Titanic (Book)

Titanic book cover

The sinking of Titanic

Book review by John Ellis
Brown, D.G. (2001) The Last Log of the Titanic. Maine International Marine: Camden. 234pp $36 (used).

The many closet Titanic aficionados out there will be fascinated with David Brown’s re-creation of the ship’s deck log for the first watch of 14 April 1912. Brown holds a US Coast Guard master’s licence and teaches professional level USCG licensing courses. He also writes monthly columns for Boating World and Offshore magazines and is a regular contributor to many other marine-related publications.

Brown leapt to his keyboard following the Hollywood spectacle that he saw more concerned with period costume and a fictional romance than fact. He seeks to debunk many of the myths from that and other feature films, documentaries and stories and to establish just what did occur on the bridge and record these events in his “deck log”. He has used the reports of the British and American investigations into the tragedy, 30 books and several websites as references as well as discussions with the Titanic Historical Society.

One of his website references argues, though not convincingly, a quite different sequence of conning orders associated with the collision. Indeed, the websites visited by this reviewer seemed to be a jumble of “facts” submitted by self-proclaimed experts, often in such appalling prose that it led to questioning the value of any of the information.

OOW watchbill

Bridge watchkeepers will be interested in the anchor clankers’ watchbill. After the master there was a chief officer and six officers. The chief, 1st and 2nd officer kept one in three while the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th officers were watch about, ensuring three officers on watch at any one time. The junior officers kept conventional watch hours, but the senior officers changed half way through a watch so that 2nd Officer Lightoller, the senior survivor, went on watch at 1800 and was relieved by 1st Officer Murdoch at 2200. Lookouts stood two hours on and four off and quartermasters were watch about with two hours at the helm and two hours as OOW’s runner when on watch.

Three propellers, 17 kettles

The description of the propulsion system is minimal, not quite correct and will disappoint engineers. Titanic had three screws and one rudder. The outer screws, 7.2 m diameter with three blades, were driven by triple expansion reversible steam engines that had one high pressure, one intermediate pressure and two low pressure cylinders. The centre screw, 5 m diameter with four blades, was driven by a steam turbine fed from the exhaust of the two reciprocating engines. It had no astern capability. All were coupled directly to the propeller shafts so that 75 rpm achieved 22.25 knots, the speed reported at the time of the grounding.

Full power delivered 80 rpm. There were four 400 kW generators and two refrigeration compressors. Saturated steam at 200 psi came from 12 double-ended and five single-ended fire tube cylindrical boilers that together consumed 650 tons of coal per hour. There were six boiler rooms, an engine room for the reciprocating engines, another for the turbine and another for the auxiliary machinery. All this required 30 officers and 271 men.

Brown is critical of the findings of both the American and British investigations. The American report, chaired by Senator W.A. Smith, demonstrated his panel’s lack of seafaring experience and Lord Mersey, the British Wreck Commissioner, was mindful of current rivalry between Great Britain and Germany on the Atlantic passenger run and tension leading up to World War I.


Neither report found Mr J.B. Ismay or Captain E.J. Smith to blame but found a live scapegoat in Captain Lord of Californian for failing to react to distress signals. Brown lays the blame with Ismay and Smith.

Ismay was the general manager of both International Mercantile Marine and its subsidiary, the White Star Line. He was aboard Titanic. He sought to attract passengers to his ships and indeed had secured finance for the three super liners, Olympic, Titanic and Britannic, to be built at Harland & Wolff. He also saw to Smith’s appointment as master, seeing him as compliant to business-oriented outlooks that sometimes overrode good seamanship. This led to Titanic sailing with a smouldering bunker fire and maintaining near top speed into seas reported to contain field ice and icebergs. Brown maintains that because of First Officer Murdoch’s skilful conning of the ship on sighting the iceberg, the ship could have remained afloat until assistance arrived, even though the bottom was holed. Ismay’s desire to proceed to Halifax after the grounding aggravated the flooding beyond the capability of damage control facilities, and the rest is history.

For an account that seeks to correct others, a few errors seem to remain. He refers to ships in the current politically correct neuter although his contemporary quotations use feminine participles. For one who gives an excellent appendix of nautical terms and is at pains to explain the nuances of terms less familiar to landlubbers, Brown seems to be one who is on, not in, a ship. This reviewer’s divisional officer would squirm.

The cover depicts the ship going down with smoke coming from all four funnels. In fact, only the first three exhausted boiler flue gas while the fourth improved symmetry and ducted ventilation exhaust. The cover also portrays Captain Smith with an “unknown” officer. One of Brown’s references identifies the officer as Purser McElroy.

Prop blades?

When discussing engine vibration, Brown states that all three propellers had four blades. In fact, from photographs and descriptions of machinery in his references, the arrangement was as described above. Brown gives output from the three engines at about 45,000 hp. One of his references clearly states there was 15,000 hp available from each of the reciprocating engines and 16,000 hp from the turbine. He also suggests that Murdoch did not order full astern for fear of snapping propeller shafts, yet another of his references states that during builder’s trials, Titanic did apply full astern from 20 knots ahead, stopping in just over 780 m.

Titanic props
The Titanic propellers

¬†Interestingly, Brown calculates that the iceberg was 835 metres ahead when the lookouts rang down the warning to the bridge and then compliments Murdoch’s ship handling to avoid a head-on collision. In a summary of key survivors, Murdoch is ranked second officer instead of first and fifth Officer Lowe is recorded as dying in 1964 aged 61. This suggests that Lowe was aged nine when Titanic went down. In fact, Lowe died in 1944 aged 61.

Harland & Wolff

Brown describes Thomas Andrews, travelling aboard, as a representative of Harland & Wolff. His other references all have Andrews listed more specifically as managing director of the shipbuilding company.

Nevertheless, anchor clankers who are Titanic buffs will find much of interest and value. Of course, the loss of Titanic would be named by most people as the worst peacetime maritime disaster of all time, with over 1500 of the 2200 souls on board lost. Yet in 1987 a ferry went down off the Philippines with a loss of over 4,000 pilgrims. Would Hollywood see box office potential in that story?

Read more in Titanic follow-up letters