|This article was originally material for a broadcast of “Wavescan” via Adventist World Radio and now forms part of the Radio Heritage Collection ©. All rights reserved to Ragusa Media Group, PO Box 14339, Wellington, New Zealand. This material is licenced on a non-exclusive basis to South Pacific DX Resource hosted on radiodx.com for a period of five years from April 1st 2003. Author: Adrian Peterson|
These days, almost everybody knows about the sinking of the Titanic, the world’s largest ship at the time, with its tragic loss of life. However, there are lots of additional items of interest associated with the story of the Titanic, including the usage of spark gap wireless equipment. It is now 91 years since these events took place.
We go back to the year 1898, the year in which the almost unknown American author Morgan Robertson published a novel under the title, “Futility”. It was the story of a huge new British passenger liner with the name “Titan”. On its maiden voyage across the Atlantic, the “Titan” hit an iceberg at midnight one night in April way off the coast of Newfoundland with a massive loss of life, 3,000 people. That old novel about the fictitious ship, the “Titan” was almost a prediction of what happened to the “Titanic” just 14 years later.
Actually, there were three ships in the “Olympic” class of large passenger liners and these were the Olympic, the Britannic, and the Titanic. All three of these ships underwent a series of tragedies and strange events.
The Olympic was launched on the same day as the Titanic, October 20, 1910 and it was also described as the largest and safest ship afloat. This ship was involved in several disabling maritime accidents. It was used as a Canadian troop transport during World War 1, and it was scrapped in 1935.
Strangely on November 11, 1929, the Olympic was in the Atlantic above the underwater wreckage of the Titanic when it shook violently for two full minutes. Later information revealed that this violent shaking was caused by a deep underwater earthquake.
The White Star liner, Britannic, was launched in 1914, four years after the twins, Olympic & Titanic. This new ship, the Britannic was also “the largest and safest ship afloat”, and it was originally designated with the name, “Gigantic”. This ship was designed as a passenger liner but it was quickly converted for use as a hospital ship in the Mediterranean during World War 1.
Two years later, the Britannic was seriously damaged by a huge explosion, either from a floating mine or by a torpedo from a submarine. Just 55 minutes later, she sank off the coast of an island near Greece.
The Titanic story is so well known. On her maiden voyage from England to New York, she struck an iceberg around midnight and sank before daylight.
The emergency message in Morse Code, “CQD & SOS from MGY Titanic”, was sent by the wireless operators, Jack Phillips & Harold Bride. These messages were picked up by several other ships in nearby areas of the Atlantic, and also by shore stations in the United States, including station CC at Cape Cod, and station MHI atop the Wanamaker Store in New York with David Sarnoff as operator.
However, it was the ship Carpathia that rescued more than 800 Titanic survivors from the frezzing waters, and it sent out a continuous stream of Morse messages from its wireless transmitter PA.
At times, transmitter PA on the Carpathia was not always audible in New York and so other ship transmitters began to relay the messages, including the sister ship Britannic and a United States navy vessel, Salem. In the chaos and cacophony of broadly-tuned Morse Code transmissions, some amateur radio operators began to send out their own spurious messages, all totally false.
The messages in Morse Code from the Carpathia, both direct and by relay from other ships, were intended for interception by only the maritime and newspaper stations in the New York area. However, so great was the interest in all of this startling information, together with the names of rescued passengers, that any one who had a wireless receiver and was familiar with Morse Code, tuned in to keep abreast of these tragac happenings.
During the three days of unfolding events in the Atlantic, multitudes flocked to the locations of the various wireless receivers. Even though these Morse messages were intended as point-to-point transmissions, the very number of listeners at so many different locations almost turned the communication messages into wireless broadcasts.
There were just two people who were employed on all three of these tragic ships, the Olympic, the Titanic, and the Britannic. John Priest was a fireman on all three ships.
Then there was Violet Jessop. She was a stewardess on the Olympic and the Titanic, and a nurse on the Britannic. When she was getting into the lifeboat in her escape from the sinking Titanic, a baby girl was handed to her. Many years later, after her retirement, Violet received a phone call from a stranger. It was from the baby girl, now grown up, whom she had rescued many years earlier from the sinking Titanic.
Wireless Broadcasting & the Titanic
Ship Year Date Event
Titan 1898 Apr Novel “Futility” portrays “Titan” hitting iceberg and sinking
Olympic 1910 Oct 20 Launched same day as Titanic; WWW
1912 Apr 14 Took wireless calls from Titanic 1500 died; WBE19 235
1929 Nov 11 Above Titanic earthquake shook 2 minutes; WWW
1935 Mar Scrapped in England; WWW
Titanic 1910 Oct 20 Launched same day as Olympic; WWW
1912 Apr 14 Hit iceberg & sank 1500 died; WBE19 235
Britannic 1914 Feb 26 White Star liner launched, originally to be Gigantic; WWW
1916 Nov 21 Hit at 8:12 am sank in 55 minutes Mediterranean; WWW
Carpathia 1902 Aug 6 Launched; WWW
1912 Apr 14 Took wireless calls from Titanic; WBE19 235
1918 Jul 17 Struck by German torpedoes off Fastnet sank; WWW
Wireless Broadcasting & the Titanic
Ship Information & Reference
Titan American author Morgan Robertson 1861-1915 1898 novel Futility;WWW
British liner same size, same speed, maiden voyage; WWW
Hit iceberg April south Newfoundland midnight, 3,000 died; WWW
Olympic Largest and safest ship afloat; WWW
Twin sister to Titanic; WWW
Launched October 20 1910, same day as Titanic; WWW
Collision with Hawke Sep 20, 1911 entering English Channel; WWW
Returned to Southhampton; WWW
March 1912 struck underwater obstruction lost propeller; WWW Sarnoff 1st heard about Titanic in message from Olympic; RC 83.5 23
Refitted with new propeller taken from Titanic under construction; WWW
Troop ship during WW1, taking Canadians to Europe; WWW
Rammed and sank German submarine May 1918; WWW
1924 collision Fort St George NY, WWW
Nov 11 1929, above Titanic earthquake shook Olympic 2 minutes; WWW
May 15 1934 rammed Nantucket lightship; WWW
March 1935 scrapped in England; WWW
Britannic White Star liner launched Feb 26 1914, originally to be Gigantic; WWW
3rd Olympic class vessel built by Harland & Wolff Belfast; WWW
Built & launched after Titanic sinking, larger & safer than Titanic; WWW
Never sailed as passenger liner, converted into hospital ship; WWW
Made 6 voyages Mediterranean, evacuated thousands wounded; WWW
Explosion, sank 55 minutes near Greek island Kea; WWW
Either German mine or torpedo from German submarine; WWW
Largest passenger liner ever sunk, found 1975 Jacques Cousteau; WWW
Several ships came to the rescue, saved 1036, 30 men died; WWW
Violet Jessop was Stewardess on Olympic & Titanic, nurse on Britannic;
Fireman John Priest also served on all three ships; WWW
Hit at 8:12 am sank 55 minutes later Nov 21, 1916; WWW
Titanic Largest ship afloat 882ft long 46, 328 tons; WBE19 235
Near collision with “New York” in Southampton; LI 79.23 9-8-30 12
Left Southampton April 10, 1912; RN 5-30 997
Iceberg 1600 miles New York – Newfoundland 300 ft gash; WBE19 235
SOS CQD de MGY; LI 79.23 9-8-30 12
This story reprinted in LI 9-8-30 12; RN 5-30 997
Jack Phillips message 500 kHz maritime distress frequency; MT 6-97 100
Sank April 14-15, 1912, 1500 died; WBE19 235
Drifted 34 miles before sinking; WWW
5 kW Marconi transmitter; WWW
Jack Phillips & Harold Bride as operators; WWW
Leadbetter on 1910 wireless set heard calls from Titanic; SWM 4-00 11
Carpathia 558 ft long 64 ft wide 13,600 tons launched Aug 6, 1902; WWW
Morse broadcasts from Carpathia
Carpathia callsign PA; PC 6-98 14
Harold Cottam wireless operatopr; WWW
Harold Bride as relief operator on Carpathia; MT 4-98 66
Copied by Sarnoff Wanamakers & tehn Sea Gate; RC 83.5 23
President Taft ordered all stations off air except Sarnoff MHI; RC 83.5 23
Rescued 705; WBE19 235
Rescued 838 people; WWW
Carpathia returned to NY with survivors; WWW
Struck by German torpedoes off Fastnet July 17, 1918 sank; WWW
Salem Cruiser acted as relay station for Carpathia when communication with land stations lost; WWW
David 21 years old, took down information from Olympic, Carpathia, Salem
Sarnoff Wireless operator top of Wanamaker’s NY MHI; Radio Notes 84.2671 4
Thomas Appleby at Wanamaker’s Philadelphia MHE; WWW
Violet Took baby into lifeboat from Titanic; WWW
Jessop Was Stewardess on Olympic & Titanic, nurse on Britannic; WWW
Took toothbrush with her from Britannic; WWW
Went back and worked as Stewardess on Olympic; WWW
After retirement, phone call from woman, she was the rescued baby; 3W