Signals of Disaster


Jan 2, 1997
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A very good friend of mine has just retired and has decided he would like to create an audio-visual archive (probably a cd) of the messages received and sent before and during the disaster, and the messages sent by the Carpathia etc after the sinking. He used to be a morse operator for the Royal Naval Reserve, so his keyskills are pretty good !

So, does anyone have any idea if a comprehensive list of these messages exists ? I found a really good Marconi site (actually, it was THE Marconi site ! ), and I suspect the messages are in different places.

All help gratefully received.
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
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You want Signals of Disaster by Coughlan and Booth. It's a bit hard to find, but it's very complete. The Marconicalling site has a good deal also.

To be realistic, your friend would need to use different sounds for the different ships. Titanic and Olympic had rotary spark transmitters that gave a more or less musical note in the headphones, somewhere around 800Hz. Other ships had plain spark transmitters that made a sort of rasping sound. I'm not sure about the shore stations, but they may well have had rotary sparks too.

Some of the most important messages were poorly recorded. Harold Cottam of Carpathia stopped keeping his log as soon as he got the first CQD.
 

Cal Haines

Member
Nov 20, 2000
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Tucson, AZ USA
Susan,

Another problem that you will have is that the messages used "short talk" to abbreviate common words and phrases. For example "Old Man" was not spelled out, rather a code was used. I haven't come across any sources that list the formal (and informal) Marconi short talk / codes. There are sources that list the decoded message texts, but the actual sequence of dots and dashes may be lost to time.

Cal
 
Jan 2, 1997
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Thanks all - a great start for Tony's retirement ( I bet his wife would want me to pass on her thanks, too!) A very good point, Dave, about the different equipment. Since Tony was trained for the Royal Naval Reserve he worked on a whole raft of different keys and stuff - the RNR being permanently hard-up, so old commercial and Royal Navy equipment was often 'recycled' ! As a result, my chum not only knows a great deal about these older set-ups, but has been trained on them ! He even has bits kicking about. Boy, people think our hobby/obsession is strange - he's surrounded by bits of ancient morse equipment ! Cal, interesting that you should say that about the 'old man' etc, because the people who trained Tony were familiar with this sort of abbreviation, which was still common in WW2 (he isn't THAT old)(pretty bloody close, though) and they passed it on - but well worth reminding us. Operators, it seemed, could be identified by and held onto their own little 'quirks', which can be translated. Given the resticition of Morse, you can pick out the quirks, if you know what you are looking for.

If anyone else can think of good tips like this, please keep'em comin' ! Tony may be a bit of find for us !
 
Sep 12, 2000
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News reports and company business were often sent encoded to save keystrokes as well.

And operators learn from others and take on some characteristics in their work from their mentors and create some of their own over time in some cases.
 
F

fred pelka

Guest
Hello all. This is my first Titanica post!

I wonder if anyone has ever compiled the transcripts of the wireless messages sent out from Titanic. My understanding is that the great majority of these prior to collision would have been personal messages sent out from passengers to folks on shore. I've been to the Marconi Museum website and though they have a (very few) such messages available, it seems the bulk of the material they have relates to messages sent TO Titanic, or from ships about the disaster. Practically nothing of the messages before the collision.

Would compiling such a transcript even be possible? Did the major wireless stations keep records of shipboard transmissions received? If so, what has happened to those records?

This is a great website, by the way. It's nice to see people as obsessive compulsive about history as I am.

Thanking you all in advance.

Fred
 

Dave Gittins

Member
Mar 16, 2000
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Welcome to the forum, Fred!

The best source for radio messages is Signals of Disaster, compiled by Coughlan and Booth from original documents. It contains several hundred messages, mostly from after the collision. Some of those sent before the collision are moving, in an ironic way. They tell of good times on board and advise arrival times. It includes distress messages received by various ships and many personal messages. There's even Carpathia's shopping list.

I don't think the book is very easily found. I have to rely on our State Library, which has a special maritime collection. Other than that, it's search for a used copy.
 
F

fred pelka

Guest
Thank you Dave and Michael,

Earlier today I tried searching the on-line catalogues of the closest university and college libraries, but no sign of Signals. I have one or two other options, and then Michael I will probably send away for it as you suggest.

Thanks again. I'm really quite impressed by how promptly you responded to my query!

Yours truly,

Fred
 
Apr 23, 2003
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Stuart, you could try the Marconi website, use its search engine and follow the links. Its quite helpful but Im not sure that its exhaustive. The John Booth book is probably better? Anyway hope that you got on ok at that guest house and you got back home ok following the convention
 

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