Steering blunder led to sinking of 'Titanic'
Published 22/09/2010 | 05:00
IT was always thought the 'Titanic' sank because it was sailing too fast and its crew failed to see the iceberg before it was too late.
But now it has been revealed in a new book that the danger was spotted in plenty of time, only for the liner to steam straight into it because of a basic steering blunder.
According to a new report, the ship had plenty of time to miss the iceberg but the helmsman simply turned the wrong way. By the time the error was corrected, it was too late.
The disclosure, which comes almost 100 years after the disaster, was kept secret until now by the family of the most senior officer to survive the disaster.
Second Officer Charles Lightoller covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he was worried it would bankrupt the liner's owners and put colleagues out of a job.
Since his death in 1952 -- by then a war hero after his role in the Dunkirk evacuation -- the facts have remained hidden for fear they would ruin his reputation. But now his granddaughter, the writer Lady (Louise) Patten, has revealed the sequence of events in her new novel, 'Good as Gold'.
The error on the ship's maiden voyage between Southampton and New York in 1912 happened because at the time -- in the midst of the conversion from sail to steam ships -- there were two steering systems and different commands attached to them.
Crucially, the two systems were the opposite of one another. When First Officer William Murdoch spotted the iceberg two miles away, his "hard a-starboard" order was misinterpreted by the quartermaster Robert Hitchins, who turned the ship right instead of left.
To compound that straightforward error, Lady Patten said, the captain was told by Bruce Ismay, the chairman of the ship's owner, to continue sailing.
This added enormously to the pressure of water flooding through the damaged hull, sinking 'Titanic' many hours earlier than it otherwise would have done. (© Daily Telegraph, London)