Ismay's role in the ship's navigation

For the first time i started looking into the Titanic Inquiry website. Let me first of all say that I think the website was excellent, however one thing puzzled me about Bruce Ismay's questioning.
Look at the following:

Senator SMITH. Did you have occasion to consult with the captain about the movement of the ship?

Mr. ISMAY. Never.

Senator SMITH. Did he consult you about it?

Mr. ISMAY. Never. Perhaps I am wrong in saying that. I should like to say this: I do not know that it was quite a matter of consulting him about it, of his consulting me about it, but what we had arranged to do was that we would not attempt to arrive in New York at the lightship before 5 o'clock on Wednesday morning.

Senator SMITH. That was the understanding?

Mr. ISMAY. Yes. But that was arranged before we left Queenstown.

Senator SMITH. Was it supposed that you could reach New York at that time without putting the ship to its full running capacity?

Mr. ISMAY. Oh, yes, sir. There was nothing to be gained by arriving at New York any earlier than that.

My question is this, Was it not true that Ismay very much encouraged Captain Smith to make the Titanic go at full speed? And that he wanted to reach New York sooner in order to beat the Olympic? In the book Ghosts Of The Abyss, which I think might be the best book ever, Don Lynch writes the following:

"On Saturday, April 13, Mrs. Elizabeth Lines chose a corner of the room to have a cup of coffee after luncheon. Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay entered as she was sitting there and took a seat only a few feet away. 'Well we made a better run today than we did yesterday`, Ismay said to Smith. `We will make a better run tomorrow. Things are working smoothly, the machinery is bearing the test, the boilers are working well.` Smith nodded silently as Ismay spoke. Finally Ismay brought his fist down on the arm of the settee and announced to Smith, 'We will beat the Olympic and get in to new york on Tuesday.`"

Was Ismay infact, if not being completely dishonest, making the truth look better?

Best wishes,
>>My question is this, Was it not true that Ismay very much encouraged Captain Smith to make the Titanic go at full speed?<<

We don't know. I don't think anybody really knows for a 100% non-debatable fact what happened other then Captain Smith and Bruce Ismay themselves and unless you care to dial 1-800-HEREAFTER, they're no longer inclined to discuss the matter.

For my own money, I don't think that Ismay was being completely honest about things. His "I'm just a passenger" front notwithstanding, he wasn't a disinterested rider by any stretch of the imagination. He kept an eye on things and stayed informed. This is not a bad thing in and of itself as he was the director of the line. It would only be natural for him to keep up on what was going on.

Whether or not he actually interfered with the ship's navigation is another question entirely and opinions vary wildly. On some level he may have been egging Captain Smith on. Or that conversation overheard by Mrs. Lines may have been enthusiasm at the ship's performance.

The thing is that there was nothing unusual in the way the Titanic was navigated or mananged in and of itself. She was gradually run up to what would have been her expected service speed over time (The Olympic's were 21 knot ships) and may have been doing slightly better then her expected service speed at the time of the accident. If Ismay was enthusiastic about that, It's fairly easy to see how it could be misinterpreted.
Henrick: You might want to read the following article by J. Kent Layton at Also, if you can find a copy, I also recommend George Behe's book, "Titanic - Safety, Speed and Acrifice." As you go through these you will see that the evidence it quite strong that Ismay was hoping to better Olympic's maiden voyage crossing. What he had to gain was publicity. On the night of April 14th, the ship was measured doing 22.5 knots through the water, and she had already averaged just over 22 knots over ground between noon April 13th and noon April 14th.

Notice that in Ismay's response concerning the arrangement with Capt. Smith that they would not attempt to reach Ambrose lightship before 5 AM Wednesday morning, he stated that that particular arrangement was made before they left Queenstown. Now what transpired during the trip is something else.


  • Article The Arrival That Never Took Place.pdf
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>>A ship-owner's son and a Harrow scholar who didn't understand latitude and longitude? Gimme a break!<<

It does have a ripe smell, doesn't it? Ismay was no dolt, and he maintained an interest in shipping news and issues up to the day he finally passed on the Whatever Lies In The Great Beyond. While I don't think he could have crunched the numbers they way a top navigator like Joe Boxhall could, I doubt very much he was ignorant of the fundementals.
Bruce Ismay could never be "just a passenger" as long as he held the title and position within White Star that was his. The boss is the boss and his influence exists whenever he is present--seen or unseen. Everyone who works for a living knows that. So do sea lawyers. That's why even in Ismay's time many shipping lines had a practice of not allowing company executives to sail on company ships.

The reason is that ol' bugaboo "privity and knowledge." A shipping company's limitation of liability against damages is (and was at that time) based on the concept that company executives had no control over a vessel once it went beyond the horizon. Just by being on the ship, Ismay at least had knowledge of the voyage and its conduct.

So, Ismay's presence on the ship opened a curious can o'worms for White Star. His own admission of talking to Chief Engineer Bell about the speed over the days of the voyage pretty much ended any argument on White Star's behalf that Ismay had no "privity and knowledge" of what transpired.

Then, he showed up on the bridge during the emergency of the iceberg. Not afterward, he showed up during. No passenger had permission or authority to walk onto the bridge. By doing so, Ismay admitted by his actions that his status was something else besides an ordinary passenger.

If a shipping line executive acted as Ismay in 2012, I'm sure the judge would ask the modern executive to hand up his clock for an economic cleaning. In 1912, things were different.

-- David G. Brown
Voicing expectations to the Captain by the head of the line was probably taken a little differently than if those same expectations were voiced by any other passenger. Ismay was also to deny knowing that they lit up extra boilers on Sunday morning, yet there were several different accounts of him having conversations with passengers that said otherwise. David is absolutely correct on this one. It is inconceivable to me that Bruce Ismay would be taken as just another first class passenger.
Hi Dave,

This has been argued for years.

And will be for years to come, I would wager.

I take the view that there is no evidence for Ismay influencing the speed of Titanic.

You’re aware of Lines’ testimony which you mentioned in your own post. Her statement that she heard Ismay declare ‘We will beat the Olympic and get into New York on Tuesday,’ for instance, most definitely is evidence. How you interpret it is another issue, but it’s inaccurate to say that there is ‘no evidence’ as you say in your above post. It's necessary to look at the totality of Lines' statement as well as the impression she gained as to Ismay's manner during the conversation, where she felt he was IIRC 'almost dictatorial'. Even if you take the view that Ismay was expressing satisfaction with the ship's speed rather than pressing Captain Smith, then I find it hard to see how this statement to Captain Smith on Ismay's part might not have influenced him to some degree.

All the concrete evidence is that the voyage was a routine one, made in favourable conditions by a captain who liked to get a move on. Smith may well have liked to get a bit of time in hand, in case of delays caused by weather or ice.

What evidence do you regard as ‘concrete’?

As regards getting some time in reserve, I would have thought it entirely sensible regardless of whether a Tuesday arrival was intended or not. It does not necessarily prove or disprove it. Smith's reputation for 'getting a move on' hardly disproves the view that it was intended for Titanic to better the Olympic's crossing time and arrive on the Tuesday side of midnight. In fact, it may have made him more amenable to the idea when Ismay expressed the view to him that 'We will beat the Olympic and get into New York on Tuesday.'

Some facts are verifiable. Excuse me for omitting calculations.

By the way, Layton's paper has a hole in it that Titanic could steam through. Sam should be able to spot it.

You mentioned that on the Titanic-Titanic forum discussion a week or so ago. However, you’ve never clarified what you think the problem with the paper is and never bothered to reply to my post. Perhaps, barring someone guessing it, you could do so in your reply rather than casting doubt on Kent’s research without stating exactly what it is? That way, rather than sowing the seeds of doubt on the paper itself and the arguments within, it would be possible to debate viewpoints. I would have thought the author deserved the chance to respond to a specific question or point.

Titanic was inherently faster than Olympic was in June 1911. Her propellers had been tweaked in the light of experience with Olympic. For a given rpm, she was a fraction of a knot faster.

I entirely agree. It seems Titanic was performing better than her sister.

Titanic began her voyage From Daunt Rock a little faster than did Olympic. She was about half a knot faster on Thursday. On Friday, Titanic slowed a little and frittered away her lead in the "race".

The lead declined from around 56 to 41 miles, it did not vanish as you imply here. Titanic was just over two hours ahead (steaming at twenty knots), or one hour forty-nine minutes at 22½ knots. By Sunday noon, the day’s run of 546 miles increased the lead to 45 miles. In that Olympic’s fourth full day’s run was 525 miles, if Titanic had merely run another 546 miles for the fourth run then she would have increased her lead by another hour or so. In fact, additional boilers were being brought online to increase speed further. To my mind, a run in the region of 555-560 miles hardly seems impossible.

Remember that even big ships are influenced by wind and current. There's nothing odd there. On Saturday, Titanic went about one knot faster and by the Sunday evening she was in a position to better Olympic's maiden voyage time.


…There's no doubt that, barring ice or fog, Titanic was going to reach the Ambrose light late on Tuesday night.

I agree.

Other than his open statement that he wanted a speed trial on Monday of Tuesday, there's no evidence that Ismay wanted to influence the ship's speed.

I disagree. Earlier you said: ‘that there is no evidence for Ismay influencing the speed of Titanic.’ Now you qualify that by dismissing the issue of the speed trial by saying ‘other than’ that ‘there’s no evidence that Ismay wanted to influence the ship’s speed.’ Well, that’s not true either. As I have said, Lines’ testimony is still evidence, whether you view it with disdain or not. No matter how much credibility you might assign to this source it is simply (IMHO) misleading to indicate that it does not exist.

They certainly were true. All was right in the engine room and Titanic was set to arrive on Tuesday night.


Best regards,

I regard navigational facts as far more important than what anybody said. They show there was precious little difference between the two voyages.

Think about the hole in Layton's reasoning. Titanic's supposed 56 mile lead after the first day is based on a basic error. Was Titanic really going 2 - 3 knots faster than Olympic? He's not comparing apples with apples.
Hi Dave,

I regard navigational facts as far more important than what anybody said. They show there was precious little difference between the two voyages.

While the navigational data is important, I hardly think ignoring some of the statements people made as to the Tuesday arrival (as you appeared to do) is a valid method of debate. Since Titanic did not complete her voyage we can only base our conclusions as to the intended arrival time based on our knowledge of the ship’s speed up to the collision, the fact that she would have had to decrease her speed by about 2½ knots in order to arrive after 5 a.m. on Wednesday (the arrival time Ismay claimed to Mersey) and the preparations that were being made to speed up. Titanic had made better time than Olympic prior to the collision, and it's simply impossible to tell what would have happened had she avoided the iceberg. As this was the maiden voyage, I think it quite logical that the engines' speed would gradually be increased so that the optimum speed was attained nearer to the end of the voyage. We know that by the time of the collision the number of Titanic's boilers lit had matched the number in use at any one time onboard Olympic the previous year, and we know of the preparations to light the remainder which can only have helped increase the ship's speed. I agree with George Behe’s statement in the previous debate that:

‘Although you might consider it insignificant, it nevertheless would have permitted White Star to boast that the Titanic had bettered Olympic's maiden voyage crossing time by "four whole hours" -- a statement that would [or may — MDC] have been perfectly satisfactory to White Star's publicity department. From my own viewpoint, though, the fact that (in a "maiden voyage race") Titanic would have pulled roughly a hundred miles ahead of her sister ship by the end of the voyage is hardly insignificant.’

While I see no prospect whatsoever of us agreeing on this subject, I am sure there must be plenty of people reading this discussion who may be interested.

Think about the hole in Layton's reasoning. Titanic's supposed 56 mile lead after the first day is based on a basic error. Was Titanic really going 2 - 3 knots faster than Olympic? He's not comparing apples with apples.

It’s quite obvious that a ship’s speed will vary depending on the time taken to run a certain number of miles. Sam Halpern has written extensively on the topic of Titanic's navigation and his insights would be interesting.

Best wishes,

Mr. Gittins,

Think about the hole in Layton's reasoning. Titanic's supposed 56 mile lead after the first day is based on a basic error. Was Titanic really going 2 - 3 knots faster than Olympic? He's not comparing apples with apples.

It IS comparing apples with apples. On each successive day of the crossing, the ship's position was established, as well as the exact number of miles she had traversed in the previous day. Those ships were navigated very accurately; it was not uncommon for the Lusitania or Mauretania (or other ships of the period) to run the same miles on each crossing, with perhaps a difference of one or two miles on some. So if the runs the Titanic was making were higher than those reported by the Olympic, it is comparing apples to apples.

You and I both agree that the Titanic was designed to be faster than the Olympic - Bruce Ismay said as much in his testimony. So what's the problem? You seem to double-talk a lot, and I can't make heads or tails out of your position.
Mr. Gittins,

The exact length of the day would depend on how fast one is steaming, to be precise. Thursday's figures would have depended on the two times that the ships passed Daunt's Rock. Because a calculation was not taken on Monday at noon, we also don't know how much of a lead Titanic would have had over the Olympic in that day's steaming.

The fundamental problem with your statements is that you are arguing that because of the Titanic's differing departure point of Queenstown, she was not going any faster than the Olympic; in the same breath, you are also stating that the Titanic was, indeed, faster than the Olympic. You can't fall on two sides of the issue.

Bill West

Dave I don’t suppose you are thinking of how much the time changes were Wednesday and Thursday night? In my frail figuring for the Titanic I had to use 34 mins change Wednesday night and the well known 58 minutes for Thursday in order to fit later positions. But recently Sam posted info from the Olympic’s log for July 1911 and I only get the positions and speed to work with zero change for it’s Wednesday and 90 minutes change Thursday. I’m even wondering if the navigation figures are on this basis while the passengers were handed a nicer 33 & 57 minute program. Even so if the Titanic’s Thursday to Friday really was 32 minutes shorter that will sure put a spanner in any mileage comparisons.