The Titanic’s Propulsion System: A Masterpiece of Early 20th-Century Engineering

The Titanic, the legendary ocean liner that captured the world’s imagination, was powered by a remarkable propulsion system that was a true marvel of early 20th-century engineering. At the heart of this system were a combination of reciprocating engines and a low-pressure reaction turbine, working in perfect harmony to propel the massive ship across the high seas.

The Reciprocating Engines

The Titanic’s main propulsion was provided by a set of four triple-expansion reciprocating engines, each designed to produce an impressive 15,000 indicated horsepower (IHP) when running at 75 revolutions per minute. These engines were of the triple-expansion type, consisting of:

  1. One high-pressure cylinder
  2. One intermediate-pressure cylinder
  3. Two low-pressure cylinders

The steam, after passing through this sequence of cylinders, would expand and lose pressure, with each cylinder being larger than the previous one to accommodate the decreasing pressure. This design allowed for maximum efficiency in the use of the steam, as the energy was extracted in a stepwise manner.

The Parsons’ Turbine

what engine powered the titanic

In addition to the reciprocating engines, the Titanic was also equipped with a Parsons’ low-pressure reaction turbine, which was fed by the exhaust steam from the reciprocating engines. This turbine was designed to develop around 16,000 shaft horsepower (SHP) when running at 165 revolutions per minute.

The use of a turbine in conjunction with the reciprocating engines was a significant engineering innovation, as it allowed for the extraction of additional power from the steam that would have otherwise been wasted. This combination of reciprocating engines and a low-pressure turbine was a hallmark of the Titanic’s propulsion system, and it was a testament to the ingenuity of the ship’s designers.

Propeller Configuration

The Titanic’s propulsion system was further enhanced by its unique propeller configuration. The four reciprocating engines each drove one 23.5-foot, 3-bladed wing propeller, with one propeller on the port side and one on the starboard side of the vessel.

The Parsons’ turbine, on the other hand, drove a single 16.5-foot central propeller located on the ship’s centerline, directly ahead of the rudder. This arrangement allowed for a more efficient distribution of the propulsive forces, with the wing propellers providing the majority of the thrust and the central propeller helping to steer the ship.

The Boiler System

To power this impressive propulsion system, the Titanic was equipped with a massive boiler system, consisting of:

  • 24 double-ended boilers
  • 5 single-ended boilers
  • 159 furnaces

These boilers were fed by coal from a bunker that could hold up to 6,611 tons of the black fuel. The boiler rooms were manned by a team of 10 firemen and 4 trimmers, known as the “Black Gang,” who had the arduous task of shoveling a ton of coal into the furnaces every two minutes.

When the boilers were operating at full capacity, they would burn an astounding 35 tons of coal per hour, generating the steam that would power the reciprocating engines and the Parsons’ turbine.

The Electrical System

The Titanic’s propulsion system was not the only impressive engineering feat on board the ship. The vessel’s electrical system was also a marvel of its time, with four 400,000-watt steam generators and two 30,000-watt emergency auxiliary generators.

This electrical system produced more power than the average city power plant of the early 20th century, demonstrating the Titanic’s advanced and innovative engineering.

Conclusion

The Titanic’s propulsion system was a true masterpiece of early 20th-century engineering. The combination of reciprocating engines and a low-pressure reaction turbine, along with the ship’s unique propeller configuration and advanced boiler and electrical systems, made the Titanic a technological marvel of its time.

While the ship’s tragic sinking has overshadowed its engineering achievements, it is important to recognize the incredible ingenuity and skill of the engineers and builders who worked on this project. The Titanic’s propulsion system stands as a testament to the potential of human innovation and the relentless pursuit of technological advancement.

References:
– Titanic’s Prime Mover – An Examination of Propulsion and Power, Titanicology.com, January 31, 2011
– Engine Specifications as per the “engineering notebook”, Encyclopedia-Titanica.org, June 14, 2018
– Titanic’s Engines, TitanicUniverse.com, October 31, 2022