4. Collision & Aftermath
|Logo on White Star Deck Rug
From lifeboat recovered by 'Carpathia'.
|Lt. W.M. Murdoch RNR|
The recent release in the United Kingdom of the film 'Titanic' has yet again brought the actions of her crew under public scrutiny. Unfortunately, this has also perpetuated myths about the principal officers such as Captain Smith and his First Officer William McMaster Murdoch. The film has incorrectly portrayed Murdoch as a man who committed suicide by shooting himself after killing passengers.
In this page, the events of the 14th and 15th of April 1912 have been reconstructed, centering particularly on those involving Murdoch. There is also a summary of later events up to the British Board of Inquiry under Lord Mersey. The Inquiry, and the effects of the death on Murdoch's family, are dealt with elsewhere on this site.
Given that this must have occurred within a maximum of 25-40 seconds, the most verifiable sequence of events appears to be as follows :-
About two tons of dirty ice from the high exposed section of the iceberg are jarred loose, falling onto the forward well-deck between the forecastle and the front of the bridge-island. As the iceberg continues along the side of the ship for 200 feet, more ice falls into the promenade decks. Underwater, the rivets part along several seams as the plates buckle and are pressed inwards by the ice. Later tests indicate that the chill of the sea may have been sufficient to so embrittle the rivets that a glancing blow knocked the heads away. Underwater examination in September 1998 revealed a series of six such plate separations, rather than one long gash. The inflow of seawater is steady but catastrophic, as six watertight compartments are flooding, from the forepeak as far back as No. 6 Boiler Room. As yet, the full damage is not apparent. A stoker later remarks that the inflow of seawater was 'like a fire hose', i.e. a narrow and steady flow, rather than a flood from a massive gash.
Captain Smith comes onto the bridge to find out what is going on, whilst the iceberg is moving past the ship. According to Boxhall, Smith says, "What have we struck ?" Murdoch replies "We have struck an iceberg." He added. "I put her hard a-starboard and ran the engines full astern, but it was too close; she hit it. I intended to [steer to] port around it, but she hit before I could do any more." Smith may have said "Are the watertight doors closed ?" as Murdoch said "The watertight doors are closed, sir." Smith also asked if Murdoch had rung the warning bell, and Murdoch replied "Yes, sir." It is unclear whether Boxhall heard 'engine' or 'engines', according to some sources.
Elizabeth Gibbons surmises that the Captain put the ship telegraphs to 'Half Ahead', then to 'Stop', to avoid reversing into the iceberg and bring the ship to a halt. It is possible that Murdoch himself would have done this.
Hichens (although an unreliable witness) claimed that Murdoch told Alfred Olliver to make a note of that in the log book, 'at 20 minutes [short] of 12.' This is the primary evidence of the time of collision. The three senior officers went onto the starboard wing bridge to look aft.
Seawater rises 14 feet above the keel at the bows. The depth in Boiler Room 6 is already 8 feet (it is 5 feet above the keel). Ship starts to list to starboard. Boxhall sent by Smith to check the forward compartments, but was sent to ask the Ship's Carpenter to sound the 'well' (the bilges). The Carpenter has already found water pouring into the six forward compartments. The shipbuilder Thomas Andrews was sent for, and together with Captain Smith inspected the damage.
Mail Room in fourth watertight compartment is awash, the bags floating. Approximately 24 feet above the keel. The foreholds (1, 2 and 3) are all flooding rapidly. Smith is told by Andrews that the flooding of six compartments will infallibly sink the ship within one to one and a half hours. This is because the bulkheads and decks cannot contain the flooding, and that it will spill over the bulkheads into undamaged sections. Radio operators ordered by Captain Smith to send 'CQD' -'All Stations, Distress'- the old warning signal. The estimated position (calculated by Fourth Officer Boxhall) is 41 degrees 46 minutes North latitude, 50 degrees 14 minutes West longitude. Reluctantly, Smith has to consider lowering the lifeboats, but hopes a ship will be near enough to reach 'Titanic' before she goes down.
[This may have been several miles too far north as the Labrador Current was deflecting the ship and icefield south. The wreck was found by Ballard well south of her expected position.].
The boilers are shut down and steam vented from the funnel relief pipes, the almost deafening noise making communications difficult upon the Boat Deck. Boilers further aft are kept in steam to power the pumps and the ship's generators, to ensure that there is light to help evacuating the ship and to keep the radios working at full power. Chief Engineer Bell and his men are fighting to keep the ship afloat for as long as they can. They win at least another hour, maybe longer, all but a very few engineering crew going down with their ship.
Squash court in compartment five now flooding, 32 feet above the keel. Smith orders lifeboats uncovered and passengers and crew to lifeboat stations. For the moment he hides it as a 'contingency measure' that he wants the lifeboats swung out.
Murdoch, as First Officer, is in charge of the launching on the starboard side. To help him he has Third Officer Herbert Pitman. Wilde, as Chief Officer, is in charge of the port side. He has Second Officer Lightoller to help him, - a bad choice, as they dislike each other. Fourth Officer Boxhall is still on the bridge
Crew members on the 'Californian', stopped in ice 10-19 miles away, see lights of a steamer, and unsuccessfully try to make contact with an Aldis lamp. Rockets are seen later, but they appear low, make no sound, and do not seem to be distress rockets. The other steamer appears to sail off into the distance, her lights going below the horizon. In fact, 'Titanic' is sinking lower in the water until only her stern is really noticeable. Had her radio been on, 'Californian' would have been told and would have responded.
Phillips and Bride contact the following ships, at various distances :-
This page was prepared with editorial assistance and information from Samuel Scott Murdoch, the nephew of the First Officer of the 'Titanic', and from Ernie Robinson, maritime historian.
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Monument to William McMaster Murdoch on Dalbeattie Town Hall
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