Questions about Fleet and Lee


Oct 28, 2000
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Remember, the lookouts used a system of bell strokes to inform the bridge of the general direction of anything of interest. Just how much information can you convey about something big off the bow with three bell strokes? or two? or one? Yes, Titanic was equipped with a telephone between the bridge and crow's nest, but it was primarily a backup system and/or for sending orders up to the men in the nest (see testimonies of various lookouts).

As I look at the accident, the lookouts seem to have performed their duties perfectly. They first sounded three strikes on the crow's nest bell just as instructed. When it did not appear the deck was understanding what the lookouts saw, Fleet took initiative to use the telephone. If anything went wrong with lookout that night it was not in the crow's nest.

As far as estimating distances go...not easy day or night. On open waters you have nothing to compare the size of the object against. As Michael said, this is especially hard to do at night or in reduced visibility. Prior to accurate mechanical rangefinders navies relied on gunner's eyeballs, mod 1, mark 1 as issued. The number of "hits" even in good conditions was abysmal. Some historians have said the American fleet under Admiral Dewey achieved well under 10% "hits" in its victory over the Spanish at Manila Bay.

So, while distance information from human observers was and remains dubious, the relative bearing of objects can be ascertained rather well by lookouts. An object "dead ahead" is just that. "Off the bow" is roughly at a 45 degree angle to the ship's direction of travel. "Broad Abeam" is at 90 degrees to the ship. With a working field of view of more than 90 degrees, it is possible to give enough information for a deck officer to find reported objects. Bomber crews used a modified version of this system based on the clock face (12 o'clock dead ahead, 3 o'clock broad off to the right, etc.)

-- David G. Brown
 
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Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Remember, the lookouts used a system of bell strokes to inform the bridge of the general direction of anything of interest. Just how much information can you convey about something big off the bow with three bell strokes? or two? or one? Yes, Titanic was equipped with a telephone between the bridge and crow's nest, but it was primarily a backup system and/or for sending orders up to the men in the nest (see testimonies of various lookouts).

As I look at the accident, the lookouts seem to have performed their duties perfectly. They first sounded three strikes on the crow's nest bell just as instructed. When it did not appear the deck was understanding what the lookouts saw, Fleet took initiative to use the telephone. If anything went wrong with lookout that night it was not in the crow's nest.

As far as estimating distances go...not easy day or night. On open waters you have nothing to compare the size of the object against. As Michael said, this is especially hard to do at night or in reduced visibility. Prior to accurate mechanical rangefinders navies relied on gunner's eyeballs, mod 1, mark 1 as issued. The number of "hits" even in good conditions was abysmal. Some historians have said the American fleet under Admiral Dewey achieved well under 10% "hits" in its victory over the Spanish at Manila Bay.

So, while distance information from human observers was and remains dubious, the relative bearing of objects can be ascertained rather well by lookouts. An object "dead ahead" is just that. "Off the bow" is roughly at a 45 degree angle to the ship's direction of travel. "Broad Abeam" is at 90 degrees to the ship. With a working field of view of more than 90 degrees, it is possible to give enough information for a deck officer to find reported objects. Bomber crews used a modified version of this system based on the clock face (12 o'clock dead ahead, 3 o'clock broad off to the right, etc.)

-- David G. Brown
Lookouts gave directions in points of 11.24 degrees David. If the OOW heard 2 bells, he would raise his binoculars and sweep from ahead to the port beam. If he did not see anything or was unsure, he would call the lookout and as "whereaway?" or "what do you see" and the reply might be " red light about 3 and a half points on the bow, sir" Which as you know, is roughly about 40 degrees from right ahead.
 

Mike Spooner

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Sep 21, 2017
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No, Murdoch never left the bridge. The wing cab was part of the bridge.
Hi Jim,
I agree with you the wing cabs are on the same level as the bridge. But isn't the officer in charge to be at all times in the bridge room. Centre point of command and if wants a view from the one the wing box, I would of thought he ask another officers on duty to do like wise? Or am I been too restricted of an officer in charge movements?
 

Jim Currie

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Apr 16, 2008
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NewtonMearns, Glasgow, Scotland.
Hi Jim,
I agree with you the wing cabs are on the same level as the bridge. But isn't the officer in charge to be at all times in the bridge room. Centre point of command and if wants a view from the one the wing box, I would of thought he ask another officers on duty to do like wise? Or am I been too restricted of an officer in charge movements?

Hello Mike.

I will talk about Titanic. She was unusual in she had four officers dedicated to navigation and 3 Senior OOWs...Watch officers...who each were in charge of the vessel for 8 hours out of every 24.
I can do no better than quote 5th officer Lowe on this subject.
"We are there to do the navigating part so the senior officer can be and shall be in full charge of the bridge and have nothing to worry his head about. We have all that, the junior officers; there are four of us. The three seniors are in absolute charge of the boat. They have nothing to worry themselves about. They simply have to walk backward and forward and look after the ship, and we do all the figuring and all that sort of thing in our chart room."

Unlike the OOW on lesser vessels, the seniors on Titanic had the advantage of never losing their night vision by having to pop into a lit chart room from time to time at night...a pain in the butt when coasting and using charts to lay off position from time to time.
 

Mike Spooner

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Sep 21, 2017
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Hi Jim.
She was unusual in she had four officers dedicated to navigation and 3 Senior OOWs...Watch officers...who each were in charge of the vessel for 8 hours out of every 24.
Just a matter of interested did Cunard on Lusitania & Mauretania have the same set up with there officers to?
 
May 3, 2005
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Once again, I am a victim of a case of "landlubber confusion"...LOL

But In this case of "distances", I had heard, or read, that some lookouts were very good at estimating distances from knowing how to estimate the distance to the horizon, which in turn was estimated by knowing their height above the sea level.

I am also assuming this was for conditions of good visibility. I had just assumed that if you knew the distance to the horizon, it would be an easy problem to estimate the distance to an object between you and the horizon.

But there seems to be a diferent opinion that estimating distances during good or bad conditions was difficult or impossible, whether in good or bad conditions.

Which of these was the more correct according to experienced mariners ?

I was " going by the book" - in this case "The Navy Manual For Lookouts , " for my opinion .

I am now of the opinion that Fleet would not be telling a lie if he had said "It was dark, I could not see the horizon for reference, so I had no idea of the distance to the iceberg for that reason."
But I believe Fleet said he was not good at estimating distances of any type or kind ?
 

Mike Spooner

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Sep 21, 2017
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Hi Robert,
I think you are right to say the lookouts with years of experience have a good feel for distances in clear visibility.
But as for Fred & Lee this was not the case. In the pitch dark with no search light with a talk of a sea mist or haze coming up. Not only that temperature dropping below zero cold air hitting an warm eye ball giving them a watery vision.
Been up there for over an hour and half nearly freezing to death, it was certainty stacked against them to see any clear vision ahead. Fred did the correct action by ringing the bell and telephone officer on the bridge.
The fault lies with the officer on duty failing to inform the captain of the deteriorating weather vision ahead. I am quite sure if Smith had been informed beforehand he would of order the ship to slow down.
 
A

Aaron_2016

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Captain Moore of the Mount Temple was asked if he could judge the distance of a ship's light. He replied:
"I could not judge, because you cannot judge by a light at sea."

All of these ships would appear on the horizon.

mapdistances.png


I believe this is why there is so much debate about the Californian i.e. They were looking at a small steamer 4 miles away and they could see the Titanic's rockets bursting just above the masthead light of the small vessel.

mapdistances2.png
 
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