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