STOP Command / "Porting Around" Maneuver
First Officer William Murdoch was a skilled shiphandler, with 9 complete voyages in Olympic constituting his most recent experience. He would have realized immediately upon seeing the iceberg that the starboard wing propeller would pass uncomfortably close, especially so if any of the ice extended towards the ship underneath the water. Slamming a spinning propeller against that ice would surely damage one or more of the starboard propeller blades, with possible transmitted shock damage to the respective shaft and engine. Similar damage recently suffered by Olympic during a collision less than two months previous with an underwater object quite possibly flashed through Murdochs mind as he weighed his options. The only practicable way to protect the starboard propeller and shaft was to stop the reciprocating steam engine that drove them. However, stopping only the starboard engine would result in an asymmetric thrust. The still-driving port propeller would tend to drive the bow to starboard, in opposition to the helm order Murdoch had just issued. The result would have been the head-on impact with iceberg that the first officer was trying to avoid. Only one option remained to protect the starboard propeller: stop all engines.
Fourth Officer Joseph Boxhall reported during the Enquiry that upon arriving on the bridge after the fact, he saw both telegraph handles pointing to FULL ASTERN, and heard Murdoch report that the engines had been reversed to Captain Smith. This, in effect, has led historians to believe that Murdoch rang down a "crash stop."
A crash stop, though, is the last thing that Murdoch would have wanted to perform to avoid the iceberg. Under full reverse power, the bow would not have pivoted to port as the lookouts described in their testimony. The stern would have begun kicking to starboard, and with forward momentum still a factor, the hull would have slewed toward the berg, almost out of control. In all probability, Titanic most probably would have ended up with her starboard beam up against the berg.
With the exception of Boxhall, crew testimony contradicts the assertion that the engines were crashed back. Greaser Frederick Scott was in the engine space. "I noticed stop first," he told the British hearings, "on the main engines." Murdoch's orders came down on both the main engine and emergency order telegraphs: "All four went together: stop. Two greasers at the bottom rang back. They were feeding the engines and were close handy at the time," Scott testified. Immediately afterward, the boiler telegraphed signaled STOP, telling the lead firemen to order the dampers shut on their furnaces. Leading stoker Frederick Barrett had been talking with Second Engineer James Hesketh when the lights on the stoking indicators changed from white (FULL) to red (STOP). Closing the dampers was an ordinary precaution to prevent generating excess steam pressure when rotation of the engines was stopped. In a crash back scenario, the boiler room telegraphs would be expected to remain unchanged at FULL.
The most positive proof that a crash stop never occurred is that not one of the more than 700 survivors remembered the rumbling and shuddering of the stern that would certainly have been part of such a maneuver.
"Porting Around" Maneuver
In the traditional version of Titanic's accident, the starboard bow just brushes the iceberg as the ship turns left, away from danger. The manner in which ships move in the water belies this assumption. Iceberg damage to the starboard bow would have necessitated bumping and grinding of the ice along the ship's starboard side all the way to the stern. Edward Wilding was the senior Naval Architect working for Thomas Andrews in the designing office at Harland & Wolff, Ltd. During his testimony before the Wreck Commission, Wilding pointed out the impossibility of the left-turn-only description of the accident:
MR. WILDING: 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.
There are no reports of damage farther aft than boiler room #5. Nor are there reports of contact between the hull and the iceberg farther aft than the forward well deck. Titanic's starboard emergency boat was kept rigged outboard for immediate use. Although witnesses describe the top of the berg as extending above the boat deck, this boat was not touched. Nor were the four regular lifeboats, which had been swung outboard at the after end of the Boat Deck. All of this evidence is contrary to what would have been expected if the ship had, in Wilding's words, "banged against the iceberg again further aft."
According to the ships lookouts and helmsman, Titanics bow had already turned two points to port before the collision occurred. From this, we can assume that Titanics bow cleared the berg. In this situation, it would be expected that contact would have occurred near the hulls pivot point, which was about one-third of the vessel's length from the bow. A port turn would likely have caused damage just forward of the pivot point and continue aft for the entire length of the ship. Instead, damage appears to have been confined to the very forward portion of the ship, with the amidships and stern area escaping any contact with the berg. The only possible reason for this apparent paradox is that First Officer Murdoch in fact completed his "port around" maneuver. The conventional story of the ship turning to its left and just scraping the starboard bow must be revised:
Titanic was turning to her right (port helm in 1912) when she struck on the ice.
To "port around" the iceberg, Murdoch used a common maneuver for power-driven vessels. First, he turned to port to clear the bow. Then, he shifted the helm to swing the stern away from the ice. This second turn required a "hard aport" order to the quartermaster. Testimony from three crewmembers confirms Murdochs maneuver. The first was from Quartermaster Alfred Olliver, who was just walking into the enclosed section of the bridge as the iceberg was passing down the starboard side. He described what happened at the U.S. Senate Inquiry:
SENATOR BURTON: You do not know whether the helm was put hard astarboard first, or not?
MR. OLLIVER: No, sir I do not know that.
SENATOR BURTON: But you know it was put hard aport after you got there?
MR: OLLIVER: After I got there. Yes, sir.
SENATOR BURTON: Where was the iceberg, do you think, when the helm was shifted?
MR. OLLIVER: The iceberg was way up stern.
SENATOR BURTON: That is when the "hard aport" was given?
MR. OLLIVER: That is when the order "hard aport" was given. Yes, sir.
SENATOR BURTON: Who gave the order?
MR. OLLIVER: The first officer.
SENATOR BURTON: And that order was immediately executed?
MR. OLLIVER: Immediately executed, and the sixth officer saw that it was carried out.
Quartermaster George Rowe was stationed on the poop deck to tend the ship's taffrail log and be on the general lookout aft. In Rowes U.S. testimony, he states:
SENATOR BURTON: Could you hear the ice scraping along on the boat where you were?
MR. ROWE: No, sir.
SENATOR BURTON: So you do not know whether it was rubbing against the hull there or not?
MR. ROWE: No, sir.
SENATOR BURTON: What is your best judgement about that?
MR. ROWE: I do not think it was.
SENATOR BURTON: You are positive you heard no rubbing?
MR. ROWE: Yes, sir.
SENATOR BURTON: Do you not think that if the helm had been hard astarboard the stern would have been up against the berg?
MR. ROWE: It stands to reason it would, sir, if the helm were hard astarboard.
Another seaman, Joseph Scarrott, was smoking in the forecastle when the ship struck. He scrambled on deck near the bow, where he saw the berg gliding along the ship's starboard side. In London, he testified that Titanic was under port helm (turning right) and that the stern was swinging away from the ice. Passenger George Harder confirmed Scarrotts observation from his cabin:
"...I heard this thump, then I could feel the boat quiver and could feel a sort of rumbling, scraping noise along the side of the boat. When I went to the porthole I saw this iceberg go by. The porthole was closed. The iceberg was, I should say, about 50 to 100 feet away."
The evidence indicates that First Officer Murdoch did attempt to "port around" the iceberg. He first turned the ship to port, in order to clear the bow. He immediately followed that with a turn toward the iceberg, in order to swing the stern away from danger. Between the two helm orders, he rang down STOP on both engines, in an attempt to protect the starboard propeller from damage.
When Titanic struck on the berg, she was turning to the right toward the iceberg. The fact that Titanic ended up pointing north, when she had originally been heading west, could be taken as further corroboration of this assumption.