RMA Presents The Titanic and Her Sisters

By Jim Dean

At the May 11 meeting of the Retired Men’s Association, the speaker was Phillip Vitiello, Sr., discussing “The Titanic and Her Sisters.” The RMS Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic were sister ships built by the White Star Line in Belfast, Ireland. These three ships were designed on a scale never seen before in the industry. The Titanic’s immense hull made it the largest movable man-made object in the world at the time. In New York, White Star Line used Pier 59 but the new ships were too long for the pier, requiring an extension of over 100 feet to accommodate them.

Titanic and Olympic were built in 1909. The shipyard had thousands of laborers and was the largest employer in Ireland. The Titanic had huge electrical generating capacity, enormous anchors, and boilers that burned 600 tons of coal per day to provide steam and power. Four stories high, it had low power turbines that balanced the reciprocating engines. The engines were built outside the ship, tested, then reassembled inside the ship.

The Titanic was launched May 11, 1911, without its propellers, which were added after launch to allow it to pass through the dry dock. The ship initially sat high out of the water as it was an empty shell to which engines, equipment and furnishings were later added. It had beautiful palm courts, and gorgeous woodwork was added by Harland and Wolff carpenters to grace the 50-foot promenades. The Grand Staircase was graced on each side by statues representing honor and glory. In 1912 the cost of a suite on the Titanic was $1,200, which today would equate to $44,000. The ship had a gym and a saltwater swimming pool as amenities. Advertising by White Star emphasized the size of the ships. One ad showed the Titanic set on end and compared to the tallest buildings of the time, including the Woolworth building, and the Lincoln Memorial.

Captain John Smith had worked his way up to commodore of the White Star Line and captain of the Olympic. He was then named captain of the Titanic for its maiden voyage. Captain Smith stated that in his 40+ years of sailing he had never had an accident worth speaking of.

The Olympic had an accident on a later voyage when it crashed with the Hawk and had to be sent to shore for repair. This delayed work on the Titanic. The Hawk was a British war ship with a reinforced bow for ramming in battle. A second accident of the Olympic broke the propeller and was replaced by the propeller from the Titanic, which further delayed the completion of the Titanic. Those delays put the maiden voyage of the Titanic into the iceberg season. It was said at the time, “If the Titanic could talk, she would blame her demise on the Olympic.”

First class passengers on the maiden voyage included many well-known socialites including the Astors and the Straus family, which owned Macy’s. There was also actress Edith Russell and her famous toy pig, and Molly Brown, wife of a wealthy mining executive, who kept such calm among the survivors that she earned the nickname “Unsinkable Molly Brown.” The few surviving photos of the ship were taken by a priest who departed the ship in Queensland.

Although the lifeboats on the Titanic exceeded the number required by maritime safety regulations, they were not sufficient for all passengers. The belief was that there would always be nearby vessels and the boats would be used as a taxi service to get passengers to a nearby ship. The reinforced hulls had a critical design flaw in that each compartment was not separated by a wall above the waterline. This allowed water to flow further into the ship as its bow sank. The Titanic almost collided with another ship, the New York, in the harbor before it sailed on its maiden voyage from Southhampton, England.

At the time of the disaster the Titanic was the first passenger ship to use the SOS distress call. The Titanic’s distress call was at 12:15 a.m. but the closest ship, the California, had turned off its radio at 12 midnight and never heard it. The Titanic fired rockets trying to attract the attention of the California. The California did see the rockets but did not react. Another ship 68 miles away, the Carpathia, reacted swiftly and came at 17 knots but it arrived too late and was only able to pick up 702 survivors. Hypothermia killed most of the Titanic’s passengers.

After the disaster the Olympic had its lifeboats refitted to make them safer. The Olympic later became a military transport ship and was painted in “dazzle” to confuse the German submarines. The Olympic was attacked four times by submarines and was able to outrun them. In one case, the Olympic turned, rammed, and sank a submarine.

The Britannic was refinished during the war with reinforced bulkheads and had 58 lifeboats, three times as many as the Titanic. It became a hospital ship and its beautiful furnishings were left at the shipyard. It was sunk by a German mine in 1916.

To watch Phillip Vitiello’s presentation, click here https://vimeo.com/708850064.

The RMA’s upcoming presentation “Police Accountability: Our Role in the Greenwich Community” by Chief James Heavey, is scheduled for 11 AM on Wednesday, May 25. Among the most important responsibilities of any police department is its accountability to its community. As his primary focus, Chief Heavey will discuss this responsibility of the Greenwich Police Department to the Greenwich community. What is the scope of this responsibility, how is it fulfilled, how is our police force trained to carry out this responsibility and what are the specific programs used for its implementation. This is Chief Heavey’s third appearance at the RMA.

Heavey, a Greenwich native and current resident, is truly experienced and knowledgeable about the Greenwich community. Jim rose through the ranks of the Greenwich Police Department. He joined the Police Department as a dispatcher in 1981, becoming a part-time special police officer a year later while attending Northeastern University in Boston. After moving to a full time police officer in 1986, he was promoted to Sergeant in the Patrol Division in 1999, and Lieutenant four years later. In 2010, he was promoted to Captain and then Deputy Chief. He was chosen to be Chief of the Greenwich Police Department in 2011.

A veteran of Operation Desert Shield, Heavey served over 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He has a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and completed an online Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. In addition, Jim recently completed training in terrorism response at National FBI Academy.

Additionally, the Heavey children are graduates of Greenwich High School.

To stream Chief Heavey’s presentation at 11 AM on Wednesday, May 25, click here (https://bit.ly/30IBj21). This presentation will also be available on local public access TV Channels, Verizon FIOS channel 24 and Optimum (Cablevision) channel 79.

RMA speaker presentations are presented as a community service at no cost to in-person or Zoom attendees. The RMA urges all eligible individuals to consider becoming a member of our great organization, and thereby enjoy all the available fellowship, volunteer, and community service opportunities which the RMA offers to its members. For further information, go to www.greenwichrma.org, or contact our membership chairman (mailto:members@greenwichrma.org).

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