RMS Titanic a technological marvel


Nigel Bryant

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RMS Titanic, a technological marvel?

What are people's views on the advancement of Titanic's design in terms of ship design? Was it state of the art? Some say that she was just evolutionary in the size rather than revolutionary meaning that a lot of her features head been done before and that she did not really offer any thing new along the lines of new technology. What do mainstream Titanic’ enthusiasts think?

She had a lot of new interior features even though the styles were repeats from older White Star Liners (which seemed to be the company’s tradition) like Turkish Baths, Private Promenades, Swimming baths which a lot of liners at the time did not have. Her exterior lines were sleek and spaced evenly compared to a number of her competitors. Her Welin davits were the best offered and her Marconi Wireless had the best quality coverage for miles.

I am posing this question because there seems to be different views of the Titanic ship being a great stride in shipbuilding progress in terms of technological and luxury to the opposite that she wasn’t that all great in terms of her luxury appointments and her technology.

What are everyone’s thoughts?

Nigel
 
Dec 29, 2006
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In some ways the Olympic class ocean liners were positively retrogressive. They burned coal fuel, for example, at a time when oil fuel was being introduced, while their propulsion system was a mixture of reciprocating engines and turbines instead of all-turbine (an opportunity lost?) Having said that, I think that the consensus of opinion on the Titanic and her sisters is that they were evolutionary rather than revolutionary - a modern analogy being the differences that exist between the radical design of the Concorde and the large, but utterly traditional Boeing 747.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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I'm not sure that a lot of "enthusiasts" views would be entirely consistant with reality. Check any forum and you have little trouble finding people who buy more into the "Jack and Rose" mythos then the often more interesting history as it really was.

There was nothing especially remarkable about any of the Olympic class other then their sheer size, and even that was in the process of being eclipsed by the giants designed by Balin and building in Germany at the time. The size of all of these ships was dictated on several levels, not the least of which was the immigrant trade and the need to carry thousands in accomadations that were better then what came before. Naturally, the people in 2cnd and 1st cabin wanted progressively better as well, so it was either provide it or lose trade to somebody who did.

The Reciprocating engine/turbine hybrid was ultimately a technological dead end. It was economical for the time but with the ever present demand for increasing speed, it just couldn't keep up with the turbine. The swimming bath was nothing new. If I recall correctly, Adriatic had it first, but the Germans were the ones who were putting something large enough to be called a swimming pool on their ships. (Mr. Balin strikes again!)

Other then some of the ritzier accomadations photographed in fist class, most of even that was actually rather plain. They were often roomier, but still had plain white panaling rather then period decor, and the cabins on the boat deck level were little better in terms of size then a prison cell which the inmate could leave at will.
 

Lucy Burkhill

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Whilst I must confess to being no expert on the Olympic class, I too would go along with Stanley's comment that they were >>positively retrogressive<< in some ways, notably in their propulsion systems. The Cunard sisters Lusitania and Mauretania had power plants that were quite literally revolutionary (pardon the pun there!), and were the first liners of any great size to be powered entirely by turbines, which at the time were a relatively new and radical form of propulsion. The Compagnie Generale Transatlantique's answer to the Olympic class, the France, built 1912, was also all - turbine engined, and therefore, as regards to the propulsion system, was more advanced. Also, it could be argued that in having only three, rather than four, screws (for vessels of their size), the Olympics were less - technically progressive.

>>They burned coal fuel, for example, at a time when oil fuel was being introduced<<

This is an interesting comment, Stanley. How many of the larger liners in particular were actually burning oil fuel in 1911-12? I am aware that whilst at the time of Mauretania's conception the advantages of oil as fuel were known, a regular supply of oil could not be guaranteed, and the cost of it was greater than conventional coal, she was actually built so that she could be converted to oil burning if later policy dictated it. Was this also the case with the Olympics?

As regards interior features and leisure facilities, yes, it can be argued that the Olympics were more luxurious than their Cunard rivals, with White Star making the primary selling point luxury rather than speed. Were they the first Atlantic liners to offer a swimming pool? If so, then in this respect they were revolutionary in that they set a precedent, as a pool was to be de riguer not just in first class, but also in second, in liners of the inter - war period.

>>evolutionary rather than revolutionary<<

Yes, I guess I would have to go with that one.

Lucy
 

Lucy Burkhill

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>>The swimming bath was nothing new. If I recall correctly, Adriatic had it first, but the Germans were the ones who were putting something large enough to be called a swimming pool on their ships<<

Thanks, Michael, for the information about what ships were first with the swimming pool! Now I know!

Regards,

Lucy
 
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>>This is an interesting comment, Stanley. How many of the larger liners in particular were actually burning oil fuel in 1911-12?<<

Not very many, and it wasn't for lack of knowing it's advantages either. The advantages of liquid fuels were known for at least half a century. The problem was that there was no infrastructure to support it whereas coal could be had just about anywhere.
 
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HMS Dreadnought, launched in 1906, was both turbine-powered and oil-fired. Thereafter, all major British warships were turbine-powered, while this form of propulsion soon become the universal form of propulsion for fast, cross- channel mail steamers such as the Great Western Railway's four 'Saint' class vessels (St George, St Patrick, St David and St Andrew), which were introduced in 1906-8 for use between Fishguard and Rosslare.

I am unsure, however, when oil-firing started to replace coal in the Merchant Navy. An oil-fired merchant ship would certainly have been a rarity in 1912 and, to that extent, the Olympic class vessels were utterly typical of their period. The main point of criticism that can be made against them concerned the decision to retain reciprocating engines at a time when most other fast vessels, including warships, ocean liners and humble cross-channel steamers, were turbine-powered.
 

Nigel Bryant

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Hi Guys,

Thanks for your input.


"Other then some of the ritzier accommodations photographed in fist class, most of even that was actually rather plain. They were often roomier, but still had plain white panelling rather then period decor, and the cabins on the boat deck level were little better in terms of size then a prison cell which the inmate could leave at will."

I guess that would be the same for most express vessels at the time that they only have a limited number of deluxe period suites and the rest of the staterooms done up in a simpler decor. There were firsts on Titanic, she was the first ship to spout a luxury suites with private decks. A greater number of deluxe suites were given sea views, as the rearranged B-deck allowed expensive staterooms to be fitted with windows that actually faced the sea without being interrupted by promenades, like the Olympic's B-deck. Great portions of A-deck were enclosed with glass, compared to most liners, which had them open. After that a lot of vessels after that followed Titanic's suit, the top deck enclosed in this fashion ie. Beregenaria, Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth.The first to offer the boxed in elevators that we see today. Lusitania I think had this caged gilt elevator.

In terms of her exterior lines that were defiantly an improvement compared to most liners of her time. Her deck space was well utilized with raised roofs that allowed greater free space for deck games and strolling.

It seems that White Star was not as revolutionary as Cunard was with new ideas at taking risks with new technology and preferred to rely on traditional reliable technology to proper their new class. As you said though Michael it turned out to be a uneconomical dead end.

Thanks,

Nigel
 
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Actually, Cunard wasn't all that keen on being revolutionary. Throughout a lot of it's history, they were content to let others lead the way and learn from their mistakes. This isn't always bad practice, but sometimes, it can bite. One of the reasons they built both the Lusitania and the Mauritania was to play catch up ball, and ensure the survival of the concern against J.P, Morgan's attempted buy out.
 

Lucy Burkhill

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>>HMS Dreadnought, launched in 1906, was both turbine-powered and oil-fired<<

Were there many oil-burning warships around in the period leading up to the First World War? Somewhere in my possession I have a book which my Grandfather received for Xmas 1919, when he was 13 years of age, and I recall there are a couple of cutaway illustrations of a "Dreadnought" class warship dated 1911 and 1912 (in a corner by the artist), which show the vessel as having coal-fired, hand-stoked Yarrow type water-tube boilers. I have always believed that it was sometime during the First World War that the Royal Navy began to convert its ships to oil-burning, as the smoke output from an oil-burner was less visible to the enemy than that from a ship which burned coal, and also, another factor was that oil fuel reduced labour in the boiler rooms considerably.

>>I am unsure, however, when oil-firing started to replace coal in the Merchant Navy<<

I would guess around the early 1920's, Stanley. Certainly, Mauretania was converted into an oil-burner between summer 1921 (after the fire in July) and early 1922, and Aquitania was converted around 1921. A coal strike in 1921 and inferior coal was a factor which influenced the Cunard Line, at any rate, to convert their superliners to oil.

Lucy
 
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Smoke was used as a defensive weapon when faced with a more powerful enemy. Destroyers and cruisers would set up a smoke screen to allow a weaker battle group to escape. It was still a tactic used after conversion to oil. It was surface search radar that obsoleted that tactic.
 
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As I understand it, the major units of the British fleet were oil-fired on the eve of World War I - the government having taken a controlling interest in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company in order to secure a ready supply of the new fuel.

Oil-burning railway locomotives such as those on the Great Eastern Railway still needed a bed of coal, onto which the oil was sprayed to initiate combustion. I assume that HMS Dreadnought employed a similar system, which may explain why contemporary illustrations show conventional boilers and furnaces. However, the Queen Elizabeth class battleships, introduced in 1915 were entirely oil-fired.
 
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Naval history books tend to say a lot about guns and such like, but very little about battleship furnaces. I think I have now worked out that the original Dreadnought (1906) was coal-fired but could burn some oil, whereas as the Queen Elizabeths (1915) were purely oil fired. The dozen or so British dreadnoughts built prior to 1915 had burned a mixture of coal AND oil.
 
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>>Naval history books tend to say a lot about guns and such like, but very little about battleship furnaces.<<

Stefan Terzibaschitsch's "Battleships of the U.S. Navy in World War II" has a note that battleships of the "Wyoming" Class:
(USS Wyoming [BB-32] and USS Arkansas [BB-33]) :
"...were ordered in 1909 and completed in 1912....The main alterations during the 1925/27 refit period were conversion to oil burning.....(etc.)..." (Page 23)

It is also noted that a former Collier (Coal Transport), USS Jupiter (AC-3)was converted into the USN's first Aircraft Carrier, USS Langley (CV-1), commissioned on March 20, 1922. Jupiter transported the first American contingent to France in WWI, including Lieutenant Kenneth Whiting. Whiting is credited with the idea of the conversion to aircraft carrier. A Seaplane Tender, USS Kenneth Whiting (AV-14) was named for Captain Whiting and served in WWII and the Korean Conflict.
-From "Flat Tops and Fledglings" by Gareth L. Pawloski, Pages 18-19.

Respectfully,
Robert, (Ex-ET2, USN, O-E Division, USS Kenneth Whiting (AV-14) (1953-1955)
 

Bill West

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Nigel’s Original Post:
1. First, the technology part of this discussion is only fair if we look with 1908 knowledge, we can hardly criticize H&W for not relying on a crystal ball. And while successful technology changes are well remembered let’s not forget the failures. Sometimes their story isn’t as enduring but they are a valuable caution during the pursuit of new ideas and we should allow for past decision makers to have attached some weight to them.

So with hindsight we know what succeeded but when planning started could we have told that turbines and oil would hold up successfully for years to come? For instance the Germans have been praised here but how many of you know of the turbine gearing substitute they introduced that Canadian Pacific later had to have removed? And speaking of railways, despite many tries, steam turbine locomotives turned out to pretty completely be failures. The majority of railways never changed over to oil either. At the end the most modern ones were still coal burning. So there are a number of times when new ideas turned out later to be indifferent or actually bad, how do you predict which ones?

It’s not same technology issue but one of the old three stack liners was a performance failure and sat in the builders yard for 12 years at a rather large financial loss (Kaiser Friedrich/Burdigala). My point is the range of risk all large engineering entails, pushing it should not be undertaken lightly, likewise being conservative should not be overly criticized.

2. With regard to oil it is clear that few examples had been built and limited supplies were available. So a build up of usage would be needed before changing over a large ship design would be a sound move. Even with a crystal ball it would have taken time to get the ship owners and the bunker suppliers to trust that each other would match the progressive investments needed to escalate the scale of the business. 1908 was just too soon.

3. With regard to turbines, while a few ships had been built I will quote The Shipbuilder about the 1908 perception of their value,
“although the turbine has been eminently successful for the high-speed ship, at more moderate speeds its economy is not so marked, a fact which has led to the introduction of the latest type of propelling machinery, the combination of reciprocating engines with a low-pressure turbine.”
Does that sound like Harland/White Star didn’t know what was the right thing to do or more like they thought their view was the leading edge of moderate speed technology?

The Mollier steam chart had just been devised in 1904, it would not have spread from academics to practicing engineers yet. It was a general tool that made it easier to show the turbine’s advantage in the low pressure region. The Olympic era designers only had steam tables to work with which aren’t nearly as revealing about where the best design point is and thus whether the savings are significant or trivial.

The electrical generating companies didn’t wholly jump at turbines in this era either, a few years of building both engine types went on before they changed all of their buying.

A contributing factor to the turbine’s perceived value becoming so great in later years was that adequate gearing for fully exploiting it became available, but this was not until the 1920s.

4. So yes, technologically the Olympic class were evolution not revolution. But they were pioneers in size, and that meant in power too, power that was 1/3 obtained by turbine.

Lucy & Sam’s posts: Making minimum or maximum Naval smoke is much easier and faster to control on an oil burner. I can’t envision accomplishing the Hollywood WWII shots with coal.

Stan’s post: North American oil burning locomotives did not use a coal bed for ignition, even the earliest ones from about 1900. Once started from a rag the steam sprayed oil would evaporate by heat reflected from the firebrick lining that was needed in the lower firebox anyway. If you quickly go from a heavy fire to a minimum one you can see the degree of brilliant yellow glow that the brick gets to.

Bill
 
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Nigel Bryant's original question asked about the technology used in the Olympic class liners, and I suggested that the general consensus of opinion was that the Titanic and her sisters were evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Subsequent postings seemed to agree with this view, although a few questions have arisen in in the interim. In particular, there seems to be some difference of opinion regarding the introduction of turbines and what might be termed "the chronology of innovation". In this context, I stated that the one aspect of the Olympic class that MIGHT be criticised concerned the decision to retain reciprocating engines (albeit in conjunction with a low pressure turbine).

My point was that, with a designed speed of about 22.5 knots, the Olympic class vessels were regarded as express passenger steamers. It was, by 1912, normal practice in the United Kingdom for vessels intended to achieve speeds of 20 knots or above to be equipped with turbine engines. Below that speed, reciprocating engines were normally considered to be more appropriate.

It is not entirely clear why White Star and Harland & Wolff should have decided to retain reciprocating engines, but as a guess one might speculate that, having invested heavily in reciprocating technology, H&W were determined to install reciprocating engines in their prestigious new vessels.
 
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>>It is not entirely clear why White Star and Harland & Wolff should have decided to retain reciprocating engines, but as a guess one might speculate that, having invested heavily in reciprocating technology, H&W were determined to install reciprocating engines in their prestigious new vessels.<<

I don't think the word is "Determined" so much as it was that the system delivered the needed performance and was economical for the time, and this was deemed good enough.

While you don't see the combination of turbines and reciprocating engines anymore, you still find hybrid plants being used for a variety of reasons, though mostly on military vessels. Such hybrids include nuclear plants with oil fired boilers for super heating, (The Russian Kirov class guided missile battle cruisers have this plant) as well as combined diesel or gas (CODOG) in smaller combatants. The gas turbines provide high performance while the diesels offer economies at slower speeds.
 

Steve Olguin

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From a design standpoint, IMO much of Titanic's interiors left very much to be desired (especially in second and third classes). I think Aquitania took their second class public rooms a step further than any of White Star's ships. If they had extended the length of the ship another 40 to 50 feet, the second class accommodations could have been enlarged and improved. I have always thought that the second class spaces were a huge step-down from first class, and I would be interested to ever find out if they had planned to upgrade any of the second or third class areas on Britannic (aside from the obvious changes that are well documented such as the second class gym).

I guess White Star really saw their first class as the cream of the crop and expended all of their money into it.
 

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