When was the engine configuration decided on


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Mark Baber

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Many of you will know that I only rarely venture into this part of the board, knowing nothing (and understanding even less) about any technical issue. But the essence of this question is historical as much as technical, so my unease here is less than it would normally be. Once I ask my question, I will again retreat into the shadows on this one.

My understanding has always been that the use of the reciprocating/turbine combination was decided upon after Laurentic and Megantic were used as the guinea pigs and Laurentic's combination power system proved more economical than Megantic's reciprocating-only engines. However, I recently noticed that in March 1908, before either of the Canadian-service ships was even launched, The New York Times published an article about White Star's upcoming 1,000 foot ships (as the Olympic class was then being popularly described) containing the following paragraphs:
quote:

But there were some features which Mr. Ismay felt free to discuss. The
new Cunarders, as all the world knows, are fitted with turbine engines.
Mr. Ismay said that the new White Star vessels would be equipped with
both turbine and reciprocating engines. These will operate triple
screws, the two wing screws being propelled by engines of the
reciprocating type, the central one being driven by a turbine.

The company already has under construction two other vessels whose
motive power is of this combination type. But these are very much
smaller. They are the Alberta and the Albany, which are now under
construction in the Belfast yards of Harland & Wolff. These two are to
be placed in the Canadian service of the company in the coming Spring,
but they are of relatively small size, their displacement being only
14,000 tons. The new ships will probably displace about 60,000 tons.
(Alberta and Albany became Laurentic and Megantic, respectively, before they were launched later in 1908.)

Any insights?​
 
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>>Any insights?<<

Only speculation.

It may well have been something that they were confident was going to work out in the first place so Ismay went ahead and made the call. He may well have kept some of his options open in case the new scheme didn't work out, but at this point, they would have to have made some decisions or risk a delay in getting the ships in service.

Again, purely speculation on my part.
 

Dave Gittins

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Here's a little bit from my notes on the origins of the Olympic class.

12 September. The New York Times. Datelined London 11 September. “A Belfast correspondent”. H & W working on 40,000 GRT liner for White Star. Mixed engines. 22 knots.

It appears Pirrie was confident that the mixed engines would be OK.

For more, you'll have to wait for Titanic: The Ship Magnificent.
 

Bill West

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I wouldn’t consider talk at this early stage to be an irrevocable commitment. Don’t forget how much else wasn’t firmly designed at this point. Move the electrical generators elsewhere and a third recip engine could have been squeezed into the turbine’s space. Of course then you tear your hair out trying to resolve enough boiler capacity. But as suggested the confidence level was probably quite justified and anyway this wasn’t as big a risk as Cunard took with the Maretania/Lusitania.

Proceeding into new technology on the basis of enthusiasm is not entirely unusual. Then later on the guinea pigs give more exact numbers confirming the idea or else leading to it fading away. On a few occasions substantial failures occur but they don’t get nearly the publicity especially if they can be patched up. CPR inherited an unsatisfactory hydraulic turbine drive on an WWI war prize, it was years before they replaced it. The ship limped on and nobody wanted to face up to the high cost of correcting the problem.

Bill
 
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I had posted on this thread last night but somehow it disappeared. Hmmm?

Anyway, what I wrote was that it was my guess that Ismay was told by the design engineers what to expect as far as improve efficiency with the hybrid arrangement. Ismay's statement implies that both Laurentic and Megantic were get the hybrid arrangement of engines. What I'd like to know who made the decision not to equip Megantic as a triple-screw steamer, and why? Was it concern over a lack of experience at H&W with turbines at that time?
 
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>>Was it concern over a lack of experience at H&W with turbines at that time?<<

I wouldn't be bowled over to the floor if it was, but more to the point, turbines for marine propulsion was still fairly new technology, immature, and very risky. White Star didn't seem to mind gambling with icefields but their shipbuilding practices tended to favour the tried and proven.

This, by the way, isn't always a bad idea. A ship is an enormous capital investment, especially a passenger vessel which was in the public eye in a way a freighter would never be. A failure there would not only be expensive it would also tend to make front page news. Small wonder they were cautious.
 

Mark Baber

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I had posted on this thread last night but somehow it disappeared. Hmmm?

Hmmm, indeed, Sam. It never appeared in the thread as far as I can tell, nor did I receive an email copy of it, as I have for all the other messages posted here. Apparently something happened before it reached here; it wasn't anything that happened (or was done) at this end.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Depending on the browser in use, if you make any changes while in preview mode and then refresh the preview it can then take more than one press of the 'post' button to get a result. Best to wait till you see the post actually in place in the thread before moving on.
 
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Hi Mark
Strangely enough, I was looking at this when I was in Glasgow and in Belfast. The decsion to use combination machinery was confirmed in drawings, around July 1908, approxamately. That is what the annotated drawing at Belfast indicates. However it was only provisional. When White Star gave the order for the Olympic and Titanic, they did not give the order for the engines or boilers. This was not given until after the trial trip of the Laurentic. When estensibly it was apparent that the new machinery would work in practice. Hope this helps.

Kindest Regards

Richard
 
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Hi Richard,

Good to hear from you. I'm very much in agreement. Had Laurentic's performance been disastrous, then maybe they would have reconsidered it and made some changes, but given that it was an impressive result then it merely confirmed for definite what they had already considered and specified. I suppose it's still fair to say that Olympic's machinery was the result of Laurentic's success, even though it had been understood in theory for some time beforehand.

As Sanderson implied, it did seem to be the case that a *final* decision was taken when Olympic was under construction, but clearly at a relatively early stage.

quote:

The decsion to use combination machinery was confirmed in drawings, around July 1908, approxamately. That is what the annotated drawing at Belfast indicates.

Yes, I think those are the same coloured profile and plans for Olympic and Titanic that I referred to earlier. They were shown to the White Star Line directors at the end of July 1908 and appear in the Michael McCaughan book.

quote:

However it was only provisional. When White Star gave the order for the Olympic and Titanic, they did not give the order for the engines or boilers. This was not given until after the trial trip of the Laurentic.

Absolutely, and you've picked up on a key point that often goes unremarked upon. I certainly don't think I appreciated it as I should have done until one or two years ago. It is interesting to note that Laurentic's sister Megantic was contracted for on April 30th 1907 (I presume Laurentic was also?), which was the same day as Olympic and Titanic were first recorded as yard numbers by H&W.

You then had Olympic contracted for at the end of July 1908; then in September 1908 the orders to proceed were given 'except with machinery.' (This is the key point you noted and I fully agree.) Towards the end of February 1909 the orders to proceed with the boilers followed, before the orders were given on April 20th 1909 for the remainder of the machinery - i.e. the engines. This was a couple of days after Laurentic had undergone her trials, if I remember rightly.

We then see that Laurentic made her maiden voyage on April 29th 1909 and Megantic on June 17th 1909, and as they developed in service then the early results were - presumably - borne out. But doesn't this highlight a significant time issue, in that Laurentic had only just been finished when Olympic's machinery was ordered? (I seem to recall that the performance of Cunard's 'pretty sisters' in years of service did not bear out their initial promise on trials.)

(I apologise if I missed anything pertinent, but I don't have all my files with me.)

Best wishes,

Mark.​
 
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>>...they did not give the order for the engines or boilers. This was not given until after the trial trip of the Laurentic.<<

That actually makes quite a bit of sense. Had the experiment failed, it would have been fairly easy to go back with the tried and proven with minimal impact on the overall design...meaning very minimal changes. These days, as complex as even some of the most basic merchent vessels are, this might not be as easy to get away with. You need to know what you're going to do very early on. Changes later on, even in the earliest stages of construction, can be expen$ive.
 
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Hi Mark
Thanks for that, I am writing an article about this issue, which hopefully will be completed and accepted at some point. I think H & W were being very careful to hedge their bets. It amazing the details you can ferret out by knowing the date/sequence of other events.

Regards

Richard
 
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