Carpathia's Cryptograms


John M. Feeney

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Sep 20, 2000
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This is actually a spinoff from a discussion started in "Morning After -- Where were the Bodies?". In that thread I introduced a couple encoded messages from Carpathia to Charles Sumner (the New York Cunard agent) that are more or less publicly accessible. But there are several more contained in Booth & Coughlin's "Titanic: Signals of Disaster" (1993; White Star Publications) that I haven't seen elsewhere.

One of the most intriguing of these, because it *seems* at least partly comprehensible, is reproduced below. (Note: There might be typographical errors in the original Booth & Coughlin transcription; I've found evidence of this in other Marconigrams in the book.)

18 April, m.s.g. from NYK via MSE (Sea Gate, NY) received by H.C. (Harold Cottam), 8:11 pm
[hr]
Quote:

Rostrun (sic) MPA
Message eighteenth only received three pm dilapsi bedding etc will be aescubae aesalon relief for hearing expect sail Carper friday afternoon how much bothraph potentibus neduattos for docking scenica alabado north side pier 54 titanic marmaorn membrarono tonight lower floor no omalosomes issued to herkruisen haaring prior okuluth dock petrir doctor will simply put man aboard alabado and adenoided scenica ordenadero to arck.
CP Sumner
[hr]​
Naturally, most of this is gobbledygook, but it's pretty clear these are instructions for the docking in NY. (This is the last message from Sumner in that book, and appears to be the final communication with Carpathia prior to landing.)

A couple interesting observations. First, all of Sumner's *other* encrypted messages are addressed to "Commander Carpathia", while this one is addressed to "Rostrun" (misspelled). Of perhaps less significance is the fact that this is the *only* Marconigram from Sumner in that whole group signed "CP Sumner". All others were closed with "Chas P Sumner" or just "Sumner".

Extracting just the bits of the message that seem relatively coherent, one gets:
Message eighteenth only received three pm ... bedding etc will be ... relief for hearing expect sail Carper friday afternoon how much ... for docking ... north side pier 54 titanic ... tonight lower floor no ... issued to ... prior ... dock ... doctor will simply put man aboard ...​
Any insights here, folks? I find that *last* piece extremely intriguing, as it vaguely fits the manner in which the New York Times reporter got aboard to interview Harry Bride! (Hmmm. I wonder who the "doctor" was!)

Cheers,
John
 

John M. Feeney

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Sep 20, 2000
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Found some additional information on these puzzlers in the New York Times of Saturday, April 20, 1912, and thought I'd post it here. It's imbedded within the article "CARPATHIA CHEERED AS SHE SAILS AGAIN", on page 6:
[hr]
Quote:

A "Suppressed Message" Explained.

Captain Rostron ordered the supplies he needed to fill his larder by wireless and in the code. In the anxiety to get some news every wireless flash from the Carpathia was picked up. This particular code message was caught by a wireless station in Brooklyn. An hour later a reporter appeared at the White Star Line office, and, producing the code, asked one of the officials to translate it. He had suspicions when he was told that it meant herrings, beef, and other articles of everyday necessity. (JMF note: As do I.) It was explained that the code was used to shorten the message, but the reporter was sure it was another suppressed message.

There was no time to send the soiled linen, blankets, and other articles to the laundry and have them returned before the ship's departure. Her laundry was exchanged with that of the steamship Saxonia. There was coal enough left over from other vessels and barges conveniently near to fill the Carpathia's bunkers. All this was ready, and as soon as possible after her arrival the work of re-coaling and reprovisioning her began.
...
[hr]​
What exactly is "explained" by those paragraphs is not entirely clear to me.

The only re-provisioning request I've seen submitted by Carpathia -- published in Booth & Coughlin's 1993 "Titanic: Signals of Disaster" -- which I'll reproduce here, was a rather lengthy list of items. But the list itself was not encrypted at all! Only the surrounding narrative information was encoded. So I have to believe that reporter was quite right in his continued suspicions. Though I also wonder very much why he took his request for translation of a Cunard ship's message to White Star, and why White Star would even have fielded the question!

(to be continued)
 

John M. Feeney

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Sep 20, 2000
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OK. Here's the text of that intercepted wireless, as presented in Booth & Coughlan (1993, "Titanic: Signals of Disaster", White Star Publications). As I've stated previously, I can't vouch entirely for the quality of the trancriptions, as I've located typos in other examples.

The wireless is from Carpathea (sic), sent to MSK (Sagaponack, NY) at 3:15 p.m., April 18, 1912, by H.C. (Harold Cottam):
[hr]
Quote:

Cunard Newyork

ACOVBIRIKY TAFELLACHS SCONGIURA We DILAPSI Blankets linen etc with SABINE Hope to dock tonight if working stores etc tonight please AERANDAE for EXMUCIET our HAARING Aired out ACOTARIA DECLOUIEZ what AESTUANTUR AERANDAE keep HERRKRUISEN HAARING ALKIDAS SUDOROUS CUBATURA SCHEURTJESS POTENZA

List of stores here
2000 lbs Freezing Salt50 Ducks
50 lbs compressed Yeast36 Guinea Chickens
480 Pints New York Lager Beer100 lbs Frozen Cod
120 lbs Steerage salt Butter100 lbs Finnan Haddies
400 Quarts Condensed milk20 lbs White Perch
40 Quarts Fresh Cream20 lbs Blue Fish
60 Gallons Fresh milk20 lbs Weak Fish
3600 Eggs20 lbs King Fish
200 lbs Cooking Cheese20 lbs Butter Fish
6 kegs Boston Crackers10 Barrels Table Apples
20 Tins Pilot Biscuits10 Barrels Cooking Apples
20 Tins Royal Lunch Biscuits2 Barrels Sweet Potatoes
2 Half Barrels Graham Flour2 Barrels Turnips
500 lbs Crew Coffee2 Barrels Carrots
10 Barrels Ships Biscuits10 Dozen Heads Cabbage
48 Packets Cream of Wheat10 Dozen Heads Boston Lettuce
600 lbs Cut Loaf Sugar10 Dozen Heads Romaine Lettuce
20 Tins London Creams
150 lbs Tomato Paste4.5 Kegs Oysters
100 lbs Salt Anchovies4 Boxes Tomatoes
200 gallons Californian Wine10 Dozen Radish
10 Boxes small lemons6 Baskets Water Cress
2 Bunches green Bananas2 Crates Green Peppers
6 Boxes Apples200 Rolls First Toilet Paper
2000 lbs Prime Beef Hinds200 Rolls Second Toilet Paper
6 Calves Heads500 Soft shell crabs
12 Sets Calves Feet50 one lb packages Cotton Wool
100 lbs Sausages200 lbs smoked strips Bacon
60 Fowls120 Frozen Broiler Chickens

All ENLABIADO ERAGIZA INUMBRAMUS from Titanic passengers but
SUBCORTEX Blanks to manifest same SCYLLAEUM manifests to Quarintine Reuchlin ENCACHO DRIESTHEID not ENTREPANES in previous list of survivors Mrs G Thorne Mrs and Miss Compton Mrs Edgar J Meyer Peter D Daly MICROGRAPH Caroline Deystrom Mary Jerwan Anna Hamlin & child Miriam Kanton Bertha Ilett Daisy Bright Mildred Brown MICROLOGIE Rostron
[hr]​
Whatever else may be said, the stores of beef, fish, and other "everyday necessities" seem to have been transmitted in plain English. I sincerely doubt that the code word "HAARING" in fact indicates "Herring", though I could be wrong. ;^)

Aside from some amusing observations -- such as the fact that even the toilet paper seems to have been class-conscious -- it's pretty clear that the encrypted portions of that message had little to do with the supplies. The early part about "Blankets linen etc with SABINE" might well indicate the Times' revealed laundry swap with Saxonia, but what most of the rest deciphers to is totally up for grabs!

Incidentally, if the purpose of the code was really to shorten the message, this Marconigram ran a total of seven sheets of lined paper. It was "399 (in red ink 401)" words in length, and cost fifty shillings eightpence halfpenny to send, according to the transcription. Not a particularly cheap wire!

Cheers,
John
 

Jan C. Nielsen

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Dec 12, 1999
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I was researching some facts related to San Francisco passenger Dr. Washington Dodge, and I came across an article in the San Francisco Examiner about the use of a code or cipher to communicate.

In 1906, San Francisco's Mayor Eugene Schmitz was aboard the Hamburg-American Liner Patrica, and he was trying to communicate with his attorney, in San Francisco. The newspapers reported that he used a cipher or code to communicate, secretly, by means of wireless.

Perhaps this was a common practice in those days.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Jan -- Cypher codes weren't just for secrecy. The charge for messages was based on words. So if you the word "beans" stood for "send me money to my last known address," you can see the difference in price between a message sent in code and one in the clear.

I have found that in 1913 the U.S. Weather Bureau sent data for weather maps using a cypher code. The messages made no sense unless you had the code book. If you did, you could re-create weather maps and forecasts. The reason for the cypher was simply to keep costs down and speed up transmissions.

So, the practice was common. And, cyphers were not just for secrecy, although they could accomplish that goal as well.

-- David G. Brown
 

John M. Feeney

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I may have posted this link in the prior thread, but it's well worth the look: "Commercial Telegraph Code Books" (http://www.research.att.com/~reeds/codebooks.html) . There was an amazing assortment of these codes during the years telegraphy was a standard communication method. Jim Reeds also has an outstanding biliography -- an extensive data base, actually -- at that site, complete with library sources of available materials.

I imagine secrecy became more critical with the advent of wireless, where anyone could conceivably listen in. At least in principle, telegraphy operators were obliged to safeguard the privacy of personal messages, as was made obvious during the Titanic inquiries. But when the "wire" became the "aether" itself, there were no real protections against third-party snooping other than encryption. A large number of companies consistently used their own private codes, presumably to ward off "industrial espionage". But several of the "everyman" codes available also alluded to the ability to maintain secrecy using their widely published books.

David's comments regarding brevity have real pertinence in those Rostron-Sumner communications, too. Almost all of those encrypted messages were chargeable items -- prefix "S" Marconigrams, not Master Service Grams -- so cost could definitely have been an issue. Of those reproduced in Booth and Coughlan's book, only one -- if that's accurate -- was a "freebie".

The dilemma with the Carpathia's messages stems from the fact that even where brevity might have been the major concern -- though I suspect some level of secrecy was also a motivating factor -- it's impossible to even discern one from the other if the base code itself is unknown.

Cheers,
John
 

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