CQD Titanic The Start of Wireless Disaster Communications
By: John Shepler
Harold Cottam feels his heart move into his throat as the
unmistakable hissing of the Marconi signal pulsates through his
headphones. Shhhhh Shh Shhhhh Shh, Shhhhh Shhhhh Shh Shhhhh,
Shhhhh Shh Shh. The international Morse code letters CQD, a general
distress call to anyone listening. At the transmitting end, a
5,000 watt blue arc flashes on and off as JackPhillips, Chief
Marconi Operator on Titanic, keys out the words "Come at
once. We have struck a berg."
It's 12:25 AM the morning of April 15, 1912, and the most
remarkable drama is playing out on the calm waters of the North
Atlantic. Harold Cottam jumps from his wireless station aboard
the Carpathia and dashes to find his Captain, as Phillips has
requested. They are not the closest known vessel, but the first
to positively respond that they are coming to the rescue of Titanic's
crew and passengers. As Carpathia fires up her boilers, Jack
Phillips continues to pound the key. CQD DE MGY. General distress
call to all stations from Titanic.
The wireless is exciting new technology that fires the imagination
of young men in the early part of the century. Jack Phillips
is 25 years old. His deputy, Harold Bride is 21. Cottam is about
that age, too. In New York City, another 21 year old once known
to his friends as Davey Sarnoff, the newsboy, will soon take
his seat at the Marconi Wireless station atop the Wanamaker Hardware
building and not get up again for 72 hours. He will be the primary
source of information for terrified families who want to know
if their loved ones make it onto the Carpathia or....
Phillips is dog tired from an evening of sending and receiving
the banal messages that first class passengers fund from what
seems like an endless supply of shillings. So frequent and persistent
are they, that Phillips has no time to run ice warnings up to
the bridge. He hangs them up in the wireless room and continues
to key the spark. About 11 PM he snaps at the wireless operator
on the Californian, parked for the night just 10 miles or so
away. The intensity of the Californian's transmission just about
knocks Jack's headset off as he strains to hear the faint incoming
messages. "Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape
Harold Bride wakes up and goes to relieve Jack Phillips, just
as Captain Smith pokes his head in the doorway and asks for the
distress call. The Cape Race traffic is quickly forgotten. Phillips
switches to CQD. Bride quips that he should send the new call,
SOS "It might be your last chance to send it." Phillips
laughs and quickly mingles the letters SOS with CQD.
His hand never leaves the key. Bride goes to get Phillips'
money for him and a life vest for himself, and he sees that the
ship is listing heavily and people are starting to panic. The
Captain comes to tell them they've done their duty, it is time
to go. Phillips keeps sending and sending until the water starts
to wash into the wireless room. A stoker comes up from behind
and tries to swipe his life jacket, but Bride whacks him before
he can. The two young wireless operators then head out, with
Phillips running aft and Bride looking for the collapsible boat
he earlier saw being readied. Amazingly, there are men still
trying to get it overboard, so he lends a hand and is washed
overboard and under the raft.
Bride's old teachers from his home in Beckenham, England would
later claim that it was their compulsory swimming classes that
saved him that night, as he swam away from the feared Titanic
suction and into the waiting hands of the men who pull him aboard
the capsized collapsible. There they wait and pray the Lord's
prayer until they are hoisted aboard another lifeboat already
filled to capacity.
In the morning, the Carpathia arrives and the men are taken
up a rope ladder. When it is his turn, Bride passes a dead man
on his way to the ladder. He can see it is Jack Phillips, who
made it to the same boat but expired from hypothermia and perhaps
the exhaustion of never taking a break from the stress of that
day and night.
Bride spends a day in the ship's hospital having his legs
attended to. They had been wrenched by another man laying on
top of him while they straddled the capsized raft. He hadn't
the heart to ask him to move. That night on the Carpathia, Bride
is asked if he can help out with the wireless, and he takes his
place at the key once again. The sputtering of the spark is a
familiar voice, and the traffic reconnects him with the world
of friends and home.
Harold Bride stayed with the wireless through the First World
War and later tinkered with his own transmitter at home. He never
again spoke of the Titanic disaster and died of cancer in 1956.
David Sarnoff, who relayed the names of survivors from his wireless
station in New York, became convinced that radio was the future
and arranged for RCA to broadcast the Jack Dempsey, Georges Carpentier
heavyweight championship fight in 1921. Hundreds of thousands
tuned in. Sarnoff rose to become chairman of RCA. He was instrumental
in establishing both commercial radio and television broadcasting.
The SOS code that Jack Phillips established that night in April
became the now famous international distress call, replacing
In 1998, wireless transmissions from global positioning satellites
marked the position of the Titanic's resting place to within
a few feet. Live television signals from a robot sub allowed
us to once again reenter the wireless cabin of Jack Phillips
and Harold Bride, where the Marconi tuning coils were seen still
attached to the wall, still ready to oscillate with the signal
CQD DE MGY.
First Radio Contact with Titanic made at
"The first radio contact made from the Titanic was with
the Coastal Station "Tenerife Radio" in Tenerife, Canary
Islands, that was in the city of La Laguna, 600 meters over the
sea level, in the zone named "Field of the Telegraph"
in Geneto. This station had a goos rombical antenna. Because
I live near from her I took this photo for you. It shows the
"Field of the Telegraph" (Campo del Telegrafo) and
the building of the old station. Today the station is not here,
nor is the logbook . Only several persons are living here and
they know nothing about this. But you can see the cramp iron
steels for going up to the roof, and the ground is sufficiently
large for a rombic antenna. Of course, when child I was here
I saw everything. By radio, from time to time, I listened to
the CQ of spark systems, like a bzzzzzzzz. After the year 1930,
the station was put in another place not so high (from 600 meters
over the sea level it passed to 300 metes over the sea level).
After 1960 the station was translated again to a higher place,
very far from here. At 1970 it finally was translated to another
island. The logbook, keyers , etc. have disappeared. Tje magazin
CQ for radioamateurs, Spanish edition, published an long article
about it in January and February of this year (1999)." ---
Best regards, EA8EX, Francisco Jose Davila Dorta.
Books of Interest:
Anatomy of the Titanic by Tom McCluskie. Through
original drawings and notes, public records, and period photographs,
"Anatomy of the Titanic" provides a stem-to-stern examination
of the structure of the greatest maritime venture of its era.
200 photos plus drawings & cutaways.
Wreck of the Titanic Foretold? -
Edited by Martin Gardner. This book contains the short story
"Wreck of the Titan" by Morgan Robertson, also known
Titanic Survivor The Newly Discovered Memoirs of Violet
Jessop Who Survived Both the Titanic and Britannic Disasters
by Violet Jessop and John Maxtone-Graham. Violet Jessop was
probably the only rescued person with a toothbrush after the
Britannic struck a mine and sank. But then she had been on the
Titanic four years earlier and remembered what she had missed...
In 1934, she wrote her memoirs. Few, if any, ocean liner stewardesses
ever wrote their memoirs; hence, Violet Jessop's life story is
doubly valuable - one of a kind as well a articulate, authoritative
and informative. From her unique vantage point, whetherin pantry
or glory hole, on deck or in a lifeboat, we are suddenly privy
to below-stairs life aboard the great ocean liners.
Molly Brown: Unravelling the Myth by Kristen Iverson, with a forward by Muffet Brown, Maggie's great granddaughter. This is an extensively researched biography, the first really serious study of this fascinating woman who rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most talked about people of the century.
Titanica - An in-depth resource for anyone interested in
the Titanic. Contains over 2,000 biographies, 700 related documents,
1,000 photos, ship's deck plans, movies and animation. Serious
researchers and casual browsers will find what they are looking