What if Thomas Andrews miscalculated the damage

I'm only 25, young Titanophiles do exist :p

Kevin - reversing the engines is the only way to bring a ship to a stop at sea. Think of full reverse as kind of like slamming on the brakes in you car. Suddenly switching from full ahead to full astern is only done in absolute emergencies due to the risk of damage to the machinery, not to mention severe vibration. When a ship is moving slowly in confined waters, an engine on either side of the ship may be stopped or reversed while the other continues to run forward in order to execute a tighter turn than can be achieved by the rudder alone.

I think the reason Titanic's engines were run slowly astern after the collision was simply to take headway off the ship more quickly than by just allowing her to drift to a stop, while being as gentle as possible to her already damaged structure. Running the engines astern at high speed could have caused the water already in the ships hull to move around, to very unpleasant effect!

Adam - I always imagined that if you were able to observe the outside of Titanic's hull after the crash, it there'd be a significant amount of abrasion and distortion of the metal, with the water coming in through seams that popped open from that distortion. Kind of like how an empty can of soda will distort if you crush it in your hand, with cracks and tears appearing in the sharp corners. But that's just my overactive imagination running, not a scientific opinion!
Hi Micheal

I think that one thing that was different in 1912 than today was the tolerances they were capable of machining to.

When I was a kid, they had 'run in' period for automobiles, where you'd only drive the thing forty mph for the first hundred miles, then work your way up, changing the oil at a thousand miles to get rid of the metal that had worn off the bearings, piston rings, etc. While her engines could do 83 rpm when they were worn in, a new engine would take a while to do that. She was still a brand new ship with less than what, two thousand miles or so on the engines? You had to get the pistons seated, wear in the main bearings in the engine and the strut bearings, too.

I am not sure what type of bearings they had for strut bearings on the Titanic, but believe it or not, modern ships still use wood for their outboard bearings. Lignum Vitea (sp?) is used in the strut bearings today, as it's a very hard wood that doesn't need oiling.

Slamming that engine full astern would be a definite no-no and any bridge officer who pulled a stunt like that would be on the beach as soon as the boat tied up. That kind of thing could do major damage to the engines and you don't just grab an engine dolly and hoist the thing out from under the hood. Pulling a spun main bearing in the engine would be a major undertaking for a shipyard. You'd start by pulling the head and then the piston and then the crank shaft just like you do with a car. I'm sure that every officer had that drilled into their heads by the Chief Engineer. Even if they gave a full astern order, the guys in the engine room wouldn't have obeyed it. Take a look at what is over the engine room on that ship and figure out how much hassle it would be pulling a mill, then figure out how hard it would be fixing the bow? Much easier to fix a bent up fender than replace the engines. It's not like you have a spare engine just sitting around.

The only one of the Olympus class liners that survived was the lead ship of the class. After Cunard took over White Star, she was kind of an odd duck to them. For one thing, she had been built with the idea that she and one of her sisters would be pulling in and out of port every week and they'd all have the same level of speed, accommodations,food service, and comfort. Olympus was sharing the route with a couple of other ships that weren't her size, didn't have all the goodies she did, so if someone wanted to cross the Atlantic in true style, they either had to juggle their own schedules around to meet hers. If you are laying out serious bucks for a private verandah first class cabin, you can get really irked to find you either had to cut your own trip short, or hang around another week waiting for the boat to make it to your side of the pond. Ismay's idea of first class super service being available just didn't work, as there was only one of those liners left after WWI. So Oly just didn't fit in, as the other boats speed (or hers, I forget which) had to be adjusted so they'd make up a rational schedule.

Shortly after WWI, they converted her boilers to oil. Coaling the boat was a real dirty job and everything had to be cleaned to get rid of the coal dust before the passengers boarded. It also cut way down on the size of the crew, as an oil fired boiler is a hell of a lot easier to run. For one thing, you have one boiler tender taking care of several boilers. Clean the burners so that the oil vaporized well, that doesn't take that long. With coal, you had stokers and trimmers who moved the coal around so the stokers could feed the fire grates. One stoker, one boiler, plus a trimmer for every two or three boilers, verses one boiler tender per.. what? Boiler room? No cleaning up the boat after fueling her, smaller crew, and screw the coal miners and their damn strikes!

Olympus went to the breakers because the law had changed. Those class liners, while sporting remarkable luxury, actually were more designed to haul a lot of poor huddled masses over to America. They could knock down steerage class staterooms to carry more cargo going eastward to Europe, as there wasn't as many people looking for cheap trips headed that way. When the immigration laws changed, that changed the profit margins on all of those big liners. Then came the Crash of 29 and some trips, there would be more crew than passengers, even with less black gang due to oil firing boilers. Cunard surveyed their fleet, trying to figure out which boats they didn't need and Olympus .. well, odd duck, boat only 21 years old, but they had excess capacity up the wazoo, plus her engine pedestals needed work, which brings us around to the point I was trying to make about pulling an engine on a boat like that. Reciprocating engines aren't as efficient as turbine engines. You are accelerating and decelerating very heavy masses of metal on every revolution with a piston engine, but with a turbine, you shove steam in and the thing spins around in one direction only at very high speed. So your reduction gears weigh a hundred and fifty tons or so? They are all spinning in one direction too, right? Can't remember the name of the two ships that Cunard had built somewhere in the 1910's, but one was piston powered and the other one was a turbine and that decided what kind of mills Lusitania was going to have. (Turbine!) The same thing as happened with piston engines verses turbine engines in airplanes. You have piston, connecting rod, valves, valve springs, etc on a piston mill all moving up and down, wheras on a jet, you have one shaft with vanes stuck on it shoving the air into the combustion chamber and out the back end. You can pull every single piece of electrical gear off of a running jet and it will still be working away processing oil into thrust, so they are way the hell cheaper than some huge Pratt and Whitney two thousand eight hundred cubic inch engine that looks like a corn cob and is a b!~~~ to get the air around all of those cylinders. So Olympus was pretty much like a Constellation trying to compete with a 707. Cunard's fleet was faster, cheaper to run, more reliable engines, and off Olympus went to the scrap yard. Even with Britannic and Titanic had survived, they'd have been off to the scrap dealers too, as they just didn't have what it took to compete any more. The Normandie, Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, Breman, Berengaria,Europa, Rex, the Ile de France, all of those ships were much more modern and faster and more glamourous than the old fashioned Olympus. Art Deco or Edwardian age trellis plants and wicker furniture in the Palm Court? Cunard and White Star merged, a year later Oly was laid up, two years later, she was broken up. While the QE 2 lasted 39 years, there wasn't as much major advances in ocean liner designs during the 1970's to 2010 period of time as there was between 1895-1935.

What I find a bit strange after having written about how superior turbine engines are for ships, is that diesel engines are now all the rage. QE 2 was converted from oil fired boilers.

QE 2 is less than a hundred feet longer than Titanic, but in 1895, I don't think that there weren't any 400 foot boats around.

Pretty long way around to answering 'why didn't they rev it up to 80 rpm in reverse', eh?


Yes, exactly, I agree with you there - and then of course the more the water flowed in, the more pressure there was exerted on the ship and the more cracks and crevaces the water found a way through and accelarated the sinking.......all Thomas Andrews knew was that water was flowing fast into a very large portion of the ship.

Tom, I am sorry to say that I do not agree with you on the comparison of the White Star Line with the Cunard Line. First of all, there is a research article about the demise of the RMS Olympic called "RMS OLYMPIC: another premature death?". The article explains that the combination of a low pressure turbine and two reciprocate engines was more economical than the turbine- powered powerplant of the Aquitania, Mauretania and Berengaria.
Besides, the Olympic had two excellent running mates, and both of them were German war prizes: the RMS Majestic (56000 tons) and the RMS Homeric (34000 tons). All of them were similar in sizes and acomodations, but the Homeric was somewhat slower because it only achieved 19 knots as an average speed, a fact that was more than compensated by its excellent design that allowed it to be very steady and stable even in rough seas.
I also would like to say that the Cunard fleet was also facing some problems too, the Mauretania had lost its appeal as a transatlantic greyhound after the loss of the Blue Riband in hands fo the SS Bremen. In fact, the Mauretania didn't have swimming facilities, something that was considered a must in those days. And the Berengaria was experiencing some dificulties on her own too: electrical failures that caused minor fires. As a result, her entry to the United States was banned after 1938.
You can appreciate that both the Cunard and White Star Lines were facing economic struggles that had to do with their ageing fleet. The main aim of the merger was, for that purpose, the construction of two new superliners, the Queen Mary and Elizabeth.
You'll find that the coal bunker in question was the forward bunker of Boiler Room 5. It's possible that the fire did in some way weaken the metal, but the visible iceberg damage actually ended at this bunker. (Fred Barret's testimony has the iceberg damage extending about two feet into boiler room 5).

In my opinion, the coal fire was a non-issue, Titanic was basically doomed even if Boiler Room 5 hadn't been penetrated at all, and as it turned out, Boiler Room 4 seems to have suffered some kind of damage, either directly from the iceberg or from the weight of the water in the bow straining the ships structure, as water began rising in this room faster than the pumps could remove it sometime around 1 o'clock.

If the coal fire had severely weakened either the hull plating around boiler room 5 or the watertight bulkhead between 5 and 6, I think the survivors testimony would have been different. If the hull plating was severely weakened, there would have been much more severe damage and much more water would have been pouring into this compartment. We wouldn't have testimony from stokers claiming to have abandoned this compartment roughly an hour and a half after the collision, before the water could overwhelm them.
If the bulkhead itself was severely weakened by the fire, again, the results would be a lot more spectacular than the slow but inexorable flooding the gradually overtook this boiler room for over an hour after the collision.

Coal fires happened, perhaps not all the time, but frequently enough that seagoing men of the time would be at least generally familiar with handling them. It's part of the reason that most vessels were converted to oil burners after the first World War. A bunker fire wasn't really a roaring blaze like most people would imagine. It was just hot coals smoldering deep in the pile of coal in the bunker. All you could really do is work the coal out of the bunker until you reached the seat of the fire, and then extinguish it. It wasn't as big a deal as people make it out to be now.

Tom : I apologize for not responding to your post on January 17th sooner, I had completely forgotten about it. In brief, let me just say that I don't agree that reversing the engines to make an emergency stop was a "no-no", although it was a risky manuever that should only be done when necessary. We have testimony from Edward Wilding about the Titanic's Trials in Belfast Lough :

25294. (Mr. Butler Aspinall.) Does that complete the information with regard to the turning circles or curves?
- As regards the turning, but my Lord also wanted certain information with regard to stopping with engines reversed and the rudder not put over.

25295. Yes?
- The trials that I have were made again off Belfast Lough. Both engines were running at about 60 revolutions, corresponding to a speed of about 18 knots. The helm was left amidships and both engines were reversed. The way was off the ship in about three minutes and 15 seconds from the order to reverse engines being given, and the distance run was just over 3,000 feet. I might mention in that connection that, so far as we on the bridge could see, the engines were not reversed as quickly as we had seen them, and the distance is probably a little on the large side; but that is what we actually observed, and it would be very difficult to put an estimated correction on it.

Now to explain my earlier confusion : Wilding explained that at the time of the stopping test, Titanic was running her engines at 60rpm, about 18 knots. However, earlier in the day they had worked her up to 21 and 3/4 knots, so obviously they had enough boilers online to work her faster if needed. I wasn't sure if they would allow the engines to work up to their maximum possible speed with the available steam supply once they were reversed, or if they would consider that "cheating" and only allow the engines to work up to 60rpm in reverse as well.
Hold on! Don't jump to conclusions until you know they will make a soft landing!

Why does everyone say engineS (plural)? It was quite widely known and accepted in 1912 that twin-screw vessels can be more easily maneuvered under engines than by a single central rudder as fitted in Titanic. Murdoch certainly knew that a ship could be turned in its own water (or nearly so) by reversing one engine and going forward on the other while adding a bit of rudder. Titanic would not have been as handy as a modern poweryacht in this respect, but the effect of maneuvering on engines would still have been a high choice on Murdoch's list of possible actions.

-- David G. Brown
Hold on! Don't jump to conclusions until you know they will make a soft landing!

Why does everyone say engineS (plural)? It was quite widely known and accepted in 1912 that twin-screw vessels can be more easily maneuvered under engines than by a single central rudder as fitted in Titanic. Murdoch certainly knew that a ship could be turned in its own water (or nearly so) by reversing one engine and going forward on the other while adding a bit of rudder. Titanic would not have been as handy as a modern poweryacht in this respect, but the effect of maneuvering on engines would still have been a high choice on Murdoch's list of possible actions.

-- David G. Brown


Yes, but this only seems possible during a time when there is a maneuver watch in the engine room expecting just these things. I can't imagine Murdoch, seeing the berg and knowing he only has seconds to react would have given this much thought. Even if he put the port screw full astern, he would have known that no such order could be responded to in a time that would make any difference.