Would The Britannic Have Sunk if...

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.
>>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.

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.

Alicia Coors

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.
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.

Alicia Coors

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."

Alicia Coors

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

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."
>>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.

Alicia Coors

"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?
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.
  • Like
Reactions: 1 user