How long did it take to reverse Titanic's reciprocating engines?


ryantimm92

Member
Nov 6, 2020
2
0
1
29
Billings, Montana
Does anyone happen to know the time it took for Titanic's reciprocating engines to go from a "Full Ahead" engine order to "Full Astern"? I KNOW that Titanic's engines were not reversed prior to the collision. My question is based solely around my curiosity of if the engine room crew were all standing at their posts, and an engine order was rang down to the engine room of "Full Astern" while the engines were going at "Full Ahead", how long would it take to execute that? Also, what was the absolute max RPM on the reciprocating engines?
 
May 23, 2020
4
0
11
Brooklyn, NY
Good morning,

I guess the following has likely been studied in depth - but off the top of my head, the following few items might be considered:
  • Stem 100+’ ahead of lookout, so perhaps1300’ + or so from stem to iceberg, about 1.5 x ship’s length
  • 3 bells - time to react in wheelhouse, shift helm, rudder time needed to hard over & telegraph astern
  • Engine room sudden alarm, location of personnel and reaction times to stations
  • Time needed for browns engine to shift changeover valves
  • Slow and reverse wing propellers
  • Stated 37 seconds to collision with stated 22.5 knots
  • Record of Olympic’s trials would offer insights to the timing of engine room sequence
Thanks,
Charlie
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
6,593
1,367
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Does anyone happen to know the time it took for Titanic's reciprocating engines to go from a "Full Ahead" engine order to "Full Astern"? I KNOW that Titanic's engines were not reversed prior to the collision. My question is based solely around my curiosity of if the engine room crew were all standing at their posts, and an engine order was rang down to the engine room of "Full Astern" while the engines were going at "Full Ahead", how long would it take to execute that? Also, what was the absolute max RPM on the reciprocating engines?
Here is the evidence of Trimmer Patrick Dillon who was actually in the engine room at the time
He did not see the dial of the engine telegraph but obviously noted the direction of the crankshafts.
-From Day 5 of the British Inquiry:
" They stopped.
3721. Was that immediately after you felt the shock or some little time after? A: - About a minute and a half.
3722. Did they continue stopped or did they go on again after that?
A - They went slow astern.
3723. How long were they stopped for before they began to go slow astern? A: - About half a minute.
3724. For how long did they go slow astern? A: - About two minutes.
3725. Two or three did you say? A: - Two minutes.
3726. And then did they stop again? A: - Yes.
3727. And did they go on again after that? A: - They went ahead again.
3728. For how long? A: - For about two minutes.
3729. Then did they stop the boat after that? A: - Yes."
 

Elr James

Member
May 10, 2020
14
5
3
There's an earlier thread on this:


Fourth Officer Boxhall testified that he heard three alarm bell rings from the Crow’s Nest and then heard First Officer Murdoch call out orders to Quartermaster Hichens to put the wheel hard over, and the noise of the engine room telegraphs ordering the reversal of the engines.

When live steam to a reciprocating engine (even a big one) is cut off, it stops pretty quickly and then the reversing mechanism is engaged. Take a trip on a Lake Geneva paddle steamer and you'll see how easily and quickly they go from ahead to astern. There's no question of 'crashing gears' or anything like that.

Having written that, at cruising speed in mid ocean, engineers are not normally on the control platform with their hands on all the levers in anticipation of frequent or emergency manoeuvring; so, an engine order being given and put into effect are two different things. Also, the time between any orders given and the Ship striking the Berg was just some thirty seconds, perhaps less, so it's probably reasonable to assume (as opposed to "knowing") that a reversal could barely have been initiated, if at all.

As to your actual question: in all honesty, I really do not know the answer: hope someone else can help and if I 'come across' anything, I'll be sure to let you know.
 

Elr James

Member
May 10, 2020
14
5
3
Sorry: forgot to answer the second part of your enquiry. Full revolutions would normally be around 75 / 78 rpm (some 22 knots) up to maximum of 83 / 85 rpm (some 24 knots), although I'm happy to be corrected on that. The speeds would be attained including the use of the centre turbine of course: at around 165 rpm for some 16,000 shaft horse power.
 

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
Here is the evidence of Trimmer Patrick Dillon who was actually in the engine room at the time
He did not see the dial of the engine telegraph but obviously noted the direction of the crankshafts.
-From Day 5 of the British Inquiry:
" They stopped.
3721. Was that immediately after you felt the shock or some little time after? A: - About a minute and a half.
3722. Did they continue stopped or did they go on again after that?
A - They went slow astern.
3723. How long were they stopped for before they began to go slow astern? A: - About half a minute.
3724. For how long did they go slow astern? A: - About two minutes.
3725. Two or three did you say? A: - Two minutes.
3726. And then did they stop again? A: - Yes.
3727. And did they go on again after that? A: - They went ahead again.
3728. For how long? A: - For about two minutes.
3729. Then did they stop the boat after that? A: - Yes."
I doubt that a trimmer (lowest form of boiler room life) would know whether the engines were going ahead or astern by looking at them after only a few days on board, especially as the ER was not his usual station! I would have taken that evidence with a huge grain of salt...
 

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
Does anyone happen to know the time it took for Titanic's reciprocating engines to go from a "Full Ahead" engine order to "Full Astern"? I KNOW that Titanic's engines were not reversed prior to the collision. My question is based solely around my curiosity of if the engine room crew were all standing at their posts, and an engine order was rang down to the engine room of "Full Astern" while the engines were going at "Full Ahead", how long would it take to execute that? Also, what was the absolute max RPM on the reciprocating engines?
Here's a dit I wrote on Quora which explains some of the actions probably taken that night by the engineroom staff. It shows a parallel to the same situation I had 3 times whilst at sea and, whilst my experience is with motorships, they are reciprocating and direct reversing.
As to the engine revs etc., that's been answered in other posts here.

Hope this gives an insight - it's just as unnerving these days as it was in 1912 - at full away on passage, it's not easy to stop or go astern very quickly, regardless of what was recorded on sea trials.
 
May 23, 2020
4
0
11
Brooklyn, NY
So this would suggest that the quick water from the turbine wheel was exerting a turning moment on the rudder. Based on the 37 second baseline determined from Olympic's post disaster turning trials.

Thank you
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
6,593
1,367
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
I doubt that a trimmer (lowest form of boiler room life) would know whether the engines were going ahead or astern by looking at them after only a few days on board, especially as the ER was not his usual station! I would have taken that evidence with a huge grain of salt...
Why would you doubt such a thing, Stephen?
Sure, Dillon was just trimmer, but he had been an AB before that. He had done very little time trimming and spent most of it in the main engine room cleaning. This was his first trip below and you can bet he did not want to remain as a Trimmer so would have been watching everything.
I don't know if you have ever been in a triple expansion engine room, Stephen, but I most certainly have... very often.
Dillon would have to have been totally blind not to see when the "big ends" were slowing down...when they stopped and when they turned in the opposite directions during a maneuvering sequence such as he described. You do not need to see the telegraph unless you want to know the value of the order.
Just read your article.
You might like to know that back in the early 50s when I started, you got your head in your hands to play with if you rang down Full Astern from Full ahead without pausing at STOP. The reason given was that the boiler room had to be advised to stop stoking and dampen the fires to temporarily reduce steam production during changeover.

Oops! Re article - meant Charlie, not Stephen. Mia culpa 'nat. Oops! again...what am I doing...must be Scottish heat stroke!
 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

Seumas

Member
Mar 25, 2019
720
401
108
Glasgow, Scotland
I doubt that a trimmer (lowest form of boiler room life) would know whether the engines were going ahead or astern by looking at them after only a few days on board, especially as the ER was not his usual station! I would have taken that evidence with a huge grain of salt...
Actually, on the Titanic a handful of firemen and trimmers did work in the engine room. These were the men assigned to Boiler Room No 1.

Boiler Room No. 1 was not used for the entire voyage. Whist in port fire would be raised in No. 1 to power the ship whilst all the other boiler rooms are out cold. Logically, they probably were also "on line" during the first few hours and the last few hours of the voyage too. Not during the main portion of the voyage however.

The men from No. 1 were kept busy doing odd jobs in the engine room. This also meant they were available to replace other fireman or trimmers who just might be taken ill (John Podesta claimed one fireman was taken ill on the day before the disaster) or injured in other boiler rooms.

Paddy Dillon was telling the truth. Much of his other testimony of his experience that night matches very well with what other survivors saw.
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
Why would you doubt such a thing, Stephen?
Sure, Dillon was just trimmer, but he had been an AB before that. He had done very little time trimming and spent most of it in the main engine room cleaning. This was his first trip below and you can bet he did not want to remain as a Trimmer so would have been watching everything.
I don't know if you have ever been in a triple expansion engine room, Stephen, but I most certainly have... very often.
Dillon would have to have been totally blind not to see when the "big ends" were slowing down...when they stopped and when they turned in the opposite directions during a maneuvering sequence such as he described. You do not need to see the telegraph unless you want to know the value of the order.
Just read your article.
You might like to know that back in the early 50s when I started, you got your head in your hands to play with if you rang down Full Astern from Full ahead without pausing at STOP. The reason given was that the boiler room had to be advised to stop stoking and dampen the fires to temporarily reduce steam production during changeover.

Oops! Re article - meant Charlie, not Stephen. Mia culpa 'nat. Oops! again...what am I doing...must be Scottish heat stroke!
Well Jim, after 18 years at sea as an engineer, that's generally my opinion of the engineroom crew - they did just that, cleaning, and rarely knew anything about the machinery itself - not their job. In fact many of the engineers from shoreside jobs didn't either, until the cadetship scheme came in. The best ones for knowing what was happening and how the machinery worked were Filipinos, but even so they were not trained for it, they were just more interested. In 1912 I find it hard to believe that an unschooled ex AB going to trimmer and then to cleaner would have been any wiser than those I sailed with of any nationality. The Enquiry shows this too, the answers from the firemen and trimmers was often "I wouldn't know that Sir" or "I have no idea Sir" which to me was frustrating to read, because why didn't they just get the Chief and Second engineers from Olympic into the enquiry and ask them the technical stuff?
My 3 double rings astern were all just that - from Full Ahead to Full Astern with no pause in between - not necessary, the bridge wanted to go full astern so that's what they rang - I wouldn't have expected anything else! Only one of the 3 was at Full Away, the others were at standby revs entering or leaving harbour where it was just as alarming but easy enough to do as the engine was already at manoeuvring revs and would go astern with no problems. FAOP not so easy...
Unfortunately I have never been in a steam reciprocating engineroom - much though I would have loved to have been. If I get back to UK Shieldhall is on my itinerary...
 

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
Actually, on the Titanic a handful of firemen and trimmers did work in the engine room. These were the men assigned to Boiler Room No 1.

Boiler Room No. 1 was not used for the entire voyage. Whist in port fire would be raised in No. 1 to power the ship whilst all the other boiler rooms are out cold. Logically, they probably were also "on line" during the first few hours and the last few hours of the voyage too. Not during the main portion of the voyage however.

The men from No. 1 were kept busy doing odd jobs in the engine room. This also meant they were available to replace other fireman or trimmers who just might be taken ill (John Podesta claimed one fireman was taken ill on the day before the disaster) or injured in other boiler rooms.

Paddy Dillon was telling the truth. Much of his other testimony of his experience that night matches very well with what other survivors saw.
Maybe so, but that doesn't fit with my experience of 18 years at sea as a marine engineer... In 1912 most men the likes of Dillon et al hadn't even been to school for any length of time over primary education; many would have been semi-literate in fact. Those that had, and were interested in going to sea in the engineroom would have apprenticed themselves to an engine builder or shipyard, as the Titanic's engineers had. I was at sea from 1969 to 1986 and the standard of education of engineroom crews was not spectacular, otherwise they would have gone the engineering route. Even those Junior Engineers who had been in shipyards and engineworks ashore needed quite a few years at sea to learn enough to go up for their tickets - many failed a few times before making it and others just stayed as 3rd engineer (which didn't need a ticket), being happy enough in that rank and salary without the additional responsibilities of 2nd or Chief Engineer. Firemen//Greasers had no interest in doing anything other than their own job - if that at times! If they had, I would have pressed them to better themselves.
The school leaving age for those like Dillon - whose schooling would have been in the 1890s - was 10, later raised to 12 and then 13. I wouldn't expect him to know which way the engines were turning; maybe he did, but I wouldn't bank on it after only a few days on the ship - and the two engines turned in different directions...
 

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
There's an earlier thread on this:


Fourth Officer Boxhall testified that he heard three alarm bell rings from the Crow’s Nest and then heard First Officer Murdoch call out orders to Quartermaster Hichens to put the wheel hard over, and the noise of the engine room telegraphs ordering the reversal of the engines.

When live steam to a reciprocating engine (even a big one) is cut off, it stops pretty quickly and then the reversing mechanism is engaged. Take a trip on a Lake Geneva paddle steamer and you'll see how easily and quickly they go from ahead to astern. There's no question of 'crashing gears' or anything like that.

Having written that, at cruising speed in mid ocean, engineers are not normally on the control platform with their hands on all the levers in anticipation of frequent or emergency manoeuvring; so, an engine order being given and put into effect are two different things. Also, the time between any orders given and the Ship striking the Berg was just some thirty seconds, perhaps less, so it's probably reasonable to assume (as opposed to "knowing") that a reversal could barely have been initiated, if at all.

As to your actual question: in all honesty, I really do not know the answer: hope someone else can help and if I 'come across' anything, I'll be sure to let you know.
If you read the article I included in a response, you will see that the engine is difficult to stop owing to windage on the propellers. It's the same for a steam reciprocating engine as for a diesel marine engine based on the same machinery more or less. Shutting the steam off doesn't stop the engine dead at 20+ knots, and putting full steam astern on is likely to damage the engines so would have been carefully done. In my article the astern starting air goes on to slow the engine down before putting the fuel on to go astern, and even then the engine often swings back to ahead again with the cams still set astern and fuel on. At standby revs entering and leaving harbour (which is the reason for standby revs, and the revs that your Geneva boat would have been at all its life) the engine will go astern from full ahead, and will stop almost immediately from full ahead (standby revs) when STOP is rung. Not so at full sea revolutions with the amount of momentum the ship has. The full astern movement on trials has everyone attending the machinery and ready for it - not so at sea...
I'm not convinced that an astern movement was rung on the telegraphs that night - Murdoch would have known that it would not have been effective. In fact I don't really know why he rang STOP!
 

Seumas

Member
Mar 25, 2019
720
401
108
Glasgow, Scotland
Maybe so, but that doesn't fit with my experience of 18 years at sea as a marine engineer... In 1912 most men the likes of Dillon et al hadn't even been to school for any length of time over primary education; many would have been semi-literate in fact. Those that had, and were interested in going to sea in the engineroom would have apprenticed themselves to an engine builder or shipyard, as the Titanic's engineers had. I was at sea from 1969 to 1986 and the standard of education of engineroom crews was not spectacular, otherwise they would have gone the engineering route. Even those Junior Engineers who had been in shipyards and engineworks ashore needed quite a few years at sea to learn enough to go up for their tickets - many failed a few times before making it and others just stayed as 3rd engineer (which didn't need a ticket), being happy enough in that rank and salary without the additional responsibilities of 2nd or Chief Engineer. Firemen//Greasers had no interest in doing anything other than their own job - if that at times! If they had, I would have pressed them to better themselves.
The school leaving age for those like Dillon - whose schooling would have been in the 1890s - was 10, later raised to 12 and then 13. I wouldn't expect him to know which way the engines were turning; maybe he did, but I wouldn't bank on it after only a few days on the ship - and the two engines turned in different directions...
Semi-literate just because they left school at twelve ? That's really poor stereotyping.

Just because someone was poor and brought up in one of Britain's inner city slums doesn't mean they were an ignorant fool.

There's quite a few of the UK posters here who can had grandparents or great-grandparents who left school at twelve or so and turns out to be reasonably intelligent, articulate, logical, successful individuals.

My grandfather worked in the engine rooms of BI ships in the fifties with greasers and firemen from India and Pakistan. Some of them couldn't read or write English and struggled to do so even in their own languages. Nonetheless he said they were perfectly competent at their job and he never had a problem with them.
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
6,593
1,367
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Well Jim, after 18 years at sea as an engineer, that's generally my opinion of the engineroom crew - they did just that, cleaning, and rarely knew anything about the machinery itself - not their job. In fact many of the engineers from shoreside jobs didn't either, until the cadetship scheme came in. The best ones for knowing what was happening and how the machinery worked were Filipinos, but even so they were not trained for it, they were just more interested. In 1912 I find it hard to believe that an unschooled ex AB going to trimmer and then to cleaner would have been any wiser than those I sailed with of any nationality. The Enquiry shows this too, the answers from the firemen and trimmers was often "I wouldn't know that Sir" or "I have no idea Sir" which to me was frustrating to read, because why didn't they just get the Chief and Second engineers from Olympic into the enquiry and ask them the technical stuff?
My 3 double rings astern were all just that - from Full Ahead to Full Astern with no pause in between - not necessary, the bridge wanted to go full astern so that's what they rang - I wouldn't have expected anything else! Only one of the 3 was at Full Away, the others were at standby revs entering or leaving harbour where it was just as alarming but easy enough to do as the engine was already at manoeuvring revs and would go astern with no problems. FAOP not so easy...
Unfortunately I have never been in a steam reciprocating engineroom - much though I would have loved to have been. If I get back to UK Shieldhall is on my itinerary...
A wee bit heads-up Stephen.

Dillon was a a 12 year RN man before joining the RNR. and before White Star Line. He was not by any means unschooled nor was he a dumb-dumb.
I also know from a family connections that to get to the rank of Able Seaman in the Royal Navy you had to be "able" in lots of ways. That accounts for his precise account of his experience in the engine room that morning.
I any case, he was in a place where he would possibly never be again so I suppose he "filled his boots" with all that was going on around him.
I sailed in at least 5 "up and downers" - triple expansion driven ships and I remember the Shield Hall and her sister ship the Dalmarnock very well.
I saw her and her sister very often at lunch time when I was sitting on a bollard at Customs House Quay, Greenock on a break from 2nd Mate studies at Greenock in the early 50s. That was before they were replaced by the newer versions in the mid 50s. By the time I left deep sea and was working as a newbuilding surveyor John Browns, they were also carrying Pensioners on what was called "Doon the waater" day trips as well as sludge. Happy days!
 
  • Like
Reactions: 2 users

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
Semi-literate just because they left school at twelve ? That's really poor stereotyping.

Just because someone was poor and brought up in one of Britain's inner city slums doesn't mean they were an ignorant fool.

There's quite a few of the UK posters here who can had grandparents or great-grandparents who left school at twelve or so and turns out to be reasonably intelligent, articulate, logical, successful individuals.

My grandfather worked in the engine rooms of BI ships in the fifties with greasers and firemen from India and Pakistan. Some of them couldn't read or write English and struggled to do so even in their own languages. Nonetheless he said they were perfectly competent at their job and he never had a problem with them.
I agree with all that, and yes they were perfectly competent at their job. My perception was the same in many cases, but their job wasn't marine engineering, which is the preserve of the engineers who had years of training. The engineroom crews I sailed with were mostly ok at their job - apart from those from the PRC - but they knew nothing of the engineering, though Filipinos who had been engineers in their own merchant navy did to a certain extent, but that was unusual. Same with a brickie who can build you an excellent wall, but isn't a qualified architect...
And I never met an AB (ref Jim's comment on Dillon) who would go anywhere near an engineroom!
 

Jim Currie

Member
Apr 16, 2008
6,593
1,367
323
NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
I agree with all that, and yes they were perfectly competent at their job. My perception was the same in many cases, but their job wasn't marine engineering, which is the preserve of the engineers who had years of training. The engineroom crews I sailed with were mostly ok at their job - apart from those from the PRC - but they knew nothing of the engineering, though Filipinos who had been engineers in their own merchant navy did to a certain extent, but that was unusual. Same with a brickie who can build you an excellent wall, but isn't a qualified architect...
And I never met an AB (ref Jim's comment on Dillon) who would go anywhere near an engineroom!
You never met a General Purpose Hand then, Stephen.
 

Stephen Carey

Member
Apr 25, 2016
173
94
93
Philippines
You never met a General Purpose Hand then, Stephen.
The company toyed with GP ratings, though I never sailed with them as it was considered a failure. One Chief I relieved said he could never get hold of any to work down below! All GP ratings I heard of were still deck ratings, none of them had been engineroom.
I've checked out Dillon since, and nothing in his history makes me change my mind Jim... Titanic was his first job down below - why he had changed from AB, who knows? Also he was in the engineroom probably because he hadn't a clue by that time of what the trimmer's job was - certainly much harder than an AB's. I still don't think he would know whether the engines were going ahead or astern as the two reciprocating engines rotated in different directions, and he would not have known that. He stayed AB for the rest of his time at sea, finally making Bosun it seems. Hardly anything there to show that he was any different from any other AB.
I sailed with British crews for the first few years I was at sea. The deck crowd were usually good and proficient at what they did. The engineroom crowd were more or less "Chambermaids with balls" as one Chief put it - all they did was bag down the plates and wipe oil off here and there plus dhobying the boilersuits - some ships were Brits (container trade), others Yemenis (on the company ore carriers). The only engineroom crews who knew anything about the engineering were Filipinos who had been in their own MN as engineers. I've sailed with Brtis, Cape Verde Islanders, Indians, PRC Chinese (the worst), HK Chinese, Yemenis (from Saudi Shields) and Filipinos. Most were good crew for what they did (apart from the PRC Chinese) and were no trouble - most would muck in and help with taking stuff apart and cleaning it if you showed them what to do. Dillon had only been in an engineroom for less than a week?
 
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user

Similar threads

Similar threads