Third Officer Herbert Pitman
-Collision with an Iceberg

At the time of the Titanic's collision with the iceberg, Pitman was off-duty, half-asleep in his bunk in the Officers' Quarters. He heard and felt the collision, later testifying at the British Inquiry that he heard "a noise; I thought the ship was coming to anchor." (British Inquiry(24.))

In the US Inquiry he also gave a detailed account of what happened, stating that "the collision woke me up… there was a sound that I thought seemed like the ship coming to an anchor - the chain running out over the windlass... it gave just a little vibration. I was about half awake and about half asleep. It did not quite awaken me." Pitman lay there slowly waking up "after a little thinking, wondering where we were anchoring" for "maybe three or four minutes." Then at "about 10 minutes to 12, or a quarter to 12" he "got up and walked on deck without dressing." He "just went outside of our quarters, had a look around, and could not see anyone…On the boat deck, close to the bridge…Just outside the door, I should say 3 or 4 paces across the deck... I can describe to you what I did... I had a look around, and I could not see anything, and could not hear any noise, so I went back to the room and sat down and lit my pipe. I thought that nothing had really happened, that perhaps it might have been a dream, or something like that. " (US Inquiry(25.))

Titanic's boat deck plan, indicating Third officer Pitman's cabin and the route he took to check outside at the time of collision. (Deck plan: Encyclopedia Titanica )

Pitman was most likely looking on the port side of the forward boat deck, outside the officer's quarters. Most of the activity, with Smith, Murdoch and Boxhall, took place on the starboard side, but not all the time. At the British Inquiry Lightoller described later looking "out of the starboard door and I could see the Commander standing on the bridge in just the same manner as I had seen Mr. Murdoch, just the outline; I could not see which was which in the dark" (24.). So this which might explain why Pitman did not see anything on the port side.

Second officer Lightoller in uniform
aboard the Titanic. He said to Pitman
that 'evidently' they had hit something.
(Click image to enlarge)

On his return from looking outside, Pitman met Second officer Lightoller. "He was off watch then; he was in bed" his quarters were "next door" and "I saw him when I was coming back; on my return." (US Inquiry(25.)). At the British Inquiry Pitman said he "met Mr. Lightoller first of all, and I asked him what had happened, if we had hit something, and he said, 'Yes, evidently.' ...Yes, evidently something had happened."(24.)

Lightoller then went outside and had a similar experience to Pitman, as he wrote in his book that he "peered over the port side, but could see nothing there; ran across to the starboard side, but neither was there anything there... the cold was cutting like a knife" (47.). As for Pitman, he returned to his cabin and "went to bed" (British Inquiry(24.)).


Pitman's Opinion on the Iceberg Collision

During the United States Inquiry, Pitman made several interesting comments regarding the nature of the collision and a description of the operation of the watertight door lever. He believes the collision should have been "bows on" (or head on) and that "she would have been afloat now" if this had occurred and even goes as far as to say "if two or three steamers had run into her [bows on] she would not have sunk" but that "it was quite natural to try and get out of the way." (US Inquiry(25.))

He is also of the opinion that the engines were indeed reversed saying "as far as I heard, she went full astern immediately after the collision... She reversed her engines... She was past [point of contact] then, I think. We brought the ship to a standstill." (US Inquiry(25.))  This is most likely based on Fourth officer Boxhall's testimony that the engines were reversed - although he is the only witness to allege it and there is no evidence the engine orders were ever given.

Pitman describes how the watertight doors were closed, saying "there is a lever 7 or 8 inches long…On the bridge; close to the man at the wheel. All you have to do is to just pull it over like that [indicating by describing half a circle]…That closes the doors electrically…They come right down...straight down that way [indicating]. There is an electrical bell beside them. You ring that a few minutes before closing, so as to give any one a chance to get out of the way who might be standing underneath." (US Inquiry(25.))


Pitman in a profile watercolour (undated) by Esther Patterson, smoking a pipe, as he did when he returned to his room after the collision. (Southampton City Heritage Collections) (Click image to enlarge)


Pitman's Pipe and Boxhall

Fourth officer Boxhall knocks on Pitman's
door and tells him of the iceberg collision.

After returning to his cabin in the officers quarters and smoking his pipe, Pitman then realised that his watch was about to begin at midnight (12am-4am) and began to dress. At the same time Fourth officer Boxhall was waking the officers and knocked on his door, having likely first spoken to Lightoller. To Lightoller Boxhall had said: "“We’ve hit an iceberg... The water is up to F Deck in the Mail Room." (47.). Boxhall repeats almost the same to Pitman. Pitman describes what happens and his subsequent actions:

"A few minutes afterwards I thought I had better start dressing, as it was near my watch, so I started dressing, and when I was partly dressed Mr. Boxhall came in and said the mail room - there was water in the mail room. I said, 'What happened?' He said, 'We struck an iceberg.' So I put a coat on and went on deck, and saw the men uncovering the boats and clearing them away. I walked along to the after end of the boat deck, and met Mr. Moody, the sixth officer. I asked him if he had seen the iceberg. He said no; but he said,'There is some ice on the forward well deck.'" So, to satisfy my curiosity, I went down there myself…. On the well deck. So I saw a little ice there. I went further, to the forecastle head, to see if there was any damage there. I could not see any at all. On my return, before emerging from under the forecastle head, I saw a crowd of firemen coming out with their bags, bags of clothing. I said, 'What is the matter?' They said, 'The water is coming in our place.' I said, 'That is funny.' I looked down No.1 hatch, then, and saw the water flowing over the hatch. I then immediately went to the boat deck, and assisted in getting boats uncovered and ready for swinging out. I stood by No.5 boat." (US Inquiry(25.))

Further to his meeting with Boxhall, at the British Inquiry Pitman said he had been in bed for "five minutes" when he thought I might as well get up, as it was no use trying to go to sleep again, as I was due on watch in a few minutes…. Mr. Boxhall came to my room and said the mail-room was afloat… I asked him what we had struck, and he said an iceberg… I put my coat on and went on deck…The men were uncovering the boats..That was on the port side." He met Sixth officer Moody "on the afterpart of the deck … I asked him if he had seen the iceberg; he answered, No, but there was ice on the forward well deck." (British Inquiry(24.))

As Pitman was returning from the forecastle he saw fireman "a whole crowd of them coming up from below" who told him "that the water was coming into their quarters" on "the starboard side." In response he "simply looked down No. 1 hatch and saw water rushing up No. 1 hatch, or at least round it... Quite a little stream, both sides of the hatch... I think it was running mostly from the starboard side. " (British Inquiry(24.))