Would The Britannic Have Sunk if...


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Alicia Coors

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I don't think there's much disagreement why Titanic's officers erred on the side of caution: they thought that their approach would save the most lives. It seems that our Experienced Captains and Deckplate Sailors would have done the same.

But the operative word is still "erred." We know, for example, that Smith didn't even enforce a uniform policy on who would be allowed to board a boat.[sup]1[/sup] Murdoch saved more people than Lightoller by allowing men to board if no women and children were waiting. So the statement that "they did the best they could with what they had" does not withstand even the most cursory scrutiny.

I also think that having the band play was a bad call. Call me atypical, but that would have been my cue to get the hell out of there.

[sup]1[/sup] I think Lightoller's failure represents prima facie evidence that the Captain wasn't totally in command.
 
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>>I don't think there's much disagreement why Titanic's officers erred on the side of caution: they thought that their approach would save the most lives.<<

Can anyone prove that it didn't???

>>But the operative word is still "erred." We know, for example, that Smith didn't even enforce a uniform policy on who would be allowed to board a boat.1 Murdoch saved more people than Lightoller by allowing men to board if no women and children were waiting. So the statement that "they did the best they could with what they had" does not withstand even the most cursory scrutiny. <<

I would argue that this is a non-sequiter. Just because they didn't get the most desirable results from our point of view doesn't mean they didn't do the best they could. And for the record, the key qualifyer is that they did the best they could given their understanding of the situation, and the information and instructions they had at the time!

>>I also think that having the band play was a bad call.<<

Perhaps. I won't argue for or against on that one.

>> Call me atypical, but that would have been my cue to get the hell out of there.<<

The passengers didn't see it that way, though I wonder if they took that sort of notice. Unfortunately, those who would know are no longer available to question. Personally, I would have taken the boats being uncovered and launched to be a red flag that remaining aboard is a health hazard, but that's just me and my sailors sense telling that something's not right.

>>I think Lightoller's failure represents prima facie evidence that the Captain wasn't totally in command.<<

A much debated proposition...and you may be right!!!! I wouldn't get too comfy with that one however. My read of the inquiries tends to indicate that he was more proactive then often given credit for...but read them for yourself and decide.
 

Erik Wood

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I haven't spent to much time on this in the past, but the Captain's orders of "women and children first" where just that orders. Smith had no business on the boat that night. He had given his orders to his officers, and the rest was up to them. Whether Murdoch allowed more passengers to board his boats by viewing the order as a general guideline is an interesting theory.

Lightoller on the other hand seems to have taken the Captain's orders as just that, and he adhered strickly to them.

Whether one was right or wrong I am not qualified or prepared to pass judgement on. Both men acted as they saw fit, and did what they thought was right. Lessons can be learned from both men.

Remember that a Captains job isn't to micro manage his officers, once the order is given, the Captains job is to remain on the bridge (I believe Captain Turner as washed off of his). The Captain has no place on the boat deck unless it is to ammend or issue new orders in leu of recalling all of the effected officers to the bridge.

The theory that Captain Smith wasn't totally in command is a hard debate. It is often started by those who have no real concrete idea of what it means to command a vessel at sea. The Captain's job is to keep the big picture and not get too involved in any one aspect of a situation. For this very reason he delegates command authority to certain officers in a emergency. In Titanic's case after the formal order Chief Officer Wilde was placed in charge of the lowering operation on both sides, Chief Engineer Bell was in charge of damage contorl, Chief Officer Wilde then placed First Officer Murdoch on the starboard side, and Second Officer Lightoller on the port. Some people call it the chain of command others the command prymid, but in either case the Captain can NOT and SHOULD NOT directly control any one evolution, that is why Smith delagted some of his power to Wilde and Wilde did the same to Murdoch and Lightoller.

I am of the opinion that once Smith issued all of the necessary orders he sort of stayed out of the way as he should have. Some view this as him not being in command, that may be true to some extent. He may have been "out of it" but after the order was issued there isn't really anything for him to do, but await his fate.
 
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Alicia Coors

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Erik,

I haven't commanded a vessel at sea, but I do understand the principle of delegation of authority. On one hand, you say that captains shouldn't micromanage, and with this I concur. On the other, you suggest that there really wasn't anything left for Smith to do but await his fate. This assertion carries a strong implication that he had time on his hands, and unless he simply retired to the bridge to contemplate his navel, he might have been engaging the passengers and crew in the interest of advancing the sole remaining task that night, that of saving as many as possible.

As regards Murdoch and Lightoller: the First Officer simply used better judgment than the Second. In the event, Murdoch saved more people, and that is the only criterion by which their performance can be evaluated. The lessons that you say "can be learned from both men" are the same: ambiguously stated orders should be interpreted in a way that best fulfills their intent. In this, Lightoller failed.
 

Erik Wood

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I will have to agree to disagree about the lessons that can be learned from Lightoller and Murdoch that night. Accident investigation does not measure performance based on lives saved in these type of case. Yes that is a factor, but not the sole factor, lives where going to be lost no matter what was done, the large amount of lives lost was due to several factors and solely because Second Officer Lightoller didn't allow men into his boats.

As to Smith's role that night, we again move back to urgency or panic. Assuming you had no other knowledge of the condition of the vessel, what would be your reaction to seeing the Captain of all people trying to get people into lifeboats, or urging those to go to the boat deck???

My opinion is that it would cause a large sense of urgency which would be misplaced and deadly. A captain has no business on the boat deck of a sinking vessel. NONE. His responsibilty was to issue orders to see to the evcuation of those onboard. Then attend to wireless messages (which testimony indicates he did) and keep a watchful eye over Wilde and Bell.

With the title comes a certain....belief that the Captain knows all, sees all, does all and if he is attempting to get people into boats are persuading passengers into boats, the situation can not be good. This is part of the reason why the Royal Navy teach's it's officers not to run, it is also why standing orders on most passenger vessels ask that the Captain not be paged to the bridge under any circumstances. Somewhere I have a copy of Standing orders I wrote.

If you see fire, then hear the captain paged to the bridge for those less calm minded brings the notion that no one is in control.

If I am not mistaken Captain Turner did not assist his officers in the lowering of boats, nor did the Captain of the Archilli Lauro. In the later when the decision was made, his officers and crew safely evcuated the vessel and the Captain remained on the bridge (or other safe location) until it was his time to leave.

Captain's regardless of folklore can only do so much before they become more of a hinderance then of help. Every captain expects a certain level of expertise amoung his officers, expertise in the field, so when orders are given they need little or no further instruction. In a lot of cases the very presense of the captain can cause nervousness and the entire ball can be knocked out of wack, without the Captain having to do anything but arrive, there are several Naval accidents which have been attributed to this, including the recent grounding of a submarine in the Med.
 
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>>This assertion carries a strong implication that he had time on his hands, and unless he simply retired to the bridge to contemplate his navel, he might have been engaging the passengers and crew in the interest of advancing the sole remaining task that night, that of saving as many as possible. <<

Alicia, I would submit that Captain Smith did this anyway. Unfortunately, a lot of what he did that night will remain forever unknown because most of the witnesses who knew of it found their final resting place in the same ocean that Captain Smith ultimately did.

And Erik is absolutely right about what it can be like having the skipper underfoot everywhere you turn. I've had plenty of first hand experience with this as a deckplate sailor. His enterance anywhere changes the whole atmousphere wherever he turns up, and not always for the better. People get a bit edgy and nervous because they don't want the "Old Man" seeing them making even the most trivial mistakes. This quality of nervousness can actually lead to some mistakes, and some of them can be whoppers! Since he can't be everywhere at once and there's no real reason for him to try. he serves his function best by being where he can be easily found in case he's needed, keeping the Big Picture in focus, giving the marching orders, then staying the hell out of the way to let his people do their jobs.

Think of the ship as a full symphony orchestra where the Captain's role is that of the conductor. He keeps his eye to the music and his ear to the tempo, but hew let's the players do the playing.

Is this system perfect?

No.

But until somebody comes up with something that can be shown in actual practice to work better and do so consistantly, I'll stick with it.
 
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Alicia Coors

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Smith was on the Boat Deck (unless the bridge was relocated at some point of which I am unaware). I never suggested that he round up people and usher them to the boats, or make a nuisance of himself by being constantly underfoot. But I do think he might have noticed, in the course of the operations being carried out at the forward end, that Lightoller wasn't allowing men to escape. If that was his intent, then he should have quietly instructed Murdoch to knock it off. The fact that he didn't change either man's procedure indicates he didn't notice. He couldn't leave everything to Wilde, after all.

But he did, in fact, micromanage the evacuation to some extent. He was involved in signaling Californian, launching rockets, dispatching crew to open gangway doors, and directing boats in the water to return for more passengers.

He just didn't do anything that saved lives.

And the conductor of an orchestra goes over the music scores of times (teehee) with his "crew" before it is performed in public, and doesn't hire anyone in the first place who isn't a virtuoso on his instrument. This, Smith also failed to do. So I give your "symphony" metaphor a "Gentleman's C".
 

Erik Wood

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But he did, in fact, micromanage the evacuation to some extent. He was involved in signaling Californian, launching rockets, dispatching crew to open gangway doors, and directing boats in the water to return for more passengers.

That is far from micro management, as far as you can get at sea. Smith's job was to over see (or place people to oversee) all operations concerning the abandonment of the vessel and attempts at rescue. Captain Smith ordered Fourth Officer Boxhall to signal the Californian, the order was carried out and not further discussed, until it was apparent that the Californian (and that is debatable) or other vessel would not respond or did not see the lamp. Captain Smith also ordered Fourth Officer Boxhall to launch the distress rockets, which Fourth Officer Boxhall delegated to Quartermaster Rowe, this was not discussed further until the task was complete and Captain Smith ordered Rowe and Boxhall to assist with the boats.

The Captain placed Chief Officer Wilde in charge of the lowering of the boats, that meant once the order was given, questions relative to the lowering where directed to him, and if he (Wilde) needed guidance he got it from the "old man". If Wilde could not be found and Smith was reachable then of course the Captain could be asked. Smith's attention could then be devoted to the wireless and attempting to reach (via some means of communication) what appeared to be another vessel.

Captain Smith instructed both Second Officer Lightoller and First Officer Murdoch (and I am sure Mr. Wilde was present but don't have any proof) to have the boats stay off and load passengers from the gangway doors or to stay close to take on more passengers when they became available. This soon became a no go. To my knowledge it was Second Officer Lightoller who ordered that doors be opened and there is some either testimony or written word in his book about sending the men down never to see them again.

Captain Smith was attending to and issuing orders that he felt necessary and then left the actual work to those he delegated it to. Far from micro management.

The bridge location in relation to the boat deck is semantics, we all know where it is located and the intent of my use of the term "boat deck" and it's relation to the bridge.

The fact that Captain Smith did not change Murdoch or Lightoller's policy is wise. Recall the earlier mentioned Ectasy fire. Where policy was changed mid stream and that caused some serious heartache and discontent, and that ship wasn't sinking. After the captain issued his orders it was his officers duty to fullfill them. How they attained that goal or to what extent they followed the letter of the order was and should be left to there own election. There are certain situations that an order does not cover, and sometimes the senior officer on scene needs to make a command decision for the betterment of the situation. Whether Smith agreed with Murdoch's view of the general order isn't the point. The point is that both Lightoller and Murdoch filled and lowered lifeboats, as per the Captains orders. In a perfect world the order would have been followed to the letter, however, a ship abandonment is far from perfect.

The debate about whether Lightoller was to strict and Murdoch to loose is a very interesting one and since one of the two didn't survive to tell his side of the story we are left with incomplete information, which means our conclusions are also incomplete because we don't know the entire story.

The last paragraph gives the impression that Smith actually had some hand in the hiring process or selection of his officers, which for the most part is not true. The company gave the assighnments the Captain gave his thoughts. All of Titanic's officers held the highest certificate available per there experience and age and thus where very qualified to hold the positions which they did.

To say that Captain Smith didn't do anything that saved lives is an extremely dangerous stance. It degrades the man, and the men of his command and paints Smith has a ignorant baffoon which I don't think is the case.
 
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>>He just didn't do anything that saved lives.<<

I know of 706 people who would say otherwise.

>>But I do think he might have noticed, in the course of the operations being carried out at the forward end, that Lightoller wasn't allowing men to escape. If that was his intent, then he should have quietly instructed Murdoch to knock it off. The fact that he didn't change either man's procedure indicates he didn't notice.<<

As a matter of fact, it indicates no such thing. It can just as easily indicate that he had more pressing concerns then certain details on how the boats were being loaded. To assert positively that he did not notice is a very dangerous assumption as the evidence is lacking on this either way.

>>He couldn't leave everything to Wilde, after all.<<

Quite right, he couldn't, and I don't recall anyone saying that he did. He was involved, but he wasn't in everybody's face. To do so would have wrapped him up in the small details at the expence of the Big Picture.

>>But he did, in fact, micromanage the evacuation to some extent. He was involved in signaling Californian, launching rockets, dispatching crew to open gangway doors, and directing boats in the water to return for more passengers. <<

Sorry. Doesn't wash. I've seen micromanagers at work and these are the sort of people who try to intimately mix themselves up in the details on every little thing. This just didn't happen. What did happen is that he gave direction where, in his judgement, it was appropriate for him to do so. Since others were minding the evacuation, there was no reason why he couldn't give direction elsewhere.

>>And the conductor of an orchestra goes over the music scores of times (teehee) with his "crew" before it is performed in public, and doesn't hire anyone in the first place who isn't a virtuoso on his instrument.<<

As Erik indicated, Smith's word was not the final one in who was hired or fired. He had a say, but overall, it was White Star which gave the final thumbs up or thumbs down on this matter.

>>So I give your "symphony" metaphor a "Gentleman's C".<<

Well, that's you're right, but overall, I'd have to say "So what?" What I described was how it actually works when the skipper is doing his job they way it's supposed to be done. Nobody is saying it was perfect, but overall, Smith played the role he was supposed to play.
 

Erik Wood

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Let me expand on Wilde's role after Smith gave the order. Now keep in mind that there is little to no testimony regarding all of the actions that Wilde performed that night, so some of what I am saying is what I would have expected him to do as my Chief.

After the orders where given it was up to Wilde (the officer placed in charge of the lowering) to see that these orders where obeyed. Questions went first to him and then to Smith. To my knowledge there really wasn't any question as to what needed to be done. The only question that I have is when the use of force was authorized and by whom. Today that right is given only by the Captain, and I would assume it was the same in Titanic's day. That being said there is a point where an officer needs to use his judgement and quickly resolve a situation, a story of my own experience was provided sometime earlier in this thread. I had no formal permission to use force, but I decided that I needed to quell a situation before it got out of my control, so I acted as I saw fit. The same to a certain extent could be said for Lightoller and Murdoch.

The role of a Chief Officer in todays fleet is much more clouded then in Wilde's day. Wilde had a clear cut line of duty. Today the Chief falls under a Staff Captain and is third in command. Yet retains control over all of the officers and watch's for the most part, while the Staff Captain's duty is more wide spread.
 
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Alicia Coors

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A: He just didn't do anything that saved lives.

M: I know of 706 people who would say otherwise.

A: And I know of twice that many who would disagree. But this isn't a vote, and your hyperbolic reference is not only banal, but irrelevant.

Not only that, but your reasoning is flawed. The only thing that the entire crew were concerned with following the damage analysis was saving lives. The engineering staff were keeping the pumps and generators running, the deck department were preparing and loading boats, other personnel were calling for help by wireless and a variety of visual signals. The goal of all this activity was to get as many people as safe as possible within the constraints of available time and resources.

For Smith to fail to observe that men were being allowed to escape from one side of the ship but not the other indicates (which is not equivalent to prove, and I don't use it that way) that Smith wasn't managing his command with the rigor the situation demanded. "Micromanage" is defined as manage with great or excessive control or attention to details. To have ensured that his intentions were being carried out could hardly be termed excessive, given the importance of the task and the fact that he had over two hours to kill.

My point about hiring experienced musicians was intended to suggest that Titanic's crew were inadequately trained, nothing more. Nowhere did I imply that it was Smith's responsibility to hire or train them. Standart's analogy falls apart because a symphony conductor can expect that his crew are all masters of their instruments, and can interpret their parts the way the maestro wants them to, a luxury Smith did not have. Which returns to the central point - that the captain didn't micromanage enough, given the inexperience of his staff.
 

Erik Wood

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Now the experience of his staff in my belief is not only a relevant but important part of the Titanic story. All seven of the line officers had obtained the highest possible certificate for there age/experience level. In order for this to be accomplished they needed to have some many years of sea time. Lightoller had been shipwrecked once before and had served WSL and other fleets from an early age. Smith had around 20 years of command experience not to mention his time spent as a apprentice and time gaining a command. Wilde was also a noteable and trust worthy officer and unfortunatly I don't have enough information on him. Murdoch was also a experienced officer with high marks.

So in my opinion the three men directly ordered by their captain to lower the lifeboats (Wilde, Murdoch, and Lightoller) probably had upwards of 40 years of sea time between the three of them, to suggest that that there where inexperienced is a stretch at best. All three where well respected officers and thought highly of by the company and the crew they served.

Now the deck plate sailor is a completely different story. There are numerous debates about the quality and quanity of actual instructions not to mention formal teaching that these men had. David Haisman is around here somewhere and he would be the best man to ask about how one obtains an AB certificate across the pond. There is some training involved if I am not mistaken. As I have said in another thread, lowering a lifeboat isn't rocket science to a sailor with an AB (by American standards) however what the men knew of the new equipment is a question that in my mind needs further research. I might be poking around Rob Ottmers site for more info on just that.

Telling experienced sailors how to complete a task during an emergency situation is very excessive and is very uncalled for, as long as what they are doing is safe. In today's fleet the Captain would probably be very unaware of how who was lowering what lifeboats, and he would only be aware of the fact that the lifeboats where being lowered as per his orders. There is little to no reason for him to meddle otherwise.

This premise seems to be based around the difference between the way Murdoch and Lightoller lowered boats. In a post I made yesterday I referenced the Ectasy fire in which decisions where made that did not effect the safety of the passengers, but when the Captain reversed an order given by a suborniate more then a few people became upset and some degree of comotion (not to be confused with panic) arose because of this. As long as Murdoch was lowering boats with bodies in them, I don't really think that Smith cared, and the same goes for Lightoller, Lightoller was lowering boats as directed. The intent of the order (which was to get lifeboats in the water and free from the ship with some people in them) was being followed by both officers. How each man accomplished this is not of concern to the ships commander as long as the goal is being accomplished.

Now what the goal is goes back to something I said in a early post. You do what is possible, not what is probable. It was possible for Murdoch to fill the boats he had with the available folk on his side. It was probable that he could wait for more women and risk not being able to lower all of the boats due to the lack of trained personnel as the night went on and as a consquence he might not have saved as many as he did. Lightoller's side is somewhat different, I will admit that early on Lightoller could have admitted men with little to no problem and changed his policy as the night went on and the situation warranted, but for some reason (and I believe that reason is consistancy) he didn't. Lightoller filled all the boats with all the possible women around him, he did not wait in the hopes (or that it was probable) that he would be able to find more women and get the boats off.

In Lightoller's testimony he states that he was of the opinion that the ship would probably not sink until after help arrived, this opinion soon changed and that could have been part of the reason why he (Lightoller) did not completely fill the boats with those he had available (to include men).

It should also be noted that Murdoch was allowing men to enter boats where no women could be found, there seemed to be an excess of men on Murdoch's side and shortage of women, while Lightollers side seems to have been filled with both (later on in the evening of course). I am 99% sure that Murdoch did not allow a man to take a woman's place in a boat if a woman was there to take it.

The discussion about how live's could have been saved is an extremely valuable one, one that has contiuned to be discussed 90 some years after the accident and will continue to be discussed long after we are all gone. In my work with the NTSB I noticed that they do not place blame unless there is undoubtable and substainal proof that there was a single error which caused the incident, this is deteremined by investigators who for the most part have all had some sort of command experience. There for I am extremely reluctant to to call Titanic's officers inexperienced and Smith a bad commander.

From where I sit 90 years after the fact, he did the best that he could have done and the fact that he safely removed 706 passengers from an unstable platform, says something valiant of the efforts and ability of the crew under his command. There where definitly things that could have been handled differently and with the aid of 90 years of hindsight (something that the crew of Titanic didn't have) we can see what things we would have done differently and perhaps have been a little more successfull then those that came before us. But to call into question there ability, qualifications, experience and judgement is not only a dangerous stance, but a stance that is aided largely but theory and not experience, and one that in a maritime court wouldn't stand a chance.
 
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Alicia Coors

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M'lud, if it please The Honorable Court. This "crack team" of Titanic officers (as their fellow mariners would characterize them):

a. Ran the ship at high speed in a known icing region, without extra lookouts, after having discussed the difficulty of spotting ice in the prevailing conditions

b. Incorrectly calculated their latitude and longitude (twice!) when summoning assistance

c. Failed to signal their distress as specified by all maritime conventions in force at the time

The NTSB investigations I have read culminate in a finding of probable cause which, in the case of air transport accidents, is often cited as "pilot error" on the part of men and women with 20 to 40 years experience in powered flight. Just showing up doesn't make one competent. If you would like me to, I will cite several hundred NTSB findings to document the notion that experience breeds complacency.

The mere suggestion that countermanding an order will induce panic is belied by the experience later in the evening, when those conducting the evacuation were less discriminating. I seriously doubt that simply saying, "Gentlemen may now board" would cause anyone to freak out.
 

Erik Wood

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We are talking about the abandonment of the vessel not what occured before or caused it, so let's keep our eye on the ball. Mistakes where made and there is no, and I mean NO doubt about that. But before we can pin a label or guilt on them we must understand that there are also previaling circumstances to some of these situations, and new research (I would STRONGLY encourage you to attend Captain Charlie Week's event in Maine as 4+ years of research by several individuals will be "released") which I can't fully devulge until after April shows another side to the story.

Titanic's Lat and Long would have been off no matter what. They didn't have GPS. 13 miles seems excessive in the days of accuracy down to less then 6 yards but Titanic was following the standard practice of the day and was using star sights (as did all ships of the era) that where nearly 4 hours old taken by Lightoller and there is some comment including several articles (one of the most valuable to read is by Captain L.M. Collins) on some of the reasons this may have occured.

As to the speed and conditions that night, I can only say that that has been a matter of intense research as of late and in April will become public. But what appears to have occured was definitly IMO not the right way to be doing things.

Having taken an active part to include being a lead investigator for maritime incidents I know how they are conducted and how the reports are written. I have done no research into air transport, as that is not my profession and I 110% agree that showing up in no way makes you competent, but your job performance prior to the accident dictates whether you are competent and in Titanic's case all 7 line officers where just that by all accounts I have reviewed, this is how it would be reviewed by a maritime court.

NOTE: it could be argued that Smith out of the other 6 had the worst record​

I will also completely agree that experience can breed and often does complacency, but you will find that in the maritime world that is what leads to the vessel coming into grief, and has nothing to do with what occurs after the fact. The abandonment of the vessel and vessel coming to grief are two completely different set of circumstances and are so noted in each and every accident report (if abandonment is required) as a seperate section and measured by completely different standards.

My suggestion was that countermanding MIGHT or COULD induce panic and there are at least 7 maritime accidents that are prime examples. The issue isn't with letting men in the boat, it is with Murdoch (which was the context in which I made the statement) stopping to allow men.

Lightoller was no less discriminating at the end then he was at the begining nor was Murdoch (based off what little info is available on him late in the evening) and to my knowledge there is little to no testimony to support this.

To my knowledge Titanic used both the required flares (aka rockets) and wireless transmissions for the era in accordance with Marconi operations and WSL policy. The rockets where white and according to the law at the time (as quoted in a thread involving the Californian) was that they could be of any color sent up an regular intervals.

Parks Stephenson would know best about the law regarding wireless transmission requirements and perhaps we can persuade him to state the record here.
 
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>>M'lud, if it please The Honorable Court. This "crack team" of Titanic officers (as their fellow mariners would characterize them): <<

Alicia, would you care to show where anyone said where anybody was talking about a "Crack team?" I don't recall anyone saying that, and to build points around it is little more then a strawman.

>>a. Ran the ship at high speed in a known icing region, without extra lookouts, after having discussed the difficulty of spotting ice in the prevailing conditions <<

Amend that to read "ran their ship in a reported region where ice could be expected without extra lookouts, after having discussed the difficulty of spotting ice in the prevailing conditions" and I don't see anybody disputing that or suggesting that not doubling the lookouts was an especially swift idea. This is, however, entirely irrelevant to how the evacuation was handled, which is what you seem to have been taking issue with in this whole thread.

>>b. Incorrectly calculated their latitude and longitude (twice!) when summoning assistance <<

Quite right. What of it? As Erik said, they didn't have GPS so they had to muddle along with star sights, the old fashioned slide rule, tables, and all the errors that creep in with the deal. It was good enough, even with the errors, to bring the Carpathia right up to where the boats were without a lot of searching around.

>>c. Failed to signal their distress as specified by all maritime conventions in force at the time.<<

And curiously enough, I know of some historians and researchers who would agree. It would help however if you identified which conventions they failed to abide by. For the record, this list of conventions comes from the U.S Senate Inquiry Final Report"
When a vessel is in distress and requires assistance from other vessels or from the shore, the following shall be the signals to be used or displayed by her, either together or separately:

IN THE DAYTIME.

(1.) A gun or other explosive signal fired intervals of about a minute.
(2.) The international code signal of distress indicated by NC.
(3.) The distant signal, consisting of square flag, having either above or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball.” 
(4.) The distant signal, consisting of a cone, point upward, having either above it or below it a ball or anything resembling a ball.
(5.) A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.
”  - This is purely a code signal, and is not one of the signals of distress given in the Rules of the Road, the needless exhibition of which entails penalties upon the master of the vessel displaying it.


AT NIGHT.

(1.) A gun or other explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute.
(2.) Flames on the vessel (as from a burning tar barrel, oil barrel, etc.).
(3.) Rockets or shells, throwing stars of any color or description, fired one at a time at short intervals.
(4.) A continuous sounding with any fog-signal apparatus.

>>The mere suggestion that countermanding an order will induce panic is belied by the experience later in the evening, when those conducting the evacuation were less discriminating.<<

And the officers who were running the evscuation would know this befor hand...how??? I don't recall any one of them being identified as a clairvoyant or a telepath, and the concern here is that countermanding an order can cause things to come unglued. Erik mentions seven incidents where this in fact happened, and cites the Ecstacy as a specific example. You can bet it's not the only one throughout history, and Titanic's officers would have been painfully aware of contemporary examples.
 
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Alicia Coors

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Strawman: Erik and Michael say Titanic's crew were adequate to any task (specifically, handling the evacuation the best way it could be handled), based on their professional histories. I would say Erik's statement that "Wilde, Murdoch, and Lightoller had 40 years combined experience blah blah blah" carries the clear implication they were a "crack team." Wouldn't you? (Talk about irrelevancies!)

Ice region: there is no operational distinction between reported ice conditions and known ice conditions. When ice is reported, you can assume someone "knows." The relevance of the crew's response to the ice hazard, as with my other points, is that the crew were capable of exercising bad judgment. This, in response to the implication that they were infallible.

Boxhall's navigation: sent all potential rescue vessels (Carpathia, Californian, Mt. Temple) to the wrong location. But for random chance (and/or a complimentary error in Rostron's reckoning of his position), Carpathia wouldn't have found the survivors for days.

Signals they failed to exhibit: (I would think this should be fairly obvious to anyone who can read):

1. Gun
2. Flames
4. Fog-signal

Go ahead and argue that the audible signals (1, 4) would be more appropriate to an emergency in fog conditions. I agree. That still leaves 2.

Actions taken during evacuations on other vessels are totally irrelevant, because the results of any specific course of action are all over the map. Quietly instructing Lightoller to allow men to board the boats is what is under discussion, and comparing it to the Ecstasy situation is ludicrous.
 

Erik Wood

Member
Apr 10, 2001
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Putting lit tar barrels on the deck and using the sound signals would have created panic (the fire that is and the only time I have seen this used is when the ship was stranded and needed to attract attention)not to mention that fire on ships is a bad thing, no matter if it is started intentionally or not and that ships of the pre WW1 era didn't have the ability to readily put out a fire had it gotten out of control, which could have made the situation worse. I don't know a mariner out there who would have used this in Titanic's situation.

The fog signal would have hampered beyond belief the ability evacuate the ship. During earlier events in the night Lightoller had to use hand signals to communicate to the crew (who knew how to understand those signals) due to the steam dump, and the steam dump would have been a lot quieter then a fog horn. Not to mention that enormous (Mark Chirnside would know best) amounts of steam (that was needed to power the lights and pumps) would have been needed to operate those horns, while the ship was both loosing steam (fewer and fewer boilers to produce it) and needed the quiet for peaceful communication to passengers.

The gun could have been used I would guess though wouldn't have been the best thing to do with passengers who have no idea what is going on around them. I am wondering if the term gun is meant in larger form, such as cannon or something.

Ice region: there is no operational distinction between reported ice conditions and known ice conditions.

This has been covered numerous times in other threads. Shipping companies write specific guidelines for Captains to follow, and there is a HUGE "operational difference". There is a big difference between where something is when reported, and where something is when you enter the area. There is no argument (that I am aware of) that suggests they shouldn't have slowed down, or put up extra lookouts but this is all post disaster debate and on recommendations of what could have been done to prevent the incident. That is not to say that Smith (Niether court found him guilty of this) was negligent in not doing either one.

NOTE: That is not to say that in some situations a warning can not be used as the sole reason for a vessel to detract from its intended course and speed, that decision ultimatly rests with the master and only the master. In the situation being discussed Captain Smith viewed that the information he had received did not warrant any further change in route or plan.​

The ocean going business is based solely and completely off money and nothing else. Slowing down for something that is traveling with a current when your reports (the ones that you recieve mind you) are hours if not days old is bad company practice and has never been done, now, nor then. The reason Captain Smith didn't slow down was because in his opinion there was nothing to slow down for. He based this decision (rightly or wrongly) on the information that he had received up to the point he and Second Officer Lightoller had a brief discussion prior to Smith entering the chart room or staying on "the square" as Fourth Officer Boxhall called it up until the moment of the incident.

This is where I believe a relevant debate could be had on how much Captain Smith and other Captains of the era relied to heavily on there experience. As an aside several other line officers and Captains of other liners testified that it was normal procedure to travel at full speed until the ice was sighted. The Titanic disaster changed that.

What Captain Smith received was a warning, that meant that ships passing the general area of the Lat and Long noted ice. At the time all these messages where recieved (with exception of the Californian and Mesaba messages which never made it to the bridge) earlier in day or days earlier. The two most important messages which should have given Smith cause to take more action never made it to his hand.

No two maritime incidents are alike, that is why in the preparation for report writing they are compared to other incidents and in the case of evcuations to other evcuations. Since this debate has evolved and included discussion about panic comparing it to real life situations where documented fact exsists (such as the Ectasy and AL) are very vaulable in comparison.

It is difficult for me to discuss a situation and make blanket statements about it, without having something else to include experience to compare it to. This in my mind is what makes a well rounded opinion.

My statement about Wilde and company, which didn't include "blah blah blah" was intended to show that the men doing the job where not amatuers and had been doing the job they where doing for some time, most of them being promoted at a steady pace. So they knew how to function and do the job they had, or they wouldn't have had it. In the world of MM and especially in the BMM (David Haisman would elaborate best) you usually don't get promoted with our reason. It is based off performance.
 
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Alicia Coors

Guest
"Putting lit tar barrels on the deck...would have created panic..."

Why? Because you say so? Color me dubious.

Maybe it would have encouraged more people to survive!
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,614
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Easley South Carolina
>>Maybe it would have encouraged more people to survive!<<

And maybe it would have stampeded the cattle. Titanic's officers could scarcely afford to take that sort of gamble. And as Erik said, fire on a ship is far from a desirable thing unless it can be confined to places where fire is meant to be. (The galleys and the boilers.)

As to the gun, Titanic didn't use one and couldn't have used one because she didn't have one to begin with.

Fog signals? To who and how far away??? The steam they had was needed to keep the generators running. They could hardly afford to use it anywhere else. Sound drops off dramatically with distance and the one ship that was seen to be close enough to see anything had no trouble seeing the socket signals that were being fired. Interpretation is another matter, but that's a flamewar for a different thread.

>>Ice region: there is no operational distinction between reported ice conditions and known ice conditions. When ice is reported, you can assume someone "knows." The relevance of the crew's response to the ice hazard, as with my other points, is that the crew were capable of exercising bad judgment.<<

Indeed they did. And I don't think you'll find anyone who would disagree with that. You will also note...if you actually read the inquiries...that this was a very common practice of the day, that is to run at full speed in all conditions if the people running the ship thought it was safe to so and if they thought that visibility was sufficient for them to do the see and avoid thing. A bad one to be sure, but stil the common practice of the day.

Think anything has changed in this regard since then??? Guess what...it hasn't.

I've seen this sort of thing done...with a warship yet! That doesn't make it excusable, but it's still there.

>>Boxhall's navigation: sent all potential rescue vessels (Carpathia, Californian, Mt. Temple) to the wrong location. But for random chance (and/or a complimentary error in Rostron's reckoning of his position), Carpathia wouldn't have found the survivors for days.<<

Quite right again. It did exactly that. What's your point??? Is the gravity of the situation a barrier to error? I recall pointing out in another thread that it wasn't. It still isn't. Boxhall could only use what he had. His calculated position would have been correct if the information was!!!! Unfortunately, when one navigates by dead reckoning and not GPS, errors creep in. Boxhall could only play the hand he was dealt. (And as you pointed out, Carpathia made complimentary errors as well. Shall we put Captain Rostron in the pillory as well???)
 
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Alicia Coors

Guest
If you will re-read (and re-re-read if necessary) my post here, you will find that I stipulated the inappropriateness of audible signals. Your protracted argumentation of points not in dispute is curious, to say the least.

The best way to save the most was a judgment call - and the officers of RMS Titanic had been making bad calls since sundown.

A quiet word or two from Smith to his officers would have saved dozens, perhaps hundreds, more people. "Mr. Lightoller, you may board the gentlemen if there are no women or children about. Mr. Wilde, please see to impressing more passengers with the necessity of abandoning ship. A general announcement will not be advisable."

The decision to maintain speed informed by the knowledge of the prevailing conditions was reprehensible. Smith's famous "if it becomes at all doubtful" reveals that he didn't already think it was doubtful - which Lightoller obviously did. Why the first officer didn't press the issue is known all too well to anyone familiar with the politics of a chain of command.

As far as excusing Boxhall's incompetent navigation with "errors creep in," I would say that a discrepancy of 8-10 miles on a 95-mile run is inexcusable. The information that he had was: a precise fix at sundown, a known course and speed, and sufficient knowledge of the current to dead-reckon within a mile or less.
 

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