1. I note tht discussions of "causality" for the Titanic have ended up focused on the "physical" i.e. the "potentally controllable" in order to attempt to avert further disasters.
2. Any "human factors" e.g. the lack of lifeboats have resulted in what might be said to be "overkill" like the somewhat ridiculous ritual of cruise passengers being obliged to perform "lifeboat drill" immediately on embarkation. I can't remember this ever having been subsequently praised as a " life saver".
Actually, Joe mentioned that there are proximate causes alleged in discussions of historical events, and secondary (and tertiary, etc.) causes. He listed the iceberg as the proximate cause, and faulty design as the most important secondary cause.
But discussions of cause and effect in history are usually meaningless because of a lack of knowledge (those in the discussion may be ill-informed, or there may be insufficient evidence). Since Joe and i discussed this, i've done some browsing on the internet. It reveals some interesting information.
For example, how the question is framed is important. If one asks, why did Titanic
sink, then proximate and secondary causes assume one character. If one asks why was there such a loss of life when Titanic
sank, then an entirely different discussion of cause and effect arises.
As for the sinking, i've read since Joe and i discussed this, information which was gleaned from the visit which was made to the wreck in 1996. The side of the vessel which struck the iceberg is laying on the bottom, but sonar was used to attempt to view the part of the hull which was damaged. The conclusion of the people who conducted that expedition was that the actual damage from the collision was not great (less, in fact, than Olympic
suffered in its 1911 collision), but that the seams of the steel plate started (separated) because the metallurgy of the day employed steel which became "inflexible" and brittle in the cold water. Their conclusion was that only small damage occurred at the site of contact with the iceberg, but that a much larger rupture was caused by the separation of the steel plates along the seams where they were joined, because of the effect of the cold on the steel which was used.
Joe has said that it sank because of design faults. In fact, the Olympic
class of ocean liners were probably the most well-designed such ships of their day (saving the very substandard rudder design). The only advantage which warships had over their watertight security was in the use of watertight decks as well as watertight bulkheads, and neither watertight decks nor armored decks were common in warships of the day (c.f. the sinking of Hood
by [/i]Bismarck[/i], when Hood
was designed and built 20 years later). I pointed to the failure of crew adherence to watertight security, which now seems not to have been a secondary cause, nor even a very significant factor. Looking at the physical evidence, the actual proximate cause seems to have been the decision of the vessel's commander to steam on such a northerly course in April, which is iceberg "calving" season--because neither superior design nor more rigorous application of watertight security could have overcome the metallurgical failure which lead the steel plate seams to start under the shock of the collision.
If the question of why there was such a loss of life comes up, then the lifeboat question becomes crucial. The original Titanic
design was an improvement on Olympic
with regard to the use of lifeboats. The design of Olympic
had 16 lifeboats in davits on the promenade deck, with a spare life boat below each davit, which would allow 16 boats to be launched, and would then allow the crew to attach and launch 16 more. However, Harland and Wolfe (the shipyard which designed his class--the designer whose name has not stayed in my memory was the equivalent, roughly, of the CEO of the shipyard) came up with an excellent new design. The davits were redesigned with two arms, each of which mounted a lifeboat, and which rotated. The first life boat would be launched, and then the davit rotated to allow the rapid launch of the second lifeboat. While the second lifeboat was being launched, a third lifeboat, laid out on the deck beneath the davit, could be attached to the now empty arms of the davit from which the first boat had been launched. As the davit was rotated to present the third boat for launch, a fourth boat could be attached to the now empty second arms of davit, allowing the launch of a total of four boats in a relatively quick sequence.
However, this was a commercial venture, and as the building of Titanic
progressed, Harland and Wolfe were under pressure to meet cost and completion deadlines, and the original plan of the new lifeboat davits with eight davits on each side of the promenade deck, for a total of sixteen davits, carrying 32 boats, with 32 more boats available to be launched, was reduced to simply the 32 boats which were in the davits. I have now read that even this was reduced so that the dual-davits only carried one lifeboat each. Titanic
actually took a relatively long time to sink (especially as compared to how fast a warship can sink--Hood
went down in about three minutes as a result of a single salvo fromBismarck
striking her decks). It is entirely plausible that if all 64 boats in the original design had been on board, nearly every one on board could have been safely gotten off, and could have been rescued by Carpathian
the next morning.
So, on the topic of the proximate cause of the sinking and great loss of life on Titanic
, and again in the case of Hood
, i have come to a different conclusion about the proximate cause. So, i will digress a little further.
was a battlecruiser. That is similar to a battleship, but also designed to be fast, like a cruiser. During the Great War, the Royal Navy and the German Imperial Navy had only a single knock-down, drag-out fight, the battle of Jutland. In most respects, the Germans actually won--they suffered far fewer losses, and most of their losses were in old ships, while the English suffered greater losses, and lost many more newer vessels. In particular, they lost two of their new battlecruisers. The English commander, Jellicoe, rather feebly claimed victory because the Royal Navy made good their losses, and the Germans never came out to challenge them again. To a certain extent he was right, Jutland proved a strategic victory for the Royal Navy, although it was a bloody tactical defeat. However, Jellicoe was very honest as to why the battle cruisers, even though supported at range four battleships (slower, but better armed and better armored), suffered so badly. The first thing he mentioned was the "indifferent" armor on the gun turrets and decks of the battlecruisers. He also mentions the superiority of the German tactical doctrine--their superiority at night fighting and the use of recognition signals, and the superiority of the gun-laying technique.
The first and the last comments are most significant in the case of Hood
. She was to have been a combination of the best of battleship and of battlecruiser design. Her turrets were heavily armored to protect her main batteries, and her guns were 15" guns, which was a respectably large gun for the day. She was laid down in 1916 (long after the battle of Jutland) and launched in 1918. Her speed was a blazing 29 knots, with a range of more than 5000 miles when steaming at an average speed of 20 knots. That was fast even by World War II standards.
achieved that great speed and range because of parsimony in her construction, and not simply because a of modern and well-designed steam turbine power plant. Her gun turrets were well-armored, and there was deck armor above the magazines and the engine compartment--but there was not overall deck armor, and the armor over the magazines and engine room were on a single deck below the main deck, which was not armored. Hood
sacrificed armor to attain speed and range--and the question of range is most significant, because the power plant could have been increased, and the deck armor improved, and the speed maintained--although the range would have been drastically reduced--the Demark Straits, where she died, were not, however, that far from her home base.
Only three men out of Hood's
complement of 1400 survived. All three of them (and several others, it is thought, who were not rescued before they drowned or froze to death) were blown from the deck by the horrendous explosion which went off just after Bismarck's
salvo landed. Modern students of military events have come to the conclusion that Hood
was sunk by "plunging fire." You might recall that Jellicoe noted that German gun-laying was superior to Royal Navy method in 1916. The Germans in 1916, and in 1941, knew that the Royal Navy willfully sacrificed deck armor to speed and range. They used a "plunging fire" against the English, which is the method which howitzers use. The shell is fired at a high angle, and comes down with great speed at an angle very close to the vertical. It is now thought that one of Bismarck's
armor piercing shells plunged through the main deck of Hood
, and ricocheted off the armored ammunition elevator below the forward turret, causing it to penetrate the deck next to the forward magazine at an angle, which allowed it to enter the forward magazine below
the deck armor above the magazine. Once the magazine was set off, it was all over for Hood
. As i already mentioned, she went down three minutes after Bismarck's
salvo struck her.
So, the question becomes whether or not the proximate cause of the sinking of Hood
was the lack of sufficient deck armor, and i allege that it was. Therefore, one must ask why the Royal Navy skimped on this crucial necessity. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the battleships which they attacked were built before the First World War, and were even older than Hood
. But the American battleships had heavy deck armor, so heavy that the Japanese had a special plan. They used horizontal, high-altitude bombers (only the Japanese Imperial Fleet used this type of carrier-launched bomber--the U. S. Navy and the Royal Navy did not), which were given specially modified 16" armor piercing shells of the type which battleships use, which had been modified to be dropped as aerial bombs. Even then, the Japanese did not fully destroy the vessels in "battleship row." Many Americans died, but many more survived because of the excellent armor of the battleships. Whereas it is true that the American battleships were much slower than Hood
(21 or 22 knots at top speed), they were reasonably fast for the time in which they had been built (1909-1915). The Americans sacrificed range in order to get speed (22 knots was reasonably fast in 1915), and to carry a good armor plate.
Before the Great War, when Winston Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and Jackie Fisher was First Sea Lord, they made the decision to convert from reciprocating steam engines to oil-fired steam turbines. This is one reason that first the English and then the Americans became embroiled in the middle east, but that's a different tale. This meant much greater fuel efficiency, which could be allotted to speed, or range, or a combination of both. In the days when warships burned coal, they had to either take transports with coal with them (which is what the Americans did), or they had to have bases all over the world at frequent intervals to supply the coal--coaling stations as they were known. After the Royal Navy switched to steam turbines, there was the problem of converting fueling stations to oil, and the cost. The planners of the Royal Navy designed the fast battlecruisers long before the battle of Jutland, and made conscious decision that they would sacrifice the weight of armor to the need for speed and range. Hood
was the ultimate expression of this doctrine. It would have been possible to give Hood
more armor, and build a bigger power plant to give her the speed intended for her, but it would have been necessary to sacrifice range. She could not have steamed from Southhampton to Bermuda, for example, without refueling at sea. That was not difficult, both the U.S. Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy used that method--Admiral Nagumo's First Air Fleet refueled twice on the way from Japan to Hawaii.
But that would have meant more expense, because the only way to attain the 20 knot cruising speed while fueling at sea would have been to provide fast tankers. That was also "do-able," those filthy rich Americans did in the Pacific in World War Two. But the Royal Navy made a conscious decision to rely upon the speed and the quality of the seamanship and gun-laying of their crew to protect Hood
from the consequences of carrying little deck armor, in order to maintain her great range.
In the case of Titanic
, i have asked why she sank, and have decided the proximate cause was not design flaws (she could not have been better built with better materials given when she was built), but rather that the ship's captain made a fatal decision to steam as far north as he did at that time of year. I have asked why the great loss of life, and have agreed with your reference to lifeboats. But is not the proximate cause actually what lead to the decision to sail that far north, and to scrimp on lifeboats? In the latter case, the obvious answer is that the additional 48 lifeboats were canned because they were being cheap, and wanted to finish the vessel by deadline and at or under budget. Additionally, one asks why Captain Smith steamed so far north in that month of April. I assert that he did so to make a record crossing during Tatanic's
maiden voyage, and that the motive was the lucrative commercial success which would accrue from accomplishing a record crossing by what was then the largest and most luxurious ocean liner of the day.
Therefore, i consider the proximate cause of the sinking of Titanic
, and the great loss of life in both cases to have been capitalist greed and just plain cheapness.
How's that for a cause and effect analysis, Boss?