THE MARCONI OPERATORS AND TITANIC
The Marconi International Marine Communication Company, Limited, was the primary service provider for transatlantic wireless telegraphs and radio communication aboard seafaring vessels in the early twentieth century. Two employees of the company, Senior Wireless Operator Jack Phillips and Junior Wireless Operator Harold Bride, were onboard the Titanic during her brief voyage. These operators were both regarded as well qualified, which begs the question as to why warnings of ice in Titanic’s path were not heeded with the necessary precaution.
What is known is that there were two messages that did not reach Captain Edward Smith the night of April 14, 1912. Approximately two hours before Titanic struck the iceberg, the MV Mesaba sent a telegraph which read: "In lat 42N to 41.25N long 49W to long 50.30W saw much heavy pack ice and great number of large icebergs also field ice. Weather good, clear." Unfortunately for Titanic, the message did not include the prefix “MSG”, standing for Masters’ Service Gram, which required the message have a personal acknowledgement receipt from Captain Smith. It is assumed that Phillips was too busy fielding messages from other sources to recognize the significance of this message, and without the prefix signaling its importance, it was overlooked. This hypothesis is speculation, however, because anyone who would have come into contact with a Masters’ Service Gram passed away in the Titanic disaster.
The second message was to be sent approximately forty minutes before Titanic began to sink by S.S. Californian. The latter had been stuck in the perilous ice field upon which Titanic was approaching, and was waiting until morning to attempt maneuvers. The operator aboard Californian, Cyril Evans, was instructed by Captain Stanley Lord to send a warning message to warn Titanic of her vicinity to the dangerous waters. Evans, too, failed to use the prefix of MSG, and sent a message to Titanic which reportedly boomed over the fainter signals she was receiving. Irritated by the interruption, an exhausted Phillips responded to his counterpart with a message of “D-D-D,” which translates as shut up. Because Evans’ message was interpreted as informal, it was not relayed to the Bridge, as would have been mandated a formal MSG report.
During these early years of Marconi radio transmissions, the primary purpose of these communications was to relay personal messages to passengers. Beyond the MSG report, there was no system of prioritization amongst messages. The disastrous effect this lack of regulation had for Titanic prompted regulation which mandated that any messages regarding ships’ navigation be given priority.