The Iceberg — Resurfaced?

Icebergs photographed after the sinking bear the hallmarks of a collision.

Titanica!

Nearly nine decades after the Titanic went down in the Atlantic, probably the first authentic photograph of the iceberg has come to light. It lay unpublished in private ownership until it was rediscovered in April 2000. The photograph shows scars of damage to the iceberg. Combining all indications as described in this report it can be claimed that this new iceberg photograph indeed shows the "real" iceberg. The original print now is kept in a bank safe in Munich.

1. The Rehorek Iceberg

A Bohemian named Stephan Rehorek was on board the German steamer Bremen 1. This ship sailed past the scene of the accident on its way from Bremerhaven to New York. This event is described in detail in Logan Marshall’s book: 2 on 20th April the Bremen sailed into the area of the disaster, the people on board could see wreckage and the bodies of more than a hundred victims floating on the water. What is more, according to Marshall, an iceberg was sighted "in the vicinity" which fitted precisely the description of the Titanic iceberg 3. A plan by the Bremen to pick up the dead bodies was finally not implemented when it was heard that the Mackay-Bennett, chartered for that purpose, was only two hours away.

Stephan Rehorek, too, was witness to the horrifying consequences of the tragedy and he took a photograph of the iceberg. After his arrival in New York he sent a first postcard home, postmarked 25th April. On the front of this card was a picture of the Titanic:

"Dear Mother and Father, Best wishes from New York. I am sending you a picture of a dutch 4 fast ocean liner which sank on its maiden voyage. It was the biggest in the world. Two days away from New York it collided with an iceberg and the ship was severely damaged on one side. Almost 1,600 people drowned and about 670 were rescued. I have a photograph of the iceberg and will send it to you (...) I also saw the bodies of the drowned and the wreckage from the ship. It was a dreadful sight."

Some weeks later 5 he had the photographs of the icebergs printed onto postcards and from Cherbourg sent one of it to his parents, and wrote:

"Dear Mother and Father, (...) This card is a view of the iceberg that collided with and sank the Titanic liner. I will send a card to Josef, too."

The postcard sent to his brother Josef has also survived, but it shows a souvenir picture of the "Titanic". From the message on the card it seems that Stephan Rehorek only had one single print made of the iceberg photograph, because he tells his brother:

"Dear Josef, I am sending you, too, a postcard of the ship that sank (...) We were following about a thousand miles behind it.(...) Next time you come home our brother will show you pictures of the icebergs which were photographed from our ship."

Stephan Rehorek kept two other existing photographs, which show another iceberg. One of the pictures shows part of the steamer from which Rehorek took the photographs. Obviously Rehorek did not sent the pictures with that iceberg floating in the background, nor the photograph showing the iceberg at closer quarters, as postcards because he did not think the iceberg depicted was the famous one that sank the Titanic.

 

These postcards have until now been in private ownership, the photographs have never been published 6. The iceberg card shows the place where the ice was chipped away: on the photograph a severed edge is discernible exactly on the side scraped along by the Titanic. It is clear that the damage to the iceberg was greatest below the water line but this is not visible on Rehorek’s photograph. Although we now have the shape of the fateful iceberg depicted in a photograph, we still cannot deduce with any certainty how large it was. We do not have any recognizable reference objects.

2. Eye-witness reports

A few days after the tragedy the Senate Investigation Committee convened in New York to discover the details of exactly what happened. One after another, witnesses were asked to describe what happened during the collision. Most of them had been asleep at the time and only very few had actually seen the iceberg. The fateful collision itself lasted only a few seconds and, what is more, it was a black, moonless night. So the descriptions of the iceberg were all very different from each other. It was Frederick Fleet, the lookout positioned in the crow’s nest at the foremast who caught sight of the iceberg first and, therefore, had the best view of it, but he failed miserably when he was asked to describe it to the investigation committee. He was unable to provide satisfactory answers to the majority of Senator Smith’s questions: 7

Smith: "How long before the collision or accident did you report ‘Ice ahead’?"

Fleet: "I have no idea."

Smith: "About how long?"

Fleet: "I could not say at the rate she was going."

Smith: "How fast was she going?"

Fleet: "I have no idea."

(...)

Smith: "How large an object was this when you first saw it?"

Fleet: "It was not very large when I first saw it."

Smith: "How large was it?"

Fleet: "I have no idea of distances or spaces."

Smith: "Was it the size of an ordinary house? Was it as large as this room appears to be?"

Fleet: "No, no. It did not appear very large at all."

Smith :"Was it as large as the table at which I am sitting?"

Fleet: "It would be as large as those two tables put together when I saw it at first." 8

This last answer partly is still being misinterpreted today. First of all, what Fleet says is usually held to be his own description but, in fact, the idea of comparing it with the size of a table was suggested to him by Senator Smith; the words were more or less put into his mouth. And the second misinterpretation which persists is that the quotation has always been understood as if Fleet, when he spoke of "two tables put together", was describing the shape of the iceberg. In fact, the sailor was referring to the apparent size of the iceberg. Fleet said absolutely nothing about its shape.

Senator Smith wanted to know the exact size of the iceberg and persevered:

Smith: "How large did it get to be, finally when it struck the ship?"

Fleet: "When we were alongside, it was a little bit higher than the forecastle head."

Smith: "The forecastle head is how high above the water line?"

Fleet: "50 feet I should say."

Smith: "So that black mass, when it finally struck the ship, turned out to be about 50 feet above the water?"

Fleet: "About 50 or 60."

Some others also saw the iceberg go by and described their impressions to the investigation committee. Joseph G. Boxhall, the Fourth Officer on the Titanic was questioned by Senator Smith:

Smith: "Did you see it? (i.e.: the iceberg)"

Boxhall: "I was not very sure of seeing it. It seemed to me to be just a small black mass rising not very high out of the water, just a little at the starboard quarter."

Smith: "How far do you think, should you judge? (...) Did it extend up to B deck?"

Boxhall: "Oh no; the ship was past it then. It looked to me to be very, very low in the water."

Smith: "How far do you think it was above the water?(...) Above the ship’s rail?"

Boxhall: "No."

Smith: "And how far was this rail above the water´s edge?"

Boxhall: "Probably about 30 feet."

One remarkable account was given to the British Commission. Titanic seaman Joseph Scarrott had seen the iceberg in that fateful night:

Mr. Butler Aspinall: " What was the shape of this iceberg?"

Scarrott: " Well, it struck me at the time that it resembled the Rock of Gibraltar looking at it from Europa Point. It looked very much the same shape as that, only much smaller."

The Commissioner: "Like a lion couchant?"

Scarrott: "As you approach Gibraltar - it seemed that shape. The highest point would be on my right, as it appeared to me."

Scarrott first described the view as from the "Europa Point". But the commissioner asked for another point of view - the "lion couchant". The widely known shape of the Rock of Gibraltar (with the highest point on the left side) usually was compared with a "lion couchant". It is the view that ships get right after they have entered the Bay of Gibraltar heading for the harbour. It is remarkable that Scarrott resembled the Rock with the highest point on the right side. That means: Scarrott saw an iceberg that looked like the Rock but inverted. Fortunately the steamer Bremen had the same position to the iceberg as the Titanic has had some days before: so Rehorek took his iceberg picture from the same point of view as the eye-witness Scarrott has had on board the Titanic a few seconds after the collision. For this reason we can create a direct comparison between both views: the shape of the Rock (as to be seen as a "lion couchant" from the Bay) and the shape of the iceberg. Indeed the Rehorek iceberg matches the Rock - with the highest point on the right side, as Scarrott has said.

3. Icebergs in the area

Not far from the scene of the tragedy, on April 15th the German steamship Prinz Adalbert passed by an iceberg with signs of red paint on it. A photograph was taken of it merely out of curiosity at the unusual red paint marks. As it is told, it was only later that the crew learned that the Titanic, whose keel had been painted red, had collided with an iceberg. This meant that this iceberg must have been one of the "chief suspects". Even though the puzzle of the red paint cannot be solved, this can hardly have been the iceberg which the Titanic collided with: it is known that the Titanic ripped great chunks out of the iceberg and did not simply leave a few scars of red paint. We cannot say anything of the real origin of the red color. Maybe it was from a ship, maybe it was a colored layer. Icebergs with layers in different colors (mostly brownish) are not scarce. But there is nothing in the Prinz Adalbert iceberg photograph which suggests the impact of violent forces. Another question is not answered yet: How is it possible, that from this wireless equipped steamer (with a range of 250 nautical miles) a daylight picture of the "suspicious" iceberg has been taken the day after the disaster without any knowledge of the catastrophe? Unfortunately the picture is black and white and further studies about this color are not possible. Of course a dark layer crossing the berg is clearly to be seen.

The cable ship Mackay-Bennett was chartered to pick up the bodies of the dead. Another iceberg was photographed from this ship but here again there is no recognisable scraping damage nor is there any resemblance with the witness’ drawings or Scarrotts account. The same is true of all the previously known photographs of icebergs taken in the vicinity of the scene of the tragedy.

How many icebergs were there in the area? It is well known that the Titanic sank near a large field of icebergs. Arthur Rostron, Captain of the rescue ship Carpathia, reported to the US investigation committee:

"By the time we had the first boat´s people it was breaking day, and then I could see the remaining boats all around within an area of about 4 miles. I also saw icebergs all around me. There were about 20 icebergs that would be anywhere from about 150 to 200 feet high and numerous smaller bergs."

This statement only appears to be in contradiction to the pictures we have of the rescue operation: on some pictures showing life-boats and survivors shortly before their rescue by the Carpathia there are no signs of any icebergs or even crawlers at all. It must simply have been that the photographer had his back to the field of icebergs which means they must have been on the other side of the Carpathia. In this context it is worth mentioning an observation made by the German steamship Rhein: the ship crossed the area a few days after the catastrophe and reported not only of bodies and wreckage drifting in the water but also of only three larger icebergs in the immediate vicinity of the disaster 9

4. Drawings

Two drawings show the basic shape of the iceberg that was rammed as it was seen by eye-witnesses. One of them is a quick sketch from memory by Joseph Scarrott. What is characteristic of the iceberg are the two clear peaks as well as a slight rise in the middle. At either end the iceberg falls steeply into the water. It is not really possible to identify any further details from the drawing but the basic shape depicted in this drawing closely matches that in one of the others: 10 on the morning after the tragedy Colin Campbell Cooper, a passenger on the rescue ship Carpathia, made a drawing of the iceberg with its two peaks (see inset picture). The rise in the middle, recorded by Scarrott, can be identified in Cooper’s drawing to the right of the foremost peak. As Cooper was one of America’s most well known painters and, apart from having a well-trained eye, he also had a talent for form and structure, his picture can be taken to be an accurate depiction of the shape of the iceberg. Not only are the two peaks clearly recognisable in his drawing – as in Scarrott’s drawing, too – but also a further, as yet, little noticed detail: at the lower edge Cooper sketches an area where part of the iceberg has been chipped away. One can imagine, once the surviving eye-witnesses of the Titanic disaster were safely on board the Carpathia, that news of a close-hand re-encounter with the fatal iceberg, identified by some of the surviving eye-witnesses, would have spread around the ship like wildfire. Cooper would have grabbed his drawing materials and captured this moment in his drawing. Consequently, a photograph resembling Cooper’s drawing of the iceberg must be a picture of the iceberg that rammed the Titanic. And this is precisely the case with the photograph taken by Stephan Rehorek.

5. Summary

So, does this mean with absolute certainty that we are looking at the most famous iceberg in the history of Christian seafaring, or is there still cause for doubt? Each clue taken on its own would not be sufficient evidence, but the sum of all the clues does point very strongly to the conclusion that the Rehorek photograph really shows the fateful iceberg:

1. The photograph was taken shortly after the tragedy in a certain vicinity to the place where the dead bodies and the wreckage of the ship were drifting in the water. This is also true for the other, well known, photographs claiming to show the fateful iceberg, but this is the only link they can claim except the red color of the Prinz-Adalbert iceberg .

2. The shape and details of the Rehorek iceberg match the drawings made by eye-witnesses. And the shape perfectly match the Rock of Gibraltar that had been compared with the iceberg by the eye-witness Joseph Scarrott.

3. The otherwise undamaged iceberg displays only one place where ice has been chipped off.

4. The damage to the Rehorek iceberg is at exactly the spot at which the Titanic would have hit it 11.

It can therefore be claimed that this recently recovered photograph which has been taken in April 1912 from the Bohemian Stephan Rehorek probably shows the iceberg that was rammed by the Titanic.


Notes

1. Rehorek does not, in fact, say that he was on board the steamer "Bremen" owned by the "Norddeutscher Lloyd" shipping company. There are, however, a lot of indications that this was so: 1. What he writes about the situation in the text on the postcard corresponds exactly to Logan Marshall’s description of the trip made by the Bremen. 2. One of Rehorek’s postcards carries a "Bremerhaven" postmark, which is where the "Norddeutscher Lloyd" company was based, 3. An earlier card sent by Rehorek shows a picture of the Bremen. 4. Rehorek says himself that he was travelling "1000 miles" behind the Titanic, and so he must have passed by the scene of the tragedy around 20th April. According to Logan Marshall this is the date on which the Bremen reached the area.

2. Logan Marshall: The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters (1912), Chap. XXI

3. Marshall quotes a Bremen passenger: "The officers told us that was probably the berg hit by the Titanic..."

4. We will never know why Rehorek wrote of a "dutch" liner. According to all informations about Rehorek that are available yet he could have been a seaman. But if he was, he probably should know that the Titanic was not dutch. Reading several other postcards he sent home he seems to have travelled many times over the Atlantic. In another card he wrote that he is "looking forward to join a royal maneuver" of the german fleet. Was he a seaman or not? We cannot say yet for sure.

5. Postmark from 10.6.1912

6. As a collector of Titanic documents, I use the Internet a great deal. This is how a Czech collector of postcards obtained my e-mail address and offered me a total of seven of Stephan Rehorek’s postcards, among them the pictures of the icebergs. It transpired only later that one of them probably was the very first photograph of the iceberg showing the place where it had been rammed by the Titanic.

7. All accounts are taken from "The inquiry Project".

8. Fleet obviously meant the Senator’s table and another one next to it.

9. Logan Marshall: The Sinking of the Titanic (1912), Chap. XXI.

10. Both drawings printed in: Eaton/Haas: Titanic, Triumph und Tragödie, Munich 1997, Pg. 141.

11. I asked a glaciologist from a renowned research institute to provide an expert report on the point of impact on the ice. However, quite understandably, on the basis of only one photograph he was not able to draw any definitive conclusions. The damage to the iceberg could be an indication of natural decomposition – but it could equally be the result of external impact. Consequently the damage to the iceberg should not be seen as evidence, but rather as a clue.

Please note: This article is protected by copyright! Any duplication of the iceberg photographs 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 photographs. Duplication for private use is, of course, permitted.

Many thanks to Günter Bäbler for his support and to the "Titanic Inquiry Project".

The author: Henning Pfeifer (*1962) is member of the Titanic Verein Schweiz (Swiss Titanic Society) and is working as a journalist in Germany.


Text and Images © Henning Pfeifer, Germany

Acknowledgements

Henning Pfeifer

Comment and discuss

  1. Jan C. Nielsen said:

    Congratulations, Henning! --So finally, after all these years, we get to see the infamous iceberg (note: it doesn't look like a "black" berg either). Were there any pictures of the Titanic's victims in with the pictures that you acquired, Henning? I'm very interested in what the passengers and crew aboard the Bremen actually saw. Thanks very much for the interesting article.

  2. avatar

    Sam Brannigan said:

    This looks really good. Can I see the first bit please?? Regards Sam

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  3. Henning Pfeifer said:

    Hi Sam, thanks Jan. There are no victims to be seen in all three photographed pictures (the four other cards are printed souvenir cards Rehorek has bought). The iceberg had been in the vicinity but not among the victims. Maybe there are more pictures Rehorek has photographed, but we do not know for sure. However I don´t think so: he wrote to his parents that he just has photographed the icebergs in the area and did not mention other pictures... If you like to read more about what the people aboard the "Bremen" saw, please try this link (the Logan Marshall book online): ... Read full post

  4. Ben Holme said:

    Excellent article! The Rock of Gibralter comparison was convincing enough for me. I am, however, confused over one detail - most survivors, notably seaman Scarrot remembered the iceberg as having the tallest point on its RIGHT side and from Titanic's position, this would mean the OPPOSITE side from the point of impact, i.e the Titanic's starboard side must have hit the SMALLER LEFT peak based on Scarrot's observations. Rehorek's photo, however, reveals an iceberg which appeared to have met with collision on it's RIGHT side, which from the point of view of the Bremen, would have been... Read full post

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  5. Henning Pfeifer said:

    hello Ben, I hope I can put you out of your misery. (You wrote) "Scarrot remembered the iceberg as having the tallest point on its RIGHT side". This is correct. (You wrote) "...from Titanic's position, this would mean the OPPOSITE side from the point of impact, i.e the Titanic's starboard side must have hit the SMALLER LEFT peak based on Scarrot's observations." Maybe there are some misunderstandings: - The steamer Bremen had the same position to the iceberg as the Titanic has had before. You can deduce that from the position of the rammed edge of the iceberg combined with... Read full post

  6. Ben Holme said:

    Dear Henning, Thank you for clearing that up, and your English is better than you think! I now understand what had me baffled - Scarrott saw the berg AFTER the collision i.e when he looked aft. In other words, he saw the the TALLEST RIGHT peak striking the ship from his position. I had simply assumed that Scarrott had seen the berg COMING...I can't think why.. Apologies for the confusion, and thanks again. Best Regards, Ben

  7. Beverly J. Crowder said:

    Incredible work Henning and thank you! We would have never known that this picture exsisted. Amazing how it showed up in April 2000. Anniversary link?? There are scars, but no paint. On the other iceburg, there is red paint, or so it was said. I would think that if Titanic grounded on it(the iceburg), and (IF) red paint was visible on the iceburg, then the iceberg rolled slightly onto Titanic, thus the ice in the fwd. well deck and the red paint on the side of the iceburg. The iceburg did damage below the water level which would not have been visible on the outside of the ship. ... Read full post

  8. David G. Brown said:

    A couple of thoughts regarding "The Iceberg." First, I wouldn't rely on anyone's memory of specific details regarding the berg's appearance. After all, they only had a few seconds to view the berg on a dark night. The descriptions seem to confirm the fatal berg had points, but I wouldn't form any hard and fast conclusions beyond that. Something else -- Titanic was not traveling in a straight line during the accident. It was turning to the right at the moment of impact. This wold cause a constant change in the "face" of the berg as seen from the ship. Assuming the Fatal Berg was... Read full post

  9. Henning Pfeifer said:

    hello Beverly, Paul and David and thanks for all your remarks! To Paul: I think we will never know how far (or close) the iceberg exactly has been to the place of sinking. We even don´t know how far away from the victims the iceberg was that has been photographed by Rehorek. But from some reports before the Councils we know that there were not so many bigger icebergs in the area. I am convinced that the number of bigger icebergs (I don´t mean crawlers) in a (certain) vicinity to the place of sinking were pretty low. For that I believe that it was possible to find out which one... Read full post

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  10. Henning Pfeifer said:

    WHAT IF NOT THIS ONE... What we know for sure is that Rehorek made this photograph in the area of disaster when victims and parts of the ship were still afloat. If we state: "No, the Rehorek iceberg is NOT the one the Titanic had collided with", we then are doing pretty hard to find convincible answers which can explain all the indications I have listed at the aned of my report. These answers only could be: - Parts of the iceberg were lost not because of a collission but because of a natural weakness of this edge of the berg. Another collision between another ship and another... Read full post

  11. avatar

    Paul Rogers said:

    Hi David / Henning, David: Would you be kind enough to answer a question for me please? How fast would you imagine that Titanic steamed after the collision? Here's my thinking to explain the question: Assume Titanic steams at 6 knots for 20 minutes. (Is this a realistic speed for 'Slow Ahead?') I think this means that she'd be 2 nautical miles from the point of collision when she finally stopped. That's a fair old distance from the iceberg...and that's what raises the doubts in my mind about Henning's 'berg being "the one." Henning: Despite my doubts, your article was fascinating,... Read full post

  12. Beverly J. Crowder said:

    Ok, I know, too many questions again!!! How long would it take Titanic to stop after the ALL STOP had been ordered??? Does it take a mile? Considering she was RVSR Engines, would she stop quicker? I don't recall an anchor being dropped after the ALL STOP order. How much drift would there be? Wasn't Hitchens still at his post at the wheel for 45 mins. after the collision? Getting back to the frequented shipping lanes makes perfect sense to me. How much area was there between where the passengers were picked up from the wreck site, the actual wreck site, and the CQD/SOS collision... Read full post

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  13. David G. Brown said:

    Paul -- I would speculate that the ship made roughly 8 knots. Anything slower would have made steering too difficult. There is no way of knowing the exact speed or the exact number of minutes it steamed. In my mind I've always considered the distance on the order of 3 nautical miles. Beverly -- you have asked excellent questions that should tax some of our "rivet counters" for answers. I'm a bit too tired at the moment to tackle most of your inquiries. Perhaps Captain Erik can answer the question about how far a ship will "shoot" ahead if no effort is made to stop it with reverse... Read full post

  14. avatar

    Michael H. Standart said:

    One thing also to consider, the evidence for the Titanic reversing her engines is so scanty as to be unreliable in the extreme. Boxhall is the only one who asserts this, and this based on a conversation he said he overheard between Smith and Murdoch. Second hand in other words, and it's very probable that he got some details mixed up. None of the survivors on the bridge at the time this was actually happening reports such a thing. Cordially, Michael H. Standart

  15. Jan C. Nielsen said:

    Paul raises an interesting point. Was the site of the sinking (and bodies) so distant from the iceberg that drawing any linkage is next to impossible? According to Logan Marshall's book, the iceberg spotted was in the "vicinity" of the bodies. However, Marshall also relates a telegram from the McKay-Bennett to B. Ismay wherein it is reported that the steamer Rhein had bypassed the bodies about 8 miles from three icebergs, as follows: Two wireless messages addressed to J. Bruce Ismay, president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, were received on April 21st at the offices... Read full post

  16. Beverly J. Crowder said:

    Thank you Captian Brown, now where is Captian Erik? I would LOVE to know what everyone's hypothesis is!!! I truely thank you. Beverly

  17. David G. Brown said:

    In assessing drift, keep in mind that the bodies and the iceberg would not have drifted together for any length of time. The iceberg was tall, so exposed considerable "sail" area to the wind. It was also deep, so was greatly influenced by the speed and direction of sub-surface currents. The bodies floated in the top few feet of the sea and exposed little to the wind and not much more to the current. -- David G. Brown

  18. Henning Pfeifer said:

    Hello again and thanks to Jan for this analysis, which I fully support (who wonders ). I really think that discussions about distances hardly can argue against the Rehorek iceberg - and they cannot argue for this iceberg either. That´s why we don´t have any exact figures of these distances we could work with. I think we can state that there first was a certain distance between the iceberg and the place of sinking. If you are right, David, and there were different drifting speeds of the iceberg and of the victims - is it then true that the distance... Read full post

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  19. Jan C. Nielsen said:

    Here's a statement that one of the other members made about the iceberg that struck Titanic (I don't really know where it came from), but it's interesting to think about when you look at Henning's photographs:

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Encyclopedia Titanica (2003) The Iceberg — Resurfaced? (Titanica!, ref: #1513, published 28 August 2003, generated 2nd July 2020 03:46:11 PM); URL : https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/the-iceberg-resurfaced.html