"Tell him we are coming as fast as we can." Captain of the Carpathia, Arthur Rostron.
The Wireless Operators, the Distress Call and the Rescue Ship Carpathia
Carpathia Captain Arthur Rostron
"We set foot on deck with very thankful hearts,
grateful beyond the possibility of adequate expression to feel solid ship
beneath us once more."
Lawrence Beesley, Titanic survivor (Reference to boarding the rescue ship Carpathia.)
In 1912, the Marconi wireless
radio, still basically in it's infancy state as far as utilization, was a
technological marvel. Another successful addition to this new world of
invention. Radios on ships were still new in this era. Many ships still did not
have radios and many ship's captains were still either unsure about them, or
thought of them as a mere novelty for the passengers.
The operators (although usually wearing the same type uniforms as the ship's officers) were not considered ship's crew members, they were employed by the Marconi Company not the White Star Line, and were there solely as a service to the passengers. Once underway at sea however, they took orders from no one but the captain of the vessel himself. The Titanic disaster would prove the necessity of radios on ships and the necessity of having them manned on a 24 hour basis.
Actual photograph of Titanic's Wireless Room .(Harold Bride shown sitting) Photo was taken by Father Brown who disembarked at Queenstown prior to the sinking. (Photo property of the Father Brown Collection)
When Captain Smith realized the seriousness of Titanic's situation after striking the iceberg, the order was given to uncover the lifeboats. The captain then personally walked down the port side boat deck to Titanic's wireless room.
Inside, Marconi operators, Harold Bride and Jack Phillips were just discussing the possibility of something being wrong with the ship. They had felt the jarring vibration and noticed that the ship's engines had stopped. It had been a very busy day for the two radio operators with all the passengers personal messages going out. Phillips had just finished sending messages to Cape Race.
The door opened and the two men turned to see Captain Smith standing there. "We've struck an iceberg and I'm having an inspection made to see what it has done to us. You had better get ready to send out the call for assistance, but don't send it until I tell you."
Titanic's Marconi (radio) operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride.
As the door shut and the captain left, Phillips and Bride
just starred at each other momentarily. A few minutes later the captain
returned. It was now 12:15 A.M. Sticking his head in the doorway he said,
"Send out the call for assistance!" Phillips asked the captain if he should
send out the international call for distress, to which Captain Smith replied
"Yes, at once!" Smith handed Phillips a slip of paper with Titanic's
current position on it.
Phillips (lead operator) put the headphones on and immediately began tapping out CQD - MGY.....CQD - MGY......which translates to: CQD = attention all stations, D = distress or danger, and MGY was Titanic's radio call letters. Finally Bride began receiving other ships replies. The first to answer was the North German Lloyd steamer, Frankfurt. She acknowledged receiving the call and told Bride to "Stand by." Other replies began to pour in. The Russian tramp steamer, Burma, the Allan liner, Virginian, the Canadian Pacific liner, Mt. Temple, but all were too far away. Titanic was sinking quickly and there weren't enough lifeboats to evacuate all on board.
Then an encouraging message was received. Heading south and only 58 miles away, was the Cunard liner Carpathia, under the command of Captain Arthur Rostron, a very capable and experienced ship captain.
Carpathia's radio operator, Harold Thomas Cottom was just preparing to call it quits after a busy day and was looking forward to turning in for the night. It was now 12:25 A.M. and Cottom, knowing Titanic was in the vicinity thought he would be helpful and advise Titanic that she had messages waiting from Cape Race.
After tapping out the first few words to Titanic, Phillips blasted in interrupting him and saying "Come at once!. We have struck a berg. It's a CQD old man! Position 41.46 N 50.14 W." Cottom replied "Should I tell my captain?" "Yes" was Phillips reply. Cottom stood there for a moment not quite believing what he had just heard, and then quickly ran to the bridge to inform first Officer Dean of the news. After relaying the message to the first officer, the two men rushed to Captain Rostron's quarters.
Good news was soon received in Titanic's wireless
room, Carpathia was 58 miles away and "coming hard."
Captain Smith once again came to the Marconi room to see if any ships had responded to the distress call. Phillips informed him of Carpathia's response. Smith quickly calculated that 58 miles out put her at roughly 4 hours steaming time to Titanic's position. An unwanted fact sunk in his mind; Titanic would be gone by the time Carpathia arrived.
Bride leaned over to Phillips and said "Hey, why don't you send out the new distress call S.O.S., it might be your last chance to use it." The three men nervously chuckled at this, and Captain Smith returned to the bridge. Titanic did, at this time, become one of the first vessels in history to use the S.O.S. distress call.
The Frankfurt, the first ship to answer the distress call that had told Phillips to stand by after receiving the call, was now signaling back to Titanic after about 30 minutes had lapsed. "My captain wants to know what's wrong with you." was the message. Phillips was so outraged with this question, that he tapped back " You're a fool ! Stand by and keep out." Phillips knew that all radio operators and ship's captains worldwide knew what "CQD" meant.
(Left) Carpathia in harbor after the rescue Image © Crown Copyright. Courtesy of Public Record Office
On board Carpathia, Captain Rostron had ordered his ship swung around as he proceeded at flank speed to Titanic's foundering position. Rostron and ordered all power, steam, hot water etc. diverted to the ships boilers for extra steam. Proceeding at near full speed in this situation was going to be tricky business. Captain Rostron was well aware that he would be entering the same ice field that Titanic had met her fate in. Lights were ordered dimmed in the forward section and extra lookouts were posted at the bow on the deck to watch for growlers and bergs.
Carpathia's captain, Arthur Rostron
Rostron ordered his first officer to have the boats
uncovered and swung out, the gangway doors opened, the pilot ladders lowered,
the side ladders and cargo nets dropped, canvas sling bags and coal ash bags
were placed on blocks and tackles for hauling up the children, sick and injured.
He further ordered that the cooks prepare hot soup and coffee, and to have
blankets ready. He ordered the ship's physician to stand by, and summoned other
physicians that were passengers; calling on their assistance to receive
(Right) One of Titanic's lifeboats
being emptied of water aboard Carpathia.
Image © Crown Copyright. Courtesy of Public Record Office
Titanic was now going down quickly. Most of the boats had been launched
and some passengers were jumping from the boat deck to the water. Titanic
was now beginning to assume an almost perpendicular "head stand" (see "The
Story: What Happened that Night" on this site)
Captain Smith visited the wireless room one last time, informing Bride and Phillips that they could abandon their posts now, he told them that they had done their jobs well. "It's now every man for himself, boys" he said. Phillips stayed on a few more minutes desperately trying to send out a few more last minute distress calls to whom ever might be listening. The dynamo's were dying down and the wireless' power would be gone soon.
Bride would survive the disaster, Phillip's would not. He was found and pulled from the water into one of the lifeboats, but died shortly afterward from exposure (hypothermia).
Titanic had now disappeared from the surface forever. A small flotilla of life boats scattered over the area were desperately waiting for rescue. Many knew the Carpathia was enroute, but had no idea how far out she was. The lifeboat passengers were praying for the screams and pleas for help from those struggling in the frigid water to subside. Which eventually happened. (Most of the boats refrained from returning to pick up survivors in the water out of fear of being capsized)
A flashing streak of light was soon noticed shooting upward into the sky by the boats. Then another and another; they were rockets. After what had seemed like an eternity, the Carpathia had finally arrived. She was firing rockets to let the boats know where she was. It was now around 4:30 A.M. Of approximately 2,227 passengers and crew on board Titanic, only 705 now remained.
One of Titanic's lifeboats approaching Carpathia
A sad fate would end Carpathia's career after gaining fame as the "rescue ship" to Titanic's survivors. On July 17, 1918, she was traveling in convoy to Boston. Spotted by a German U-Boat, Carpathia was suddenly struck by two torpedoes 170 miles from Bishop's rock off of the Isles of Sicily. As the crew were manning the lifeboats, the ship was struck by a third torpedo. Five crew members were killed instantly. The remainder of the crew and Carpathia's 57 passengers were picked up by the HMS Snowdrop and returned to Liverpool. The Carpathia sank at 12:40 AM on that morning.
(Left) Captain Arthur Rostron
The capsized collapsible
Carpathia's heroic Captain Arthur
Rostron, wrote in his later memoirs that his participation in the rescue "...was
the most drastic and memorable night of my career." Shortly after Carpathia's
arrival with Titanic's passengers in New York, Captain Rostron
was approached by a NY Times reporter. The reporter was inquiring about the
degree of difficulty of running the Carpathia at near full speed in the
dark through a field of icebergs. Rostron told him "Someone else's hand other
than mine was on the wheel that night."
He went on (1915) to eventually become the Captain of the Mauritania, one of the "Pride and Joy" ships of the Cunard line that set many speed records. He remained her skipper until 1926. Two years later he would be promoted to Commodore of the Cunard Fleet. After being knighted by King George V, his title changed to Sir Arthur Rostron. He retired in 1931 and passed away in 1940.
(Left) Rostron's Grave marker. It
reads: Sir Arthur Henry Rostron, KBE, RD, RNR " Captain of RMS Carpathia. Saved
from SS Titanic, 15 April 1912." (Photo property of Gary Bown, UK)
(Below left) Some of Carpathia's gallant crew after the rescue. Stewards left, Officers right.
HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- The wreck of Carpathia, the ship that rescued passengers of the Titanic, is intact and sitting upright at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, according to video images released for the first time Friday. The wreck, which was found May 27, rests 500 feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean in waters 120 miles south of Fastnet, Ireland.
The Carpathia was the first ship on the scene after the Titanic sank in 1912. It raced at high speeds through waters filled with icebergs to reach the survivors. Its crew pulled 705 men, women and children from lifeboats bobbing in the icy water.
On July 17, 1918, during the First World War, the Carpathia was traveling in a convoy from England to Boston when it was struck by two torpedoes from a German U-boat and began to sink. A third torpedo hit the ship as the lifeboats were being manned. Five crewmembers died, while the rest of the crew were rescued.
At a news conference in Halifax Friday, the documentary film company Eco-Nova productions presented film showing the Carpathia was intact and sitting upright at the bottom of the sea. There are huge tears in the side of the ship's hull and the boilers appear to have exploded as the ship sank.
After locating the site of the ship with sonar equipment last May, the company sent down a submersible, remotely operated camera to the site late Tuesday.
The search for the Carpathia was funded largely by fiction author Clive Cussler.
Cussler has used the royalties from his many best-selling books -- including the fictional "Raise the Titanic'' -- to fund expeditions to locate and preserve shipwrecks around the world.
Press release courtesy of: National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA)
"The Captain and Officers of the Carpathia did all that was possible to make us comfortable, and to those that were sick or injured; they gave their most tender care. The icebergs were huge and the weather extremely rough on the voyage to New York."
Adolphe Saalfeld, Titanic survivor
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