Saturday, April 14, 2012

The blue spark danced

There had been an explosion of technology in the world of the merchant marine. Marconi radio stations, having been established on both sides of the Atlantic in 1902, were now standard equipment in ships at sea. It meant ships, which for centuries had sailed the worlds oceans in complete isolation, could maintain contact with their flag countries and, perhaps significantly, each other.

Jack Phillips was a Chief Radio Officer. Harold Bride was his deputy. Both were sea-going telegraphists for the Marconi Wireless Corporation. Their assignment was callsign MGY, the White Star Liner, RMS Titanic. On the morning of April 15th, 1912, Phillips was 25 years old; Bride was 21.


At 15 minutes past midnight, local time, 100 years ago, the silence of the ether was shattered as the radio officers in the steam ships La Provence, Frankfurt, Mount Temple and the radio station at Cape Race, Newfoundland heard this:

Two hours and two minutes later, with water rushing into Titanic's wheelhouse, and well after the master, Captain Smith, had released them to abandon ship, the weak signals from callsign MGY, sent by Phillips and Bride, went silent.

The world changed right then.

Titanic, the ship, was the crowning achievement of that era's shipbuilding technology. Simply put, no other merchant ship of the day could match its survivability. It was described as a giant lifeboat. It was designed to withstand broadside collisions and head on impact. The compartment structure ensured reserve buoyancy.

Until it didn't.

Titanic, the idea, was the product of a poorly regulated British merchant marine and a belief that the leaders of the shipping world would only damage their own marketability if they did not develop safer ships. Titanic, (and her sister Olympic), were built to advance trans-Atlantic travel and make it safer. Much safer. Prior to the advancements incorporated in the White Star Lines ships, sinkings in the Atlantic were all too common.

Titanic, the idea, was a costly testament to the belief that shipowners would not jeopardize their continued business by building an unsafe vessel and employing untrained crew. It was the result of leaving the science of ship construction wholly in the hands of the operators. They missed more than they caught. 1,517 people paid the price.


Chief  radio officer Phillips and 2nd Radio Officer Bride departed the radio office as the water overtook them. They had stayed at their posts to the end. Phillips went aft and his body was never found. Bride went to the unlikely collapsible lifeboat B, which was not hung in a davit. He survived until his death by natural causes in 1956.


Holly Stick said...

I forget where I read it today, but someone said because they built three big ships at the same time, they did not have enough good steel and used some inferior steel. If the Titanic's steel had been less brittle she might have had a smaller hole and taken longer to sink.

Dave said...

Possibly. It has since been discovered that the rivets were not properly tempered. That would make them brittle.

Purple library guy said...

I've seen it suggested in a couple of places now that nuke plants are the modern Titanic: Poorly regulated, full of puffed up claims of technological invincibility, behind the scenes full of slipshod construction and bad management and mishandling of disasters.