Encyclopedia Titanica

The Grounding of Titanic

Explores the hypothesis that that Titanic grounded on an underwater shelf of the iceberg.


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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 ship’s 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 Titanic’s structure and internal subdivision can be found in Appendix III. A physical description of the iceberg is detailed in Appendix IV.

2.0 Collision

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, Officer’s 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 ship."

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, USA


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Comment and discuss

  1. Parks Stephenson

    Parks Stephenson said:

    On 31 May 2001, the 90th anniversary of the launch of Hull SS401, David Brown presented a White Paper to a meeting of the Marine Forensic Panel in the offices of Gibbs & Cox, Crystal City, Arlington, VA. The White Paper was the result of a combined analysis of Titanic's collision by Dave Brown and Parks Stephenson. The Paper is available for viewing by clicking on the Grounding of the Titanic link on the front page at: https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-grounding-of-the-titanic.html As of this writing, the images which accompanied the original paper have not been uploaded. These will be added later. Also, I am looking into posting this paper in the research section of this site. Failing that, the paper will remain as a link off my main site. Parks

  2. William Ajello

    William Ajello said:

    Thanks Parks, I'll have to check that out in the morning, You know how I feel about your site...it's terrific! Bill

  3. Bill Wormstedt

    Bill Wormstedt said:

    Thanks for bring this to our attention, Parks! Please let us know when the the images are up. Bill

  4. Beverly J. Crowder

    Beverly J. Crowder said:

    YES! YES! YES! I am SOOOO excited that you gentlemen finally decided to submit your work! I believe that you gentlemen are "spot on" as to what happened to Titanic and it is such a relief to finally hear it has been presented to the panel for review! The website is wonderful, thank you very much for sharing it with us and please keep us up to date as to the progress of the hearings! I am soo excited, can you tell??? 3 Cheers for the Captains!! Sincerely, Beverly

  5. Michael H. Standart

    Michael H. Standart said:

    I just read the paper half an hour ago and I'm looking forward to the images myself. David and Parks did a super job on this work, and I only hope it gets the attention and sparks the discussion and debate it deserves to. Well done! Cordially, Michael H. Standart

  6. Parks Stephenson

    Parks Stephenson said:

    People may notice incongruities between the Paper and the information relating to the collision found elsewhere on my site. I spent all my available time working with Dave on the Paper, leaving my site to lag behind in the process. I will hopefully have the relevant sections rewritten before weekend's end. The images that remain to be uploaded are excerpts from the builder's plans to illustrate the various spaces involved. If you're familiar with those, then you're not missing anything. When Dave gets back online, he'll have something to say about the reception he received from the august Panel. Parks

  7. Erik Wood

    Erik Wood said:

    Captain Brown and Parks, Good Luck and from what Dave has said you will need it. My venture so far has been apparntly a little more successful but that is because I have yet to use the name Titanic in my work. Having read the work in question it is a excellent piece of "white paper" and deserves far and honest feedback of all. I admire deeply Captain Brown and Parks efforts and hard work. They give us all something to shoot for in our research of Titanic. While having read and discussed the "grounding theory" with Captain Brown both over the phone and in person my opinions may be somewhat jaded. However, I think that if any true mariner were to read this "white paper" then they would find that it is a very accurate description of how a ship works for the most part. It leaves very little detail out and is crammed with knowledge and facts. I must admit that I have used Captains Browns theory (of course crediting him fully) for the grounding theory in my efforts to

  8. David G. Brown

    David G. Brown said:

    My presentation at the Marine Forensic Panel was met with everything from fixed attention to indifference and even feigned sleep. Most of the people remained to listen to me. To say that I was "playing to a hostile room" would not be an exaggeration. But, before anyone's blood boils, I must state that our (Parks & Dave) theory of the Titanic effectively grounding on the iceberg constitutes a major change from the conventional view of the accident. Many people in that room have spent years studying the accident and have invested a great deal of themselves in the conventional story. It would be presumptuous for us to think that they would suddenly abandon all loyalty to their own work. In other words, my reception was exactly what I expected. At no time did I ever expect the members of the Panel to accept our "white paper" without resistance. The important thing is that the idea has now been formally introduced. Some members of the panel will give it no more thought.

  9. William Ajello

    William Ajello said:

    Dave and Parks, My congratulations on a very interesting paper on the GROUNDING OF THE TITANIC on the iceberg, it was thorough and comprehensive and I, too, are looking forward to the images you will include later. I have a question for either one of you or both, would your theory explain Walter Lord's assesment of the iceberg damage in "The Night Lives On" on page 65 in the chapter called The Gash and I quote: Nor was that all. There is important, often-overlooked evidence that the next compartment aft, Boiler Room #4, suffered damage entirely independant of the gash. Initially, there was no sign of damage here, but an hour and 40 minutes after the crash, water began seeping over the floor plates from somewhere below. The flow was gradual, but more than the pumps could handle. And just a few sentences down, he writes: It must be emphasized that this water came from below, not above. The flooding of Boiler Room #4 was not part of the process of the

  10. Bill Wormstedt

    Bill Wormstedt said:

    Congrats, guys! David - when you were telling George B. and I some of the changes to your ideas *since* you had written your book, I was hoping that you would see fit to publish them somewhere. Very glad to see you did! Not to leave Parks out of the equation, either!

  11. Michael H. Standart

    Michael H. Standart said:

    Hi David, I'm glad that they at least heard you out even if a few pretended not to. Hopefully, this will lead to a fresh appraisal of the evidence, all of which has been around since 1912! Cordially, Michael H. Standart

  12. Parks Stephenson

    Parks Stephenson said:

    Our Paper about the grounding is not all-inclusive. The argument focused on the central event and as a result, left other questions unanswered. One question which puzzles me is how ice came to fall into Titanic's forward well deck. Keep in mind the reported height of the iceberg, along with the lack of reported contact (or evidence apparent on the wreck) between the ice and any portion of the upper (C Deck and above) hull, masts and rigging. Any thoughts along this line would be appreciated. Parks

  13. Michael H. Standart

    Michael H. Standart said:

    Hi Parks, FWIW, I'd account for the fact that bergs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it's not inconcievable that something may have been jutting out from the side that the ship hit. Likewise, the impact forces may have been enough to send exposed chunks flying in all directions...including the well deck. Cordially, Michael H. Standart

  14. Dave Hudson

    Dave Hudson said:

    Perhaps a spur or peak was fractured and dislodged by the impact. If the fracture was angled in the right way, it could have sent a sizable piece of ice falling at an angle toward the welldeck. When it landed, it shattered into small chunks. This is just an idea and I really have no clue what I'm talking about. It makes sense to me though! David

  15. Parks Stephenson

    Parks Stephenson said:

    Michael and David, Basically, you're saying the same thing (David, I looked at your diagram) and you both could be right. I also favour that theory, based on the absence of evidence pointing to the iceberg impacting the ship above C Deck (or even the waterline). In our Paper, I took it upon myself to address this. Dave and I discussed it, and the possibility that Titanic actually tipped the berg when she rode over it. That started to divert focus from our main topic, so I ended the thought about the fallen ice ambiguously. I don't know if we'll ever solve this, but I'm looking forward to the discussions. Parks

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) The Grounding of Titanic (Titanica!, ref: #1511, published 28 August 2003, generated 20th January 2023 02:34:11 AM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-grounding-of-the-titanic.html