Titanic : Time Altered

Nothing is more confusing about Titanic than understanding the time at which events took place.

Titanica!

Time Of Impact: 2404 hrs April 14, 1912 

There is nearly universal agreement that Titanic struck on the iceberg at 11:40 o’clock, April 14, 1912. Even so, nothing is more confusing about Titanic than the clock reference of this famous time. Failure to grasp how the ship’s clocks were set and reset has caused more erroneous interpretations of events than any other detail of the tragedy.
 
Knowing the exact moment of the accident (or, as nearly the exact moment as is possible) is critical for researching almost every aspect of the sinking. Among the more important aspects of the sinking affected by the time of the accident are:
 
1. Navigation; location of accident;
2. Speed of ship;
3. Rate of the flooding; size of damage;
4. Actions of crew and passengers;
5. Understanding the two sets of distress coordinates;
6. Relationships of Titanic to other ships.
 
Each of the above is a topic unto itself. For brevity, none of the ramifications of correcting the time of the accident will be discussed in this paper. It is important, however, to keep them in mind when discussing the reckoning of time.
 
Until now, the general assumption has been that the 11:40 o’clock time of the accident came exactly 11 hours and 40 minutes after noon that Sunday. This paper demonstrates that long-standing assumption to be incorrect. In actuality, 12 hours and 4 minutes had passed since noon. The 11:40 o’clock was not recorded in April 14th ship’s time as has been assumed. Rather, it was recorded in a special reference – “crew time” – created to affect an orderly “midnight” change of watch.
 
Longer Day Heading West: Time confusion arises out of the fact the ship was steaming west, chasing the sun. Titanic was far to slow to catch the sun, but its speed effectively caused days on board to get longer. On Sunday, April 14th (day of the accident) the officers calculated the day would be 47 minutes longer than the expected 24 hours.
 
Extra Time Falls Within April 14th
2400 Apr 14 + 0047 extra = 2447 Apr 14 = 0000 Apr 15
 
 
Testimonies of the officers and crew presented within this paper show that Sunday’s 47 extra minutes were “tacked on” to the end of the day after 12 o’clock April 14th and before midnight starting April 15th.
 
Extra Minute Nomenclature: There is no way to describe the 47 extra minutes in the 12-hour o’clock system. They were neither “a.m.” nor “p.m.” but something else for which we have no accepted terminology. However, if we switch from the o’clock system (a.m. and p.m.) to the 24-hour system of timekeeping things become quite simple. It is easy to say that April 14th was to be 24 hours 47 minutes long and would end at 2447 hours.
 
In this paper the term “o’clock” will be used whenever there is confusion over the use of “a.m.” or “p.m.” 
 
Midnight: The word “midnight” has a specific meaning in timekeeping. It always refers to the start of the new day. This means that at 0000 hours the date changes. Time is continuous, so 2447 April 14th was the same moment as 0000 hours April 15th.
 
Although the definition of “midnight” is clear, that does not mean sailors and passengers always used the word properly. The crew, for instance, spoke of their “midnight change of watch” even though it actually took place 23 minutes prior to midnight (0000 hrs) marking the start of April 15th. All too often, researchers confuse this casual use of the word “midnight” with true midnight marking the start of the new day.
 
Ship’s Time: Clocks governing daily life aboard ships were (and still are) set to the vessel’s noon longitude. The world turns at a rate of 15 degrees per hour. So, by determining its noon longitude a ship also learns its time difference from the Greenwich Prime Meridian.
 
360 degrees / 24 hours = 15 degrees per hour.[i]
 
Titanic’s noon longitude on Sunday, April 14th appears to have been 44°30’ West. This meant ship’s time was 2 hours 58 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Noon on Titanic was 1458 hrs (2:58 p.m.) GMT.
 
Ship’s Time Sunday, April 14
1200 hrs Titanic = 1458 GMT
 
 
Two Times In Logbook: IMM/White Star line regulations are of limited value in determining how the clocks were adjusted aboard Titanic. One thing company rules did require was that entries in log books be made in both Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and local ship’s time.
 
 116. Time to be Kept.—Seventy-fifth meridian time must be used for time of arrival at and departure from Sandy Hook Lightship, Five Fathom Bank Lightship, and other points of arrival and departure in the United States and Canada. Greenwich Mean Time must be used in Abstract Logs after the English or Irish land is made. When passing points and ships at sea, either eastbound or westbound, Greenwich Mean Time, as well as ship’s time, must be used.[ii] [Emphasis by author.]
 
Quite obviously, ship’s time was different for each vessel of the IMM/White Star fleet depending upon its particular noon location on any given day. GMT, however, was the same for every vessel anywhere in the world. No matter what time the ship’s clocks displayed, GMT never changed.
 
Greenwich would have been the only time notation required in logbooks except that the ship’s domestic life was not regulated by GMT. The changing of watches, meals, and other such activities were all controlled by ship’s time. It was needed to place logged events into the context of the ship’s routine and time of day.
 
Shared Duty: We know without doubt that Titanic’s crew expected each Watch to share equally in the 47 extra minutes. The Port and Starboard Watches were to get about half of the extra time, or 23 to 24 minutes. The lookout who spotted the iceberg got the idea of the clock setback even if he was not quite correct about the exact number of extra minutes he was to serve.
 
Frederick Fleet (lookout): ...the time was going to be put back that watch. We were to get about 2 hours and 20 minutes.[iii]
 
 
Rules On Ship’s Time: White Star ships routinely crossed the North Atlantic to and from Europe to America. On the westbound passages the days got longer relative to the speed of the ship. When returning eastbound the days were shorter. The amount of the difference from a standard 24 hour day was usually under an hour. Clocks were retarded westbound and advanced eastbound each day of a voyage. Company rules took this resetting of ship’s time into account.
 
259. Ship’s Time.—The Officer of the Watch will see that the ship’s time is changed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the clocks to be set for Noon before 6 a.m. ...[iv]
 
While Rule 259 allowed resetting clocks as late as 6 a.m., this was not the case in Titanic. Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller explained to Senator Smith during the U.S. hearings that adjustments to all clocks in Titanic were to be finished at midnight.
 
The clocks are set at midnight, but that is for the approximate noon position of the following day. Therefore Sunday noon the clocks will be accurate.[v]
Charles H Lightoller
Second Officer
U.S. Inquiry
 
Lightoller’s testimony was a roundabout way of saying the obvious: that all events during Sunday, April 14th had to take place during the 24 hours and 47 minutes of that day – including any extra time to be served because of the ship’s westward passage. Sunday’s extra minutes could not be part of Monday.
 
Limits of Time Change (westbound, Titanic only): Combining company rule 259 with Lightoller’s testimony provides the early and late limits for Titanic’s crew to serve the extra 47 minutes. It had to be done after 10 p.m. April 14 and prior to midnight (0000 hrs) marking the start of Monday, April 15.
 
          Time Change Requirements Specific To Titanic[vi]
               1. No change before 2200 hrs. April 14th
                    (Per IMM/WSL Rule 259)
               2. All changes done by 2447 hrs April 14th
                    (Per Lightoller’s U.S. testimony)
               3. Extra time shared equally by Crew Watches
                    (Per crew testimony)
 
There are other historical constraints on how time adjustments were done in Titanic. These do not grow out of company rules or timekeeping conventions. Rather, they are the result either of nautical military traditions, or the actions of passengers on the night of the accident.
 
4. Must explain why male passengers were gathered in the smoking lounge expecting clocks to be reset at time of accident.
5. Senior officers must share extra time in a manner consistent with military tradition.
 
It is possible to create a system of clock setbacks that work for one part of the Titanic story, but fail when applied to other aspects. The “one change” systems outlined below are examples. They may allow the crew an orderly “midnight change of watch,” but fail to properly assign the extra duty to officers. Or, they cause the 15 minute wakeup call for the off-uty Watch to be bizarrely sounded 39 minutes before change of watch.
 
 
Crew “Midnight” Change: It is quite simple to compute the hour and minute when the change of watch for the crew actually took place. Dividing the extra 47 minutes by 2 yields 23.5 minutes. For ease of computation we will assume The Starboard Watch was to receive 24 extra minutes that night and the Port Watch 23.
 
The Port Watch was to have the first watch (midnight to 4 a.m.) of April 15th which by definition had to occur entirely within the time and date of Monday, April 15th. Any extra April 14th minutes had to be served entirely within Sunday, April 14th (per Lightoller).
 
These requirements forced the Port Watch to go on watch while it was still Sunday in order to serve its extra 23 minutes before midnight starting Monday. Although called the “midnight change” by the crew, the Port Watch did not relieve the Starboard at true midnight. Despite what they called it, their change took place 23 minutes before 0000 hours (midnight) April 15th which is the same as 2447 hrs April 14th. Subtracting the Port Watch’s extra 23 minutes from 2447 hrs (true midnight) gives the time of the crew’s change of watch in April 14th hours:
 
Time of Crew Change Of Watch
2447 – 0023 Port Extra = 2424 hrs April 14
 
No matter what system of timekeeping and clock setbacks was actually used, the crew’s “midnight” change of watch had to take place at 2424 hrs April 14th in order to allow the Port Watch to serve its 23 minutes of extra time before true midnight, 2447 hrs April 14th, or 0000 hrs April 15th.
 
Accident 20 min Before Change: The preponderance of the crew said the accident took place about 20 minutes before change of watch, or five minutes prior to the wakeup bell rousing out the Port Watch.
 
Edward Buley (seaman): I was in the watch on deck, the Starboard Watch. At 12 o’clock we [were to be] relieved by the other watch. (U.S. Inquiry)[vii]
 
Frank Osman (seaman): I was waiting for one bell, which they strike, one bell, just before the quarter of the hour, before the four hours, when you get a call to relieve. (U.S. Inquiry)[viii]
 
George Symons (lookout): There was an order came to the forecastle door by the boatswain to “stand by, as you may be wanted at any moment.” By the time I got on deck it must have been about one bell, a quarter to twelve. (British Inquiry)[ix]
George Moore (seaman): Sunday night about a quarter to 12 I was on watch below and turned in.... About 10 minutes to 12 the boatswain came and piped all hands on the boat deck, and started to get out boats. (U.S. Inquiry)[x]
George A. Hogg (lookout): I waked up at 20 minutes to 12. I rushed up on deck...and I went below again. I asked the time, then, of my mate Evans, and he said, “It is quarter to 12. We will get dressed and get ready to go on lookout. I dressed myself, and we relieved the lookout at 12 o’clock, me and my mate Evans. (U.S. Inquiry)[xi]
 
 
It is obvious that from the point of view of the crew the accident took place 20 minutes prior to their “midnight change of watch” scheduled for 2424 hours April 14th. There are 20 minutes between 11:40 and 12 O’clock. To get to the 11:40 o’clock time of the accident it is only necessary to subtract those 20 minutes from 2424 hrs. The result is the time of the accident expressed in April 14th time.
 
Time of Accident
2424 hrs – 0020 = 2404 hrs April 14th
 
But wait, 2404 is not 11:40 o’clock — or is it?
 
Finding 11:40 O’clock: Each watch was to get half the extra time. And, according to the crew only 20 minutes remained before change of watch when steel met ice. The arrow of time flies only one way. There is no negative time. It is impossible to subtract 24 minutes from 20 minutes. Nor could the Starboard watch have magically crammed 24 minutes of duty into the remaining 20 minutes before the crew change of watch. Repeating the obvious: the one-way nature of time requires that the on-duty Starboard Watch must have already served its 24 extra minutes at the moment of impact on the iceberg.
 
This inescapable conclusion, that the Starboard Watch had already served its 24 extra minutes, means that subtracting the already-served time from 2404 (time of impact in April 14th hours) will find the time of the accident shown on the crew clocks. The result is quite familiar.
 
O’clock Crew Time Of Accident
2404 hrs – 0024 Stbd Extra = 2340 hrs Crew Time
 
2340 hrs Crew Time = 11:40 o’clock
 
The above subtractions leave no doubt that the quoted 11:40 time of the accident was not in April 14th hours, but in an altered time reference halfway between April 14th and the forthcoming April 15th hours. I call this “crew time” to differentiate it from all other references for reckoning time. Crew time was designed to insure that 8 bells would be “crew midnight” when the “midnight change of watch” would take place.
 
Was this “crew time” the official time of the ship? I don’t know, but the recording of the accident in crew time suggests that it was. In the end it really doesn’t matter. All of the times cited for the accident are exactly the same moment in history. Time itself does not change just because you twist the hands on a clock. We can equate both times of the accident to the same hour and minute in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
 
Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) of Accident
2404 hrs April 14 = 11:40 o’clock Crew = 0302 GMT
 
 
Single Setback Wrong: Lightoller said all the clocks would be correct at midnight (0000 hrs April 15th). He did not specify how they were adjusted or the times at which those adjustments were to be made. Because he mentioned only midnight, many historians have jumped to the conclusion there was only a single setback each night. Like so many other Titanic myths, any proposed “one change” setback system is wrong. If the Starboard Watch had its own 24 minute setback, then there must have been another separate 23 minute setback for the Port Watch.
 
Table #1
Time Of Crew Change Of Watch
Time Of
Crew
Change Of Watch
Starboard
Watch Extra
Minutes
Port Watch
Extra
Minutes
 
Comments
2400 April 14
Passenger
Midnight
 
0
 
 
47
WRONG: Only Port Watch works extra.
2424 April 14
Crew Midnight
(Correct Two-Stage Setback)
 
24
 
23
RIGHT: Both watches share extra time.
2447 April 14
Civil Midnight
0:00 April 15
 
47
 
0
WRONG: Only Starboard Watch works extra.
 
 
In its most basic form, a single setback of all clocks each night would have forced one of the ship’s two Watches to serve all of the 47 extra minutes that Sunday. For instance, a single setback could have required Fourth Officer Joseph G. Boxhall and his Starboard Watch to have stayed on duty until 12 hours 47 minutes past noon (2447 hrs). The clocks would then have been rest to show “midnight” (0000 hrs) and the Port Watch would have taken the deck. At the same instant the date would have changed from April 14 to April 15. The Port Watch would then have worked a regular 4-hour shift with no additional minutes, hardly an equal sharing of the extra time.
 
Table #1: The above table shows why the “midnight” change of watch had to come 24 minutes after 2400 hrs in April 14th time and 23 minutes before 0000 hours April 15th hours. It also shows how the crew clocks were retarded in two stages, each equal to the extra 24 and 23 minutes served by the respective Watches.
 
Table #2: It has been proposed that the Starboard Watch served its full four hours until 12 o’clock April 14th. Then, the clock was to be set back 47 minutes and the Starboard Watch continued on duty for another 24 minutes until the crew’s change of watch. The Port Watch would then serve the remaining 23 minutes of the total 47 minute setback. This one-setback system might have worked, but it was not used in Titanic. We know it was not because it violates historical fact in the form of sworn testimonies from the surviving crew (see above).
 
 
 
 
 
Table #2
Incorrect Single Setback “A”
At 2400 April 14th
Event
Apr 14
Time
Apr 15
Time
Historical
Problem
Impact On
Iceberg
2340
n/a
 
Warn Bell Calling Port Watch
 
2345
 
n/a
Comes 39 minutes before C.O.W.
47 Minute
Setback
2400
2313
 
 
 
Change Of
Watch
2424
(now not official ship time)
 
 
2337
Comes 44 minutes, not 20 after impact
 
Midnight
April 15 All Clocks
2447
(now not official ship time)
 
0000
 
 
 
 
From the crew we learned the accident took place 20 minutes before change of watch and five minutes before the warning bell telling the off-duty Port Watch to prepare for going on duty. That bell rang 15 minutes before change of watch. Under the 47 minute setback at 12 o’clock system, the warning bell would have sounded some 39 minutes before change of watch. And, impact would have been 44 minutes prior to that change. Both of these are contrary to multiple crew testimonies, and are thus historic impossibilities.
 
Table #3: A slightly different version of the single setback theory has the Starboard Watch working straight through 8 bells for an additional 24 minutes. Then, at 2424, the crew would have changed watch and simultaneously the clocks would have been set back to 11:37 o’clock. This would have allowed the Port Watch to work off its extra time before midnight as required. Once again, historical fact rules this option out because it also does not match crew testimony that the accident took place five minutes before the warning bell and 20 minutes prior to change of watch.
 
 
Table #3
Incorrect Single Setback “B”
At 2424 April 14th
Event
Apr 14
Time
Apr 15
Time
Historical
Problem
Impact on
Iceberg
 
2340
 
n/a
Comes 44 minutes prior to Crew change of watch.
One Bell
Warning to
Port Watch
 
2345
 
n/a
Comes 39 minutes before Crew change of watch.
Eight Bells
For Stbd Watch
 
2400
 
n/a
Eight Bells Always End of Watch but Stbd Watch stays on duty?
 
 
Crew Change of Watch
 
2424
(now not official ship time)
 
2337
Comes 44 minutes after impact instead of 20 minutes later.
 
Midnight
Start of April 15
2447
(now not official ship time)
2400
 
 
 
If either version of a single setback had been in place, then ringing the warning bell to wake up the Port Watch at 11:45 o’clock would have invited a mini-mutiny. The change of watch would not have come until 2424, some 39 minutes later. Sailors working watch-and-watch relish their sleep. Depriving them of 24 minutes sack time would not have been tolerated. Does anyone really think the men of the Port Watch would have accepted being awakened at 11:45 o’clock if they were not due on duty for another 39 minutes?
 
Single-setback theories for retarding Titanic’s clocks do not match the historical record and must be discarded.
 
 
Double Setback For Crew: It is certain that the 23 minute setback of the clocks to accommodate the off-duty Port Watch’s extra duty had not taken place at the time of the accident.
 
However, the simple subtractions performed above have shown that the opposite was true for the on-duty Starboard Watch. Their clock had already been set back by 24 minutes and the Starboard Watch had already served their 24 extra minutes prior to the iceberg. This means that “crew time” was based on a double setback system of timekeeping. Each Watch was to set back crew clocks by its respective extra duty.
 



Table #4
Ship’s Bells
8-to-12 p.m. Watch
Bells
April 14
Time
Crew
Time
1
8:30
8:30
2
9:00
9:00
3
9:30
9:30
 
4
 
10:00
10:00
Becomes
9:36
None (Already Struck)
 
10:24
Second
10:00
5
10:54
10:30
6
11:24
11:00
7
11:54
11:30
 
12:00
11:36
Accident
12:04
11:40
 
8
 
12:24
Midnight
Change of
Watch
To Become
11:37
 
None
12:47
Becomes
00:00
April 15
Midnight
To Become
00:00
April 15
1
 
00:30
April 15
Regular Bell
Sked Returns
9:36 Becomes 10 O’clock: Adding the 24 minutes extra time into the middle of a watch would have been least disruptive to the ship's bell system. The crew used bells to measure their remaining time on duty. As will be seen, at 10 p.m. April 14th the clock was turned back to 9:36 o’clock crew time to allow an orderly sharing of time among the senior officers. The normal 30 minute duration of the 5th bell thus increased to 56 minutes. Even so, when 5 bells struck, the Star-board Watch knew it had the usual hour and a half remaining on duty before the midnight change of watch. Table #4 (right) shows the modified sequence of bells reflecting the application of crew time.
 
 
Final Clock Adjustment: After the iceberg, resetting clocks was not high on the crew’s priority list. However, if the accident had not occurred the first item on the agenda of the Port Watch would have been to reset crew time to hours based on noon the next day, April 15. This setback would have meant that “midnight” of the crew change would have become 11:37 o’clock. Twenty-three minutes later (the extra duty of the Port Watch) the clocks would have displayed midnight, April 15th.
 
 
 
The final resetting of the clocks to official April 15th time was never done. Third Officer Herbert Pitman explained to the American Senate inquiry that the clocks were not reset because the crew was occupied with more pressing business. “No,” he told Senator Smith, “We had something else to think of.”
 
Even though the second setback of the clocks was not done, members of the crew like Albert Haines were aware of the upcoming second clock setback to April 15th time.
 
Albert Haines: I was standing by, down below. It being Sunday night, the men did not work. The men were in the mess room and I was outside. The right time, without putting the clock back, was 20 minutes to 12. (U.S. Inquiry) (Emphasis added by author.)
 
Note that Haines identified the time of the accident as “20 minutes to 12,” further confirming that his Starboard Watch had served its extra 24 minutes before impact on the iceberg.
 
All Hands: The Port Watch came on duty properly at “crew midnight” (or a proper minute early) which was 12:24 o’clock. Some members of the Starboard watch were correctly relieved at “crew midnight” and went below. The regular change of watch became an “all hands” situation. Men of the Starboard Watch who went below were immediately sent back on deck.
 
Frederick Clench (seaman): I went on deck...and saw a lot of ice. I should say about 10 minutes...after I was awake...I went down below and put my Guernsey on, my round hat on, and after that I sat down on a stool having a smoke. Then, after I lighted the pipe, I heard the boatswain’s pipe call all hands out on deck. (U.S. Inquiry)
 
Hichens On Duty: Some of the most misunderstood testimony came from quartermaster Robert Hichens. He stated correctly that he went on duty at 8 o’clock and that he woke up Second Officer Murdoch for the 10 o’clock senior officer change of watch. What he did not say is that the “quarter to 10” when he called Murdoch was in crew time retarded by 24 minutes.[xii]
 
Hichens testified that he called Murdoch, took his trick at the wheel, and felt impact on the berg. As Table #5 shows, his times for those events were in crew time. “How long had you been at the wheel when the collision occurred?” asked Senator Smith. Hichens answered honestly, “One hour and forty minutes, sir.”
 
 
 
Table #5
Hichens Time On Duty
(Times Cited By Hichens In Bold)
 
Event
 
Apr 14
Time
 
Crew
Time
Run Time
Hichens
On Duty
Hichens On Duty
2000
n/a
0:00
Crew Clock Setback
2200
2136
2:00
Hichens Calls Murdoch
2209
2145
2:09
Hichens Takes Wheel
Sr. Officer C.O.W.
2224
2200
2:24
Impact On Iceberg
2404
2340
4:04
Crew Change of Watch
2424
2400
4:24
 
Many people take his answer as proof that the clocks had not been set back to crew time. However a quick check of the time between when Hichens took the wheel and impact indicates that he had, indeed served one hour and forty minutes at the wheel under any system of timekeeping.
 
2340 Impact – 2200 Takes Wheel = 1 hr 40 min
 
We have to look at the overall watch for the full details to appear. The time from 8 o’clock when he came on duty until 10 o’clock when he took the wheel was not an even two hours. Rather, it was 2 hours plus the 24 extra minutes worked by the Starboard watch. If we add the extra duty to what Hichens said, we get the true picture of what happened.
 
2:00 Regular Duty + 1:40 At Wheel + 0:24 Extra = 4:04 Total Hrs.
 
None of the crew were scheduled for only four extra minutes. Some time is obviously missing. From Haines and other members of the crew we know the accident happened 20 minutes prior to the crew’s “midnight” change of watch. Adding those 20 minutes gives the total time that Hichens served that night.
 
4:04 To Impact + 0:20 After Impact = 4:24 Total Hrs.
 
As has been shown, the Starboard Watch was scheduled to serve 4 hours and 24 minutes on duty that night. Hichens was correct on all counts. The misleading part was that he did not identify when the crew clocks were set back.
 
Hichens 12:23 O’clock Relief: Quartermaster Hichens’ testimony that he was on duty in the wheelhouse until 12:23 a.m. is also widely cited as proof the accident happened on April 14th time. In fact, what he said proves exactly the opposite. His watch was over at 12:24 o’clock which was 2424 hrs, or “crew midnight.” Hichens was properly relieved a minute early by his opposite number of the Port Watch at 12:23 o’clock on any timepiece showing April 14th hours (see Table #6). This order of events is easily proven by comparing Hichens’ testimony to that of another quartermaster on duty at the time of the accident.
 
Rowe’s Timepiece: That other on-duty quartermaster was Thomas Rowe who stood watch on the poop deck. If the main steering system on the bridge failed, Rowe was handy to take over from the ship’s docking bridge. He also made routine checks on the ship’s taffrail log (distance measuring instrument) and made sure passengers did not skylark on the safety railings.
 
Table #6
Comparison Of Hichens/Rowe Times
 
Event
 
April 14
Time
Rowe’s
Timepiece
(Crew Time)
Greenwich
Mean Time
(GMT)
Impact on
Berg
2404 hrs
11:40
o’clock
0302 hrs
Bright Awakened (Approx)
 
2409 hrs
 
11:45
o’clock
 
0307 hrs
Hichens Relieved
2423 hrs
(12:23 o’clock)
11:59
o’clock
 
0321 hrs
Change
Of Watch
2424 hrs
12:00
o’clock
0322 hrs
Bright Relieves Rowe
 
2424 hrs
 
12:00
O’clock
 
0322 hrs
Launching
Lifeboat #7
2450 hrs
(approx)
12:26
o’clock
0348 hrs
 
Rowe testified that he looked at his timepiece to note the time of the accident as “20 minutes to 12.” Rowe’s relief, quartermaster Arthur J. Bright, said he went on duty at the appointed midnight change of watch.
 
Arthur Bright (quartermaster): At 8 o’clock I turned in. One of the watch on deck came and called me and told me that the ship had collided. 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. (U.S. Inquiry)[xiii]
 
Rowe went on to say, “I remained until 25 minutes after 12, when I saw a boat on the starboard beam.” The two men talked for some minutes before noting that lifeboat in the water.
 
Some have suggested while Bright may have arrived at “midnight,” the change of watch did not take place until 23 minutes later. The problem with that theory is that no boats were launched at 2423 hrs April 14th. The launching of boat #7, the first to go, occurred 45 to 50 minutes after the iceberg at about 2450 in April 14th time. Within reason, the actual launch time would have been about “12:25” on Rowe’s watch set to crew time. Table #6 shows how the times cited by Hichens, Rowe, and Bright work out.
 
One Clock Not Retarded: Hichens statement that he was relieved at 12:23 o’clock indicates that at least one clock in the wheelhouse was retained on April 14th hours. The most likely reason for this clock was that certain routine activities were required to take place every 30 minutes without regard to any time changes. The most important of these activities was the comparison of the steering compass to the standard compass. Article 253 of the company regulations spelled out the responsibilities of the Officer Of The Watch.
 
 253. Steering and Compasses.—He must pay particular attention to the steering and the course the ship makes. He must steady the ship on her course by standard every half-hour, and must compare the compasses every Watch, the comparisons to be entered in Compass Comparison Book for reference. He will also ascertain the deviation as often as possible.[xiv]
 
 
Every half hour meant Titanic should have been steadied by standard at least 49 times (48 during regular day and once more in the 47 extra minutes) during April 14th. The half-hourly pattern continued even after the crew clocks were set back 24 minutes except that now the 11:30 o’clock steadying came at 11:06 o’clock in crew time.
 
Mentally adjusting crew time to April 14th hours in order to maintain the half-hourly schedule of these routine tasks would have been an invitation to error. The simplest way to avoid mistakes would have been a separate clock maintained on April 14th hours just for the purpose. Each event would occur on the hour or half hour of that particular clock.
 
The 12:00 o’clock compass evolution at 11:36 in crew time was a scant four minutes from the time of the accident. The reason why Olliver was on the standard compass platform when the lookouts rang the alarm bell is now obvious. He was preparing for the 12:00 o’clock April 14th half-hourly compass evolution.
 
Boxhall Kept April 14th Time: Fourth Officer Boxhall said he read his timepiece while in lifeboat #2 and announced the time of Titanic’s disappearance as “2:20 a.m.” This time corresponds well to the stopped timepieces of people cast adrift when the ship sank. Based on those timepieces, Boxhall’s 2:20 a.m. was in unaltered April 14th hours. His assigned duties as fourth officer explain why.
 
Opposite Art. 17 – Watches
Sea Watches. – Regular sea watches must be kept... The Junior officers...will keep watch and watch with the seamen, the Third Officer having charge of the port watch and the Four officer the starboard watch, under the direction of the Senior officer on watch. They are also to go the rounds every hour during watch on deck, reporting having carried this out to the Senior Officer on watch.[xv]
 
 
It makes particular sense for Boxhall to have kept his timepiece on April 14th time rather than change to crew hours. He was responsible for making the half-hourly compass checks as well as hourly rounds of the men in his Starboard Watch. As noted above, by maintaining April 14th time he could avoid needless mental time computations to keep his schedule.
 
Senior Officers’ Extra Duty: It is quite easy to understand how the Port Watch would have reset the clocks to 11:37 o’clock when they came on duty so that 23 minutes later the clocks would be correct for midnight starting April 15th. The harder task is figuring out when the clocks were retarded during the Starboard Watch. To do that we have to consider the watch schedule of the senior officers: Chief Officer Wilde, First Officer Murdoch, and Second Officer Lightoller. Their rotation was two hours out of step with the rotation of the crew and junior officers:
 
               Crew & Jr.          Senior
               Officer                Officer
               Rotation              Rotation
                12 o’clock         2 o’clock (Chief)
                4 o’clock         6 o’clock (Second)
                8 o’clock        10 o’clock (First)
 
 
These schedules were the same a.m. and p.m. The 4 to 8 crew watch was “dogged,” that is split into two periods of two hours each. Dogging was done to prevent one watch from standing the dreaded midnight to 4 a.m. watch every night of the voyage. Dogging played no role in how the clocks were adjusted to accommodate 47 extra minutes.
 
Rank Has Privileges: The officers’ schedule required some creative thinking to properly share the 47 extra minutes. Titanic was part of the British Merchant Marine and operated much like a naval ship (many of the officers were in the Royal Navy Reserve). Everyone who has ever served in a military or quasi-military organization knows there is one immutable law: “Rank Has Its Privileges.”
 
It is an historically valid assumption that the 47 extra minutes were either served by the lowest-ranking senior officer; or, were shared equally by the two lowest-ranking. That is, Chief Officer Wilde would not have served those extra minutes as long as the First and Second Officers were available.
 
Likewise, the First Officer would not have taken the full 47 minutes extra time as long as a Second Officer was available to share the burden. And, it turns out the First and Second officers could easily have shared the burden by setting back the crew clock at 10:00 p.m. This probably explains why 10 p.m. was the earliest time permitted for clock adjustments by IMM/White Star Line regulations.
 
Flaw In “One Setback:” A major problem with “single setback” time change system is that First Officer Murdoch would have served the full 47 extra minutes. Second Officer Lightoller would have enjoyed his extra sleep while his senior worked through the cold night hours. Prohibition of one officer serving all of the extra duty was implied by the IMM/White Star company rules.
 
 
Opposite Art. 17 – Watches
Sea Watches.-- ...The watches are to be equally divided and the ship is never to be left without an officer in charge of the bridge. ... The three Seniors are the Bridge Officers and divide the time into three watches of four hours duration, each will have four hours on the bridge in charge of the ship, followed by eight hours below. ...
 
 
The obvious intent of the Rule was to spread both the workload and time off duty evenly among the senior officers. Following that intent, it was possible to give the First and Second Officers half of the extra 47 minutes as shown in this paper. Chief Officer Wilde could not have worked any extra time because his next watch started at 2:00 o’clock April 15th – two hours after the end of April 14th.  
 
 
 
Table #7
Time Change System Used In Titanic

 
 
Event
Duration From
April 14 Midnight
 
Time Based On Noon
April 14
 
Crew
Clock
Time Based On
Noon
April 15
Greenwich
Mean
Time
(GMT)
Crew Clocks Set Back 24 Minutes
 
-2:47
 
10:00
10:00 Becomes
9:36
(Never Used On
Titanic)
9:13
 
0058 hrs
Officers Change of Watch
 
-2:23
 
10:24
10:00
Officers
Change
 
9:37
 
0122 hrs
 
April 14th
 
0:00
12:00
Passenger
Midnight
 
11:36
 
11:13
 
0258 hrs
Iceberg
Accident
0:04
12:04
 
11:40
11:17
0302 hrs
Hichens
Relief
0:23
12:23
 
11:59
11:36
0321 hrs
Crew
Midnight
 
0:24
 
12:24
12:00
Becomes
11:37
 
11:37
 
0322 hrs
 
Civil Midnight
Apr 15
 
0:47
 
12:47
(Disappears As 00:00 April 15th)
 
0:00
April 15th 00:00
Midnight
 
0345 hrs
 
Officers Share Extra Time: By setting back crew clocks at 10:00 o’clock the problem of Murdoch serving all 47 minutes is solved. At four bells, or 10 o’clock, the crew clocks would have been retarded to read 9:36 o’clock. Second Officer Lightoller and the Starboard Watch would then have worked their extra 24 minutes until 10 o’clock in crew time (10:24 p.m. April 14th). At that moment, First Officer Murdoch would have taken the bridge and Lightoller would have gone below. Four bells having been struck, no bells would have sounded. If it were not for the iceberg First Officer Murdoch would have worked his extra 23 minutes with the Port Watch after the “crew midnight” change.
 
Passenger 11:40 O’clock References: One major mystery remains unsolved. If the accident was recorded in crew time, why did so many passengers recall 11:40 o’clock as the moment Titanic struck the iceberg?
 
There is no single answer to this question. Undoubtedly, many survivors who recollected 11:40 o’clock were simply going along with the general agreement as to the time of the accident, These people did not actually see a clock or other timepiece, so had no personal knowledge of time.
 
Another group of people was awakened by stewards starting about 25 minutes after impact at 0005 crew time. That translates into 1140 in April 15th hours, an echo of the famous time of the accident. Any passenger who had set his or her timepiece back 47 minutes before retiring would have been carrying April 15th hours. Twenty-five minutes after impact when these passengers were awakened, their timepieces showed near to 11:40 o’clock. It was natural that they assumed this was when the accident took place. Their impressions were reinforced when the official time of the accident was set at 11:40 p.m. by the two inquiries.
 
Passengers On Crew Time: Outside these two groups are the passengers who did refer to some timepiece, usually their own, to learn the time of the accident. This is a substantial group of people and the majority cited times within 5 minutes of the accepted 11:40 o’clock. But, why would they have been using “crew time” as passengers? To find out it is necessary to look into the complex system of centrally-controlled clock dials installed in Titanic.
 
The two-setback system of timekeeping would have been transparent to the crew, but it would have confused passengers. This appears to be the reason why Titanic was supposed to be fitted with two master clocks. In theory two master clocks would have allowed the crew to live in a double setback “time zone” and the passengers to live in a single setback “zone.”
 
Dual Master Clocks: According to The Shipbuilder magazine (Vol. VI, Midsummer, 1911), the clocks were supplied by the Magneta company. Overlooked in The Shipbuilder article is why two master clocks were necessary even though the 48 slave clocks displayed was fewer by half than the number of slave dials that could have been handled by a single master clock.
 
Magneta Clocks
The clocks, of which there are 48 throughout each vessel, have been supplied by the Magneta Time Co., Ltd., and are all actuated electrically on the Magneta system, which obviates the use of galvanic batteries. They are controlled by two master clocks placed in the chart room, so that they may work in complete unison and each register exactly the same time. One of the master clocks is illustrated in Fig. 134.
 
Fig. 134--One of the Master Clocks (Illustration not shown.)
 
As is well known to ocean travelers, the ship's clocks gain over half an hour each day when going westwards and lose a corresponding amount when returning to Europe. To allow for this difference in time the master clocks are set each day at noon by the officer in charge, who puts them backwards or forwards according to the longitude.[xvi]
 
Corroboration Titanic was supposed to carry two master clocks as described by The Shipbuilder article can be found on page 30 of the Harland & Wolff notebook kept in the company’s Drawing Office as a handy reference for the construction of both Olympic and Titanic:
 
Electric Clocks. 2 master clocks
                                 48 secondary clocks.
 
This documentation from Harland & Wolff seems proof positive that Titanic had a clock system capable of providing two “zones” – crew and passengers – within the ship. However, that was very possibly not the case for Titanic’s only voyage. The full clock system may not have been completed. A hint of this come in the admittedly apocryphal stories that the slave clock dial was never installed in the forward grand staircase. Some people claimed a circular mirror was fitted as a substitute.
 
The mirror story gets some credence from the fact that first class survivors under oath did not recall observing the time displayed by the main stairway clock even though many of them passed beneath it on their way to the lifeboats.
 
Clock System Doubts: Why did first class passengers fail to look at the most obvious clock on the ship? And, especially why did they fail to look at that clock when so many people gathered on and around the forward grand staircase? Was there no clock dial to read? Was the clock system fully functional?
 
These are rhetorical questions for which no answers can be found in the records of either the U.S. or British inquiries. However, if for the maiden voyage Titanic had only one Magneta master clock functioning, then clock dials throughout the ship would have been retarded on the two-step process of the crew. The reason is contained within the Ships’ Rules published by IMM/White Star Line. Paragraph 259 which allowed for the 10 p.m. also set out requirements for clocks in various parts of the vessel to agree for the ship’s safety.
 
 259. Ship’s Time. – ... The Engine Room Clock must at all times agree with the Clock in the Wheelhouse, and must be corrected accordingly.[xvii]
 
The requirement that engine room and wheelhouse clocks show the same time was important for the “bell book” in which the time of every order sent down from the bridge was recorded as well as the action to be taken (e.g. Ahead Full, or All Stop). It was vital that the notations in the bell book correspond with the ship’s log. The need for synchronization of bridge and engine room clocks was so important that it was covered again in yet another rule.
 
305. Engine Room and Deck Clocks to Agree. – When passing points of departure or arrival, he will see that the Engine Room and Deck times agree.[xviii]
 
Titanic was too large and complex for the First Officer to simply check his bridge clock against a single instrument in the engine room. And, there were other clocks scattered around the ship which made sure the engine room crew changed watches with the deck crew. This meant that clocks had to be adjusted simultaneously in the forecastle and in the engineering officers’ berthing areas. The need for automatic clocks controlled from the bridge was obvious.
 
Zoned Timekeeping: The dual master clock system would have allowed the crew to have it’s two-stage setback while the passengers experienced only one. However, circumstantial evidence indicates the dual system was not operational. Only one master clock appears to have been connected to slave clocks in passenger and crew spaces alike. Admittedly, the lack of hard evidence makes this a speculative conclusion, but crew and passengers alike seem to have shared the same time – “crew time.” The need to the synchronized the bridge and engine room clocks would have overridden passenger convenience.
 
If the above were true, any passengers who reset their personal timepieces after 10:00 o’clock April 14th that night would have referenced “crew time” on the ship’s Magneta slave clocks. As a result, they would have been keeping “crew time” and neither April 14th ship’s time nor tomorrow, April 15th ship’s time.
 
 
Men In Smoking Room: Some first class men understood the usual practice followed by North Atlantic steamers for setting back passenger clocks. At 10 o’clock they ignored the setback of the clocks to 9:36, knowing that was not the official resetting of the clocks to April 15th time. They kept their timepieces set to April 14th hours. These men gathered in the smoking lounge just prior to 12 o’clock on their timepieces to reset them when the clocks were reset at “midnight.” While it was nearly 12 o’clock for passengers, it was just after 11:30 o’clock crew time.
 
The fact that the men were gathered at that moment awaiting the clock change belies the commonly-accepted “one change” theory. If the Starboard Watch was going to work its extra 24 minutes after 12 o’clock, then at 11:40 o’clock there were still 44 minutes (20 minutes to midnight plus the 24 extra) until the clocks would be set back. It would have been illogical to sit expectantly for 44 minutes, timepiece in hand, waiting for the smoking room clock to be retarded.
 
However, if the “two-change” method proposed in this paper were in place, then the men’s actions were far more reasonable. The accident took place as the hands of their timepieces ticked past 12 o’clock which was when they expected the clocks to be adjusted to April 15th hours. Instead, at twenty minutes before midnight on the ship’s clocks – or 4 minutes after 12 o’clock on their timepieces, the men in the smoking lounge noticed the odd rumbling that began Titanic’s tragic end.
 
Had there been no iceberg and no rumbling, those men would have chatted amiably for another 20 minutes until the crew changed watch. At that moment, the clock in the smoking lounge would have been reset to 11:37 o’clock April 15th hours the new official ship’s time for the next day, Monday. The men would have reset their timepieces and gone to bed knowing they would have the correct time in the morning when they woke up.
 
History had a different end to the story in mind. Titanic struck on that iceberg and the final clock setback was never accomplished. As Third Officer Pitman so succinctly put it, “We had something else to think of.”
 
 
 
 
 
____________________
 
Author’s Note: This paper is based on sworn testimony taken by the American and British inquiries. This testimony has high historical validity because it was taken contemporaneously with the events and recorded by an impartial court stenographer. Newspaper accounts have been avoided insofar as possible because of their known inaccuracies. Likewise, reminiscences in later years have not been used because of the known tendency of human memory to alter details as the years pass.
 

 
 
Table #8
Witness Time Comparisons
NAME
EVENT
TIME
CLAIM
APR
14
CREW
TIME
APR
15
 
GMT
 
COMMENT
 
Abelseth
 
Impact
 
11:45
 
12:04
 
11:45
 
10:58
 
0307
Probably read a clock a few minutes after impact.
 
Bishop, Mrs.
 
Impact
Awakened By Steward
 
11:45
 
12:32
 
12:08
 
11:45
 
0329
Stewards awakened passengers starting about 20 minutes after impact. She apparently had her timepiece already set to April 15th hours.
 
Collins
 
Impact
 
11:15/11:20
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
 
0302
He testified being fast 5 minutes. Clock set to April 15th hours.
Gracie
Impact
Midnight
12:04
11:40
11:17
0302
Possibly slow 0:04 or misread as “midnight.”
 
Hardy
 
Impact
11:40
Time
Imputed
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
0302
If he went rounds turning off lights, and then went to bed as he claimed
 
Hogg, Geo.
 
Impact
 
11:40
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
0302
Woke at quarter to 12; relieved watch at midnight.
 
Moore, Geo
 
Impact
 
11:45
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
0302
Mentions impact was just prior to “one bell” when watch below was piped on deck.
 
Osman
 
Impact
 
11:40
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
0302
Waiting for one bell struck 15 minutes prior to watch change at midnight.
 
Peuchen, A.
 
Impact
 
Midnight
 
1204
 
11:16
 
11:17
 
0302
If in April 14 time, leaving smoking room latest time.
 
Pickard, B.
Impact
 
Awakened By Steward
 
11:50
11:45
 
12:42
11:21
 
12:18
10:58
 
11:55
 
No time reference given.
Possibly confused wakeup by stewards with accident time.
Ryerson, E.
Impact
12:00
12:04
11:40
11:17
0302
Time she looked out window.
 
Scarrott
 
Impact
 
11:40
Imputed
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
0302
Based on hearing 3-strikes on bell shortly after 7 bells and about 5 to 8 minutes before impact.
Weikman
Impact
11:40
12:04
11:40
11:17
0302
Crew Time
(see below also)
 
Wheelton
 
Impact
 
11:40 to
11:45
 
12:04
 
11:40
 
11:17
 
0302
Based on off duty at 11:45 pm in April 14th hours (11:21 Bridge Time) and using Bridge Time of accident.
Widgery
Impact
11:35
12:04
11:40
11:17
0302
Clock slow 0:05
March
Unk
1:27
2:14
1:50
1:27
0511
Stopped Timepiece. Washed off ship.
Weikman
Wash Off
1:27
2:14
1:50
1:27
0511
Stopped Timepiece.   Washed off front of boat deck. (see above also)
Boxhall
Sinking
2:20
2:20
1:56
0133
0518
Observed
Minahan
Sinking
2:20
2:20
1:56
0133
0518
Overheard
Norman, R
Breakup
3:07
2:20
1:56
1:33
0518
Set ahead 0:47. Effectively 4/13 time.
Gracie
Breakup
2:22
2:22
1:58
1:35
0520
Stopped Timepiece
Thayer
Breakup
2:22
2:22
1:58
1:35
0520
Stopped Timepiece
Strauss
Breakup
2:22
2:22
1:58
1:35
0520
Taken from stopped clock In Room
Partner
 
2:25
2:25
2:01
1:38
0523
Stopped Timepiece
Robinson, A
Sinking
1:40
2:27
2:03
1:40
0525
Observed on personal timepiece
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Endnotes:


[i]  Strictly speaking, this is not true. The rate of rotation is slightly different from day to day. For clarity, this paper will ignore the slight daily differences in the Earth’s rotation and assume a mean day of 24 hours.
 
[ii] International Mercantile Marine Company, Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, issued July 1st, 1907. Taken from personal copy of J. Bruce Ismay.
 
[iii] U.S. Senate Inquiry, Fourth Day, Page 317
 
[iv]  International Mercantile Marine Company, Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, issued July 1st, 1907. Taken from personal copy of J. Bruce Ismay.
 
[v] U.S. Senate Inquiry, Fourth Day, Page 295.
 
[vi] This paper considers only the setting back of clocks on westbound vessels, particularly Titanic. The system used for eastbound voyages is not considered.
 
[vii] U.S. Inquiry, Seventh Day, Page 603.
 
[viii]  U.S. Senate Inquiry, Seventh Day, Page 537.
 
[ix]  British Inquiry, Question 11352.
 
[x]  U.S. Senate Inquiry, Ninth Day, Page 559.
 
[xi]  U.S. Senate Inquiry, Seventh Day, Page 577.
 
[xii] Hichens’ testimony quoted in this section is from the U.S. Senate Inquiry, Fifth Day, Pages 449-450.
 
[xiii] U.S. Senate Inquiry, Ninth Day, Page 832.
 
[xiv]  International Mercantile Marine Company, Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, issued July 1st, 1907. Taken from personal copy of J. Bruce Ismay.
 
[xv] Ibid
 
[xvi]  The Shipbuilder magazine (Vol. VI, Midsummer, 1911)
 
[xvii]  International Mercantile Marine Company, Ship’s Rules and Uniform Regulations, issued July 1st, 1907. Taken from personal copy of J. Bruce Ismay.
 
[xviii]   Ibid
 

 

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