How Many Times Did the Lookouts Warn the Bridge?



Do you believe the lookouts spotted more than one iceberg before the collision? I noticed that several survivors had witnessed icebergs before the collision, and that the officers on the Carpathia could see about half a dozen icebergs about 2 miles away during the night. At daybreak the survivors found themselves surrounded by icebergs on every side. It is astonishing that Titanic's lookouts did not see any of them. Reading the survivor accounts I believe the lookouts did see and tried to report the icebergs but were ignored. e.g.

Fireman Jack Podesta said:

"My mate and I put on our go 'ashore coats' and went to the mess room, which was up a flight of stairs, just inside of the whale deck. We finished our meal and coming from the mess room to our living quarters, we heard a man in the crows-nest shout 'Ice ahead sir.' Nutbean (fireman) and I went on deck and looked around but saw nothing. (This reminds me of Quartermaster Olliver's account. He heard the bell ring and looked ahead, but saw nothing.) Podesta continued: "It was a lovely calm night but pitch black. We laid in our bunks for about five minutes. Several times the man in the crows-nest shouted 'Ice ahead sir.' Nothing was done from the bridge to slow down or alter course. So the crash came. It sounded like tearing a strip off a piece of calico, nothing more, only a quiver......After shaking up some of our watch-mates, we went on deck and saw about ten tons of ice on the starboard whale deck."

Catherine Crosby said:
(While on the Carpathia) "The lookout who was on duty at the time the Titanic struck the iceberg had said: "I know they will blame me for it, because I was on duty, but it was not my fault; I had warned the officers three or four times before striking the iceberg that we were in the vicinity of icebergs, but the officer on the bridge paid no attention to my signals." I can not give the name of any passenger who made that statement, but it was common talk on the Carpathia that that is what the lookout said."

Thomas Whiteley also heard the lookout say that he warned the bridge several times about the icebergs and that the bridge took no notice of his warnings. This could explain why Joseph Scarrott heard the bell ring up to 8 minutes before the collision, because he probably heard just one of the several warnings that were given.

Lookout Frederick Fleet told Major Peuchen that he rang the telephone and received no reply from the bridge. Major Peuchen said Fleet and Hichens were talking about the collision in the lifeboat and he heard Hichens calling out to another lifeboat and asking them if they knew which officer was on duty at the time of the collision. Undoubtedly I believe they were trying to understand why the lookout's warnings were ignored.

Reading Fleet's testimony it is quite understandable to see his dilemma and why he refused to answer their questions. e.g.

Q - How long before the collision or accident did you report ice ahead?
A - I have no idea.
Q - About how long?
A - I could not say, at the rate she was going.
Q - How fast was she going?
A - I have no idea.
Q - Would you be willing to say that you reported the presence of this iceberg an hour before the collision?
A - No, sir.
Q - Forty-five minutes?
A - No. sir.
Q - A half hour before?
A - No, sir.
Q - Fifteen minutes before?
A - No, sir.
Q - Ten minutes before?
A - No, sir.
Q - How far away was this black mass when you first saw it?
A - I have no idea, sir.
Q - Can you not give us some idea? Did it impress you as serious?
A - I reported it as soon as ever I seen it.
Q - Can you not indicate, in any way, the length of time that elapsed between the time that you first gave this information by telephone and by bell to the bridge officer and the time the boat struck the iceberg?
A - I could not tell you, sir.
Q - You can not say?
A - No, sir.
Q - You can not say whether it was five minutes or an hour?
A - I could not say, sir.


Harland Duzen

Jan 14, 2017
Don't forget however, that some passengers who were unfamiliar with maritime practice / the use of bells signifying change of watches did say they heard multiple bells and the bridge do nothing so they might be mistaken.

Also there is the possible issue of icebergs moving or grouping together due to possible currents in-between the collision and rescue.


On a related note. If icebergs were spotted by the officers and could be seen passing safely off the starboard side in the distance, is it possible that Captain Smith was plotting their positions in the chartroom and Boxhall and Olliver were finding out the ship's position and they were about to send a wireless message indicating the presence of icebergs when the collision occurred? Could this explain their movements and the contradictions in their testimony because they did not want to admit there were icebergs in the area while they maintained full speed ahead? Perhaps that is why nobody answered the lookout's telephone because the officers could already see the icebergs and were well aware of their presence as the passengers observed them in the distance.

I think Bruce Ismay's answers really reflected how the officers behaved that night.

"I should say if a man can see far enough to clear ice, he is perfectly justified in going full speed."

Q - Then apparently you did not expect your Captain to slow down when he had ice reports?
A - No, certainly not.

Q - Of course, if you had got a perfect look-out and there is nothing to prevent you from seeing, then there is no occasion to slow down.
A - I should say none at all.
Q - You could see the ice then a long way off, and it would not be necessary to slow down for icebergs?
A - Presumably so, yes.
Q - What is the object of continuing at full speed through the night if you expect to meet ice? Why do you do it?
A - What is the use of doing it?
Q - Yes?
A - I presume that the man would be anxious to get through the ice region. He would not want to slow down upon the chance of a fog coming on.
Q - So that, of course, the object of it would be to get through it as fast as you could?
A - I presume that if a man on a perfectly clear night could see far enough to clear an iceberg he would be perfectly justified in getting through the ice region as quickly as he possibly could.