TRUE. But there were dozens of icebergs, and a very large icefield in the immediate area in which Titanic sank. We have already heard that the lookouts could smell the ice, and—after the sinking—as soon as the cries for help of those in the water died down, Fourth Officer Joseph Groves Boxhall could hear the slight swell breaking on all the ice nearby:
JGB845: ‘Between the time that you left the Titanic and the time morning dawned did you see any icebergs?’
‘No, sir; but I know that they were there.’
JGB846: ‘You knew they were there?’
JGB847: ‘Any growlers?’
‘I saw nothing; but I heard the water on the ice as soon as the lights went out on the ship.’
JGB848: ‘That water, you think, was on the ice, after the boat went down? That is, you could hear something?’
JGB849: ‘In that vicinity?’
‘A little while after the ship’s lights went out and the cries subsided, then I found out that we were near the ice.’
JGB850: ‘You could hear it?’
JGB851: ‘Does your statement also cover the field ice?’
‘Yes; it covers all the ice, sir. I heard the water rumbling or breaking on the ice. Then I knew that there was a lot of ice about; but I could not see it from the boat.’
As the sun came up, Captain Rostron saw the extent of the ice at Titanic’s wreck site, from the rescue ship Carpathia:
25501: (The Attorney-General.) ‘In the morning, when it was full daylight, did you see many icebergs?
‘Yes, I sent a Junior Officer to the top of the wheelhouse, and told him to count the icebergs 150 to 200 feet high; I sampled out one or two and told him to count the icebergs of about that size. He counted 25 large ones, 150 to 200 feet high, and stopped counting the smaller ones; there were dozens and dozens all over the place; and about two or three miles from the position of the Titanic’s wreckage we saw a huge ice- field extending as far as we could see, N.W. to S.E.
25502: ‘About two to three miles from the Titanic’s wreckage?
Years later, Rostron told his friend Captain Barr of the Cunarder Caronia:
‘When day broke, and I saw the ice I had steamed through during the night, I shuddered, and could only think that some other Hand than mine was on that helm during the night.’
In fact, only a few minutes’ more steaming time and Titanic would have run into the eastern edge of this 28-mile long impenetrable barrier of field ice, which the nearby Californian had reached, about ten miles to the northward. We know from Walter Lord’s 1957 interview with Californian’s Third Officer, Charles Groves, that after coming to an emergency stop, Californian’s Captain, Stanley Lord, then ordered a Quartermaster to bring up some coal. This he proceeded to throw over the side, onto the surrounding field ice, to see how thick it was. Satisfied that it was too thick to run through, Captain Lord decided to wait there until daylight. Had Titanic also made it to the edge of this enormous icefield, she would almost certainly not have sunk; and even if she had, it would have been possible to evacuate all Titanic’s passengers onto this thick, flat ice, possibly even using the ship’s gangways to disembark her passengers. Although this sounds improbable, in 1885 the crew of a ship called the Bayard survived for three days on an ice floe before being rescued, after their ship struck an iceberg en route to Canada and sank.
Indeed, it is possible that a few of Titanic’s 1,500 victims did manage to swim to icebergs, as the following story, published in the New York World on April 26th, 1912, seems to confirm:
STEAMER SIGHTED HUDDLED GROUP OF DEAD ON ICEBERG
The North German Lloyd liner Prinzess Irene, from Genoa, reached her pier in Hoboken at 11 o’clock last night and reported that on Wednesday last she had intercepted a wireless message between two ships, the names of which were not learned, to the effect that one of them, in passing fifty miles from the scene of the Titanic disaster, had sighted an iceberg on which were the bodies of more than a dozen men.
All wore lifebelts and the bodies were huddled in groups at the base of the berg. It was the opinion of the officers of the ship sighting the gruesome scene that the men had climbed on the mass of ice, perhaps within an hour of the foundering of the Titanic, and had frozen to death as they were swept to the southward. The fact that the bodies were huddled in groups led the captain of the ship to suppose the men gathered close together to keep warm. No attempt was made to take off the bodies.
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