The Final Seconds before Collision

By Bruce A. Trinque


The standard account of the last seconds before the Titanic collided with the fatal iceberg derives from “Shipping Casualties (Loss of the Steamship “Titanic”)”, the report of the investigators who conducted the British Enquiry into the sinking.  Based upon testimony from surviving crewmembers, a conclusion was reached that the Titanic had turned about two points to port before the collision occurred.  Based upon an experiment conducted with her sister ship Olympic, running at the same speed as the Titanic, it was determined that “about 37 seconds would be required for the ship to change her course to this extent after the helm had been put hard-a-starboard.”

Walter Lord in his classic “A Night to Remember” directly used the British Enquiry estimate in reconstructing the scene, stipulating a thirty-seven second interval between the lookout’s telephoned warning to the bridge and the actual impact.  John Eaton and Charles Haas in “Titanic: Triumph and Tragedy” speak of “a little more than half a minute” between sighting the iceberg and the collision.  Leo Marriott in “Titanic” estimates this same interval as being “a little more than 30 seconds.”  While other authors may not be as specific in defining the length of time, almost always they communicate some sense of a protracted period before the impact while the Titanic slowly, too slowly turns.  Nowhere is this more dramatically conveyed than in film versions of the event.  In both “A Night to Remember” and James Cameron’s movie, the interval between the wheel being put hard over and the actual collision with the iceberg is portrayed in nearly agonizing detail as we watch, probably hoping subconsciously that THIS time the Titanic will slip past unscathed.

Such accounts inevitably raise questions of whether the ship could have escaped entirely if only a few seconds earlier warning have been received, and would the Titanic have faired better if it had not turned at all but instead had hit the iceberg straight on (and thus avoiding a long injury in her side)?

Recently, however, Charles Pellegrino in “Ghosts of the Titanic” has challenged the standard version of these last seconds before the collision.  In that book, he contends that there was a much shorter time interval between warning and impact than the British Enquiry had concluded, and also that the ship turned to port not in response to the helm, but because the iceberg pushed the bow to the side.  It may be worth noting that, according to Pellegrino, Walter Lord had also come to believe that the British Enquiry 37-second gap was in error, despite his earlier use of that estimated time interval in his book.

Pellegrino has been sharply criticized for factual errors and carelessness in the way he uses sources.  As justified as this criticism may be, there is a danger in automatically dismissing all of his analysis and conclusions without further thought.  To assume that Pellegrino is wholly wrong because his approach may have been partially flawed could lead to our failure to adequately explore a valid idea he raises.  If we go too far in that direction, we will be as blindly smug as those who in 1912 were convinced of the Titanic’s invincibility.

I decided to examine Pellegrino’s conclusions in this particular matter for myself, working with accounts from surviving crew and officers as given at the American and British inquiries, when the experience was still fresh in their minds.  I will quote the relevant excerpts from their accounts, making preliminary comments after each individual’s testimony, and then will draw their accounts together into a general conclusion at the end.

Part I – Quartermaster Robert Hitchens
Part II – Lookout Frederick Fleet
Part III – Lookout Reginald Lee
Part IV – Second Officer Charles Lightoller
Part V – Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall
Part VI – Quartermaster Alfred Olliver
Part VII – Trimmer Thomas Dillon
Part VIII – Leading Stoker Frederick Barrett
Part IX – Fireman George Beauchamp
Part X – Greaser Frederick Scott
Part XI – Able Bodied Seaman Joseph Scarrott

Part I – Quartermaster Robert Hitchens (Hitchins, Hichens)

American Inquiry:

Q: I wish you would tell now, in your own way, what occurred that night from the time you went on watch until the collision occurred.
A:  … All went along very well until 20 minutes to 12, when three gongs came from the lookout, and immediately afterwards a report on the telephone, “Iceberg right ahead.”  The chief officer rushed from the wing to the bridge, or I imagine so, sir.  Certainly I am inclosed in the wheelhouse, and I can not see, only my compass.  He rushed to the engines.  I heard the telegraph bell ring; also give the order “Hard astarboard,’ with the sixth officer standing by me to see the duty carried out and the quartermaster standing by my left side.  Repeated the order, “Hard astarboard.  The helm is hard over, sir.”

Q:  Who gave the first order?
A:  Mr. Murdock, the first officer, sir; the officer in charge.  The sixth officer repeated the order, “The helm is hard astarboard, sir.”  But, during the time, she was crushing the ice, or we could hear the grinding noise along the ship’s bottom.  I heard the telegraph ring, sir.  The skipper came rushing out of his room – Capt. Smith – and asked, “What is that?”  Mr. Murdock said, “An iceberg.”  He said, “Close the emergency doors.”

Q:  Who said that, the captain?
A:  Capt. Smith, sir, to Mr. Murdock; “Close the emergency doors.”  Mr. Murdock replied, “The doors are already closed.”  The captain then sent for the carpenter to sound the ship …

Q:  … I want you to tell the committee, if you can, why you put the ship to starboard, which I believe you said you did, just before the collision with the iceberg?
A:  I do not quite understand you, sir.

Q:  You said that when you were first apprised of the iceberg, you did what?
A:  Put my helm to starboard, sir.  That is the orders I received from the sixth officer.

Q:  What was the effect of that?
A:  The ship minding the helm as I put her to starboard.

Q:  But suppose you had gone bows on against that object?
A:  I don’t know nothing about that.  I am in the wheelhouse, and, of course, I couldn’t see anything.

Q:  You could not see where you were going?
A:  No, sir; I might as well be locked in a cell.  The only thing I could see was my compass.

Q:  The officer gave you the necessary order?
A:  Gave me the order, “Hard a’starboard.”

Q:  Hard a’starboard?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  You carried it out immediately?
A:  Yes, sir; immediately, with the sixth officer behind my back, with the junior officer behind my back, to see whether I carried it out – one of the junior officers.

Q:  Is that the only order you received before this collision, or impact?
A:  That is all, sir.  Then the first officer told the other quartermaster standing by to take the time, and told one of the junior officers to make a note of that in the log book.  That was at 20 minutes of 12, sir.

British Enquiry:

Q:  Had you any instructions before she struck?  Had you been told to do anything with your helm before she struck?
A:  Just as she struck I had the order, “Hard a starboard” when she struck.

Q:  Just as she struck, is that what you said?
A:  Not immediately as she struck, the ship was swinging.  We had the order, “Hard a starboard,” and she just swung about two points when she struck.

Q:  You got the order, “Hard a starboard”?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Had you time to get the helm hard a starboard before she struck?
A:  No, she was crashing then.

Q:  Did you begin to get the helm over?
A:  Yes, the helm was barely over when she struck.  The ship had swung about two points.

Q:  Do let me understand, had she swung two points before the crash came?
A:  Yes, my Lord.

Q:  I am not quite sure that I understand what you had done to the helm before this.  You had got an order, “hard a starboard”?
A:  “Hard a starboard,” yes.

Q:  You proceeded at once to put the wheel hard a starboard?
A:  Immediately, yes.

Q:  Before the vessel struck had you time to get the wheel right over?
A:  The wheel was over then, hard over.

Q:  Before she struck?
A:  Oh yes, hard over before she struck.

Q:  Who gave the order “hard a starboard”?
A:  Mr Murdoch, the First Officer.

Q:  When had he come on the bridge?
A:  He relieved Mr Lightoller on the bridge at ten o’clock.

Q:  Did the Fourth and Sixth Officers, Mr Boxall and Mr Moody, remain?
A:  Mr Moody was standing behind me when the order was given.

Q:  And was Mr Boxall on the bridge?
A:  From what I am given to understand, Mr Boxall was approaching the bridge.

Q:  Was Captain Smith on the bridge?
A:  No, Sir.

Q:  Do you know where he was?
A:  Yes, Sir, in his room.

Q:  So far as you know was there any change in the speed at which the vessel was travelling before she struck?
A:  I took the log which was part of my duty at half a minute to ten, as near as I can tell, and the vessel was going 45 knots by the Cherub log every two hours.

Q:  Forty-five knots?
A:  Forty-five was registered on the log.

Q:  Was the speed altered before the collision?
A:  Well, the crash came immediately.

Q:  I know it did.  Had the speed been altered before?
A:  No, I could not say, my Lord, because I could not see the officer on the bridge.  I am in the wheelhouse.  I cannot see anything only my compass.

Q:  I think we can get at it in this way.  What was the first notice to you that there was something ahead?
A:  Three gongs from the crow’s nest, Sir.

Q:  That you would hear in the wheelhouse, would you?
A:  Certainly, Sir.

Q:  And you knew what that meant?
A:  Certainly, Sir.

Q:  The meant something ahead?
A:  Yes.

Q:  How long was that before the order came “Hard a starboard”?
A:  Well, as near as I can tell you, about half a minute.

Q:  In order that we may understand, if there was a telephone message from the crow’s nest to the bridge, would you hear it?  Would you know anything about it?
A:  Certainly so, Sir.

Q:  ...  What was the telephone message?  Did you hear any?
A:  I did not hear the message, but I heard the reply.

Q:  What was the reply?
A:  “Thank you”.

Q:  Who gave it?
A:  Mr Moody.

Q:  Then it means this, that Mr Moody, the Sixth Officer, got a telephone message after the three bells had been struck?
A:  Immediately after.

Q:  You did not hear what was said to Mr Moody, but you heard him acknowledge the message, and say “Thank you”?
A:  Yes.  I heard Mr Moody repeat, “Iceberg right ahead”.

Q:  To whom did he repeat that?
A:  To Mr Murdoch, the First Officer.

Q:  “Iceberg right ahead”, is that what he said?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Repeating what he had heard from the telephone message?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And then what happened?
A:  I heard Mr Murdoch rush to the telegraph and give the order, “Hard a starboard”.

Q:  When you say he rushed to the telegraph, is that the telegraph to the engine-room you are speaking of?
A:  Yes.

Q:  The order, “Hard a starboard,” was it to you?
A:  Yes.

Q:  … Do you know what order it was that was telegraphed to the engine-room?
A:  No.

Q:  … Now just for a minute give me your attention on the point of speed.  You have told us according to the log that the speed was 45 knots in two hours?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Up to the time of hearing the three bells struck, was there any change of the speed at which the vessel was proceeding?
A:  No, none whatever.

Q:  And the order if any, that was given with regard to the speed would be the order by telegraph to the engine-room, which you have told us you do not know?
A:  I do not quite understand you.

Q:  You have told us what happened.  First of all, the signal of the three bells, then the telephone message, then it was repeated to the First Officer, “Iceberg right ahead”, then the First Officer went to the telegraph to given an order to the engine-room and gave you the order, “Hard a starboard”?
A:  Yes.

Q:  At any rate up to his going to the telegraph as I follow you, there was not change of speed?
A:  No, Sir.

Q:  What that order was you do not know?
A:  No, Sir.

Q:  Then “Hard a starboard,” and you immediately put up your helm?
A:  Hard a starboard.

Q:  Right over?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What is it, 35 degrees?
A:  Forty degrees.

Q:  Then you got the helm right over?
A:  Right over, Sir.

Q:  Then she comes round two points and then strikes.  Is that right?
A:  The vessel veered off two point, she went to the southward of west.

Q:  And then struck?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Were there blinds in the wheel-house?
A:  Yes.

Q:  They were all closed?
A:  Always closed just after sunset.

Q:  And no lights were in the wheel-house at all except the compass light?
A:  And the small light.

Q:  And the small light on the course board?
A:  Yes.

Q:  … The helm was put hard a starboard?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And the ship moved two points?
A:  Yes.

Q:  … Did any one of the officers see you carry out the order?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Who?
A:  Mr Moody, and also the Quartermaster on my left.  He was told to take the time of the collision.

Q:  Let us get the fact of what happened.  Was Mr Moody there when you put the helm hard-a-starboard?
A:  That was his place, to see the duty carried out.

Q:  Was it his duty to report it?
A:  Yes, he reported the helm hard-a-starboard.

Q:  To whom?
A:  To Mr Murdoch, the First Officer.

Q:  Then you had put the helm hard-a-starboard and Mr Moody had reported it hard-a-starboard to Mr Murdoch?
A:  Yes.

Q:  … So that he had reported, and then it was after that that she strikes, is that right?
A:  She struck almost at the same time.

Q:  Almost as he reported it?
A:  Yes.

Q:  How long did you remain at the wheel?
A:  Until 23 minutes past 12.

Q:  And who relieved you?
A:  Quarter-master Perkis.

Q:  After she struck, did you notice at all what happened?
A:  No.

Q:  While you were remaining at the wheel until 12:23, could you see what was going on on board the vessel?
A:  I could not see anything.

Q:  You remained at your post?
A:  Yes.

Q:  I suppose you heard something of what was going on?
A:  I heard a few words of command, that was all.

Q:  Tell us what you heard in the way of command?
A:  Just about a minute, I suppose, after the collision, the Captain rushed out of his room and asked Mr Murdoch what was that, and he said, “An iceberg, Sir,” and he said, “Close the watertight door”.

Q:  … Came out of his room on to the bridge do you mean?
A:  Yes, Sir, he passed thorough the wheelhouse on to the bridge.

Q:  He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And asked Murdoch, “What is that?”
A:  Yes.

Q:  And Murdoch said, “An iceberg.”  Is that right?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Mr Murdoch said “An iceberg,” and then?
A:  The Captain immediately gave him orders to close the watertight doors.  He said, “They are already closed.”  He immediately then sent for the carpenter to sound the ship.

Q:  … You were given the order to hard-a-starboard?
A:  yes.

Q:  … She was never under a port helm?
A:  She did not come on the port helm, Sir – on the starboard helm.


Quartermaster Hitchens, the man at the Titanic’s wheel, is the key witness for providing the sequence of events in the wheelhouse and on the bridge.  Most of that sequence is clear:  Three bells are heard from the crow’s nest; the telephone connected to the crow’s nest rings; Sixth Officer Moody answers the phone, receives the message, and thanks the lookout; Moody informs First Officer Murdoch that there is an iceberg right ahead; Murdoch, who has come on to the bridge from outside, rushes to the engine-room telegraphs and he orders Hitchens “Hard a starboard” (meaning to turn the ship to port); Hitchens turns the helm hard a starboard; Moody confirms to Murdoch that the wheel is now hard a starboard.

There is some uncertainty, however, in exactly when the first instant of impact with the iceberg occurred.  At the American Inquiry, Hitchens seemingly states that when Moody is reporting that the helm was hard a starboard, “during the time, she was crushing the ice, or we could hear the grinding noise along the ship’s bottom.”  At the British Enquiry Hitchens said that “Just as she struck I had the order ‘Hard a starboard’.”  Then he explained that “Not immediately as she struck, the ship was swinging.  The ship had swung about two point when she struck.”  When asked if he had time to get the helm hard a starboard before the Titanic struck, Hitchens replied, “No, she was crashing then” although he then attempted to clarify this by saying that “the helm was barely over when she struck.  The ship had swung about two points.”  Later, Hitchens again said that the “wheel was over then, hard over” before the vessel struck the iceberg.  In a final bout of questioning, Hitchens was asked whether it was after Moody reported to Murdoch that the helm was hard a starboard that the Titanic struck the iceberg.  “She struck almost at the same time,” Hitchens answered, and then confirmed this statement in a follow-up question: “Almost as he reported it?” “Yes.”

Evidently, Moody’s confirmation to Murdoch that the helm was hard a starboard and the sounds indicating the hull was grinding along the iceberg were almost simultaneous.  At any rate, there seems to have been nothing like a thirty-seven second delay between the helm being turned and the impact.  Even deducting the time necessary for the quartermaster to actually turn the wheel full around to the desired position, Hitchens’ testimony leaves no appreciable gap between that event and the first sounds of collision.  Hitchens is consistent, however, in maintaining that the ship had veered about two points to port before striking the iceberg.

Part II – Lookout Frederick Fleet

American Inquiry:

Q:  When you see these things in the path of the ship, you report them?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  What did you report when you saw this black mass Sunday night?
A:  I reported an iceberg right ahead.

Q:  To whom did you report that?
A:  I struck three bells first.  Then I went straight to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge.

Q:  You struck three bells and went to the telephone and rang them up on the bridge?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you get anyone on the bridge?
A:  I got an answer straight away – what did I see, or “What did you see?”

Q:  Did the person who was talking to you tell you who he was?
A:  No.  He just asked me what did I see.  I told him an iceberg right ahead.

Q:  What did he say then?
A:  He said: “Thank you.”

Q:  Do you know to whom you were talking?
A:  No; I do not know who it was.

Q:  What was the object in sending the three bells?
A:  That denotes and iceberg right ahead.

Q:  It denotes danger?
A:  No; it just tells them on the bridge that there is something ahead.

Q:  You took both precautions; you gave the three bells, and then you went and telephoned the bridge?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Where did you have to go to the telephone?
A:  The telephone is in the nest.

Q:  The telephone is right in the crow’s nest?
A:  Yes.

Q:  You turned and communicated with the bridge from the nest?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Did you get a prompt response?
A:  I did.

Q:  And you made the statement that you have indicated?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Then what did you do?
A:  After I rang them up?

Q:  Yes, sir.
A:  I kept staring straight ahead again.

Q:  … Can you not indicate, in any way, the length of time that elapsed between the time that you first gave this information by telephone and by bell to the bridge officer and the time the boat struck the iceberg?
A:  I could not tell you, sir.

Q:  You can not say?
A:  No, sir.

Q:  You can not say whether it was five minutes or an hour?
A:  I could not say, sir.

Q:  … Do you know whether the ship was stopped after you gave that telephone signal?
A:  No, no; she did not stop at all.  She did not stop until she passed the iceberg.

Q:  She did not stop until she passed the iceberg?
A:  No, sir.

Q:  Do you know whether her engines were reversed?
A:  Well, she started to go to port while I was at the telephone.

Q: She started to go to port?
A:  yes; the wheel was put to starboard.

Q:  How do you know that?
A:  My mate saw it and told me.  He told me he could see the bow coming around.

Q:  They swung the ship’s bow away from the object?
A:  Yes; because we were making straight for it.

Q:  But you saw the course altered?  And the iceberg struck the ship at what point?
A:  On the starboard bow, just before the foremast.

Q:  … Did Lee and you talk over this black object that you saw?
A:  Only up in the nest.

Q:  What did you say about it?  What did he say about it to you or what did you say about it to him?
A:  Before I reported, I said, “There is ice ahead.” And then I put my had over to the bell and rang it three times, and then I went to the telephone.

Q:  What did he say?
A:  He said nothing much.  He just started looking.  He was looking ahead while I was at the phone and he seen the ship go to port.

Q:  Immediately when you saw it [the iceberg], you sounded three gongs, did you?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you, then, immediately after that, pick up the telephone?
A:  I went up to the telephone as soon as ever I struck three bells.

Q:  And telephoned to the bridge?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  And you got an answer immediately, did you?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Did you noticed how quickly they turned the course of the boat after you sounded the gongs?
A:  No, sir; they did not do it until I went to the telephone.  While I was at the telephone the ship started to move.

Q:  … How soon after you telephoned to the bridge did you strike the berg?
A:  I do not know.

Q:  Was it one minute or two minutes?
A:  I could not tell you.

Q:  What did you do in the meantime?
A:  We just kept a lookout.

Q:  You came nearer and nearer to it?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Did you notice that the boat was bearing out to the left from the berg, or was it going right ahead toward it?
A:  It was going right ahead, as far as we knew; but when I was at the phone it was going to port.

Q:  You could see that, yourself?
A:  Yes, sir; after I got up from the phone.

Q:  … What does three bells mean?
A:  Oh, three bells.  That means a vessel, or whatever it is, right ahead.  It indicates anything right ahead; any object.

Q:  It indicates that there is some object right ahead?  Is it a warning to people on the bridge that there is danger ahead?
A:  No; not always; just to let them know that there is some object ahead.

Q:  Yes.  When you gave the three bells did you immediately turn to the telephone?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  How long were you at the telephone?
A:  I suppose half a minute.

Q:  When you turned from the telephone and observed the course of the ship, you saw she had turned to port?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Did she turn immediately and suddenly, or gradually to port?
A:  Just started to go as I looked up.

Q:  Just started to go to port?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  To what extent did she change her course from the direct line?
A:  You mean how far did she go?

Q:  Yes.
A:  A little over a point, or two points.

Q:  Did she seem to respond readily to the wheel?
A:  Well, we do not know that.  We only know she went.

Q:  You could see she was going?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  And did she continue to bear to port?
A:  Until the iceberg was alongside of her.

British Enquiry:

Q:  Who was it first saw the berg?  Was it you or Lee?
A:  Well, I do not know.

Q:  Well, which of you gave the signal?
A:  I did.

Q:  You were looking ahead.  Will you tell my Lord what it was – what you saw? … Now describe to my Lord what it was you saw?
A:  Well, a black object.

Q:  A black object.  Was it high above the water or low?
A:  High above the water.

Q:  What did you do?
A:  I struck three bells.

Q:  Was it right ahead of you, or on the port or starboard bow?
A:  Right ahead.

Q:  You struck three bells immediately, I suppose?
A:  Yes, as soon as I saw it.

Q:  What did you do next?
A:  I went to the telephone.

Q:  Was that on the starboard side of the crow’s-nest?
A:  Yes.

Q:  You went to the telephone and – ?
A:  Rang them up on the bridge.

Q:  Did you get an answer?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you say anything to them at once or did they answer you before you told them?
A:  I asked them were they there, and they said yes.

Q:  Yes?
A:  Then they said, “What do you see?”  I said, “Iceberg right ahead.”  They said, “Thank you.”

Q:  Then you dropped the telephone, did you?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What did you do next?
A:  I kept the lookout.

Q:  You were approaching the berg meanwhile?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Are you able to give us the distance, or about the distance, the berg was from your ship when first you saw it?
A:  No.

Q:  We must get it from the events.  Did you notice any change in the heading of your vessel after you gave this report?
A:  After I rang them up on the ‘phone and looked over the nest she was going to port.

Q:  You were looking over the nest.  Were you still on the starboard side of the nest?
A:  No; my place is on the port, but I went to the starboard to telephone.

Q:  Did you remain there when you dropped the telephone, or did you go back to your own place?
A:  I went back to my own place again.

Q:  It would be on the port side of the crow’s-nest?
A:  On the port side.

Q:  You saw her head turn to port, I think I understood you to say?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Was the vessel still turning to port when she struck the berg, can you tell me? … Do not say you can if you cannot.
A:  She went to port all right, and the berg struck her on the starboard bow.

Q:  She went to port.  Do you mean she had a slight turn to port?
A:  Well, going to port.

Q:  She was still going to port when the berg struck her?
A:  On the starboard bow.

Q:  … Did the “Titanic” answer the helm, going to port, while you were still at the telephone?
A:  I do not know.

Q:  Well, just let me recall to your memory what you appear to have said in America.  [Reads a transcript of Fleet’s testimony on this point at the American Inquiry.]  That means to answer her helm – to answer the starboard helm and turn to port?
A:  Yes.

Q:  There is only one other matter.  Do you remember any conversation with Mr. Lightoller about the look-out and seeing the berg?  Just let me read you what Mr. Lightoller said.  [Reads a transcript of Lightoller’s testimony at the British Enquiry about a conversation he had with Fleet about seeing the iceberg and the ship turning to port.]  Is that right?
A:  Well, I am not going to tell him my business.  It is my place in Court to say that, not to him.

Q:  You really do not understand.  That gentleman is not trying to get round you at all.
A:  But some of them are, though.


Although Lookout Fleet was unable or unwilling to provide much information about distances or times (except for estimating that he was on the crow’s nest telephone for half a minute), his testimony to the sequence of events was consistent:  Fleet sees the black mass of the iceberg right ahead; he rings the bell three times; he turns to the crow’s nest telephone and informs the bridge that there is an iceberg right ahead; after being thanked for this information, Fleet returns to his lookout position and watches the Titanic approach the iceberg, at the same time swinging its bow to port.  The swing to port, according to Fleet, apparently began while he was still on the telephone.  Given that Fleet evidently dropped the phone immediately upon being thanked by Sixth Officer Moody for his report, the turn to port seems to have begun even before First Officer Murdoch could have ordered Hitchens to put the helm hard a starboard.  Nothing in Fleet’s testimony directly addresses the length of time between the helm being put hard over and the instant of collision.

Part III – Lookout Reginald Lee

British Enquiry:

Q:  Before half-past eleven on that watch – that is, seven bells – had you reported anything at all, do you remember?
A:  There was nothing to be reported.

Q:  Then what was the first thing you did report?
A:  The first thing that was reported was after seven bells struck; it was some minutes, it might have been nine or ten minutes afterwards.  Three bells were struck by Fleet, warning “Right ahead,” and immediately he rung the telephone up to the bridge.  “Iceberg right ahead.”  The reply came back from the bridge, “Thank you.”

Q:  Seven bells struck, and about ten minutes after Fleet struck three bells?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you notice what the ship did?
A:  As soon as the reply came back “Thank you,” the helm must have been put hard-a-starboard or very close to it, because she veered to port, and it seemed almost as if she might clear it, but I suppose there was ice under water.

Q:  She veered to port.  Her helm must have been put hard-a-starboard?
A:  Yes.

Q: … You saw the iceberg as the vessel veered to port, did you?
A:  I saw it before that.

Q:  Yes, you had seen it before, but that had been reported?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Where did you get the iceberg – on what side of you?
A:  On the starboard hand as she was veering to port.

Q:  You had the iceberg on your starboard side?
A:  Yes.

Q:  You were on the starboard side of the crow’s nest, you told us?
A:  Just at that time I happened to be in front of the nest, because as the nest is semi-circular the telephone is in the corner of the nest on the starboard side.  My mate was telephoning from there, and I was standing in the front of the nest watching the boat.

Q:  Do you mean you were standing just about amidships?
A:  Just about amidships in front of the nest.

Q:  You were watching the berg.  You had got the berg on the starboard side as the vessel’s head veered to port?
A:  Yes.


Lookout Lee’s testimony is in good agreement with Fleet’s (although Lee was more forthcoming with distance estimates; elsewhere in his testimony, he estimated that the iceberg might have been half a mile distant or more or perhaps less when he first saw it).  They see the iceberg; Fleet rings the bell three times; Fleet telephones the bridge to say “Iceberg right ahead” and is thanked for his information.  Lee stated that the ship started to veer to port as soon as Fleet’s telephone message had been acknowledged. Nothing in Lee’s testimony directly addresses the length of time between the helm being put hard over and the instant of collision.

Part IV – Second Officer Charles Lightoller

British Enquiry:

Although Lightoller, who had been lying awake in his bunk at the moment of collision, could prevent no direct evidence about what occurred on the bridge, he did testify to a conversation he had had with Lookout Fleet.

Q:  Did you have any talk with Fleet, the look-out man?
A:  On the “Carpathia”?

Q:  Yes.
A:  Yes.

Q:  He has not been called yet, but you might tell us what he said.
A:  I asked him what he knew about the accident and induced him to explain the circumstances.  He went on to say that he had seen the iceberg so far ahead.  I particularly wanted to know how long after he struck the bell the ship’s head moved, and he informed me that practically at the same time that he struck the bell he noticed the ship’s head moving under the helm.

Q:  … You say that you had some conversation with Fleet, the look-out man, when you got to the “Carpathia,” and you have told us what he said.  You gathered from him, apparently, the impression that the helm was probably put over before and not after the report from the look-out?
A:  Distinctly before the report.

Q:  That was the inference you drew?
A:  Yes.

Q:  I should call your attention to this.  We have had the evidence of the Quartermaster, who was steering at the time – a man named Hitchins.  Has your attention been called to the fact that he distinctly says that the order “Hard a starboard” was given after this report, and not before?
A:  I was not aware of that. … I am only giving what Fleet told me, you understand.

Q:  What he says is they heard three bells, that there was a telegraph [sic], and the answer “Thank you” from Mr. Moody, that he reported an iceberg right ahead to Mr. Murdoch, and that Mr. Murdoch rushed to the telegraph to stop the engines, and at the same time ordered “Hard a starboard”?
A:  Exactly.

Q:  If that is right, your impression gathered from Fleet must be wrong?
A:  If Hitchins is right, then Fleet must be wrong.


Second Officer Lightoller may have misunderstood what Fleet had said aboard the Carpathia.  Neither Fleet nor Lee indicated that the vessel began turning as early as when the three bells were struck.  Both lookouts associate the Titanic beginning to veer to port with Fleet’s telephone report to the bridge.

Part V – Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall

American Inquiry:

Q:  Where were you when the collision occurred?
A:  I was just approaching the bridge.

Q:  On the port side or the starboard side?
A:  Starboard side.

Q:  Did the collision occur on the or the starboard side?
A:  On the starboard side, sir.

Q:  And you were on the deck at that time?
A:  On the deck, sir.

Q:  Approaching the bridge?
A:  Just approaching the bridge.

Q:  Could you see what had occurred?
A:  No, sir; I could not see what had occurred.

Q:  Did you know what had occurred?
A:  No, not at all.  I heard the sixth officer say what it was.

Q:  What did he say that it was?
A:  He said we had struck an iceberg.

Q:  Was there any evidence of ice on any of the decks, to your knowledge, after that collision?
A:  Just a little on the lower deck.  On the open deck I saw just a little, not much.

Q:  Do you know whether anyone was injured by that impact?
A:  No, I do not know; I have never heard.

Q:  Did you continue to go toward the bridge after the impact?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  How far did you go?
A:  At the time of the impact I was just coming along the deck and almost abreast of the captain’s quarters, and I heard the report of three bells.

Q:  What kind of a report?  Describe it.
A:  The lookout’s report.

Q:  What was said?
A:  Three bells were struck.

Q:  Three bells?
A:  That signifies something has been seen ahead.  Almost at the same time I heard the first officer give the order “Hard astarboard,” and the engine telegraph rang.

Q:  What did the order mean?
A:  Ordering the ship’s head to port.

Q:  Did you see this iceberg at this time?
A:  Not at that time.

Q:  Did it extend above the deck that you were on?
A:  Oh, no, sir; it did not extend there.

Q:  A little lower?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Do you know whether it struck the bow squarely?
A:  It seemed to me to strike the bluff of the bow.

Q:  Describe that.
A:  It is in the forward part of the ship, but almost on the side.

Q:  On which side?
A:  It is just where the ship begins to widen out on the starboard side.

Q:  How far would that be from the front of the ship?
A:  I do not know.

Q:  About how far?
A:  I could not say in feet.

Q:  How far would it be from the eyes?
A:  I do not know.  I could not say.

Q:  You could not describe that?
A:  No, you could measure it on the plans, though.

Q:  About how far?
A:  I could not say how many feet.  I have no idea of the number of feet.

Q:  But it was not a square blow on the bow of the ship?
A:  No. sir.

Q:  In ordinary parlance, would it be a glancing blow?
A:  A glancing blow.

Q:  Was the blow felt immediately?
A:  A slight impact.

Q:  How slight?
A:  It did not seem to me to be very serious.  I did not take it seriously.

Q:  Slight enough to stop you in your walk to the bridge?
A:  Oh, no, no, no.

Q:  So slight that you did not regard it as serious?
A:  I did not think it was serious.

Q:  Did you proceed to the bridge?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  Whom did you find there?
A:  I found the sixth officer and the first officer and the captain?

Q:  The sixth officer, the first officer, and the captain?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  All on the bridge together?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  What, if anything, was said by the captain?
A:  Yes, sir.  The captain said, “What have we struck?”  Mr. Murdock, the first officer, said, “We have struck and iceberg.”

Q:  Then what was said?
A:  He followed on to say – Mr. Murdock followed on to say, “I put her hard a starboard and run the engines full astern, but it was too close; she hit it.”

Q:  That was before she struck?
A:  No; after.

Q:  That was after she struck?
A:  Yes.

Q:  He said that he put her hard a starboard?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  But it was too late?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  And he hit it?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  What did the captain say?
A:  Mr. Murdock also said, “I intended to port around it.”

Q:  “I intended to port around it”?
A:  “But she hit before I could do any more.”

Q:  Did he say anything more?
A:  “The water-tight doors are closed, sir.”

Q:  What did the captain say?
A:  Mr. Murdock continued to say, “The water-tight doors are closed, sir.”

Q:  Mr. Murdock continued to say, “Are they closed”?
A:  No; “They are closed.”

Q:  “The water-tight doors are closed”?
A:  “Are closed.”

Q:  Do you understand by that that he had applied the –
A:  I saw him close them.

Q:  He had applied the electricity?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  And by that had closed the water-tight compartments?
A:  Yes, sir; and the captain asked him if he had rung the warning bell.

Q:  What did he say?
A:  He said, “Yes, sir.”

Q:  What is the warning bell?
A:  It is a small electric bell which rings at every water-tight door.

Q:  And he said that that had been done?
A:  Yes, sir.

Q:  What else did he say?
A:  We all walked out to the corner of the bridge then to look at the iceberg.

Q:  The captain?
A:  The captain, first officer, and myself.

Q:  Did you see it?
A:  I was not very sure of seeing it.  It seemed to me to be just a small black mass not rising very high out of the water, just a little on the starboard quarter.

British Enquiry:

Q:  Was the first intimation that there was ice about the striking of the three bells, so far as you were concerned?
A:  No, when we struck the berg; that was the first.

Q:  Do you mean you felt the shock before you heard the bells?
A:  No, I heard the bells first.

Q:  Did you hear an order given by the First Officer?
A:  I heard the First Officer give the order, “Hard-a-starboard,” and I heard the engine-room telegraph bells ringing.

Q:  Was that before you felt the shock, or afterwards?
A:  Just a moment before.

Q:  Let us be clear about that.  The order, “Hard-a-starboard,” came between the sound of the bells and the collision?
A:  The impact, yes.

Q:  Did you go on to the bridge immediately after the impact?
A:  I was almost on the bridge when she struck.

Q:  Did you notice what the telegraphs indicated with regard to the engines?
A:  “Full speed astern,” both.

Q:  Was that immediately after the impact?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you see anything done with regard to the watertight doors?
A:  I saw Mr. Murdoch closing them then, pulling the lever.

Q:  And did the Captain then come out on to the bridge?
A:  The Captain was alongside of me when I turned round.

Q:  Did you hear him say something to the First Officer?
A:  Yes, he asked him what we had struck.

Q:  What conversation took place between them?
A:  The First Officer said, “An iceberg, Sir.  I hard-a-starboarded and reversed the engines, and I was going to hard-a-port round it but she was too close.  I could not do any more.  I have closed the watertight doors.”  The Commander asked him if he had rung the warning bell, and he said, “Yes.”

Q:  Did the Captain and the First Officer go to the starboard side of the bridge to see if they could see the iceberg?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you see it yourself?
A:  I was not too sure of seeing it.  I had just come out of the light, and my eyes were not accustomed to the darkness.


Although not on the bridge when the lookout’s report of the iceberg was made and during the collision, Fourth Officer Boxhall was out on the deck nearby.  He stated that he was almost abreast of the captain’s quarters when he heard the three bells from the crow’s nest, and Boxhall also said he had heard “almost at the same time” the order being given to go hard-a-starboard and the sound of the engine-room telegraph.  Furthermore, he felt the impact of the iceberg against the ship’s hull even before he could enter the bridge.  This indicates a very compressed time frame, conflicting strongly with the British Enquiry calculation of a thirty-seven second interval between the helm order and the actual collision.

Part VI – Quartermaster Alfred Olliver

American Inquiry:

Q:  Where were you when the collision occurred?
A:  I was stand-by quartermaster on the bridge.  I had been relieved from the wheel at 10 o’clock, and I was stand-by after 10 o’clock.  I was running messages and doing various other duties.  I was not right on the bridge; I was just entering the bridge.  I had just performed an errand and was entering the bridge when the collision occurred.

Q:  Just state what happened.
A:  When I was doing this bit of duty I heard three bells rung up in the crow’s nest, which I knew that it was something ahead; so I looked, but I did not see anything.  I happened to be looking at the lights in the standing compass at the time.  That was my duty, to look at the lights in the standing compass, and I was trimming them so that they would burn properly.  When I heard the report, I looked, but could not see anything, and I left that and came and was just entering on the bridge just as the shock came.  I knew we had touched something.

Q:  Just describe what that shock was.
A:  I found out we had struck an iceberg.

Q:  Did you see that iceberg?
A:  Yes; I did, sir.

Q:  Describe it.
A:  The iceberg was about the height of the boat deck; if anything, just a little higher.  It was almost alongside of the boat, sir.  The top did not touch the side of the boat, but it was almost alongside of the boat.

Q:  What kind of a sound was there?
A:  The sound was like she touched something; a long, grinding sound, like.

Q:  How long did that sound last?
A:  It did not last many seconds, sir.

Q:  How far aft did the grinding sound go?
A:  The grinding sound was before I saw the iceberg.  The grinding sound was not when I saw the iceberg.

Q:  Where was the iceberg when you saw it, abeam or abaft?
A:  Just abaft the bridge when I saw it.

Q:  … Did you notice the course of the berg as it passed you?
A:  No, sir; I did not notice the course of the berg as it passed us.  It went aft the after part of the ship.  I did not see it afterwards, because I did not have time to know where it was going.

Q:  Do you know whether the wheel was hard aport then?
A:  What I know about the wheel – I was stand-by to run messages, but what I knew about the helm is, hard aport.

Q:  Do you mean hard aport or hard astarboard?
A:  I know the orders I heard when I was on the bridge was after we had struck the iceberg.  I heard hard aport, and there was the man at the wheel and the officer.  The officer was seeing it was carried out right.

Q:  What officer was it?
A:  Mr. Moody, the sixth officer, was stationed in the wheelhouse.

Q:  Who was the man at the wheel?
A:  Hichens, quartermaster.

Q:  You do not know whether the helm was put hard astarboard first, or not?
A:  No, sir; I do not know that.

Q:  But you know it was put hard aport after you got there?
A:  After I got there; yes, sir.

Q:  Where was the iceberg, so you think, when the helm was shifted?
A:  The iceberg was away up stern.

Q:  That is when the order “hard aport” was given?
A:  That is when the order “hard aport” was given; yes, sir.

Q:  Who gave the order?
A:  The first officer.

Q:  And that order was immediately executed, was it?
A:  Immediately executed, and the sixth officer saw that it was carried out.

Q:  How long did this sound continue; can you tell that?
A:  I can not say exactly, but I should say it was not many seconds.

Q:  Could you tell how far aft the sound continued?
A:  I could not say how far aft, sir, because I do not know where it started and where it finished.  I do not know.

Q:  You could not tell about that?
A:  No, sir.

Q:  Was it 100 feet?  Did it rub against the boat behind where you were?
A:  Not behind where I was.  It did not, to my knowledge, rub behind where I was; it was before.

Q:  You can not tell, then, for how many feet it rubbed against the boat?
A:  No, sir.

Q:  But you think it got away from the boat before the place where you were?
A:  Yes, sir.


When Quartermaster Olliver mentioned tending the lamps on the “standing” compass, this was very probably a reference to the “standard” compass, mounted on a platform above the First Class Passengers’ Lounge, some 200 feet behind the bridge.  What is not clear in the testimony is whether Olliver was actually at the standard compass when he heard the three bells from the crow’s nest, or whether he was simply indicating that he was absent from the bridge on that errand and, perhaps, was already returning.  In the latter case, Olliver could have been quite near the bridge when the three bells sounded.  Depending on which interpretation is applied, Olliver’s testimony could possibly support either the 37-second interval based upon the British Enquiry report or the much shorter time period proposed by Pellegrino.

Part VII – Trimmer Thomas Dillon

British Enquiry:

Q:  Were you on duty in the engine room on the night of the accident?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Is there more than one engine room?
A:  I do not know.

Q:  I see on the plan immediately after the last boiler there is a compartment marked “Reciprocating engine.”  Is that where you were?
A:  That is where I understand I was – in the engine room.  I have never been down below before; it was my first trip down there.

Q:  Would you be in a coal bunker, or where?
A:  In the engine room where the main engines are.

Q:  What were you doing there? What were your duties there?
A:  I belonged to the upper section, but the upper section of boilers was not lit up, and they sent us to the engine room to assist in cleaning up the gear.

Q:  Did you feel the shock when the ship struck?
A:  Slightly.

Q:  And shortly before that had the telegraph rung?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Can you say at all how long before she struck that was?
A:  Two seconds.

Q:  What was the order given by the telegraph?
A:  I could not tell you.

Q:  You just heard it ring.  Then a few seconds after that you felt a slight shock?
A:  Yes.


Although Trimmer Dillon was disoriented as to his location due to the temporary nature of his work assignment, he did appear confident that the engine room telegraph sounded only two (or, a few) seconds before the collision with the iceberg.  This appears consistent with the time frame proposed by Pellegrino.  Given that the order to put the helm hard-a-starboard and the order via the telegraph to the engine room were essentially simultaneous, Dillon’s testimony argues against the accuracy of the British Enquiry 37-second estimate.

Part VIII – Leading Stoker Frederick Barrett

British Enquiry:

Q:  Now can you tell me where you were or what you were doing just at the time the collision happened?
A:  I was talking to the second engineer.

Q:  What is his name?
A:  Mr Hescott.

Q:  Can you tell us where you were?
A:  I was in No. 10 stokehold.

Q:  … You were talking with Mr Hescott?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Now just tell us what happened that you noticed.
A:  There is like a clock rigged up in the stokehold and a red light goes up when the ship is supposed to stop, a white light for full speed, and, I think it is a blue light for slow.  This red light came up.  I am the man in charge of the watch, and I called out, “Shut all dampers.”

Q:  You saw this red light?
A:  Yes.

Q:  You knew that was an order to stop the engines?
A:  It says “stop” – a red piece of glass and an electric light inside.

Q:  Shutting the dampers, I suppose, would be?
A:  To shut the wind off the fires.

Q:  To shut the draught off the fires.  And you gave an order, “Shut the dampers”?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Was that order obeyed?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What was the next thing that happened?
A:  The crash came before we had them all shut.

Q:  They were shutting them when the crash came?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Where was the crash – what was it you felt or heard or saw?
A:  Water came pouring in two feet above the stokehold plate, the ship’s side was torn from the third stokehold to the foreward end.


Although Leading Stoker Barrett does not specify how many seconds elapsed between the order to stop the engines and the collision with the iceberg, it appears that only a short interval passed.

Part IX – Fireman George Beauchamp

British Enquiry:

Q:  Were you down below in the stokehold?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Which stokehold was it?
A:  No. 10.

Q:  Did you notice the shock when the ship struck?
A:  Yes, Sir, I noticed the shock.

Q:  Was it a severe shock?
A:  Just like the thunder, the roar of thunder.

Q:  And immediately after the shock was any order given?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What order?
A:  To stand by, to stop. – The telegraph went “Stop.”

Q:  You got that order from the bridge, “Stop”?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And were the engines stopped at once or not?
A:  The telegraph rung off “Stop,” so I suppose they were.

Q:  Did the engineer in your section give you any order?
A:  Yes; the engineer and the leading stoker shouted together – they said, “Shut the dampers.”

Q:  Did you shut the dampers?
A:  Yes, immediately; “shut everything up.”


Although Fireman Beauchamp reverses the order of events (the collision becoming before the “stop” order) compared with what  Barrett had testified, again the sense is conveyed that these were nearly simultaneous occurrences, not events separated by more than half a minute.

Part X – Greaser Frederick Scott

British Enquiry:

Q:  You were employed in the turbine engine room, starboard side?
A:  Starboard side.

Q:  Is that where you were when the collision happened?
A:  Yes, just against the engine room door which parts the turbine room from the engine room.

Q:  … You were standing by the door. Just tell us before you felt anything at all, did you see anything done?
A:  No.

Q:  You felt something; what was it?
A:  I felt a shock and I thought it was something in the main engine room which had gone wrong.

Q:  We know it was about 11.40?
A:  Yes, about 20 minutes to 12.

Q:  Did you notice the two telegraphs in the engine room?
A:  Yes; four telegraphs rang.

Q:  Were there four telegraphs?
A:  She got four telegraphs, two emergency ones.

Q:  Two emergency?
A:  Yes, and two for the main engine.

Q:   What did you notice?
A:  I noticed "Stop" first.

Q:  To which telegraph did that come?
A:  On the main engines.

A:  Let us get this clearly. I understand you are speaking now of the turbine room?
A:  No, there are two stand-bys; you can see just the same in the turbine room; if you are standing at the engine room door you can see the two just the same.

Q:  Where did you see those?
A:  In the main engine room.

Q:  That is where the reciprocating engines are?
A:  Yes.

Q:  The watertight door is open?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And you can see through?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Now I think we follow. When you speak of the four telegraphs, are they all there?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Or are there any in your room?
A:  No, there are none in the turbine room at all, Sir, all in the main engine room.

Q:  Was the telegraph signal that came the emergency or the ordinary telegraph?
A:  That is to the main engine room. It is different. They ring the two on the main engine room, and then they ring two others just afterwards, the emergency ones.

Q:   Did you hear the two?
A:  All four went.

Q:   Did you hear the two ordinary ones ring first?
A:  No, they all four rang together.

Q:  What did they ring?
A:  "Stop."

Q:  Was that before or after the shock?
A:  After the shock.

Q:  What was the next thing?
A:  Then the watertight doors went.

Q:  Was any reply given to the telegraph orders from the bridge?
A:  Yes, they rang back from the engine room; the two greasers at the bottom rang back.

Q:   It would be their duty, I suppose, to ring back?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did you see them do that?
A:  Yes.

Q:  After they got the order to stop?
A:  Yes, they were feeding the engines, and were close handy at the time.

Q:  They happened to be there?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Then the next thing that happened was something with reference to the watertight doors?
A:  Yes, the watertight doors all closed.

Q:  Did you hear any bell ring first?
A:  No, not for the watertight doors.

Q:  Do you mean that without any signal they came down?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Which watertight doors are you speaking of?
A:  All of them.

Q:  … Will you go back a little to something you just mentioned before, that I want you to tell the Court a little more about; that is, orders that you heard in the main engine room. Do you remember? You were standing in the turbine engine room close to the door?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And you told us you heard what was going on in the main engine room?
A:  The telegraph?

Q:  Yes, I want you to tell my Lord what it was?
A:  They rang down "Stop," and two greasers on the bottom rang the telegraph back to answer it. Then they rang down "Slow ahead." For ten minutes she was going ahead. Then they rang down "Stop," and she went astern for five minutes.

Q:  The orders were "Stop," "Slow ahead," and then "Astern"?
A:  No, it was "Stop," and then "Astern." She went astern for five minutes. Then they rang down "Stop."

Q:  "Stop," "Slow ahead" - 10 minutes, you say?
A:  Yes, about 10 minutes.

Q:  Then "Stop" again?
A:  Yes, "Stop"; then she went astern for about five minutes.

Q:  Did you hear the order about "Astern"?
A:  Well, it was on the telegraph.

Q:  What was the order?
A:  "Go astern" - "Slow astern." Then they rang down "Stop," and I do not think the telegraph went after that.

Q:  A telegram came "Stop"?
A:  Yes, and I do not think the telegraphs went after that.

Q:  The first order you heard was "Stop"?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Did the engines stop before the order came "Slow ahead"?
A:  Oh, yes.

Q:  They did stop?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Then when the engines had stopped the order came "Slow ahead"?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Can you tell us at all what time passed between the order "Stop" and "Slow ahead"?
A:  I should say about 10 minutes or a quarter of an hour.

Q:  "Stop," of course, comes at once?
A:  It comes at once. They cannot stop the engines at once.

Q:  That is what I want. They cannot stop them at once?
A:  No; they are bound to let the steam get out of the cylinder first, otherwise they would blow the cylinder covers off if they tried to stop them at once.

Q:  You would not know how long it would take to stop the engines?
A:  No, I do not.

Q:  … "Stop," then ten minutes "slow ahead" and then again "stop"?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Then how long between "stop" and "slow astern"?
A:  I suppose that was a matter of about four or five minutes.

Q:  That is between "stop" and "slow astern." And how long between "slow astern" and "stop" for the last time?
A:  Five minutes.

Q:  … Is it your view that the engines were not stopped until after the crash?
A:  No. We did 75 revolutions at 11 o'clock.

Q:  … You remember the order to stop?
A:  Yes.

Q:  That, I suppose, was obeyed instantaneously by the men in the engine room?
A:  Yes.

Q:  The next order was "Slow ahead"?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Now, what time elapsed between the order to stop and the order to slow ahead?
A:  About 10 minutes.

Q:  And what was happening during that 10 minutes? Had the ship ceased to move and the engines ceased to move?
A:  When they rang down "Stop" they shut the steam off, and then it is bound to go on until the steam is right out of her.

Q:  How long does that take?
A:  About 10 minutes.

Q:  … Let us get it clear. There comes the order to stop?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And that is obeyed by the engineers instantly?
A:  Yes.

Q:  But you say there is some steam that has to be exhausted?
A:  Yes.

Q:  And while that steam is being exhausted, although the engineer has stopped his engines - that is, say, done what is necessary to stop them - the engines continue to revolve?
A:  Yes.

Q:  Now how long after the engineer has put on the stop do the engines revolve?
A:  About five revolutions.

Q:  … The five revolutions are of no account, and therefore my first impression that "Stop" meant what it says was right. The engines had stopped.
A:  It just turned five times, that is all.

Q:  And then they remained in that stopped condition for 10 minutes?
A:  Yes.

Q:  The point I am upon is whether you felt the shock before the stop came or after?
A:  After - no, before. It was when the shock came that they rang down to stop the engines.

Q:  Do you say the shock came first?
A:  No, afterwards.

Q:  After the order to stop came the shock?
A:  No.

Q:  … Did you ever see the dial of this telegraph at all, or are you only going by the rings?
A:  No, I saw it.


Although there is some confusion in part of Greaser Scott’s testimony, on the whole it is evident that he wished to say that the shock of the collision came before the telegraph order to stop the engines.  The impression given, although not explicitly stated, appears to be that only a short time passed between these events.  Scott testified that the order to stop was the first order received and, according to him, the only order to reverse the engines came long afterwards, perhaps half an hour.  This conflicts with the conversation between Murdoch and Captain Smith as reported by Boxhall.

Part XI – Able Bodied Seaman Joseph Scarrott

British Enquiry:

Q:  Shortly before the ship struck the iceberg did you hear the bell strike in the crow's-nest?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What did you hear?
A:  Three bells.

Q:  Do you know what time that was?
A:  Not to be exact I do not, but it was round about half-past eleven.

Q:  Shortly after that did you feel anything?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What did you feel?
A:  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.

Q:  Did you feel anything besides that?
A:  No.

Q:  Did you feel the ship strike anything?
A:  No, not directly.

Q:  "Not directly," you say?
A:  Not as if she hit anything straight on - just a trembling of the ship.

Q:  How soon did you feel this vibration after you heard the three strikes on the gong?
A:  As I did not take much notice of the three strikes on the gong, I could hardly recollect the time; but I should think it was - well, we will say about five or eight minutes; it seemed to me about that time.

Q:  Where were you at the time?
A:  Just about the forecastle-head.

Q:  Did you remain there?
A:  No.

Q:  Where did you go?
A:  I rushed down to tell my mate that was in the bath room just at the bottom of the ladder. He asked me to give him a call if anything was doing.

Q:  What did you do after that?
A:  Rushed on deck with the remainder of those that were in the forecastle. The shock caused everybody to turn out, and we came on deck to see what was the cause of the vibration.

Q:   Did the boatswain give any orders to the hands?
A:  Yes.

Q:  What was his order?
A:  "All hands on deck; turn out the boats and take the covers off and place the covers amidships."

Q:   When you got on deck did you see anything; did you see any ice or iceberg?
A:  Oh, yes, when we first came up.

Q:  Tell me what you saw.
A:  When we came up, that was before the boatswain's call, we saw a large quantity of ice on the starboard side on the forewell deck, and I went and looked over the rail there and I saw an iceberg that I took it we had struck. It would be abaft the beam then - abaft the starboard beam.

Q:  Was it close to?
A:  No, it seemed the ship was acting on her helm and we had swung clear of the iceberg.

Q:  But how far away from your beam was the iceberg, a ship's length or two ships' length?
A:  Not a ship's length.

Q:  You speak of this ship as if answering her helm - as if answering under which helm?
A:  Under the starboard helm - under the port helm.

Q:  Get it right?
A:  Under port helm. Her stern was slewing off the iceberg. Her starboard quarter was going off the icebergs, and the starboard bow was going as if to make a circle round it.

Q:  … She was acting as if under port helm, her head going to starboard?
A:  That is correct.

Q:  … Had your ship headway on at the time - or not do you think?
A:  I cannot say.

Q:  You do not know?
A:  No.

Q:  … You have told us that somewhere on your starboard beam, within a ship's length of you, was the iceberg. How high was the iceberg as compared with your vessel?
A:  I should say about as high as the boat deck; it appeared to be that from the position of it.

Q:  How high from the water would that be - 90 feet?
A:  I cannot say.

Q:  … What was the shape of this iceberg?
A:  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.

Q:  Like a lion couchant?
A:  As you approach Gibraltar - it seemed that shape. The highest point would be on my right, as it appeared to me.


Able Bodied Seaman Scarrott’s testimony about the time interval between the ringing of the crow’s nest bell and the vibration from the ship’s hull – supposedly from the impact with the iceberg – is extraordinarily long: 5 or 8 minutes.  So incompatible is this with the evidence from any of the other witnesses that is tempting to speculate that the vibration, characterized by Scarrott “as if the engines had been suddenly reversed to full speed astern,” was in fact due to the Titanic’s engines rather than the collision.  However, Scarrott’s description of  how “The shock caused everybody to turn out” appears to point towards the impact as being the source of the vibration.  Perhaps Scarrott simply made a very poor estimate of the time interval involved.


The testimony of witnesses at the two official hearings, in my opinion, calls into serious question the accuracy of the supposed thirty-seven second interval between the helm being put hard-a-starboard and the actual collision with the iceberg.  According to Quartermaster Hitchens at the wheel, First Officer Murdoch’s order to put the helm hard over was essentially simultaneous with Murdoch’s telegraph order to the engine room.  Hitchens indicated that the impact with the iceberg then occurred just after Sixth Officer Moody verbally confirmed that the wheel was hard-a-starboard.  The “black gang” witnesses – Barrett, Beauchamp, Dillon, and Scott connected the first engine room order closely with the instant of impact, although differing in the sequence.  Barrett and Dillon remembered the telegraph signal coming before the collision, while Beauchamp and Scott reported the reverse.  A sense is conveyed by all these witnesses that this was a rapid series of events, leaving no time for the British Enquiry’s thirty-seven seconds.  Fourth Officer Boxhall’s testimony strongly reinforces this picture.  Hearing the three bells while he was passing near the captain’s quarters on his way forward, Boxhall had not even time to reach the bridge before the Titanic struck the iceberg. Thirty-seven seconds can be a very long time.  A little experiment may be in order: Stare at a clock with a second hand.  Do nothing except watch that second hand slowly sweep out its arc of thirty-seven seconds.  And notice how very slowly thirty-seven seconds can pass …  In summary, the testimony from the two official hearings is, in my opinion, weighted against the accuracy of the thirty-seven second calculation.  Charles Pellegrino’s conclusion in this regard appears to be reasonable and justified by the evidence.

If the thirty-seven second interval is incorrect, then what could be the cause of the error?  First, we must recognize that this figure is based upon Hitchens’ testimony that the ship had turned two points (or about two points) to port; an experiment conducted with the Olympic running at the same speed as Titanic showed that the ship required thirty-seven seconds to turn that much.  If Hitchens erred in his estimate of the course change, then of necessity the time interval would also be in error.  The only independent source for the extent of the turn is Fleet who, despite his repeated difficulty or reluctance in testifying about time and distance, estimated:  “A little over a point, or two points.”  If Fleet’s “a little over a point” were to be correct, then the 37-second interval would have to be decreased.

An additional factor to consider is when Hitchens presumably looked at the compass to ascertain how much the ship had turned.  Did he actually make this observation at the instant of first impact or was it later, perhaps even after the Titanic had pulled away from the iceberg?  If the latter were the case, then the compass heading at that moment would not be representative of the ship’s course at the start of the collision.

Another possibility might be that the veering of the bow was not caused exclusively by the action of the rudder.  Neither Fleet nor Lee gave testimony that directly addressed just how many seconds passed between when Fleet telephoned the bridge and the collision, but both lookouts indicated that the ship was turning by the time Fleet was finished with the telephone, seemingly an extraordinarily fast reaction when considering that Moody had just said “thank you” and perhaps had not yet even had time to inform Murdoch of what the lookout reported.  It is even less likely that Murdoch had already been able to give Hitchens an order to turn the helm.  Lightoller’s possibly erroneous second-hand account derived from Fleet would serve to back up such a conclusion, if it could be believed.  Perhaps we have a combination of forces involved: the ship’s rudder and, as Pellegrino postulates, the iceberg pushing against the ship’s hull.  To speculate about a possible mechanism for this: the hull would not have to be in direct physical contact with the ice for such an effect to begin, I believe.  As a ship’s bow plows though the water in the open sea, large volumes of water (effectively an incompressible fluid) are pushed laterally, just as a splitting wedge driven into a log forces the opposite halves apart.  If, however, there is an immovable wall (like a very massive iceberg of a proper configuration) in close proximity and approximately parallel to one side of that hull, then a problem arises – there is no place for the displaced water on that side of the hull to go.  That water must now exert a force back against the bow, not balanced by an equivalent force from the opposite side.  And, of course, that force would be exerted upon the most effective point: the bow, far from the ship’s center of mass, like the weight of a small child perched on the outermost end of a see-saw to gain maximum advantage.  The result?  The bow could be forced away from the “wall” without yet making actual contact.   This is similar to the “ground effect” used with certain (very) low-flying aircraft.  Is it not possible that the veering to port was in part due to just such a lateral force against the bow from water that could not be displaced to the side as usual?  Of course, once Hitchens had turned his wheel, a second turning force would come into play.  And the physical impact of the hull itself against the iceberg would provide a final lateral force, albeit one evidently limited in scale since the damage to the hull was relatively superficial, confined to small penetrations and hull plate separations.

Another factor might also enter into the equation.  It is conceivable that Lee and Fleet, staring with rapt attention as the ship drew closer to the black shape appearing out of the dark, may have been misled by something of an optical illusion into believing that the hoped for turn had begun sooner than it really did.  As the bulk of the iceberg emerged from the night and, if the center of the ice mass above water was somewhat to the starboard of the ship’s direct path, then it may have seemed like the vessel was veering before any actual turn had started.

The effect from the rudder, of course, depends upon just how long it had to act.  In my opinion, the testimony at the hearings indicates that the rudder was hard-a-starboard for only several seconds at most.  If this was in fact the case, then the rudder may have had comparatively little effect on the course of events, and there was never any real “choice” of running head-on into the iceberg rather than grazing it.

Studying the eyewitness testimony about those last seconds before the Titanic hit the fatal iceberg has been a personally rewarding exercise.  I certainly do not claim to have arrived at any indisputable truths, but for myself, I no longer can believe in the thirty-seven second interval proposed by the British Enquiry.  I would encourage others to study the evidence for themselves and then to draw their own conclusions.

Back to the Titanic main page.