Impact of BritishGerman competition or conflict or both

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Dec 12, 1999
I suspect that the traditional animosity between the British and the Germans ---at this period in history --- may have had a role to play in this disaster.

To begin with, these nations fought in a major world war beginning only two years after the Titanic's sinking. They were intensely competitive in the trans-atlantic steamship business, even before that.

Further, as discussed elsewhere on this board, after the sinking, several German ships sailed near the Titanic disaster site, including Frankfurt, Rhein and Bremen -- perhaps they were fishing around, trying to find out what had actually happened.

The Bremen's passengers, in particular, were horrified at the sight of "fields of bodies" floating around. When Bremen reached the United States, her passengers disclosed to the local press everything that they saw -- which was widely broadcast.

I also noticed that the dialogue between Harold Bride, and the German steamship Frankfurt's operator on the night of the disaster, was less than civil.

For this, Bride was criticized by Senator Smith --- because Smith believed that (for all Bride knew) Frankfurt might have been closer to the disaster site than Carpathia. Instead, after the CDQ went out, and Frankfurt responded with a question, Bride called Frankfurt's operator a "fool." He dismissed further communications with him, and concentrated on working with the Cunard ship, Carpathia.

Perhaps his actions reflect that Bride simply had a bias for working with another British ship, regardless of which was closer. Senator Smith did a fairly decent interrogation of Bride on this point, and it's worth reading, as follows:

Senator SMITH. Mr. Bride, I want this record to be as complete as possible, and I desire to know why, after a message was received from the Frankfurt asking "What is the matter" you did not reply "We are sinking and the lives of our passengers and crew are in danger"?

Mr. BRIDE. You see, it takes a certain amount of time to transmit that information, sir. If the man had understood properly, as he ought to have, C.Q.D. would have been sufficient, sir. C.Q.D. is the whole thing in a nutshell, you see.

Senator SMITH. Yes; but it did not seem to move him.

Mr. BRIDE. Well, he did not know his business, that is all, sir.

Senator SMITH. But in such an emergency do you not think that a more detailed statement might have been sent? Take, for instance, the message from the Titanic to the Carpathia that the boiler rooms were filling with water and the ship sinking; that could have been sent with perfect propriety to a boat that was in proximity, could it not?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir; I do not think it could have been, under the circumstances.

Senator SMITH. Do you mean to say that the regulations under which you operate are such that in a situation of this character you have such discretionary power that you may dismiss an inquiry of that character -

Mr. BRIDE. You use your common sense.

Senator SMITH. (continuing): Without further word?

Mr. BRIDE. You use your common sense, and the man on the Frankfurt apparently was not using his at the time.

Senator SMITH. I know, but the theory upon which you were angered was that the Frankfurt was closer to you than any other ship?

Mr. BRIDE. The Frankfurt was the first one. We had not got the position. We could not say he was nearer. The signals were stronger.

Senator SMITH. Now, Mr. Bride, I would like to ask you whether your dismissing the somewhat tardy inquiry of the Frankfurt was due to the fact that you were in constant communication with the Carpathia; understand me?

Mr. BRIDE. Well, it appeared to Mr. Phillips and me, sir, that the Carpathia was the only thing we could hope for at the time we told the Frankfurt to keep out of it.

Senator SMITH. In other words, you held on to a certainty rather than an uncertainty?

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. The results of your communications with the Carpathia were such as led you to believe that the operator on the Carpathia and the officers of that ship understood fully your position and the danger you were in?

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. And were coming toward you at full speed?

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. In that situation, if the Frankfurt had been 20 miles nearer the Titanic than the Carpathia, would you still have thought, from what you knew of the ship's condition, that it was wise to confine your communications to the Carpathia?

Mr. BRIDE. Had we known the Frankfurt's position, having already got the Carpathia position, we should have used our judgment, and had the Frankfurt been any reasonable distance nearer we should have informed the Frankfurt of the whole business and repeated each word we sent to him about a dozen times, to make sure he got it.

Senator SMITH. Her position, however, was an object of some speculation?

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. And your only reason for thinking the Frankfurt was nearer, if I understood you, was because of the strength of this wireless current?

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. And the fact that it first responded?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. The strength of the current.

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. I want you to tell, in order that this record may contain it, just how you distinguish between the velocities of currents in wireless telegraphy, the strength of the signals.

Mr. BRIDE. When a ship is working wireless, there is no trouble whatever in reading her signals. You can read the signals through one telephone. When you have one telephone off, you can read them through one telephone. When a ship gets 100 miles off, you have to have both telephones on and devote your attention to it; and as the ship gets farther and farther away the difficulty in reading the signals increases and the strength of the signals decreases.

Senator SMITH. Decreases?

Mr. BRIDE. Yes, sir.

Senator SMITH. That would depend somewhat upon the equipment or apparatus -

Mr. BRIDE. Certainly.

Senator SMITH. With which the Frankfurt was equipped?

Mr. BRIDE. Certainly.

Senator SMITH. Do you know anything about the character of the wireless apparatus on the Frankfurt?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. Do you know what company installed that service?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. You do not know whether it was the Marconi Co. or not?

Mr. Bride. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. Mr. Marconi, do you know how the Frankfurt is equipped?

Mr. MARCONI. The Frankfurt is, I believe, a ship belonging to the North German Lloyd. She is equipped by a German company, called the Debed Co. It means a lot of things in German, each letter, which I will not go into, of which I am a director.

Senator SMITH. You are a director in the German company?


Senator SMITH. And you are familiar with the wireless equipment or apparatus?

Mr. MARCONI. I am not familiar with the wireless equipment of that particular ship.

Senator SMITH. So that you would be unable to make a comparative statement - to make a comparison between the equipment or apparatus on the Carpathia and the apparatus on the Frankfurt?

Mr. MARCONI. I would be unable, sir, to do it.

Senator SMITH. Would the fact that the Frankfurt is equipped with an apparatus of German type in any way lessen their interest in calls made through the Marconi machine or apparatus?

Mr. MARCONI. No; because it is a Marconi apparatus. It is made in Germany, but it is made under my patents under an arrangement which we have with German interests.

Senator SMITH. Let me ask you: Are the regulations of Germany, with reference to the operation and use of wireless telegraphy, in perfect harmony with the Berlin convention?

Mr. MARCONI. Absolutely. They were enacted at Berlin and most of them were inspired by the German Government.

Senator SMITH. Are these calls that are recognized prescribed in the Berlin convention?

Mr. MARCONI. The call of the Berlin convention, which has only been recently introduced, is this S.O.S. call, but the Marconi companies have used and use the C.Q.D. call. The Frankfurt, which was equipped with wireless, belonged to one of what I may call the Marconi companies, because I would not be a director of the company if it was not associated with us.

Senator SMITH. Would you think that any confusion would arise, growing out of this international arrangement of signal, with the Marconi signal?

Mr. MARCONI. No; I should state that the international signal is really less known than the Marconi Co.'s signal.

Senator SMITH. So that the C.Q.D. call must have been understood in its full significance by the Frankfurt operator?

Mr. MARCONI. I have got absolutely no doubt as to that.

Senator SMITH. And under the regulations would that be sufficient?

Mr. MARCONI. That would be sufficient.

Senator SMITH. To bring relief?


Senator SMITH. I want to know this, before I get away from it. I want to know whether the communications between the Titanic and the Carpathia were not also within the radius of the Frankfurt? I would like to know whether these communications could have been picked up by the Frankfurt?

Mr. BRIDE. Certainly they could have been.

Senator SMITH. Had the operator on the Frankfurt shown vigilance.

Mr. BRIDE. Certainly. He ought have heard every word that passed between us.

Senator SMITH. When you told him to keep out you were guarding against that thing?

Mr. BRIDE. We were guarding against his interfering with other communications which we might establish, and we had already established.

Senator SMITH. How could it interfere with you?

Mr. BRIDE. Because you can not read two ships at once.

Senator SMITH. Have you any reason to believe that the signals given by the Titanic to the Carpathia, and the replies of the Carpathia or the Olympic, were received by the Frankfurt?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. You have no reason to assume that that was the case?

Mr. BRIDE. I could not tell. If he was listening he would hear them. If he was not listening he could not hear them.

Senator SMITH. No messages came, involved or otherwise, that would indicate that the Frankfurt had gotten any other information than the information you first gave her?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. In order that the record may contain the answer, I would like to know whether it would have taken any longer or any more effort for you to have sent the same message to the Frankfurt that was sent to the Carpathia, when you realized that you were in imminent danger? Is there any code signal for "fool"?

Mr. BRIDE. No, sir.

Senator SMITH. It would have taken no more time to apprise the Frankfurt of your perilous condition, growing more so all the time since the C.Q.D. call?

Mr. BRIDE. He did not acknowledge the receipt of that when we told him he was a fool and told him to keep out.

Senator SMITH. As a matter of fact it would not have taken any more time to say "we are sinking" than it would have taken to have told him "you are a fool"?

Mr. BRIDE. I assume Mr. Phillips thought that if he did not get our first C.Q.D., which was sent slowly and carefully by Mr. Phillips, he would not get anything else.

Senator SMITH. Do you think he understood your message that he was a fool?

Mr. BRIDE. I doubt it. I think it was sent too fast for him.

Senator SMITH. I gather from what you say that you have not much confidence in the ability of the operator on the Frankfurt?

Mr. BRIDE. There ought to have been no question raised, sir, as to what he should have done as to our C.Q.D. call.

Later on Cyril Evans, the wireless operator aboard Carpathia, also criticizes Frankfurt for interfering with his ship's communications with Carpathia.

It seems to me that there is a significant amount of friction between the British and the Germans, that could have impacted the success of the rescue, and that may have played a role in the aftermath.

Any thoughts? Has anyone perceived any other examples of this?
Jul 9, 2000
Easley South Carolina
Jan, if you check Chart 3 of the U.S. Senate Inquiry, you'll note that at 10:40 p.m., the Frankfurt was a good 140 miles away from the Titanic's reported position to the south-south west and could not possibly have arrived in time to be of any assistance whatever. The problem was not so much interantional rivalry as the fact that the Frankfurt's transmissions were covering up those between the Titanic and the Carpathia, the latter of which was the closest of all the ships that responded.

While there may have been some bias, I don't think it played a signifigent role. The issue was the interferance. As there are others better versed in wireless issues here then I am, I'll leave the rest to them.

Michael H. Standart

Mark Baber

Jul 4, 2000
They were intensely competitive in the trans-atlantic steamship business, even before that.

An interesting issue. I wrote the following for another forum a year and a half ago and have done little to flesh it out since then, but the ideas still seem right to me. And, it seems consistent with the narrative of the formation of IMM that's contained in Flayhart's The American Line, which I obtained after I wrote this.

I admit that I haven't done a whole lot of research into this particular issue, but "competition" between the British and German lines may well have been illusory as much as real for a couple of reasons.

First, although they never became part of IMM the way White Star, Red Star and the others did, Hapag and NDL were intimately tied to the Morgan combine. In 1902, in lieu of buying their stock, IMM guaranteed both Hapag and NDL a six per cent return on capital; in exchange, IMM would receive 50% of the amount by which their profits exceed that amount. Between 1903 and 1911 Hapag paid IMM more than 1.5 million marks, but IMM paid NDL more than 4.5 million marks.

Second, in 1908 they (and a number of other lines) entered into an agreement to guarantee one another a certain percentage of the non-Mediterranean immigrant traffic and to undercut any competitor which offered lower fares. In fact, in 1914, just after World War I began, a federal court in Manhattan found that this latter portion of the agreement violated the U.S. antitrust laws, and issued an injunction against it; by the time the case reached the Supreme Court, the war had so disrupted normal commerce that the case was dismissed as moot. And the New York Times Index for the early years of the twentieth century contains numerous references to passenger and freight tariff agreements among the major North Atlantic lines.

(An aside: according to the Supreme Court's opinion, the participants in the 1908 agreement were: IMM and the Allan, American, Red Star, White Star, Dominion, Anchor, Canadian Pacific, Cunard, Hamburg American, North German Lloyd, Holland-American and Russian American Lines. In short, every major player in the Northern Europe-North America trade, and a couple of lesser lights.)

Finally, IMM and the German lines, although ostensibly competitors, were also partners in Holland America. Harland & Wolff had bought 51% of Holland America in 1902, and then sold half of that interest to IMM and the other half to Hapag and NDL. HAL did not return to Dutch ownership until 1916: first, early in the war it bought back the stock owned by Hapag and NDL at very low prices, and then its stock price rose so high that IMM sold its interest in HAL at a hefty profit.

Price fixing, allocation of market share, profit sharing, joint ownership of competing lines. An interesting "competition", eh?

(Sources: The New York Times, 12 February 1902; Bonsor's North Atlantic Seaway; Haws' Merchant Fleets in Profile, Vol. 4: Hamburg America, Adler and Carr Lines; Haws' Merchant Fleets, Vol. 28: Holland America Line; United States v. Hamburgh-American S.S. Line, 216 F. 971 (S.D.N.Y. 1914), appeal dismissed as moot, 239 U.S. 466, 36 S.Ct. 212 (1916).)

Jemma Hyder


Harold Bride's (Or rather Jack Phillips') animousity seems born out of a competency issue than a racial one. Senator Smith certainly didn't hold back when he questioned Bride about it at the senate enquiry, but Bride is adament that the reason they snapped at the German Operator was because of his Operating skills. The Franfurt operator was jamming them, and didn't fully understand the gravity of the situation which must have been highly frustrating when they were at a point still that no help was on the way.

If there was any reluctance to correspond with him it is probable that this is to do with rivalling wireless compnaies. From what I've found out so far rival companies such as Deforrest and Marconi didn't really correspond with each other as a rule unless in an emergency. (Admittedly this was rather an urgent one). Harold Cottam wasn't keen to correspond with the Russian ship Birma on the Monday morning. Of course he was very busy but he did ask her what installation she had. (De Forrest) and din't let go of much information after he found out.

As you said, in Evans' testimony he also makes comments as to the conduct of the Frankfurt Operator. I believe he was jammed by him on the Monday morning and he dosen't sound like he was too impressed by him. (Mind you this does appear from other research like this was a great habit of Cyril's too.)

Another interesting point is that Bride showed what I would class as less tolerance for the American Operator on board the Chester as the Carpathia reached New York than he did for the German Ship's operator. He never missed an oppurtunity to state that he had to keep on repeating things because the Operator was not well trained in continental morse code.

My knowledge of foreign relations between superpowers at that time is biased towards Russia, but if I remember correctly they ended up declaring war on Germany more out of Principle for short term events concerning other Baltic states. I think there was surprisingly little animousity in 1912 considering what happended 2 years later. (But don't hold me to that lol)



George Behe

Dec 11, 1999
Hi, all!

The Frankfurt's wireless operator was unjustly maligned by Harold Bride (one reason being that Bride was completely dependent on what Phillips did -- or didn't -- tell him about Titanic's communications with the Frankfurt.) To put it quite simply, many of the details of Bride's Frankfurt story are not accurate.

When I researched my Commutator article about the 'Frankfurt Incident,' it became clear that the 'confusion' between the Titanic and the Frankfurt was due to a major decrease in the strength of Titanic's wireless signal at about 1:30 a.m. (which caused the Frankfurt and a number of other ships to lose contact with the Titanic.) After that power loss occurred, Phillips could hear operator Zippel's transmissions but Zippel could no longer hear Phillips' transmissions. At around 2 a.m. Zippel (who was puzzled by Titanic's silence) asked "What's up, old man?" It was at that point that Phillips (who was unaware that his own transmissions were not reaching the Frankfurt) replied "Stdbi stdbi stdbi!"

(I'm away from my files at the moment, but the above-quoted times are approximately correct.)

By the way, the folks who are interested in possible British/German conflict in 1912 might want to read Diana Bristow's two Titanic books, since that subject plays a major part in Diana's thinking.

All my best,

Sep 20, 2000
Another interesting point is that Bride showed what I would class as less tolerance for the American Operator on board the Chester as the Carpathia reached New York than he did for the German Ship's operator. He never missed an oppurtunity to state that he had to keep on repeating things because the Operator was not well trained in continental morse code.

Hi, Jemma: It may be in Wyn Craig Wade's book (I forget exactly where I spotted it) that it was revealed -- although this explanation was indeed proffered for the lack of communicativeness with the Chester -- that the excuse just really didn't gel. American naval authorities afterwards insisted that Navy operators in fact *customarily* used Continental code in their transmissions. (Another red herring?)

I'll see if I can relocate that if you like.

John Feeney

Jemma Hyder


I heard that the guy on the chester was the best the US Military had so I wouldn't expect him to be incompentent in either version of morse code either.
Although the Chester was sent to help the two Harold's you do get the distinct impression that Bride especially thought they didn't need it. Maybe it dosen't have anything to do with the Chester Operator's competency at all but Harold certainly didn't appreciate the American Operator


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