Another Titanic Question

I read in National Geographic that some experts believe that had the Titanic actually hit the iceberg head on, instead of sideswiping it, it would likely have not sunk due to its watertight compartment design.

My understanding is that it was traveling at about 21 knots at the time, which is a relatively high rate of speed for something that large, so hitting the iceberg head on would certainly have heavily damaged or destroyed the bow, but apparently destroying the bow wouldn’t have been a fatal blow.

Is it commonly thought that had they not tried to avoid the iceberg that it is likely that the ship would not have sunk? And if that’s true, would any credible ship captain have been able to make the decision to hit the iceberg instead of trying to avoid it?

My WAG is that in the captain’s mind he made the decision to miss the iceberg as opposed to hitting it head on. Not sideswipe it as opposed to hit it head on.
Again, just guessing, but perhaps if he knew that he was only going to be able to avoid a head on collision and sideswipe the ship AND he knew how much damage he would cause (as opposed to just scrapping the side) then maybe that would have changed the outcome.

I imagine hitting the berg head on would have resulted in many injuries to the passengers, not to mention the ship. I think the best decision was to turn to miss the ice. I remember seeing (or reading) something about the fault in the rudder design of the ship. It was far too small to allow it to turn as it should have. They recommended a larger, or even an additional rudder.

The captian did not hve the time to caculate the damage of swipping it or hitting it head on. Also on her first voyage the captian would not have had a feel for the ship. So. Faced with hitting a iceberg head on at 21knotts major damage to his ship untold injuries, or hopefully missing it. His natural action was to try and miss it or only give it a glancing blow.

Few responsible captians would have just rung up emergency astern.

Not sure how historically accurate that is, but in the movie E.J. Smith (the captain) wasn’t even on the bridge for the collision as he was in his quarters (probably in bed). 1st Officer Murdoch was in charge at the time - he didn’t have Smith’s decades of experience.

Will second Pitchmeier’s take on this. Everything I have read on the subject (and that’s a lot) states that Captain Smith was not on the bridge at the time of the collision, and that the first officer was in command and gave all the orders regarding trying to miss the iceberg.

Frankly, I can’t visualize anyone deciding to ram head on into the berg, under any circumstances. And stopping without warning from 21 kts to zero in the space of fifty to a hundred feet would undoubtedly caused horrendous injuries and/or deaths amoung the sailors and passengers. Mayby not as bad as what actually happened, but would anyone here want to make that decision, in the few moments that were available between realizing what was ahead and the collision?

A more reasonable scenario would have been to leave all the watertight doors open, so that the ship sank on an even keel. I’ve seen speculation that this may have added an hour or two to the life of the ship, and it wouldn’t have broken in two when it did finally sink. The thing that really accelerated the sinking was the bow going down first, and adding all those openings in the bow section to the influx of water.

A way to characterize the whole thing is that the Titanic was a beautiful and strong ship (at least strong by the standards of the time) that was dreadfully mishandled by her officers.

I seem to recall at some point seeing a program where they tested out various scenarios. I think the head-on solution kept the ship afloat longer, but it ultimately capsized both quickly and unexpectedly. Not a great improvement.

If the captain had a century to think about it, he probably would have done something different, too.

I read somewhere that if they hadn’t cut the engines, they would have had more turning power. Don’t know if any of that’s true.

The mistake they made wasn’t whether to steer into or away from the iceberg. The only way you could possibly know that steering away from it was worse was to know ahead of time how much damage it would do. It’s easy to look back afterwards and say they should have done something differently, but with the knowledge they had at the time, steering away from it was the right thing to do.

On the other hand, they knew that they were traveling too fast to be able to properly maneuver out of the way of ice, but it was a decision that Captain Smith made due to pressure to get to New York on time. If the ship had been traveling slower, they would have been able to avoid the iceberg, and that was a decision that they had enough knowledge about ahead of time and should have done differently.

He probably did, though to little avail, having been in command of Olympic when it twice crashed.

He was on the bridge when Olympic pranged HMS Hawke.

And before he hit Hawke:

l wish I could find the cite, but for what it’s worth, years ago I read an account of Smith that states other captains, including those within White Star, considered him a risk-taking “hot-dogger.” (I remember the author stating that “hot-dogger” would be the description used today — “today” being 15 or 20 years ago), with those same collisions contributing to that reputation that had existed long before he commanded Olympic — which may help explain Titanic’s speed through an ice field.

Both of these figure into my WAG on the subject (which is worth exactly as much as you’re paying for it).

MHO, Murdoch’s fatal error was ordering back full on everything — particularly because the centerline (turbine-driven) shaft could not be reversed, only stopped. This deprived the rudder of its wash, drastically reducing the effect of putting the helm hard over. If he had ordered back full on the port shaft only, there may well have been enough deflection to miss the berg.

:smiley: Like it

Man, look how much damage the front of the MS Stockholm took in her collision with the side of the SS Andrea Doria in 1956 – but unlike the latter ship, the Stockholm was able to make it to New York. Does anybody have any idea how a head-on iceberg impact at 20+ knots would have made *Titanic *look compared to this?

The Stocholm did not hit somthing that was solid. The sides of the Andrea Doria were crushed. Ice is solid. Plus I do not believe the Stocholm was on a full ahead bell at the time. Plus I think a large Ice burg would have more mass to it. If the Titanic hit the ice burg straight on its bow would have been crushed back quite a ways and the sudden stop would have caused many injuries.

According to a theory I’ve read, this could be the case. Murdoh ordered hard aport on the rudder, and full reverse on the engines. Ordering full reveres on the engine meant that there was a pause wherein the propellers slowed down and stopped, before started going in the other direction, and then only two out of three propellers, as the middle propeller could not operate in reverse.

This meant that there were less waterflow over the rudders from the propellers, and hence less effect of the rudders, than if full ahead had been maintained. So according to the theory the correct thing would have been to either turn at full ahead, or stay on course and order full astern.

However, there are lots of conflicting information about what actually happend, at what distance they spotted the berg and so on. On this site information is presented that they in fact never stopped or reversed the enginges, altough the order to do so may have been given.

The site also has a intereseting analysis of the turning radius of the Titanic, seeming to indicate that the berg wasn’t spotted until very near, and thus no action taken would have had time to have much effect.

Yeah, clearly there’s a big difference between hitting the side of another ship at a low speed and ramming head-on into a big dense object like an iceberg at 20+ knots, but … how big of a difference?

Does anybody know if the simulations mentioned above are available to read about anywhere?

I realize that it’s pointless to second guess the captain 100 years after the fact, and it’s not like it really makes any difference, but what I had been wondering was if it was generally believed that hitting the iceberg straight on would have meant saving the ship from sinking… or delaying the sinking long enough to evacuate all of the passengers.

It sounds like the consensus is that it may have kept the ship from sinking as fast as it had otherwise, but there was certainly no guarantee that the ship would have survived the collision, even if the captain had realized that he had that option…

The pressure on Smith (from Ismay) was to get into New York early, on Tuesday night; the Titanic was firmly on schedule for their planned arrival of Wednesday.

Nitpick here: Murdoch ordered “hard a-starboard” which is the traditional order for a left turn on ships with tillers, because a turn to the left (port) required putting the tiller over to the right (starboard). They were still using traditional rudder orders aboard the Titanic, despite the fact that the helmsman was operating a wheel.

The same order aboard a modern U.S. Navy ship is “Hard left rudder.”

As a former naval officer, I can’t really disagree with Murdoch’s orders after the iceberg was spotted.

He was trying to either avoid the iceberg entirely, or at least minimize the force of impact if the ship did hit it. Yes, the two orders made both actions somewhat less effective, but he was likely trying to make the best of a bad situation.

One thing he might have considered was only ordering the backing bell for the left screw (propeller), which might have helped the turning motion, but would have reduced the overall backing force, of course.

I was trained on a single screw ship (a submarine) with a large rudder. In a similar situation, I would likely have ordered: “Hard left rudder!” along with “Back Emergency!”