Encyclopedia Titanica

Ice on Deck

Further analysis of the iceberg impact.


    Hide Ads

My first article about the newly discovered Bremen Iceberg that appeared in Encyclopedia Titanica in July 2001 (The Iceberg — resurfaced?) was about the photograph itself. This second article concerns another part of the fateful moment of collision: this iceberg picture provides us with a possible answer to the question, why chunks of ice were thrown onto the deck but no damage was caused to Titanic’s upper decks. The conclusion: chunks of ice did not fall from the top of the berg straight down onto the deck – they were thrown upwards then rebounded at the overhang of the iceberg and finally fell onto the ship.

The common view is that the top of the iceberg threw chunks of ice straight down onto the deck 1. It is also the common view that there was no extreme overhang at the berg which has reached over to the ship straight above the deck. Regarding both aspects it is hardly possible that ice was thrown from an icebergs top which was NOT hanging over the deck: furthermore it is widely known that the upper decks did not even touch the berg. According to these points, this must mean that the berg would have thrown its ice some way horizontally over to the ship. And we can furthermore assume that the size of the berg maybe did not reach up to the upper deck2. The witnesses reported very different sizes and even Rehoreks photograph doesn´t give any clue to that question.


How much ice was fallen onto the deck? The Able Bodied Seamen William Lucas has been examined at the British Enquiry (Day 3) by Mr. Rowlatt:3

Rowlatt: ”Where did you see the ice on the deck?”
Lucas: ”On the fore-well on the starboard side.”
Rowlatt: ”How much ice was there on the deck there?”
Lucas: ”I suppose, about a couple of tons.”

However we have very different witnesses reports. Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall was examined from the British Enquiry to this point as well (Day 13):

Mr. Raymond Asquith: ”Did you then go up again through the other decks as far as C deck?”
Boxhall: ”I came up the same way as I went down.”
Asquith: ”Without noticing any damage?”
Boxhall: ”I did not see any damage whatever.”
Asquith: ”When you got to C deck did you see some ice there on the deck?”
Boxhall: ”Yes, I took a piece of ice out of a man's hand, a small piece about as large as a small basin, I suppose; very small, anyhow; about that size (Describing.) He was going down again to the passenger accommodation, and I took it from him and walked across the deck to see where he got it. I found just a little ice in the well deck covering a space of about three or four feet from the bulwarks right along the well deck, small stuff.”

Boxhall was the only witness who described a bit more precisely the quantity of ice he saw on deck. Not a ”couple of tons” as Lucas said, but ”small stuff”. The Able Bodied Seaman Thomas Jones testified before the US Inquiry (Day 7), that he went on deck and could see ”some ice”. The Able Bodied Seaman Edward John Buley also reported ”a couple of tons of block ice” to the British Inquiry (Day 16). The Leading Fireman Charles Hendrickson saw ”a lot of ice...on the deck” (British Inquiry, Day 5). But none of these accounts was as precise as Boxhall´s one.

Another interesting statement was given by Lookout Reginald Lee at the British Inquiry (Day 4) after a short talk between the Commissioner and the Attorney-General:

The Commissioner: ”What is supposed to have caused the ice to fall on the deck? Was it some part of the ship, the Titanic, striking the berg above the waterline, or was it something that fell from the iceberg without the iceberg being struck.”
The Attorney-General: ”I should have thought myself that it followed that the vessel must have struck the iceberg, and brought the ice on to the deck.”
The Commissioner: ”So I should have thought, but I was wondering what part of the Titanic would strike the iceberg.”

The Attorney-General: ”I do not think there is any such suggestion.” (To the Witness.) ”You have told us that you saw some ice fall on to the forewell deck?”
Reginald Lee: ”It must have been overhanging from the berg as she struck, otherwise it could not have come there, because there were no yards on the mast or anything of that sort. It must have been.”

The Attorney-General: ”It must have been either the head or the side?”
Reginald Lee: ”It caused it to fall inboard. This is where it landed, just on that forewell deck.” (Showing on the model.)
The Attorney-General: ”You did not notice that, did you. Did you notice whether there was any overhanging part?”
Reginald Lee: ”No, I cannot say what was overhanging; I cannot say the size.”

If we try to get a precise quantity of ice on deck we cannot get a clear result: some witnesses said ”a lot”, some said ”some” ice. But Boxhalls description was the most precise one. Lee´s report is very interesting because he spoke of an overhang he did not see. Was the iceberg somewhat higher than the guard rail or not? Boxhall spoke of an iceberg which was floating very low in the water and probably did not extend above the level of the guard rail. Other witnesses said that the iceberg did. As mentioned above Rehorek´s iceberg photograph doesn´t give any clue about its size. If we assume the iceberg did not reach up to the upper decks, how did the chunks of ice then get onto the ship? As Charles H. Lightoller, Second Officer, explained at the US-Hearing (Day 1):

Senator Smith: ”Was the vessel broken in two in any manner (i.e.: as a result of the collision) or intact?”
Lightoller: ”Absolutely intact.”
Smith: ”And the decks?”
Lightoller: ”Intact.”

Boxhall’s report to the same hearing, after having inspected the ship’s interior, was similar (Day3):

”... I went on the bridge and reported to the captain that I could not see any damage.”

Boxhall repeated this at the British Inquiry (Day 13).

If the Titanic had chipped chunks of ice off the iceberg at the forecastle level, then Lightoller and Boxhall would certainly have spotted some visible damage. But there are no reports from any other witnesses either of any damage suffered by the Titanic above the water line. This is also confirmed by the report of the British court of inquiry:4

”The collision with the iceberg, which took place at 11.40 p.m., caused damage to the bottom of the starboard side of the vessel at about 10 feet above the keel, but there was no damage above this height.”

This must mean that the Titanic did not come into contact with the iceberg in the area of the upper forecastle – but, nevertheless, chunks of ice were thrown onto the deck assuming that there was an overhang, but which did not reach over up the deck? This inevitably raises the question as to how they could have got there. In the Cameron film, in which the collision was reconstructed as accurately as possible, this moment is cleverly disguised: the Hollywood iceberg rises straight up out of the water well above the height of the guard rail, and chunks of ice break away high up and plummet straight (!) down onto the forecastle deck. If the collision had happened as it is portrayed in the film, then the Titanic would most certainly have shown signs of damage in the upper area. After all, the ship’s hull becomes a bit broader as it rises out of the water accordingly some damage caused by the perpendicular face of the iceberg must have been visible higher up as well. In reality, however, in 1912 this was not the case.

Looking at Rehoreks iceberg photograph, that has shown up in the year 2000 5, we now can state that chunks of ice could still get onto the deck even when the iceberg did not reach the height of the guard rail. On this photograph the face of the iceberg is slightly (not extremely) overhanging above the point of initial impact. Let us just visualize the collision again: the 50,000 ton ship rams the iceberg at full speed. The force of the impact causes chunks of the iceberg to be split away and projected some ice into the air. The smashed edge at the berg is clearly to be seen on the photograph, of course the bigger damage we cannot see on the picture was below the water line.

We can therefore assume that only a few chunks of ice were thrown onto the deck. As we mentioned earlier, Lightoller and Boxhall reported that above and below deck everything was ”intact”, which corresponded to the findings of the British court of inquiry, too. This is also an indication that only the lower sections of the Titanic hull struck the iceberg and that ice was thrown upwards then rebounded from the upper overhang of the iceberg and finally deflected onto the deck. Of course a bigger part of these chunks fell back into the water.

This theory - by the way - does not depend on the size of the iceberg: the rebound effect works with an iceberg that was or was not extending the upper decks.

(December 2001)

Please note: This article is protected by copyright. Any duplication of the pictures for commercial or journalistic purposes or for publication in the press, TV, Internet (also on private homepages) or in any other media is forbidden without the explicit consent of the author. This also applies to enlargements or graphic alterations of parts or all of any images. Duplication for private use is, of course, permitted.

1. I did not find a detailed description in a book, but in some films, specially in the Cameron film it is shown that the chunks just fell down on the deck, as it seems from the top of the berg.
2. Please see former ET article ”The Iceberg – resurfaced”.”The Iceberg – resurfaced”.
3. All witnesses accounts are taken from the ”Inquiry project”.
4. Report on the Loss of the S.S. Titanic, Reprint, New York 1998, Pg. 32.
5. Please see former ET article ”The Iceberg – resurfaced”.


  Send New Information

Comment and discuss

  1. Jan C. Nielsen

    Jan C. Nielsen said:

    Thanks for the article, Henning. So you're saying the collison buckled the ice, and some of it burst upward and ricocheted from the upper part of the iceberg on to the deck. It works for me. You know, this type of event could probably be re-created with models. You might try that to buttress your argument. Thanks again. Have you had any luck with finding out from a passenger or crew list whether the individual who took the picture was indeed aboard the Bremen?

  2. Henning Pfeifer

    Henning Pfeifer said:

    Thanks Jan for your words. Maybe anybody is able to create a computer simulation... No Jan, I think I would need some weeks to go to the US-archives and search them. Or get a contact to someone who could make some research over there... Best Regards Henning

  3. Mike Krier

    Mike Krier said:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the recent "Ice on Deck" article by Henning Pfeifer. I honestly never put much into that aspect of te disaster.

  4. Daniel Klistorner

    Daniel Klistorner said:

    Hi Henning, Nice article, I enjoyed reading it, but being the devil's advocate, I'm still not convinced. George Rheims at the Limitation and Liability hearing was interrogated to death about how and where he saw the iceberg. In short, he was in one of the forward A deck bathrooms, felt the impact, saw it through the window at the fore end of the main starboard corridor and watched it glide by the other window that was at the end of the passage for cabins A5 to A11. Willaim Sloper was standing in the forward A deck grand staircase foyer waiting for Dorothy Gibson to come back up again so they could go for a walk around the deck. They felt the shock just as Dorothy was approaching Sloper and both ran out on deck and saw the ice glide by A deck. Edith Rosenbaum was entering her cabin just as the shock began. Looking out of her window from her cabin A11, she saw the ice go by. These are 3 accounts, which prove the ice was as high as A deck and no matter how you slice it was

  5. Henning Pfeifer

    Henning Pfeifer said:

    Hi Daniel, and thank you very much for this accurate response to my article. Most of the accounts you are quoting do not contradict the rebound theory. As I have written at the end of my article the rebound theory does not depend on the size of the berg. You are giving some good other points, I will check them and come back to discuss these points. But as far as I know there there is not a single account which describes on which way the bigger and smaller chunks could have come to the spots where they were seen or found. As far as I know there is furthermore no account that the berg scratched the hull somewhere above the waterline. The witnesses saw the berg gliding by but why nobody told about any touchings? You are right when you say that the ship had "50.000 odd tons" - didn´t have the iceberg estimated 600.000 tons? Best regards Henning

  6. David G. Brown

    David G. Brown said:

    Daniel -- the grounding theory only answers the primary mechanism by which the ship came in contact with the ice. It was not the only one. There must have been some interaction between the topsides of the ship and those of the icebergs in order for ice to have transferred to Titanic's decks. Henning's proposal is one possible mechanism by which that could have happened. I believe tht the iceberg may have moved slightly as a result of Titanic's weight upon the underwater section. Although the berg was hundreds of times more massive, icebergs are notoriously unsteady. A relatively small amount of weight (50,000 tons or less) might have been enough to cause a slight tilt of the berg. This would have aided in the transfer of small pieces. --David G. Brown

  7. Daniel Klistorner

    Daniel Klistorner said:

    David, That's exactly what I was trying to say. The Titanic must have come in contact with the ice, as I pointed out there were two passengers (that I thought of, off the top of my head) who reported ice on portholes. I believe the berg may have slightly come in contact with the side (these cabins were approximately in the area where the ship pivoted while the stern was swinging away from the berg). Chambers in an October 1912 account mentions a man exhibiting a piece of ice that fell through his window. It is unclear which deck this was on, but there's at least one more. Also, Emma Bucknell stepped out of her cabin, D15 and saw a lady who's hair was covered in tiny snow crystals (this could have been the lady from D21 - or she may have seen someone else, elsewhere in the hall. Caroline and Natalie were half asleep in C7: "Nathalie Wick and I were lying in our berths half asleep when the blow came. It was terrible. For a second the whole boat

  8. Parks Stephenson

    Parks Stephenson said:

    Contact with the ice can be of varying degrees. Ice on deck or in portholes does not necessarily mean that ice damaged the side shell plating. Coincidence is a funny thing. It's like the torpedo that hit (or was just about to hit) the bow of the USS Arizona, at the same instant when the bomb blew the ship apart...if it wasn't for the sighting by a crewman aboard the Vestal, we would not know about the existance of the torpedo, given the coincidental timing of its arrival. In an opposite sense, the cleaving of the berg at the time of impact might be a false lead as to the nature of the collision. Caroline and Natalie may very well be giving us the clue we need...a shiver running through does not describe an impulse-and-momentum type of collision, as would have happened with a side impact. What they describe, though, is a vibration that could very well cleave a large chunk of ice off a berg. Parks

  9. Ben Holme

    Ben Holme said:

    Hi All, I'm willing to accept Henning's hypothsesis that the ice found by Clinch Smith, Elmer Taylor and others (undoubtedly from the forward A-deck prommenade) may have been rebound ice. However, I remain undecided as to whether or not the large amount of ice observed on the forward well-deck(apparently "scraped off" according to most accounts) was *all* rebounded from the berg. I'm no expert regarding the durability of Titanic's steel, but I wouldn't rule out the possibility that Lightoller and Boxhall simply did not notice any particular damage to the outside hull, being as it was, a dark night. It is perhaps significant that not a single passenger (that I'm aware of) above the level of D-deck gave accounts of ice sraping past and falling into their cabins. Even as low as C-deck Virginia Clark in C-89 mentioned only seeing the iceberg *glide* past her window, whereas three people on D-deck and one on E-deck later referred to ice deposits on their windows. Granted Murdoch has

  10. Henning Pfeifer

    Henning Pfeifer said:

    Hi all, just another thought I did not mention in the article: what noise would an iceberg make when it scrapes the hull above the waterline in the area of the decks? If passengers may be did not SEE any scraping (many of them were asleep and most of the portholes probably closed), wouldn´t they HEAR a pretty loud noise? I can imagine that even a smooth scraping iceberg on a metal hull would create some terrible noise inside the ship (i.e. inside many cabins). Even when the scraping of the berg along the upper hull would have been very very smooth - I am sure inside many cabins next to this scraping they would notice this very special noise. Imagine you were in a cabin and an iceberg (or anything else outside) scrape at your porthole...I am not aware of any accounts reporting that. Best regards Henning P.S. Please read all the accounts collected in the ET article "The Grounding of Titanic" by David G. Brown and Parks E. Stephenson (Points "2.0 Collision" and "3.0

  11. Daniel Klistorner

    Daniel Klistorner said:

    Ben, Good point about lower decks getting the ice, however this may have also depended on other factors. The shape of the ice, and lack of accounts. Look at B deck. So far as we know, the first occupied cabin we encounter is B35, then others follow, 41, 39, 45, 49. I have never seen a decent account from Aubert and the Frolichers. Perhaps ice was there but they never bothered to look, or there was no ice. On C deck, perhaps mainly the Fortune family would have been the only ones to tell of ice deposits, but I have not seen a decent account from them either. However on the other hand, perhaps the rebound theory explains how ice ended up on some portholes along the lower decks. As for great noise in cabins, I think the ice would have been too soft to give any great noise. Daniel.

  12. Henning Pfeifer

    Henning Pfeifer said:

    Hi Daniel, if the iceberg would have carried soft ice - the ship would have reached New York... ;-) Seriously spoken I think that the temperature in this night was low enough to keep even the surface of the iceberg frozen without softening it up. Regards Henning

  13. David G. Brown

    David G. Brown said:

    Henning -- I understand your point to Daniel, but I must point out that all of the ice in an iceberg is not of uniform density. Some "old" or "rotten" ice coexists with very hard ice from the glacier. I have some research in my files that often the softer ice will be above the waterline while the hardest ice is hidden below. (Please don't quote me as a source for this information because it's an over-simplification.) North Atlantic icebergs are always in a process of decay. This makes them unstable. It also explains why they will suddenly "calve" or spontaneously break apart. While we have no specific data on Titanic's nemesis iceberg, the general nature of North Atlantic bergs makes possible many ways of transferring small pieces of ice to the ship. The underwater shape of North Atlantic is such that mariners in 1912 (as well as today) were cautioned that getting to close could result in damage to the bottoms of their ships by running onto ice shelves called "rams."

  14. Ben Holme

    Ben Holme said:

    Hi Daniel, Your message prompted me to hunt around for some B-deck accounts and, in doing so, recalled two very telling accounts which clearly indicate ice being *scraped* off at this level; Paul Chevre and Alfred F. Omont were playing bridge with Pierre Marechal and Lucien P. Smith in the Cafe Parisien when the collision occured. Chevre: through the ports we saw ice rubbing against the ship's sides. Omont: When the shock happened, we saw something white through the portholes, and we saw some water on the ports. Clearly, the iceberg had left deposits which could not have rebounded from the initial impact as the Cafe Parisien was too far aft for them to reach. Therefore, it had to have *scraped* past. However, Emily Ryesron, just slightly forward of this area (possibly) saw no iceberg and "felt no jar". Perhaps the ship pivoted around the "Cafe Parisen" region or else the possible grounding on a submerged shelf may have caused the iceberg to tip sufficently

  15. Henning Pfeifer

    Henning Pfeifer said:

    Hi all! Looking for accounts which underlines that the iceberg was scraping the upper hull seems like searching a needle in heaps of hay. Ben: You said, that these two accounts "clearly indicates ice being scraped". I think both accounts could also tell something very different. 1. ("Chevre: through the ports we saw ice rubbing against the ship's sides"): they saw ice rubbing but not "the iceberg rubbing" - maybe they saw rebound ice rubbing down? 2. ("Omont: When the shock happened, we saw something white through the portholes, and we saw some water on the ports"). The same words could describe just a close gliding by of the iceberg. But I think this account could speak another clear language: they saw "water" on the ports! Where could have this water com from? My only conclusion: from the water below, i.e. rebound water...(of course mixed up with chunks) We do very very hard to find any accounts which clearly say: "the iceberg scraped the hull...the iceberg touched

View 21 comments...

Leave a comment

Find Related Items


Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) Ice on Deck (Titanica!, ref: #1486, published 28 August 2003, generated 22nd November 2022 02:07:35 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/ice-on-deck.html