Ninety nine years have come and gone and we are now counting down to the centenary of one of the worlds worst-ever peacetime marine disasters. Doubtless when 15th April 2012 arrives, we will be served-up with a plethora of books, short stories, and sight-seeing trips liberally spiced with souvenirs. All of these and the inevitable media feeding frenzy to look forward to.
Thanks to the interest of researchers, marine historians and millions of romantics, there's not too much we don't know about that great ship and the people who designed, financed, built and spent such a brief period on board her. However, among the mysteries remaining, the question of what time it was on board ship when she struck the iceberg has caused a great deal of dyspepsia and bad feeling between groups of researchers. Regardless of viewpoint, everyone agrees the time of hitting the berg was 11-40pm. However, there is evidence to suggest there were two 11:40 pms that night, the second one due to the Watch keeping clock being set back 24 minutes as part of a planned clock change. If such a change took place, it would effect the total number of hours and minutes 'Titanic' was underway from Noon on April 14 until she struck the iceberg and consequently the ship's average speed. It might also explain why there was such a discrepancy between the final resting place of Titanic on the sea bed and the distress positions developed by Captain Smith and his navigators. I believe the answers to these questions are contained within the evidence given by the ship's surviving navigators. In the the following pages, I hope to clear-up these mysteries and put them to bed for all time.
Researchers go into great detail about clock times on board ship – very boring and full of difficult description traps. In truth, the real bone of contention is the number of hours and minutesTitanic was steaming at full speed from Noon on the 14th of April until she stopped her engines after hitting the iceberg – the run time!
As I indicate, opinion is split between two groups:
One group – the most popular - states that Titanic steamed for 11 hours and 40 minutes and hit the iceberg at 11-40pm on the 14th of April, 1912. Absolutely no frills – straight forward!
The second group state that the ship steamed for 12 hours and 4 minutes before hitting the icberg but here's the strange bit – also hitting the iceberg at 11-40pm – not so straight forward!
At this point, we could go into technical gobbledegook about time changes, passenger and crew clocks, Company rules etc. Not necessary! We just have to examine all relevant evidence and decide if this weighs in favour of a longer Noon to impact run time.
Many researchers play about with passenger observation of time but I suggest such an approach only confuses the issue and, since passengers were not involved in partial clock changes; is irrelevant to this exercise. Consequently, only the evidence of those crew members whose work schedules would be effected by any partial clock change is considered here. These would include Deck and Engine room Staff on the 8 to Midnight and Midnight to 4 am Watches. The most important of these two groups being those who would be going on duty at midnight that night – the Midnight to 4 am Watch. Why? Because these people would set personal time pieces back 24 minutes so that when they were called at 1 bell, the famous warning signal meaning "Better wake-up lads, only 15 minutes left before work time!" – they would thus be sure of getting an extra 24 minutes in bed. They would not be allowed to sleep right up until the time to go to work.
First , we must set out qualifying criteria .
Steaming time from Noon to impact: 12 hours and 4 minutes.
If Titanic steamed for 12 hours and 4 minutes before hitting the iceberg then:
(a). The crew clocks were set back 24 minutes at or before midnight.
(b). The Navigating Officers told the truth about the ship's maximum speed being 21.5 knots.
(c) The Second and Fourth Officers were truthful about the 1 hour 33 minute time difference
between the Watch-clock time and New York time.
(d) The Gulf Stream was acting against the ship during the afternoon of April 14.
(e) The Midnight to 4am lookouts relieved the 8 to Midnight look-outs on time as sceduled.
So how might we go about matching the criteria? I suggest closely examining the evidence given by crew members at both the United States Senate Inquiry and at the British Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry
From these Inquiries, the following crew members of the Midnight to 4 am Watch have been identified. These were due to enjoy an extra 24 minutes off work before relieving the 8 to Midnight Watch at adjusted Midnight
Herbert Pitman – 3rd.Officer.
Harold Lowe - 5th Officer.
Walter Perkis - QM .
Arthur Bright – QM.
Walter Wynn – QM.
George Hogg – Look-out
Frank Evans – Look-out
Frank Osman – AB
William. Lucas - AB
Edward Buley - AB
Fredrick Clench – AB*
Ernest Archer – AB
Andrew Cunningham – Steward.
Likewise, the following members of the 8 to Midnight Watch have been identified. These would have been relieved after having worked an extra 24 minutes:
Joseph Boxhall - 4th Officer
James Moodey -6th Officer.
Robert Hitchens -QM.
Alfred Olliver - QM.
George Rowe – QM.
Joseph Scarrot – AB.
William Lucas – AB.
Thomas Jones – AB.
Walter Brice – AB.
Frank Evans – AB.
Reginald Lee – Look-out.
Alfred Crawford – Steward.
While analysing what these people told the two Inquiries concerning work hours, the following points should be borne in mind:
Point 1 : At 11-40pm on a Watch-keeping clock retarded by 24 minutes, the members of the Midnight to 4am Watch would have no more than 20 minutes left free time before they had to go back to work.
Point 2: At 11-40pm on a clock yet to be adjusted, the same people would have 45 minutes left of free time before going back to work and all such Watch members would be sound asleep! The operative worde being all!
Point 3: The sounding of 8 bells signifying the end of a Watch period is not made until the actual end of the full Watch period. Therefore if no clock set back it would be sounded after 4 hours. However if the Watch keeping clock was set back 24 minutes; 8 bells would only be sounded after a total of 4 hours and 24 minutes duty time on Watch had been completed.
Bearing these in mind; to prove that the Watchkeeping clocks were set back before Titanic hit the iceberg, the following conditions must be met:
(a) That at the impact time of 11-40pm., members of the on-coming Midnight to 4pm Watch had no more than 20 minutes left of free time before going back to work.
(b) . That Watch members heard the sounding of 8 bells signifying the end (change) of the Watch.
(c) That members of the Midnight to 4am Watch actually relieved their counterparts on the 8pm to Midnight Watch at the hour of 12 Midnight.
We will start with evidence given by Members of the incoming Midnight to 4am Watch.
Herbert Pitman – 3rd.Officer. - He told the Inquiry that about 15 minutes after he was awakend by the impact, he decided to get ready for work as it was nearly time to go there. He was completely dressed except for his bridge coat when 4th Officer Boxhall came to tell him about the mail room flooding. That was his first indication of the seriousness of the situation. Less than 5 minutes before this he thought: "I might as well get up, as it is no use trying to go to sleep again, I am due on Watch in a few minutes."
George Hogg – Look-out - He told the Inquiry " I asked the time, then, of my mate Evans, and he said, "It is a quarter to 12. We will get dressed and get ready to go on the lookout. I went to relieve the lookout 20 minutes after the accident. I thought she was not going down."
Frank Osman- AB – He told the Inquiry: "[when impact took place]I was waiting for one bell, which they strike, one bell"
Edward Buley – AB – He told the Inquiry: " I was sitting in the mess, reading, at the time when she struck.. I was in the watch on deck, the starboard watch. At 12 o'clock we relieved the other watch."
Walter Perkis – QM : Slept in. He relieved QM Hitchens 23 minutes late at 12-23pm "I turned out after being called by the joiner of the ship".
He told the Inquiry that he was called by the Carpenter yet his Watch mate QM Walter Wynn told the Inquiry that he had called Bright and Perkis!
Arthur Bright – QM: Was late on duty. "I went out to the after-end of the ship to relieve the man I should have relieved at 12 o'clock, a man by the name of Rowe.". In fact, he relieved QM Rowe at 12-25pm – He was 25 minutes late for duty.
Andrew Cunningham – Steward. He told the Inquiry: "Yes, sir. It happened to be my turn for the middle watch, or from 12 to 4. I was called to go on the middle watch."(Senator Smith asked:"Were you on duty when this accident happened?" Reply: "I was just called, sir."
Of the 14 identified members of the on-coming 12 to 4pm Watch, 6 indicate that they were ready to go on Watch 5 minutes after Titanic hit the iceberg. And the 3 Quarter Masters were late in relieving the 8 to 12 Watch because they were called about 20 minutes after impact by the Carpenter after he had completed the soundings of the ship's tanks. They would normally have been called at 11-45pm – 'one bell' by the stand-by Quarter Master Alfred Olliver but he had other things to do!
Let us now examine the evidence of those who were to be relieved at time-adjusted midnight – the members of the 8 to midnight Watch.
Fredrick Fleet – Lookout. He told the Inquiry that he did not leave the Crow's nest until 12 o'clock when 8 bells were sounded "Till eight bells went."- when he was relieved by Hogg and Evans "in the ordinary course," and that he remained in the Crow's Nest "Till eight bells went. I did not leave there until 12 o'clock. When I went down at 12 o'clock.... the men[Firemen] brought their bags up from there who were going on the 12 to 4 watch, because the watch was coming in there.
Reginald Lee – Look-out. He told the Inquiry "I was not relieved till 12 o'clock.". After that he went below and: " I heard the boatswain call the other watch. He told everybody to get the boats ready for turning out. That was the watch below; they were turned out, the watch that had just gone below. Questioner: "That would be at 12 o'clock; they had just gone below? - Yes.
Alfred Crawford- Steward : I was on watch until 12 o'clock, and [at time of impact] I was waiting for my relief to come up. I was to be relieved at 12 o'clock.
Of all the witnesses - the on-coming Midnight to 4am Watch, and for the Watch to be relieved at Midnight - the most convincing evidence of clock change was supplied by the Lookouts Fleet, Lee and Hogg.
Not only did Hogg tell his questioners that he and his mate Evans relieved Fleet and Lee at 12 o' clock midnight, but he also reports calling the bridge and getting no reply 20 minutes after midnight and at the same time, seeing people on the boat deck wearing lifejackets.
Fleet and Lee confirmed they had been relieved at Midnight...had heard 8 bells strike indicating the end of the Watch and had seen the Bosun call-out the members of the previous Watch.. the 8 to 12 Watch which had just been relieved and gone below for some rest. If they had been relieved before they had completed the full time on Watch, including the planned extra 24 minutes, they would not have heard 8 bells being sounded. They would not have left the Crow's Nest and gone below decks and consequently not have witnessed the 8 to 12 Watch being called back out on deck by the Bosun. Nor would they have seen the on-going Midnight to 4 Black Gang going on duty.
As for Lookouts Hogg and Evans: they would not have relieved Fleet and Lee 24 minutes before they were due to do so. If they had done; 20 minutes after that, would have been16 minutes past midnight on an unadjusted clock and they would most certainly have got a response to their telephone call to the bridge.
In addition to the evidence of these deck crew Watch-keepers: Steward Andrew Cunningham had just been called to go on Watch at midnight. This would be 'midnight' on clocks adjusted by 24 minutes.
Leading Fireman Charles Hendrickson told the UK Inquiry that Mr. Harvey, the Second Asistant engineer asked him to go forward to the crew accommodation and call out extra hands to help with clearing out the fires in boiler room 5. The relevant part is found on Day 5 of the Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry:
" 4909. Did you get some more men?
4910. You went forward to your quarters again?
- Yes, they were the men belonging to the watch, the 8 to 12 watch.
4911. The men whose watch it was below?
Can it be any clearer?
Enforcing the crew evidence for a clock change of 24 minutes; surviving officers Lightoller and Boxhall stated that the time on board Titanic when she struck the iceberg was 11:40 pm and that there was a time difference between the ship and New York of 1 hour 33 minutes.
Researchers have completely rubbished this claim. The reason they give is that at Noon on April 14, Titanic's clocks were 2 hours 2 minutes fast of New York time and that by simple arithmetic, the change of 24 minutes would reduce the time difference to 1 hour 38 minutes, not the 1 hour 33 minutes claimed by Lightoller and Boxhall. They arrive at the 1 hour 38 minute difference by assuming the time difference between New York and Greenwich used was exactly 5 hours. However, they are using the wrong time difference between Greenwich and New York. In fact, the time diference used by the navigators on Titanic would be exactly 4 hours and 55 minutes. Proof of this can be found in the nautical tables in use at the time:
If we then apply this time difference to the previous sum we get:
Noon Titanic...... 01hrs 57 minutes ahead of New York and 02hrs 58 minutes behind Greenwich.
Clock set-back: 24 minutes 24 minutes
Midnight Titanic 01hrs 33 minutes ahead of New York and 03hrs 22 minutes behind Greenwich.
From this and the evidence of the other crew members, it is clear that at the time of hitting the iceberg – 11-40pm on April 14, 1912, Titanic had been steaming 11hours 40 minutes + 24 minutes for the clock set back giving a total of 12 hours and 04 minutes since Noon on April 14 ... not the 11 hours and 40 minutes as popularly believed!. So what?..... Is the obvious question.
Well for one thing; We know Titanic had covered a distance of about 260 miles from Noon on April 14 when she hit the iceberg. If she covered that distance in 12 hours 02 minutes then her average speed from Noon was 21.55 knots - close to the average speed claimed by her navigators and not the 22.3 knots suggested by some researchers. If the officers' estimate of speed was correct.; what might that tell us about the erroneous distress positions transmitted by Titanic? Let's now have a closer look at Captain Smith and Boxhall's distress positions .
Until 1985, when the wreck of Titanic was found on the sea bed by an expedition led by Professor Ballard, everyone accepted the distress position calculated by Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall.
In fact, we now know the position given by Boxhall was wrong and the wreck is almost 13 nautical miles to the eastward of the position given by him. So how did the ship end-up there? Did Titanic drift backward that distance during the 2 hours or so she was afloat after hitting the iceberg? Or more simply; did Mr. Boxhall make a mistake in his calculations? After all, there was no wind or contributing current of any significance during the time Titanic was sinking so we must take the latter reason... Boxhall simply made a mistake! But how could a man such as he; with an Extra Master's Certificate and years of experience make this mistake? And if he did; what kind of mistake was it?
I suggest we can safely rule out an inability to count! There have been quite a few ingenious offerings, including; "the mistake was made due to improperly calculating the 7-30 pm ship's position resulting from Cellestial observations made by 2nd Officer Lightoller". Possible, but highly unlikely! These calculations were made under ideal conditions – no stress or anxiety. An every day bit of routine work for Boxhall.
There is one particular mistake he could have made.... He knew the clocks were to be set back a total of 47 minutes. The amount was to be shared between the night Watches; 24 and 23 minutes respectively - the first 24 minutes set back taking place at or before midnight on April 14.
If in fact, Titanic steamed the full 12 hours from Noon to midnight, then; since Boxhall and QM Olliver were off the bridge at the time, Moody would perform the task of setting back the Watch-keeping clock 24 minutes. Four (4) minutes after that, Titanic contacted the iceberg!
When Boxhall set out to calculate a CQD distress position, he would consult the Movement Book to get the time of emergency actions taken. This was a record normally kept by the standby Quarter Master. However, the standby QM, Olliver was off the bridge at the time of impact therefore in the Movement Book, he would find 6th Officer Moody's notation for the time First Officer Murdoch ordered the emergency helm and engine orders and possibly time of impact...11-40pm.
What if Boxhall simply compensated twice for a 24 minute Watch-clock set back? Let's test that idea. To do so, we will first consider the wrong distress position calculated by Captain Smith then compare it to that of 4th Officer Boxhall.
Boxhall said that to calculate the CQD distress position, he used the 7:30pm fix position and an estimated speed of 22 knots. But what was the ship's position at 7:30pm that night? We don't know for sure but we can get a good idea from Captain Smith's wrong CQD position.
The Captain's CQD position was obtained using an estimated position for 8:00 pm that evening. However, we know from Boxhall that the 8pm position the captain used was 20 miles in error.
We will therefore work back from Captain Smith's distress position ; first to find out where the captain would have placed his ship without the extra 20 miles. Then; from there, back to the estimated position for 7-30pm. We will use a run time of 4 hours and 34 minutes and a speed of 21.5 knots giving a distance of 98.2 nautical miles.
Captain Smith's CQD.......... . 41° 44.0'North 50° 24.0'West
Remove 20 miles error:
20mx 085°T........................ 1.7'North 27.0'East
Corrected CQD distress position 41° 45.7'North 49° 57.0'West .(2 miles North of the wreck site)
Now; run back to 7:30pm position
98.2m x 085°T.................. . 8.5'North 2° 11.5'East
Estimated position for 7-30p m 41° 54.2'North 47° 46.5'West
If, in error, Boxhall allowed for the Watch-keeping clock set-back twice. i.e. An extra 48 minutes of run time, then we must use a run time of 11-40pm minus 7-30pm = 4 hours 10 minutes +24 minutes+24 minutes) - a total of 4hours 58 minutes from the estimated position for 7-30pm obtained from Captain Smith's calculation above. During this time, at 22 knots, Titanic would cover a distance of 109.3 miles.
Estimated position for 7:30pm... 41° 54.2'North 47° 46.5'West
Boxhall's run: 109.3m x 265°T ...... .... . 9.5'South 2° 26.5'West
Boxhall's CQD position for impact 41° 44.7'North 50° 13.0'West.
Allow ¾ mile drift westward...................... .. 1.0'West.
Boxhall's CQD position transmitted 41° 45.0'North 50°14.0'West. (according to 4th Oficer Lowe)
Can it be sheer coincidence that this re-working of Boxhall's CQD brings us so close to where the man said Titanic was?
When questioned as to the distance Titanic had to steam from Noon on the 14th April until she reached the imaginary turning place – 'The Corner', 5th Officer Lowe said that as near as he could remember, it was 162 miles. In fact, it was between 124 and 126 miles. Researchers have assumed that Lowe merely got his numbers mixed up. Perhaps he did? Or more likey. since he was quoting from memory; he was remembering another distance run? It was Lowe who also worked the Dead reckoning position to be used with the calculation of the 7-30pm cellestial sights taken by Mr. Lightoller. Is it yet another coincidence that at 7-30pm., the patent log would have read about 162 miles? We can determine this from the patent log reading at the time of impact, divided by the run time to get the average speed The log read 260 nautical miles. This number divided by 12 hours 04 minutes gives an average speed of 21.55 knots
ed of Have a look at the following table. It is based on this average speed of 21.55 knots from Noon time to impact. .
Suggested patent Log readings - Noon to impact:
Time: Noon 2:00pm 4:00pm 5:50pm 6:00pm 7:30pm 8:00pm 10:00pm Midnight
Log..: 00.0 43.1 86.2 125.7 129.3 161.6 172.4 215.5 258.6
From this table, we can easily imagine that Captain Smith wrote in his Night Order Book that Titanic was to be turned at 5-50pm when the Patent Log read 126 nautical miles. We can also see that It is entirely feasible that 5th Officer Lowe was remembering the log reading he used to calculate the estimated position of the ship at the time of Mr. Lightoller's cellestial observations. However, there is an anomaly in that QM Hitchens stated that the patent log registered 45 nautical miles between 8pm and 10pm that night. Might he have mis-read it as 45 instead of 43?
It should also be noted that the distance travelled from Noon to 5:50pm should have been 128.3 mils if Titanic had kept up her speed of 22 knots after Noon. What kept her back? I believe it was the Gulf Stream since it is well known that the Stream sets about ENE in the area Titanic passed through from Noon to 6pm.
Since Titanic Watch clock was, as claimed by Lightoller and Boxhall; 1 hour 33 minutes fast of New York time at the time of impact, then Titanic was still underway when the mystery ship stopped near to the 'ship accused'...the SS 'Californian....' and therefore all the findings of the US and UK Inqiries relative to that ship were totally inaccurate.
In his evidence, Captain Lord of the SS Californian stated that at or near 11:40pm by his ship's clock, another ship stopped nearby.. about 5 miles away from the 'Californian'. At the time, the difference given between 'Californian' time and Greenwich time according to Californian's Noon 14th April longitude was 3 hours 10 minutes. This meant 'Californian' was 1 hour 45 minutes ahead (fast) of New York - not the popular 1 hour 50 minutes as used by researchers! Consequently; at 11-40 pm by the Watch clock on 'Californian', it was only 09:55 pm in New York. At the same moment on 'Titanic', it was 11:52pm and her Watch clocks had yet to be set back the required amount. 8 minutes later on 'Titanic', it would be midnight on April 14. At that moment, her Watch clocks would be set back 24 minutes; they would then read 11:36pm. Four (4) minutes after that, 'Titanic would hit the iceberg but then, the new Watch time would be 11:40pm. At that moment, because of the new time difference of 1 hour 33 minutes, the time in New York would be 10:07pm and on 'Californian' it would be 11-52pm.
However, we learn from 4th Officer Boxhall that Titanic finally came to a halt at 11:45pm – 5 minutes after hitting the ice berg. This would then be 10:12pm in New York and 11:57pm on 'Californian'. On the other hand, the ship which stopped near SS 'Californian did so 18 minutes earlier, at 11:40pm ship's time Californian so that ship could not have been 'Titanic'. The following table explains it better:
Noon ( NY - 1 h.57 min....GMT + 2h58m. Long.44:30W)
Noon ( NY - 1h.45min.....GMT + 3h10m.
Californian stops for ice
01:30:00 AM 15/04/1912
Ship stops near Californian
02:45:00 AM 15/04/1912
Titanic retards Clocks 24 minutes
( now1 hr. 33 min, fast of NY.)
Titanic strikes ice berg 4 minutes later
Titanic finally halts.
Titanic transmits CQD
|12:10AM 15/04/1912|| |
Captain Smith Calls all hands to clear the life boats.
Titanic fires the first distress signal
From the above table, when it was 11-40pm on board the SS 'Californian', it was 11:52 pm on board Titanic. The latter had yet 12 minutes to run before hitting the iceberg and 17 minutes to go until she finally stopped. Clearly, this proves there was another ship stopped between the SS 'Californian' and 'Titanic' that night. This other vessel was probably between 12 and 14 miles to the north west of the disaster site.
The new evidence concerning the time difference of 4 hours 55 minutes between New York and Greenwich might also explain the anomalies found when trying to reconcile the new York times and ship times given by various ship masters during the rescue attempt. The evidence of Captain Rostron of the SS Carpathia comes to mind.
The foregoing calculations and new evidence regarding time differences point to the following :
The Watch-keeping clocks on board Titanic were set back 24 minutes before the ship hit the ice berg therefore time on board Titanic was
1 hour 33 minutes fast of New York at that time.
2. The run time from Noon to the time of hitting the iceberg was 12 hours and 4 minutes.
3. The distress position calculated by 4th Officer Boxhall was wrong because the run time he used was 24 minutes too long and the speed
he used was 0.45 of a knot too fast.
4. The ship's speed never exceeded 21.55 knots and consequently the evidence of speed given by Titanic's surviving officers was correct.
5. Captain Smith's calculation for the ship's distress position would have been very accurate had he previously known that the 8pm estimated
position was 20 miles in error.
6. The ship seen near to Titanic as she was sinking was not the SS 'Californian'
The conclusions reached have been developed entirely from information gleaned from the records of the Untited States Senate Inquiry and those of the United Kingdom Wreck Commissioner's Inquiry with the addition of data obtained from Reed's Table of Distances, Eleventh Edition.
Copyright Captain Jim Currie - all rights reserved.
April, 15, 2011.