107 #38: Hard-a-starboard was the only helm order given to avoid the iceberg

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Titanic

FALSE. Hard-a-starboard was the first order given, but this was immediately followed by the opposite order, ‘Hard-a-port’. This was a standard manoeuvre called ‘porting about’. In 1912, helm orders were still based on the old sailing-ship tiller movements, so hard-a-starboard meant ‘put the tiller to starboard (right)’, thus turning the rudder, and therefore the ship, to port (left). The first part of First Officer Murdoch’s order therefore swung Titanic’s bow to port (left), but this order alone would have presented her entire starboard side to the iceberg, all the way along to her starboard propeller. The damage caused by this could have caused Titanic to capsize and sink within minutes. The second part of the order, ‘Hard-a-port’ was therefore intended to swing the ship’s bow back towards the iceberg, in order to swing her stern clear. Murdoch’s second order, ‘Hard-a-port’, did succeed in swinging Titanic’s stern clear of the berg, but the first order, ‘hard-a-starboard’, had not been given early enough to avoid a collision with the bluff of her bow. This late avoiding action may also have been compounded by the Titanic’s running over an underwater ice shelf at the base of the iceberg, caused by erosion and melting of the upper part of the iceberg in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, which overran the much cooler waters of the Labrador Current in that part of the Atlantic. This may explain why a number of witnesses also described a scraping along the bottom of Titanic at the time of her collision.

Quartermaster Alfred Olliver, who was just entering the bridge as the collision occurred, only heard the second part of this porting about manoeuvre, ‘Hard-a-port!’:

ALO021: ‘Do you know whether the wheel was hard aport then?’

‘What I know about the wheel—I was stand-by to run messages, but what I knew about the helm is, hard aport.’

ALO022: ‘Do you mean hard aport or hard astarboard?’

‘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.’

ALO023: ‘What officer was it?’

‘Mr. Moody, the sixth officer, was stationed in the wheelhouse.’

ALO024: ‘Who was the man at the wheel?’

‘Hichens, quartermaster.’

ALO025: ‘You do not know whether the helm was put hard astarboard first, or not?’

‘No, sir; I do not know that.’

ALO026: ‘But you know it was put hard aport after you got there?’

‘After I got there; yes, sir.’

ALO027: ‘Where was the iceberg, do you think, when the helm was shifted?’

‘The iceberg was away up stern.’

ALO028: ‘That is when the order “hard aport” was given?’

‘That is when the order “hard aport” was given; yes, sir.’

ALO029: ‘Who gave the order?’

‘The first officer.’

That Titanic was thus turned to starboard immediately after she turned to port is also confirmed by Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall, fireman Alfred Shiers and Able Seaman Joseph Scarrott, all of whom saw the iceberg off Titanic’s starboard quarter immediately following the collision, as Scarrott explained to the British Inquiry:

350: ‘When you got on deck did you see anything; did you see any ice or iceberg?’

‘Oh, yes, when we first came up.’

351: ‘Tell me what you saw?’

‘When we came up [immediately after the collision], that was before the boatswain’s call, we saw a large quantity of ice on the starboard side on the fore-well 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.’

352: ‘Was it close to?’

‘No, it seemed the ship was acting on her helm and we had swung clear of the iceberg.’

353: ‘But how far away from your beam was the iceberg, a ship’s length or two ships’ length?’

‘Not a ship’s length.’

354: ‘You speak of this ship as if answering her helm—as if answering under which helm?’

355: ‘Under port helm. Her stern was slewing off the iceberg. Her starboard quarter was going off the iceberg, and the starboard bow was going as if to make a circle round it.’

356: ‘She was acting as if under port helm, her head going to starboard?’

‘That is correct.’

359: (Mr. Butler Aspinall) ‘Yes.’ (To the Witness.) ‘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?’

‘I should say about as high as the boat deck; it appeared to be that from the position of it.’

360: (The Commissioner) ‘How high from the water would that be—90 feet?’

‘I cannot say.’

The Attorney-General:

‘I think about 60 feet.’

361: (Mr. Butler Aspinall) ‘What was the shape of this iceberg?’

‘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.’

362: (The Commissioner) ‘Like a lion couchant?’

‘As you approach Gibraltar—it seemed that shape. The highest point would be on my right, as it appeared to me.’

Had Titanic only turned hard-a-starboard, as is popularly believed, the iceberg would instead have been off Titanic’s port quarter after the collision.

And Quartermaster Rowe, standing at the stern of the ship, noted that the iceberg didn’t hit Titanic’s propellers, which he testified would have happened had Titanic’s helm been hard-a starboard as she passed the iceberg:

GTR083: ‘Do you think the propeller hit the ice? Did you feel any jolt like the propeller hitting the ice?’

‘No, sir.’

GTR084: ‘Do you not think the propeller would have hit the ice if the helm had been turned hard a starboard?’

‘Yes, sir.’

This manoeuvre, ending with ‘Hard-a-port’, meant that Titanic, which had been heading west towards New York, ended up heading northwards (towards where the Californian had stopped for the night), as also testified by Quartermaster Rowe:

17669: ‘Was your vessel’s head swinging at the time you saw this light of this other vessel?’

‘I put it down that her stern was swinging.’

17670: ‘Which way was her stern swinging?’

‘Practically dead south, I believe, then.’

17671: ‘Do you mean her head was facing south?’

‘No, her head was facing north. She was coming round to starboard.’

17672: ‘The stern was swung to the south?’ ‘Yes.’

17673: ‘And at that time you saw this white light?’ ‘Yes.’

17674: ‘How was it bearing from you?’

‘When I first saw it it was half a point on the port bow, and roughly about two points when I left the bridge.’

If you’d like to read the full book of101 Things You Thought You Knew About The Titanic…But Didn’t!, or any of my other books on Titanic, please visit my Author Page on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/tim-maltin/e/B005LNHYEQ/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_1

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