107 #18: Titanic was trying to win the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing

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FALSE. As we have seen, Titanic could never have achieved this. She was not the fastest liner, nor was she intended to be, and the speed record set by Mauretania in 1909 remained unbroken until 1929.

However, there is evidence that Titanic was trying to beat Olympic’s maiden voyage crossing time and arrive in New York on Tuesday night, instead of Wednesday morning as advertised. This would have been a major public relations boost for the second sister, and therefore highly desirable from the point of view of her owners.

In her 22nd November, 1913 deposition for the Limited Liability Hearings into the disaster, First Class passenger Elisabeth Lines remembered a conversation between White Star Line Chairman J. Bruce Ismay and Captain Smith on Saturday 13th April in which Ismay pointed out that Titanic was making good time, had already matched the Olympic’s maiden voyage run and, with a little extra speed could ‘beat the Olympic and get into New York on Tuesday’. Mrs Lines was quite definite about this statement, which she was asked in questioning to repeat three times. She also remembered that Ismay had seemed ‘emphatic’ that the Titanic was performing as well as or better than the Olympic and he was therefore confident that she could reach New York on Tuesday night:

35: ‘Would you be good enough to state when it was on Saturday April thirteenth that this conversation occurred?’

‘After the midday meal I went into the lounge to have my coffee—in the general reception room.’

36: ‘Were the Captain and Mr. Ismay already there?’

‘No, they came in after I was seated, and went to this same table which I had seen them occupy on the Friday.’

37: ‘Could you estimate about what time it was that the Captain and Mr. Ismay entered the reception room or lounge?’

‘Perhaps half past one.’

39: ‘About how long, within your knowledge, did Mr. Ismay and Captain Smith remain in this reception room engaged in conversation?’

‘At least two hours.’

40: ‘Were you there all of that time?’

‘I was there.’

41: ‘Are you able to state from your recollection the words that you heard spoken between Mr. Ismay and Captain Smith on that occasion?’

‘We had had a very good run. At first I did not pay any attention to what they were saying, they were simply talking and I was occupied, and then my attention was arrested by hearing the day’s run discussed, which I already knew had been a very good one in the preceeding [sic] twenty-four hours, and I heard Mr. Ismay—it was Mr. Ismay who did the talking—I heard him give the length of the run, and I heard him say, “Well, we did better to-day than we did yesterday, we made a better run to-day than we did yesterday, we will make a better run to- morrow. Things are working smoothly, the machinery is bearing the test, the boilers are working well.” They went on discussing it, and then I heard him make the statement: “We will beat the Olympic and get in to New York on Tuesday.”’

53: ‘What would you say as to your ability to hear all that was said in an ordinary tone of voice between Captain Smith and Mr. Ismay in the positions in which they were and you were on that afternoon of Saturday?

‘It was quite possible, as during the latter part of the time there were very few people left in the lounge and it was quiet.’

56: ‘And what runs of the Olympic were they using as a comparison?’

‘The trial trip.’

57: ‘Do you mean the maiden voyage?’

‘Yes, the maiden voyage.’

58: ‘And what was the substance or the words if you can give them, of the conversation as regards the Olympic?’

‘It was comparison, and that the Titanic was doing equally well, and they seemed to think a little more pressure could be put on the boilers and the speed increased so that the maiden trip of the Titanic would exceed the maiden trip of the Olympic in speed.’

However, Ismay denied this in his testimony at the British inquiry into the sinking, held in May 1912. Ismay admitted to having had a conversation with Titanic’s chief engineer, Joseph Bell, when Titanic was at Queenstown (now Cobh, Ireland) on Thursday 11th April, but he dismissed the idea that they had been discussing Titanic arriving at New York on the Tuesday evening, saying it was impossible, and that in any case, with the coal strike they wished to conserve fuel and would therefore not intend to drive her at full speed except for a short period on the Monday or Tuesday.

This echoes Captain Smith’s response in the New York Times of June 22nd, 1911, after the Olympic’s maiden voyage, when he was asked, ‘Will she ever dock on Tuesday?’ ‘No,’ he replied emphatically, ‘and there will be no attempt to bring her in on Tuesday. She was built for a Wednesday ship, and her run this first voyage has demonstrated that she will fulfill the expectations of the builders.’ However, on her very next crossing to New York, Olympic did arrive on Tuesday night.

Given Mrs Lines’ clear remembrance of the conversation, which also included a discussion of running the ship at full speed on the Monday, the fact that the Olympic had already managed a Tuesday arrival, and the figures for Titanic’s run up to the point of her collision, which show that with only 62% of her maiden voyage completed, she had already equalled Olympic’s average speed for her entire maiden voyage, it seems very likely that Ismay was trying to bring Titanic in early. His recollection of events at Queenstown need not have been an outright lie; it is possible he wanted to see how well she would do before deciding for certain that he would try for a Tuesday night arrival in New York, thus avoiding embarrassment if it proved impossible in the event—which would account for his later discussion with Captain Smith, which Mrs Lines recalled, about the ship’s speed and distance covered so far.

Had she not collided with an iceberg, Titanic quite probably would have arrived in New York on Tuesday evening, thus beating her sister’s maiden voyage time. In the event, the second sister got more publicity than even Ismay had hoped for, but for all the wrong reasons.

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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