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index > rms titanic > the final seconds before collision: a 12 part series - part 1 of 12

THE FINAL SECONDS BEFORE COLLISION: PART 1 OF 12


By Bruce A. Trinque

Part 1– Quartermaster Robert Hitchens (Hitchins, Hichens)

American Inquiry:


Q: I wish you would tell now, in your own way, what occurred that night from the time you went on watch until the collision occurred.
A: … All went along very well until 20 minutes to 12, when three gongs came from the lookout, and immediately afterwards a report on the telephone, “Iceberg right ahead.” The chief officer rushed from the wing to the bridge, or I imagine so, sir. Certainly I am inclosed in the wheelhouse, and I can not see, only my compass. He rushed to the engines. I heard the telegraph bell ring; also give the order “Hard astarboard,’ with the sixth officer standing by me to see the duty carried out and the quartermaster standing by my left side. Repeated the order, “Hard astarboard. The helm is hard over, sir.”

Q: Who gave the first order?
A: Mr. Murdock, the first officer, sir; the officer in charge. The sixth officer repeated the order, “The helm is hard astarboard, sir.” But, during the time, she was crushing the ice, or we could hear the grinding noise along the ship’s bottom. I heard the telegraph ring, sir. The skipper came rushing out of his room – Capt. Smith – and asked, “What is that?” Mr. Murdock said, “An iceberg.” He said, “Close the emergency doors.”

Q: Who said that, the captain?
A: Capt. Smith, sir, to Mr. Murdock; “Close the emergency doors.” Mr. Murdock replied, “The doors are already closed.” The captain then sent for the carpenter to sound the ship …

Q: … I want you to tell the committee, if you can, why you put the ship to starboard, which I believe you said you did, just before the collision with the iceberg?
A: I do not quite understand you, sir.

Q: You said that when you were first apprised of the iceberg, you did what?
A: Put my helm to starboard, sir. That is the orders I received from the sixth officer.

Q: What was the effect of that?
A: The ship minding the helm as I put her to starboard.

Q: But suppose you had gone bows on against that object?
A: I don’t know nothing about that. I am in the wheelhouse, and, of course, I couldn’t see anything.

Q: You could not see where you were going?
A: No, sir; I might as well be locked in a cell. The only thing I could see was my compass.

Q: The officer gave you the necessary order?
A: Gave me the order, “Hard a’starboard.”

Q: Hard a’starboard?
A: Yes, sir.

Q: You carried it out immediately?
A: Yes, sir; immediately, with the sixth officer behind my back, with the junior officer behind my back, to see whether I carried it out – one of the junior officers.

Q: Is that the only order you received before this collision, or impact?
A: That is all, sir. Then the first officer told the other quartermaster standing by to take the time, and told one of the junior officers to make a note of that in the log book. That was at 20 minutes of 12, sir.

British Enquiry:

Q: Had you any instructions before she struck? Had you been told to do anything with your helm before she struck?
A: Just as she struck I had the order, “Hard a starboard” when she struck.

Q: Just as she struck, is that what you said?
A: Not immediately as she struck, the ship was swinging. We had the order, “Hard a starboard,” and she just swung about two points when she struck.

Q: You got the order, “Hard a starboard”?
A: Yes.

Q: Had you time to get the helm hard a starboard before she struck?
A: No, she was crashing then.

Q: Did you begin to get the helm over?
A: Yes, the helm was barely over when she struck. The ship had swung about two points.

Q: Do let me understand, had she swung two points before the crash came?
A: Yes, my Lord.

Q: I am not quite sure that I understand what you had done to the helm before this. You had got an order, “hard a starboard”?
A: “Hard a starboard,” yes.

Q: You proceeded at once to put the wheel hard a starboard?
A: Immediately, yes.

Q: Before the vessel struck had you time to get the wheel right over?
A: The wheel was over then, hard over.

Q: Before she struck?
A: Oh yes, hard over before she struck.

Q: Who gave the order “hard a starboard”?
A: Mr Murdoch, the First Officer.

Q: When had he come on the bridge?
A: He relieved Mr Lightoller on the bridge at ten o’clock.

Q: Did the Fourth and Sixth Officers, Mr Boxall and Mr Moody, remain?
A: Mr Moody was standing behind me when the order was given.

Q: And was Mr Boxall on the bridge?
A: From what I am given to understand, Mr Boxall was approaching the bridge.

Q: Was Captain Smith on the bridge?
A: No, Sir.

Q: Do you know where he was?
A: Yes, Sir, in his room.

Q: So far as you know was there any change in the speed at which the vessel was travelling before she struck?
A: I took the log which was part of my duty at half a minute to ten, as near as I can tell, and the vessel was going 45 knots by the Cherub log every two hours.

Q: Forty-five knots?
A: Forty-five was registered on the log.

Q: Was the speed altered before the collision?
A: Well, the crash came immediately.

Q: I know it did. Had the speed been altered before?
A: No, I could not say, my Lord, because I could not see the officer on the bridge. I am in the wheelhouse. I cannot see anything only my compass.

Q: I think we can get at it in this way. What was the first notice to you that there was something ahead?
A: Three gongs from the crow’s nest, Sir.

Q: That you would hear in the wheelhouse, would you?
A: Certainly, Sir.

Q: And you knew what that meant?
A: Certainly, Sir.

Q: The meant something ahead?
A: Yes.

Q: How long was that before the order came “Hard a starboard”?
A: Well, as near as I can tell you, about half a minute.

Q: In order that we may understand, if there was a telephone message from the crow’s nest to the bridge, would you hear it? Would you know anything about it?
A: Certainly so, Sir.

Q: ... What was the telephone message? Did you hear any?
A: I did not hear the message, but I heard the reply.

Q: What was the reply?
A: “Thank you”.

Q: Who gave it?
A: Mr Moody.

Q: Then it means this, that Mr Moody, the Sixth Officer, got a telephone message after the three bells had been struck?
A: Immediately after.

Q: You did not hear what was said to Mr Moody, but you heard him acknowledge the message, and say “Thank you”?
A: Yes. I heard Mr Moody repeat, “Iceberg right ahead”.

Q: To whom did he repeat that?
A: To Mr Murdoch, the First Officer.

Q: “Iceberg right ahead”, is that what he said?
A: Yes.

Q: Repeating what he had heard from the telephone message?
A: Yes.

Q: And then what happened?
A: I heard Mr Murdoch rush to the telegraph and give the order, “Hard a starboard”.

Q: When you say he rushed to the telegraph, is that the telegraph to the engine-room you are speaking of?
A: Yes.

Q: The order, “Hard a starboard,” was it to you?
A: Yes.

Q: … Do you know what order it was that was telegraphed to the engine-room?
A: No.

Q: … Now just for a minute give me your attention on the point of speed. You have told us according to the log that the speed was 45 knots in two hours?
A: Yes.

Q: Up to the time of hearing the three bells struck, was there any change of the speed at which the vessel was proceeding?
A: No, none whatever.

Q: And the order if any, that was given with regard to the speed would be the order by telegraph to the engine-room, which you have told us you do not know?
A: I do not quite understand you.

Q: You have told us what happened. First of all, the signal of the three bells, then the telephone message, then it was repeated to the First Officer, “Iceberg right ahead”, then the First Officer went to the telegraph to given an order to the engine-room and gave you the order, “Hard a starboard”?
A: Yes.

Q: At any rate up to his going to the telegraph as I follow you, there was not change of speed?
A: No, Sir.

Q: What that order was you do not know?
A: No, Sir.

Q: Then “Hard a starboard,” and you immediately put up your helm?
A: Hard a starboard.

Q: Right over?
A: Yes.

Q: What is it, 35 degrees?
A: Forty degrees.

Q: Then you got the helm right over?
A: Right over, Sir.

Q: Then she comes round two points and then strikes. Is that right?
A: The vessel veered off two point, she went to the southward of west.

Q: And then struck?
A: Yes.

Q: Were there blinds in the wheel-house?
A: Yes.

Q: They were all closed?
A: Always closed just after sunset.

Q: And no lights were in the wheel-house at all except the compass light?
A: And the small light.

Q: And the small light on the course board?
A: Yes.

Q: … The helm was put hard a starboard?
A: Yes.

Q: And the ship moved two points?
A: Yes.

Q: … Did any one of the officers see you carry out the order?
A: Yes.

Q: Who?
A: Mr Moody, and also the Quartermaster on my left. He was told to take the time of the collision.

Q: Let us get the fact of what happened. Was Mr Moody there when you put the helm hard-a-starboard?
A: That was his place, to see the duty carried out.

Q: Was it his duty to report it?
A: Yes, he reported the helm hard-a-starboard.

Q: To whom?
A: To Mr Murdoch, the First Officer.

Q: Then you had put the helm hard-a-starboard and Mr Moody had reported it hard-a-starboard to Mr Murdoch?
A: Yes.

Q: … So that he had reported, and then it was after that that she strikes, is that right?
A: She struck almost at the same time.

Q: Almost as he reported it?
A: Yes.

Q: How long did you remain at the wheel?
A: Until 23 minutes past 12.

Q: And who relieved you?
A: Quarter-master Perkis.

Q: After she struck, did you notice at all what happened?
A: No.

Q: While you were remaining at the wheel until 12:23, could you see what was going on on board the vessel?
A: I could not see anything.

Q: You remained at your post?
A: Yes.

Q: I suppose you heard something of what was going on?
A: I heard a few words of command, that was all.

Q: Tell us what you heard in the way of command?
A: Just about a minute, I suppose, after the collision, the Captain rushed out of his room and asked Mr Murdoch what was that, and he said, “An iceberg, Sir,” and he said, “Close the watertight door”.

Q: … Came out of his room on to the bridge do you mean?
A: Yes, Sir, he passed thorough the wheelhouse on to the bridge.

Q: He rushed out of his room through the wheelhouse on to the bridge?
A: Yes.

Q: And asked Murdoch, “What is that?”
A: Yes.

Q: And Murdoch said, “An iceberg.” Is that right?
A: Yes.

Q: Mr Murdoch said “An iceberg,” and then?
A: The Captain immediately gave him orders to close the watertight doors. He said, “They are already closed.” He immediately then sent for the carpenter to sound the ship.

Q: … You were given the order to hard-a-starboard?
A: yes.

Q: … She was never under a port helm?
A: She did not come on the port helm, Sir – on the starboard helm.


Discussion:
Quartermaster Hitchens, the man at the Titanic’s wheel, is the key witness for providing the sequence of events in the wheelhouse and on the bridge. Most of that sequence is clear: Three bells are heard from the crow’s nest; the telephone connected to the crow’s nest rings; Sixth Officer Moody answers the phone, receives the message, and thanks the lookout; Moody informs First Officer Murdoch that there is an iceberg right ahead; Murdoch, who has come on to the bridge from outside, rushes to the engine-room telegraphs and he orders Hitchens “Hard a starboard” (meaning to turn the ship to port); Hitchens turns the helm hard a starboard; Moody confirms to Murdoch that the wheel is now hard a starboard.

There is some uncertainty, however, in exactly when the first instant of impact with the iceberg occurred. At the American Inquiry, Hitchens seemingly states that when Moody is reporting that the helm was hard a starboard, “during the time, she was crushing the ice, or we could hear the grinding noise along the ship’s bottom.” At the British Enquiry Hitchens said that “Just as she struck I had the order ‘Hard a starboard’.” Then he explained that “Not immediately as she struck, the ship was swinging. The ship had swung about two point when she struck.” When asked if he had time to get the helm hard a starboard before the Titanic struck, Hitchens replied, “No, she was crashing then” although he then attempted to clarify this by saying that “the helm was barely over when she struck. The ship had swung about two points.” Later, Hitchens again said that the “wheel was over then, hard over” before the vessel struck the iceberg. In a final bout of questioning, Hitchens was asked whether it was after Moody reported to Murdoch that the helm was hard a starboard that the Titanic struck the iceberg. “She struck almost at the same time,” Hitchens answered, and then confirmed this statement in a follow-up question: “Almost as he reported it?” “Yes.”

Evidently, Moody’s confirmation to Murdoch that the helm was hard a starboard and the sounds indicating the hull was grinding along the iceberg were almost simultaneous. At any rate, there seems to have been nothing like a thirty-seven second delay between the helm being turned and the impact. Even deducting the time necessary for the quartermaster to actually turn the wheel full around to the desired position, Hitchens’ testimony leaves no appreciable gap between that event and the first sounds of collision. Hitchens is consistent, however, in maintaining that the ship had veered about two points to port before striking the iceberg.

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