External differences between Titanic and Olympic

Dec 4, 2000
Mike -- my answer to you is that I cannot talk to the dead. Only they know the real reasons for the choice of a center screw turbine. Maybe if I had a Ouija board...

Seriously, turbines are more reliable today. They were "new tech" in 1912. Sailors generally abhore new things because all too often their unseen weaknesses has a price in blood. The old stuff may be clumsy, slow, or whatever -- but its foibles are known. Better the devil you know than the one you don't. Using negative pressure -- virtually using "nothing" -- to generate power is one of those seemingly elegant solutions that always work better in the mind than on paper.

Then there's the little gir's toe. She wants to jump in the pool, but tests the water temperature first with her toe. What does she learn? Not much. But, we all use the "dip a toe" method to some extent in viewing new stuff. If I were a guessing man, I would guess the choice of a low pressure turbine was much like of testing the water temperature with a toe. H&W and WSL could appear to be on the cutting edge without risking too much. Those ol' dependable up-and-downers could carry the load should the turbine fail. But, that's just a SWAG.

Something else, the nature of H&W's yard. It was not the breeding ground for new ideas. It was a work-a-day place where ships were knocked together and slid into the water. You employed H&W for conventional shipbuilding. In 1906 that company wasn't the place to go for turbines. Don't go to a lumber yard for steak. You'll always do best by your money buying what the seller does best.

I also caution against looking on the past with current knowledge. Yes, we know now the superiority of turbines for nearly all applications. But, that body of knowledge has been accumulated over the century that Titanic has been on the bottom. The men in the H&W drawing office had no long-term longevity data for turbines, but they knew conventional piston engines. If "reliability" was high on the customer's list, they knew in 1906 how to give it to White Star -- and it wasn't to risk the venture on turbines. Looking back from the future, they were probably wrong. But, their crystal ball was no more accurate about 2018 than yours is about 3018.

All of this is just an enjoyable discussion. We'll never know the exact reasons for the choice of the Olympic Class power plant. Not unless you have a better Ouija board than mine...

-- David G. Brown


May 24, 2018
If I were a guessing man, I would guess the choice of a low pressure turbine was much like of testing the water temperature with a toe.
Dave, I'm not sure how well this translates to water-tube boilers or to turbines, for that matter, but from what I've read, when building a locomotive, some railroads opted for lower boiler pressure in order to prolong the life of the boiler between Class 1 rebuilds.

Obviously, as you said before, the Olympics weren't built with Azipods; Harland and Wolff couldn't just pull an Olympic-class out of the water, unbolt a screw, put a new one in, then put her back in the water. The longer that centerline turbine lasted, the longer the Olympics could be in the water.