The Captain & Bruce



Hi, I have a Question if I may: Was The Captain & Bruce Ismay friends before the Titanic disaster? they seem to be at odds with each other in the movies, Thanks Denise
Denise, We really don't know what their personal relationship was, but they had worked together for many years. Ismay as the Managing Director of the White Star Line and Smith as Commodore of the Line. There's no reason to doubt that they didn't have a good professional and personal relationship...
This thread leads me to invite the question, was it Smith or was it Ismay who should really have the blame for the disaster laid at their feet.

I personally have leant one way then the other as i have read in various books and tried to read between the lines things that we know to have taken place that sunday.

The real question is how could a ship, on its maiden voyage(therefore with none of its quirks really known) be allowed to bowl along at such a rate of "knots" in the dead of night having been warned of the inherent dangers in the area.

You would have to be pretty sure that nothing untoward could possibly happen to you to keep up a pace. As i have said Smith or Ismay(or possibly both) were responsible,let me quote you an excerpt that appeared in the "New York Herald" on Tuesday April 16th 1912:

"That Cpt Smith believed the Titanic and the Olympic to be absolutely unsinkable is recalled by a man who had a conversation with the veteran commander on a recent voyage on the Olympic.
The talk was concerning the accident in which the British warship Hawke rammed the Olympic.
"The commodore of the Hawke was entirely to blame" commented a young officer who was in the company of the group. "He was showing off his warship before a throng of passengers and made a miscalculation".
Cpt Smith smiled enigmatically at the theory advanced by his subordinate, but made no comment as to his view of the mishap.
"Anyhow", declared Cpt Smith "the Olympic is unsinkable, and the Titanic will be the same when she is put in commision".
"Why", he continued "either of these vessels could be cut in halves and each half would remain afloat indefinitely. The non-sinkable vessel has been reached in these two wonderful craft".
"I venture to add", concluded Cpt Smith "that even if the engines and boilers of these two vessels were to fall through their bottoms the vessels would remain afloat".

Now if this was Cpt Smith's heartfelt view of the modern ship and it quite possibly was, then it is quite easy to see that he could(being master of the ship should) be the one responsible for what happened without any advice from Ismay(who after all said he was only a passenger).
Well, legally, the blame lies with Captain Smith. He was the master of the ship and the final authority on any question of her navigation, and the one with the final responsibility for same.

By the law.

The reality may be a tad different. As any mariner can attest, owners and their representatives can be a meddlesome lot, and they are not above using their positions to influance things.

The catch is that there was really nothing all that remarkable about how the Titanic was handled. They had a schedule to meet and if they had good visibility, they would maintain course and speed no matter what. Even in an icefield. All the mail boats did this. It was a highly competitive business as not only was passenger traffic at stake, so was the carraige of the mail and the subsidies that went with it. The Titanic was not totally unresponsive to the threat of icebergs. They did wait an additional hour befor turning "the corner" on the leg to New York in an attempt to avoid the ice. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough.

Michael H. Standart
As Mr. Conrad points out, we have no idea as to the relationship of Ismay and Smith. They are always portrayed at odds in the films, it seems, but this was probably not the case in reality. Smith was beloved by most everyone who travelled with, or worked in the White Star, and it seems Ismay had a good deal of respect, and admiration, for the good Captain. I would suspect that Captain Smith would have had similiar feelings of good will towards his employer Ismay.

God bless,
As a board newbie I hope you will permit an observation my research has pointed out.

The Hawke had a ram bow like all naval ships in those days and when used as planned it was intended to sink an enemy warship by ramming. Since this didn't sink the Olympic it probably added proof to the claim of this class of liner being unsinkable.

Thats my humble opinion.
Ashley, I have always thought so. The ram of the Hawke was not meant simply to damage the ship, but to wreck it. Since the 1800s they had been making ships especially for ramming, the best warships always had a prow, and most used it very well (despite the fact most ships lost their prow when striking the enemy vessel. The idea that the Hawke could strike Olympic and damage it so badly, and yet Olympic could still float, served as proof of the alleged unsinkability of the Olympic Class vessels. Captain EJ Smith would know this better than anyone, it was he, after all, who was in charge of the Olympic during the accident, and so it is natural that Smith would think so highly of the Olympic Class ships.

God bless,
Actually, rams proved to be a bit of technological misdirection. I recall that their use came about as a result of a mid 19th century battle...I don't remember which one...where ramming was used as a tactic of desperation, just happened to work that time...and all the wrong lessons were learned from it. It was rarely even attempted in actual combat.

The problem was that over the years, naval gunnery improved dramatically in both accuracy, and above all, range so that by the turn of the century, ram type bows were little more then an anachronism. The successful uses of same could likely be counted on one hand.

Still, as Addison pointed out, they could do quite a bit of damage.

Michael H. Standart
Rams were the weapon of choice in the ancient world where fighting vessels were propelled by oars. Note the pronounced ram on Greek and Roman war galleys. It was possible to use a ram in ancient times because galleys were essentially self-propelled. Later, when warships grew too large for oars, the ram lost favor. It is almost impossible to successfully "T-bone" an opponent in a wind-powered ship. (Imagine, if you can the resulting tangle of wreckage.) Once navies returned to self-propulsion--steam this time--ramming became a possibility. It was used as a battle technique as late as World War I by a fellow named Lightoller against a submarine.

-- David G. Brown
Quite so, David, quite so. Michael, to my memory there was one war some 48 years before Titanic in which the ramming technique was used quite often. I'm speaking of the American Civil War...of course...There are many times when ramming was used against an enemy ship. In fact this was done in most naval encounters during the war.

God bless,
An odd fact of no importance to Titanic...the Greek warships outperformed their opponents because the sailors greased their pants. Seriously. Instead of athwartships seats for the rowers, the Greeks placed their benches fore-and-aft. Special greased leather pants allowed the rowers to slide with the same motion as a modern sliding seat in a racing shell. Anyone who has participated in "crew" knows that the legs have lots more power than the arms. A sliding seat allows this power to be utilized.

To my knowledge, no greased pants were issued to those rowing Titanic's lifeboats. Must have been an oversight.

--David G. Brown
Hi David, Michael and Addison,

I won't say I'm a newbie anymore (got slapped for it, teehee!) so let's just say I'm a Titanic student and actor in training who thinks the idea of greased pants just too funny! I wonder who thought of that one Themesticles maybe?

Hi Addison, the Civil War was a rather strange one as far as naval tactics go. Some of the biggest battles happened not on the high seas, but in harbours, rivers and estuaries with the combatants at extremely close ranges that one rarely saw on the high seas. Ramming was used, but often at great cost to the vessel doing the ramming. The CSS Virginia had a ram built into the bow, but only managed to use it once. They ended up leaving the ram in the victim's hull and left their own open to the sea.

Perhaps you're thinking of attacks which used spar type torpedos. The CSS Hunley did that when she sank the Housatonic, nad it was used to sink the CSS Albemarle. Still risky though as the attacking craft was way to close to the explosion.

Michael H. Standart
Rams on ships could sink ships sometime-there is a story of how a British Admiral named George Tryon made a mistake during a testing manuever where his flagship-Victoria-was sunk by another vessel in the fleet, the HMS Camperdown. That vessel was equipped with the ram. So sometimes they could indeed sink a vessel.