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"Wavescan" is a weekly program for long distance radio hobbyists produced by Dr. Adrian M. Peterson, Coordinator of International Relations for Adventist World Radio. AWR carries the program over many of its stations (including shortwave). Adrian Peterson is a highly regarded DXer and radio historian, and often includes features on radio history in his program. We are reproducing those features below, with Dr. Peterson's permission and assistance.

Wavescan N320, April 12, 2015

The Titanic Tragedy: A Race to the Rescue

The tragic sinking of the majestic passenger liner Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean south of the island of Newfoundland occurred more than a century ago, yet the details of all the associated events still capture the interest of people all around the world even to this day. The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Europe to the United States exactly 103 years ago, with the death of 1500 people, though more than 700 survivors were rescued by another ocean going passenger liner, the Carpathia.

The Titanic was considered at the time to be the largest ship afloat and it was stated by some authorities to be unsinkable, due to the many safety features that had been incorporated into its construction. However, just before midnight on the night of Sunday April 14, 1912, the ship struck a huge iceberg that tore a massive 300 foot long gash in its hull. Two and a half hours later, in the early morning hours of Monday April 15, the ship sank and lay in two pieces at the bottom of the Atlantic, more than two miles down.

Much research has been accomplished by Titanic historians and a complete log of all wireless transmissions in Morse Code has been compiled, together with the time and the source of each transmission. A total of nearly 30 ships participated in these wireless transmissions which involved the Titanic and its shipboard transmitters under its Marconi callsign MGY.

It had been thought for some time that none of the wireless transmissions associated with the Titanic tragedy ever reached Europe. However, more recent research has revealed that some of these transmissions had reached at least three widely separated locations in Europe.

Over in Wales at the time of the original distress signals from the Titanic, amateur wireless operator Arthur Moore in Gelligroes Mill near Blackwood heard the "CQD de MGY" and subsequent messages. He reported the sinking of the Titanic to the local police, but they scoffed at his information. However, Marconi himself subsequently learned of Moore's reception of the Titanic signals, and Moore was invited into employment with the Marconi company which he served for more than 30 years.

Another employee of the Marconi company in England who heard the wireless traffic associated with the Titanic tragedy was Lieutenant-Colonel Baytun Hippisley. Somewhere around the year 1910, Baytun Hippisley obtained a wireless license from the British Post Office and he operated his own amateur station under the callsign HLX. At the time of the Titanic events, he was on duty at the Marconi wireless station at the Lizard in Cornwall, callsign GLD, and he heard the wireless messages from MGY Titanic.

Then, over in Vienna, Austria, the philosopher and scientist Professor Carl Unger also heard the CQD & SOS messages from the Titanic. The American radio magazine, Broadcasting, showed a photograph of the primitive Unger wireless equipment in their issue dated June 1, 1937.

When the news about the Titanic tragedy became known among the many ships that were within wireless range, there was a race to the rescue and the first on the scene was the Carpathia (callsign MPA) which plucked 705 people from the icy cold water. However, there was another race that was involved with the Titanic events, and that was the wireless station MCE which was located at Cape Race on the southern coast of the island of Newfoundland.

Cape Race is located at the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula. It is an elevated flat plateau with 100 feet cliffs at the leading edge descending down to the ocean. The name Race comes from the Portuguese word raso meaning flat area, a plateau.

A beacon light was installed at Cape Race in 1851, and this was replaced by a regular lighthouse five years later. The current lighthouse building, which today is a Heritage Site, was constructed in 1907.

Because of its location, Cape Race assumed a high significance for transatlantic shipping and at the height of its development, several important communication facilities were installed at this location. Among these items were:

The telegraph station at Cape Race was installed in 1859, and at that time the custom was for passing ships to drop sealed cans containing mail and newspapers into the water. These cans were then retrieved by a motorboat operated by telegraph personnel, or by local fishermen. Important news obtained in this way was then telegraphed to New York for widespread dissemination to newspapers throughout the United States.

The wireless station at Cape Race was installed by Marconi himself and it was inaugurated in 1904 under the callsign CE, the first and last letters of the station's location. In 1912, before the Titanic events, all Marconi wireless stations added the letter M in the front of the callsign, and CE became MCE, though in subsequent years, the callsign was amended to the Newfoundland designation, as VCE.

During the Titanic events, all three of the wireless operators at Cape Race were involved in the Morse Code communications; Walter Gray, J. C. R. Godwin, and Robert Huntston. Immediately before the collision with the iceberg, Jack Phillips at MGY on the Titanic was communicating with MCE and passing personal and business messages.

Due to the fact that the Titanic was operating on local time at sea, and Cape Race was operating at Eastern Standard Time, confusion has sometimes come in as to the exact timing of Titanic events. However, around about 20 minutes before midnight, the first CQD distress call was transmitted from the Titanic, and from that time onwards, Cape Race was the focal land point for wireless traffic, both with the ocean going vessels, and also with various land based locations in eastern North America.

Over the years, the wireless station at Cape Race underwent its own tribulations, with two destructive fires, 1910 and 1913, though on each occasion it was rebuilt. The station was finally closed in 1965, and 35 years later a replica building was constructed on the site and it has become an important historical location, known as the Myrick Historic Centre.

We mentioned earlier in this topic, that three amateur operators in Europe heard the wireless signals during the Titanic events on the other side of the Atlantic; Professor Carl Unger in Vienna, Arthur Moore in Wales, and Lieutenant-Colonel Baytun Hippisley HLX at the Lizard. Jose Jacob VU2JOS in Hyderabad, India reminds us that another important radio anniversary occurs at this season of the year, on April 18. This year provides the 90th anniversary of the founding of the International Amateur Radio Union. This date, April 18, is celebrated each year as World Amateur Radio Day.