The Engineers Lost Aboard Titanic

Be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life.
{Revelation II. 10}

When the Titanic went down she took with her the lives of many brave people including her entire complement of engineers under the control of Joseph Bell, the Chief Engineer Officer. His staff consisted of 24 engineers, 6 electrical engineers, two boilermakers, a plumber and his clerk. In addition many of the firemen and coal trimmers were lost.

Despite the library of books which has been written about Titanic the engineers, the role they played and the ultimate sacrifice they made, have received scant comment in these published works. The reason for this could be the fact that no engineer survived and so there was no verbal evidence of the role they played. The evidence of their important role is, however, plain to see for the ship stayed afloat longer than it would have done had they not sacrificed their lives for the good of others. This brief note attempts to explain what the engineers did during those crucial hours before the ship foundered and in presenting this information it is hoped that the bravery of these men will be acknowledged by all who have studied the ship and its brief history.

 This document dealing with Titanic`s engineers is divided into the following sections:

I. Engineers` Duties
2. The Collision
3. After the Collision
4. Engineers` Purple

Engineers` Duties

All ships of the period had an engineering routine and this varied from company to company but for any steam ship there was a need to keep well manned watches in engine and boiler rooms. A large passenger liner like the Titanic needed a number of engineers on each watch {12 to 4, 4 to 8 and 8 to 12, am and pm} these men supervising the firemen, greasers and coal trimmers and tending the machinery/boilers under their control. Engineers would have been on duty in the boiler rooms and the engine rooms (reciprocating engines and turbine). The Chief Engineer would not have kept a watch but the majority of the other engineers would have done so. There were six Second Engineers allowing for two on each watch, one in charge of the engines and the other responsible for the boilers. The five Third Engineers and the Senior Fourth Engineer would have allowed for a further two qualified engineers on each watch, probably supervising boiler rooms. The remaining nine Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Engineers would have allowed for a further three engineers per watch giving a total of seven engineers to each watch at sea. This would have allowed for four engineers in the engine rooms looking after the reciprocating engines, turbine and other machinery such as the pumps and steering gear, whilst three engineers would have been responsible for the boiler rooms. Firemen and coal trimmers were a tough breed and needed careful supervision; only the more senior engineers are likely to have been allocated that task as dealing with such men required experience and understanding. Authority alone was not enough to ensure that the boilers were fired correctly and that coal was always available where needed, the ability to deal with the "black gang" came from knowing their ways. At least one Electrical Engineer would have also been on each watch with the remaining three, including the Chief Electrician, on day work. The Refrigeration Engineer (extra 4th Engineer), two Deck Engineers, two boiler makers and plumber are likely to have been on day work; their work would be as directed by the watchkeeping engineers or as circumstances required.

 As Titanic was on its maiden voyage careful attention had to be paid to the machinery, particularly the reciprocating engines and these will have gradually been run up to full power over the duration of the voyage. The full power run planned for 15 April was not an attempt to break any record but simply to check that the engines could achieve the designed power consistently, having been run in during the first part of the voyage. There was no chance of Titanic breaking the "Blue Riband", she was simply not powerful enough. Mauretania and Lusitania required some 75,000hp to propel their smaller tonnage at record speeds and the most that Titanic`s engines could produce was about 45,000hp. During the voyage the engineers in the boiler rooms would have had the task of supervising the operation of the boilers and ensuring that bilges were kept clean, ashes disposed of and boiler water treatment chemicals correctly administered. The engineers in the machinery spaces would have had the task of checking the operation of the main and auxiliary engine, including the electrical generators and steering gear, and making adjustments as necessary. They would also have been responsible for ensuring that bilges were kept pumped, fresh water and heating was available in the passenger spaces and that shaft bearings and thrust blocks were effectively lubricated. Obviously, if any defect or problem was encountered engineers would be directed to dealing with that and so the designation of specific duties at any time is not really possible. The filling in of the log book each watch would generally fall to the most junior engineers on the watch. A bunker fire was burning whilst Titanic headed west and coal trimmers would have been supervised in their attempts to locate the heart of the fire and bring extinguishing media into operation.

 At the main reciprocating engine manoeuvring platform were grouped all engine controls and from the one position the engineers could operated the engine steam supply valve, reversing mechanism and bridge telegraph. The turbine only operated in the ahead direction and during manoeuvring was not used, reciprocating engine exhaust steam being diverted to the condensers. Reversing of each reciprocating engine was achieved by moving that engine`s valve link block and a steam cylinder was provided for this purpose; all that the engineer had to do was to operate a steam control lever and the reversing engine would do the work. A similar steam cylinder was employed to operate the two changeover valves which directed reciprocating engine exhaust steam to the condensers or turbine. This steam cylinder was located at the after end of the reciprocating engines and it is possible that its control was located at that position. The engineer on the main controls could not, therefore, operated the changeover valve without moving position (about 30ft) but under normal circumstances there would be other engineers available to do that job and it was only necessary to operate the valve once, at the commencement of manoeuvring when entering port or when "full away" when leaving port.

 Contact between the engine and boiler rooms was essential in order to ensure that the boilers supplied the steam required by the engines; insufficient steam generation resulted in low boiler pressure and loss of power whilst excessive steam generation meant waste of steam as the safety valves lifted. Titanic was fitted with the latest devices to ensure satisfactory communication between the engine control platform and the boiler rooms. The bridge telegraphs only operated at the reciprocating engine starting platform (port and starboard engines) but there was a system of illuminated telegraphs between the engine starting platform and the indivdual boiler rooms. This electrically powered equipment was supplied by Messrs. Evershed & Vignoles Ltd. of London and consisted of a transmitter unit at the engine control and receiver units in each boiler room. This equipment enabled the engineer on engine room watch to communicate with the boiler rooms thus informing them as to the actual operating speed of the engine, Full, Half, Slow or Dead Slow. {The equipment probably provided an audible warning as well as the visual indication.} There was actually no need for the boiler rooms to know if the engines were turning ahead or astern and the equipment may not have had any means of informing the boiler rooms of this. In addition to these boiler room telegraphs the same firm also supplied sets of Kilroy stoking indicators for each stokehold. One indicator was provided for each boiler and the engineer could set the rate of firing required for each boiler by adjusting the time each furnace on a particular boiler was to be fired; a visual and audible signals warned the fireman when each furnace was to be fired. With the double ended boilers there was a facility in the system which prevented opposite furnace doors being opened at the same time.



Collision with the Iceberg.

Immediately prior to the collision the engineers would have been following their usual routine watchkeeping 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.

 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 enginer at the engine control after he had responded to the bridge telegraph and adjusted the engine condition.

 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.

 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.

 Frederick Scott felt the shock and afterwards heard the engine telegraphs ring; he noticed"stop" on the main engine telegraphs.

 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.

 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.

 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.

 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.


Engine Room Operations After the Collison

When Titanic struck the iceberg the situation changed immediately and all engineers not then on duty would have been summoned to the engine room by means of alarm bell located in the Engineers` accommodation. The letter reproduced below indicates the standing instructions operated by White Star Line and the situation as it is likely to have existed in the engine room at that time.

 Letter from F.J. Blake RNR, White Star Line Engineering Superintendent in Southampton. Published in The Engineer, 26 April 1912. p441

 When a ship leaves port a complete boat list is made up. That list is pinned up in the room of every watch on the ship and also on the notice board in the engineers` quarters. In the case of an ordinary collision, in which probability the engineers would have an opportunity of getting away, they are directed to take charge of boats but in a case like the disaster to the Titanic all engineers would be required below to endeavour to stop any leaks that might take place in the watertight bulkheads, and perhaps to take steps to support the bulkheads. All the pumps would be working to their utmost capacity and the electrical engineers would be keeping their dynamos running as long as possible. The emergency dynamo would be kept running as long as there was steam to supply it.

 When this accident happened and the telegraph rang from the bridge either to stop or reverse the engines a call bell would be rung from the engine room to the engineers` quarters intimating that all engineers were wanted below. At sea and at such a time this would at once be recognised by the “watch off” as being an emergency call and they would be down below in a few minutes. They would then be under the direct orders of the chief engineer who would depute the engineers to different duties necessitated by the exceptional circumstances and at such duties these men would remain until ordered out of the engine room by the chief engineer. They would be working surrounded by miles of live steam pipes and they would be superintending or assisting in drawing out fires or doing other work where everything was under pressure of steam of 200 lb. The engineers of the Titanic were the pick of the service. They were second to none and chosen from boats in the company`s fleet on account of their excellent record. There can be no doubt that it was entirely due to the heroic devotion of these engineer officers that the ship remained afloat as long as she did.

 The pumping of water from the flooding compartments was essential and delayed the sinking by many minutes. Stopping leaks in bulkheads and shoring up bulkheads also delayed the inevitable but the engineers would have known very quickly that the ship was doomed. Joseph Bell, the Chief Engineer, would have realized that the ship would founder as soon as he knew the extent of the damage and that message would have soon spread to the remainder of the engineers. The tasks they were asked to perform left no doubt as to the seriousness of the situation and as many of the engineers held certificates of competency as engineers they were knowledgeable enough to understand the basics of ship stability.

 Boilers not required to supply steam for the pumps and dynamos had to be shut down, keeping them under pressure was dangerous. Engineers could not afford the time to check that feed water was being supplied to all boilers and if the water level in a boiler fell too low the furnace could collapse resulting in an explosion. Cold sea water coming into a hot boiler under pressure could also cause an explosion due to the thermal stress induced and so the boilers in No 6 and No 5 boiler rooms had to be shut down with great urgency. Any boiler explosion would have killed people but would also have damaged watertight bulkheads and possibly the hull. This would have resulted in the ship foundering much more quickly. To prevent such explosion fires had to be raked out of the furnaces and steam pressure had to be reduced rapidly; this was done by manually lifting the safety valves using the easing gear fitted to valves for that purpose and it is the operation of this easing gear which resulted in the roar of steam from the vent pipes together with the natural release from boilers generating steam no longer required by the engines.

 The scene in the engine and boiler rooms must have been chaotic but the engineers would have known what was expected of them and they stayed at their task even though they will have known that they could not save the ship and that their lives were at risk. Their only hope was to delay the ship`s sinking until help arrived. As time progressed the situation became more desperate but so did conditions as the ship trimmed by the head; moving about the boilerrooms and machinery spaces would have become more difficult and dangerous and the noises from the ship as she strained must have been unnerving. Engine and boiler spaces would have been full of steam and smoke from the drawn fires adding to the sombre atmosphere which must have pervaded these spaces. Many of the engineers would have been scared and afraid, that would be natural. They would have been thinking of their families at home and the probability that they would never see them again. Who would take care of their loved ones? Shipping companies of the time were not noted for their generosity as was proved by the fact that all survivors went off pay as soon as the ship went down.

 They did not know if help would come and from their position deep in the heart of the dying ship they were isolated from the open deck and the stars above. Trapped in a steel tomb their fear and anguish can only be imagined but they knew what was required of them and they did their duty to the passengers and their fellow seamen. Pumping and electrical lighting had to be maintained as long as possible and all engineers stayed at their tasks until the very end.

 When the order to abandon ship came it was much too late for them; they could not possibly reach the open deck through the complex warren of passageways deep in the bowels of Titanic and many probably did not even try. Climbing steep ladders from the engine room or boiler rooms was a difficult enough task at the best of times but with the ship trimmed excessively by the head climbing some of these ladders would have been almost impossible. It is likely that many did not drown but were crushed to death as machinery and boilers broke free when the ship trimmed even deeper by the head; some will have been scalded as steam pipes broke free from the boilers still operating to keep the pumps and dynamos working. They died to a man doing their duty. They were paid to do that duty but they were not paid enough to lay down their lives. They sacrificed themselves so that all might stand a better chance of life by keeping Titanic above water longer than would have been the case without their efforts. The disaster was none of their doing but they died heroes trying to correct the mistakes of others.


Engineers` Purple

The gold braid insignia of rank worn by British mercantile marine engineer officers on the sleeves of their uniform jackets has a purple background. There is a long held belief that this was decreed by King George V in recognition of the heroism shown by Titanic`s engineers. Although it is a fine story and that heroism certainly deserved recognition, it is incorrect. In 1865 it was decided that British naval engineers would wear a purple background to their gold braid of rank in order to distinguish them from other officers and that colour coding transferred to the British mercantile engineer officers when they started wearing uniforms. Although engineer officers aboard passenger ships wore uniforms the practice was not common aboard cargo ships prior to WWI and so purple was not usually seen. As more engineer officers wore uniforms the purple background became common and the myth associated with the Titanic developed.

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