It was always thought the Titanic
sank because its crew were sailing too fast and failed to see the iceberg
before it was too late.
But now it has been revealed they
spotted it well in advance but still steamed straight into it because of a
basic steering blunder.
According to a new book, the ship
had plenty of time to miss the iceberg but the helmsman panicked and turned the
By the time the catastrophic error
was corrected it was too late and the side of the ship was fatally holed by the
Even then the passengers and crew
could have been saved if it had stayed put instead of steaming off again and
causing water to pour into the broken hull.
The revelation, which comes out
almost 100 years after the disaster, was kept secret until now by the family of
the most senior officer to survive the disaster.
Second Officer Charles Lightoller
covered up the error in two inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic because he
was worried it would bankrupt the liner’s owners and put his colleagues out of
Since his death – by then a war
hero from the Dunkirk evacuation – it has remained hidden for fear it would
ruin his reputation.
But now his granddaughter the
writer Lady (Louise) Patten has revealed it in her new novel.
“It just makes it seem all the
more tragic,” she said.
“They could easily have
avoided the iceberg if it wasn’t for the blunder.”
The error on the ship’s maiden
voyage between Southampton and New York in 1912 happened due at the time
seagoing was undergoing enormous upheaval because of the conversion from sail
to steam ships.
The change meant there were two
different steering systems and different commands attached to them.
Crucially, the two steering systems were the
complete opposite of one another.
So a command to turn “hard a
starboard” meant turn the wheel right under the Tiller system and left
under the Rudder.
When First Officer William Murdoch
spotted the iceberg two miles away, his “hard a-starboard” order was
misinterpreted by the Quartermaster Robert Hitchins.
He turned the ship right instead of
left and, even though he was almost immediately told to correct it, it was too
late and the side of the starboard bow was ripped out by the iceberg.
Patten’s grandfather was not on
watch at the time of the collision, but he was present at a final meeting of
the ship’s officers before the Titanic went down.
There he heard not only about the
fatal mistake but also the fact that J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of Titanic’s
owner the White Star Line persuaded the captain to continue sailing, sinking
the ship hours faster than would otherwise have happened.
“If Titanic had stood still,
she would have survived at least until the rescue ship came and no one need
have died,” Patten said.