Would The Britannic Have Sunk if...


Dec 2, 2000
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>>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. <<

Which you prefaced by saying
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
The caveat came afterwords. Since how you say something is as important as what you say, you might take note that "Failed to exhibet" implies a certain level of error which in this case is very debatable. Since you have now postively ruled out sound signals as being inappropriate, that leaves only the matter of flames and Erik has already spelled out why this is a bad idea.

>>The best way to save the most was a judgment call ...<<

Which they made and which you've been second guessing from the very start.

>>and the officers of RMS Titanic had been making bad calls since sundown.<<

And I don't recall anyone disputing this. However, the issue here is not the bad calls they made since sundown, but the way they handled the evacuation of the ship.

>>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."<<

Which could have stampeded the cattle as likely as not. Erik has already commented on the inadvisability of countermanding orders once things are going on. Now to add to that, do you have any idea just how quickly word of something like this can spread throughout the ship??? Remember the situation: Sinking ship plus a Surplus of bodies along with a shortage of boats. Now throw into this mix a couple of people "passing it on" and then having it heard and misheard on down the line until a situation with a reasonable level of calm degenerates into a panic because of the way the story would "improve" in the telling. Grapevine communications are funny this way. That's not to say it would happen, but it could and they couldn't take that chance.

>>The decision to maintain speed informed by the knowledge of the prevailing conditions was reprehensible.<<

Also, unfortunately, the practice of the day and not just on the Titanic. It's amazing how often this factor keeps getting missed.

>>Smith's famous "if it becomes at all doubtful" reveals that he didn't already think it was doubtful - which Lightoller obviously did.<<

I wouldn't make that assumption. There was nothing unusual about the order that Smith gave. It's practically the standard instruction every ship's master gives in both the merchent service and the military even to this day. Yes, they knew of reported ice conditions ahead, discussed it and acted on it. (Otherwise, why instruct the lookouts to be alert for possible ice in the first place.) In hindsight, it obviously wasn't enough, but back then, doing business this way had served the ships on the North Atlantic run quite well for a very long time. Why change a system which...up to that time...had worked quite well?

>>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.<<

Since Murdock didn't survive, I'm afraid I don't know the reasons for this, and neither do you. I can only guess at them. Being rather inconveniently dead, he can't speak for himself as the others had the opportunity to do. What little we know of what he said or what concerns he may have expressed comes to us second hand from fallible memories. Your opinion on this might be bang on the money. It might also be so far off base that it's not even in the ballpark.

For all we know, he may not have been in the least bit concerned, or he was, but kept the difference of opinion private. I'm all to aware of the politics of the chain of command on a ship. Well enough in fact to know that some things...like differences of opinion...are not discussed in front of the troops.

>>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.<<

And sufficient knowladge of what else? What possible course changes and speed changes that may never have made it into the record? What of his illness which may and very likely did handicap his judgement??? We assume an awful lot when we come to the idea that we know all the factors involved when all we have is what came from those who survived.
 
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Alicia Coors

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"Since how you say something is as important as what you say...

Now I know where to come to have my diction, spelling, grammar, and punctuation corrected!

...a couple of people "passing it on" and then having it heard and misheard on down the line until a situation with a reasonable level of calm degenerates into a panic because of the way the story would "improve" in the telling. Grapevine communications are funny this way.

I agree - rumor and garbled communication is a constant. Which means it would take place in any event. Which means that no additional risk would be assumed were Smith quietly to clarify the boarding policy.

What possible course changes and speed changes that may never have made it into the record?

You mean the historical record, which is not what Boxhall had access to. But if all course and speed changes weren't available to Boxhall, the operation of the vessel verged on the criminally negligent. And if he was too sick to function, he should have been either relieved or backed up.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Now let's go back and take a look at the whole of what was said in context.
>>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."<<

Which could have stampeded the cattle as likely as not. Erik has already commented on the inadvisability of countermanding orders once things are going on. Now to add to that, do you have any idea just how quickly word of something like this can spread throughout the ship??? Remember the situation: Sinking ship plus a Surplus of bodies along with a shortage of boats. Now throw into this mix a couple of people "passing it on" and then having it heard and misheard on down the line until a situation with a reasonable level of calm degenerates into a panic because of the way the story would "improve" in the telling. Grapevine communications are funny this way. That's not to say it would happen, but it could and they couldn't take that chance.
Note the underlined portion! Granting rumours would start anyway, why add fuel to the fire by starting something that would ultimately be distorted beyond belief??? Things were getting dicey enough as it was and doing so well befor 2 am. The officers didn't resort to threatening people with guns and firing warning shots because everybody was bahaving themselves. They did so because things were already starting to get out of hand.

>>You mean the historical record, which is not what Boxhall had access to. But if all course and speed changes weren't available to Boxhall, the operation of the vessel verged on the criminally negligent.<<

Perhaps...and if there were no course and speed changes? Do we know that there were? Do we know that there weren't? That's what makes the sort of contemporary value judgements you're making so dangerous, to say nothing of anachronistic. They didn't have all the information we do. Likewise, we don't know the whole of what was available to them or how it was handled.

>>And if he was too sick to function, he should have been either relieved or backed up.<<

By who? The list of available officers was a short one and they worked some pretty tough hours as it was. If the illness wasn't on the verge being completely disabling or life threatening, or at least something where the ship's doctor orders you to bedrest, you stood your watch. (You still do be it underway or just minding the store inport. Been there, done that!) It's a question of choosing the lesser of two evils. Unfortunately, this can lead to a situation where one can make errors. A number garbled here, a number garbled or misunderstood there, that's all it takes. Frankly, I'm amazed Joe Boxhall did as well as he did.
 
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Alicia Coors

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Getting a few more people into the boats early on wouldn't have caused panic, because that wasn't a significant risk as long as most people didn't think the ship would sink. People don't panic when they think they're safe. Even when it did occur to people that they were in jeopardy, the crew still managed to ramp up the occupancy of the last few boats.

Perhaps...and if there were no course and speed changes? Then Boxhall's task would be much simpler. Do we know that there were? No. So what? Do we know that there weren't? ibid That's what makes the sort of contemporary value judgements you're making so dangerous, to say nothing of anachronistic. That's not a value judgment. That's high-school logic. They didn't have all the information we do. What? The position of the wreckage? Likewise, we don't know the whole of what was available to them or how it was handled. That's right. And it's totaly irrelevant. If there were no course and/or speed changes, Boxhall's computation would be simplified. If there were, but they weren't available to him, somebody screwed up, because that's no way to run a 50,000 ton ship.

By who[m]? If there were officers available to assist with the sundown position, they would have been available four hours later. Especially when the computation was critical to the survival of 2,200 people. Frankly, I'm amazed Joe Boxhall didn't have his work checked by everyone on the bridge.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Getting a few more people into the boats early on wouldn't have caused panic,<<

Do it your way and it just might. As I pointed out, things were already starting to go sour fairly early on.

>>Perhaps...and if there were no course and speed changes? Then Boxhall's task would be much simpler.<<

If there were no course changes. Let's not forget to factor in the manuevering done after the ship struck the iceberg. We know from the accounts of Gracie and Beesley that the ship made way again. That some engine orders involving manuevering were given is corroberated by the testimony of survivors from the engine room.

>>Do we know that there were? No. So what?<<

Because in order to get an accurate fix, you have to know the whole of what the ship was doing. Where she went, how fast she went, etc. C'mon Alicia, you're pretty good at crunching numbers. Tell me how you can get an accurate fix with only part of the equation?

>>That's what makes the sort of contemporary value judgements you're making so dangerous, to say nothing of anachronistic. That's not a value judgment. That's high-school logic.<<

No it isn't. It's armchair quarterbacking.

>>They didn't have all the information we do. What? The position of the wreckage?<<

They didn't have that information. What they had was whatever numbers were available to them so they could calculate what they thought was the position of the ship.

>>Likewise, we don't know the whole of what was available to them or how it was handled. That's right. And it's totaly irrelevant.<<

An accident investigator would disagree and so do I. Befor making any sort of judgement, it's entirely relevant to have all the facts you can get ahold of.

>>If there were no course and/or speed changes, Boxhall's computation would be simplified.<<

And if there were, it would be complicated.

>>If there were, but they weren't available to him, somebody screwed up, because that's no way to run a 50,000 ton ship.<<

Ahhhhh....the Zero Defects Mentality strikes again! Too bad the real world is full of flaws.

>>If there were officers available to assist with the sundown position, they would have been available four hours later. Especially when the computation was critical to the survival of 2,200 people.<<

For the record, the Titanic had seven officers who were expected to keep a lid on things 24/7 in a rotating watch. Seven...that's it! As they had a full plate all the time and rest was essential, unless you were completely indisposed, you stood your watch.

>>Especially when the computation was critical to the survival of 2,200 people. Frankly, I'm amazed Joe Boxhall didn't have his work checked by everyone on the bridge.<<

And as I've pointed out, the gravity of the situation is no barrier to mistakes. And in the middle of an emergency, you don't have all the officers crunching the numbers when they're needed someplace else. Like on those boats and getting them away.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Maybe this thread should be renamed the Alicia/Michael debate. In all seriousness, Boxhall's navigation was NOT incompetent. I believe he did the best he could under the situation and with the data available to him. And it is entirely possible that he did make an error in using the tables, but that should not invoke a label of incompetence. At best, the position was going to be an estimate only. Once rescue ships can make it to the general location, they would still need to get visual confirmation. That's why you have rockets and flares to help. Unfortunately, even if within range of seeing these, it does not necessarily trigger others into taking appropriate actions. But that is a topic for another thread.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Maybe this thread should be renamed the Alicia/Michael debate.<<

Perhaps you should toss us a pile of lethal weapons and start taking bets on the outcome just to make it interesting.
wink.gif


Seriously, I've a hunch that Alica and myself may be a lot closer to agreement on some points then either of us can see. In general terms, her facts aren't wrong. The evacuation could have been handled better then it was, the position that Boxhall came up with was wrong, etc.

Where we part company is on the little nuances that we have no way of knowing because key witnesses and records (Like the log!) didn't survive and certain details known to us in the here and now that was unknowble in the there and then. Like a poker game, they had to play the hand that was dealt, and deal with problems as they came up, and figure things out as they went with no way of knowing what hand was going to be dealt next. Honest mistakes were inevitable and understandable IMO, given the nature of the crisis. We have the luxury of time to figure things out. They didn't. That's what makes sweeping judgement calls so problematic.

The lessons learned came ex post facto when it was possible to get the stories of the survivors together that formed something that had a passing semblance to the Big Picture that the individual players had no way of knowing at the time. If somebody can do it better, then they can invent a time machine, go back and make it happen. Absent that, I'm willing to give these people the benefit of the doubt.

If anyone else is unwilling to do that, then we'll just have to agree to disagree and move on.
 
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Alicia Coors

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Michael said, "The evacuation could have been handled better then it was, the position that Boxhall came up with was wrong, etc." And I agree. But he thinks the errors were excusable, and I don't. No time machine is necessary to see clearly when smart people have made dumb decisions throughout history.

Based on the information available to them at the time, the city engineers knew better than to declare the dam above Jamestown, Pennsylvania safe. It was a stupid thing to do.

Based on the information available to them at the time, the allies knew that sending an amphibious force to raid Dieppe would result in disaster. But they did it anyway.

Based on the information available to them at the time, the builders of the Kansas City Hyatt Hotel should have known that the way the skywalks were constructed wouldn't support the the required load.


There are probably several million other examples of naked incompetence resulting in disaster that could be cited, but my point is just this: Titanic's crew handled the situation they found themselves in as well as they could, but not necessarily as well as anybody could have. There was plenty of room at the margins for more competent performance. The "little nuances" used to excuse their results are a red herring. We can factor out what what was known to the participants from what we know now.

No one, in whatever situation, knows what is going to happen next. But some are better at responding flexibly to whatever occurs, and even anticipating several possible turns of events, and having contingency plans for all of them. Successful military leaders share this characteristic aptitude for looking ahead at the adversary's countermoves to one's own countermoves. Titanic's officers were notoriously myopic in this regard, from failing to heed Lightoller's analysis of the difficulty of seeing ice ahead to failing to anticipate that people who had already escaped in the boats were unlikely to come back for anyone else.

It was a symphony of errors.
 
Mar 22, 2003
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Sorry Alicia, but you seem to believe that the situation on the Titanic could have been handled better by others more competent. It is easy to identify what could have been done differently long after an event than during an event. However, labeling performance as being incompetent is something else entirely.

For example, getting the wrong answer does not necessarily imply incompetence. Take Boxhall's CQD position. Is it wrong? Yes, if you compare it to the position of the wreck site. Was he incompetent in his performance? Maybe not. With what we know, would another navigator come up with a different, more accurate, position? That depends on the data that was known and used to figure out the position report. You are assuming, I believe, that he had enough data, and accurate date, to perform the calculations necessary to come up with a result that should have been much closer to the wreck site. There are some who speculate that he made a mistake using transverse tables and did not check, or have someone else check, his results. But that is speculation, not proof. Did he check his calculations? I don't know, nor does anybody else. Exactly what data did he have available to work with, we can only speculate. The only thing we can say with certainty is that the CQD position differed from the wreck position. But we should not say he performed incompetently unless that can be proved without any reasonable doubt. And I think there are many doubts about this one.
 
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Alicia Coors

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Sorry, Samuel, but you seem to believe that there is a lack of inferential fact, and I don't.
13614. (The Solicitor-General.) Had not you better tell us as accurately as you can what passed between [Captain Smith] and you when he came on the bridge at five minutes to nine? - (Mr. Lightoller.) I will.

13615. If you please. - At five minutes to nine, when the Commander came on the bridge (I will give it to you as near as I remember.) he remarked that it was cold, and as far as I remember I said, "Yes, it is very cold, Sir. In fact," I said, "it is only one degree above freezing. I have sent word down to the carpenter and rung up the engine room and told them that it is freezing or will be during the night." We then commenced to speak about the He said, "There is not much wind." I said, "No, it is a flat calm as a matter of fact." He repeated it; he said, "A flat calm." I said, "Yes, quite flat, there is no wind." I said something about it was rather a pity the breeze had not kept up whilst we were going through the ice region. Of course, my reason was obvious; he knew I meant the water ripples breaking on the base of the berg.

13616. You said it was a pity there was not a breeze? - Yes, I said, "It is a pity there is not a breeze," and we went on to discuss the weather. He was then getting his eyesight, you know, and he said, "Yes, it seems quite clear," and I said, "Yes, it is perfectly clear." It was a beautiful night, there was not a cloud in the sky. The sea was apparently smooth, and there was no wind, but at that time you could see the stars rising and setting with absolute distinctness.

13617. On the horizon? - On the horizon. We then discussed the indications of ice. I remember saying, "In any case there will be a certain amount of reflected lights from the bergs." He said, "Oh, yes, there will be a certain amount of reflected light." I said, or he said; blue was said between us - that even though the blue side of the berg was towards us, probably the outline, the white outline would give us sufficient warning, that we should be able to see it at a good distance, and, as far as we could see, we should be able to see it. Of course it was just with regard to that possibility of the blue side being towards us, and that if it did happen to be turned with the purely blue side towards us, there would still be the white outline.
They acknowledged the ice would not be visible by the usual indication at the base.

They anticipated the ice would reflect light.

They thought that a berg (even "probably" a blue one) would be visible by a white outline.

And they chose to do nothing about it. (Okay, they directed the lookouts to watch for ice - but that's like instructing the helmsman to stay on course.)

Knowing they couldn't rely on the ripples, they guessed they would see a reflection or an outline. The unvarnished truth is that they guessed wrong. I don't know what you call that, but I can't think of a better word than "incompetence."
 
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Alicia Coors

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Perhaps our only disagreement is semantic. I see the officers as
incompetent:

1. bad at doing something: lacking the skills, qualities, or ability to do something properly

Microsoft® Encarta® Reference Library 2004. © 1993-2003 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
Your view seems to include only the "skills" part of the definition. Mine encompasses "qualities" and "ability" to conduct the voyage safely. But they're all defined as "incompetence."
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>And I agree. But he thinks the errors were excusable, and I don't. No time machine is necessary to see clearly when smart people have made dumb decisions throughout history.<<

That's because your seeing everything on the table to see what was pieced together ex post facto. Things are nowhere near that clear when your actually in the middle of the thing and you have to deal with problems as they come up with no way of knowing what they'll be or when they'll come up. I've been on a distressed ship and I know how this works. For all the training one may have, for all the resources you have available, things just don't always go according to the book, and the ones who are wise after the event just aren't there when that wisdom is needed. The players in the game just have to make do with whatever pieces they have and hope that things work out, or at the very least, keep and already bad situation from getting dramatically worse.

There was simply no way the officers and crew on the Titanic could see things with the sort of clarity that we do.

>>The unvarnished truth is that they guessed wrong. I don't know what you call that, but I can't think of a better word than "incompetence."<<

More like the cumulative experience of the time which told them that this was a reasonable gamble. We know better now but they didn't. When you get down to it, this is the base point behind it all that you're missing. The Titanic was operated using navigation practices that were in use and which had worked for nearly forty years. What reason did they have to believe that "the system" in use the was a bad one???

None whatever until the iceberg gave everybody a nasty wake up call. After that, they had to work things out as they went. It fell on those who came afterwards to learn the lessons and pass them on.

Well, I'm done with this. If you want to continue to take issue with that, that's certainly your right, but we'll just have to agree to disagree on this matter.
 
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Alicia Coors

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"The Titanic was operated using navigation practices that were in use and which had worked for nearly forty years."

Seeing as how ships had been disappearing without a trace on this route for centuries, who knows what practices worked, and which didn't? Only the survivors got to vote.

What we know for sure, if Lightoller's testimony is truthful, is that both he and Smith thought icebergs reflected starlight, and that their white outlines (even of blue bergs) would be visible.

Now I would like to ask everyone who has been in iceberg country on a moonless night: were Lightoller and Smith correct?
 
Nov 14, 2005
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Would Captain Bartlett been able to steer Britannic and beach her at Kea had the portholes not been open? or the WTD?
If the reports are true the biggest problem was that the WTD's and other hatches were left open pretty much the length of the ship. The portholes were a problem but by the time it got to them it was prttey much a done deal. Some people said that if they followed proper damage control they might have made it. But thats all coulda woulda shoulda of, now. Almost everybody survived. So give the Captain credit for that. Of the 30 or so killed most were in the lifeboats that got chopped up by the props. From what I understand the crewmwn that launched those boats did so without orders.
 
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