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Titanic Alternatives

Alexander Rooksmoor

Active member
Very interesting article, thanks for this. Having been writing various AH novels over the last couple of years, set between 1914-37, I have often had to find appropriate liners for the characters to travel on. Quickly you see how many were pressed into service in the world wars as troop ships. It seems inevitable that if the 'Titanic' had not sunk in 1912, it would have been used to move troops from Canada and then later the USA. Many of the liners used in this way were torpedoed or sunk by mines in one of the world wars, so a surviving 'Titanic' could, in a 'what if?' story have an equally tragic fate, but with an impact on one or other of the world wars. The 'Titanic' had a capacity of over 3,300, but liners used as troop ships often exceeded the peacetime capacity many times over, so an entire brigade could have been lost, perhaps more.
 

RyanF

Satanic powers, Tricycle
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Location
Falkirk
Good article covering a few PODs both before and during the voyage, and then the impact both to ocean travel and culture/science.

Certainly a better look than that short story I read were hundreds of survivors remain lost at sea for years and form a Pacifist nomad society in response to finding out about the First World War from another castaway.
 
I've always been intrigued by the 'Titanic' disaster and it's one of the bits of early C20th history which I learnt when I was around six or seven . I grew up near Southampton , the port from which it set sail, and lived by the nearby New Forest coast within sight of the channel down which the ship sailed in April 1912; I saw the 'Titanic' 's local crew's memorial in a park in Southampton when I was small and asked what it was.

I've read a good deal on this , and it is one of the most exhaustively studied cases of a well-documented modern history incident where we know (or think we know) what happened minute by minute from different eye-witness sources but there are still a lot of disputes over even small pieces of info. Also over the interpretations and possible 'cover-ups'. Examples of the 'minor incident that could have radically effected the whole episode and cost thousands of lives' (and created a major media industry) :
1. the length of time it took the officer in command on the bridge at the crucial point of the evening (Murdoch, not the captain) to respond to the telephone call from the lookouts in the 'crows nest' nearer the bow of the ship who spotted the iceberg - could a quicker 'pick-up' have led to the order to the helmsman to turn the ship away from the berg being issued a crucial minute or two earlier and the ship missing the ice;
2. the failures to pass on all the ice warnings to the captain (resting in his annexe near the bridge not down in his cabin, and able to come onto the bridge quickly after the crash);

3. the ship speeding too much to break the record for crossing or at least get to New York impressively quickly - on the orders of the owner, Bruce Ismay, who was on board and was vilified for getting on a boat not going down with the ship?

4. Murdoch not wanting to annoy Captain Smith by bringing him up onto the bridge when the visibility on the horizon got hazy, as it did shortly before the accident - though Capt S had asked him earlier to call him if the visibility declined. And did Murdoch or anyone else either shoot 'panicking lower-class non-British/ US passengers' trying to force their way onto boats, or shoot himself as the ship went down? (The James Cameron film revived controversy over both thee issues by depicting them.)

5. as indicated, the 'Captain Lord didn't bother to go up on deck on the 'Californian' and see the emergency rocket signals' question , what he thought the signals meant, and whether he was complacent, scared of moving his ship at all at night with ice around him, whether he thought that the ship firing the rockets couldn't be in danger but was just trying to make contact as it had not responded to a series of flashes from the Californian's signalling-lamp which he had ordered to be sent (he thought it was nearer than it was in reality ie within sight of the lamp), and numerous other issues - covered by plenty of books since the 1950s.

6. other 'Californian' issues, such as whether a ship with masthead and other lights that Captain Lord and some of his officers saw shortly before the crash but which Captain L said was only a smallish 'tramp' steamer not a huge liner was the T or not; was it a smallish ship a few, ie 4-5, miles away (the 'mystery ship') or a large liner much further away (20 miles?) which was visible due to freak weather conditions but appeared smaller than it really was due to the distance . And where exactly was the Californian - only 4-5 miles from the T, ie able to get there before it sank if it had fired up its engines and set out shortly after the rockets began to appear, or if it was c. 20 miles away ie it couldn't have got to T in under a few hours - and at best would have arrived when it was taking its final plunge or else within an hour or so, with many temporary survivors in the water but fewer left alive every minute.

7. what the mystery 'lights not far away' seen by the Titanic crew as they were launching the first boats meant - and why the lights 'moved away' as the boats headed for them. Was this a mystery ship between the T and the Californian, which 'ran away' rather than helping, or just a mirage (a view of the distant Californian?) due to the freak weather conditions, which receded as the boats got closer?

These and many other disputed points - plus the issues of 'cover-ups' or the company that owned the T leaning on surviving employees to slant their evidence to the later enquiries - are a sample of the issue of how we can 'know' what happened even when we have a seeming 'lot of evidence' but there plenty of different interpretations plus hordes of conspiracy theories. A bit like the JFK assassination (where we even have film of it) and all the stories of the 'grassy knoll', what Oswald was up to and why he was shot, etc. And for the UK, the events of 31 August 1997 in the underpass in Paris and the 'Diana plot cover-up' industry.

But for the Alt Hist perspective, it's a great snapshot of the whole potential and a major point of the genre -if events at a Major Incident could have been a lot different if things had taken a different twist at one or several points in a timespan of an hour or two (or even a few minutes), it shows that any concept of 'inevitability' is flawed and ditto lots of books of academic theory - though the social or economic or cultural background to a historical situation will constrain how events will turn out. Exploring the potential effects of changes to Titanic's timeline - a few night-time hours in the North Atlantic - is a snapshot of the 'butterfly effect' in a nutshell, as it is seemingly so well documented.
 

Thande

Jabs First Brexit
Published by SLP
Probably the single most harrowing thing about the Titanic disaster, to my mind, is that one of the passengers was the author Jacques Futrelle, who had been responsible for mystery stories starring 'Professor Augustus SFX Van Dusen, the Thinking Machine'. Whereas some authors playing off the Sherlock Holmes idea had gone in different directions, Futrelle's creation consisted of basically taking Holmes and turning everything up till the knob fell off in terms of both mental ability and lack of social skills - Van Dusen is one of those characters who can beat a chess grandmaster after studying the game for half an hour, etc. Perhaps the best-remembered story involves Van Dusen taking a bet that he can't break out of a prison cell, and hatching an elaborate plot to do so. He always wins in the end.

It's the collision of that fantasy with the harsh reality that in real life there was no clever escape from the Titanic disaster, and Futrelle ended up giving up his own life to make space for his wife and child.
 

Geordie

Big Ol' Soviet Deltic
Published by SLP
Pronouns
he/him
The one Titanic conspiracy theory I can't get over is the "it wasn't actually Titanic, it was Olympic that sank".

The proponents of this madness never seem able to explain a) what the line had to gain by swapping the ships and disguising them, or b) why the chuff it matters.
 

David Flin

A house of larks and owls
I'm a bit disappointed that no reference was made to the two recently released books by Brad Rousse from SFP:

Why The Titanic Sank,

and The Time Traveller's Tour Guide to the RMS Titanic.

It's perhaps unfortunate that this article has some errors in it, such as consistently getting Second Officer Charles Lightoller's name wrong (spelling it Lightroller).

Inevitably, such a short article can only give a thumbnail synopsis of the event.
 

M_Kresal

I am nerd, hear me bore.
Published by SLP
Location
North Alabama
I'm a bit disappointed that no reference was made to the two recently released books by Brad Rousse from SFP:

Why The Titanic Sank,

and The Time Traveller's Tour Guide to the RMS Titanic.

It's perhaps unfortunate that this article has some errors in it, such as consistently getting Second Officer Charles Lightoller's name wrong (spelling it Lightroller).

Inevitably, such a short article can only give a thumbnail synopsis of the event.
I'm afraid that's down to the fact that I sent the article off in mid-March, having started work on it as far back as last December when the idea first hit me. I don't think they got posted about on here until last week. For what it's worth, it wasn't any deliberate snub on my part, just my past self not being aware of them at the time of writing.

I did want to say "thank you" for picking up on the Lightoller/Lightroller mis-spelling. I suspect that was a Grammarly correction in the draft stage I failed to spot. Though neither did some fellow Titanic buffs who read the draft of the article before I sent it to Gary, either! Gary's corrected it now, I'm pleased to say.
 
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Ogrebear

New member
Titanic is a huge hotbed of What If's as so many alt branches are packed into one event, there are so, so many!

In no particular order the What Ifs I'd like to resolve the most:

1. Californian's radio operator Cyril Evans, like Stanley Adams on Mesaba adding the Prefix to their messages that meant the messages had to be taken to the Bridge. I think it likely Capt Smith would have ordered a massive slow down and extra look outs, plus a black out ahead of the Bridge therefore leading to more chance of missing a berg.

2. The Officers not knowing that the davits and boats could be filled and lowered to capacity. While in the early stages of the sinking this would have meany filling with anyone nearby since some where reluctant to get into boats. It certainly would have made a difference later on and upped the total number of survivors.

3. Olympic not impacting Hawke and Titanic sailing on her original schedule.

4. Californian's radio operator Cyril Evans not logging off and reporting the CQD immediately. Could Californian made a difference at all?

5. What impact on the Taft - Roosevelt split could Butt have had? Teddy as President again in 1912 has huge repercussions.

6. More boats going back for survivors plus Boxhall not waiting as long to go looking.

7. Capt Smith being clearer with Murdoch about the weather conditions, and Murdoch being less rigid about calling the Captain.

8. The Marconi equipment not breaking down down so Phillips and Bride where not so far behind.

9. The iceberg opening one less compartment. How much longer could Titanic float?

10. The Board of Trade regulations changing to ensure 'space for all' - Titanic may have carried more boats, but how much difference would have have made in the time to evacuate?
 
Also, if the 'Californian' was near enough to have got to the sinking in time to pick up people from the lifeboats while the Titanic was afloat or just after it had sunk at 1.40 am (it was impossible to manoevure right up to the liner's decks and transfer them directly, as the ship was at such an angle and full of panicking passengers and Captain Lord of the C was a very cautious man) and thus free them to row back and pick others up - either from the ship or from the water. This might well have saved a few score lives, or if early enough even more. The majority of current analyses put the C at around 20 miles away from Titanic, and the time it would take to get the boilers working after an order to 'get up steam and the need to go slowly to avoid pack-ice and icebergs means that in that case the C would not have got to the site until around 1.30 to 2 am at the earliest from that distance.

Another issue raised in books on the 'Californian' . Whether the officers of the 'Californian' being more familiar with the way that the radio worked would have meant that one officer who went to the radio-operator's cabin (where the latter was asleep) to turn on the radio after he came off duty, while the T was still sending out distress calls and after he'd seen rockets go up, , would have meant that he waited for the radio to warm up and become operational. In the event he assumed that it would become operational as soon as he turned it on, so he heard nothing then and assumed that there were no distress calls so no problem on the ship that was sending up the rockets. If he'd have waited, or woken the operator up to ask him, he'd presumably have heard the calls and would have had to report them to Capt Lord - and Lord would have had to do something. (Traditional larger radios , 'wirelesses', still needed to warm up to become operational well into the 1960s , and did not work for a few minutes , when a light came on - I remember my parents' old 1950s 'wireless' doing this when I was small. The smaller portable 'transistor' was new c. 1960.)
 

Bonniecanuck

DIEF WILL BE THE CHIEF AGAIN
Location
Hong Kong, now and forever home
Pronouns
she/her + they/them
One thing I've idly wondered is the degree to which the impact of a maritime disaster on this scale would have differed with a different vessel. What if had been the Olympic, or the Lusitania, or the France, or the Imperator? I feel like for any other nation, France and Germany especially, any such loss of a liner of the period's prestige and grandeur would be an even bigger blow to national morale.
 

ShortsBelfast

Well-known member
Christopher Head who was lost was an uncle or older cousin (forget which) of Viscount Head was a very bright youngish man with a head for finance. Assuming that he didn't get killed in WW1, could been a MP and Cabinet Minister and have significantly altered some of the decisions of the Baldwin Conservative governments and National Government.
 

Ogrebear

New member
One thing I've idly wondered is the degree to which the impact of a maritime disaster on this scale would have differed with a different vessel. What if had been the Olympic, or the Lusitania, or the France, or the Imperator? I feel like for any other nation, France and Germany especially, any such loss of a liner of the period's prestige and grandeur would be an even bigger blow to national morale.
I wrote an outline for a timeline where the Bismark when down in on her maiden voyage in a storm instead taking the Kraiser with it. Since Titanic has not happened, there was nowhere near enough lifeboats.
 

Resurgam

Well-known member
In no particular order the What Ifs I'd like to resolve the most:
Allow me.

1. Californian's radio operator Cyril Evans, like Stanley Adams on Mesaba adding the Prefix to their messages that meant the messages had to be taken to the Bridge. I think it likely Capt Smith would have ordered a massive slow down and extra look outs, plus a black out ahead of the Bridge therefore leading to more chance of missing a berg.
A couple of things here. I agree that adding the Master's prefix could have made a difference. That would have made Phillips and Bride take the messages to the bridge. But remember that there was a bit of a casual air either way with messages. Mariners like Captain Smith didn't quite trust this new technology. They still relied on lookouts and their experience over the wireless - which at this point was on board more for the pleasure of passengers. Also, recall that in OTL Baltic's message ended up in Ismay's pocket most of the 14th and it was addressed to Smith personally. Also, none of the surviving officers recalled seeing it. Those messages might suffer the same fate.

As for Smith's reactions - remember, ships were expected to get to their destination on time. Slowing down meant screwing that up and a lot of pissed people - which, ironically considering, would have been a public relations nightmare for White Star. It wasn't arrogance that had Titanic going full speed but practicality and the thinking any iceberg could be seen in time and dealt with better at a higher rate of speed.

Smith delayed turning Titanic on its first approach to New York several hours due to ice and remained on duty near the bridge. Also, there was a black out before the Bridge instituted by First Officer Murdoch almost two hours before the collision. As for more lookouts, you already had the crow's nest and the bridge; there wasn't really anywhere else to have lookouts.

2. The Officers not knowing that the davits and boats could be filled and lowered to capacity. While in the early stages of the sinking this would have meany filling with anyone nearby since some where reluctant to get into boats. It certainly would have made a difference later on and upped the total number of survivors.
This was definitely unknown to both officers and crew but the real problem, as you state, was people not willing to go. Getting in a tiny wooden boat in the dead of night dangling off a still seemingly safe ship is not a good proposition. By the time people realized it was an issue, it was much too late. I doubt Thomas Andrews saying "Hey, they're perfectly safe" would change much.

3. Olympic not impacting Hawke and Titanic sailing on her original schedule.
This might have indeed butterflied the collision, but remember the real problem was the sheer amount of ice in the North Atlantic which would still be there without a delayed maiden voyage. Instead, we might be talking about the Titanic sinking on a return from New York on on her third or fourth voyage - which would only change the "maiden voyage" allure of the tragedy.

4. Californian's radio operator Cyril Evans not logging off and reporting the CQD immediately. Could Californian made a difference at all?
Probably not. Granting Evans being awake and Lord being as proactive as Rostron on Carpathia, Californian would still need to cold start and find her way through the ice to Titanic, which is still sinking. The absolute best-case scenario is Californian arriving just in time to watch Titanic break up and go under - and good luck convincing Californian's crew to row small boats into a mob of drowning, freezing people in pitch darkness.

5. What impact on the Taft - Roosevelt split could Butt have had? Teddy as President again in 1912 has huge repercussions.
Can't comment on this, but I believe a Jack Finney novel has Butt butterflying WWI away.

6. More boats going back for survivors plus Boxhall not waiting as long to go looking.
First, a gentle correction in that it was Fifth Officer Lowe, not Fourth Officer Boxhall, that went back. You might be confusing the fact that he did initially answer Captain Smith's last-minute plea for boats for more passengers but gave up after seeing the ship had minutes left.

The problem is, as I insinuated in 4, no sailor in his right mind is going to row a small boat into a mob of desperate people. All he would be doing is signing his own death certificate and everyone else in the boat. It's easy for us to judge today onshore in warm homes, but Lowe probably made the best decision he could have considering the circumstances. I can't judge him or those who didn't go back at all for that.

7. Capt Smith being clearer with Murdoch about the weather conditions, and Murdoch being less rigid about calling the Captain.
Not sure what you're referring to here. Smith talked with Lightoller about conditions before Lightoller was relieved by Murdoch but I've never heard reference to Murdoch and Smith discussing them - Smith was "off duty" by the time Murdoch came on.

8. The Marconi equipment not breaking down down so Phillips and Bride where not so far behind.
Not sure what the issue is here. Do you mean they would have been more willing to deliver messages to the bridge? If so, it wouldn't have made much difference. No Master notification, no rush. Marconi men were under strict orders to relay only those messages in a timely manner. And even then, there will always be new messages coming.

9. The iceberg opening one less compartment. How much longer could Titanic float?
Quite possibly indefinitely, or at least long enough for Carpathia to arrive and Californian to look over and see what's happening. In fact, Titanic was juuuust reaching stability when that last compartment was lost.

10. The Board of Trade regulations changing to ensure 'space for all' - Titanic may have carried more boats, but how much difference would have have made in the time to evacuate?
It would have been a terrible disaster anyway.

Titanic not having enough boats is only part of the problem. The real problem is she sank way too fast. Remember that two boats (Collapsibles A and B) were all but pushed overboard for people to cling to as the ship sank, and the last lifeboat to leave by the davits (Collapsible D) barely got away. All that would have happened is that half the boats would have gone down in their chocks.

Hope this helps. :)

-Brad Rousse
 
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