How much time between spotting of iceberg and the collision

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Modern film and books have suggested it was as long as 30 seconds between Fleet's spotting the iceberg and the actual collision...

Im inclined to beleive the collision occoured seconds after the berg was spotted..

I think Murdoch may have seen the berg the same time as Fleet, if not sooner, and the moment the watertight doors and warning bells were triggered, the impact occoured. So the notion that Titanic's rudder was poorly designed is hardly relevant...
I beleive the time between the spotting of the iceberg and the collision was less than 10 seconds. What do you all think?

Tarn Stephanos
I think it was somewhat longer then that. The Mersey Wreck commission found that the ship's head would have taken 37 seconds to come around two points if the rudder was put over and the engines reversed...said data being aquired by trials with the Olympic.

From the testimony:


951. Had you time to get the helm hard a starboard before she struck? - No, she was crashing then.

952. Did you begin to get the helm over? - Yes, the helm was barely over when she struck. The ship had swung about two points.

953. She had swung two points? - Yes.

954. (The Commissioner.) Do let me understand; had she swung two points before the crash came? - Yes, my Lord.

While I believe that the engine reverse order was given, on the wieght of the testimony given from survivors in the engine room, I doubt it was actually carried out. Even so, you're looking at some lag times from
a)The time the iceberg was spotted.
b)The time it took for Murdoch to decide what to do about it.
c)Giving the orders.
d)Working the engine room telegraphs while all this was going on.
e)Hichens reacting to the order given by putting the helm over and the bow swinging around two points followed by;

This would have been a bit more then the 37 seconds that's become ingrained in the mythos. Each part of the sequence would have occupied a few seconds here and a few seconds there, but it starts to pile up rather quickly.​
Quartermaster Olliver heard the lookouts' alarm bell while he was still on the standard compass platform located between funnels #2 and #3. The ship did not contact ice until he was just entering the covered forebridge. During the intervening time he had closed the binnacle of the standard compass and come down a 15-foot ladder. Then, he walked about 220 feet forward, a walk than included another short ladder off the top of the first class lounge. That journey certainly represents more than 10 seconds, but probably not more than a minute.

However, I must also caution avoid making the mistake of assuming that the alarm bell from the crow's nest marked the instant at which the berg was first sighted. The experience of other ships that night (backed up by Antarctic explorer Shackleton) was that bergs were first sighted from lower down on the bridge and not from the crow's nest. From the testimony, it is probable that Murdoch saw the danger earlier than the lookouts rang their warning bell.

Full agreement over the order of commands will never be resolved to everyone's satisfaction. However, the lookouts said the ship was headed straight at the berg immediately prior to Fleet's phone call. It was not standard practice to use the telephone except in harbors or other crowded areas. This implies that the lookouts first reported the berg with the bell and then enough time passed to make at least Fleet believe he had been ignored. That resulted in the historic phone call, which is when the bow was perceived to begin rotatating to the left. Without regard to the actions of the helm, the lookout testimonies strongly suggest the passage of time between the two warnings, although the duration of time is not specified.

-- David G. Brown
My experience, as an ice navigator and ship handler, convince me there was not an iceberg.

The evidence is the night was clear with infinite visibility. The lookouts in the crow's nest saw pack ice, which they mistakenly believed to be haze, at a distance of three to four miles ahead of the ship--ten minutes before impact. Pack ice normally shows about two to three metres above the surface of the water. Logic dictates that if ice two to three meters high could be seen ten minutes before impact, then surely an iceberg towering 50 to 100 feet above the water would have been seen at a much farther distance. That it was not seen, and, also, when impact was made it was just a slight grinding noise, is proof there was not an iceberg.

--L. M. Collins

Steven Hall

I tend to agree with a few old salts a few years ago that worked at a local Maritime Museum when they said that the lookouts would have seen the berg at approximately 500 meters on a dark night. These two chaps said that the only reason the senior deck officer never reacted straight away was that he was not on the actual bridge, but perhaps in the chartroom.
I have the feeling the 3 bells came first, Murdoch came back into the bridge area and went to the starboard bridge wing and confirmed the danger. The normal and familiar chain of events happened from that point on.
Was there an iceberg - absolutely. [in fact, I believe there was 2 bergs, the orginal broken in two] The ship hit the smaller one.
Steve -- you may be correct about Murdoch not being on the open forebridge at the time when the lookouts rang their bell. However, Murdoch was not likely in a chart room. Due to the layout of the bridge, the senior officer was not able to maintain watch forward while still keeping in touch with the actions of his subordinates in the wheelhouse or on the compass platform--both of which were technically part of "the bridge." So, Murdoch may well have been away from his post on the starboard bridge wing, and yet fully engaged in the business of running the ship.

Captain Collins and I continue to have our debate over whether there was, or was not an icebeg. However, I would say that until moments before the lookouts rang their bell there was no iceberg as far as they were concerned. And, while I do not agree with his "no berg" conclusion, what the good captain says about navigating in ice is quite germane to Titanic.

-- David G. Brown
OK...maybe I'm confused about something but how could there not be an iceberg? What else would the ship have hit? And didn't several people on board look out to see it as it passed? What about the tons of ice that landed on deck?
Tammy -- Captain Collins theory involves field ice, but not a big iceberg. And, there is no doubt of field ice in the vicinity that night. I'll leave to him the specifics, but there are mechanisms by which ice could have been flung into the well deck other than simply tumbling down the side of a berg. His theory is interesting and, in my opinion, holds several important keys to unlocking the mysteries of the evening.

The captain and I disagree over the iceberg for many reasons, but we are in regular contact and would undoubtedly share a social glass if distance were not such a factor. My disagreement is based primarily on so many eyewitness statements regarding an iceberg roughly the height of the boat deck.

That said, it is also true that the fatal iceberg was not watched for a long period of time prior to the accident, as should have been the case. It more or less "popped" into view. This aspect of the story allows Captain Collins room for his theory. If the lookouts and the bridge did not see the fatal berg until it was too late, then where was the darned thing?

I am taking a different approach that encompasses much of Captain Collins' concepts, but brings an iceberg...the iceberg...into the accident. My hope is to have my work done enough to present at our "Titanic In Toledo" event on May 9. To me, the key lies in Hichens' testimony, what the lookouts saw during Fleet's phone call, and what Beauchamp heard in boiler room #6.

-- David G. Brown

Steven Hall

I agree David. Once the helm was over there was little to until the impact. What where they doing if they were not looking at the berg.

{my opinion]
The fact that the berg would not have moved an inch either way when coming into contact with the hull plating to me highlights the likelihood that the bow raked the larger [and free floating ice] up like a scoop up against the ship and the immovable berg. This would perhaps address some impressions of the various reports of what people felt and heard during the collision. The ice being compacted and crushed between would have been thrown up, than off the berg onto the deck.
In my opinion, the berg never reached the height of the C Deck.
The truth "lies" someplace in the middle of what is currently thought to have happened.
To me, all is not as it appears. [and it rarely ever is]
I honestly believe that if Lightoller had been the watch officer at that point, this board and all the books wrote since would not exist.
"To me, the key lies in Hichens' testimony, what the lookouts saw during Fleet's phone call, and what Beauchamp heard in boiler room #6."
Absolutely correct from my understanding. Hitchen’s would be my key witness. He knows what exactly happened.
The lookouts identified the danger within the time needed to avoid it. The time [or lag in time] it took the responsible officer to adjust the helm condemned the ship.
There is more to my version that I am putting forth at the moment. So much has been written about the design of the ship, but nobody had "seen" the real design "flaws." I say "flaws" in quotes because they are really the extension of 19th century approaches to ship design into the 20th century. These design factors are plainly visible, yet seem so normal as to not draw attention to themselves. What they added up to, however, was that Murdoch did not have full understanding of events around him with regard to the actions of the other members of his bridge watch.

The reverse side of that coin is that not one human being in Titanic's bridge watch had a clear understanding of what took place, either. This is the root of confusion between the testimonies, with embellishments being added later.

Some of the problems with Olympic-class ship bridges were secretly corrected on the Olympic as a direct result of Titanic. Britannic was never given the troublesome arrangement.

Another aspect of the events on the bridge, and the most important from an historian's point of view, is that they must produce the accident that actually took place. For reasons that Captain Erik and other are studying, it was necessary for Lord Mersey to keep alive the "big gash" theory. To do so required a sideswipe of the bow in a left turn--even though such a maneuver defies physics and is impossible in the real world. This means that the combination of helm/engine orders that have come down in the "official" reports and as the "Titanic Cannon" have to be wrong.

Yet, Hichens was correct that he did turn the ship to the left (starboard helm); the lookouts did see the ship head straight at the iceberg and then the bow rotate left; Olliver did hear "hard a-port" to turn the ship right (toward the berg); and Boxhall was correct about Astern Full on the telegraphs and impact in the "bluff" of the bow. So, the facts are correct but the conclusions are wrong.

Quite honestly, I believe the events between 10:00 p.m. and the accident show Captain Smith to have been overly-cautious by 1912 standards. This may have been his undoing.

--David G. Brown

Steven Hall

David, having a good friend in accident investigation really opens your mind to how the critical seconds before and in the aftermath of collisions can dull the untrained individuals mind. What however is usually predicable is the reactions of the individuals involved in these incidents.
Once committed to a specific action, the rest becomes academic. As a driver what happened and than ask the passenger sitting alongside. If both had been vigilant prior, [or had ample warning] the versions are almost exact.
In the case of Hitchen’s he vantage point was extremely poor even if totally aware of what was transpiring. So his observations of those around him and their reactions would provide excellent testimony. [if he chose to fully reveal what he seen] Once the helm was over, what could he do.
The ship for a period going in reverse I have always found interesting. [but that is another story]
For Hitchen’s, what was the advantage to telling the complete story of his observations. The mans actions while in the lifeboat was that of an extremely agitated individual. [to me a mind racing in overtime]
Being at the ships helm he knew well what 3 bells from the crowsnest implied.
Either way, I look forward to the later conclusions yourself and the others arrive at in the months following.

Tom Pappas

I have a problem crediting Hichens' testimony overall because of the inexactitude in his own mind as to the sequence of events. His confusion was revealed by giving two very different answers to the same question within seconds of each other.

I will stick with my contention that the men in the engine and boiler rooms (and not anybody topside) provide the key testimony to the timing of events immediately surrounding the collision.
I caution every to remember that just because someone did not lie does not mean they told the truth. All it means is that they said what they believed to be true.

And, it is most critical to read the questions in both inquiries than the answers. It is curious how the questioners were careful to avoid asking questions in certain areas. They also did not ask logical follow-up questions.

And, as Tom points out, it is necessary to make the testimonies of all witnesses fit the events on the same ship. It is a grave mistake to look only at testimony from the bridge watch without comparing it to the simultaneous events in the engine rooms and elsewhere.

As Steve notes, the actions of Hitchens in the lifeboat are those of an agitated man. Who can blame him. No matter how you slice the onion, he was the guy who drove the boat during the accident. He was also the low man in the chain of command. Anyone who has been in the military knows what rolls downhill. So, Hitchens had good reason to be worried. (After all, it would have been awfully easy to blame the whole accident on him for screwing up a helm order.)

-- David G. Brown

Simon Welch

Sorry to go back to there not being an Iceberg, I'm trying to keep an open mind as I've not really heard that theory before but there is the famous picture of an iceberg with the the red paint along the base taken on the 15/4.
>>Anyone who has been in the military knows what rolls downhill.<<

Oh brother, but ain't that the truth!

Simon, you might want to treat that photograph with extreme caution as there were a lot of candidates out there as "THE" berg. For another somewhat more credible contender, you might want to click on The Iceberg-Resurfaced? by Henning Pfeifer.
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