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Source: (consider it) Thread: Why did Titanic sink?
MaryLouise
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Another small detail that has always intrigued me, given how comparatively modern the Titanic was:

At 10pm Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee took over lookout duty in the crow's nest. Interestingly, they did not have binoculars, although iceberg sightings had been coming in all day from ships in the vicinity. At 11.30pm, they reported a low-lying mist but did not spot the iceberg. At 11.39 pm, Fleet called the bridge by telephone to report an iceberg right ahead. The Titanic turned hard to starboard but struck the iceberg at 11.40pm, breaching six water-tight compartments.

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Baptist Trainfan
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It has been suggested that, possibly due to things still "bedding down" on a maiden voyage, an officer had inadvertently walked off with the key to the locker n which the binoculars were stored.

But it has also been suggested that the use of binoculars wouldn't have made much, if any, difference in the prevailing conditions.

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by Baptist Trainfan:
It has been suggested that, possibly due to things still "bedding down" on a maiden voyage, an officer had inadvertently walked off with the key to the locker n which the binoculars were stored.

But it has also been suggested that the use of binoculars wouldn't have made much, if any, difference in the prevailing conditions.

AIUI both of those things are true.

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Albertus
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quote:
Originally posted by MaryLouise:
Another small detail that has always intrigued me, given how comparatively modern the Titanic was:

At 10pm Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee took over lookout duty in the crow's nest. Interestingly, they did not have binoculars, although iceberg sightings had been coming in all day from ships in the vicinity. At 11.30pm, they reported a low-lying mist but did not spot the iceberg. At 11.39 pm, Fleet called the bridge by telephone to report an iceberg right ahead. The Titanic turned hard to starboard but struck the iceberg at 11.40pm, breaching six water-tight compartments.

IIRC, Walter Lord (A Night To Remember) suggested that if the Titanic had not turned at that moment- if she had hit it on the course she was going when it was spotted- the damage might not have been fatal. I don't know whether this is correct or not.

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by Albertus:
quote:
Originally posted by MaryLouise:
Another small detail that has always intrigued me, given how comparatively modern the Titanic was:

At 10pm Frederick Fleet and Reginald Lee took over lookout duty in the crow's nest. Interestingly, they did not have binoculars, although iceberg sightings had been coming in all day from ships in the vicinity. At 11.30pm, they reported a low-lying mist but did not spot the iceberg. At 11.39 pm, Fleet called the bridge by telephone to report an iceberg right ahead. The Titanic turned hard to starboard but struck the iceberg at 11.40pm, breaching six water-tight compartments.

IIRC, Walter Lord (A Night To Remember) suggested that if the Titanic had not turned at that moment- if she had hit it on the course she was going when it was spotted- the damage might not have been fatal. I don't know whether this is correct or not.
well, it's *possible* rather than nailed on but he'd got a point. The problem was that the action they took, as it turned out, was the worst they could have done. Arguably if they'd smacked the iceberg head on they'd have done colossal damage to the bows, and probably written the ship off, but not sunk it.

As it was, the attempt to avoid the ice-berg by ordering the helm hard over to starboard* just meant that the impact was distributed for a much longer distance along the side, which breached too many of the watertight compartments, and guaranteed that she'd sink, and quickly.

*and this feels like a decision borne of panic - a competent officer of the watch ought to have known instinctively that trying to steer round the iceberg was a non-starter on the grounds of the speed/time/distance equation alone, before even needing to think about rate of yaw or turning circle. I might not have been the most competent officer of the watch in the world, but I wouldn't have given those orders in those circumstances myself.

Essentially, from the moment the berg became visible, something fairly apocalyptic was a certainty, but the actions of the bridge team probably did make it worse. Having said that, even with modern radar, we certainly didn't cut about at full speed in areas where icebergs were possible.

The speed the ship was travelling at was deeply questionable, even taking into account the weather conditions. Apart from hitting an iceberg, the Titanic went down in pretty well the most benign conditions imaginable for the north Atlantic. It basically slipped beneath a millpond.

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Doc Tor
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quote:
Originally posted by betjemaniac:
Apart from hitting an iceberg, the Titanic went down in pretty well the most benign conditions imaginable for the north Atlantic. It basically slipped beneath a millpond.

Wasn't that one of the aggravating factors? That if the sea had been rougher, the waves breaking against the berg would have made it more visible?

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by Doc Tor:
quote:
Originally posted by betjemaniac:
Apart from hitting an iceberg, the Titanic went down in pretty well the most benign conditions imaginable for the north Atlantic. It basically slipped beneath a millpond.

Wasn't that one of the aggravating factors? That if the sea had been rougher, the waves breaking against the berg would have made it more visible?
Potentially - 6 of one and half a dozen of the other though, because rougher seas usually come with less visibility. They might have been going more slowly as a consequence, but they'd likely still have hit it if it was there in front of them to be hit.

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MaryLouise
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It is a contested issue, Baptist Trainfan and betjemaniac, and always has been, which is why I find it so intriguing. Wide-field prismatic lenses were not developed until 1919, but later that same night Titanic officers used binoculars to watch for approaching ships. Earlier in the voyage the look-outs had used the second officer's binoculars during between Belfast and Southhampton, perhaps because it was a busier shipping lane and lights could be observed at night.

The night in question was moonless but calm and Fleet saw the iceberg as a 'dark shape' right under the bows. (There is disputed evidence that Lee saw it earlier but did nothing.) Some evidence argues that spotting icebergs in the Atlantic took great skill but others point out that these were experienced look-outs and they might have been dozing.

One difficulty I have relates to the transcript of the British Wreck Commissioners'Inquiry of May 1912 where the Marine Superintendant of the White Star Line under questioning says that binoculars are considered essential for Officers but not for look-outs and seamen. There was a difference between 'spotting' and 'identifying' that could only be done with the help of binoculars.


*we each have our own favourite conspiracy theories and time-wasting distractions when deadlines loom*

[ 10. January 2017, 09:59: Message edited by: MaryLouise ]

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by MaryLouise:


Some evidence argues that spotting icebergs in the Atlantic took great skill but others point out that these were experienced look-outs and they might have been dozing.

One difficulty I have relates to the transcript of the British Wreck Commissioners'Inquiry of May 1912 where the Marine Superintendant of the White Star Line under questioning says that binoculars are considered essential for Officers but not for look-outs and seamen. There was a difference between 'spotting' and 'identifying' that could only be done with the help of binoculars.


*we each have our own favourite conspiracy theories and time-wasting distractions when deadlines loom*

Spotting icebergs full stop takes great skill - let alone in the Atlantic. I spent 8 months at sea in Antarctica on an ice breaker as a bridge watchkeeping officer and we didn't always see them until the last moment. They can be enormous and still barely break the surface. I have very little time for too much criticism of the lookouts for what it's worth.

There is still a difference between spotting and identifying when it comes to icebergs. A lookout can tell you "there's something over there" but not if it's a growler, an ice berg, a bergy bit (yes, genuine technical term), etc - unless they're very good, very experienced and very well trained. The RN would not expect lookouts to be able to tell the difference even today* - that's the moment where the officer of the watch steps in.

*I mean, they'd like them to, but they're unlikely to take the report as gospel until they've had a look for themselves.

It's actually quite a good distinction - it's the lookouts job to spot things, not waste time interpreting what those things are or what should be done. Just pass on the fact that there is something worth looking at. Therefore, in the early 20th century it's entirely believable that they'd not think it was worth giving binos to lookouts as a matter of course (in peacetime).

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Albertus
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quote:
Originally posted by betjemaniac:

... a competent officer of the watch ought to have known instinctively that trying to steer round the iceberg was a non-starter on the grounds of the speed/time/distance equation alone, before even needing to think about rate of yaw or turning circle. I might not have been the most competent officer of the watch in the world, but I wouldn't have given those orders in those circumstances myself...

Out of interest, what do you think he should have done? Cut engines/hard astern (or whatever's the correct expression) in attempt to hit the berg as slowly as possible? I know nothing of the technicalities of these things: could that have made a difference?
OTOH it might've taken a brave and very cool officer to crash a new ship deliberately, with the Chairman of the line on board, rather than try to do *something* however ineffective (and as it turns out catastrophic)to avoid the collision.

[ 10. January 2017, 10:16: Message edited by: Albertus ]

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MaryLouise
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Interesting, betjemaniac -- I've read reports that suggest it would have been better to have had look-outs on the deck of the Titanic because of the 'invisibility' of icebergs from the crow's nest. What do you think of that, given you've actually had to watch for them?

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by Albertus:
quote:
Originally posted by betjemaniac:

... a competent officer of the watch ought to have known instinctively that trying to steer round the iceberg was a non-starter on the grounds of the speed/time/distance equation alone, before even needing to think about rate of yaw or turning circle. I might not have been the most competent officer of the watch in the world, but I wouldn't have given those orders in those circumstances myself...

Out of interest, what do you think he should have done? Cut engines/hard astern (or whatever's the correct expression) in attempt to hit the berg as slowly as possible? I know nothing of the technicalities of these things: could that have made a difference?
If you go back to the Board of Inquiry, the problem is that he put the helm hard over and then the engines full astern. I'd have been tempted to just put the engines astern, but as I said above, that would have been with an acceptance that something bad was coming what ever I did. There's also an argument for just putting the helm over and leaving the engines full ahead.

Unfortunately, doing *both* is what made it as bad as it could be. The helm order brought the bows round a touch as the turn started. Putting the engines full astern meant there was a period where the screws were actually stopped (and the cavitation effect around the propellers was reduced to zero) so steerage way would have come off altogether. Then as the screws engaged astern there would be a period where the cavitation effect was fighting the helm order, which would have taken the turn back off, reduced positional control from the bridge, and, as indeed it turned out, left the ship speeding past the berg at an oblique angle without answering to helm.

If I thought we were going to be in a rescue situation either way, which rationally you'd have had to, then my personal preference would have been for putting the engines astern, crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. Staying full head and putting the helm hard over would have offered no greater guarantees but is the option of dash and panache. As it was, by doing both....

I can second guess a bit because I've done that job, and the tech hasn't moved on greatly. But obviously it's unfair to second guess too much because I wasn't in the mind of the OOW on the night so who knows if I would have done any better. There are simply options which might have offered a better chance, and which he ought to have been aware of. But if there was panic or brain freeze...

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Albertus
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Interesting, thank you.

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by MaryLouise:
Interesting, betjemaniac -- I've read reports that suggest it would have been better to have had look-outs on the deck of the Titanic because of the 'invisibility' of icebergs from the crow's nest. What do you think of that, given you've actually had to watch for them?

If they'd been further north then they'd have been mad not to, but then again the berg they hit was a lone specimen a long way south for the time of year. Possibly might have made a difference, but the problem was the speed rather than the visibility.

If they'd had lookouts at deck level but still been steaming about at full speed burning coal like it was going out of fashion then all that would have happened would be the call that there was an iceberg dead ahead would have come from a bloke in the bows with a phone, not a chap in the crows nest.

Did you go to the Titanic exhibition when it was in Cape Town? I did, and it was really worth seeing.

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MaryLouise
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Unfortunately, I wasn't in Cape Town at that time but regret not seeing it.

Could I ask something else, following on from what you point out?

At the Inquiry, Second Officer Lightoller said he and Smith believed that icebergs reflected starlight and the white outlines of bergs would be visible at enough of a distance for the ship to avoid them. Was he trying to justify the speed at which Titanic was travelling? If he had admitted the near-invisibility of icebergs on a moonless night, he would have had to admit culpability for recklessness, surely?

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betjemaniac
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quote:
Originally posted by MaryLouise:
Unfortunately, I wasn't in Cape Town at that time but regret not seeing it.

Could I ask something else, following on from what you point out?

At the Inquiry, Second Officer Lightoller said he and Smith believed that icebergs reflected starlight and the white outlines of bergs would be visible at enough of a distance for the ship to avoid them. Was he trying to justify the speed at which Titanic was travelling? If he had admitted the near-invisibility of icebergs on a moonless night, he would have had to admit culpability for recklessness, surely?

Well technically no he wouldn't, because he didn't write the standing orders and neither was he responsible for conduct of the ship - he was simply the most senior survivor. There is always a sense with Lightoller though that he knew there were many things that could/should have been done differently....

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rolyn
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quote:
Originally posted by Doc Tor:
Wasn't that one of the aggravating factors? That if the sea had been rougher, the waves breaking against the berg would have made it more visible?

It always resonates when I watch Titanic and Lightoller is gently trying to advise Bernard Hill (Capt. Smith), re the difficulty of spotting bergs in those unusual conditions.
Whether that line was actually spoken I don't know, but anyone who has ever worked as second in command in any situation will understand the feeling Lightoller had on that occasion.

Either Smith's mind was elsewhere or he genuinely did believe a vessel of that size could dodge whatever unlit object lay in front of it and, more crucially, at whatever distance.

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Moo

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James Bissett, who later became captain of the Queen Mary was Second Officer on the Carpathia when they went to the rescue of the Titanic.

He said that the captain ordered him to stand on one wing of the bridge and look for pinpoints of light, which would be starlight reflecting off a berg. He spotted quite a few, and the ship took appropriate evasive action.

quote:
Originally posted by Betjemaniac
If they'd been further north then they'd have been mad not to, but then again the berg they hit was a lone specimen a long way south for the time of year.

Bissett said that when they reached the Titanic and it was daylight, he could see many bergs in the area.

Moo

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Sober Preacher's Kid

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Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland did a recreation, using a training simulator for bridge officers, of the Titanic's course of action given the speed of the ship and time to intercept the berg from when it was first spotted.

At 12 knots the ship was fine and carried off a successful avoidance; at 18 knots it collided with the berg.

Smith was going too fast, period.

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Sioni Sais
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quote:
Originally posted by Sober Preacher's Kid:
Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland did a recreation, using a training simulator for bridge officers, of the Titanic's course of action given the speed of the ship and time to intercept the berg from when it was first spotted.

At 12 knots the ship was fine and carried off a successful avoidance; at 18 knots it collided with the berg.

Smith was going too fast, period.

Or he was in the wrong place. Had the Titanic been a few miles to the south, she wouldn't have needed to avoid an iceberg. Better appreciation of the conditions could have helped but my uncle, who was a master mariner, had a good deal of sympathy for Capt Smith. Having the owner of the line on board, pressing for a fast crossing may have interfered with decision making.
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rolyn
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quote:
Originally posted by Moo:
James Bissett, who later became captain of the Queen Mary was Second Officer on the Carpathia when they went to the rescue of the Titanic.

He said that the captain ordered him to stand on one wing of the bridge and look for pinpoints of light, which would be starlight reflecting off a berg. He spotted quite a few, and the ship took appropriate evasive action.

This was also something that came from the detailed account by Archibald Gracie. I'd recommend it to anyone interested in a somewhat forensic record of the events of that night. He himself had a miraculous escape under the collapsed Funnel and seemed typically unperturbed.

Anyway, he had the foresight to interview survivors aboard the Carpathia and jot down their individual accounts. Each spoke of seeing many big bergs at the break of dawn.

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rolyn
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quote:
Originally posted by Sioni Sais:
Better appreciation of the conditions could have helped but my uncle, who was a master mariner, had a good deal of sympathy for Capt Smith. Having the owner of the line on board, pressing for a fast crossing may have interfered with decision making.

It is only natural to want to have sympathy for Smith. He had reached the end of a reasonably successful and uneventful career, (other than being involved in a collision with another ship while Captain of the Olympic .
His reputation has, like many from that era, been protected by spin-doctored history of British Imperialism. Unfortunately the bottom line is that he, as an experienced seaman and Supreme Commander, compromised the safety of his vessel and it's occupants by taking it at maximum speed through an Ice field.
Accepted that even this still doesn't fully answer the question 'why did Titanic sink', so I suspect the search for some mystical truth can continue til ad infinitum.

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