FALSE. This ‘fact’ was a popular one in the press of the time and is one of the more enduring myths about the Titanic. The iceberg actually caused intermittent damage in five main places, breaching six of Titanic’s watertight compartments.
Edward Wilding, one of Titanic’s designers, estimated at the enquiry that, based on damage reports and the rate and volume of water entering the breaches, the iceberg punctured Titanic’s hull in five main areas, and the total area of this damage was only about 12 square feet, at intervals along Titanic’s hull from her Forepeek Tank to as far back as Boiler Room number 4:
20347: ‘What I wanted to ask you is this. A difficulty is felt as to how No. 4 could have been injured in the skin of the ship if the wound terminated, as from Barrett’s evidence apparently it did terminate, just above [sic abaft] the watertight compartment forward of No. 5?’
‘From a calculation which I will refer to in a moment, I cannot believe that the wound was absolutely continuous the whole way. I believe that it was in a series of steps, and that from what we heard Barrett say in his evidence it was the end of one of the series of wounds which flooded the different spaces; that before the ship finally cleared the iceberg as the helm was put over, she would be tending to swing her side into the iceberg, and that a very light contact was made in No. 4. It seemed very probable, quite apart from actual direct evidence of the fact; that is, that after the ship had finished tearing herself at the forward end of No. 5, she would tend to push herself against the iceberg a little, or push herself up the iceberg, and there would be a certain tendency, as the stern came round to aft under the helm, to bang against the iceberg again further aft.’
20422: ‘There is one other thing I think you wanted to tell us upon the points you have left. Have you made any calculation as to the volume of water that came in through the apertures of this vessel?’
‘Assuming the forepeak and Nos. 1, 2 and 3 holds and No. 6 boiler room flooded…it would mean that about 16,000 tons of water had found their way into the vessel. That is the volume of the water which would have to come in. As far as I can follow from the evidence, the water was up to that level in about 40 minutes. It may be a few minutes more or less, but that was the best estimate I could make. When the inflow started the evidence we have as to the vertical position of the damage indicated that the head would be about 25 feet. Of course, as the water rose inside, that head would be reduced and the rate of inflow would be reduced somewhat. Making allowance for those, my estimate for the size of the hole required (and making some allowance for the obstruction due to the presence of decks and other things), is that the total area through which water was entering the ship, was somewhere about 12 square feet. The extent of the damage fore and aft, that is from the foremost puncture to the aftermost puncture in the cross bunker at the forward end of No. 5 boiler room, is about 500 feet [sic 200], and the average width of the hole extending the whole way is only about three-quarters of an inch. That was my reason for stating this morning that I believe it must have been in places, that is, not a continuous rip. A hole three-quarters of an inch wide and 200 feet long does not seem to describe to me the probable damage, but it must have averaged about that amount.’ 20423: ‘You mean, if there was a considerably thick hole, that hole could not have gone as far along the ship as four compartments?’
‘Yes, that is so. It can only have been a comparatively
short length, and the aggregate of the holes must have
been somewhere about 12 square feet. One cannot
put it any better than that.’
20424: ‘I suppose it is possible that a piece of ice made a hole and then got itself broken off?’
‘Yes, quite probable.’
20425: ‘And then another piece of ice made another hole, and so on?’
‘Yes, that is what I believe happened.’
Titanic would have floated with her forward three watertight compartments flooded, as she was designed to do. She would even have floated that night with four flooded, Wilding estimated, based on her loading at the time and the calmness of the water. With six compartments breached, however, it was a certainty that Titanic would sink.
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