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


Jim Currie

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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?
Hello Stephen.
Back in the day, and right up to my time - before the advent of Engine Room Cadets, enclosed control rooms and even bridge controls - Marine Engineers below the rank of Second, were either time-served Fitters or Turners.
Engine Room ratings did not simply do as the ones you describe but were actively engaged with the Juniors carrying out maintenance on the deck and engine room auxiliaries. Even in my day, as a Deck Apprentice, I had to do the same... help lift and replace drive shafts clutches, change shell bearing etc.
Dillon, as you say was on his first trip as a Trimmer. However, he was unable to carry out his normal duties, so was seconded to the engine room.
As you know, when in the engine with the ship underway, if there were no side covers on the main engine frame, the big ends, cross heads bearings and shafts were visible for all to see.
Consequently, when the first engine order came, Dillon would see the the big ends turning the shaft on the main engine nearest to him, slow down then stop. There would be a "deafening silence" except for escaping steam and the shouts of the engineers as the changeover was taking place. Then the big ends would start to turn the shaft - but this time, in the opposite direction from which it had been turning continuously since they had left Queenstown. He would have needed to be as thick as the proverbial in the neck of a bottle not to have notice any difference.
You tell me he became a Bosun, that tells me he was a bit sharper than the average lad. I get the distinct impression from how he gave his evidence that he was a very precise individual who prided himself in his abilities.
The one thing he could not have known without seeing the ER telegraph, was the value of the astern order. As you also know, when bring a ship to a halt, you first ting down FULL astern then watch the stern wash and any tell tale over side discharges. Very often, especially when combined with a hard over turn, she ship slows much quicker that she would if kept running strait, Consequently the way comes off her much sooner and the astern movement is no longer needed. Think about it.
 

Seumas

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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.
Dillon took the job trimming aboard the Titanic because he couldn't find any available AB work and he needed his daily bread.

Remember, the coal miners in Great Britain had been on strike for a while and there was a coal shortage. As a result a lot of ships from small tramps to big liners had to be laid up for several weeks. Thousands of merchant seamen were temporarily out of work and there was a scramble to get work aboard the ships still running. It meant taking what work you could get.

Quite a few of the firemen, trimmers and greasers sometimes took a break from the sea and worked on the docks, in warehouses, bricklaying, coal hauling etc. Fireman William Taylor survived the Titanic only to be fatally injured (some heavy poles fell on him) working as a dockie two years later.

Dillon was in the engine room because he was one of the men assigned to Boiler Room No. 1 which was not used for 95% of the voyage. As I said a while back, the firemen and trimmers from No. 1 were assigned odd jobs in the engine room to keep them busy.
 
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why didn't they just get the Chief and Second engineers from Olympic into the enquiry and ask them the technical stuff?
Here is a damn good question !! Starting from the point that it is obvious that they've thought about it in 1912, the other good question is why did they not did that ? I know that Lord Mersey, Isaacs, and his assessors had been on board of Olympic on Monday May 6, 1912, and I supposed that Engineers might have explained that to them, but obviously I can't be sure for there were no report of any kind that came from that visit (I think ??)

Also, I would like to know if anyone here could describe to me the steps that were taken in the ER to put the ship at "reverse", starting from the moment they received the order from the Bridge, like they did on April 14. I found it in French but it was very short, like "The Chief Engineer turn the change-of-course steering wheel and change the damper's flap to allow the steam to change of direction". (Translation by myself from French, helped by "Word Reference" for technical terms, so my apologize if it is not very clear !). Thanks !
 
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Incony

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Kempton Park, has possibly the largest reciprocating steam engine of a direct similarity to that on the Titanic and Olympic, still in functional operation.., watching this video for example, means that even i, who has very little operational knowledge of steam engines, can sense from the sound and visuals of this three floor goliath, if it has stopped or changed direction... ive no doubt anyone in the presence of these engines, would realise what they were doing and when, and how long it took for that to happen. There are several videos on You Tube, and in comparison the those on the Titanic, this one really just ticks over slow. imagine it going at full speed.
 
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Jim Currie

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Here is a damn good question !! Starting from the point that it is obvious that they've thought about it in 1912, the other good question is why did they not did that ? I know that Lord Mersey, Isaacs, and his assessors had been on board of Olympic on Monday May 6, 1912, and I supposed that Engineers might have explained that to them, but obviously I can't be sure for there were no report of any kind that came from that visit (I think ??)

Also, I would like to know if anyone here could describe to me the steps that were taken in the ER to put the ship at "reverse", starting from the moment they received the order from the Bridge, like they did on April 14. I found it in French but it was very short, like "The Chief Engineer turn the change-of-course steering wheel and change the damper's flap to allow the steam to change of direction". (Translation by myself from French, helped by "Word Reference" for technical terms, so my apologize if it is not very clear !). Thanks !
Lookup Stephenson linkage ... reversing steam engines.
 
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Tim Aldrich

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Frederick Scott's testimony at the British Inquiry sheds a bit of light on the stopping of Titanic's reciprocating engines. Stopping the engines is one thing but stopping them in the right place so they will start again is another. The engineers would surely know where the sweet spot was. The linkage (Stephenson linkage as mentioned previously) would have to be moved to the astern position, I do not know the exact methods Titanic was able to do this, and then steam admitted to the engine again. Had the engines not stopped in a favorable position there would have been many valves allowing the admittance of steam to different parts of the engine.

My general reference is Richard Sennet's book "The Marine Steam Engine" and it is a "must read" for any person interested in Titanic's propulsion machinery.


5621. "Stop," of course, comes at once?
- It comes at once. They cannot stop the engines at once.

5622. That is what I want. They cannot stop them at once?
- No; they are bound to let the steam get out of the cylinder first, otherwise they would blow the cylinder covers off if they tried to stop them at once.

5812. (The Commissioner.) Let us get it clear. There comes the order to stop?
- Yes.

5813. And that is obeyed by the engineers instantly?
- Yes.

5814. But you say there is some steam that has to be exhausted?
- Yes.

5815. And while that steam is being exhausted, although the engineer has stopped his engines - that is, say, done what is necessary to stop them - the engines continue to revolve?
- Yes.

5816. Now how long after the engineer has put on the stop do the engines revolve?
- About five revolutions.
 

Mike Spooner

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Kempton Park, has possibly the largest reciprocating steam engine of a direct similarity to that on the Titanic and Olympic, still in functional operation.., watching this video for example, means that even i, who has very little operational knowledge of steam engines, can sense from the sound and visuals of this three floor goliath, if it has stopped or changed direction... ive no doubt anyone in the presence of these engines, would realise what they were doing and when, and how long it took for that to happen. There are several videos on You Tube, and in comparison the those on the Titanic, this one really just ticks over slow. imagine it going at full speed.
The Kempton steam engines are not reversible. The photo shown is number number 7 engine is not a working engine, but used for guided tours to the top 6th floor. As the video shown the working engine is number 6 engine the same size as number 7 . The two turbines shown between the triples are number 8 & 9. One has a electric motor turning over the exposed turbines blades and water pumps.
If you want to see a quick changing triple expansion steam engine going into reserve you must take a sailing trip on the SS Shieldhall ship based at Southampton docks, practically next to berth 44 where Titanic set off for a maiden crossing.
 

Incony

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1. i never said the Kempton Park engines were reversible. 2. visiting the site one can quickly know there is only one working engine, and one on show. 3. the Kempton Park reciprocating engines are on the same scale as those in the Titanic, ive not measured their height length and breadth yet, but i am sure its not hard to see that they represent a similar scale. 4. if such a scale size engine, as the one at Kempton Park was able to turn at over 60 RPM, as the Titanic engines were before the collision, i am sure one would know looking and hearing it, it had stopped, and then later reversed, stopped, and then gone forward again... That was the the discussion, would someone who knew nothing about steam engines, see things happen that were not expected,and remember them. As much as i like the SS Sheildhall, and videos of its engines in operation are on You Tube too, its nowhere near the same scale engine as the Kempton Park Engine is, and at least the Kempton Park engine is closer to the Titanic era.. being built @ 1920.. One could fit an SS Sheildhall type ship inside the Titanic engine , generator and Shaft Tank rooms. , but The Kempton Park engines definitely give one an idea of how big the engine room was in the Titanic.? here is a video of the SS Sheildhall engine room its tiny in comparison.
 

Mike Spooner

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A good U tube of the SS Sheildhall. Yes I would agree the engines are only a mini size version of Titanic. But never a less one gets a good impression in standing so close between the two working steam engines. The smell, the heat, noise and the general escaping steam. Great stuff indeed. I guest the telegraphs between bridge and engine room in operation is great to see and must of been much the same as used on Titanic to. If that was the case one can see valuable seconds are lost before coming into action. O though I thought reversing the engines were pretty quick at 70-80rpm within a couple of seconds. As what is said on Titanic seem to take at 75rpm about half a minute before reversing!
Subject to Boris rules there is a sailing date 15 May 2021 Titanic Cruise on Shieldhall where a talk or lecturer may take place. As in the past Ann Victoria Roberts talks on her book THE MASTER'S TALE. Base on Captain Smith wife Sarah Eleanor life. Unfortunately the book does mix up facts with fantasy. I wouldn't dare bring up the book up for discussion on ET. You would have a field day on it. Ann husband Peter is one of the Captains on the ship and easy talk to. The bridge is very much of the past to, none of this today computer technology. Again I can see the bridge operation as on Titanic was. But on a mini scale. If Boris gives the OK I will go on the afternoon cruise.
 

Stephen Carey

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Here is a damn good question !! Starting from the point that it is obvious that they've thought about it in 1912, the other good question is why did they not did that ? I know that Lord Mersey, Isaacs, and his assessors had been on board of Olympic on Monday May 6, 1912, and I supposed that Engineers might have explained that to them, but obviously I can't be sure for there were no report of any kind that came from that visit (I think ??)

Also, I would like to know if anyone here could describe to me the steps that were taken in the ER to put the ship at "reverse", starting from the moment they received the order from the Bridge, like they did on April 14. I found it in French but it was very short, like "The Chief Engineer turn the change-of-course steering wheel and change the damper's flap to allow the steam to change of direction". (Translation by myself from French, helped by "Word Reference" for technical terms, so my apologize if it is not very clear !). Thanks !
I wrote about that at the head of this post I think Kareen? Not sure how to negotiate this site though! If you can't find it, let me know on [email protected] and I'll copy it over. I gave an explanation of how it's done on a modern ship, which isn't much different to a steam recip, plus an idea of what they would have done on Titanic at the time.
 

Jim Currie

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Isn't it true that during her sea trials, it took Titanic at least half a mile to go from Full Speed to Full Astern and come to a complete stop?
I believe so Cam. but that example cannot be linked to the accident, because while the steam pressure and propeller revs were falling, Titanic was under full left rudder. Those who have conducted hard-over trials have found that the ship's speed drops dramatically during such a turn - even with the engines still running at full. In the case of a 2000 ton ship making 14 knots, her speed fell to 7 knots before she completed a full turn. and the telegraphs were never touched.
You can bet that Titanic slowed even more dramatically due to her hull's forward motion being impeded while the engines were slowing down.
 
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Cam Houseman

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I believe so Cam. but that example cannot be linked to the accident, because while the steam pressure and propeller revs were falling, Titanic was under full left rudder. Those who have conducted hard-over trials have found that the ship's speed drops dramatically during such a turn - even with the engines still running at full. In the case of a 2000 ton ship making 14 knots, her speed fell to 7 knots before she completed a full turn. and the telegraphs were never touched.
You can bet that Titanic slowed even more dramatically due to her hull's forward motion being impeded while the engines were slowing down.
Meant to reply to this, sorry

So, even when Titanic's engines were set to STOP, she slowed down which restricted her ability to turn somewhat?
 

Jim Currie

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Meant to reply to this, sorry

So, even when Titanic's engines were set to STOP, she slowed down which restricted her ability to turn somewhat?
Absolutely! It would not be long before the props stopped turning and before them, the turbine at 50 rpm. The latter was the prime activator in the flow across the rudder. In a short space of time. all three would be dragged at speed and create enormous turbulence around the rudder. This has been argued over before.
 
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