Possible New Info On Times?

Doug Criner

There has been ambiguity over the exact time of Titanic's collision with the iceberg, mainly whether the ship's time was adjusted before the collision. My head is somewhat spinning over these discussions, and I have no personal opinions to offer. However....

In 2004, the archives of the Marconi Company were donated to the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. These include records of messages and radio logs involving the Titanic's sinking. In preparation for the British hearings, Marconi had gathered up copies of messages sent or received from various ships and stations pertaining to the sinking. (Unlike most Marconi archives, they were retained and among those ultimately donated to Oxford.)

A book was published by the Bodleian Library in 2012, Titanic Calling, provides their analysis and digest of the Titanic messages - those sent from Titanic and from many other ships and shore stations. Interestingly, the various original Marconi radio logs (a.k.a. process-verbal) are recorded in New York time, not ships' times. (Some NYTs are reconstructed, however.) Consider these logs:

Mount Carmel, 10:35 pm, NYT: "MGY (Titanic) gets MPA (Carpathia) and says struck iceberg come to our assistance at once."

Olympic, 10:50 pm, NYT: "Hear MGY signaling to some ship and saying something striking iceberg."

Celtic, 10:55 pm, NYT: "Hear MGY say I require immediate assistance."

Ypiranga, 10:28 pm, NYT: "Hear CQD from MGY."

It seems that the earliest message, at least from those above, is 10:28 pm. More study is needed, perhaps referring to the original Marconi archives at Oxford. Jim?

Now, how might we relate those NY times to the ship's times of Titanic? Reportedly, Capt. Smith directed Marconi Officer, Jack Phillips to send a distress call, which Phillips began to do at 12:05 am. That NYT could correspond to 10:28 pm (Ypiranga) or 10:35 pm (Mount Carmel).
It is generally accepted that Titanic time based on noon, April 14th was 2:58 behind GMT; or 2:02 ahead of New York. There is still some ambiguity over whether or not "New York Time" meant Local Apparent Time or Zone Description, which are slightly different.

With an admitted 6 minute "fudge factor," here's how I calculate the time of the first distress signal heard by LaProvence, Mount Temple, and Cape Race:

2428 April 14 Titanic = 0004 Crew Time = -2340 April 15 Titanic = 2225 New York = 0325 GMT

Put into American civilian time reference, this first message was sent at 12:04 April 15th hours which corresponded to 10:25 p.m. New York. If we try to give the time in April 14 ship's hours, things get complicated because both the "AM" and "PM" hours of that date had been fully used up during the preceding 24 hours. So, while the hands on the clock would have said "24 past 12," that would not have been in the morning of April 14th. Nor was it in the evening. Rather, it was 24 hours 28 minutes (hence 2428 hours) after noon, April 14th. This confusion factor over time that has no "AM" or "PM" has caused more mistakes and created more myths surrounding the sinking than any other factor. That's why whenever possible I change all times to the 24-hour format known as "military time" in the USA. Even better is to reduce all times to GMT so they are easily compared without any juggling of base-60 minutes and base-10 hours in your head.

Keep in mind there were no accurate clocks as we know them in 1912. The best were chronometers which were quite good, but more importantly had a constant rate of error. This rate was applied to every celestial observation to obtain the correct GMT. Ordinary wind-up clocks often gained or lost 5 or more minutes a day, but not at a constant rate. When comparing the Marconi New York times some "fudge factor" must be allowed for these clock error discrepancies. And, there is quite a bit of evidence that the Marconi records were...shall we say "managed" ... but Mr. Marconi himself. At least one operator upon seeing the record alleged from his ship remarked that it was not written by him. History is never neat and clean. You have to wade through the human factors as well as understand the technologies of the time before you can come to any valid conclusions.

-- David G. Brown
Doug, another good source for transcripts of the original, unaltered messages is in the book by Booth and Coughlan, Titanic - Signals of Disaster, White star Publications, 1993. It should be pointed out that the times entered by most wireless operators were either NY time for vessels west of longitude 40° W, or GMT for vessels that were east of longitude 40° W. Some operators were more precise than others in the time they put down. Others were not so precise, sometimes rounding a few messages to nearest 5 minute interval on the clock. Also, clocks keeping NY time for example in the wireless cabins on different vessels could have differed by a few minutes as they were not chronometers. Those difference were noted when vessels exchanged what was called a TR (time rush) between each other.

David, there was no ambiguity in NY time used by wireless operators. It was mean time for the 75th W meridian; 5 hours back from GMT.

The first recorded CQD was put down as 10:25 pm NY time. On board Titanic, unaltered clocks would show 12:27.

Doug Criner

Jim, they do have flights to and from Madeira don't they? Doug did say that he'll pop for your gas money. :)
Jim, maybe I can rent a car and pick you up at an airport the next time I'm in London (the last time was 20 years ago). If that's what Sam is implying for gas money? But you'd have to bring me a couple of cases of dry Madeira wine. We could drink a two or five bottles, and then I'd smuggle the rest back to the U.S.

Jim Currie

Jim, maybe I can rent a car and pick you up at an airport the next time I'm in London (the last time was 20 years ago). If that's what Sam is implying for gas money? But you'd have to bring me a couple of cases of dry Madeira wine. We could drink a two or five bottles, and then I'd smuggle the rest back to the U.S.

Very generous offer Doug but unfortunately I'm a PP - penniless pensioner - relying on hand-outs from the UK Government. Perhaps if Scotland becomes independent in September, I'll lose my State Pension? Ah well! I might just then get a job as a Missionary to the UK.:D Just kidding.

Jim C.