Titanic: Left Turn Only Myth

According to the British Inquiry testimony of quartermaster Robert Hichens (the man at Titanic’s wheel when Titanic struck the iceberg). He was given the order, “hard-a-starboard”, the ship turned to the left two points (about 22.5 degrees) then Titanic struck the iceberg. He was not given the hard-a-port order and the iceberg struck almost immediately after the ship had begun to turn.

Fourth Officer Boxhall was not on the bridge when these events happened, but was walking toward the bridge shortly afterwards. Boxhall did not hear the hard-a-starboard order, given earlier, but stated he did hear a hard-a-port order given.

Now we go to the physical evidence. When a ship is turning, it has a pivot point about one-third of the way back from the bow (approximately, just forward of where the number one funnel is on Titanic). Forward of the pivot point, the ship moves in the desired direction (in this case to the left), and the ship aft (behind) of the pivot point moves in the opposite direction.

The iceberg was directly in front of Titanic. Titanic turned to the left, showing its starboard (right) side to the iceberg. With Titanic turning left, the back two-thirds of Titanic was turning to the right, toward the iceberg. When the Titanic struck the iceberg, it stayed in contact with the iceberg for ten seconds, causing Titanic to lose approximately 7 knots in speed, due to the friction between the iceberg and Titanic. We know, thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, the stern of the ship would have attempted to continue moving at the same speed the ship was going before striking the iceberg. As Titanic’s speed going forward was quickly slowing, this momentum would have been transferred in the direction the stern was swinging.

What this means is that if the stern were swinging to the right, toward the iceberg, the speed of the stern of Titanic toward the iceberg would have increased dramatically driving the back of the ship into the iceberg. However, all of the damage to Titanic was confined to the first six compartments with no damage further aft.

If the stern were just beginning to swing to the left (meaning the bow had just begun to turn to the right) the stern would have, (as Titanic struck the iceberg and lost speed) swung to the left away from the iceberg. Therefore, according to the laws of physics, (thank you Sir Newton) the Titanic had (at a minimum) just begun to turn to the right. That means that First Officer Murdoch gave the order hard-a-port (that Fourth Officer Boxhall heard) and the ship had begun to turn back to the right.

First Officer Murdoch was not able to avoid the iceberg. However, he did prevent damage along the entire length of the Titanic (and a much quicker sinking of the ship) by completing the port-around maneuver.

I do not know why Robert Hichens gave the testimony he did, but his testimony is clearly refuted by the laws of physics. There are many more revelations about Titanic’s striking of the iceberg I will be making in the weeks to come. I will post my next installment next Sunday, February 19, 2012.

4 responses to “Titanic: Left Turn Only Myth

  1. Jason K.

    I’ve seen references to tests done on the USS Olympic so this turning radius not be too much in question, this idea of a pivot point i have no doubt is true at some specific speed however we know the turning characteristics change at different speeds. Obviously at slower speeds the ship will be able to make tighter turns.
    i would be very interested to look further into this.


    • The tests done on the Olympic were done at several speeds. The Titanic just before the collision was going faster than the Olympic. I believe the helm responded faster than Murdoch anticipated because of that. This is the reason the ship struck the Bergen just under the bridge when he was trying to port a round the berg. If the Titanic had been going slower, and turning slower because of that, Murdoch would have avoided the berg altogether. He damn near pulled it off.


  2. Real nice design and superb subject material, very little else we need :D.


  3. J. G. Burdette

    Interesting post. Thanks for sharing, I’m always interested in Titanic subjects.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s