A reevaluation of the fatal collision.
The Last Log Of The Titanic is not intended for readers who believe in impossible shipboard romances or giant blue gems. Nor is it for anyone seeking to rewrite history with lurid flights of imagination. The Last Log Of The Titanic is a serious attempt to unravel the events on Titanic's bridge and in its engine rooms that led to the accident and the ship's eventual foundering. To do that, I spent four years researching original sources--mostly the 1912 testimony of the crew who survived. There are no new "discoveries" in this book. The facts it contains were put into the public record in 1912. However, what I discovered is that the real story of Titanic is totally different from the official myths pushed onto a gullible public nearly 90 years ago. As usual, the truth is far more compelling than myth and legend.
This project started out as part of a article on boat handling for Boating World magazine. My intention was to use the scene from the then-popular movie which showed Titanic's starboard bow grazing the iceberg to illustrate how boats do NOT maneuver. It is impossible for a rudder-steered vessel to damage only its starboard bow as depicted in the movie during a left turn. This is because of the location of the pivot point around which the hull rotates during a turn. If Titanic had struck the berg as shown on the movie screen, damage would have occurred to its entire starboard side, not just the bow.
Murdoch's "Port Around"
We know that after Lookout Fleet's final iceberg warning, Second Officer William Murdoch initially ordered the ship to turn to its left (starboard helm in 1912). Titanic undoubtedly turned slightly faster to the left than to the right because it was driven by three propellers. Every propeller delivers both forward thrust and sideways pressure. A propeller that rotates to the left in forward also pushes the stern to the left. Conversely, a propeller that rotates to the right pushes the stern to the right when the ship is moving forward. Two of Titanic's propellers rotated to the right, giving the ship a slight tendency to swing its stern to the right (turning the bow to the left) when steaming forward. This meant the ship turned a bit faster to the left (starboard helm in 1912) than to the right. By ordering a left turn, Murdoch took advantage of the ship's natural tendency.
Virtually every report, book, TV documentary and motion picture has depicted Titanic sideswiping its starboard bow on the iceberg while turning left, away from danger. Not only did this not happen, but it could not have happened under any circumstances. A starboard bow sideswipe "collision" while turning left was impossible for a conventional ship in 1912. (Nor can it be done today.) The manner in which rudder-steered ships pivot in the water does not allow the actual damage received by Titanic's bow to have occurred during a left turn. Iceberg damage to the starboard bow while turning to the left absolutely would have necessitated bumping and grinding of the ice along the ship's starboard side all the way to its stern.
Every conventional power-driven vessel has a "pivot point" located on its centerline roughly one-third of its length aft from the bow. The vessel rotates around this point when its rudder is put over. Because the pivot point is not amidships but is offset toward the bow, the vessel's stern swings a larger arc than the bow.
1 Turning only to the left (or right) avoid a close-aboard object swings the vessel's stern toward that object even though the bow points clear. A side-on impact cannot be avoided. The object then bumps and grinds along the side of the ship doing damage along the entire length of the hull from the initial point of impact to the stern.
The impossible "left turn only" scenario would have caused damage to the majority of the ship's 16 primary watertight compartments. The truth is, Titanic did not receive ice damage aft of Boiler Room #5 which was approximately below the bridge. This is proof the ship was turning to the right at the time of the accident, turning toward the iceberg.
Immediately following the accident, Murdoch told Captain Smith that he attempted to "port around" the deadly berg. This maneuver for dodging an obsticle is familiar to every mariner. The bow is first turned away from the object, then the helm is shifted (turned the other way) to clear the stern. That is exactly what Murdoch must have done, because the ship did not suffer any ice damage aft of boiler room #5. In truth, the bow was clear of the ice until Murdoch executed his second turn, back toward the berg. This second turn was not a mistake. Even though the bow had been pointed away from the ice, Titanic's stern was sliding dangerously toward the berg when Murdoch shifted the helm. Only when he initiated a turn to the right did the fragile stern swing away from the iceberg and certain disaster.
Murdoch's "port around" maneuver required the ship to be extremely close to the berg before initiating the second turn. As a result, the iceberg would have appeared to be off the starboard bow when Murdoch called for port helm to turn the ship to the right. Quartermaster Olliver apparently was fooled by the angle of the ship to berg when he said Murdoch's port helm order came after the berg passed the bridge. "The iceberg was away up astern," he told Senator Burton at the U.S. hearings.
If Titanic had been turning left (starboard helm in 1912) at the moment of contact, ice and metal should have met roughly in the way of the bulkhead between Boiler Rooms #5 and #6. In reality, this is about the location on the hull where damage from the ice ended. In the mythical left turn, the berg would have bumped and crashed along the ship's entire starboard side starting at Boiler Room #5 and continuing aft into Boiler Rooms #4, #3, #2, #1 and the two engine rooms. Compartments forward of Boiler Room #5 would have remained undamaged and free of water. Titanic still would have foundered, but stern first. Of course, the pattern of damage to be expected during a left turn collision is exactly the opposite to what actually occurred.
The timing of Murdoch's second turn in his "port around" maneuver, the one back toward the danger, was critical. Unfortunately, he started his turn a bit too soon and the bow came a few yards too close to the berg. Actual damage received by the starboard bow during the accident is irrefutable proof that Titanic was under port helm and turning to the right (starboard) at the moment of impact. Murdoch did, in fact, "port around" the portion of the berg above the water.
One witness at the British proceedings knew the impossibility of explaining Titanic's starboard bow damage with only a single left turn. Edward Wilding, an employee of Harland and Wolff and one of the ship's designers, appeared to recognize that the lack of damage to compartments aft of Boiler Room #5 did not fit the left-turn-only scenario. His testimony gives the impression that Wilding was struggling to accept the conventional version of the accident. He was troubled by the left-turn-only theory because it required damage to parts of the hull that were not involved in the real accident.
MR. WILDING: ...after the ship had finished tearing herself at the forward end of No. 5, she would tend to push herself against the iceberg a little, or push herself up the iceberg, and there would be a certain tendency, as the stern came round to aft under the helm, to bang against the iceberg again further aft.
-- British Board of Trade
Wreck Commission Hearing
Having found the conventional story of the accident is physically impossible, I began a quest to learn if any other commonly-believed details of the accident were wrong. That took me on a nearly four-year adventure through testimony from hearings on both sides of the Atlantic as well as into the dusty archives of libraries. What I uncovered astounded me because, at the time, I still believed the conventional story of the isolated iceberg, the failed left turn, the engines pounding in reverse, and the ship remaining stopped until it sank.
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Added to Encyclopedia Titanica Thursday 28th August 2003, last updated Tuesday 23rd September 2014.