Mar 18, 2008
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Regarding the route White did, that is indeed a real interesting one. By 1:20 the engine room crew were send up. Several of them (stokers, greasers, trimmers) went at first up to E Deck and then had there first a stop to search for lifebelts and then continued they way up. Did White had also a lifebelt? If so he might have belonged to that group? We sadly do not know.
 
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