THE TITANIC - SINKING - 15 April 1912
On Monday, April 15, 1912, at 12:30 AM, in the dark of night, the R.M.S. Titanic struck an iceberg in the North Atlantic near Canada and sank at 41°46' N, and 50°14' West. Thanks to wireless, and the first S.O.S. in history, 745 passengers were saved but 1595 persons died in this tragedy among them some of the most prominent persons in the world. It has been argued that the number of survivors could have been doubled or even tripled, if there were stronger wireless regulations in effect at that time.
Indeed at least three problems appeared and increased the slow response of rescuers. First, the radio operators were only on duty during the "open hours", thus only at daytime. Any event could thus occur at night and go almost un-noticed. Of course tragedies nearly always happen at the most inconvenient times, otherwise they do not become tragedies.
The Titanic before the accident
At that time in 1905, the Morse code "SOS" signal (does not mean Save Our Souls) was adopted by German ships for signifying distress while the British marine, working with Marconi operators, wanted to keep CQD (General Call Disaster that some translated as Come Quick Disaster) as a distress signal.
It was first decided to use SOE, but the small "E" dot can easily be lost in QRM and one suggested to replace it with an S, as in repeating three time the small dot the operators had much more chance to arrest the attention of anyone hearing it, hence SOS, was adopted at the Berlin Radiotelegraphic Convention in 1906 as the official international standard for distress calls. But Marconi operators were slow to conform and until 1907 Marconi companies continued to work with the "CQD", associating it if necessary to SOS.
So it was that a commercial war between Marconi and his German competitor, Telefunken, added to the general confusion on that fateful day. This situation depended on individual radio operators. In these early days of telegraphy, where the Stock exchange was growing fast, rapid information exchanges allowed smaller companies to compete with major corporations to increase their shares price.
Titanic - how she sank
In the context of commercial war information war, no routine traffic, even in an emergency, would pass from a Marconi station to a Telefunken competitor. Unfortunately, for Titanic, this lack of co-operation between operators prevailed at a time when they needed help most urgently.
This story is interesting to recall because it emphasizes the problem of security aboard the ship, and the lack of a standard wireless regulation. Here follows the whole story, shortened to the essential messages. In all, some twenty-eight ships were involved in communications with Titanic. The rescue lasted eight hours between the first distress call and the last passenger rescued. Only the "Carpathia" rescued all the passengers they could and proceeded to New York, a trip that took another two and a half days more to complete.
Replica of the Titanic Marconi shack exhibited at
the American Radio Museum at Bellingham, WA., USA
A depths of confusion revealed
On this cold April night in 1912, the Marconi station onboard the "MGY" vessel (the radio callsign of the Titanic) was operated by two wireless operators, 25 year old John George Phillips - better known as "Jack" or "Sparks", and 22 year old Harold Bride as the Deputy or Assistant Radio Operator. They were both employees of the Marconi Telegraph Company. Jack Phillips could tap out 39 words per minute, ditto that for Harold Thomas Cottam ("Carpathia's" wireless operator), and Harold Bride's could manage 26 words per minute.
They were passing a routine traffic by 11.45 PM when Captain Smith came in informing Phillips and Bride that the ship had hit an iceberg, and to prepare a distress call.
At 12:15 AM the captain returned at the radio room and told the operators to send the message. Phillips sent it using his spark gap transmitter : "CQD Titanic 41.46 N 50.24 W" when Bride interrupted him : "Send S.O.S. ! It's the new call and it may be your last chance to send it". But faithful to Marconi's rules, Phillips continue sending CQD.
At the same time, ship "La Provence" received the distress message asking for assistance, the ship "Mount temple", MLQ, also heard the CQD and asked "Titanic" to give again her position. Drowned in the noise of the steam, Philips and Bride checked the ship position. "Cape Race", MCE, heard "Titanic" sending back her new coordinates : "41.44 N 50.24 W". Then ship "Ypiranga" heard "Titanic" calling CQD for about 10 minutes without establish any contact.
The situation worsening, at 12:25 AM Phillips sent to any ship in their vicinity a new message. The Cunard Liner "Carpathia", MPA, picked up the CQD saying : "Come at once. We have struck a berg. It's a CQD OM. Position 41.46 N 50.14 W". Immediately "Cape Race" called "Titanic" but received no reply.
"Titanic" sent a new call : "MGY CQD, here correct position 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Require immediate assistance. We have collision with iceberg. Sinking. Can hear nothing for noise of steam". Titanic called so during about 15 to 20 minutes to "Ypiranga". "...MGY CQD SOS SOS CQD CQD DE MGY WE ARE SINKING FAST PASSENGERS KEIN...".
Meanwhile, at 12:30 AM "Mount Temple" heard "Titanic" still calling CQD. His Captain "reversed ship". She was about 90 km (50 miles) off "Titanic". After a lot of misunderstanding between ships, at 12:32 AM "Carpathia" answered to "Titanic": "Putting about and heading for you".
Titanic sinking - from the movie
At 12:45 "Olympic", MKC, the sister ship of "Titanic" located 800 km (500 miles) away en route to England heard "Titanic" sending "CQD, CQD, SOS Titanic. Position 41.44 N 50.24 W.". But it seems that "Olympic" didn't answer or didn't understand her call. According to the transcript this is the first time that "SOS" was sent, so at least half an hour after the accident and the request of Bride!
While "Titanic" was slowly sinking, Phillips continued to send CQD, and his position, explaining again that "Titantic" had stuck an iceberg, etc. This dramatic comedy lasted another half hour.
At 1:15 AM "Baltic", MBC, asks "Caronia", MSF, to : "Please tell Titanic we are making toward her".
At 1:20 AM "Virginian", MGN, heard "Cape Race" informing "Titanic" : "that we are going to his assistance. Our position 170 miles N. of Titanic." 5 minutes later "Caronia" tells "Titanic" : "Baltic coming to your assistance."
As soon as the wireless operator informed his captain, the "Carpathia" and " Cape Race", chimed in their acknowledgement of the disaster call. But these ships were still hundreds of kilometers away and the "Titanic" desperately continued to send his "CQD" and "SOS" messages.
At 1:25 AM at the requests of "Olympic" : "Are you steering southerly to meet use", "Titanic" replied : "We are putting the women off in the boats." Phillips repeated this message two minutes later.
At 1:30, "Titanic" sent again : "We are putting passengers off in small boats."
At 1:35 AM "Olympic" asked "Titanic" what weather she had. "Titanic" replied : "Clear and calm.". Then the German Liner "Frankfurt", DFT, asked "Titanic" : "Are there any boats around you already ?" Titanic didn't reply. The reason was simple, even if according to our modern rules that looks incredible : the "Frankfurt" operator worked for Telefunken, the main competitor of the Marconi company!
The Titanic radio room. Doc Nova Scotia Online
At 1:40 AM "Cape Race" said to "Virginia" : "Please tell your Captain this: The Olympic is making all speed for Titanic, but his [Olympic] position is 40.32 N. 61.18 W. You are much nearer to Titanic. The Titanic is already putting women off in the boats, and he says the weather there is calm and clear. The Olympic is the only ship we have heard say, "Going to the assistance of the Titanic. The others must be a long way from the Titanic."
At 1:45 AM "Carpathia" heard one of the last message sent by "Titanic" : "Come as quickly as possible old man: our engine-room is filling up to the boilers".
Ar 1:48 AM "Asian", MKL, heard "Titanic" calling "SOS". She answered but received no reply. The "Frankfurt" operator came back also to get more information and asked the "Titanic" : "What is the matter with you ?". "Caronia" heard "Frankfurt" working the "Titanic" but it was still 275 km (172 miles) away.
At 1:50 AM on the "Titanic" Phillips tapped back to "Frankfurt" : "You are a fool, stdbi stdbi stdbi and keep out". At this moment the "Frankfurt" was still at 277 km (172 miles) from 'Titanic". Hence, it needed quite a few hours to reach her.
Phillips continued to transmit information for about half an hour to other ships, but mainly to the "Carpathia", and "Olympic". The "Carpathia" operator took the time to transmit the list of survivors to the "Olympic", then he closed his radio station, keeping a radio silence and refusing even to answer to Navy cruisers sent to the scene by President Taft.
At 2:00 AM "Virginian" still heard "Titanic" calling but this time her emitting power began greatly to reduce.
At 2:10 "Virginian" still heard two weak "v" surrounding with sparks. You can imagine that Phillips tried adjusting his transmitter to compensate for the dying power supply from the engine room. "Titanic" began to take on water in her first five compartments. Orders were given to the crew to uncover the lifeboats and to get the passengers and crew ready on deck. But there was only enough room in the lifeboats for about half of the 2,340 people on board... It was thus decided to give the priority to women and children, until the boats were filled. It is a matter or record that the panic filling and lowering of boats, meant that many of the boats were only partly occupied.
Harold Sidney Bride assistant radio operator
By 2:15 AM or so, Phillips sent another message : "SOS SOS CQD CQD Titanic. We are sinking fast. Passengers are being put into boats. Titanic". "Virginian" heard it but was unable to read it correctly.
At 2:17 AM, Phillips was intended to send a last "CQD DE MGY" that was partly hear by the "Virginian", when him and Bride were urged to leave their post by Captain Smith. After the loss of all power in "Titanic"'s radio room, "Virginian" noticed that "Titanic"'s signal ended very abruptly.
Bride and Phillips left the wireless room and made their way to the Boat-Deck, and began trying to help the other men in the releasing of collapsible Lifeboat B. While neither of them immediately made it onto a lifeboat, both were rescued from the sea. Bride's feet were so severely frozen he could no more walk. Phillips died of hypothermia on or near Collapsible lifeboat B. His body was never recovered.
Pretty soon, the "Titanic" lights flickered, and then totally went off, leaving everyone on the ship, and in the lifeboats, in total darkness. As the stern rose, it stood almost to a 90 degree angle. People on the ship grabbed for anything to hang on to. A weak spot developed between the third and fourth smoke stack, which caused the stern of the ship to break off but the stern rested in the water in the normal position. After about a minute, the stern was over taken by water, and finally slipped into the sea.
In less than two hours 1595 passengers died of hypothermia or drowned, and the so-called unsinkable "Titanic" sank by 3780 m (12600 ft) deep at 724 km (450 miles) south-east of Halifax. 745 survivors huddled in half filled lifeboats waiting to be rescued.
Once arrived on site, at 4:10 AM the "Carpathia" picked up the first survivors and immediately sent a wireless message to other ships. At 8:10 AM the last lifeboat was rescued by the Carpathia.
At 8:55 AM "Carpathia" replies to "Baltic" : "Am proceeding to Halifax or New York full speed. You had better proceed to Liverpool. Have about 800 passengers on board."
At 9:00 AM "Carpathia" sent a last message from the accident area to "Virginian" : "We are leaving here with all on board about 800 passengers. Please return to your Northern course."
However other wireless messages appeared alleged transmitted from "Carpathia", like this one that stated : "All passengers of Liner 'Titanic' safely transferred to this ship and 'S.S.Parisian'. Sea calm. 'Titanic' being towed by Allen Liner 'Virginian' to port"... excepting that these messages were not coming from the "Carpathia" as these fantoms ships had wireless capabilities up to a maximum range of 240 km (150 miles).
En route to New York, during the travel not less than 170 passengers sent to their family and relatives stond on land a cable to reassure them on their good health. Here are some of these poignant telegrams :
John George Phillips first radio operator - died of hypothermia
Of course, viewed from the outside, an accident always attract curious and profiteers on all sides, and all the more if it is serious and involves hundreds of people... Here are three examples of those cables transmitted to the "Carpathia" during the travel to New York by three major newpapers. No place for emotion :
The English White Star Line, owners of "Titanic", continue to claim that everyone was safe and the ship had not sunk. However the log recorded by the "Olympic" didn't confirm their claims. This controversy should have be ignored if a 21-year old operator named David Sarnoff, that we will see again about Internet, hadn't detect the weak signals of the "Olympic" from the USA, and broke the silent. Faced with the truth, and hounded by thousands of reporters and outraged relatives of passengers, the White Star Liner officials had finally to break down the secret and revealed the horrible facts.
Eventually, by 9 PM on April 18, 1912, the "Carpathia" arrived at the Port of New York with the few survivors. In the next days Senator William Alden Smith, Republican of Michigan, urged the Senate to act quickly to authorize an inquiry into the Titanic sinking after he learned that President Taft intended to take no action.
As Chairman of the committee investigating the shipwreck, Senator Smith summoned all involved people, including Marconi to appear. The hearings revealed no information about the origin of the false messages concerning the saving of the ship and passengers. However, it appeared strange that the "Californian" ship located 16 km (10 miles) away didn't answer the call and didn't see the seven rockets sent by the Titanic. Worst, there was no full time wireless operator on duty on this ship. Senator Smith sarcastically noted also that, in the interim, at the Stock exchange the Marconi Company jumped from $55 to $225 per share... At last it turned out that Marconi had an agreement with the New York Times for an exclusive story.
Senator Smith knew what he claimed. Here are for example two messages exchanged between Marconi and the Carpathia's Captain :
Senator William Alden Smith.
When Marconi got on the stand, Senator Smith insisted on these facts with vehemence. Obsessed in his belief that the unregulated wireless spectrum was partly to blame in the "Titanic" disaster, he painted Marconi as a man willing to subordinate the public good to his personal interests, mainly to get a complete wireless equipment and spectrum monopoly. Senator Smith used the "Titanic" hearings to condemn the laissez-faire status of the wireless, and appeal for the international regulation of radio. His action will lead to the Radio Act of 1912.
Some years later, Bruce Ismay, the Managing Director of the White Star line had to endure severe public criticism for surviving the disaster and sinking. By a strange fate, the two managers involved in this disaster died the same year. Bruce Ismay had to retire from public life and died in 1937. Guglielmo Marconi was not harassed but he died also in 1937, on July 20 in Bezzi-Scali, near Roma, Italy. He was 62 years old.
Image of RMS Titanic's bow taken on July 5, 1985 by Dr. Robert Ballard in 3780 m (12600 ft) water, 523 km off Newfoundland. The expedition included scientists from WHOI and IFREMER.
After the disaster, Harold Bride continued to serve as a Marconi operator. During the First World War, he served on the steamer Mona's Isle as a telegraphist. He broke off an engagement when he met a young school teacher named Lucy Downie. They married and had 3 children. Harold was so distressed by the loss of his good friend, Jack Phillips, and couldn't cope any longer with the notority that went along with his having been the sole surviving wireless operator from the disaster. To escape the attention he moved his family to Scotland and became a traveling salesman. He and Harold Cottam, the wireless operator from the Carpathia, whom he had met previously and was good friends with, stayed in touch for many years. He lived out the rest of his days in relative obscurity and died in April of 1956.
RMS Titanic taken on July 5, 1985 by Dr. Robert Ballard in 3780 m (12600 ft) water, 523 km off Newfoundland. The expedition included scientists from WHOI and IFREMER.
Ocean Planet about Titanic (NASA)
frequently asked questions
Titanic Claims Shown
Captain Blamed For Wreck
Titanic new sinking theory
above links point to a site sponsored by: The Shining Sea
Foundation and Prints of Poetry.
of Poetry and The Shining Sea Foundation
Replica of the straight key used on the Titanic (sold by Alpha Delta)
The Titanic Historical Society, Inc. is also dedicated to preserving the history of this great ship and the White Star line that commissioned her. The Society was formed in 1963. THS invites you to visit the Titanic Museum, a unique collection of personal items donated by survivors and their families, historical documents and memorabilia from Titanic, Olympic, Britannic and White Star Line ships.
Titanic Historical Society, Inc.
Titanic wreckage mystery
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