Titanic making way after collision


Scott Mills

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Greetings all, I am a long time avid amateur Titanic historian. Well, not really, I do gobble up books on the subject but retain much less than I would like.

In any regard, I was having a conversation with a friend, and fellow Titanic buff the other night about the centennial, which quickly devolved into an argument over whether or not Titanic made way after the collision on the night of April 14th.

I was sure that it had, while my friend denied this. His argument was that doing so would make no sense, which I agreed with, and postulated that Boxhall, on the initial sounding of the ship, reported no significant damage, and that with this assumption Captain Smith ordered the ship to begin making way again at half speed.

In the end though, I don't remember well enough if I am correct at all about her making way, let alone my explanation.

So my question to you all is did Titanic make way after the collision, and if so what is the explanation for this? No one in their right mind who knew the ship was damaged at all would have ordered this in the middle of the Atlanic, would they?
 

Jake Peterson

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Hi Scott;

Have you read Walter Lord's books, A Night to Remember, or the sequel: The Night Lives On?

From page 68 of The Night Lives On, both survivors in the engine room:

Greaser Fred Scott thought the order of telegraph commands went:
STOP ENGINES -Wait 15-
SLOW AHEAD -wait 10-
STOP ENGINES-wait 5-
Slow ASTERN-wait 5-
Stop ENGINES

Trimmer Patrick Dillon thought:

-STOP ENGINES-

11:40- Grinding the iceberg-

SLOW ASTERN
SLOW AHEAD for 2 mins
Doesn't remember telegraph being set to Full Speed Astern as recalled 4/0 Boxhall

Quartermaster Olliver, running errands, remembers the telegraph being set at FULL SPEED AHEAD while laying dead in the water


So, yeah, there's alot of on-going debate about how, why, and when the engine telegraphs were set the way they were.
 

Scott Mills

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I have, of course, read those books. It has been years though, and all the books I read bleed together.

That's why I was so sure Titanic had made way again, and I put that together with my recollection that Boxhall (I think it was him) did the first sounding, didn't go down far enough, and initially reported to the bridge "no damage."
 

Scott Mills

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Oh, and I could see no other reason why the ships engines would be engaged unless the bridge officers thought there was no damage.

It seems to me making way at all in such a situation would only exacerbate any flooding. The only reason you might want to do this is to beach a ship, or get it to shallow water before it founders, which certainly would not apply to Titanic.
 

Jake Peterson

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Well, you have to remember that Titanic was designed, so that in a worst-case scenario, she could stay afloat with 4 compartments breached. Unfortunately, some of the bulkheads only went as high as E Deck at the most, and of course, one of the engine room survivors recalled independent flooding in Boiler Room 4, so even if the 4 flooded compartments (First three holds, and two engine rooms 5 & 6) kept her afloat, she was doomed when water started seeping into the 5 compartment, the 4th boiler room.
 
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If I recall correctly, at least one witness spoke to seeing a couple promanading against the wind after the accident and with no wind out that night, the only way that happens is with the ship moving. Another saw a wake alongside and the only way that happens is with the ship moving.

There is also, of course, the testimony of the people Jake mentioned. We had a decidedly acrimonious debate on this several years ago and I can't say as the stand of one of the participants was wrong, in that moving a ship with damage to the bow is hardly a good idea. The catch is that based on the statements and testimony of the witnesses, it's very obvious that manuevers of some kind were ordered.
 

Jake Peterson

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Oops! Boiler Room 4 would've been the 6 compartment. If that room didn't have the independent flooding going on, I'd bet some money on the fact that it would have stayed afloat past 2:20, if only by a few minutes. Although 5 compartments was already a death kneel anyway you look at it.
 

Scott Mills

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I am wondering where I read that she did, in fact, make way after the collision. Perhaps I just read the testimony that Jake mentioned and put two and two together. Telegraphs in the engine room would be, and were acknowledged and carried out.

I guess the real mystery would be why, which takes me back to my initial assumption that after Boxhall's intitial sounding, where he did not go far en
 

Scott Mills

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I am wondering where I read that she did, in fact, make way after the collision. Perhaps I just read the testimony that Jake mentioned and put two and two together. Telegraphs in the engine room would be, and were acknowledged and carried out.

I guess the real mystery would be why, which takes me back to my initial assumption that after Boxhall's intitial sounding, where he did not go far enough down to detect damage, either Captain Smith or Murdoch ordered the ship to make some steam.

I'm sure that doing so, even before flooding reports appeared, or the ship was thoroughly sounded, would have given indication to the bridge that something was seriously wrong.
 

Adam Went

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In my opinion the kind of damage Titanic was later shown to have sustained would not have been affected to any major degree by whether or not the ship was still moving. Indeed, the flooding was accelarated more later in the sinking only because the water had found different compartments through which it could enter the ship, even though by then she was at a standstill.

In any case an object the size of the Titanic cannot be stopped as if it's like applying brakes to a moving car. No question Titanic was still moving to some degree for several minutes after striking the iceberg, with or without the aid of the engines.
 

Jake Peterson

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In any case an object the size of the Titanic cannot be stopped as if it's like applying brakes to a moving car. No question Titanic was still moving to some degree for several minutes after striking the iceberg, with or without the aid of the engines.

Titanic was tested going 18 knots, with both engines in reverse. The stop time was 3 mins 18 seconds.

I'll take a ventured guess and figure that going 23 knots would mean it took the ship 5-7 mins for a full stop.
 

Jake Peterson

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So, let's just assume that the Titanic took 5 minutes to stop: that means that water would be cascading in due to the momentum of the forward movement. Then you add these alleged commands:

From page 68 of The Night Lives On, both survivors in the engine room:

Greaser Fred Scott thought the order of telegraph commands went:
STOP ENGINES -Wait 15-
SLOW AHEAD -wait 10-
STOP ENGINES-wait 5-
SLOW ASTERN-wait 5-
STOP ENGINES

No surprise to me that the ship had sunk so rapidly within its first few minutes after striking. I understand making some movements, but wouldn't they do that after the ship was thoroughly sounded? Although if reading these forums have taught me anything, it's that Boxhall didn't go far enough down on his initial inspection. Wouldn't going from Boat Deck to F Deck take 10-20 minutes on a ship as large as Titanic? I don't think there was any way to "quickly sound the ship".
 
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>>I understand making some movements, but wouldn't they do that after the ship was thoroughly sounded?<<

That would be my choice and that would be the choice of any captain who had an IQ approaching room temperature, and for just the reasons you described.

>>Wouldn't going from Boat Deck to F Deck take 10-20 minutes on a ship as large as Titanic? I don't think there was any way to "quickly sound the ship". <<

Going down there doesn't take that long but when you have hundreds of spaces and tanks which need to be checked, that much takes quite a bit of time. This is one of those taskings which just can't be rushed.
 
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There is no doubt that Titanic resumed making way after its meeting with the iceberg. That's historical fact. Any discussion should center on why the ship's engines were restarted and not if they were. Consider testimony from quartermaster Alfred Olliver who was on the bridge during the accident and witnessed First Officer Murdoch close the watertight doors and order “hard a-port” as the ship took the ice. He spoke during the U.S. Senate inquiry.

Senator BURTON: Was she backed?

Mr. OLLIVER: Not whilst I was on the bridge. But, whilst on the bridge she went ahead, after she struck. She went half speed ahead.

Senator BURTON: The engines went half speed ahead, or the ship?

Mr. OLLIVER: Half speed ahead, after she hit the ice.

Sentator BURTON: Who gave the order?

Mr. OLLIVER: The captain telegraphed half speed ahead.

This testimony from Olliver is backed up by the words of passengers Beesley, Stengel, and Col. Gracie among others. In his book, “The Loss Of The S.S. Titanic,” Lawrence Beesely discussed at length the ship's resuming making way. “...The ship now resumed her course, moving very slowly through the water with a little white line of foam on each side. I think we were all glad to see this: it seemed better than standing still...we were much pleased to hear the engines throbbing down below and to know we were making some headway...” -- Beesley.

In his book, “The Truth About Titanic,” Col. Gracie spoke of a couple strolling against the wind. We know it was a perfectly calm night with no wind at the time of the accident. If Gracie experienced wind, it had to be from forward motion of the ship. Another passenger, C.E. Henry Stengel was a bit more specific when he testified to the American inquisition:

Senator SMITH. How long after the impact was it before the engines were stopped?

Mr. STENGEL. A very few minutes.

Senator SMITH. Give the number of minutes, if you can. You are accustomed to machinery and matters of this kind.

Mr. STENGEL. I should say two or three minutes, and then they started again just slightly; just started to move again. I do not know why; whether they were
backing off, or not. I do not know. I hardly thought they were backing off, because there was not much vibration of the ship.

As I noted, the question of Titanic resuming making way is moot. In Beesley's words, the ship “resumed its course.” The real questions are “why?” and “to where?” The “why” question is really hardest to answer. In 1912 naval officers knew that moving a ship with a damaged bow was dangerous. Captain Smith held reserve commissions in the Royal Navy. He would have been familiar with the 1893 sinking of H.M.S. Victoria off Tripoli in which an attempt to drive the foundering ship ashore resulted in a catastrophic sinking and the loss of more than 800 lives.

At least 34 years prior to Titanic naval architect Robert E. Froude conducted experiments to understand what happens when a ship with a damaged bow is driven forward. His published results were that it sinks faster than if the same vessel were to remain dead in the water.

During his testimony Fourth Officer Boxhall said that after checking out the third class accommodations in the bow he cam backon the bridge to report he had seen no damage. This report appears to have come prior to the restarting of the engines by Captain Smith. If so, it helps explain the captain's actions. And, Boxhall's report appears to have taken place while J. Bruce Ismay was on the bridge.

Newspaper reports are so untrustworthy that I do not generally use them in my research. However, with the death of Captain Smith we are deprived of any information as to why Titanic resumed making way other than published news reports which claimed the ship was on its way to Halifax. White Star Line's vice president of New York operations, Phillip A.S. Franklin must have believed those Halifax reports – or had “insider” company information. On the morning of April 15th he chartered two New Haven Railroad trains to pick up Titanic's passengers after they arrived in Halifax. One of those trains was actually rolling north of Boston when definitive word came that Titanic had foundered.

– David G. Brown
 
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White Star Line's vice president of New York operations, Phillip A.S. Franklin must have believed those Halifax reports – or had “insider” company information. On the morning of April 15th he chartered two New Haven Railroad trains to pick up Titanic's passengers after they arrived in Halifax. One of those trains was actually rolling north of Boston when definitive word came that Titanic had foundered.

– David G. Brown

David,

That is interesting. Seems rather odd that he would have actually dispatched trains based on a newpaper article. Was there any discussion between Carpathia and shore regarding possibly diverting to Halifax vice New York and perhaps that is why the trains were charted?

Andrew
 

Scott Mills

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David,

Your post is enlightening to me, as I was thinking along the same lines, but was a bit unsure of myself as I am sure nearly everyone here is more knowledgable than myself.

My initial postulation was the engines were restarted when Boxhall reported no damage. Thinking about it more though, it gets more mysterious.

According to Boxhall's testimony, after reporting to the captain "no damage," Captain Smith immediately asked Boxhall to fetch the carpenter.

This says to me that the Captain wanted a full sounding of Titanic, and you would figure, not trusting Boxhall's cursory inspection, the Master of the vessel would have wanted to wait until a full inspection was done before taking any action--like makin way again.

Also, Boxhall reports immediately running into the carpenter near the bridge, who tells him water is up to f deck. So if Boxhall is not lying, he remembers clearly, and his sense of time is accurate, very near immediately after Boxhall's report he would have been informed of serious damage by the carpenter.

Perhaps here we can wildly speculate that the carpenters report is still not a full sounding. Given this Captain Smith receives the information and knows his ship is damaged in some capacity. Not yet realizing the full extent of the damage he, or Ishmay, decides the most prudent thing would be to head for Halifax. They then message the White Star offices, or Olympic who messages the offices, notifying them of this intent.

Having said that though, Bride makes no mention of this in either inquiry--which I suppose he could have not known since Phillips would have sent the message or he would have a decent reason to cover for his pseudo employer (White Star) and himself.

Even in that case though, wouldn't such a message be intercepted by any number of other ships and land based Marconi stations? And to my knowledge no such message has been documented.
 
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Even in that case though, wouldn't such a message be intercepted by any number of other ships and land based Marconi stations? And to my knowledge no such message has been documented.
I would certainly think so, unless there were separate 'company' frequencies that they were able to communicate on. I was under the impression that wireless back then was all done over a common freq.
 

Jake Peterson

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Perhaps here we can wildly speculate that the carpenters report is still not a full sounding. Given this Captain Smith receives the information and knows his ship is damaged in some capacity. Not yet realizing the full extent of the damage he, or Ismay, decides the most prudent thing would be to head for Halifax. They then message the White Star offices, or Olympic who messages the offices, notifying them of this intent.

Having said that though, Bride makes no mention of this in either inquiry--which I suppose he could have not known since Phillips would have sent the message or he would have a decent reason to cover for his pseudo employer (White Star) and himself.

Well, if you inadvertently put more water into YOUR ship, after deciding it was no use to make a 300-mile dash to the nearest landfall, would you want your company to tell the general public that?

WSL already had to pay out $97,000 to various Titanic passenger families. Could you imagine how much more the passengers' lawyers would have asked for if this got out?

I will agree that the three surviving officers probably did do a bit of covering up though. Does either Beesley or Gracie (or any other survivor tesitmony) mention how fast they thought they were going after getting under way?
 
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Nobody “knows” anything about what took place aboard Titanic. The people with such knowledge are (sadly) all dead. The best we can do is look at what they said about those events and then try to put them into context. By “context” I mean that the actions have to fit the ordinary practices of seamen and the cultural mores of the day. At best all we can do is interpret the words contained in the transcripts. And, no two people with have the same interpretation.

=====================================

That said, I agree with Andrew about White Star executive Phillip A.S. Franklin not chartering trains based only upon news headlines. He would only have done so if he had first-hand knowledge that Titanic was steaming for Halifax; or, if he had been told to send the trains by WSL headquarters in Liverpool. I'm putting my bet on the latter case. Undersea cable messages were fast and efficient (if expensive) in 1912. It was common practice for both companies and individuals to use word transposition of cipher codes to cut down the cost. So, a message from WSL headquarters to New York might have gone “under the radar” of newspaper reporters.

That leaves the question of how information got to Liverpool. Here we have some tracks in the dust to follow. Specifically, we have paragraph 111 in the IMM/White Star rules:

“111. Accident, Collision, or Salvage. –(b) In case of accident to the vessel requiring her to proceed to a port of refuge, a report should be made at once telegraphed to the Management and to the nearest Company's office, giving particulars of accident and damage.”

This paragraph is perfectly clear. Captain Smith had to “at once” telegraph company headquarters about both Titanic's iceberg damage and any change of destination from New York to Halifax. Smith had at his disposal the most powerful wireless telegraph transmitter on the North Atlantic. It was night, the perfect time for sending messages long distance.

Junior wireless operator Harold Bride claimed Captain Smith's first appearance of the night in the radio office was to alert the operators of the possibility they might have to send out a distress call. Huh? Since when do captains feel the need of alerting anyone in the crew (even quasi crew like Marconi employees) that they might have to do their duty? The answer is, “never.” Whatever the captain's motivation, his first visit to the wireless office was not social.

News organizations in London and New York both published identical stories about Titanic, the iceberg, and steaming for Halifax. Given the state-of-the-art of 1912 communications it's certain that editors did not confer by telephone. The cost of sub-sea wire cables makes this an unlikely pat for sharing news stories. But, there were “electronic eavesdroppers” in 1912. These men listened to wireless traffic seeking information about the rich and famous to sell to news services. One of the men in this clandestine business was David Sarnoff.

Given the state of communications, I suggest that the origin of the “all safe, steaming for Halifax” information was located out on the Atlantic where its signals were fair game from eavesdroppers on both continents. And, I further suggest that Captain Smith's first visit to Titanic's wireless office was to comply with paragraph 111 in the company rule book.

If I'm correct, then the one detail of the Titanic saga that the 1912 news media got correct was the steaming for Halifax with everyone safe. It amuses me to think about all those editors apologizing for their “error” of publishing the truth. Of course, by the time their stories got into print the ship had foundered and events had overtaken the headlines.

– David G. Brown
 

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