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How Big Was the Iceberg That the Titanic Hit? [Frozen Facts]

Written By Denis Cummings
Last updated: June 16, 2023

The sinking of the Titanic continues to evoke a sense of wonder, fascination, and tragedy for millions around the world. And one question many people still ask, over a century later, is “How Big Was The Iceberg That The Titanic Hit?” Uncovering the size and characteristics of the iceberg serves not only to satisfy our curiosity but also to deepen our understanding of this monumental event in history.

In this blog post, we dive into iceberg formation and sizes, explore the “Iceberg Alley,” relive eyewitness accounts of that fateful night, and examine modern day lessons from the tragedy. By gleaning insights about the iceberg that sealed Titanic’s fate, we hope to bring attention to critical factors that contributed to its sinking – ultimately honoring all those who perished on April 14th, 1912.

A Brief Overview of the Titanic Disaster

The RMS Titanic was the epitome of luxury and a symbol of human achievement during her time. At 882 feet in length and weighing around 52,000 tons, she was the largest and most lavish passenger ship ever built in her time. Launched by the White Star Line, Titanic set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York City on April 10th, 1912.

During its journey across the Atlantic Ocean, 1,324 passengers and more than 900 crew members experienced an unforgettable level of luxury and grandeur aboard the mighty vessel. Tragically though, their voyage was destined for catastrophe.

The fateful night on April 14, 1912

At around 11:40 PM on April 14th, a towering iceberg lay directly in Titanic’s path. Despite efforts by her crew to maneuver away from it, she collided with the massive chunk of ice which ultimately resulted in chaos and desperation.

Overwhelming loss of life

The “unsinkable” ocean liner became submerged within a mere 2 hours and 40 minutes, plunging into the icy depths at around 2:20 AM on April 15th. Out of approximately 2,240 people onboard, only about 710 passengers survived this disastrous event largely due to an inadequate number of lifeboats available. The loss of life was overwhelming; making it one of history’s deadliest maritime disasters during peacetime.

Fact Check: How Many People Died on the Titanic?

How Big Was the Iceberg That the Titanic Hit?

The iceberg that the Titanic collided with was approximately 50 to 100 feet high and between 200 and 400 feet long. This iceberg, large enough to cause the infamous disaster, was only a fraction of its actual size as about 90% of it was underwater. It is crucial to point out that icebergs themselves are notoriously difficult to measure. While we rely on historical accounts and testimonies, there may still be some uncertainties when it comes to an exact size.

How Big Was the Iceberg That the Titanic Hit? [Frozen Facts]

Iceberg Classification and Formation

To truly understand the iceberg’s size that hit the Titanic, we must begin by discussing how icebergs themselves are formed and classified. Icebergs originate from glaciers, which are vast, slow moving rivers of ice that occur near polar regions of Earth. As glaciers flow towards the sea, breaking off or calving into icebergs occurs. The vast majority of icebergs floating in the North Atlantic Ocean are created from calving glaciers around Greenland.

Icebergs are commonly classified into several sizes:

  • Growlers: less than 1 meter above water, less than 5 meters long
  • Bergy Bits: 1-4 meters above water, up to 14 meters long
  • Small: 5-15 meters above water
  • Medium: 16-45 meters above water
  • Large: 46-75 meters above water

As you can see, there is a broad spectrum when it comes to iceberg sizes. To determine which category the Titanic iceberg falls into, we need to explore eyewitness accounts and other historical records.

Historical Accounts and Descriptions

Reports from survivors and crew members describe a monumental glimpse of what became known as “The Black Berg.” These descriptions paint a picture of an iceberg approximately 50 to 100 feet tall (15 – 30 meters), towering over Titanic’s deck but hidden within the darkness making it difficult for lookouts to spot it in time.

One interesting factor regarding the appearance of “The Black Berg” was its alleged black appearance at night. Often, when seawater floods a glacier’s crevasses and then freezes, any air bubbles within the ice are forced out. This particular process results in a denser, thus black appearing, iceberg when viewed against the night sky.

Understanding Its True Size

Although historical accounts give us a rough estimate of the visible portion above water, we must remember that 90% of an iceberg’s mass lies beneath the ocean’s surface. This makes determining the full size of Titanic’s iceberg quite challenging. However, based on survivor accounts and considering iceberg size classifications, it seems plausible that Titanic hit what might be categorized as a medium to large sized iceberg.

Aside from guesstimating its size based on witness accounts, we cannot accurately measure the exact dimensions or weight of this iceberg. Being over a century since the event and considering that icebergs are continuously melting and changing shape, these factors certainly hinder our ability to make precise determinations but we can still appreciate general estimations.

Factors Affecting Damage Caused by The Iceberg

With an understanding of the potential size and environmental factors at play (the dark glacial ice), it is clear that Titanic faced significant challenges in avoiding a collision. The ship was traveling at approximately 22 knots (around 25 mph) when it collided with the submerged underwater portion of the iceberg.

The impact caused substantial damage to over 300 feet of its hull plates on Titanic’s starboard side ultimately leading to catastrophic flooding in multiple compartments which doomed the vessel.

Sightings Prior to Collision with the Titanic

On the night of April 14, 1912, several ships in the vicinity of the Titanic reported sighting icebergs and relayed messages warning of potential dangers. A total of six iceberg warnings were communicated to the Titanic that day, with varying levels of urgency. But what exactly happened from a chronological perspective, and what did crew members testify during subsequent investigations?

Testimonies from Crew and Other Ships

Earlier on April 14th, multiple vessels nearby sent warnings about icebergs to the Titanic. The Caronia radioed at 9:00 AM, followed by a message from the Baltic at 1:42 PM. Around 1:45 PM, the lookout on deck sighted ice in front of the vessel, a mixture of small growlers and larger bergs. In response, the course was altered slightly southward.

Throughout that afternoon and evening, several more messages were sent to warn Captain Edward Smith. The Californian, positioned west-southwest from where Titanic eventually struck an iceberg was one ship that tried sending multiple alerts throughout that night regarding surrounding ice sheets and icebergs making their way into shipping lanes.

By 7pm, Captain Edward J. Smith adjusted his ship’s speed but not substantially enough to avoid tragedy altogether later on; by then it had been documented that they were already traveling at roughly 22 knots (which is over 25mph).

The temperature dropped significantly below freezing levels for that evening which made it more difficult for lookouts to detect ice muscling through wind gusts without binoculars while sailing onward at such fast speeds doesn’t bode well when you’re trying your hardest as watchman aboard an ocean liner like this one!

At around 11:30 pm, Frederick Fleet spotted what he believed was an iceberg from his post at the Titanic’s crow’s nest. This was the fateful moment as immediate actions taken (or lack thereof) would determine the outcome of this situation.

Actions Taken by the Titanic’s Crew

The Titanic had not been given sufficient time to maneuver around the obstacle ahead because Fleet only managed to ring three bells before he contacted First Officer William Murdoch, who then sprang into action. Murdoch hastily ordered a hard turn to starboard but also inadvertently changed the ship’s course further south in an effort to avoid collision – bringing it closer still towards that dreaded iceberg obstruction waiting just beneath water’s surface ahead.

Since they were already sailing at such high speed even with their previous adjustments considering received warnings throughout prior hours, there wasn’t ample enough time allotted for avoiding disaster altogether so at 11:40 pm was when Titanic ultimately collided with an iceberg.

It became evident shortly after impact that whatever action had been taken by all parties involved proved insufficient when trying their hardest preventing what they knew since earlier reports warned about it wasn’t enough considering how things unfolded only 2 hours later on April 15th whereby over 1,500 lives were lost along with €134 million sunk beneath Atlantic Ocean floor from both initial crash itself and multiple subsequent catastrophic failures that occurred during subsequent events which followed suit later into those early morning hours upon rescue arrival rescue efforts via RMS Carpathia which finally came onto scene around 4:01 am more than four hours after initial collision occurred.

Fact Check: How Cold Was The Water When The Titanic Sank? 

Assessing Titanic’s Impact with the Iceberg

The colossal Titanic collision occurred as a result of multiple factors, both within and outside the control of its crew. First, we must take into account the point of impact. Eyewitness accounts and ship survivors stated that the starboard side of the ship struck an underwater portion of the iceberg. This detail is crucial in understanding why the damage inflicted was so catastrophic.

Assessing Titanic's Impact with the Iceberg

Underwater Iceberg’s Damage

During an iceberg collision, immense force is exerted on both objects involved. In this case, the Titanic hit not only a solid ice mass above water level but also a much larger ice structure hidden beneath the surface. As 90% of an iceberg’s mass is submerged underwater, it means that there was a vast amount of destructive force channeled into the vessel upon impact.

Ship’s Speed

Another factor was the ship’s speed at which it approached this dangerous situation. The Titanic was traveling at approximately 22 knots just before colliding with the iceberg and unfortunately, no substantial evasive maneuvers were executed in time to avoid or alter its trajectory substantially.

Brittle Steel

Furthermore, studies have revealed that in comparison to modern steel structures, ships during that era (including Titanic) were constructed using brittle steel which made them more vulnerable to fracture upon impact. Recent examinations have shown that low temperatures increased steel’s brittleness even further exacerbating this structural weakness.

Modern-Day Lessons from the Sinking of Titanic

As we grow in our understanding of the events leading up to the Titanic’s unfortunate collision with the iceberg, it is crucial to recognize how this tragedy serves as a catalyst for significant maritime advancements. There are two primary areas where we can see the impact of Titanic’s sinking in shaping modern-day policies and technologies: maritime regulations and vessel construction improvements.

Maritime Regulations Since Established (International Ice Patrol)

In response to the Titanic disaster, participating countries established the International Ice Patrol (IIP) as a safety organization aimed at monitoring icebergs in Iceberg Alley and warning vessels that navigate these waters. Supported by several nations under the guidance of the US Coast Guard, IIP uses satellite imagery, aerial reconnaissance flights, and collaborative data from mariners to track iceberg locations accurately. This vital information is key in ensuring that ships can make informed decisions about their routes and avoid potential collisions.

Vessel Construction Improvements and Technology Advancements

The tragic fate of Titanic has also catalyzed considerable advancements in shipbuilding techniques and technologies. Modern ships use advanced materials, like steel with improved impact resistance that is less brittle at low temperatures. Safety requirements now mandate more extensive safeguard systems, including more comprehensive watertight compartments with appropriately placed bulkheads to ensure their efficiency.

Navigation technologies have come a long way since 1912. Today’s vessels rely on advanced radar, GPS, satellite AIS (Automatic Identification System), sonar, and depth finders enabling more precise navigation through challenging environments like potential ice flows. These tools grant navigators increased situational awareness, ensuring faster response times in critical moments.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is the size of the iceberg that sank Titanic important to know?

Knowing the size helps understand factors contributing to the ship’s sinking, and provides valuable lessons regarding maritime safety.

In which ocean region did the Titanic encounter the iceberg?

The Titanic encountered an iceberg in Iceberg Alley, where North Atlantic shipping lanes connect Newfoundland and Greenland.

How much of an iceberg is visible above water?

Only about 10% is visible above water; icebergs are larger beneath the surface, making them difficult to assess accurately.

What tools are used now to detect icebergs and prevent collisions?

Modern advancements include satellite monitoring, radar systems, sonar technology, and organizations like the International Ice Patrol.

What materials were used in building the Titanic that made it vulnerable to damage from icebergs?

The ship was made from steel which was more brittle than modern steel alloys due to a higher concentration of sulfur and manganese.


While it remains a challenge to pinpoint the precise dimensions of the iceberg that the Titanic collided with, we can deduce it was likely between 50 and 100 feet high, with a significant portion underwater.

Exploring the question “How Big Was The Iceberg That The Titanic Hit?”, we gain understanding not only about the magnitude of this harrowing tragedy but also about the importance of maritime safety and technological advancements that have since emerged.

Reflecting on this historic event serves as a somber reminder of all those who lost their lives due to such an unprecedented disaster. Ultimately, our awareness and understanding help to foster ongoing improvements in ship construction and navigational systems, ensuring that lessons from this dark chapter in maritime history are not forgotten.

Charles Eames

Denis Cummings is a history enthusiast and author, with a passion for uncovering the stories of the past. Through his writing, he seeks to share his love of history with others and provide a unique perspective on the events that have shaped our world.

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