Monthly Archives: July 2017

A TITANIC Mistake – #3

This 3rd blog in the series was to be my own original theory of the Titanic tragedy’s final, fatal “cause.” Thankfully, due to what I just read on Wikipedia, my concern gets off to a flying stop. My notion was that Titanic was over-powered and under-steered.

Shouldn’t a ship that’s bigger, heavier, and more powerful require a bigger rudder? Look at the design, three giant screws with one modest-sized rudder. (The cutaway view is the Titanic model on display aboard the SS Queen Mary in Long Beach, CA. Other giant models there include Queen Mary RMS Lusitania, a ship especially dear to me because of my soon-to-be-published Lusitania spy thriller. See the video of my own live-action Lusitania ship model at leonardcarpenter.com, & my 2 previous blogs.)

Aboard RMS Titanic, the order given on sighting the iceberg was “Rudder hard-aport, engines full reverse!” Afterward, it was stated that the ship seemed slow in turning—a delay that could have caused the collision, or made the damage critical.

The cutaway shows Titanic’s rudder mounted directly behind the central screw. In my view, with engines reversed, this would affect the action of the rudder, reversing its force. Water currents drawn in under the stern by those powerful screws would cause a port rudder to push the ship to starboard, not port.

Now it appears that my concern about the rudder was shared by the ship’s designer, because Wikipedia states that the central screw could not be reversed. Only the port and starboard screws could, while the center screw was only stopped and would not battle the rudder.

So, was the rudder adequate? The same Wiki article states that Titanic was “agile,” capable of rapid turns. But here another factor may emerge. Historically, there has been confusion between orders to “port rudder” and “port tiller.” In a small vessel with hand-operated tiller-and-pintle or a steering oar, moving the tiller to port causes the rudder to swing starboard, & vice versa. The command “port-rudder” in some times and waters and nationalities, would actually be construed as “port tiller.” And in fact, there are some reports that the steersman aboard Titanic confessed to making this error, briefly at least in the urgency of the moment. How complex can this issue get?

The announced intention of the deck officer was to make a double turn, first swinging the ship’s bow away from the ice floe and then, as Titanic drifted forward, swerving the stern clear of the obstacle with a “hard-a-starboard” command.  But by the time the ice was ever-so-lightly grazing the ship’s flank, that second turn seemed unwise. And as it happened, a number of small diverse factors had combined to alter history and thousands of lives.

What Sank Titanic?

I’m reading What Really Sank the Titanic, 2006 by McCarty & Foecke. A riveting history, LOL! Titanic was the inspiration for my novel Lusitania Lost, available by advance order at leonardcarpenter.com .

They’re saying Titanic’s steel, or at least the rivets, left much to be desired, due to a speedup in work at Harland & Wolff shipyard, and the need to repair collision-damaged RMS Olympic right next to the partly-completed Titanic.

Very interesting, really. But the middle plates of the hull were 1½ inch steel machine-bolted with triple rows of strong steel rivets, and that’s where she broke in two. The iceberg damage was likely iron and steel rivets partly unzipped along the bow and side.   Titanic, although designed as an auxiliary Royal Navy cruiser, was not armored below the waterline. Could any rivets have held tight, or at least stopped the damage before it reached the fatal fifth compartment?

The bigger the ship, the bigger the impact.  An iceberg that makes it to Newfoundland is big. And by floating an ice cube in a glass, you can see that 90% of it is underwater. Nearby on that same night, the steamer Californian was stopped before an ice floe 30 miles long. Even if ice is softer than steel, it’s no Slushy.

 When a vast floating skyscraper’s irresistible force is concentrated at a tiny point on the hull by an immovable object, something’s got to give. It may have been better if, instead of turning, Titanic had struck the iceberg head-on. Then only two or three forward compartments might’ve been breached, and she would have stayed afloat. That’s naval doctrine for collisions. In a grazing hit, it seems unlikely that any rivets in the world could have reduced the damage.

Failing that, would better steel have slowed the leaks and allowed more time for escape or rescue? Well, there were only lifeboats enough for half the souls aboard. And the nearest rescue ship SS Californian was adrift for the night, her telegraphist asleep (after being telegraphed “Shut up!” by Titanic’s radio man.)

So another hour or two afloat might have made no difference. Even if RMS Carpathia had arrived before Titanic broke up and sank, there would have been little time for boats to circulate back and forth and pick up passengers in the frigid water. However slow the sinking, the lifeboats stayed clear of floating survivors even after the ship was down, for fear of being mobbed. Many boats were only partially filled with upper class men, women and children. Others had declined to enter the boats, doubtless assuring each other, “Don’t worry, it’s only leaking in steerage.” Much like our own upper classes in this century, on Spaceship Earth.

Titanic Mysteries

I just saw Titanic’s Final Mystery, the History Channel’s 2012 centenary tribute. It depicts historian Tim Maltin’s investigation of the sinking, with vivid re-enactments and effects. His findings about weather anomalies on the fatal night are compelling, and his great 2-hour show makes my 4-minute video “Who Sank the Lusitania?” at leonardcarpenter.com look modest by comparison. Yet every disaster has multiple causes—contributing factors that, if changed, could prevent the catastrophe. Air crashes typically result from what the FAA calls “a cascading failure situation.” Weather, equipment failure and human error can combine to seal the fate of ship, passengers and crew. In the coming days, I’ll post a series about accompanying possible “causes” of the Titanic tragedy. (Was it the binoculars being left in a locker? No, according to Maltin.)