Presented for consideration by the
Marine Forensic Panel (SD-7)
chartered by the
The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers
Gibbs & Cox, Inc., Suite 700, 1235 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, Virginia
Thursday, May 31, 2001
1.0 Purpose - The purpose of the paper is to set forth the argument
that Titanic grounded on an underwater shelf of the iceberg, compromising
her double bottom structure. The combination of direct impact damage suffered
along the ships bottom and subsequent racking damage which parted plates
along her starboard side allowed enough water into the hull so that the internal
subdivision was overwhelmed.
The definitions for nautical terminology of relevance to this discussion can
be found in Appendix I.
1.1 Assumptions - For purposes of this discussion, it is assumed that
Titanic was turning towards the iceberg at the time of collision
and that her reciprocating engines were stopped. The rationale for this assumption
is detailed in Appendix II.
1.2 Descriptions - A reference for Titanics structure and internal
subdivision can be found in Appendix III. A physical description of the iceberg
is detailed in Appendix IV.
The most significant aspect of Titanic's iceberg encounter was that
most people on the ship did not realize anything particularly unusual or important
had happened. The majority of passengers slept through the most fateful seconds
of their lives. Aside from those located deep within the forward portion of the
ship, no one felt a great impact, or heard a deafening roar. There was only a
slight tremble or a distant noise:
"It is best described as a jar and a grinding sound. There was a slight
jar followed by this grinding sound....then thinking it over it was a feeling
as if she may have hit something with her propellers....There was a slight jar
followed by the grinding--a slight bumping...naturally, I thought it was from
forward...[the grinding noise] lasted a matter of a couple of seconds..."
C.H. Lightoller, Second Officer, Officers Quarters
"Well, I did not feel any direct impact, but it seemed as if the ship
shook in the same manner as if the engines had been suddenly reversed to full
speed astern, just the same sort of vibration, enough to wake anybody up if they
were asleep...Not as if she hit anything straight on - just a trembling of the
Able Seaman Joseph Scarrott, Forecastle Head
"At the time of the collision I was awake and heard the engines stop,
but felt no jar. My husband was asleep."
Emily Bosie Ryerson, Passenger, Cabin B-63
"I was dreaming, and I work up when I heard a slight crash. I paid
not attention to it until I heard the engines stop."
C.E. Henry Stengel, Passenger, Cabin C-116
"There was just a small motion, but nothing to speak of "
Pantryman A. Pearcey, 3rd Class Pantry, F Deck
Anecdotal evidence of this nature is normally treated with deserved circumspection
by forensic accident examiners. However, in this instance, we have more than
a single random observation. Many of the eyewitness descriptions of the impact
contain common key elements: the event lasted only a few seconds, there was no
strong jolt, a faint noise (sometimes described as a grinding of metal) emanated
from the bottom of the ship. Equally significant are the details that are universally
lacking from eyewitness descriptions. There were no tales of people being flung
from the upper bunks by the force of the crash. No first-class passengers were
pitched headlong down the famous Grand Staircase. Tables remained upright and
drinks did not spill in the smoking rooms. Overwhelming agreement of survivors
was that the meeting of Titanic's 53,000 tons (displacement) of steel with
probably hundreds of thousands of tons of ice was a soft event.
Ship collisions with icebergs are usually not soft events. Three days prior
to Titanic's fatal accident, another ship ran into the same field of ice.
The French passenger liner Niagara ran headlong into an iceberg on the
evening of Thursday, April 11, 1912. That accident occurred while passengers
were enjoying dinner. The result was devastating, if press accounts, such as
the following from the New York Herald, can be believed:
Passengers were hurled headlong from their chairs and broken dishes and
glass were scattered throughout the dining saloons. The next instant there was
a panic among the passengers and they raced screaming and shouting to the decks..."I
thought we were doomed," said Captain Juham yesterday. "At first I
feared we had been in collision with another vessel as I hurried to the bridge.
But when I saw it was an iceberg and that we were surrounded by ice as far as
we could see through the fog, my fears for the safety of the passengers and the
vessel grew....I am sure Captain Smith had a similar experience in practically
the same locality when the Titanic went down."
New York Herald
April 17, 1912
Despite their hair-raising experience, all passengers aboard the French liner
survived, and the ship made its way to port. Perhaps because of Niagara's
survival, it has become fashionable to blame First Officer Murdoch for not hitting
the berg squarely on the bow. This, of course, is not a practical solution for
a deck officer, no matter the imagined benefits. The discussion about a head-on
collision, though, brought out an interesting point about the effect of a collision
against the bow of a large ship, such as Titanic. Edward Wilding, the
senior Naval Architect under Thomas Andrews at Harland & Wolff, testified
during the British Board of Trade (BOT) Enquiry that in the case of a head-on
collision, the bow of Titanic would have deformed much like the "crumple
zone" of a modern automobile. This crumpling would have dissipated much
of the force of the blow by spreading it out over several seconds. According
to Wilding, telescoping of the ship in this manner would have reduced injuries
among passengers and crew who were lucky enough not to have been trapped in the
compacted sections of the bow.
While less dramatic than a head-on impact, the more-often invoked "glancing
blow" at 22.25 knots would have created its own kind of havoc. At impact,
the deck would have jumped sideways relative to anything not riveted to it. This
"rebound effect" would have been as disruptive to people in the forward
third of the ship as a major earthquake is in a large hotel ashore: sleeping third-class
passengers in the bow would have been tossed out of their bunks; personal items
would have been sent flying; people walking in the corridors would have been thrown
to the deck. Either type of impact - head-on or glancing - would have been an
unforgettable experience. None of the more than seven hundred survivors recalled
such a dramatic event. Except for the men in the stokeholds, the
David G. Brown
Cite this page David G. Brown and Parks E. Stephenson (2001) The Grounding of Titanic Titanica! (ref: #1511, accessed 3rd August 2015 09:38:13 AM)
URL : http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-grounding-of-the-titanic.html
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