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Titanic
The Ship of Dreams
R.M.S. Titanic
Engineer : Collision



   Immediately prior to the collision the engineers would have been following their usual routine watch keeping tasks of supervising the boiler rooms and tending the main engines and turbine. The ship was proceeding at its normal full speed and in the engine/boiler rooms those on watch would have had no reason to believe that anything untoward was likely to happen. It is unlikely that any engineer would have been at the engine control platform when the telegraph rang to request an engine stop and then reversal thus there would have been a time delay before the engine controls could have been moved to stop and reverse. How long that delay was must be pure speculation but it would probably not have been longer than 30 seconds. A single engineer could have dealt with both engines within 10 seconds. Unfortunately no engineer survived and the inquiry evidence from the engine room hands who did is confused to say the least.
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George Beauchamp (boiler room No 6) mentioned that the telegraph (obviously the boiler room telegraph) rang stop after a thunderous shock: this telegraph would have been actuated by the engineer at the engine control after he had responded to the bridge telegraph and adjusted the engine condition.
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Thomas Dillon was in the engine room and stated that the telegraph rang two seconds before he felt a shock. He said that 1.5 minutes after the shock the engines stopped and 30 seconds later went slow astern.
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Thomas Ranger was in the electrical workshop above the turbine room and 2 minutes after feeling a shock he noticed that the turbine was stopped.
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Frederick Scott felt the shock and afterwards heard the engine telegraphs ring; he noticed "stop" on the main engine telegraphs.
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It was suggested at the inquiry that Murdoch on the bridge rang the engine room telegraphs to "Full astern" for both engines soon after the iceberg was sighted and by all accounts it took between 30 and 40 seconds from that time until impact. It is unlikely, therefore, that the engines were going full astern before the impact; the iceberg was too close for the engines to have any influence upon the collision.
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Eaton & Hass (Triumph & Tragedy page 45) indicate that during trials Titanic came to a stop from 20.5 knots in less than half a mile from the engines being reversed. Such a trial would have been conducted with engineers at the engine controls and awaiting the telegraph orders, in the Atlantic the situation was different. Presumably in this case the engine control was moved from full ahead to full astern without an intermediate stop, and the exhaust steam was already being directed to the condenser rather than the turbine.
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A steam cylinder was fitted to the reversing system and could have reversed the engine linkages in about 10 seconds; it would not have been necessary to shut the engine steam supply valve in order to reverse the engine but it would have been necessary to move the changeover valve and direct reciprocating engine exhaust steam from the turbine to the condensers. At normal sea conditions the turbine would have been running and it would have provided forward power until the steam was redirected to the condenser, even when the reciprocating engines were running astern.
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Without doubt the engines did stop but there was insufficient time for them to have any effect before the collision. The engines responded quickly to the controls as can be seen from the trials information but they were still going ahead at the time of impact as it took time for the engineers to reach the controls and then further time for the engines to react. Over the years it has become an accepted fact that Murdoch rang "Stop: full astern" on the engine room telegraphs for each engine but there is no confirmation of this. At the British Inquiry the helmsman, Robert Hitchens, stated that he did not know what orders were telegraphed to the engine room (answer to question 989). The Attorney General offered the suggestion "I think your Lordships will hear that it was "Stop: full speed astern" (990). In subsequent evidence Boxall stated that he noticed that both telegraphs indicated "Full speed astern" (15350) and the Attorney General was obviously making reference to this evidence which he expected to be given later in the inquiry. In actual fact Boxall was not on the bridge when the telegraph was rung and so he is only stating what he observed when returning to the bridge after the impact. He did not know the sequence of events in terms of telegraph orders; if there was an intermediate "Stop" request prior to going full astern the duration of that is unknown. In an emergency it would be normal practice to ring the telegraph directly to full astern without the intermediate engine stop request and that may well be what Murdoch did. The evidence of Scott and Dillon would suggest that there was an intermediate stop request but the evidence of all involved on the bridge and in the engine room is rather confused and engine room survivors do not recall any "Full astern" request on the telegraph. Going to an intermediate stop position prior to going "Full astern" would not necessarily have made any difference, the ship was going to hit the iceberg because it could neither turn quickly enough to avoid it nor stop in time to prevent a collision. Even if the engines could have been brought to a dead stop the moment the engineer touched the control there was nothing that the engineers could have done to prevent the collision. There must be doubt about a "Full astern" request both in actuality and in timing if there was one. Even if there was an immediate request for "Full astern" it will not have made any difference to the outcome and Titanic could not have avoided the iceberg. The time interval between the telegraph request and the impact was much too short for any action to be taken by the engineers, the iceberg was not noticed soon enough.


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