Titanic Dodging Icebergs


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Sep 22, 2003
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Was Titanic Dodging Icebergs on The Night of 4/14/1912 ? Its a question thats been going through my mind since reading These Books:

Behe, George. Titanic: Safety, Speed and Sacrifice

Brown, David G. The Last Log of the Titanic

Störmer, Susanne. William McMaster Murdoch, A Career at Sea. The Complete and Documented Version

(By mentioning these 3 books, I do not intend this as any sort of Criticism as I regard all 3 books to be well researched and would highly recomend any of them to anyone, I only wish to debate the matter of dodging bergs.)

Now back to where I left off before listing those books. While I Believe it's a possibility titanic could have been dodging icebergs back and forth, I'm not quite so sure about it due to Lightollers Testimony and that of the lookouts. I do However it a very high probability that Titanic was steaming through a region heavily covered by ice.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Jesse--

Dodging icebergs implies a high-speed zigzag course around floating mountains. That's really what Carpathia accomplished, or at least what Captain Rostron would have us believe he accomplished.

I think it would be better to say that Titanic was entering an area of field ice studded with icebergs. Read the Mesaba ice warning message to get one captain's description. Whether or not the ship actually had to alter course to avoid an iceberg prior to the fatal accident is up for discussion. Personally, I believe that the ship did turn at least once and possibly twice to avoid icebergs prior to the fatal incident.

I freely admit this is my interpretation of the testimony. You will have to form your own opinion from the sources available.

-- David G. Brown
 
Sep 22, 2003
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I shall than alter my question slightly on account that I might have interpreted the Text in 3 books above innaccurately. New question is. Did Titanic have to turn to avoid any icebergs prior to 11:40 Collision w/ Iceberg? and thank you for your input David G.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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>>New question is. Did Titanic have to turn to avoid any icebergs prior to 11:40 Collision w/ Iceberg?<<

The factual answer to that is that we don't know. If you read the testimony, and the extant primary and secondary source material outside of the testimony, you'll see some hints and little clues that may give you that impression and that impression just might be right. Both George and David have covered that ground and the sources quite well. The thing is that while you might get a whiff of the smoke, you will never find the smoking gun which proves it beyond any shadow of a doubt because nobody ever admitted to that in sworn testimony. There are two reasons for this:

ONE: Occam's Razor applies...they weren't dodging any icebergs, so there was nothing to admit to.

TWO: They *were* dodging icebergs but were not about to admit that sort of thing in a hostile court packed full of lawyers and possible litigants who were looking for any excuse to sue or who were in a position to revoke their licenses with a few words to "The Right People."
 

Steven Hall

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You only have to ovoid them if your going to hit one. From what I have read - looking from Carpathia the next morning, there were icebergs seen in abundance from the direction Titanic came. Even ones appearing bigger then the one they hit.
Thats why it important to asses what was seen the next morning. One day, someone else will see the importance of this research (apart from Sam and Dave).
 
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Wayne Keen

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"Thats why it important to asses what was seen the next morning."

Is it really true that what was seen hours after the collision is representative of what was true at the time of the collision?

I am not asking that as an argumentative or rhetorical question, it is a serious attempt to be edified by the more learned that I.

Wayne
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Wayne-- The sea is never still. So, the situation viewed at first light on April 15 was not the same as viewed from Titanic's bridge or crow's nest at 11:40 p.m. the previous night. That is a given. The real question is, "how much different was the scene?"

I'm afraid than none of us has the eye of God, so we do not know. We can only speculate based upon what information does survive and common sense.

Sam Halpern and I have done current analysis, his being more detailed than mine. Both of us come up with a southerly flow at roughly one knot. This seems to be supported by the appearance of the coal field dumped on the bottom by the ship as it sank. In simple terms this means that for every hour of time anything floating on the ocean moved about a mile in a southward direction.

If everything moved equally in speed and direction, then the relative locations of icebergs, lifeboats, and flotsam would not have changed over time. That cannot have been the case. Icebergs dig deep into the sea where they are subject to currents not felt by lifeboats at the surface. So, different objects probably went their separate ways depending upon their draft and other factors. Toward morning wind drift became a factor as well.

It is highly unlikely that the exact pattern of ice of 11:40 p.m. was still visible at 6:00 a.m. the following morning. However, it is not necessary to know the specific locations of each piece of ice to learn something about the conditions faced by Titanic. The overall picture of the ice that night stayed much the same for an extended period of time.

The Mesaba message describes the ice situation that Carpathia faced on its rescue mission and, later, when it steamed for New York. The same ice conditions were faced by Californian when it shut down for the night about an hour before Titanic came pounding up from the east. And the conditions described by Mount Temple closely match the Mesaba message and the observations from Carpathia.

To me, it seems reasonable to conclude that after 11:15 p.m. Titanic approached a roughly north-south line of field ice studded with outriding icebergs. This ice field was described as "haze" by the lookouts during their testimonies. They described the ship running right into this "haze" by the time of the accident. If so, it follows that to get as far as it did Titanic probably did alter course for ice prior to the accident.

This, of course, brings up Captain Smith's alleged comment that he should be called immediately if things became in the least bit "hazy." Was the captain called? Every answer seems to raise another question.

-- David G. Brown
 
Mar 22, 2003
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For what it is worth consider this. According to an interview with Leslie Reade, Frederick Fleet claimed that when he first saw the dark mass up ahead he asked Lee if he knew what it was. This was just before he went for the lookout bell. If they were dodging bergs all along why would he have to ask what was ahead? By the way, Lee said he didn't know what it was. Obviously what it was came to Fleet soon enough because when he went to the phone he identified what he saw.

The other point is that if they were dodging bergs all along then Murdoch would have been in violation of his duties. The Commander was to be called whenever there was any danger about. The OOW was not allowed to alter course without consulting with the Capt. unless to avoid immediate danger. If he had to alter course because he felt the ship was running into danger, he was suppose to act at once and immediately pass word to call the Commander. Smith was not on the bridge when the accident happened according to Hichens, Olliver and Boxhall. If they were dodging bergs all along, he would have been.
 
Feb 24, 2004
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Hi, Dave!

A problem with the "haze" is that Fleet didn't mention it at all at the US hearings and he and Lee gave differing versions of it in London. It was Lee, I believe, who said that Fleet had said, "If we can see through that, we'll be lucky." Fleet, in turn, denied he'd ever said such a thing. The haze, according to him, was always in front of them and posed no visibility difficulties of any kind.

I think probably they did see something in front of them, whether it was ice blink or the reflection of stars on the ice field, and then later decided to use it in their defense. Too bad they didn't coordinate their stories a little better.

My questions are, what would a distant iceberg (possibly with smaller ice surrounding it) have looked like against a dull whitish background to two lookouts who'd never seen "ice" before? How much of the berg would have remained silhouetted the closer they got to it? How would their perception of this phantom compare to that of those on the bridge? And how long might they have stared at it before it materialized into an identifiable iceberg?

Roy
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Sam brings up something--the calling of Captain Smith. He is correct that the captain should have been called if the ice...or haze...or anything of the sort appeared in front of the ship. Or, more precisely, if the captain was not on the bridge he was to be called. The problem comes in deciding whether Smith was "on" or "off" the bridge--not physically, but in the perception of the other officers. If they thought the captain was part of the bridge team, then there was no need to specifically call him as he was already involved in the navigation of the ship. It would only have been necessary if Smith was "off" the bridge and not hands-on involved in the conduct of the ship. From Boxhall we learn than Smith was on the bridge the entire time after the captain returned from dinner--if, as Boxhall pointed out, you consider the chart rooms, wheelhouse, covered bridge area, and the bridge wings together as a unit as "the bridge."

I know that it is conventional wisdom that Smith only found out about icebergs when Murdoch started to dodge the fatal berg. However, I see no reason to favor this traditional view. From what Boxhall said, it is just as possible...and from a command responsibility point of view more likely...that Smith was part of the bridge team from 9 p.m. onward that night. If so, there was no need to specially call him as he should have known about the conditions around the ship through the normal flow of information.

This raises the issue of the physical design of the bridge and its affect on bridge team management. Smith obviously did not know as much as he should have known. Neither did Murdoch. Or, Boxhall. The physical layout of Titanic's bridge was almost designed for the purpose of preventing communications among the various bridge team members. Bad communications means bad flow of information, which leads to bad decisions.

As to Fleet questioning what his eyes were seeing, I find that understandable. If the ship had entered ice (make up your own mind the type and amount of ice) he might well have been confused by a dark area. The ice would have been light relative to the dark of the ocean. It would have been logical for him to wonder if the dark mass was just an opening in the ice or something else.

This would be doubly true if Fleet and Lee had been splitting the look-out to allow one man to rest his eyes from the cold wind while the other kept watch. Fleet's eyes would have been full of water and his vision less clear than Lee--if Lee had been ducked out of the wind. There are many hints within their testimonies this was the case, although no direct proof.

The haze business confounded even Lord Mersey. Check the transcript of Fleet's testimony for Mersey's pointed outburst about the "haze" that suddenly appeared and then disappeared. The commissioner tightly controlled what was presented to his inquiry. It would seem the "haze" business was something outside of his agenda and he did not like it.

Something else...in all of this discussion I've not yet seen any mention of Lightoller's instruction to the crow's nest sent prior to the 10 p.m. change of watch. This was a critical event leading up to the accident and had direct bearing on the performance of the lookouts. It also gives critical information about the poor layout of Titanic's bridge. Yet, this incident gets scant attention. Curious.

Getting back to the thrust of this discussion, I find it preposterous that Titanic steamed across a vacant ocean until suddenly an iceberg appeared only 37 or 40 seconds in front of it.

Balderdash!

That's a story concocted for the purpose of covering up the truth as sure as water is wet and ice is cold. There was too much ice around that night for the conventional story to be anything but deception and duplicity.

OK, if so then what did happen?

Long ago I realized that not only do I not know what happened, but I can never know what happened. There are many reasons for this, the most obvious being that the people who ran Titanic onto an iceberg are all dead. But, beyond that there is the obvious confusion of stories and information. Much of this was of the CYA variety of obfuscation. However, not all of the confusion came from any attempt to hide the truth. I think it is fairly obvious that the surviving witnesses were in some ways as confused in 1912 over what happened as we are today.

And, confused witnesses is the standard situation in forensic investigations. As a historian, I believe my job is to find an interpretation of the available information that at best is closer to the truth than what has been presented earlier. And, at worst it does not raise more questions than it answers.

As most of you know, I currently favor an interpretation based on the concept of "loss of situational awareness" among the bridge team members. Just the fact the ship ran over an iceberg is proof that on some level Smith, Murdoch, Boxhall, Moody, Hichens, Olliver, Fleet, and Lee all experienced some loss of awareness. If they had not, Titanic would have been turned into razor blades in 1934.

I also believe that the accident was not a sudden emergency event. Rather, it took place over a matter of hours starting at 5:00 p.m. and extending until after midnight. The actual impact of steel against ice was only one event within a long chain of causation. In my view it is impossible to sort out the events during the 11:40 p.m. hour without as full an understanding as possible of the time period from when the ship turned "The Corner" until when Boxhall handed his revised CQD coordinates to Phillips.

I know this seems like I'm going 'round Robin Hood's barn to get to town. However, I have a reason for this long philosophic discussion about the nature of the accident. One absolute truth about Titanic is that it is possible to build very tidy theories about single events, provided that those single events are not put into the overall flow of time. Yet, that is what most historians do. They try to explain Murdoch's maneuvers around the iceberg without putting them into the context of the overall conduct of the voyage.

In most cases, overly-tight focus on a single event results in a wonderful explanation of that event, but at the expense of raising a never-ending series of impossibilities. In other words, the solution exists outside the real world of Titanic and is therefore by definition, "impossible."

For example, the ice under discussion...

The ice was there. The accident took place within the known Mesaba ice area. The ice was around the rescue area in the morning. Other ships were stopped or slowed from reaching the rescue scene by the ice. Given the real ice situation that night and the following morning, it is absurd to assume that Titanic ran into a solitary iceberg on an empty ocean.

If the Mesaba ice field was there it must have been seen by Titanic. We know it was. The 3-stroke bell warning proves that. The otherwise incomprehensible comments about "haze" make sense only in conjunction with the ice.

Captain Smith was on the bridge, working with Boxhall on plotting ice reports from 9 p.m. until the accident. Boxhall came and went as his other duties required, but the captain remained on the bridge in the large sense.

Hichens seems to have had his near-paranoid moments, but he does not seem to have been a liar. He claimed the ship turned left under starboard helm prior to impact. There is no reason not to believe him.

We know from Fleet, Lee, and Olliver that the fatal iceberg had a dark appearance.

Fleet, Lee, and the damage pattern to the ship all indicate a straight-on approach to the fatal berg. If the bow turned at all, it was an inconsequential amount too late to have been an iceberg evasion maneuver.

My interpretation of events begins with a navigational mixup at "The Corner. By 11:15 p.m. this resulted in Captain Smith believing his ship had virtually transited the Mesaba ice without incident. When the "haze" of ice appeared, his dead reckoning probably reassured him that his ship was nearing the far side of the field.

Lightoller's instructions confined the area of search by the lookouts to the immediate area in front of the ship. They were to look for "small ice and growlers," a good idea considering what the ship was approaching. But, in a way Lightoller's orders had the same effect on the lookouts as reducing the sweep range of a modern radar. More information about nearby dangers is ascertained at the expense of long-range warning of distant dangers.

A few minutes after 7 bells (11:30 p.m.) an iceberg was spotted and the ship safely steered around it by turning two points to the south. This was followed by a routine compass evolution which took perhaps 4 minutes. During that time the ship was effectively conned from the compass platform amidships. There is a hint in Hichens' testimony that Murdoch took the opportunity to leave the bridge wing and inform the captain of the course change.

As the compass evolution was completed Fleet noticed the dark mass. He called for Fleet and the two then decided it was an iceberg. The range was extremely close and Fleet chose to call the bridge rather than ring the bell.

(This phone call explains why the clocks were not set back, but that's a very long story for another thread.)

When Murdoch perceived the real danger is uncertain. From the testimony of Fleet and Lee, and from the damage inflicted on the ship, it appears he decided not to steer. This decision, by the way, is very strong circumstantial evidence of other ice surrounding the ship.

And, we all know the rest of the story. The loss of situational awareness evaporated like the "haze" in the sound of steel scraping ice.

-- David G. Brown
 

Steven Hall

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I’ve previously mentioned the below in another thread — though I thought it might be of interest again.

The sinking of the Titanic (1912)
The sailors' account of the terrific impact of the Titanic against the berg that crossed the path was as follows:

1/ "It was 11.40 P.M. Sunday, April 14. Struck an iceberg. The berg was very dark and about 250 feet in height. (SH — a little exaggeration on the size I imagine there)
2/ "The Titanic struck the berg a glancing blow on the starboard bow. The ship, which was traveling between twenty and twenty-three knots an hour, crashed into the berg at a point about forty feet back of the stem. (SH - nothing really wrong there)
3/ "It was a perfect night, clear and starlight. The sea was smooth. The temperature had dropped to freezing Sunday morning. We knew or believed that the cold was due to the nearness of bergs, …………….” (SH - again, all fair comments)
4/ "The first officer of the watch was Murdock. He was on the bridge. Captain Smith may have been near at hand, but he was not visible to us who were about to wash down the decks. Hitchens, quartermaster, was at the wheel. Fleet was the outlook." (SH — there is a passenger statement about men seen working on the decks)
5/ It is characteristic of sailors that they make no effort to learn the baptismal names of a ship's officers. (SH - that’s true)
6/ "Fleet reported the berg, but the telephone was not answered on the bridge at once. A few minutes afterwards the telephone call was answered, but it was too late. (SH - we have read similar opinions on this)
7/ "The ship had struck. Murdock, after the ship struck the berg, gave orders to put helm to starboard, afterwards he ordered the helm hard to port and the ship struck the berg again. (SH — interesting statement)
8/ "There was less than ten minutes between the time the Titanic first struck the berg and the second crash, both of which brought big pieces of ice showering down on the ship. (SH — again, interesting)

----------------------
E.Z. Taylor, of Philadelphia, one of the survivors, jumped in into the sea just three minutes before the boat sank. He told a graphic story as he came from the Carpathia.
"I ran out on the deck and then I could see ice. It was a veritable sea of ice and the boat was rocking over it. I should say that parts of the iceberg were eighty feet high, but it had been broken into sections, probably by our ship.

One of the best accounts was given by Lady Duff-Gordon, wife of Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon, who dictated it. Her tale shows that the Titanic was near icebergs before she went to bed on the night of the disaster. Here is her story, as well as that of others:
"I was asleep. The night was perfectly clear. We had watched for some time the fields of ice. There was one just before I went below to retire. I noticed among the fields of ice a number of large bergs.
"There was one which one of the officers pointed out to me. He said that it must have been 100 feet high and seemed to be miles long. It was away off in the distance. I went to my bedroom and retired.


Dave mentioned above;
“Getting back to the thrust of this discussion, I find it preposterous that Titanic steamed across a vacant ocean until suddenly an iceberg appeared only 37 or 40 seconds in front of it.
Balderdash!”

That (to me) is so right a statement Dave.
 

Paul Lee

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During the day, the Parisian spotted three icebergs, and at 6.30pm, the Californian sighted a similar group. Given the reports' proximity, it seems likely that these icebergs were one and the same.

The Californian reported 3 bergs 4 miles to the south of them, so about 41 58 N, 49 9 W
The Parisian saw them at 41 55 N 49 14 W.
The average of these is 41 56.5 N, 49 11.5 W.

The Titanic turned the corner at about 5.50pm, at 42 N, 49 W. Given the ship's course it would surprise me if the Titanic hadn't seen these bergs too. She would have passed within just a few miles of them.
 

Steven Hall

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That’s interesting isn’t it Paul.
I wonder what time Lady Duff-Gordon seen this bergs. It is interesting to narrow down who the officer she spoke to was.
If we accept this — and I see no reason for the lady to lie — these bergs would have been seen from the bridge and the crowsnest. I wonder what side of the ship she was on — or was she looking forward. I read Hichens also comments on a haze before 10.00pm.
 

Paul Lee

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Blast my eyes. I should have said that the corner was at 47 degrees W, 42 N. Of course, by the time Titanic reached anywhere near the location of the 3 bergs, it would have been night and they would not have been visible.
 
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Sam

I Agree w/ what your Monday, 6 February, 2006 - 9:07 pm Post Said for the most part. I however believe that you can make a good case either way depending on how you interpret the Evidence. And yes Murdoch would be required to call the Captain Smith if he was in an area of Danger (I couldn't Think of better words, though I think everyone gets the point). as for smith being on the bridge, there is evidence in both the US Senate Investigation and British Inquiry which suggest he could've have been on the bridge (I am not Saying He was or or was not, just pointing this out) in both instances given by Boxhall.
 
Feb 24, 2004
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Hi, Dave!

...I've not yet seen any mention of Lightoller's instruction to the crow's nest sent prior to the 10 p.m. change of watch.


13671. (SOLICITOR-GENERAL) Now just tell the Court what was the difference, what was it you wanted to be right? - (Mr. LIGHTOLLER) Well, I told Mr. Moody to ring up the crow's-nest and tell the look-outs to keep a sharp look out for ice, particularly small ice and growlers. Mr. Moody rang them up and I could hear quite distinctly what he was saying. He said, "Keep a sharp look out for ice, particularly small ice," or something like that, and I told him, I think, to ring up again and tell them to keep a sharp look out for ice particularly small ice and growlers. And he rang up the second time and gave the message correctly.

************

Senator SMITH. What, if anything, did Symons and Jewell, or either one, say to you when you relieved them of the watch?

Mr. FLEET. They told us to keep a sharp lookout for small ice.

************

17236. (ATTORNEY-GENERAL) Was any word passed to you when you relieved them? - Yes.

17237. (Mr. FLEET) Tell us what it was? - They told us to keep a sharp look out for small ice and growlers.

************

Well, okay, I'll start the ball rolling. "Small ice and growlers" doesn't present a very wide compass, does it? And it doesn't seem to include 65-foot-high icebergs. Did Lightoller inadvertently minimized in the lookouts' minds the type of thing the bridge might have felt was important? I keep coming back to neither lookout ever having seen major ice before. And also that neither one was the sharpest tack in the hardware store. No offense, but they weren't.

Roy
 

Paul Lee

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Small ice and growlers.....weren't they already in the ice box defined by the Mesaba though?
 

Paul Lee

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I know - but they were in the area bounded by the Mesaba's message. If there was ice there, why didn't they report seeing anything....?
 
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