ENGINEERING, Friday, April 19, 1912, p. 531


In the loss of the Titanic and so many of her passengers and crew, to the number of between 1200 and 1300, the world is confronted, as the Prime Minister so eloquently expressed in the House of Commons on Tuesday, with "one of those terrible events in the order of Providence which baffle foresight, which appall the imagination, and which make us feel the inadequacy of words to do justice to what we feel." The Titanic was the product of the fullest experience, alike in design and construction, of one of the premier ship-owning companies and one of the most scientific and practical shipbuilding organisations in the world. She embodied all that judgment and knowledge could devise to make her immune from all disaster. Yet on her first voyage Nature, whose sovereign power seemed, through her, to be challenged by man, has triumphed with a sudden, unexpected, and forceful stroke, which, by reason of its appalling magnitude, might be regarded as a demoniacal diversion for the humiliation of a Titan of man's creation. One can picture in dreadful imagination the stately grandeur of the group of icebergs gliding southwards like a moving Alpine range amid a waste of waters, and the great 45,000-ton Titanic ship forging ahead "fearless of scaith and overthrow." Then came the sudden impact against one of these floating ice islands; the crushing and tearing and shearing of metal--bars, plates, and rivets--accompanied by a staggering blow; the inrush of water; and ultimately, after four brief hours of strenuous effort in saving the lives of women and children, the sinking of the ship, into which, as Ruskin so well put it, man had put so much of his "human patience, common-sense, forethought, experimental philosophy, self-control, habits of order and obedience, thoroughly wrought handiwork, defiance of brute elements, careless courage, careful patriotism, and calm expectation of the judgment of God."

In the four hours which elapsed between the first contact of the ship with the iceberg, at 10.25 on Sunday night, and the sinking of the ship, at 2.20 on Monday morning (American time), in 40° 16' N. and 50° 14' W., in over 1700 fathoms of water, the "best traditions of the sea seemed to have been observed in the willing sacrifices which were offered to give the first chance of safety to those who were least able to help themselves," a fact as to which Mr. Asquith expressed pardonable national pride. It seems that over 800 members of the passengers and crew were transferred to the ship's boats, and that liners in the vicinity, which had been apprised by wireless telegraphy of the disaster to the Titanic, hurried to their rescue, the Carpathia arriving some hours after the sinking of the ship, finding the boats with their passengers and a large amount of wreckage. This really is as much as can be said with any degree of accuracy at the time of writing. By the time this article is in the hands of our readers more information will be available, as survivors on the Carpathia will then have reached New York, and it may be possible to gain some definite information as to the details of the disaster. It must be remembered, however, that under such calamitous circumstances the mental control necessary to accurate observation and interpretation of passing events is, as a rule, lacking; and even if many of the passengers have been in a position closely to observe the significant incidents in the early stages of the collision, it will be difficult to piece together the results of isolated observations in order to make a complete narrative.

We have not much hope of such an accurate and detailed record of events as will enable deduction to be made, and to allow practical lessons to be drawn from this, the greatest catastrophe in shipping. It will be of some service to know whether in the collision there was a direct-on blow, and what effect this had on the structure forward; and whether, as is quite possible, the iceberg shelved off under the water-line, but not sufficiently deep to clear the bottom of the ship. Under such circumstances the outer bottom would suffer, but it is to be remembered that the ship was constructed with a double bottom, very heavily riveted by hydraulic power, and that the centre keelson was 5 ft. 3 in. deep, with a flat keel-plate, 1 in. thick, below it, and with a series of twelve heavy 'tween bottom girders extending fore and aft, in addition to the transverse members of the structure, so that there was possible great structural resistance to the action of ice below the ship (see ENGINEERING, vol. cxi., page 680). It will never be known, now that the ship has sunk, whether the immense impact involved any shearing of rivets of the inner as we as the outer bottom, and consequently the admission of water to many compartments. Or did the ship in the first place glide along the berg, or ultimately sheer off from the berg? In such case the outer shell-plate along the bilge might get ripped, in which event several compartments would become flooded. In this connection there will necessarily be raised the question of the effect of centre-line or longitudinal wing bulkheads in order to confine the water admitted to the interior of the ship under such circumstances to a part of the width of such large ships. Such longitudinal subdivision has disadvantages as well as advantages, even from the point of view of stability under disastrous conditions. So that while we suggest that the question may have to be faced, we are by no means to be held as judging prematurely the position as affecting the Titanic, especially in view of inadequate information. Another question on which it will be possible, and particularly desirable, to have some information is as to the effect of the immense impact on the superstructure of the ship. It has become a practice to have two or three decks above the moulded structure of all ships. We know that in the case of a railway collision the body of the carriage is driven from the under-frame, which, through the buffers, receives the impact. What effect has a collision, of such force as in the case of the Titanic, on the ship's upper structure, which, it must be remembered, carries the boat gear and practically all the life-saving apparatus? Could the boats and launching gear suffer under such conditions?

This brings us to the question of the life-boat accommodation, which has, quite reasonably, awakened keen interest, and is worthy of fuller consideration than should be accorded to agitation born of the panic attendant upon such disasters. The Board of Trade calls for the carrying, by ships of 10,000 tons and over, of a minimum of sixteen boats, with a total minimum cubic capacity of 5500 ft. It is further indicated that "if the boats placed under davits do not furnish sufficient accommodation for all persons on board, then additional wood, metal, collapsible, or other boats of approved design (whether placed under davits or otherwise), or approved life-rafts shall be carried." The carrying capacity of this supplementary lifesaving accommodation was to be, in the case of vessels of 5000 tons gross and upwards, three-quarters of the minimum cubic contents of the life-boats proper, so that in the case of all ships over 10,000 tons the total capacity of all life-boats, life-rafts, &c., required by the Board of Trade regulations was 9625 ft., and as 10 cub. ft. was deemed sufficient for each passenger, the total provision was thus for 962 passengers. Moreover, the Board of Trade permitted a reduction to be made provided the division of the ship into water-tight compartments was sufficient, and as this condition was undoubtedly realised by the Titanic the law called for only 8250 cub. ft., sufficient for 825 passengers. The American law requires that in vessels of 20,000 gross tons, the boats carried should have a capacity of 12,420 cub. ft., with an addition of 225 cub. ft. for each successive 500 tons above 20,000 tons. There is no doubt, that the accommodation in the Titanic greatly exceeded the requirements of the British law, but was less than those of the American law. The question naturally raised now is as to whether the conditions met the necessities of the case.

On this and other points considerable light is thrown by the very complete description which we published of the Olympic and Titanic, the first on the occasion of the launch in October, 1910 (see ENGINEERING, vol. xci., pages 564, 620, and 693) and the second on the occasion of the launch of the Titanic, when we published further plans of that ship in May, 1911 (see ENGINEERING, vol. xc., page 678). A double-acting type of Welin davit was fitted, so that either a single, double, or triple row of boats could be dealt with by these davits, and in Engineering of July 1, 1910, page 14, there is shown a double line of boats at one time contemplated; but ultimately, as shown in our plan of the boat deck, published on page 679 of our ninety-first volume, a single line of boats was found to meet the requirements of the Board of Trade. Thus the ship carried 14 life-boats, each 30 ft. by 9 ft. by 4 ft., with a capacity of 9072 cub. ft., with two cutters lying alongside the two forward life-boats, these cutters being 25 ft. by 7 ft. by 3 ft., equal to 630 cub. ft. capacity, so that the total capacity was equal to 970 persons, allowing the 10 cub. ft. per passenger required by the Board of Trade. A double row of boats would have increased the capacity to 1700 persons, and a treble row to 2500 persons; and having made provision in the way of davits for a double or treble row, the intention was no doubt to profit by experience as to the ultimate number required. Of course there were life-rafts and other similar contrivances, again in excess of the Board of Trade requirements; but the position of this Government department in this matter is regarded with very considerable anxiety by the general public. If the Government regulations did not demand conditions adequate for every possible requirement, the public will wish to know why these regulations have not been modified. Obviously they have continued since the maximum size of ship was 10,000 tons, but we have long since passed this stage, and as the Board of Trade are responsible for certifying the suitability of all ships for passenger service, their regulations should have been altered from time to time to meet the requirements of advancing practice. It is true that a revision has been in progress for some time, but it should not have required a Titanic tragedy to awaken the nation to the remissness of the department.

While thus pointing to the directions in which information is desired in order to assist in providing, as far as possible, against such a catastrophe as that which has arisen, we wish again to enforce the view that no judgment can be come to in the absence of very definite practical knowledge. Information must necessarily be incomplete; but one thing is certain, and that is, that many valuable lives have been lost. Reference must here be made to the professional officers of Messrs. Harland and Wolff, the builders of the ship, who proceeded on the maiden voyage of this ship, as of other ships, in order to derive that modicum of experience which the first voyage of every ship yields to the builder anxious to progress in the science. These officers, there is only too great reason to believe, have lost their lives. One of them is Mr. Thomas Andrews, Jun., one of the directors of the firm. He was trained by the firm, and advanced by reason of innate ability, practical experience, and faithful devotion to the best interests of the firm, and therefore of British shipbuilding. From the initial stages of both the Olympic and Titanic he took a deep interest, and although negotiations with clients at home and abroad, with which he was more or less immediately concerned, prevented him from taking a continuous part in the supervision of the building of the ships, he was nevertheless responsible for many of the decisions in connection with the work. There can be no doubt that his loss is a great one to the Belfast firm, and because of his fresh and buoyant enthusiasm, the staff and men will recognise his passing as a personal bereavement.

Another member of the staff was the chief shipyard draughtsman, Mr. R. Chisholm. He had been connected with the firm for a very long time, and no one was more conversant with modern practice in the building of large merchant ships. He was experienced, methodical and enthusiastic in his work, a loyal devotee of Lord Pirrie and the firm generally, and his loss also will be much regretted. There were other members of the staff equally worthy of tribute. Indeed, amongst the 1300 or more lives lost there were many to whom we would wish to give honourable mention, but we confine ourselves to the chief officer, in Edward J. Smith to whom no higher commendation can be paid than to say that it is said of him that he was liked even by his engineers in all his ships, which indicates high personal qualities of equity, apart from professional ability. The engineers of the ship have all been lost, and many will specially regret the chief, Mr. J. Bell, who was one of the most experienced of Atlantic sea-going engineers, excelling in courage, judgment, and tact. As with his staff and with all sea-going engineers, their claim to recognition is the simplest and best--that they did their duty to the end.