Reversing Engines


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steve b

Guest
as a new member to the group, i feel compelled to inform everyone that i am not a historian, merely just another human being who has thankfully had his attention refocused to the events of 1912 thanks to the wonderful 1997 film..now with that being said,i would like to pose this question to those that are in a position to know, or even those that arent, for you to ponder.. we are given the distinct impression from the film, that from the time the iceberg was intially spotted, the subsequent order to engage the reversing engines had been given rather swiftly. we also are led to believe that the engines had at least about a full minute to run at full power before the eventual collision with the iceberg (and quite possibly longer than that, i am only going by what was apparent). given that fact, it would lead 1 to believe that it must have had SOME impact on the speed of titanic before collision wiht the berg.was this indeed the case? im asking because titanics engines were powerful, and must have managed to slow the ship somewhat. if my theory, and thats all it is, is to be taken a step further, then wouldnt it follow that the reversing engines might have saved the crew of the ship valuable time to save the people that it did? if those engines were not engaged, then the possibility exsists of a faster, more damaging, and more faster sinking. thank you and god bles all who have taken the time to read this. steve
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Steve,

Welcome aboard. I don't think it's been established as fact that Titanic's engines were run astern before the collision. In addition to the conflicting testimony between (primarily) Boxhall and the surviving boiler- and engine-room personnel, no one reported the intense shuddering that accompanies such a sudden reversal in engine direction.

I just came off the builder's trials for a twin-screw, steam-plant warship about the size of Titanic (844' long, 40,500 tons), where we crashed the engines back from a full ahead condition. Based on that experience and having read Titanic survivor testimony, it is my opinion that Murdoch never ordered FULL ASTERN before or during the collision. If he had, there would have been no doubt among the crew and passengers as to what was happening.

Parks
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Parks,

I kind of sort of disagree. I agree that the crew would have felt cavitation, however Hitchens states that he heard the engine order telegraphs in his testimony. However if the ship was moving at 21 knots and the only order given was Hard Astarboard then the ship would turn aburptly. As I am sure that you are aware in order for the rudder to work effectively you have to have a lot of water passing it. Although the rudder was small it was still large enough to make a noticeable turn to port at 21 and half knots. As stated in passenger testimony the iceberg slipped along the side of the ship at a very close proximity which given the size of the rudder and the supposed speed had the ship not reversed her engines she would have avoided and even if she hit the forward part of the bow that extra bump would have pushed her hard.

Now having said that the ship is reported to be at almost standstill during and before the inspection of Smith, Andrews, the Carpenter and Wilde. Smith also ordered all stop. But by that a time the ship was nearly DIW. Now it is also possible that Murdoch ordered full astern but it was unable to be carried out. The ship had to be slowed first so by the time she had slowed enough water was most likely pouring in.

Having been at sea some 24 years the only way that ship would not have turned running at 21 and half knots and the rudder hard over is if the order wasn't carried out, or free water moving passed the rudder was slowed basically making the rudder useless. These are only my opinions based on ready the testimony and sea going exprienced.

Regards,

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Erik,

I think you might have misunderstood me. All I'm saying is that I don't believe Murdoch rang FULL ASTERN just prior to or during the collision. In fact, I believe (based on boiler- and engine-room testimony) that he rang STOP on both engines. Titanic would still have had enough momentum through the water to maintain rudder effectiveness during the porting maneuver.

Hitchens heard the telegraphs ring, but he was in the wheelhouse with the blinds raised. He couldn't see the engine order, and said so on the stand (BOT Enquiry 988-1003). It was Boxhall who has given us the FULL ASTERN myth.

Parks

Parks
 

Erik Wood

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I fully agree that Hitchens as per his testimony only "heard the ring of the enigne order telegraphs..". The helm order was really ineffective seeing as the ship didn't really make all that big of a turn to port. So I think the speed change was the fatal factor. Forward momentum with out the add of free water pushing past the rudder means nothing in regards to rudder accuracy especially with a rudder that small. If it had been effective then the ship wouldn't have hit. These are just a few things I think you may be right the more I think on it but you would think that you would rather try to avoid hitting it by trying to reverse his engines rather then just order a helm change and stop the engines. On a logical sense it doesn't make much sense. Why would you stop your engines in the as you ordered a turn. I guess this is all a mute point since she lays at the bottom.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Erik,

"Moot point?" Erik, that's not a good thing to say to a crowd of Titanic enthusiasts! You would take away the very reason for our existence!! :)

You're a ship's master. What happens if you put the rudder hard over to port and back your engines (assuming you have enough time for the screws to bite into the water)? Are you going to avoid an obstacle off your starboard bow?

Parks
 
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Dean Manning

Guest
ok, I have a question, which may be irrelevant here. But I'll ask anyway. How much do you guys think the friction from the collision with the iceberg hindered the ship to continue turning as she was "bouncing" against the burg?

Thanks.

-Dean
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Here are the conclusions that I came to as presented in my book (chapters "Cool Hand Murdoch" and "A Narrow Shave"):

Murdoch "ported around" the iceberg. He first turned the bow away to the left. Then, he swung the bow back to the right in order to clear the stern. He ordered "all stop" on both the main and emergency telegraphs. In response to stopping the engines the boiler rooms were told to close the dampers. In fact, Murdoch's maneuver was quite effective in avoiding the portion of the iceberg above the water. Also, because it required turning both directions, the impact took place more than a minute after the final warning from Lookout Fleet, not 35 seconds later as is generally reported. Titanic's bottom struck on an underwater ice shelf with primary impact in the way of the spiral staircase, which suffered the only direct internal damage from the ice. Friction from scraping on the shelf helped rotate the stern away from the berg and the ship pulled itself free as boiler room #6 was crossing. Titanic coasted to a stop, still curving to the right (to the north).

Not everyone agrees with my hypothesis, but I have not found any other scenario that allows driving 50-odd thousand tons of steel against several million tons of ice without tossing people out of bed.

-- David G. Brown
 
Jan 8, 2001
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David,

I just finished reading the "A Narrow Shave" Chapter and I would have to say your version of Murdoch's Port-Around does appear to be very sound and you have pretty much convinced me that's what happened! It makes too much sense. Your book has got me totally captivated! I can't put it down!

Michael.
 
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steve b

Guest
to mr brown and all others that have commented on this subject, you have my personal thanks for making it so fascinating and enlightening.again, i do not assumeto even possess 1/4 of the knowledge you gentleman do, and that is why it makes this all the more fascinating for me. it is a crime in retrospect that the reversing engines were not engaged, for any amount of speed to slow down the collision could have gotten more valuable time to save the lives it did. i hope that when 2012 rolls around, god willing i am here to see it, i hope the time will be taken to relfect on the marvel that was titanic, and the lives of thos people remembered, survivors and perrished..at the age of 32, my 1 wish in life would be that this very important time in hsitory is never forgotten.i guess you can say what you will about david camerons Titanic, but let me take it a bit..it is the reason i am here, discussing this issue, and it is the reason why people like me and younger raced out to libraries and such in a thirst for more information..thanks to the film, a whole new group opf people are now aware of the titanic story, people that otherwise might not have gotten properly taught in school, if at all..the great legacy is, someday 50 years down the road, on a snowy day, someone will put on this movie and share it with somebody young..and the story will be passed on to another generation..once again god bless and thank you a
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Hi Steve, and I think you'll be around for 2012. In regards reversing engines, that was about the worst thing anybody could have done. Far from preventing or lessening the impact of a collision, such a manuever virtually gaurantees it as was explained in the edition of Knight's Modern Seamanship back then. The problem with such a drastic manuever is that it would ruin any manueverability that the ship had by robbing the rudder of useful waterflow for it to be effective.

IMO, the real crime was running full speed into an icefeild, though in all fairness, everybody put the pedal to the metal back then. Cracking on as it has been called. Understandable since liners were expected to meet some fairly tight schedules, but with potentially deadly consequences if something goes wrong. The Titanic learned this lesson the hard way.

I could say a lot about Camaron's flick both good and bad, but I have no problem with it's raising awareness of this event. As you have noted, such events seem to be getting short shrift in the history classes (Or what passes for history) these days.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Cal Haines

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Dec 2, 2000
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David wrote:
... I have not found any other scenario that allows driving 50-odd thousand tons of steel against several million tons of ice without tossing people out of bed.

Putting the rudder over to starboard tends to cause a large vessel to "crab" laterally to port before the stern begins to come around, does it not? It would require the exact opposite of what Hichens testified to, but it could explain damage to the side of the starboard bow in the absence of damage further aft.

As to people getting thrown around by the collision, are you familiar with SS Arizona's 1879 collision with an iceberg?

Cal
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Cal --

If Titanic had been turning left (starboard helm in 1912) at time of impact, the hull would have been "crabbing" as you put it. Impact would have been more side-on, which I believe would have created a much greater jostling than the actual event. Also, the stern would have continued to swing outward to the right. In my opinion, the inevitable result of this rotational movement would have been damage from the point of impact aft the length of the ship. H&W naval architect Wilding explained this in his British testimony, but apparently Lord Mersey wasn't paying attention.

The traditional description of Titanic's accident is based on the almost universal experience of driving a modern automobile. In a car, you steer the front end toward where you want to go and the back end takes care of itself. It's almost the opposite with a rudder-steered vessel. Oversimplified, you keep the stern pointed away from the destination and the bow will take care of itself. That's why Murdoch turned back toward the iceberg -- he was trying to keep Titanic's stern clear of the ice.

--David G. Brown
 

Cal Haines

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David,

You missed my question. What I am saying is rudder to starboard (port helm in 1912), that is, turning to starboard. The initial response would be a drift to port, as the stern begins to swing to port. For the moment ignoring the issues of why they would turn toward the iceberg, and the fact that Hichens testified that they turned first to port. If they were quite close to the iceberg when the rudder was put over, the side of the bow might graze the berg, while the drift to port and the rotation of the stern to port allowed the side of the vessel clear. I admit that it would take a rather special set of circumstances, but then so does your scenario.

Cal
 

Erik Wood

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Holly Molly,

I didn't expect so much critism. First Parks if I saw an object dead head of me at anything more then 200 yards I would have thrown the helm hard over and added as much speed. As my bridge wing passed the object I would have thrown the helm in the oppisite diretion. If I had less the 200 yards I would have kept the rudder amidships and slammed the engines in reverse. That way if I hit I will keep the damage at the bow and the by throwing all of my power back I will most likely touch the iceberg. Usually when you reverse engines and use the helm, just like backing a car you bow goes in the oppisite direction of the helm order.

The attempt to round the berg was a good one and served it's purpose by keeping damage to one location. I have used the rounding manuever when hitting a pier but stopping, reversing whatever the case may be would lead any Captain or most anyway to believe that that was the deadly cause. The fatal order whatever. So I confirmed Cals question and added some more controversy.

Erik
 

Erik Wood

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I just can't keep my mouth shut on this subject so please forgive me all.

Stopping reversing whatever would slow your forward and turning momentum down. Something that our dear Mr. Brown would agree with being a ships master. I am still unclear as to wear for certain we get the information that the engines were not reversed. If my failing memory serves me didn't Boxhall testify that he heard Murdoch order them full astern. Or was the only engine order given to the engineers by the senior engineer all stop then water started coming in and that was the only order given. Ordering the stop order and a helm order makes a little more sense. Since Moody (who died) and the other quartermaster on the bridge whos name escapes me and Hitchens are the only ones that would know an all are dead with the exception of Hitchens who didn't see anything.

Reversing Engines is contraversial (especially on this thread!! HA HA HA). Well I have added enough stuff.

Erik
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Erik--

You and I are discussing this from different points of view. You are talking about what you would do with your ship. I'm discussing what Murdoch did do with his.

I believe his real problem was that the engine room was not prepared for maneuvers and he knew it. So, Murdoch chose to steer around the berg and he damn near succeeded. Turning back toward the berg did confine damage to one area -- the bow -- and prevented damage to more vital spots like the engine and generator spaces.

Your proposed maneuvers in your 12:46 pm posting of Wednesday are, in fact, quite close to what Murdoch accomplished. From Olliver's testimony (he described the berg as "well up astern"), we can infer that Murdoch waited for his second turn until, in your words "the bridge wing passed" the iceberg. He did not add speed, as you suggest, simply because it was impossible with a 1912 recip steam plant turning at or near max RPM.

I agree with Erik that stopping the engines makes little sense during a series of rapid maneuvers such as Murdoch's "porting around" the iceberg. I too would have wanted to keep speed for maximum rudder action. In fact, I have rounded floating objects safely using exactly the same technique on several occasions. Never have I slowed or stopped my engines in this situation.

However, it is my opinion that Murdoch did have a reason for sending "all stop" to the engines. That was a line of field ice behind the deadly iceberg. He needed speed to get around the berg, but knew he did not want to slam into that field with engines turning 74 or 75 revs. The "all stop" order was probably just a preparatory command for a "astern full" order that he expected to send after getting around the iceberg. Murdoch knew that the engineers could not act quickly enough to reduce power during his rudder maneuvers. He was anticipating to get around the iceberg while the engineers were manning their maneuvering controls and actually changing the valves, etc. I postulate that the ship turned rapidly enough to starboard due to friction from grounding on the ice to make the "astern full" order unnecessary.

In fact, Murdoch seems to have used both of Erik's proposed maneuvers. First, he steered around the iceberg. Second, Murdoch was preparing to crash stop as a way of avoiding the ice field. That would have been Erik's second maneuver to reduce damage in a head-on confrontation with an object within a couple hundred yards of the bow.

Only Boxhall testified that Murdoch ordered a crash stop. All other survivors who saw the engine telegraphs move or who worked in the boiler and engine spaces said Murdoch ordered only "all stop" and never "astern full." We can infer that only "all stop" was sent to the engines by the fact that the stokers were ordered to close their dampers prior to impact with the berg. Closing the dampers would have reduced steam production, which is not what would have been desired during an all-out crash stop.

I believe that discussion of what Murdoch did..or did not..do during his maneuvering prior to the iceberg is valuable. The conventional version as presented by both 1912 hearings simply does not fit the facts. No matter how heated our discussions get, however, we must remember that our goal is to determine what Murdoch actually did. Arguing over alternative maneuvers which may or may not have been more successful serves no purpose other than making enemies out of shipmates.

-- David G. Brown
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Cal--

You and I are apparently saying the same thing, but I had a "senior moment" understanding what you wrote. Your posting of Wed at 5:56 am describes events essentially as I believe they took place. The confusion was on my part. Sorry.

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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David,

I think you missed my points I was using my own experience to discribe why stopping or reversing the engines was of no real use. I also used my experience as well as others to attempt to demonstrate why both a crash stop or full speed rudder change MIGHT HAVE BEEN more effitive. I WAS IN NO WAY ATTEMPTING TO DESCRIBE WHAT I DO OR ORDERS THAT I GIVE WHILE UNDERWAY.

One would also think that you would rather slam into what is most probably a rather spotty ice field (the carpathia manuvered around it with little difficulty)rather then slam into a massive iceberg. Murdoch did not use either one of my purposed manuvers but half of both. He did not keep speed on there for he hit the underside of the iceberg. He did not order (or did not properly excute)a crash stop. The fundementals if you look in Kings Points or the Coast Guard Blue Jackets Manual or Knights Modern Seamnship that you order all stop and then full astern while keeping the rudder in a "central" position. Or in a manuvering situation to keep as many turns on as possible to "effect a decisive turn". It most likely as you state that Full Astern was going to be the next order out of Murdochs mouth but Captain Smith appeared before it was possible.

One could aruge especially anyone familar with Steam that stopping the engines (shutting the dampers in Titanics case) before reversing them would better add to the grip of the props when they began to turn in the oppisite direction.

I do agree that both inquiries both of the amount of damage done as well as Murdochs actions to fit for what acutally happened.

Hence it is my opinion (which is acutally half of Mr. Browns 1 quarter mine, and another quarter of pure input from Woodshole, and other message board members as well as "Titanic Anatomy of a Disaster") that Murdoch ordered the helm change and then exucuted what appeared to him to be a crash stop. When he realized that the ship would not stop or avoid hitting the berg all together he attempted to round it and minimize damage.

IT IS NOT AND HAS NOT BEEN MY INTENT TO ARGUE OVER ANYTHING. However it has been my intent to explain my positions on Murdochs possible orders as well as his possible intents. I do tend to get rather heated and if I offended you Mr. Brown I do apologize. I most respectfully intake ALL of the information as well as ALL of the opinions expressed on all message board threads. My main intent is to spark conversation and experience to create a forum of in which we can possibly find what really happened that night.

Again I do apologize for "riding my high horse" and my intent was not to alienate nor argue but rather spark heated debates based on experience and fact to get a better picture for what happened.

Erik
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Erik,

Just so you know that I have a little more experience with shiphandling than what can be read in books, I got my quals as an underway OOD (in the USS Constellation, which means I have big ship experience) in the Navy, which is about as close as a military guy can come to having a Master's certificate in the merchant marine.

I have believed for quite some time that Murdoch ported around the berg by first starboarding the helm, then reversing it. Dave Brown came along and published a book that explains the reasons why one would hold to this theory better than I ever could.

Now to the engines. There are only two eyewitnesses that I know of who claimed the engines were thrown in FULL ASTERN. One was Steward Rule, who was on E Deck and claimed in his testimony that he heard alarm bells ringing and the engines running astern. The other was, of course, Boxhall. Boxhall came onto the bridge after the fact and saw the telegraph indicators pointing to FULL ASTERN. There is also at least one other bit of testimony from others where the witness claimed the vibration they felt was either the ship colliding with an object or the engines running astern. But who *didn't* testify to feeling the vibration of the engines crashing back? Rowe and Lightoller, who should have mentioned something of the like (Lightoller climbed back into his rack mainly because he felt nothing). Passengers throughout the ship who felt a vibration thought nothing of it and oftentimes went back to sleep (many slept right through it). The stewards in the First Class Dining Saloon thought the ship had thrown a propeller blade. Nowhere in the eyewitness description do I hear anything that coincides with what I have felt on actual ships when the engines are crashed back. I just came off the builder's trials of a ship of Titanic's size and displacement (approximately) where the engines were crashed back twice from a full ahead condition. When the transition occurred, there was no doubt in anyone's mind as to what was going on. The personnel in lower berthing were instructed to wear ear protection during the scheduled powerplant drills.

In addition, the surviving engine-room personnel are of the unanimous opinion that the engines were stopped, not ordered full astern (Greaser Scott actually saw all four engine-room telegraphs ring STOP at the time). The boiler-room personnel are unanimous in their observation that the STOP command was transmitted to the boiler rooms. The dampers were ordered shut, which is directly opposite of what you would expect when the engines are running full astern. Instead, you would expect the white FULL light to remain illuminated and no change to the stoking.

Why STOP, then, rather than keeping the engines FULL AHEAD? That, I'm not so sure of without knowing exactly what Murdoch was thinking at the time. Maybe he considered himself too close to the berg to completely avoid it and was preparing the engine room for a casualty, while keeping the option open of resuming speed after clearing the obstacle...at least, that's the best I can come up with, without knowing Murdoch's thoughts.

At any rate, those are the reasons why I believe that Murdoch never rang the engines FULL ASTERN, even though Boxhall says that's what he read on the telegraph. The question there then would be why the disconnect? Again, I can't answer that without knowing what Boxhall was looking at. We know that he had just come from the brightly-lit Officer's Quarters and his eyes had not yet adjusted to the dark bridge. Outside of that, though, there is only speculation.

There may be an argument for FULL ASTERN that is as compelling as the one I gave you against it, but I haven't heard it. The only argument contrary to mine that I am aware of centers around Boxhall's statement in the testimony where he saw the telegraphs pointing to FULL ASTERN.

One last thought to provide some big-ship perspective...Wilding presented the results of Titanic's trials to the Wreck Commission. According to him, it took Titanic three minutes and 15 seconds (and 3,000 feet) from the order to reverse engines being given to go DIW. Both engines were running at about 60 revolutions, corresponding to a speed of about 18 knots, when the order was given.

Parks
 

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