The Riddle of Titanic's Clocks


Dec 4, 2000
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The accident, flooding, and sinking all took place on April 15th -- sort of. This is the sort of confusion you get into trying to make a chronology of events.

I must say that the confusion is real and probably deliberate. There were 5 (count 'em) 5 different time references used in the BOT report and mixed indescriminately. As close as I can figure, they are:

April 14th hours (T14): GMT - 2:23

April 15th hours (T15): GMT - 3:10

Operational Hours after 4 bells: April 14 - 23 minutes.

New York Hours: GMT - 5:00

Greenwich (GMT)

The "operational time" is my way of saying the retarded clock by which the bells were struck to mark the passage of the watch. This clock was retarded at 4 bells of the 8-12 watch and was to be retarded again at 4 bells of the 12-4 watch.

Official ship's time was in April 14th hours until the change of watch at "midnight." Thereafter it would have been in April 15th hours. Pitman said this setback was never done because of the emergency. However, his timing of the sinking defines his personal timepiece as having been retarded to the April 15th hours

Putting all of the numbers into play, we see the following with regard to the time of the accident:

April 14th hours -- 12:03 a.m. (2403 hrs)
Operational hours -- 11:40 p.m. (2340 hrs)
April 15th hours -- 11:16 p.m. (2316 hrs)
New York Time -- 9:26 p.m. (2126 hrs)
Greenwich 2:26 a.m. (0226 hrs)

The BOT in particular seems to have jumped from one time reference to another. Events prior to 11:40 are usually in T14 hours, but the accident is in T14-23 minutes. After midnight, the BOT chose to use T15 hours for the most part. This allowed them to ignore the 24 minute difference between the operational clock and T15 hours.

There are occasional oddities like Lightoller and Boxhall using T15 hours to describe the arrival of Captain Smith on the bridge after dinner. And, the BOT seems to use T15 hours for radio messages received on April 14th.

Pitman and Lowe tried to hide the fact they were on the bridge during the "missing" 24 minutes described above. They strongly intimated that the operational clock was not set back, but that the 23 minutes were added to the end of the 8-12 watch. This was not the case per crew testimonies.

Pitman claimed the clock was not set back. He was speaking of the official ship's clock and not the operational clocks keeping track of the watches. The official clock was to have been retarded 47 minutes at the midnight watch change. This may not have been done because of a small emergency involving an iceberg. However, Pitman himself was using T15 hours when he gave 2:20 a.m. as the time of the sinking.

The traditional time of the sinking is 2:40 minutes. It is a simple matter to add this amount of time to 11:40 p.m. and get 2:20 a.m. But, that ignores the missing 24 minutes. The actual number of minutes between 11:40 p.m. in ops time and 2:20 a.m. T15 hours is 3:04.

The U.S. inquiry said the duration was closer to 2:20, which fits most eyewitness testimony.

If you want to play with ship's time, it is best to work in the 24-hour system. Also, keep in mind that minutes are base-60 while hours are base-10. If you borrow an hour, it becomes 60 minutes. This means you cannot do time problems in hours-and-minutes on a standard 4-function calculator.

For practice, take a look at the testimony of cook John Collins on Day 7 of the U.S. inquiry. He says that his timepiece said 11:20 when the ship struck. That time was deliberately 5 minutes fast, making the actual reading 11:15. This proves he was using T15 hours on his timepiece which was within 1 minute of the actual time of the accident by the wheelhouse clock.

There's more. Collins intimates he set his clock before retiring at 10 p.m. That's 4 bells when the operational clocks were retarded by 23 minutes. The difference between 11:40 p.m. and Collins' clocks represents the retarding of the clocks at 4 bells. If the ship's clocks had not been retarded, Collins would have been 24 minutes off in his timing of the accident.

Getting all of the events possible into order has allowed me to see connections that are otherwise invisible in the testimonies. For instance, passenger Chambers overheard an officer say that, "We are not making any more water." That strange statement for an officer on a sinking ship comes just after fireman Hendrickson noticed the firemen's tunnel and stairway flooding. This indicates that water from the mail room and hold #3 may have temporarily drained forward through the tunnel. That may have given a false impression that the mail room was no longer flooding.

The actual flooding of boiler room #6 (much later than the BOT claimed) came just before all of the lights in the other boiler rooms went out. Sounds like a short circuit caused by salt water getting into the wiring.

The release of steam up funnel #1 is related to the discovery that the boilers in #5 had gone dry with the fireboxes still burning.

Baker Joughin heard the sound of breaking steel just as the ship "took a header" and Lightoller, et. al. were washed into the sea.

The chronology now runs 16 1/2 pages in 9-point type. My plan is to publish it on the web someday when I have found as many errors and omissions as I can see. So far, my red pens are running out of ink as I make corrections. My math skills will not allow me to achieve perfection.

If I do get it published, there will be a fee. Anyone who uses it will be required to make corrections and/or supply additions. Something this complicated will always be a "work in progress."

--David G. Brown
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Dave!

Thanks for your detailed outline of your reasoning.

>However, Pitman himself was using T15 hours when > gave 2:20 a.m. as the time of the sinking.

Could you provide us with specific evidence that documents this claim? Thanks very much.

> This clock was retarded at 4 bells of the 8-12 >watch and was to be retarded again at 4 bells of >the 12-4 watch.

I'm sorry, Dave, but I still haven't seen any evidence to document the claim that this official adjustment of the Titanic's clocks actually took place -- much less that it took place at 4 bells or any other time prior to midnight. Hichens testified that he stayed at the wheel until "23 minutes past 12," and that proves (to me, anyway) that the Titanic's clocks were not adjusted prior to midnight -- nor were they scheduled to be. (In other words, I believe that the Titanic's clocks were all showing 11:40 p.m. at the time of the collision, that they were not adjusted at the accustomed time of midnight, and that they were showing 2:20 a.m. when the ship sank.)

>For practice, take a look at the testimony of >cook John Collins on Day 7 of the U.S. inquiry. >He says that his timepiece said 11:20 when the >ship struck. That time was deliberately 5 minutes
>fast, making the actual reading 11:15. This >proves he was using T15 hours on his timepiece
>which was within 1 minute of the actual time of >the accident by the wheelhouse clock.

IMO, his testimony only proves that he adjusted his personal timepiece by 23 minutes before he went to bed; it says nothing at all about the time shown by the wheelhouse clock.

> There's more. Collins intimates he set his clock >before retiring at 10 p.m. That's 4 bells when
> the operational clocks were retarded by 23 >minutes.

I think it's quite likely that Collins adjusted his watch by 23 minutes when he went to bed because he had to get up and go to work again before 4 a.m. (at which time the second official time adjustment was scheduled to occur IMO) and he wanted his watch to tell him the correct time to get up during the 12 to 4 watch. However, Collins' testimony does not tell us anything about operational clocks being adjusted at 4 bells.

Nowadays the radio reminds us to set our clocks back before we go to bed on "EDT Saturday night." If I go to bed at 8 p.m. I adjust my clocks at 8 p.m. If I go to bed at 10 p.m. (like Collins), I adjust my clocks at 10 p.m. Regardless of what time I adjust my own clocks, however, the *official* time change does not occur until 2 a.m. (or whatever.) No evidence I've ever seen suggests to me that the Titanic's *official* time change was scheduled to take place any earlier than midnight.

>The difference between 11:40 p.m. and Collins' >clocks represents the retarding of the clocks at >4 bells. >If the ship's clocks had not been >retarded, Collins would have been 24 minutes off >in his timing of the accident.

IMO Collins *was* off in his timing of the accident. He had set his watch back approx. 23 minutes before he went to bed, and that is why he thought the collision occurred at 11:20 instead of 11:40. If Collins went to bed at 10 p.m., IMO the collision took place 1 hr 40 min later.

> This clock was retarded at 4 bells of the 8-12 >watch and was to be retarded again at 4 bells of >the 12-4 watch.

IMO the clocks were scheduled to be adjusted at midnight and at 4 a.m. (I believe Hichens' testimony proves my contention about midnight, in which case my 4 a.m. contention would seem to follow naturally.)

At any rate, I thought I should mention the above thoughts for your consideration.

Take care, old chap.

All my best,

George
 
Jan 5, 2001
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This will be an interesting debate to watch. It's nice to see the expert contributions and I'll be keeping an eye on this thread.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
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Hi, Mark.

I don't think I'll be debating the topic any further; the accident to the Columbia is uppermost in my mind right now.

Sincerely,

George
 
T

Tom Pappas

Guest
quote:

If you want to play with ship's time, it is best to work in the 24-hour system. Also, keep in mind that minutes are base-60 while hours are base-10. If you borrow an hour, it becomes 60 minutes. This means you cannot do time problems in hours-and-minutes on a standard 4-function calculator.
But you can use a scientific calculator that converts degrees/minutes to decimals and back. The only thing the calculator can't compensate for is going over the midnight line. If you add 2:40 to 23:40, for example, you get 26:20, so you need to subtract 24 from any result greater than 24. Here's how that problem looks using the Windows calculator (calc.exe). First, set scientific mode.

(Display results are in red)

23.40 Inv dms 23.6...7
+ 2.40 Inv dms 2.6...7
= 26.3...3
dms 26.2
- 24 = 2.2 (i.e., 2:20)

If you need to subtract a "larger" time from a "smaller" one, add 24 to the smaller one before subtracting, e.g.,

2.20 (+24) - 2.40 = 23.40 (I left the dms conversions out of this example, but you get the idea)​
 

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