Titanics Last Message
KD3Y ~ RMS Titanic

She was eight hundred and ninety feet long, weighed over forty six thousand tons, and she was the largest and most luxurious ship that human hands had ever built.  She cruised at a maximum speed of twenty-six miles per hour.  Titanic boasted twenty-four coal fired boilers, supplying steam to two reciprocating engines, which together delivered forty six thousand horsepower.  A marvel of modern technology at the time, she was said to be unsinkable.  Her builder, Harland and Wolff of Belfast Ireland, claimed "not even God himself could sink this sinp."

On  April 14th, 1912, at 11:40 pm, Titanics builders were proved wrong.  Titanic departed Southhampton, England for her maiden voyage and stopped at Queensland, Ireland to pick up more passengers before her Atlantic crossing.  The weather cleared as she left Ireland under cloudy skies with a headwind.  Temperatures remained fairly mild on Saturday 13 April, but the following day Titanic crossed a cold weather front with strong winds and waves of up to 8 feet.  These died down as the day progressed until, by the evening of Sunday 14 April, it became clear, calm and very cold.  For two days, the voyage was peaceful, the weather cold but beautiful, and the days passed without incident.

Titanic was scheduled to arrived at New York Harbor, Pier 59, on the morning of April 17th.  But at 11:40 pm,  1,250 miles from New York, lookout Fredrick Fleet spotted an iceberg and alerted the bridge. The First Officer on duty ordered Titanic be steered around the obstacle and her engines reversed full power.  It was too late.  The starboard side of Titanic struck the iceberg, ripping a series of holes below her waterline.  The seams buckled and separated.  Thousands of gallons of seawater rushed in, flooding five of Titanics compartments.   In only two and a half hours, the "unsinkable" ship found her place on the bottom of the Atlantic, thirteen thousand feet below the surface.


Titanics Radio Room MGY
Titanics Radio Room
(reconstruction)



In 1895, an Italian man named Gugliemo Marconi set out to exploit the discovery of the radio wave and develop a method of wireless communication.  He formed the Wireless Telegraph and Signal Company by 1897.  Up until this time, long distance communication was only possible by telegraph, and these telegraph stations had to be connected by wires.  Ships at sea could not be connected by wires, yet they had the most need for rapid communication with other ships and land stations.  Marconi sold his new wireless system to shipping companies and lighthouses, and by 1912, most ships operating in the Atlantic had been equipped with the Marconi wireless system. Quite the entrepreneur, Marconi leased employees to shipping lines to operate his wireless systems.  While Marconi operators were Marconi Company employees, they were considered ship officers, and the job was very much coveted due to the luxury nature of the cruise ship position. The main duty of the Marconi operator aboard passenger ships was sending social messages for passengers back home to friends and family for a fee.  "Company messages" regarding ship operations came second.  "Safety messages" came third.  At the time, making money sending messages for wealthy first-class passengers was priority.  However, there were only two communications officers on a ship and they worked long hours. This oversight would prove fatal for Titanic, as by midnight many of the radio operators on ships close enough to assist Titanic were off-duty and asleep in their cabins when Titanics distress message was sent.

Communication at the time was by Morse code and the range of the Marconi system was about 400 miles during the day, and up to 800 to 1,200 miles at night, depending on the way radio signals bounce off the earths ionosphere at different times of the day.   Titanic was outfitted with the very best Marconni wireless system available at the time.  Titanic boasted a spark-gap transmitter with a rotary spark design powered by a 5 kW motor generator fed from the ship's lighting circuit.  The equipment operated into a 4 wire dipole antenna suspended between the ship's two masts, 250 feet above the sea.  There was also a battery powered emergency transmitter and a separate motor generator in the room next door.   As there was no international communications standards established, most foreign operators used their own set of codes and signals, and Marconi operators used the set of codes and signals established by Marconi.  Titanics call sign was "MGY".  All Marconi stations on ships had a three-character call sign assigned by Marconi beginning with the letter "M" for Marconi.  At that time, SOS had not come into use, so "CQD" (Calling Any Station, Distress) was established as the distress call for all Marconi operators.




"MGY" =  Call sign for RMS Titanic
"CQD" =  Marconi  distress signal meaning "Calling any station, Distress"
"Old Man" = Slang term for any Morse operator, regardless of age, abbreviated "OM" in Morse


The radio installation for Titanic was in three adjacent rooms on the centerline of the boat deck of Titanic.  Room one, called the “silent room”, which had sound-attenuating walls, contained the “noisy components” of the radio transmitter: the motor-generator set and the rotary spark gap, as well as the other components of the transmitter proper.

The second room, called the “Marconi room” was where the operators ran the radio system.  It contained the telegraph key, two receivers, and the entirety of a small second transmitter, a backup for the main transmitter.

A third room contained the bunks for the operators.

The antenna of the Titanic was a T-style dipole antenna developed by Marconi himself.  It consisted of four parallel  #18 B&S uninsulated silicon bronze wires about six feet apart, strung between two spreaders at each end, which in turn were supported by “bridle ropes” from two tall masts about 600 feet apart.  Insulators were placed in each of the wires at the front spreader, and also at a point about midway between the third and fourth smokestacks.  The “active” parts of the wires were 415 feet long.  A set of four feed wires, about 120 feet long, ran from the centers of the active portion of the wires to a narrow antenna trunk atop the silent room, where they all connected to a single metal rod that ran down to the silent room.  There a flexible cable led to the transmitter.

In charge was 25 year old Jack Phillips, with 21 year old Harold Bride as the deputy or second radio officer.  Both men were up early on sailing day, April 10th, conducting final testing of the equipment. They arranged watches by personal agreement: Phillips, the chief radio operator, 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 their convenience, but a continuous watch was always maintained.  
 
Jack Phillips Titanic Marconi Operator ~ KD3Y

Phillips and Bride remained at their posts until about three minutes before the vessel foundered... even after being released from their duties by Titanics Captain.  Phillips continued sending out the Marconi distress signal "CQD".  At the suggestion of the Captain he switched to the new code of "SOS" which had recently been agreed at an International Convention.  So that at 12:45 am the "SOS" call went out for the first time, making maritime history.  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 distress messages as the power supply to the radio room failed. He died of hypothermia on or near collapsible lifeboat B.  His body was never recovered.

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








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