October 2015 Topic of the Month


Nov 13, 2014
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Hi everybody,

I got an idea for a Topic of the Month and I'd like to publish it now:

In what way did human errors contribute to the sinking?
Or...
Could anyone be to 'blame' for the sinking of the Titanic?

Please post your opinion.
 

Adam Went

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Hi Christophe,

Thank you for taking it upon yourself to start a topic of the month for October, as I am a little behind with it and stumped for ideas.

To answer your question, I think it's unfair to blame any single person for the sinking of Titanic. I think if human error can be blamed, it was perhaps in an over-reliance on technology and prestige, with respect for the elements of nature perhaps not being given the consideration they deserved - i.e. the ice warnings. Once the iceberg was spotted, I don't think there's anything more anyone could have done to reasonably save the ship from sinking, and therefore nobody can be blamed - if at all - from that point on. Any human error had occurred long before that moment.

Cheers,
Adam.,
 

B-rad

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This topic brings to mind a bit of my 'Note to the Reader', from my book, in which I wrote:

With no outside element, besides that notorious iceberg (perhaps the idea of a villian isn't presumptuous after all), it is safe to say that it all came down to the human element. From its design to its handling, the story of Titanic is rooted in the human condition of foresite. Was Titanic designed to withstand the damage and flooding? Was the crew acting in the best interest of human lives? What did they know? What did they do? Was such a disaster foreseeable, or was everyone blinded in the hubris that was the gilded age? Or, as Second Officer Lightoller would coin, was everything against them?
 
Sep 11, 2015
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The issue of blame is always an interesting topic with Titanic. I have read a lot of great threads on this site with passionate support for blaming/not blaming certain individuals/groups. I believe there were two major mistakes in the Titanic tragedy, both of which can be blamed on Captain Smith and his officers. The first mistake was the inability of Captain Smith and his officers to realize the enormity of the ice field they were steaming towards in the dark of night. Significantly slowing down or changing course were the only options, and neither was done. Once that failure occurred, they were rolling the dice. You could say Stanley Lord on the Californian did the same thing, and that he was lucky enough to encounter small amounts of ice and stop in time without damaging his ship. Rostron on the Carpathia took the same risk also. Titanic was unlucky in that (presumably) the first ice she encountered was a large iceberg that was seen too late. I don't really know the various different types of ice that a ship could encounter in the North Atlantic, but it would appear the ice field that sank Titanic was no ordinary danger. It was massive, and there was no chance at all of navigating it in the dark of night. It would also appear Captain Smith and his officers had the necessary ice warnings from other ships to make that determination. I'm sure we could nitpick all the messages and come up with reasons why Captain Smith and his officers could not have known what they were up against, but I just don't buy it. They steamed at high speed straight at an impenetrable ice field, sinking their ship and causing the deaths of 1,500 souls, and for that they must take the blame.
The other mistake Captain Smith and his officers made was in not saving more lives with the lifeboats they had. This has also been passionately debated here. While I certainly don't think Smith or his men were dazed or incompetent, and while I think they were heroic in many ways, I do believe they could have saved at least all the women and children on the ship. The failure to make a coordinated effort to get the women and children from steerage up to the boats is, for lack of a better word, inexcusable. The failure to plan ahead and have Collapsibles A and B ready to launch also looks pretty bad. I'm sure they wanted to avoid a panic, but the idea that steerage men would storm the boats rather than help save the lives of their wives and children seems silly at best and racist at worst. I know the officers were under pressure and in an unfamiliar situation, and had just one chance to get right what we can spend hours and years analyzing from the safety of our armchairs, but I still can't escape the conclusion that more lives should have been saved.
 
Nov 13, 2014
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Some very interesting opinions so far.

Indeed, Captain Smith and his officers are praised as heroes a lot here, and there is no doubt they were, because they saved as many as 712 souls from a rapidly sinking ship. However, the British Inquiry clearly said Smith could not be blamed at all, while he actually had final responsibility for everything that happened here, as a Captain. The US Inquiry did give blame to Smith and his officers, they knew exactly where the ice field was and didn't stop for it like Lord did.

But this topic can go beyond 'blame', I also wanted to consider 'accidents', unwanted decisions that led to disaster, maybe even before the voyage.
 

Jim Currie

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[QUOTE=Christophe Puttemans;377437]Some very interesting opinions so far.

Indeed, Captain Smith and his officers are praised as heroes a lot here, and there is no doubt they were, because they saved as many as 712 souls from a rapidly sinking ship. However, the British Inquiry clearly said Smith could not be blamed at all, while he actually had final responsibility for everything that happened here, as a Captain.


Careful examination of all relevant evidence will show that Captain Smith did not receive wireless warnings that an ice barrier was barring the way of his vessel. Keep in mind that it was Smith who had the ultimate responsibility. He simply followed the normal practice of all North Atlantic men of the day. For that he could not be blamed.
Titanic hit the ice berg about 3.5 miles east of the ice barrier therefore the barrier played no part in her demise. As a North Atlantic man of vast experience, he would have made certain assumptions as to the movement of the ice he did know about. These would suggest to him that the ice would move away and the the north eastward of his planned course. It follows that the observation of 2nd Officer Lightoller was as near as we will ever get to unsophisticated fact.

The US Inquiry did give blame to Smith and his officers, they knew exactly where the ice field was and didn't stop for it like Lord did.

They certainly did and did so in a culpable way in so much as that when they complied their final report, they without doubt knew very well that Titanic could not have been anywhere near her published distress position when she hit the iceberg. Instead, they and those on the other side of the Atlantic chose to publish a modified version of Titanic's movements and positions right up until she hit the iceberg.

But this topic can go beyond 'blame', I also wanted to consider 'accidents', unwanted decisions that led to disaster, maybe even before the voyage.[/QUOTE]

As a former Marine Accident Surveyor for Underwriters, I'll take a rain check on that one if I may. I would simply point out that any decision that results in an accident is 'unwanted'. A decision is normally made after consulting available data and applying it to technical knowledge and experience. That's exactly what every Ship Master did in 1912 and does so to this very day. "Spilled milk" comes to mind.

Jim C.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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>>Careful examination of all relevant evidence will show that Captain Smith did not receive wireless warnings that an ice barrier was barring the way of his vessel.<<

Yet, according to Lightoller, her officers expected to be up to the ice sometime that night. And the conversation between Smith and Lightoller, if accurate, indicates that Smith expected the same. So although he may not have known the precise extent and position of the pack ice field or where specific bergs would be, he fully expected to be up to ice that night and reviewed what to look for with Lightoller between 9 and 9:30 that night. Knowing all that, he could have done what Capt. Moore did and take his ship further southward of the corner before turning for NY. But he chose not to, and took a calculated risk that his lookouts and officers would spot any danger in time to be avoided. He was wrong.
 

Jules934

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In what way did human errors lead to the sinking of the Titanic?

I’ll take one from the very beginning of the voyage – the near collision with the New York when, with the same Pilot at Titanic’s controls as on the day the Hawke was sucked into Olympic’s side, the New York was sucked from her moorings to within 3 to 4 feet of Titanic. Quick action by Captain Smith and Captain Gale of the tug, Vulcan, saved the day. Untouched, after an hour’s delay, Titanic continued on her way.

Without that hour’s delay, Titanic would have been at the fatal location 60 minutes before the iceberg.

But, then again, if the two Captains hadn’t intervened, Titanic wouldn’t have left Southampton at all that day.
 

Jim Currie

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Yet, according to Lightoller, her officers expected to be up to the ice sometime that night. And the conversation between Smith and Lightoller, if accurate, indicates that Smith expected the same.So although he may not have known the precise extent and position of the pack ice field or where specific bergs would be, he fully expected to be up to ice that night and reviewed what to look for with Lightoller between 9 and 9:30 that night.

That is so Sam. However, his ice information was historic. As I said before, he would apply his experience of the ice in the area to the ageing intelligence and conclude that to all intents and purposes, the ice he did know about would be long gone. I presume you are talking about the Caronia warning:

''Captain, Titanic west bound report bergs, growlers and Field ice in 42*N, from 49* to 51*W, compliments, Barr'

I think you will find somewhere in the evidence that in 1912, they paid less attention to longitude than to latitude of ice reports and that in the region of operation they expected ice to set east and northward. Notwithstanding that, the planned course of Titanic was 8 miles south of latitude 42 north in longitude 49 West. Despite that, the officers and captain of Titanic exercised caution in that they noted the longitude and considered the outside possibility of stray ice to the south of 42 north when they reached the longitude of 49 West.

"Knowing all that, he could have done what Capt. Moore did and take his ship further southward of the corner before turning for NY. But he chose not to, and took a calculated risk that his lookouts and officers would spot any danger in time to be avoided. He was wrong".


But Captain Moore of the Mount Temple did exactly the same thing as did Smith. He did not know about the ice barrier but as a result of an ice warning from Corinthian, he steered a course that would take him 10 miles to the south of where Corinthian's captain saw ice.

"I immediately steered down to pass 50º west in 41º 15' north, sir - that is, I was giving the ice 10 miles - and I came down and saw no ice whatever."

In fact, Moore was a very lucky man. He possibly passed unscathed through the area of large bergs encountered by Carpathia on her rescue run. He may also have passed through the area where La Provence saw icebergs

Copy of Vessel plot.JPG

Both of these experienced men did more or less the same thing based on the intelligence they had. One was lucky, the other was not. Condemnation in any form is, in my opinion, without factual foundation.

Jim C.

Copy of Vessel plot.JPG
 
Mar 22, 2003
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No Jim, talking about the Baltic MSG message:

Captain Smith, ‘Titanic.’ - Have had moderate, variable winds and clear, fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer ‘Athenai’ reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice to-day in lat. 41° 51’ N., long. 49° 52’ W. ...

That report puts bergs and field ice almost directly in her path. That was received well before Smith reached the corner. He could have taken his vessel further south to give it a wide berth, but he didn't.
 

Jim Currie

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No Jim, talking about the Baltic MSG message:

Captain Smith, ‘Titanic.’ - Have had moderate, variable winds and clear, fine weather since leaving. Greek steamer ‘Athenai’ reports passing icebergs and large quantities of field ice to-day in lat. 41° 51’ N., long. 49° 52’ W. ...

That report puts bergs and field ice almost directly in her path. That was received well before Smith reached the corner. He could have taken his vessel further south to give it a wide berth, but he didn't.

Thanks Sam.

But.. you knew there would be one....the information in that Baltic message was second hand and not a specific ice warning. It placed the ice 10 miles south of where the Caronia message put it. Bear in mind that when it was received, the noon position had already been ascertained. I believe Titanic was to the south and east of the last leg of the Great Circle track at Noon on April 14 because her last course before The Corner was about 240 True. She should have been on 236 True if right on the line. Smith would most certainly know the reason for this and would expect that reason to continue to effect the passage of his ship and set her to the eastward and southward. Perhaps that's why Boxhall believed she was south of The Corner when she turned. If Smith believed that too then he would also believe that he would be well south of the second-hand ice report contained in the Baltic message by the time Titanic reached 49 west. If all things were equal; even the Baltic ice would have moved-on 12 miles further to the east and north by the time Titanic reached the danger zone.

Jim C.
 

Jim Currie

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PS: We should consider this subject in full. So far, most people have judged Smith on the basis that only Titanic was moving and that any ice reported to him would remain in the same place until Titanic got up to it.
On the other hand, you Sam, and many others have upheld the ice was moving south under the influence of the Labrador Current theory. If that were so, then the ice reported by Baltic would have been at least 12 miles to the SSW of Titanic's planned track and the ice reported by Caronia would have been at least 4 miles to the SSW of it.
Had you been on the bridge of Titanic that day and believed the Labrador Current theory, what would you have done to make sure you kept your ship clear of ice danger?

Jim C.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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>>most people have judged Smith on the basis that only Titanic was moving and that any ice reported to him would remain in the same place until Titanic got up to it. <<

That is not so. Ice is known to drift. Some believed that latitude alone cannot be relied upon. For example, Lightoller:


13480. Here was a message shown you which referred to ice in latitude 42 N? - Yes.
13481. Do you recollect, or can you help us at all, did that indication 42 N. indicate to you that it was near where you were likely to go? - It would, had I taken particular notice of the latitude, though as a matter of fact, latitude with regard to ice conveys so very little.
13482. Is that because it tends to set north or south? - North and south, yes.
13483. (The Commissioner.) I do not follow that? - We take very little notice of the latitude because it conveys very little. You cannot rely on latitude.
13484. (The Solicitor-General.) For ice? - Yes.
13485. (The Solicitor-General.) He answered that “because the ice tends to set north and south.” (To the Witness.) Then do you attach more importance to the longitude? - Far more.
13486. I notice your recollection of the message is you recollect 49 and 51 W.? - Distinctly.
 

Jim Currie

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That is not so. Ice is known to drift. Some believed that latitude alone cannot be relied upon. For example, Lightoller:

Lightholler was 'blowing smoke' Sam. He did it quite a lot. Take for example his observation "latitude conveys very little". That was coming from a man who I presume was at one time in charge of the 4-8 Watch. Such a notion would have every 1st Mate turning in his grave.

Your observation "Ice is known to drift" does not stand alone. We both know that ice drifts under an external force... wind and or current. When both are absent, it stays in the same place. Lightholler new the same and expected any ice to move in the way it always did ( until that night) in that area. Captain Smith knew that too, as did Boxhall and Captain Moore of the Mount Temple. The last two declared that they expected to come under the Gulf Stream in the area in question.
I suggest that Lightholler was doing a bad job of attempting to point out to his questioners what I'm pointing out here. In other words, he was telling them that yes; ice drifts and that without knowledge of the direction and rate, latitude alone with reference to historic position is useless. Where he really goes of the rails is in the following exchange.. the one that was suggested to him:

13482. Is that because it tends to set north or south? - North and south, yes.

13485. (The Solicitor-General.) He answered that “because the ice tends to set north and south.” (To the Witness.) Then do you attach more importance to the longitude? - Far more.



The above statement by the Solicitor General is evidence of ignorance camouflaged by pure pomposity at best or a deliberate attempt to put words in the mouth of the witness. Thus he led him and neatly brought thoughts round to comfortably match the then limitations in ice movement knowledge.
Think about the following two questions.

A: What is the relationship between longitude and ice moving south or north?.
B: Where in the North Atlantic does ice move directly south or for that matter, North?

13486. I notice your recollection of the message is you recollect 49 and 51 W.? - Distinctly.

More " smoke"! Lightholler simply verified what he said in the first place which was "It would, had I taken particular notice of the latitude These two longitudes are totally useless without a latitude reference and Lightholler knew that very well. He and we both know very well that without a latitude, there would be no way of determining if the reported ice presented a clear and present danger to Titanic. Yet he blatantly declared "We take very little notice of the latitude because it conveys very little. You cannot rely on latitude.". "This guy wasn't real" to use a phrase borrowed from my grandchildren.

Jim C.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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It's kind of funny, but I could easily relate to Lightoller putting more importance to longitude than to latitude in those position reports. As a private pilot, if I was flying at night heading westward and heard that scattered thunder cells were reported popping up several hundreds of miles west and a little to the north of my route, my concern would be how long before I would come up to a line that extended more or less N-S from those reported positions knowing that other cells might pop up directly in my path. Of course I would take into account the general eastward movement of the cells and the westward movement of my aircraft in estimating when I would expect to be up to an approaching line. My choices would be to continue on if I had a very good chance of reaching my landing site well before an approaching line, or divert to an alternate site well away from where I was originally headed.

You asked, "Had you been on the bridge of Titanic that day and believed the Labrador Current theory, what would you have done to make sure you kept your ship clear of ice danger?"
First, assuming I had access to only to the reports that Titanic received that day, I would be very much aware that ice was reported very close to my intended route. I also would have known that, in general, ice drifts southward with the Labrador until it reaches the Gulf current and then travels northeasterly. That is the expected movement. However, to be on the safe side, I would continue well past the corner point before setting a new course for NY as Capt. Moore did, while still keeping a sharp lookout in case I met up with ice much further south than what I might otherwise expect. The Baltic message, which Smith knew about and acknowledged, put reported bergs and field ice only 3 miles north of their route.
 

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