RMS Titanic

and the

Jack Phillips Story

(There are a number of photographs to download, please be patient)

Note: We are indebted to Glenn Dunstan VK1XX for providing the information in the following pages, which are only a sample from his much larger and more detailed website which can be found at www.hf.ro .

 

Taken from one of the film sets used during the making of the James Cameron epic production "Titanic" this photograph depicts a reasonably authentic reproduction of the ship's wireless room. The famous Marconi magnetic detector, the multiple tuner and the spark coil used as a standby set are easily recognised. The 1.5 KW main spark transmitter was housed in an adjoining closed cabin to reduce the noise (and the smell of ozone!) when it was being keyed.

 

Film set picture of Titanic radio room

(Titanic radio room set photo by Phil Ottewell)

Titanic carried 2 Radio Officers (or, as they were known in those days, Marconi wireless operators or telegraphists).

In charge was 25 year old John (Jack) G. Phillips (left), with 21 year old Harold Bride (right) as the deputy or second R/O.

The R/O's remained at their posts until about 3 minutes before the vessel foundered... even after being released from their duties by the Captain.

Harold Bride remarked that water could be heard flooding into the wheelhouse as he and Jack Phillips abandoned the radio room. Jack Phillips was still sending as the power supply to the radio room failed...

The Titanic Radio Officers did great honour to their profession.

Jack Phillips died of hypothermia on or near Collapsible lifeboat B - his body was never recovered......

Harold Bride left the sea after WW1, and faded into obscurity. He died in Scotland in 1956.

The left hand photo actually shows the Wireless Room of the Titanic's sister ship Olympic, with Radio Officer Brent receiving a message. In the right hand picture Phillips and another R/O (NOT Harold Bride) are shown on the White Star vessel "Adriatic" (both photos from the Father Browne collection).

"Jack Phillips" (sitting at the equipment) and "Harold Bride" (standing) as portrayed in the James Cameron movie "Titanic"

Titanic's radio callsign

Titanic was assigned the callsign MUC in January 1912. Some time after January, Titanic's callsign was changed to MGY - this was previously assigned to the US vessel Yale.

As the dominant marine radio company of the time, Marconi allocated their own callsigns, most of which began with the letter M - these basically identified a Marconi installation, regardless of its location or the country of registration of the vessel in which it was installed.

Callsign allocation was eventually standardised at the London radio conference of 1912 (post Titanic), with prefixes being allocated on an international basis. UK coast stations and ships thenceforth used the letters G or M as the first letter of their callsigns. US ships and stations used K, N and W, German stations and ships used D, Italians I, French F, etc.

Trials and commissioning

The Marconi equipment was delivered to the vessel in time for sea trials on April 2. Phillips and Bride spent the day completing the installation and adjusting the equipment. They exchanged test calls with coast stations at Malin Head (Nth coast of Ireland), callsign MH and Liverpool (actually known as "Seaforth"), callsign LV.

By this stage the "wireless" was in almost constant use, with sea trial reports flowing from Captain Smith to Bruce Ismay (Managing Director) at the company offices in Liverpool.

By April 3, the equipment was adjusted and working correctly - Phillips and Bride exchanged messages with coast stations at Teneriffe (2000 miles away) and even Port Said (more than 3000 miles distant).

Both Radio Officers left the ship at Southampton for a short period. Phillips signed back on articles on April 6 when he returned briefly to check the spare parts. Bride returned on board at 2330 on April 9.

Watch hours

Both men were up early on sailing day, April 10, conducting final testing of the equipment. They arranged watches by personal agreement: Phillips, the chief, took the 2000 - 0200 watch, whilst Bride was on duty between 0200 - 0800. There were no fixed watch hours during the day: the men relieved each other to suit mutual convenience, however a continuous watch was maintained.

Location of the radio room

The "Marconi room" was situated on the boat deck (ie: the same deck as the bridge), at the after end of the superstructure containing the bridge and officer's accommodation - it was about 40 feet aft from the bridge, connected via the corridor which ran down the port side of the officer's quarters.

The room was in the centre of the accommodation - it did not have an outside facing porthole. Natural light was provided via a skylight in the deckhead (ceiling).

The R/O's sleeping accommodation was in a separate room to starboard of the operating room - connected to the operating room by an interconnecting door. The R/O's shared the officer's toilet/washroom facilities across the corridor.

The Marconi room was connected to the ship's 50 line telephone exchange. However, it appears that there was no direct telephone connection to the bridge.

This problem was rectified on Titanic's sister ships Olympic and Britanic after the Titanic disaster - a speaking tube was installed which connected the radio room to the bridge..

Passenger traffic

As the liner's departure preparations were completed, both R/O's prepared for the daily onslaught of passenger communications directed to and from "ADVISELUM", the wireless code word assigned to Titanic for passenger's personal traffic.

Passengers sent their telegrams at the inquiry office, on the starboard side of the forward first class entrance. The handwritten messages were paid for at the desk, at the rate of 12 shillings and sixpence for the first 10 words, and 9 pence per word thereafter (a substantial sum in 1912, although not for a first class passenger…).

Telegrams were sent to the radio room by pneumatic tube. At the end of the day, a balance was struck between the purser's clerk and the R/O's regarding the number of chargeable words sent.

Incoming passenger messages were received by hand by the duty R/O, and typed on a telegram form by the other R/O. Passenger traffic was sent from the radio room to the inquiry desk using the pneumatic tube.

Messages concerning navigation were delivered directly to the bridge. Similarly, messages for the Captain were delivered by the R/O's to the Captain's cabin, down the starboard passage of the officer's quarters.

In the 36 hours between leaving Southampton and the collision, the Titanic's R/O's received and sent 250 passenger telegrams.


Titanic Radio Distress Traffic

Author's notes -

The distress traffic listed in the section below is a paraphrased account of the messages sent and received by the Titanic and nearby vessels. Verbatim transcripts of messages are included where available.

By necessity, some of these morse code messages contain abbreviations used by ship's Radio Officers. For historical accuracy, these abbreviations have been left in the messages, with the occasional explanatory note added in brackets.

The messages represent a compilation of the traffic received and sent by vessels in the vicinity of the Titanic. The list of messages was prepared by the Marconi Company in response to a request from the UK Board of Trade for their official inquiry into the loss of the vessel.

The Marconi Company generated the compilation by reference to the "Process-verbal" (an original term for radio log book) of all ships in the area under their control - at that time Marconi employed almost all the Radio Officers afloat...

It should be noted that the message times may not be completely accurate, as the messages are a compilation of many individual log books.

Unfortunately, the Titanic's radio log book went down with the vessel...

Comments and clarifications have been added as a result of my research.

Distress calls

The message "CQD" means a general call to all vessels, which indicates the vessel sending is in distress and requires immediate assistance. At the time of the "Titanic" sinking, the Marconi company's "CQD" was still in common use, although it had been officially replaced by the well known "SOS" - which, by the way, does NOT mean "Save Our Souls" or anything so melodramatic - it was chosen specifically to be easily and instantly recognisable in morse - "dit dit dit, dah dah dah, dit dit dit".

Such was the dominance of Marconi over the infant marine radio industry that many ships still used CQD, rather than the official distress signal SOS.

This can be seen in the Titanic's initial and final distress calls - Jack Phillips stuck to the company CQD signal to the end....

Radio callsigns

Radio callsigns for the ships and shore stations involved are listed below.

In 1912, ships were issued with 3 letter callsigns (this later changed to 4, as more ships were fitted with wireless).

Wireless shore stations:

Cape Race Newfoundland MCE, Sable Island Nova Scotia MSD, Sea Gate New York MSE

Sagaponack New York MSK, Siasconset Massachusetts MSC, Cape Sable Nova Scotia MSB

 Vessels name and radio callsign (with the Captain's name listed where known):

Antillian Capt. Japha MJL Amerika Capt. Knuth DDR Asian Capt. Wood MKL

Baltic MBC Blucher DDB Birma SBA Californian Capt. S.Lord MWL

Caronia Capt. Barr MSF Carpathia Capt. A.H.Rostron MPA

Celtic MLC Cedric MDC USS Chester Capt. S.G. Decker NDG

Franconia Capt. Smith MEA Frankfurt DFT Empress of Britain MPB

La Touraine Capt. Coussin MLT Titanic Capt. Smith MGY Mount Temple MLQ

Mesaba Capt. Clark MMU Minnehaha MMA Minnewaska Capt. Gates MMW

Noordam Capt. Krol MRA Olympic Capt. Haddock MKC Parisian MZN

Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm DKF Virginian Capt. Gambell MGN

 

The messages -

Titanic

time

Message(s)

12-15 a.m

CQD (6 times) DE (this is) MGY (6 times) position 41.44 N. 50.24 W

La Provence and Frankfurt receive Titanic's first distress signals.

Titanic sends position to Frankfurt. Frankfurt says "OK: stand by"

12-15 a.m

Mount Temple heard Titanic sending CQD Says require assistance. Gives position. Cannot hear me (sic). Advise my Captain (sic) his position at 41.46 N. 50.24 W.

12-15 a.m.

Cape Race coast radio station hears Titanic giving position on CQD 41.44 N. 50.24 W.

12-18 a.m.

Ypiranga hears CQD from Titanic. Titanic gives CQD here (sic). Position 41.44 N. 50.24 W. Require assistance (calls about 10 times).

12-25 a.m.

Carpathia calls Titanic and says "do you know that Cape Cod is sending a batch of messages for you ?"

Titanic says "Come at once. We have struck a berg.

It's a CQD OM (it's a distress situation old man) Position 41.46 N. 50.14 W."

Carpathia says "Shall I tell my Captain ?. Do you require assistance ?"

Titanic says "yes, come quick"

12-25 a.m.

Cape Race hears MGY (Titanic) give corrected position 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Calling him, no answer. (Titanic's 4th Officer Boxhall had just provided a corrected position to the radio room)

12-25 a.m.

MGY (Titanic) says CQD, Here (is my) corrected position 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Require immediate assistance. We have collision with iceberg. Sinking. Can hear nothing for noise of steam (engineers releasing excess steam pressure from boilers to minimise risk of explosion) Sent about 15 to 20 times to Ypiranga.

12-26 a.m.

DKF (Prinz Friedrich Wilhelm) calls MGY (Titanic) and gives position at 12 a.m. 39.47 N. 50.10 W.

MGY (Titanic) says, "Are you coming to our ?" "We have collision with iceberg. Sinking. Please tell Captain to come." DKF says, "O.K. will tell"

12-27 a.m.

Titanic sends following: "I require assistance immediately. Struck by iceberg in 41.46 N. 50.14 W."

12-30 a.m.

Caronia sent CQ message (message addressed to all ships) to MBC Baltic and CQD (ie: a distress relay message): MGY (Titanic) struck iceberg, require immediate assistance

12-30 a.m.

Mount Temple hears MGY (Titanic) still calling CQD. Our (sic) Captain reverses ship. We are about 50 miles off.

12-34 a.m.

Mount Temple hears Frankfurt give MGY (Titanic) his position 39.47 N. 52.10 W.

Titanic says (to Frankfurt) " are you coming to our

assistance ?"

Frankfurt says : "what is the matter with you ?"

Ttianic says "We have struck an iceberg and sinking. Please tell Captain to come"

Frankfurt replies "O.K. Will tell the bridge right away"

Titanic says "O.K., yes, quick."

12-45 a.m.

Titanic calls Olympic (Olympic is Titanic's sister ship - 500 miles away en route to England) SOS - (first use of "SOS" by Titanic - Bride jokingly suggests to Phillips that it may be his last chance to use the new distress call).

12-50 a.m.

Titanic calls CQD and says, "I require immediate assistance. Position 41.46 N. 50.14 W." Received by Celtic.

12-53 a.m.

Caronia to MBC (Baltic) and SOS,"MGY (Titanic) CQD in 41.46 N. 40.14 W. Wants immediate assistance."

1-0 a.m.

MGY gives distress signal. DDC (Cincinatti) replies. MGY's position 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Assistance from DDC (Cincinatti) not necessary as MKC (Olympic) shortly afterwards answers distress call.

1-0 a.m.

Titanic replies to Olympic and gives his position as 41.46 N. 50.14 W., and says, "We have struck an iceberg."

1-2 a.m.

Titanic calls Asian and said, "Want immediate assistance" Asian answered at once and received Titanic's position as 41.46 N. 50.14 W., which he immediately takes to the bridge. Captain instructs operator to have Titanic's position repeated.

1-2 a.m.

Virginian calls Titanic but gets no response. Cape Race tells Virginian to report to his Captain the Titanic has struck iceberg and requires immediate assistance.

1-10 a.m.

Titanic to MKC (Olympic), "We are in collision with berg. Sinking Head down. 41.46 N. 50.14 W. Come soon as possible."

1-10 a.m.

Titanic to MKC (Olympic), Captain says, "Get your boats ready. What is your position?"

1-15 a.m.

Baltic to Caronia, "Please tell Titanic we are making towards her."

1-20 a.m

Virginian hears MCE (Cape Race) inform MGY (Titanic) "that we are going to his assistance. Our position 170 miles N. of Titanic."

1-25 a.m.

Caronia tells Titanic, "Baltic coming to your assistance"

1-25 a.m

Olympic sends position to Titanic 4-24 a.m. G.M.T. 40.52 N. 61.18 W, and asks "Are you steering southerly to meet us?" Titanic replies, "We are putting the women off in the boats."

1-27 a.m

Titanic says, "We are putting the women off in the boats."

1-30 a.m

Titanic tells Olympic, "We are putting passengers off in small boats." "Women and Children in boats, can not last much longer"

1-35 a.m.

Olympic asks Titanic what weather he had. Titanic replies, "Clear and calm."

1-35 a.m

Baltic hears Titanic say "Engine room getting flooded." (Captain Smith had just visited the Titanic's radio room and advised this to Phillips and Bride)

1-35 a.m.

Mount Temple hears DFT (Frankfurt) ask "are there any boats around you already?" No reply

1-37 a.m.

Baltic tells Titanic, "We are rushing to you."

1-40 a.m.

Olympic to Titanic, "Am lighting up all possible boilers as fast as (we) can."

1-40 a.m.

Cape Race says to Virginia: "Please tell your Captain this: "The Olympic is making all speed for Titanic, but his (Olympic's) 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."

1-45 a.m.

Last signals heard from Titanic by Carpathia, "Come as quickly as possible old man: the engine-room is filling up to the boilers"

1-45 a.m.

Mount Temple hears Frankfurt calling Titanic. No reply.

1-47 a.m.

Caronia hears Titanic though signals unreadable still

 

Virginia hears Titanic calling very faintly, his power being greatly reduced.

(At 2-05 a.m. the Captain visits the wireless room for the last time and says:

"Men, you have done your full duty. You can do no more. Abandon your cabin. Now it's every man for himself"

Phillips looks up for a second, and then bends over the equipment once more. Captain Smith tries again "You look out for yourselves. I release you." A pause, then he adds softly "That's the way of it at this kind of time....every man for himself" He then leaves the wireless room. Phillips continues sending)

1-48 a.m.

Asian heard Titanic call SOS Asian answers Titanic but receives no answer.

DFT (Frankfurt) calls Titanic and says, "What is the matter with u ?"

1-50 a.m.

Titanic says to Frankfurt "You fool, stdbi and keep out"

Caronia hears Frankfurt working to Titanic. Frankfurt according to position 172 miles from MGY (Titanic) at time first SOS sent out.

1-55 a.m.

Cape Race says to Virginian "we have not heard Titanic for about half an hour. His power may be gone."

 

During this period Phillips and Bride are struggling with a stoker who entered the wireless room and tried to steal Phillips life jacket. Bride holds the stoker, while Phillips punches him. The stoker is (presumably) knocked unconscious.

2-10 a.m.

Virginian hears 2 v's signalled faintly in spark similar to Titanic's (Phillips adjusting his transmitter to compensate for the dying power supply from the engine room)

2-17 a.m.

Virginian hears Titanic, call CQ (call to all ships) , but unable to read him. Titanic's signals end very abruptly as (if) power suddenly switched off. His spark rather blurred or ragged...

(Phillips had actually intended to send "CQD DE MGY", however at this point there is a loss of all power to the radio room - water can be heard flooding the wheelhouse - Phillips says to Bride "Come on, let's clear out". Bride climbs to the roof of the officer's quarters and assists with launching collapsible lifeboat B - Phillips disappears aft.)

2-17 a.m.

Virginian Called Titanic and suggested he should try emergency set, but heard no response

2-20 a.m.

Virginian to Olympic,"have you heard anything about Titanic" Olympic says, "No. Keeping strict watch, but hear nothing more from Titanic. No reply from him"

about

2-20 a.m.

This was the official time the Titanic foundered in 41.46 N. 50.14 W. as given by the Carpathia in message to the Olympic.

2-35 a.m.

Mount Temple hears MPA (Carpathia) send, "If you are there we are firing rockets."

2-40 a.m.

MPA (Carpathia) calling MGY (Titanic).

2-58 a.m.

SBA (Birma) thinks he hears Titanic so sends, "Steaming full speed for you. Shall arrive you 6-0 in morning. Hope you are safe. We are only 50 miles now."

3-0 a.m.

MPA (Carpathia) calling MGY (Titanic)

3-28 a.m.

La Provence to Celtic, "Nobody has heard the Titanic for about 2 hours."

4-24 a.m.

SBA (Birma) says "we are 30 miles S.W. off Titanic".

6-40 a.m.

Parisian hears weak signals from MPA (Carpathia) or some station saying Titanic struck iceberg. Carpathia has passengers from lifeboats

6-40 a.m.

Asian, with German oil tank in tow for Halifax asked what news of MGY (Titanic). Sends service (message) later saying heard MGY (Titanic) v. faint working. C. Race up to 10.0 p.m., local time. Finished calling SOS midnight.

7-40 a.m.

6-45 a.m. Mount Temple hears MPA (Carpathia) report rescued 20 boat loads.

8-07 a.m.

Baltic sends following to Carpathia: "Can I be of any assistance to you as regards taking some of the passengers from you? Will be in position about 4-30. Let me know if you alter your position."

8-10 a.m.

Baltic in communication with MPA. (Carpathia). Exchanged traffic re passengers, and get instructions to proceed to Liverpool

8-15 a.m.

Baltic turns round for Liverpool, having steamed 134 miles W. towards Titanic

8-40 a.m.

Mount Temple hears MPA (Carpathia) call CQ and say, no need to std. Bi (stand by) him. Advise my Captain (sic), who has been cruising round the icefield with no result. Ship reversed.

8-45 a.m.

Olympic sent MSG (message) to Owners, New York via Sable Island saying, "Have not communicated with Titanic since midnight."

8-55 a.m.

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."

9-0 a.m.

Carpathia to Virginian: "We are leaving here with all on board about 800 passengers. Please return to your Northern course."

Harold Cottam - Radio Officer of the rescue ship "Carpathia" - on deck outside the ship's radio room (taken in New York after the disaster). Cottam knew Bride personally.


The fateful ice warnings that could have saved Titanic...?

At 7.50 PM on the night of April 14, 1912, the MV Mesaba of the Atlantic Transport Line sent the following telegram to the Titanic:

" In lat 42N to 41.25N long 49W to long 50.30W saw much heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs also field ice. Weather good, clear."

This telegram gave precise details of the massive icefield already in the path of the TITANIC. The surviving officers of the Titanic claimed that they had never seen the signal. Various theories have been advanced over the years as to why this terrible oversight occurred.

One suggestion was that as Titanic had come within range of Cape Race coast station, Jack Phillips was attempting to clear a huge backlog of telegrams for the United States, and this vital warning was overlooked.

A study of the ice warnings received by the Titanic indicates that WITH THIS ONE EXCEPTION, all had been sent with the MSG prefix, indicating a personal message for Titanic's Captain - which he was required by regulations then in force to personally acknowledge.

All the previous ice warnings addressed to Captain Smith had been personally acknowledged by him. How then did this vital telegram fail to reach the Captain ?

A study of the Mesaba telegram provides the answer - the vital MSG prefix was not used by the Radio Officer on the Mesaba, who substituted the words "Ice report".

There is no doubt in the opinion of this writer that had Jack Phillips, a skilled and experienced operator, been given a MSG prefix when he received the signal, it would have been delivered to the bridge and would have received the necessary acknowledgment from Captain Smith - who would have at once been alerted to the danger ahead.....

In probably the most ironic wireless signal exchange of the whole Titanic saga, Evans, the (inexperienced) Radio Officer on the Californian also failed to use the MSG prefix when instructed by Captain Stanley Lord to inform the Titanic of the icefield - Evans informal, chatty message to the Titanic lead to the (in)famous rebuke by the overworked Phillips - "Keep out, I'm working Cape Race ! ".

(From the winter 1997 edition of the "Titanic Signals News" by John Booth)


The Titanic Radio Page is dedicated to those Merchant Navy Radio Officers who never signed off articles.....

Jack Phillips' name on a memorial to Radio Officers who died at their posts

- Battery Park, New York


Jack Phillips was not the first Radio Officer to sacrifice his life by staying at his post on a sinking ship sending distress signals in an attempt to save the lives of his passengers and his shipmates. Nevertheless, his example in those early days of maritime wireless telegraphy set an standard which hundreds of seagoing Radio Officers from many different countries have lived up to during the intervening 90 years - in peace and in two world wars.

We salute them all for their bravery and their dedication.

Titanic Wireless Commemorative Group

Special International Amateur Radio Station

GB90MGY

Godalming, Surrey, England

13th- 15th April 2002