What if Thomas Andrews miscalculated the damage

Let's say Thomas Andrews didn't think the damage was enough to sink the ship. Captain Smith then orders half ahead to try and limp into New York. What do you think would've happened then?

I think that people would've gone back to bed and boiler rooms 5 and 6 would be evacuated. Then, the in rush of water would be so great that the 3rd class passengers in G deck and F deck would wake up to knee or waist deep water and start freaking out, but the stewards would just herd them aft thinking that the flooding would soon stop. By the time the water reached boiler room 4 and started overflowing the forecastle deck Captain smith would realize their grave mistake. But it would be too late, Titanic is sinking to fast to get the lifeboats ready and launched. Only a few collapsible boats make it off the ship, mostly with the already homeless 3rd class and crew. I think that is a pretty good idea of what could've happened. Keep in mind that most people didn't think it would sink until the water level did reach the forecastle deck during the real sinking. So in my little story here it's safe to say that the crew would believe she would stop sinking when she reached that point because her builder said she would.

Adam Went

Hi Kevin,

Well by the time the engines had stopped and begun cooling down it would have taken some time to get them up and running again, it wouldn't be like just stopping and starting a car. By the time the ship was ready to sail again it would be pretty clear that she was in some sort of trouble and was taking on a lot of water.

It's been mooted before that she could have tried to make her way over to the Californian but this would have most likely failed as well given the same circumstances, it simply would have hastened the sinking and made it more difficult, if not impossible to get lifeboats away at all.

"By the time the ship was ready to sail again it would be pretty clear that she was in some sort of trouble and was taking on a lot of water. "

A LOT of water is probably putting it mildly. Most estimates put the rate of flooding at somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 tons per minute, at least initially. This is the estimate Edward Wilding used when he made his famous "12 square feet" estimate.

I was under the impression Titanic did indeed steam slowly ahead for a few minutes at some point after the collision. As I recall the engines were stopped shortly after the collision, and then run ahead at half speed for some amount of time, then run slowly astern and finally stopped. I'm not sure of the exact sequence. I had a page related to this bookmarked, I'll see if I can still find it.

Oh! I forgot about the preview function on this board, but luckily I found the reference I was looking for. This was from the testimony of greaser Frederick Scott at the British Inquiry :

5608. And you told us you heard what was going on in the main engine room?
- The telegraph?

5609. Yes, I want you to tell my Lord what it was?
- They rang down "Stop," and two greasers on the bottom rang the telegraph back to answer it. Then they rang down "Slow ahead." For ten minutes she was going ahead. Then they rang down "Stop," and she went astern for five minutes.

Adam Went


Weren't the engines made full astern in an attempt to slow before the iceberg, or did I imagine that? Don't think they would have ordered them back to a slow ahead or half ahead speed after they had just been full astern before the collision?

If only Edward Wilding knew how close he really was!


While the popular recollections of the disaster all show the Titanic attempting a crash stop manuever, I don't think the evidence supports it actually happening. I believe the Inquiries relied heavily on 4th Officer Boxhall's recollection of 1st Officer Murdoch's report to Captain Smith immediately after the accident, the famous "I put her hard astarboard and run the engines full astern" or something along those lines.

It's possible that Murdoch did order Full Astern, but the engineering crew down below didn't have time to carry it out if he did. I vaguely recall reading somewhere on this very board that I would have taken somewhere around a full minute to get the reciprocating engines into reverse from full speed ahead, but I may be wrong there. In any case, while non of the engineers survived, the few men that were in the engine room at the time of collision and survived seemingly all testified that the first order recieved was "Stop".
Hi Adam

I think you're right about they didn't have time to stop the engines. A lot of that 'the rudder authority was negated by the engines being reversed' just doesn't make sense to me. I believe from the time they saw the iceberg until the time they struck it was about 37 seconds. The throttle man would be trying to close the main steam stop to the engines and then open the reversing steam stop. I don't really know much about steam reciprocating engines, but that has to have been a fairly large valve to have handled all that steam and it would take a while to spin it shut. Then you have to crack the bipass valve before you can open the reverse valve. (There is a lot of pressure being exerted and you have a small valve that breaks the vacuum that is on the other side of that big valve, fyi.)

Remember, the central propeller was a steam turbine driven by exhaust steam from the two reciprocating engines. I know you can't reverse modern ships steam turbines; they have a smaller turbine for reversing. I simply don't know enough about the specifics of the Titanic center turbine was made to know if it was reversible or not. Either way, you still have to shut off the intake valve for that turbine,too, before you can start reversing it, and even if did have a reversing turbine, it would still be run off the exhaust steam from the main engines. So shutting down the main engines and then reversing them, for a few seconds there isn't going to be any waste steam to do anything with.

Well, that is my two cents worth on that 'the rudder was not effectual because of the engines being reversed' argument. Remember, it all had to happen in just a bit over a half a minute, and those guys down in the engine room were looking forward to the end of their watch and being relieved, not expecting any sudden emergency middle of thee night telegraph orders at all. It wasn't like they were on a warship going into battle and on their tiptoes for quick changes to be coming down from the bridge at any second. They were in the middle of the ocean and steaming right along and no reason at all to expect such an order. So someone answered the telegram while the other guys were busy spinning valves closed and someone else was standing by to open the the reverse valves. It's not at all like a car where you let up on the gas and it starts slowing down instantly. You don't jam a car into reverse gear while it's moving full speed ahead, and it's a lot more complicated than just throwing a lever into R with a ship. A second or two for the officer of the deck to give the order, a second for someone to ring it up, a couple of seconds for the watch in the engine room to put down the cup of tea and get to the throttle valve, then crank it as fast as you can and my guess is that there wasn't enough time for much of anything to have actually happened that would have any effect on the rudder.

Just a billion to one golden BB.


Titanic's center Turbine was not reversible. It would have been shut off during any emergency stop. Most likely the propellor would have continued to spin under its own momentum for a short time after steam was shut off, as far as I can tell there was no mechanism to stop it.

I couldn't speak to the actual procedure involved in stopping and reversing the engines on board Titanic. I do know, from Wilding's testimony at the British Inquiry, that it took approximately 3 minutes 15 seconds to bring Titanic to a complete stop from a speed of 18 knots, during which she would travel forward about 3,000 feet.I'm not sure if the engines were allowed to develop greater RPMs in reverse than they had been running forward to achieve that, but I imagine the time and distance would be greater from a speed of 22 knots either way.
Thanks Micheal

For years we've been hearing about the rudder authority being negated by the reversed engine order.

As far as it stopping the prop goes, once the steam is secured the turbine blades are spinning in a vacuum. The only drag on the entire shaft would be from the bearings.

As far as the main piston engines on the outboard props go, the ship is still traveling forward and the propellers are having a lot of rapid water moving past them. I don't think that they would be able to develop more RPM in reverse under those conditions than they would be able to going forwards.

Since the steam line pressure is the same, my guess is that the main engines would only be able to go as fast astern as they can forward. I have no idea of exactly how you reverse a triple expansion steam engine. Probably by inducing steam into it in a different part of the piston cycle?

Glad to have that center prop negating the rudder thing put to rest in my mind.

Oh don't get me wrong Tom, if Titanic's engines WERE reversed, it'd definitely negate any rudder effect (I believe it has something to do with the cavitation from the change in direction of thrust, but I'm not an expert) I just don't believe the order was given, or that the crew would have carried it out in time to have any effect on the collision. The center prop wouldn't have anything to do with it either way, I don't believe.

You're correct that the engines couldn't develop higher RPMs in reverse given the same supply of steam. What I'm not sure of is whether the engines were running at a high enough speed to reach the limit of the available boiler capacity during her trials. They didn't have all the boilers lit, as I understand it, and before the crash stop test the engines were only working at 60 RPM, moving her at a speed of 18 knots. This is compared to the reciprocating engines maximum operating speed of 83 rpm, which theoretically corresponds to a little over 23 knots.

What I'm not clear on is if the engines were also only allowed to work up to 60 rpms in reverse, or if they just let them run as fast as possible. I'm not sure how great of an effect it would have made either way, but Edward Wilding seemed convinced that Titanic was capable of being brought to a stop a little more quickly than what she did at her trials. I just don't have enough information to judge, personally.

Adam Went

Hey all,

Very much in agreement with the above posts regarding the engines being reversed - even if such an order had been given, which is in itself plausible, there simply would not have been enough time between the order being given the ship striking the iceberg for the order to a.) be carried out fully; or b.) have any affect whatsoever on the course and/or speed the Titanic was sailing at. Her sheer size very much played against her in the manouverability stakes.

Of course Edward Wilding's testimony is regarded a lot more highly than it initially was in 1912, when every man and their dog seemed to be convinced that the only way the Titanic could be sunk was with a huge can-opener type gash running a third or more the length of the ship....

A lot of things about the Titanic disaster are hard to comprehend to the casual observer. As a humorous example, when I was a kid, maybe 10 or 11, and read my first book on the disaster, I didn't understand why they didn't just put the engines in reverse and use the propellers to pull her back out of the water!

I think, as regards the damage to Titanic's bottom/side, someone who has only a casual interest won't understand that it wasn't the absolute SIZE of the damage, it was the length of the hull it extended over that truly doomed the vessel.
>>...it was the length of the hull it extended over that truly doomed the vessel.<<

He shoots!

He scores!!!!!

Regarding the alleged order to reverse the engines, given the testimony of two survivors from the engine room who indicated that this didn't happen until after the collision, I think it has to be taken with a masssive grain of salt.

Adam Went

The actual damage inflicted on the Titanic was once described as being like morse code, with a series of relatively small punctures and slits....the impact would of course have caused rivets to pop and plates to open gaps for the water to flood in faster. The initial impact with the iceberg was seemingly more of a glancing blow and in itself did indeed cause minimal damage.


Glad to see there are other younger generation Titanic enthusiasts around!


Maybe they thought that if the impact was caused going forwards, reversing the engines would cause the water to rush back out? ;-)