Why didn’t the Titanic just reverse the engine when it saw the iceberg?

It has always bothered me for a while when documentaries show Murdoch reversing the Titanic’s engines simply by activating the command through the telegraph connector. (Not to be confused with Marconi’s Telegraph machine used to send and receive wireless messages.) These are the ones I’m talking about:

Even James Cameron’s super famous 1997 movie erroneously shows Murdoch giving the order to reverse the engines, which we know never happened (at least not as part of Murdoch’s attempts to avoid impacting the iceberg), based on accounts of survivors from the Titanic crew itself.

Murdoch’s first objective was to “go around” the iceberg that was approaching the ship. Therefore, he would need full rudder control to attempt this maneuver to avoid the iceberg, issuing a “hard-to-starboard” rudder order to the ship’s Quartermaster (the crew member who actually physically steers the ship) who, in 1912, in naval jargon, means turning the ship to the left.

If Murdoch had run the engines in reverse, he would have totally given up control of the ship’s helm and been utterly powerless and unable to steer the ship off the iceberg. By rudder control, I am referring to the ability to direct or control the direction the ship was going, which is accomplished by a ship’s rudder system. With the Titanic’s two outer propellers (the Titanic’s center screw could not turn in reverse) turning in reverse, the water flow pushed in the opposite direction of the rudder and thus the rudder could not manipulate against this force and therefore almost would have no impact on the ship’s direction. You might be thinking, “Well, so what? Who cares about the direction… the only direction I’m interested in is a reverse! Had there been more distance between the Titanic and the iceberg, attempting a rollback of her engines might have been a viable option, but there simply wasn’t enough time or distance between the ship and the iceberg. With an estimated 37 to 39 seconds between the detection of the iceberg by lookouts Fleet and Lee and impact, an engine reversal order would likely take that long and likely longer, depending on how alerting the engine crew would have been at the time. era.

It is important to remember that sending an order to the engine team telegraphs does not initiate an automatic response from the engines in the same way that pressing the brake pedal in the car does. The engine team must execute the helm order they see on the engine telegraphs before the desired event change is carried out. There is a delay time for any type of stop or reversal order. Even if such a change had been successfully initiated in record time, it would still take time for the reversal of the ship’s engines to slow the forward motion of the ship (because of its inertia) and finally stop and then finally start moving in reverse.

During the Titanic’s marine tests (which had taken place just two weeks earlier), among her various stress tests was a simulation to perform a “crash stop” (bringing the vessel to a complete stop by reversing the ship’s engines) while traveling at maximum speed, making 21 to 21½ knots. She came to a complete stop at 850 yards(777 meters), which took 3 minutes and 15 seconds. Even by today’s standards this is truly an incredible stop, one they probably couldn’t expect to be able to repeat under normal conditions, when the engine team wasn’t expecting it, as they were during sea trials. The estimated distance between the Titanic and the iceberg, when detected, was about 400 meters. As you can see, there was simply no time or distance to allow this helm order to take effect. It’s also important to understand that the Titanic’s crew was on high alert during its sea trials. It is likely that the engine crew below did not react with the same vivacity and mercurial reflexes as was the case during the ship’s sea trials.

Simply put, there was no time or distance for a full reverse gear request. First Officer Murdoch did what any bridge officer would have done under similar circumstances.

BELOW: Murdoch’s attempt to circumvent the Iceberg.