May 11, 2021

The Iceberg That Hit the Titanic

In April 1912, the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. There is only one confirmed photo of the iceberg that caused the fatal damage.

When the Titanic put out from Southampton on April 10, 1912, she was hailed as a marvel of the age.

The world’s largest ship – 46 000 tonnes and 2200 passengers – she was also proclaimed unsinkable. The design included a series of watertight compartments, below the waterline, that was thought would prevent her sinking, even if the hull was breached.

But disaster was lurking in the North Atlantic.

Just before midnight, April 14, Titanic slammed into a large iceberg at around 20 knots. The berg ground along the ship’s starboard side, slicing open five of the watertight compartments; too many for it to remain afloat.

The unsinkable ship began to do exactly that, as panicked passengers and crew struggled with emergency procedures none of them thought they would need. Titanic only carried enough lifeboats for half of its occupants, in the chaos most of these launched only half full.

The ship sank around 2am, April 15, with the loss of 1 500 lives.

RMS Carpathia

As Titanic sank, it radioed desperately for help.

The first ship to arrive on the scene was cruise liner RMS Carpathia, in transit from Liverpool to Boston. Arriving around 4am, the Carpathia’s crew would rescue 705 people from the freezing waters.

Among the Carpathia’s passengers was 17 year old Bernice Palmer.

Titanic survivors on the deck of the Carpathia

Armed with a Kodak ‘Box Brownie’, a simple and popular small camera, she was able to capture remarkable, first hand photos of the survivors. She also snapped a picture of a large iceberg some distance away, that was identified by Titanic crew as the one that had ruptured the ship.

The iceberg that hit the Titanic
Bernice Palmer’s photo of the Titanic iceberg

According to the American Natural History Museum, which has the photo in its collection, this is the only confirmed picture of the Titanic iceberg. It would later appear on the front cover of newspapers in the US, pointing out the instigator of the sinking.

But, there have been other photographic candidates.

Capatin Woods photo of the iceberg that hit the Titanic
Captain Woods’ photo of the Titanic iceberg

In 2020, a photo reportedly of the Titanic iceberg was sold at auction.

This photo was taken by Captain W. Wood of the SS Estonian, during the day on April 14, prior to the disaster. He would later claim, via a letter to a friend, that the coordinates where he spotted the iceberg matched where Titanic would later be struck.

Experts think this claim plausible, but the photo’s veracity is not confirmed. Adding to the doubt, Captain Wood dated his photo ‘1913’, rather than 1912. Although the corroborating letter shows the correct year.

Linoenewald’s photo of the Titanic iceberg

After the sinking, later on April 15, M. Linoenewald, the Chief Steward of the SS Prinz Adalbert, snapped another iceberg photo.

This one also comes with a note; Linoenewald jotted down that a smear of paint, along the side of the iceberg, was ‘clearly visible’. This, in conjunction with the iceberg’s location, lead him to conclude this was the one that sunk the Titanic.

Whether paint from a stricken ship would remain visible on an iceberg, hours after impact, has been debated. Linoenewald’s photo is also unconfirmed.

Bernice Palmer: eyewitness to aftermath

Looking at the three photo’s above, the icebergs in each look quite different. But as icebergs change shape dramatically as they melt, and drift through the ocean, this does not rule any of them out. One, or all three, could be the Titanic iceberg.

The high price paid for Captain Wood’s unconfirmed photo, $10 000, shows the ongoing fascination with this tragic event.

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