By Jim Dean
At the May 11 meeting of the Retired Men’s Association, the speaker was Phillip Vitiello, Sr., discussing “Titanic and Her Sisters.” The RMS Olympic, Titanic and Britannic were sister ships built by the White Star Line in Belfast, Ireland. These three vessels were designed on a scale never before seen in the industry. The huge hull of the Titanic made it the largest man-made moving object in the world at the time. In New York, White Star Line used Pier 59 but new ships were too long for the dock, requiring an extension of over 100 feet to accommodate them.
The Titanic and the Olympic were built in 1909. The shipyard had thousands of workers and was the largest employer in Ireland. The Titanic had huge electrical generating capacity, huge anchors, and boilers that burned 600 tons of coal a day to provide steam and electricity. Four stories high, it had low-powered turbines that balanced the reciprocating engines. The engines were built outside the ship, tested, and then reassembled inside the ship.
The Titanic was launched on May 11, 1911, without her propellers, which were added after launch to allow her to pass through drydock. 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 lovely palm-lined courtyards, and magnificent woodwork was added by carpenters Harland and Wolff to adorn the 50-foot walks. The Grand Staircase was adorned on each side with statues representing honor and glory. In 1912, the cost of a Titanic sequel was $1,200, which today would be $44,000. The ship had a gym and a saltwater swimming pool as amenities. White Star’s advertising emphasized the size of the ships. An advertisement showed the Titanic turned upside down 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 said that in his more than 40 years of sailing he had never had a noteworthy accident.
The Olympic had an accident on a later voyage when it crashed with the Hawk and had to be sent ashore for repairs. This delayed work on the Titanic. The Hawk was a British warship with a reinforced bow for ramming in combat. A second Olympic accident broke the propeller and was replaced with Titanic’s propeller, further delaying Titanic’s completion. These delays placed the Titanic’s maiden voyage into iceberg season. It was said at the time: “If the Titanic could talk, she’d 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, who owned Macy’s. There was also actress Edith Russell and her famous stuffed pig, and Molly Brown, wife of a wealthy mining executive, who kept such composure among the survivors that she earned the nickname “Unsinkable Molly Brown”. . The few surviving photos of the ship were taken by a priest who left the ship in Queensland.
Although Titanic’s lifeboats exceeded the number required by maritime safety regulations, they were not sufficient for all passengers. The belief was that there would always be ships nearby and the boats would be used as a taxi service to bring 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 when her bow sank. The Titanic nearly collided with another ship, the New York, in port before setting off 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 nearest ship, the California, had turned off its radio at 12:00 a.m. and never heard it. The Titanic fired rockets trying to get California’s attention. The California saw the rockets but did not react. Another ship 68 miles away, the Carpathia, reacted quickly and arrived at 17 knots but arrived too late and could only pick up 702 survivors. Hypothermia killed most of 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 “dazzling” to confuse German U-boats. The Olympic was attacked four times by submarines and was able to outrun them. In one instance, the Olympic turned, rammed and sank a submarine.
The Britannic was repainted during the war with reinforced bulkheads and had 58 lifeboats, three times as many as the Titanic. She became a hospital ship and her fine furnishings were left at the shipyard. It was sunk by a German mine in 1916.
To view Phillip Vitiello’s presentation, click here https://vimeo.com/708850064.
The next RMA presentation “Police Accountability: Our Role in the Greenwich Community” by Chief James Heavey, is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25. One of the most important responsibilities of any police service is its accountability to its community. As a primary focus, Chief Heavey will discuss this responsibility of the Greenwich Police Department to the community of Greenwich. 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 RMA appearance.
Heavey, a Greenwich native and current resident, is really 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 constable a year later while attending Northeastern University in Boston. After becoming 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 sous-chef. He was chosen to be chief of the Greenwich Police Department in 2011.
A veteran of Operation Desert Shield, Heavey served more than 20 years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and completed an online Masters in Public Administration from Bellevue University in Bellevue, Nebraska. Additionally, Jim recently completed training in terrorism response at the National FBI Academy.
Additionally, the Heavey children graduated from Greenwich High School.
To stream Chef Heavey’s presentation at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, May 25, click here (https://bit.ly/30IBj21). This presentation will also be available on local public access television 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 take advantage of all available fellowship, volunteer, and community service opportunities that the RMA offers its members. For more information, visit www.greenwichrma.org or contact our Membership Manager (mailto:[email protected]).