Practical Failure Analysis

, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 10–13 | Cite as

RMS Titanic: A metallurgical problem

  • H. P. Leighly
  • B. L. Bramfitt
  • S. J. Lawrence
Features A Look Back


On 14 April 1912, at 11:40 p.m., Greenland Time, the Royal Mail Ship Titanic on its maiden voyage was proceeding westward at 21.5 knots (40 km/h) when the lookouts on the foremast sighted a massive iceberg estimated to have weighed between 150,000 to 300,000 tons at a distance of 500 m ahead. Immediately, the ship’s engines were reversed and the ship was turned to port (left) in an attempt to avoid the iceberg. In about 40 seconds, the ship struck the iceberg below the waterline on its starboard (right) side near the bow. The iceberg raked the hull of the ship for 100 m, destroying the integrity of the six forward watertight compartments. Within 2 h 40 min the RMS Titanic sank.

Metallurgical examination and chemical analysis of the steel taken from the Titanic revealed important clues that allow an understanding of the severity of the damage inflicted on the hull. Although the steel was probably as good as was available at the time the ship was constructed, it was very inferior when compared with modern steel. The notch toughness showed a very low value (4 joules) for the steel at the water temperature (−2 °C) in the North Atlantic at the time of the accident.


Molten Steel Acicular Ferrite Charpy Impact Test Back Scattered Electron Image Charpy Specimen 
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Copyright information

© ASM International - The Materials Information Society 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. P. Leighly
    • 1
  • B. L. Bramfitt
    • 2
  • S. J. Lawrence
    • 2
  1. 1.University of Missouri-RollaRolla
  2. 2.Bethlehem Steel CorporationBethlehem

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