Friday, 24 January 2014

Anecdote Saturday - Titanic

The Titanic was built by Harland and Wolff, Belfast, Ireland over a period of three years. She was the largest floating object in 1912, 883 ft in length, and weighing 46,328 gross tons. Titanic was owned by the White Star Line, Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, based in England, but which in turn was owned by the International Mercantile Marine Company, an American corporation.

The Titanic boasted nine decks, luxurious appointments and towered 175 ft from keel to the top of her four funnels. Her three anchors weighed 31 tons. Power came from twin quadruple expansion reciprocating engines (similar to those of the Waratah, but larger) driving twin screws and an additional low pressure turbine engine (deploying steam from the other two engines) driving a central third screw. Total power output was in the region of 51 000 bhp, and the steam engines were fed by 29 boilers and 159 furnaces. 16 watertight compartments with remotely activated watertight doors, created an impression that she was 'unsinkable'. She could cruise at 22.5 knots and had a passenger carrying capacity of 2603, with a crew component of 1181. Infamously she was equipped with only 20 lifeboats (total passenger capacity 1,178). 15 April 1912, on her maiden voyage from South Hampton to New York City, carrying 2224 passengers and crew, the Titanic collided with an iceberg and sank. This resulted in the deaths of 1500 people.

The commodore, Edward Smith, was an English naval reserve officer born in  Hanley, Staffordshire, England, 1850. He was called upon to take first command of the lead ship in a new class of ocean liners (1911), the Olympic – the largest vessel in the world at that time. As the Olympic was docking in New York after her maiden voyage, one of the twelve tugs assisting her got caught in Olympic's backwash and spun around. The tug became trapped under the Olympic's stern but eventually was freed. September 20, 1911, also under the command of Captain Smith, the Olympic collided with the HMS Hawke, a warship which lost her prow in the accident. The Olympic was blamed for the incident. Was Captain Smith reckless?

The Titanic struck an iceberg, 375 miles south of Newfoundland at 11:40 pm. This collision caused hull plates to buckle inwards on her starboard side, opening relatively small rents across five of her sixteen watertight compartments. Subsequent research has revealed that the Titanic's double hull and rivets were constructed from steel high in sulphur making it brittle in cold conditions. The small rents spread in a zipper-like effect as rivets snapped and seams opened up in the hull. I believe a similar sequence of events could have occurred on the Waratah - hull plate and rivet damage after grounding at Adelaide Port before departing Australia for Durban on her second voyage (possibly also the Kangaroo Island grounding during her maiden voyage), resulting in weakened rivets and plates, pounded by a rough winter sea off the Wild Coast. Striking a reef would have created a scenario similar to that of the Titanic. By 2:20 AM, the Titanic broke apart and sank, with well over one thousand people still on board. The 'women and children first' policy and limitations of the existing lifeboats are well known. The Cunard liner RMS Carpathia was first on the scene to rescue 705 survivors.

Public inquiries resulted in improvements in maritime safety. The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea was established as a direct result. Wireless regulations were passed to avoid missteps in wireless communication. The wealthy and emigrants alike lost their lives and in the case of the emigrants, all that they possessed. Outpourings of public support resulted in funds being set up to assist those in need.

Frederick Fleet who was in the crows nest and spotted the iceberg 500 yards away in the path of the Titanic, was saved in a lifeboat. He worked at sea until 1936 and died in 1965 after taking his own life. Thomas Andrews the designer of the Titanic was on board to observe her performance at sea. After assessing the damage he calculated that she would sink within 2 hours. He went down with the ship, honourably choosing to slip down into the icy depths with his creation. The Managing Director of White Star Lines, Mr J. Bruce Ismay survived the sinking of the Titanic. There was rumour that he encouraged Captain Bruce to steam full speed through the ice fields. However, there seems to be evidence that the Titanic had a smouldering coal fire in her bunkers and the solution was to work the pile down as fast as possible (shovelling it into the furnaces) to get to the burning coal. This could explain the Titanic's rapid progress. Mr Ismay got away on a collapsible boat and claimed that there were no other passengers waiting to board the boat. There were some survivors who claimed that they saw him shoving passengers out of the way to get on board. He lived with this stigma and died from a stroke at the age of 74.

An eight man band led by Wallace Bartley played on despite certain death. Although some witnesses claimed they played until the Titanic went under (unlikely considering her angle of descent) there is no doubt that they alleviated panic and continued to play until it was no longer possible.

The Band Members were:

Brailey, Theodore - Pianist
Bricoux, Roger - Cellist
Clarke, J. Fred C. Bass - Violist
Hartley, Wallace Henry - Band leader
Hume, John (Jock) Law - First violinist
Krins, George - Violist
Taylor, Percy, C. - Cellist
Woodward, J. W. - Cellist

My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

this post is number 104
the Waratah sank 104 years ago.


Mole said...

Appropriately,the 104th of 104 riveting posts. Keep them coming, Andrew.


Thank you Mole. I will. You are kind. Andrew