Titanic Gazette Souvenir Shop

Titanic Gazette Souvenir Shop

Titanic Gazette Souvenir Shop

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Men in Titanic's Belly

The men that were in the very bottom of the ship didn't have the most glamorous jobs and in fact were some of the lowest payed crewmembers on board.  However, their jobs were important because they kept the ship going. The men working below consisted or coal trimmers (they brought coal to the stokers), stokers (they put coal into the boilers), firemen, engineers, etc.  They rarely saw daylight during the voyages and when ships began sinking, they were the ones that were most affected.  On the Titanic, understandably, few of these of these men survived.

On April 15, 1912, the Bridge called the Engine Room about 2 seconds to before the iceberg struck to give them orders.  The orders came too late and they struck the iceberg.  The engines stopped two minutes after that.  The engines were turned back on again and went slow astern for some unknown reason and then stopped for the last time.  When the Titanic hit the iceberg, the crew down below were not aware of what was going on up top, so but there were ways of communicating the danger to them.

There was a sign on the Bridge which said that in case of emergency, they were to ring the bell for ten seconds which would give the men down there a chance to get out.  After ten seconds, then they would lower the watertight doors.  I believe they did follow this based on the survivor's testimonies. Lead Fireman Fred Barrett who was in Boiler Room 6 (the first boiler room from the bow) said, "I was standing talking to the second engineer. The bell rang, the red light showed."  The bell and light were activated by 1st Officer Murdoch who was on the Bridge and giving orders, trying to avoid the iceberg and preparing for a possible impact.  After this, Barrett said, "We sang out shut the doors (indicating the ash doors to the furnaces) and there was a crash just as we sung out."  This was done because the water was freezing cold.  You could put your hand on the hull while it was very hot in the boiler room and the wall would be cold.  When icy water comes in and you have boilers which are extremely hot with pressure in the boilers, the boilers are likely to explode.  As they were doing this, water came in.  When he was asked about the extent of the damage, Barrett said, "Past the bulkhead between sections 5 and 6, and it was a hole 2 feet into the coal bunkers. She was torn through No. 6 and also through 2 feet abaft the bulkhead in the bunker at the forward head of No.5 section."  

The actual impact of the iceberg was felt by most of those down below, but how much they felt it depended on where they were.  Trimmer Thomas Dillon who was in the Engine Room said that the collision was felt slightly by him while Fireman George Beauchamp who was in a boiler room near where the iceberg struck said that it sounded like the roar of thunder.  Trimmer George Cavell who was in Boiler Room No. 4 said, "I felt a shock...and with that all the coal round me fell around me. I had a job to get out myself."  The iceberg opened the seams between the plates in many places for 5 bulkheads.  We know this because when Barrett was asked about where the water came from, he replied, "About 2 feet above the floor plates, starboard side."  Two feet  above the floor was a seam where the rivets held the plates of the hull together.  A later expedition which showed us exactly where the iceberg damage was showed several different gashes in the hull.

The bulkheads were thick steel walls that contained water if a collision happened.  In that event, the doors would be shut and the bulkheads would keep the water from getting to other places in the ship.  As soon as the water started flooding, the men in the bow rushed to get out of there before the watertight doors shut.  The watertight doors could be shut manually either from down below (which could only be done with the permission of the officer on watch) or by flipping a switch on the bridge.  The doors also had floats which would shut the doors automatically if water entered the area.  The switch was flipped on the bridge and the doors began to shut almost as soon as the water started cascading into the boiler room.

Fred Barrett got through the watertight door and up to the catwalks which overlooked the boiler rooms where he saw Boiler Room 6 and the adjacent room, Boiler Room 5.  In the Engine Room, when the ship struck the iceberg some engineers sensing the possible danger rushed to their stations at the water pumps.  Just then, the electricity went out and he was sent to find a lamp.  We know that the power also went out in Boiler Room No. 4 because George Cavell in the British Inquiry said,

      Cavell:  "After I came into the stokehold the lights in the stokehold went out."
      The Commisioner:  :In No. 4?
Cavell:  "Yes."
The Commisioner:  "Did that happen at once or was there a little time before that happened?"
Cavell:  "It happened as soon as I got into the stokehold."
The Commisioner:  "Out went the lights?
  Cavell:  "Yes."  
Barrett was likely able to see only by the fires in the boilers, but he got the lamps and some firemen, and an engineer that were still there noticed that the water wasn't up to the fires in the boilers which were still going.  The engineer ordered Barrett to get some firemen and get the fires drawn (put them out).  He got about 15 and they worked to get the fires out in order to prevent boiler explosions.  This action likely prevented the panic and deaths of many people.  Cavell also went up to the next floor to get lamps.  It was lit up there and he got the lamps.  When he returned, Boiler Room No. 4's lights were on again.  
In the Engine Room, Chief Engineer Joseph Bell gave the order to open the watertight doors.  The watertight doors, as I said earlier, could be opened from below and Thomas Dillon and several others entered the next compartment which Boiler Room No. 1 (the boiler room closest to the Engine Room).  That one did not have any lit boilers, so they went to the next boiler room, Boiler Room No. 2 which did have lit boilers and the men there given the orders to "keep the steam up".  George Beauchamp was one of those men called by Barrett to help draw the fires in Boiler Room No. 5.  When they had gotten most of the fires out, someone shouted, "that will do".  In Boiler Room No. 4, Cavell and his fellow crewmembers got some of the 30 furnaces drawn when water started seeping in.  Cavell decided that it was time to leave and went up the escape ladder.  He went as far as the hallway on the next level and saw nobody.  Assuming that everything was all right, he went back down and found nobody there.  He went back up again and headed for the Boat Deck.  

While Barrett and Beauchamp were trying to draw the fires in the boilers, the mail clerks were fighting a huge battle.  The water had entered the mail room and the clerks which were in charge of the mail tried desperately to save as much of the mail as possible.  In doing so, they dragged these bags each weighing about 100 lbs up to the next levels, staying at least one step ahead of the water.  In the end, their noble efforts were in vain and none of them unfortunately survived.

Meanwhile, high on the top decks, extra steam from the boilers shot up from the funnels, creating a deafening roar.  This made it hard for those working with the lifeboats to hear or even think.  As they began to load and lower the lifeboat however, the steam stopped.

Eventually, the men in Boiler Room No. 2 were ordered to draw the fires when it became clear that the ship was sinking.  After they were finished with Boiler Room No. 2, they went on to the next one, Boiler Room No. 3 and drew the fires there and continued on, drawing the fires until they reached Boiler Room No. 4 which was filling with water.  They did not enter Boiler Room No. 5 because there was water flooding that compartment as well.  While they were working their way forward, the men working in Boiler Room No. 5 after having spent about a quarter of an hour putting out the fires and when they were released, they made their way to the Boat Deck which was the top deck.  Both Fred Barrett and George Beauchamp made it to Boat No. 13.  They almost didn't survive even after that however, because they drifted under Boat No. 15 which was being lowered right on them.  Barrett and another man got out their pocket knives and cut the ropes.  Boat No. 13 got away and got out from under it just in time, thankfully.

In Boiler Room No. 4, Cavell and his fellow crewmembers got some of the 30 furnaces drawn when water started seeping in.  Cavell decided that it was time to leave and went up the escape ladder.  He went as far as the hallway on the next level and saw nobody.  Assuming that everything was all right, he went back down and found nobody there.  He went back up again and headed for the Boat Deck.  When he arrived, he and 5 firemen were ordered into Boat No. 15 to assist with rowing.  This was the same boat that almost crushed Boat No. 13 which had Fred Barrett and George Beauchamp.

After Thomas Dillon and the 7 other men working with him had stopped at Boiler Room No. 4 and drawn the fires, they went back the way they came through the watertight doors which they left open and went through the Engine Room towards the top deck.  Thomas Dillon made it up to the Well Deck and then went up to the Boat Deck where they saw the last lifeboat being lowered.  Realizing that it was too late to enter a lifeboat, they went back to the Well Deck and then to the Poop Deck where many of the men that worked down below including Thomas Dillon and a trimmer named James Dawson chose to ride out the ship's final moments.

Down below, there were still men in Titanic's belly.  Engineers who had been released to save themselves stayed down below and kept the power going which stayed on until 2 minutes before the ship went completely under.  We know that they stayed below because we have several accounts of the lights dimming and then coming on which means the engineers were doing what they could to keep the power on as long as possible.  There were also possible others fighting the attempting to control the rising water with pumps.  The survivors reported the ship leaning from one side to the other which may indicate engineers choosing to stay below and work the pumps, getting the ship to flood evenly on both sides to keep the ship from capsizing (it is a miracle she didn't capsize because the almost every other large ship from the Britannic to the Costa Concordia that has sunk did tip over).

While Thomas Dillon and his fellow crewmemebers were waiting for the ship to sink, they took off their boots which were heavy and would make it hard for them to swim.  The stern rose up and then the ship broke up causing the stern to fall back down.  The stern then keeled over to Port which caused most of the engineers to fall.  Thomas Dillon pushed himself away from the deck and allowed himself to fall into the water.  As soon as he was at the surface, he swam away until he became unconscious.  He was later picked up by Boat No. 4.

I hope the bravery of these men inspire you.  These guys had a hard job and weren't even paid well.  And yet they stayed below in the belly of a sinking leviathan, fighting to keep the ship alive and more importantly acting self-sacrificially sometimes with their only thoughts being the safety of the rest of the passengers and crew on the top decks.

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