Between November 1911 and Titanic’s maiden voyage
, twenty sailing craft from 100 to 300 tons had gone to the bottom off the shores of Newfoundland. It was a hard winter and in spring there was an unusually dense drift of ice past the island: over a thousand bergs moving as far south as the Grand Banks and into the shipping lanes. But as Richard Brown remarks: “There has only been one iceberg, and its history lasted for a minute”.
Iceberg Warnings Radioed to RMS Titanic
Titanic was well warned of iceberg activity in her path: a cargo boat steaming in the opposite direction radioed a warning as it passed the giant liner on Saturday evening, April 13th. Around lunchtime the next day, Captain Smith
acknowledged a message from Baltic, a fellow White Star liner, relaying a warning of large quantities of field ice observed by a Greek steamer. There was a message early on Sunday evening from Captain Lord of Californian, of the Leyland Line, to the Captain of Antillian locating three large bergs five miles south of the Leyland vessel. It was intercepted by Titanic before it was sent directly to the ship, which acknowledged it. However, a darker warning from Mesaba a couple of hours later, concerning heavy pack ice and many icebergs, was probably not delivered to a Titanic officer, and the message from Californian at 11.00p.m. reporting that she was stopped amidst ice was not relayed to the bridge of Titanic. It was not the Marconi operators’ job to do so.
The Titanic Collides with an Iceberg
Seconds too late, the two lookouts in Titanic’s crow’s-nest reported an iceberg dead ahead at 11.40pm. The liner swerved but too late to escape what seemed at first to be a close shave, then a glancing blow, and after Thomas Andrews’
expert inspection below, a serious collision whose effects he told Captain Smith would sink the ship within hours. The collision was heard and felt by passengers and crew variously as a grinding jar, a heavy wave, a rolling over a thousand marbles and the tearing of a long strip of calico. The iceberg slid past into the darkness and distance, but Titanic’s fate was already sealed.