FALSE. As we have seen, the extreme obliqueness of the blow, and the long distance along the hull over which the damage occurred, combined to make the shock very light—and often even unnoticed—in all but the most forward areas of Titanic. For example, Leading Fireman Frederick Barrett, who was working in No.6 Boiler Room at the time of the collision and saw the seawater burst through the side of the ship, compared the collision to a ‘big gun’ going off.
However, passengers who were further away from the impact hardly noticed anything, and some even slept through it. There is evidence that Colonel Archibald Gracie, who wrote a famous account of the sinking in his 1912 book The Truth about the Titanic, was only awakened by the boilers blowing off steam at about midnight, rather than by the collision at about 11.40 p.m. Similarly, Major Arthur Peuchen encountered two young women in First Class who had only been awakened by Mrs Astor’s voice outside their cabins after the collision.
First Class passenger Ella White’s description of the collision is one of the more memorable:
‘It did not seem to me that there was any very great impact at all. It was just as though we went over about a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.’
Lady Duff Gordon was awoken by a ‘grinding’ sound, as she later told the Denver Post :
‘I was asleep. The night was perfectly clear. I was awakened by a long grinding sort of shock. It was not a tremendous crash, but more as though someone had drawn a giant finger all along the side of the boat.’
The apparent gentleness of the collision may have been one reason why many passengers found it hard to believe that the ship could be seriously damaged. Lawrence Beesley, in Second Class, noticed only a slight movement of the engines and that the constant dancing of his mattress then stopped, as the engines stopped. He asked a steward what the problem was and was assured that it was nothing. The stewards probably did think at first that it was nothing serious; Steward Joseph Wheat, who had been on the Olympic when she threw a propeller blade, thought that was what had happened, as did George Crowe, another steward, who said that he would never have noticed the collision if he had been fully asleep.
Ship collisions with icebergs were usually not such relatively soft events. On the evening of Thursday, April 11th, 1912, the French passenger liner Niagara ran into an iceberg in the same icefield which would claim the Titanic, three days later. That accident occurred while passengers were enjoying dinner and the New York Herald described the dramatic encounter, as follows, on 17th April, 1912:
‘Passengers were hurled headlong from their chairs and broken dishes and glass were scattered throughout the dining saloons. The next instant there was a panic among the passengers and they raced screaming and shouting to the decks. “I thought we were doomed,” said Captain Juham yesterday. “At first I feared we had been in collision with another vessel as I hurried to the bridge. But when I saw it was an iceberg and that we were surrounded by ice as far as we could see through the fog, my fears for the safety of the passengers and the vessel grew. I am sure Captain Smith had a similar experience in practically the same locality when the Titanic went down.”’
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