I expected this 4th Titanic blog to be even more controversial than my past three. But it shapes up to be a bigger flub than #3, regarding rudder backwash, that proved to be a fallacy.
As a historical novelist, I can’t be spreading fake news. The background of my epic spy thriller Lusitania Lost, available for pre-order at leonardcarpenter.com would be called into question. Some years ago a friend sent me a magazine piece that makes a startling claim. Now I can’t find the old xerox, nor any support for it in my library or online.
The article claimed that, since Titanic was designed for wartime conversion to a Royal Navy cruiser, her maiden voyage was also her shakedown cruise. And therefore her excessive speed through the ice field was due, not to J Bruce Ismay’s desire for headlines, but to military officers on board who insisted on running a speed trial. This was asserted in the article with backup details that I can’t remember or verify. Provocative, yes?
But to the contrary, it appears that all three White Star Line ships of the Olympic class–Titanic and Britannic included–were built without the British government subsidy or the military design features that went into the Cunard liners Lusitania and Mauretania. Although White Star’s Olympic did become a troopship, and Britannic a hospital ship, neither appears to have been armed and armored as their White Star predecessor Oceanic, which was converted to a British navy cruiser in a few days during August 1914 at the outbreak of the Great War.
In fact, White Star was not a British company, although its ships were laid down at Harland & Wolfe shipyard in Belfast, Ireland. The three passenger liners were part of American investor JP Morgan’s plan to monopolize Atlantic shipping by combining several companies, including the Hamburg-Amerika line. Since HAPAG was a German firm, it’s likely their big their ships were subsidized and adapted to German navy use–if not interned in US or British ports for the duration of the war to protect JP Morgan’s investment.
If Titanic had been designed to military standards, it probably wouldn’t have helped. Armor would not have been added below the waterline, and speed would’ve been only slightly reduced. As seen in my Lusitania video, the outdated navy requirement of using coal as armor against shellfire, by installing longitudinal coal bunkers along either side of the main hull at sea level, proved disastrous. Torpedoes had not been foreseen, and the rupture and flooding of this long compartment caused the stricken ships immediately to list, capsizing them or rendering lifeboats or rafts nearly impossible to launch.
As it turned out, the practice of converting passenger liners to auxiliary cruisers (or in German terms, surface raiders, as opposed to undersea boats or U-boats) did not last long. Big liners consumed too much coal for regular cruising, and were better suited as troop transports or hospital ships. They lacked sufficient armor, as seen when the British-converted Carmania sank the German-converted Cap Trafalgar but suffered excessive damage herself in the sea duel.
Even White Star’s Oceanic, sent so swiftly into British service, ran aground in the first month and was lost off the Shetland Islands. For Germany with no coaling stations at sea, the most efficient merchant raiders were small freighters that used less coal, or sailing ships requiring none at all.