1929 article about Titanic radio


Cal Haines

Member
Dec 2, 2000
308
0
171
Tucson, AZ USA
Here is an interesting article, published in 1929, about Titanic's radio and radio operators:

THE TITANIC DISASTER--As Dug Out of the Old Congressional Records

There are some errors, but it includes a couple of interesting items. First, there is a suggestion that venting steam caused interference with the radio. I assume the author is talking about the noise, but I suddenly wonder if the venting steam might have affected transmission or reception as well, since steam would billow up around the antenna. Parks?

Second, in reference to difficulties using US Navy ships to relay for Carpathia, it states that "... the operators on the Naval vessels used the Morse code and the Carpathia operators used the Continental code." I didn't know that.

Thanks to John Feeney for the link to The Telegraph Office by Neal McEwen, where I found the article. There is a section on the page dedicated to Titanic, including some nice technical bits. Worth a look.

Cal
 
Dec 2, 2000
1,513
5
223
I have a curiosity question though, the article refers to messages from Cape Cod, wasn't that Cape Race instead?
Thanks. This is a wonderful site.
Maureen.
 

Cal Haines

Member
Dec 2, 2000
308
0
171
Tucson, AZ USA
...the article refers to messages from Cape Cod, wasn't that Cape Race instead? ...

Hi Maureen,

I would think Cape Race. Cape Cod would be 1200 plus miles from Titanic's position, practically to New York. That should be well outside of Titanic's range.

If there was a Marconi station on Cape Cod, I'm not aware of it.

Cal
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Cal,

I believe the sound of the venting steam was what was bothering the operators. When you're trying to distinguish faint signals (especially those issued from plain spark dischargers) through the atmospheric noise with little modulation, you need all the concentration you can muster. The sound of venting steam is an annoying distraction. Steam itself would not interfere with the reception of signals, usually the wireless was affected only by atmospheric noise, which is generated by electrical disturbances.

It is true that the US Navy used a slightly different code than what the Europeans used. However, most operators were familiar with both and there was in any case not much difference between the two versions. Anyone who says Carpathia's operator(s) didn't understand Standard Morse is just making up excuses...Rostron himself prohibited Cottam and Bride from transmitting the full list of passengers to the USS Chester. The fact that Rostron had an exchange of messages with the Chester proves that Carpathia had no trouble with the difference in wireless code.

My question is, which receiver was Phillips working that night. Did he stay with the Magnetic Detector/Multiple Tuner, or did he switch at some point to the more sensitive Valve Tuner? I don't think we'll ever know, but I would speculate the latter.

Parks
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Apr 11, 2001
5,045
318
353
At night Titanic could certainly hear Cape Cod, even Carpathia could and did. Titanic could probably contact Cape Cod also.

Parks, what's your source for Titanic having a valve tuner? I've heard this before, but I have suspicion that it's based on later photos of Olympic.
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Dave,

I'm saving some of the results of my research for my upcoming publication on Titanic's wireless set, but you can see the Fleming valve tuner in the Browne photo of Titanic's radio room. Despite it being a double image, there's enough visible detail to ascertain some interesting facts about the tuner.

The valve tuner was also part of Olympic's equipment from her maiden voyage on. I have references for that, too, including photographic evidence.

Parks
 

George Behe

Member
Dec 11, 1999
1,280
11
0
Cal wrote:

>Thanks for the information! What was the call >sign for Cape Cod?

Hi, Cal!

There were three different stations on Cape Cod: one was a commercial station (MCC), one was a Navy station (NAE)at Highland Light, and one was a commercial station at South Wellfleet (MSW.) I believe it was the first station that had messages for the Titanic.

All my best,

George
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Cal,

Wireless operators talked in shorthand whenever possible because of the time it took to tap out full words. The full list of the more commonly accepted abbreviations is too lengthy to post here, but I can give you some examples:

K "Go ahead"
R "OK, understood, right"
AS "Wait"
GM "Good morning"
GN "Good night"
TKS "Thanks"
DDD "Stop sending" (the signal Phillips gave Californian)
C "Yes"
N "No"
CL "Closing my station"
73 "Best regards"

73,
Parks
 

Cal Haines

Member
Dec 2, 2000
308
0
171
Tucson, AZ USA
The full list of the more commonly accepted abbreviations is too lengthy to post here ...

Thanks Parks!

If you can point me to such a list on-line, I would be very grateful.

It sounds as if Marconi did have some standard codes, based on this from The Telegraph Office:
Commercial Telegraphic Code Books

Some of the more interesting titles in Mr. Reeds data base are:

Macbeth, The Marconi international code, 1919​
Marconi's wireless telegraphic code, embracing the new syllabic numerical code ..., 1907​
Telling, The Marconi 6-figure = 6-letter vocabulary, 1920​
Reeds indicates that there are hundreds of volumes on telegraph codes out there. I hadn't appreciated that the subject was that broad.

Many of the Titanic message transcriptions have always bothered me as being far too verbose. But then, I guess the famous

Shut up, shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!"
is a lot sexier than

DDD DDD BSY W MCE (or whatever)​
Some of the codes, like DDD, were sent without a break between the letters, correct?

Warm Regards,

Cal
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Cal,

In the early days of wireless, the operators worked as kind of a fraternity. That's not to say they all liked each other (Marconi operators treated Telefunken and United Wireless operators with a certain amount of disdain), but they did have their own shorthand so that they could undertsand one another with the least amount of transmitted characters. Later, as operating stations proliferated, a more common set of abbreviations was required. To use the "Shut up" example, Marconi originally used "DDD." This would later become "QRT" in the common wireless lexicon. Different companies used slightly different abbreviations (I don't know what Telefunken's equivalent for "DDD" was), but operators would eventually come to know what the other was sending through experience. The code books you mention would only provide you with a glimpse into the abbreviations used, because it would only give those used by the Marconi Co. (officially speaking, that is...operators also had their own abbreviations for "colourful metaphors").

There's no on-line list that I know of that I can point you to. I don't even have a complete list.
About the best I can suggest is to compile a list as you read through contemporary materials.

The other thing is that there is no real "break" betwen letters or even groups of letters in a phrase. The operator hears the sounds in his headphones and visualises the groupings. It takes a lot of skill and concentration, but the operators could be very good at "seeing" messages.

Parks
 

Cal Haines

Member
Dec 2, 2000
308
0
171
Tucson, AZ USA
Parks wrote:
... there is no real "break" betwen letters or even groups of letters in a phrase. ...

Hi Parks,

As I understand it, dots have a duration of "one unit" and dashes have a duration of "three units". The interval between the dots and dashes that make up a character is one unit, whereas the interval between characters is three units. It's my understanding that some sequences take on special meaning when the characters are sent continuously, that is with a one unit interval between the characters. "End of word", for example, is
___
SK <FONT COLOR="ff0000">...-.- didididahdidah

whereas the word "ski" would begin

SK <FONT COLOR="ff0000">... -.- dididi dahdidah

I guess SOS is another one without the three unit break between the characters:
____
SOS <FONT COLOR="ff0000">...---... didididahdahdahdididi

rather than

SOS <FONT COLOR="ff0000">... --- ... dididi dahdahdah dididi

I was wondering if some of the short talk might use the same type of timing. For example "Old Man"
___
OM <FONT COLOR="ff0000">----- dahdahdahdahdah
Well, maybe not, that's "Zero", isn't it?
happy.gif


Thanks again for all the wonderful information. I'm really looking forward to your book!

-.-
Cal
 
Mar 3, 1998
2,745
136
0
Cal,

I remember years back when I was being taught Morse code in one of my early Navy courses that there's no textbook answer on how long the pause should be between characters. There certainly is potential for confusion, especially among inexperienced operators (of whom I count myself), but with experience, operators can "see" the words in their brain, rather than breaking out individual characters. I don't know how better to explain that. At any rate, when two operators are conversing, the breaks between characters or words is a personal issue and varies from operator to operator.

Parks
 

Similar threads

Similar threads