Personnel decisions impelling collision


R L W

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Those familiar with the Titanic history will be aware of the officer reassignment in the last days before sailing. As a student of maritime history and a veteran of a sea service, I was struck by several factors, relating in large measure to leadership and the psychology of chain of command, but also to professional and physiological factors.
My first point relates to Captain Smith, who inadvertently set the stage for a breakdown in trust that would impact the last major opportunity to avoid ice risk, that would impact early detection, that would affect evasion, and that even would affect the rescue opportunity of the nearest ship. Other points are resultant from that first decision.
Officer assignments for Titanic reflected the best available for the new ship. Smith being drawn out of retirement for this trip, likely would have given Captaincy to the Chief Officer, after the round trip. Murdoch, who had a long record, and had evaded collisions in the past, was ideal. All the officers would have gotten insignia on new uniforms for this assignment, and the last minute change caused inconvenience and expense, not to mention the implied lack of confidence. While that was surely not Smith's intent, it was the effect. In addition, trust in his judgment would have been shaken, as he surely should have known far enough ahead to have avoided this in the first place. So he started the voyage with a fracture in the bonds which officers had already begun to form. This upset was part of the reason Second Officer Blair left with the key to the lookout glasses locker. That would figure later, but not as you think.
Trust in the Captain was further eroded by his allowing chairnan Ismay to have access to ice reports and to dictate the speed of the ship, particularly since Ismay had no Master's Certificate nor even a Seamanship License. When Ismay directed that the ship should push to arrive Tuesday evening instead of as scheduled on Wednesday morning, Smith should have declined, but he went along with it. This was to prove costly.
Ship's run had been consistently slightly ahead of estimates, so arrival time was predicted. Some passengers paid for wireless messages to confirm travel arrangements from landing. Others paid for souvenir messages from Titanic. With atmospherics as they were, wireless traffic to shore was only possible at night. When arrival plans changed, Phillips lost a night to send messages, and he gained a new stack of messages for passengers changing travel plans. For that reason, he snapped at Evans in Californian, who then shut off his wireless for the night and so missed the CQD.
But that would have been moot, had arrival plans stayed as set. You see, since the ship was running fast, the navigator, who was plotting Great Circle, plotted to let her continue southerly for a couple of hours past the normal eastward corner, which would have run her well south of the ice field. But because of Ismay's change, and in the impatient, distrustful environment Smith had created, a senior officer changed the plot to bring the course morw northerly, to shave time to meet Ismay's whim, a plot change that brought the ship to the very midst of the icefield, where she actually collided.
Even there, inevitability could have been avoided. Fleet said that lookouts only used glasses for a better look at an object once seen, but the reality is, a lookout will use glasses when he thinks an object is there. It is a fact that glasses are used frequently, more often to aver a suspicion than to confirm a certainty. And therein is the critical point: glasses would likely have been raised when the berg movement was first detectable. We must note that night vision is in the periphery of the retina, so that staring at an object is less useful than looking askance. Now, with spyglasses, the eye naturally scans the rim of the field, versus the simple center, meaning retinal edge detection is more likely. But another factor weighs in: glasses will collect ambient light, such as starlight, and render visible some items not visible with unaided eyes. They may have spotted that shadow anywhere from a few seconds to a minute earlier.
Now we touch on a truly sad factor, ironically the result of professional pride. If you have noticed, Murdoch had a decided squint, likely from a desire to avoid using glasses, which many officers regarded as a sign of lubberliness. Lightiller had a wide eyed gaze. We all know that, at night, a squint is hurtful to vision. When the alert was given, Murdoch dutifully attempted to see the object and gauge its movement before giving his command. His squint would have cost him time in seeing what wide eyes would have shown sooner. It is true that he could not technically give a command without first seeing the object, but all things being equal, Murdoch could have ordered "hard astarboard" immediately: he knew the current there would drive the object athwart their course, tiwsrd starboard; and he knew a triple screw ship always fetched handier to port than to starboard, so giving her starboard helm (to turn to port) was the sensible command, regardless.
Now, I mentioned the cost of Smith's reassignments. Had the roster stayed intact, knowing the White Star's watch schedule was set by company regulations, Lightoller, who was known for excellent night vision, would have been on duty at 11:40, and rather than the time it took Murdoch, would have seen the berg and turned sooner.
The record of Second Officer Bissett, of Cunard, also known for night vision, recounts how he spotted some bergs before the lookouts, as Carpathia sped to help Titanic.
Captain Smith meant well, but his simple failure in a small leadership decision had enormous cost. And the gravest irony of all, is that Wilde, whom Smith sought for his ability with Olympic, is not remembered as having done a thing the night of the wreck. I seriously believe he sensed the resentment and stayed scarce throughout the voyage. I suspect, all things weighed in his mind, Wilde could not handle the crisis and was the officer suicide documented by a Frenchman.
 

Rose F.

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So, first off: There is no concrete evidence that Ismay pushed for Smith to have the Titanic arrive early. The closest we get is from Elizabeth Lines:
"I heard [Ismay] give the length of the run, and I heard him say "Well, we did better to-day than we did yesterday, we made a better run to-day than we did yesterday, we will make a better run to-morrow. Things are working smoothly, the machinery is bearing the test, the boilers are working well". They went on discussing it, and then I heard him make the statement: 'We will beat the Olympic and get in to New York on Tuesday.

This could be interpreted as, "pressuring the Captain to arrive early," but it could also be interpreted as, "Oh hey, our new ship is working well! Marvellous!"

More importantly, though, arriving Tuesday wouldn't make headlines; The Blue Riband at this point was 4 days 10 hours 41 minutes. In order for the Titanic to even have a ghost of a chance, she'd have to arrive in New York sometime around Saturday or Sunday, give or take some adjustment for going from GMT to GMT-5. The only thing arriving Tuesday means is that she beat the Olypmic's maiden voyage crossing, which would maybe get a footnote in the press, at best.

The only other reason I could think of would be if anyone on the ship was taking bets about what time the ship would arrive at New York, and even then, he'd need a pretty large stake in those wagers to warrant trying to push the captain to arrive early. (Also, I'm no nautical expert, but if you're trying to rig the bet, wouldn't it be easier to push the Captain to arrive behind schedule?)
 
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Bo Bowman

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Men often seek glory. It enhances resumes, creates legacies, puts shiny things on uniforms, and occasionally puts coin in one's pocket. Some men will take great risks for such things, and occasionally one makes a wrong decision.
 
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Rose F.

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Men often seek glory. It enhances resumes, creates legacies, puts shiny things on uniforms, and occasionally puts coin in one's pocket. Some men will take great risks for such things, and occasionally one makes a wrong decision.
Again, the difference between when the Titanic was expected to arrive versus when she was scheduled to arrive is only a couple hours, if that. It would be like if your flight arrived at its destination a couple minutes early. A nice convenience, but nothing that would be particularly noteworthy.
 

Jim Currie

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A great story for Walt Disney, but as far from the truth as Titanic is from the surface. Titanic was to change her clocks by 47 minutes between Noon April 14 and Noon April 15. A trained navigator will tell you that Smith expected his ship to cover more or less the same distance as she did on the previous day's run. Consequently he had no plans to increase speed.
 
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Seumas

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1) On the OP's point on Smith's "retirement". This has been a matter of some debate amongst the historians of the disaster for a long time. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether Smith was planning to retire or not.

2) The point about the Chief Officer taking over from Smith is not correct.

According to Dan Parkes (who is contact with Henry Wilde's descendants) in the weeks prior to his death, Wilde had been informally told by his employers that he would shortly be promoted to captain after doing a few voyages with the Titanic. His first official* command would have been one White Stars "Jubilee class" (c12,000 tonnes) on the Australia-New Zealand run.

Wilde's family actually still possess the captains cap he had ordered shortly before his death aboard the Titanic.

*Dan Parkes also found evidence that Wilde was acting captain of the Zeeland for one voyage a couple of years before the Titanic disaster.

3) The point about the binoculars being missing as having caused the collision is one of the biggest myths of the disaster. They would have made no difference and may even have impeded Fleet and Lee's ability to spot the berg still further. It's a really annoying myth too.

See Michael H Standart's (ex USN) posts from the past which explain in detail why binoculars would have been no use and why they are one of the biggest red herrings of the Titanic disaster.

4) The claim that Wilde "did nothing" is absolute rubbish.

There are many mentions of Wilde during that night. The man was just as active as his brother officers.

In fact Wilde's insistence upon tight discipline at the end may well have prevented Collapsible D from being overrun by a large crowd of desperate men at the expense of the woman and children.

5) I can't see any squint in the extant photographs of Murdoch. His Royal Navy Reserve file has no mention of such a physical feature either.
 
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Stephen Carey

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I'm at a bit of a loss to see how altering to a more northerly course from a Great Circle would shave anything off the distance? A Great Circle is the shortest distance between two points, so going on to a Rhumb Line or whatever would have lengthened the journey, not reduced it.
Eyesight regulations for deck officers these days is a lot more lax than it was in 1912. Even when I went to sea in the 60s, a Mate's job was at risk if his eyesight started to go. I wouldn't think that Murdoch would have passed the rigorous eyesight tests if he was short sighted.
Even today, binoculars are not issued to lookouts, that's the OOW's job. The lookout spots something and gives the bearing to the OOW who uses the binoculars to spot it. It may be that binoculars were provided in the crow's nest, but I doubt it as they were expensive items and not supposed to be used. If anything they would have delayed the response to the bridge.
The rest is pure hindsight really. If you've seen the movie "Sliding Doors", we all make decisions in our daily grind that could have enormous consequences - how often have we said "If only I hadn't..."? As the usual outcome is eminently forgettable, there is no need to say "If only..." until after the event. That's hindsight... Then again, if the Great Circle route had been followed, the same could have happened, with hindsight saying "If only they had altered course further south"!
 
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R L W

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That the Captain should have had such a long discussion with Bruce is telling. Indeed, navigation decisions, and other factors, make it clear that Bruce would have thought it amusing to have the ship arrive early. It was in his nature. I believe I mentioned that Boxhall had plotted to stretch the southerly Great Circle leg of their course, to take advantage of the better speed to run south of the ice field but, because of Smith's acquiescence to Ismay, some officer had reset the westward leg to northwesterly, to shave time and make Titanic early, rather than on time.
Bruce Ismay was the spoiled son of a man who had been a shipmaster and a businessman, who had struggled to build his company. Bruce knew privilege, and was stubborn about his whims, but ultimately was ignorant of seamanship and shiphandling. He knew only prestige and profit. He owned the ship, but not even that, directly.
Too many of Bruce's descendents have tried to minimize his responsibility leading up to the wreck or during the evacuation, or even during the investigations that followed. But most assuredly, taken in the aggregate, all factors point to this rush being the result of an impish whim of Ismay, who was never hesitant to tell people who he was and what he owned. He wanted to impress and upstage reporters by showing up before they expected, just to be superior.
Had I not seen such behavior from a recent wealthy heir, I might not have believed it as strongly even as I had. But it is what it is. Ismay was more vain than wise, more insistent than intelligent. And his belief that speed was acceptable until an accident, expressed at the 1914 liability hearings, bears this out.
 

Seumas

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That the Captain should have had such a long discussion with Bruce is telling. Indeed, navigation decisions, and other factors, make it clear that Bruce would have thought it amusing to have the ship arrive early. It was in his nature. I believe I mentioned that Boxhall had plotted to stretch the southerly Great Circle leg of their course, to take advantage of the better speed to run south of the ice field but, because of Smith's acquiescence to Ismay, some officer had reset the westward leg to northwesterly, to shave time and make Titanic early, rather than on time.
Bruce Ismay was the spoiled son of a man who had been a shipmaster and a businessman, who had struggled to build his company. Bruce knew privilege, and was stubborn about his whims, but ultimately was ignorant of seamanship and shiphandling. He knew only prestige and profit. He owned the ship, but not even that, directly.
Too many of Bruce's descendents have tried to minimize his responsibility leading up to the wreck or during the evacuation, or even during the investigations that followed. But most assuredly, taken in the aggregate, all factors point to this rush being the result of an impish whim of Ismay, who was never hesitant to tell people who he was and what he owned. He wanted to impress and upstage reporters by showing up before they expected, just to be superior.
Had I not seen such behavior from a recent wealthy heir, I might not have believed it as strongly even as I had. But it is what it is. Ismay was more vain than wise, more insistent than intelligent. And his belief that speed was acceptable until an accident, expressed at the 1914 liability hearings, bears this out.
The whole "Ismay was to blame" assertion has been brought up before and debunked plenty of times. It's lazy history and not true.

Care to name one respected historian of the disaster who believes Ismay was to blame ? (hint: you will be looking a long, long time trying to find one)

Once again ladies and gentlemen "I think this happened - therefore it did" does not count as proof.

You aren't breaking any "new ground" here at all.
 
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Rose F.

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It was in his nature. I believe I mentioned that Boxhall had plotted to stretch the southerly Great Circle leg of their course, to take advantage of the better speed to run south of the ice field but, because of Smith's acquiescence to Ismay, some officer had reset the westward leg to northwesterly, to shave time and make Titanic early, rather than on time.

This is a claim you brought up twice now. I must ask, where are you getting this from? There's no evidence of Boxhall wanting to stretch the Great Circle route and then had the plotting overruled or undone. For one thing, it would have been 5th officer Lowe's job to work out the course from Noon to the Corner (which was crossed at around 5:50 PM AST); Boxhall was working out the true Course of the ship at 7:30 PM, after the Corner had been rounded.

The closest thing we have is that Boxhall and Pitman went on to testify at the British Inquiry that the Corner was turned 10 miles to the South of where it should be, but they also say this was an order from Captain Smith and Chief officer Wilde, and Boxhall even testifies to saying it was Wilde's idea, not his. (nevermind that this deviation from the Corner never happened; it seems to be an artifact of Boxhall and the Captain assuming slightly different speeds.)
 
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Arun Vajpey

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There is no concrete evidence that Ismay pushed for Smith to have the Titanic arrive early.
I agree completely. Ismay, as Chairman of White Star, would have known that they had no hope of beating speeds of Mauretania and Lusitania; that was never on their agenda. I believe White Star concentrated on space, comfort and where applicable, luxury combined with a reasonably good speed for their passengers. All this 'Blue-Riband' Atlantic record sounds like immature nonsense to me; what's the point of doing the fastest crossing and crow about it only to have a rival from Hamburg-Amerika or some other line beat in a few weeks? Imagine if Boeing started advertising to potential buyers that their 777 would do the London to New York flight 37 minutes faster than the Airbus A300; how silly does that sound?

Elizabeth Lines was certainly one of the more logical and rational survivor witnesses but I believe her words were misinterpreted for sensationalist purposes. Nothing in that quote suggests anything other than a Chairman satisfied with the ship's performance and discussing it with his Captain. Even if Ismay had said something about getting to New York on Tuesday night, it was most likely in a lighthearted manner and I seriously doubt if he really wanted Smith to aim for that outcome.
 
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R L W

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Frustratingly, there are still a heck of a lot of people out there who believe that everything that was said and done in the films is exactly what happened in reality. It's annoying.
I have been researching Titanic since I was a 'teen-ager, and I too have balked at inaccuracies in films. I have read so many pages of engineering and investigatory and information over a lifetime, as well as having a functioning scientific brain, that I find it rather condescending and somewhat impertinent that you should imply my source was movies. I do not place the entire blame on Ismay, but he bears as large a measure as any other culpable parties.
 

Seumas

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I have been researching Titanic since I was a 'teen-ager, and I too have balked at inaccuracies in films. I have read so many pages of engineering and investigatory and information over a lifetime, as well as having a functioning scientific brain, that I find it rather condescending and somewhat impertinent that you should imply my source was movies. I do not place the entire blame on Ismay, but he bears as large a measure as any other culpable parties.
Well considering the large number of inaccuracies you have posted in this thread which have been pointed out to you by several posters, can you blame me ?

What sources are you using then ?

As I said you have not broken any "new ground" here like you seem to think you have.
 

Arun Vajpey

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I do not place the entire blame on Ismay, but he bears as large a measure as any other culpable parties.
No, he does not. Ismay might have been the Chairman of White Star, but once the Titanic was at sea, Captain Smith and only he was in charge. Of course, it would be natural for Ismay to discuss the ship's amenities and performance with Smith, Andrews etc but that does not mean that he could or tried to exercise any authority over the Captain as regards running of the ship. Ismay was effectively a First Class passenger and no more.

The Baltic ice warning incident is NOT an example of either Smith being subservient or Ismay exercising his dominance. It was just one of many such warnings and it was Smith who chose to discuss it with the Chairman, something he was not really obliged to do. At that stage, probably neither man considered its importance as we do now with hindsight. After Ismay read it and put it in his pocket, it is likely that both men temporarily forgot about it till later.

Ismay did not force his way into Collapsible C; no survivor on that lifeboat or anyone else accused him of that. He helped to fill it and when it was about to be lowered noticed that there was space for him to get in and did so. He got unjustly vilified for it and probably carried the guilt for rest of his life.

Anyone accusing Ismay of selfishness, cowardice or anything else, should be capable of touching their heart and say that had they been in his position they would not have entered the lifeboat. I confess that I would not be able to make such a claim.
 
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Rose F.

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Elizabeth Lines was certainly one of the more logical and rational survivor witnesses but I believe her words were misinterpreted for sensationalist purposes. Nothing in that quote suggests anything other than a Chairman satisfied with the ship's performance and discussing it with his Captain. Even if Ismay had said something about getting to New York on Tuesday night, it was most likely in a lighthearted manner and I seriously doubt if he really wanted Smith to aim for that outcome.
If anything, it was presented as a foregone conclusion, which makes sense. If we go by the distance travelled per day and extrapolate it to New York, the Titanic wouldn't have needed to do anything special or especially "risky" (Well, nothing especially risky by 1910 standard; some of them might raise a few eyebrows if they were performed by a modern vessel) to reach American waters on Tuesday Evening. She was just performing that well.
 

Jim Currie

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There is mathematical proof positive that a record run was not contemplated.
There are also two other things that would have also made sure that no record run was planned or even contemplated. One had to do with fog and the other had to do with "what was up the sleeve."
The "experts" can work these out for themselves.:p
 

Mike Spooner

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Titanic going for the Blue Ribon record? Titanic 46,000hp three screws against 70,000hp Mauritania four screws and over 25% lighter. Not a hope in hell in doing so. Never design to so as well.
 
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1) On the OP's point on Smith's "retirement". This has been a matter of some debate amongst the historians of the disaster for a long time. The evidence is inconclusive as to whether Smith was planning to retire or not.

2) The point about the Chief Officer taking over from Smith is not correct.

According to Dan Parkes (who is contact with Henry Wilde's descendants) in the weeks prior to his death, Wilde had been informally told by his employers that he would shortly be promoted to captain after doing a few voyages with the Titanic. His first official* command would have been one White Stars "Jubilee class" (c12,000 tonnes) on the Australia-New Zealand run.

Wilde's family actually still possess the captains cap he had ordered shortly before his death aboard the Titanic.

*Dan Parkes also found evidence that Wilde was acting captain of the Zeeland for one voyage a couple of years before the Titanic disaster.

3) The point about the binoculars being missing as having caused the collision is one of the biggest myths of the disaster. They would have made no difference and may even have impeded Fleet and Lee's ability to spot the berg still further. It's a really annoying myth too.

See Michael H Standart's (ex USN) posts from the past which explain in detail why binoculars would have been no use and why they are one of the biggest red herrings of the Titanic disaster.

4) The claim that Wilde "did nothing" is absolute rubbish.

There are many mentions of Wilde during that night. The man was just as active as his brother officers.

In fact Wilde's insistence upon tight discipline at the end may well have prevented Collapsible D from being overrun by a large crowd of desperate men at the expense of the woman and children.

5) I can't see any squint in the extant photographs of Murdoch. His Royal Navy Reserve file has no mention of such a physical feature either.
I can't see any squint in the extant photographs of Murdoch. His Royal Navy Reserve file has no mention of such a physical feature either.
Is having a "squint" even a thing? I mean is it something the R.N. would log? If so just about everybody I know who has lived in the Arizona sun after awhile would be guilty of having a squint. Myself included.
 

Arun Vajpey

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Titanic going for the Blue Ribon record? Titanic 46,000hp three screws against 70,000hp Mauritania four screws and over 25% lighter. Not a hope in hell in doing so. Never design to so as well.
No, she was not. As you have said, it was an impossibility and all concerned on board the Titanic knew it well. It was not even on the cards when the Olympic Class of ships were designed and built because by then Mauretania and Lusitania had been in operation already. White Star's prerogatives were space, comfort and, where applicable, luxury combined with a reasonably good speed.

What Elizabeth Lines overheard was merely a professional discussion between the Chairman of the shipping line and the Captain of a ship that was on its maiden voyage. That is completely normal and expected and during the course of that discussion Ismay may have simply asked the Captain if the Titanic would reach New York on Tuesday night. That did not mean that he was demanding or even preferred that it should; it was merely a discussion of possibilities.

But when the media got hold of Mrs Lines' statement after the disaster, they gleefully jumped on the information and embellished it out of all proportion. In the following years that and other similar statements got further distorted on books, movies, TV etc. If anyone here has seen the Titanic episode in the 1960s TV serial The Time Tunnel, Captain Smith (played by Michael Rennie), accuses time-travelling stowaways James Darren and Robert Colbert of being spies from a rival shipping line planning to sabotage the Titanic's attempt to break the Atlantic record!
 
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