On the fateful day of April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic, a cruise liner that had been dubbed ‘unsinkable’, collided with an iceberg and resulted in an accident of catastrophic proportions. Hundreds of lives were lost, accompanied by a massive loss of property.
In the aftermath of the mishap, experts from all over the world scrutinized the entire episode with surgical precision. A number of hypotheses were put forth as to what could have been done to minimize the losses caused by the collision. One such hypothesis claims that if the Titanic had collided head on with the iceberg, the damages would have been much less serious in terms of both lives and property. So, is the claim valid? Let’s find out.
In the aftermath of the accident, some people argued that if the ship had not tried to maneuver a turn at the last moment, but had instead continued on its original course, fewer lives would have been lost. Since the ship had collision bulkheads in the bow, it would have very likely survived the damages. Furthermore, the impact would have flooded the first three, or at most four, watertight compartments. Since the Titanic was designed in such a way that it could stay afloat with four watertight compartments underwater, such a catastrophic loss of lives could have been averted.
People who agreed with this hypothesis actually blamed First Officer Murdoch for his irresponsible actions, which led to the disaster.
However… is the hypothesis valid?
No. The idea that the ship should have maintained its course and rammed into the iceberg head-on to minimize damages is far from plausible, and is also scientifically inaccurate.
How did it actually happen?
Titanic, a 55,000-ton ship, was traveling at a speed of 22 knots (almost 41 kmph) when the iceberg was spotted. They tried to steer the ship left to avoid ramming directly into it; nevertheless, the collision occurred and the iceberg consequently scraped along the side of the ship, tearing its hull apart.
Here’s a video showing how the collision actually occurred:
The Problem With a Head-on Collision
Bulkheads: Not as effective against an iceberg
The collision bulkheads at the bow of Titanic were designed to allow the ship to survive a collision with another ship, but not an iceberg! They were put in place as a precaution against any such event (a similar event had occurred to the RMS Republic in 1909).
The compartments of such bulkheads were more or less like the ‘crumple zones’ of modern vehicles, meaning that they absorbed most of the energy of the impact following a collision. The same thing would happen with the other ship (that collided with yours), as it also absorbed some of the energy of the impact. In such a case, both the vessels would sustain heavy damages, but would likely still stay afloat.
If the Titanic were to collide with the iceberg – a stationary, mammoth object – most of the energy of the impact would have to be absorbed by the ship, which would have only made matters worse.
Abrupt Halt: Utterly Undesirable!
If the Titanic had rammed head-on into the iceberg, it would’ve stopped almost instantly. Think of how it feels when you see a car swerving in front of you, and you abruptly hit the brakes. Stopping abruptly would have thrown people crashing against cabins or bunks; and since it was night time, and most of the passengers were asleep, they would’ve had absolutely no chance of bracing themselves against the impact. They would have been flung into the things in their immediate vicinity. Furthermore, the condition of the workmen in the front section of the ship would have been even worse.
In the case of a head-on collision, the shock of the impact would have traveled the entire length of the ship, splitting apart seams and popping rivets. In that case, far more compartments of the ship would have been exposed to the sea, resulting in the ship sinking much more rapidly.
Therefore, the idea that the ship would have survived if it had rammed head-on into the iceberg is crazy. There are a number of claims and hypotheses that suggest a variety of approaches that could have lessened the severity of, if not altogether avoided, the tragic mishap of the RMS Titanic, but ramming straight into the iceberg is definitely not one of them.