The Quest for the Wreck of the Titanic

The Inaccurate C.Q.D call, the box office bomb, and the Texas oil millionaire with a trained monkey

Adam M Wakeling

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Bow of the Titanic in 2004, U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Wikimedia Commons.

AAbout half an hour after midnight on 15 April 1912, Captain Arthur Rostron was drifting off to sleep in his cabin aboard the Cunard liner RMS Carpathia. The ship had left New York City four days before and was making its way steadily to Fiume on the Adriatic coast of Austria-Hungary. Suddenly, wireless operator Harold Cottam burst into his cabin and announced that he had received a cryptic message from the RMS Titanic.

“C.Q.D. here. Position 41’44” N., 50’24” W. Require assistance” the White Star Line ship had broadcast. C.Q.D. was the international distress call. Cottram replied, asking what had happened.

“Come at once. We have struck a berg. It’s a C.Q.D. O.M. [Old Man] Position 41’46” N. 50’14” W” was the urgent response.

Cottam had already taken message to the bridge to find the officers on watch sceptical. The Titanic was the largest and most modern ship afloat, and an iceberg shouldn’t have been able to seriously damage her. The C.Q.D. position was north-west of the Carpathia — back towards North America — and about 58 miles away. Turning a liner around, throwing it off its schedule and delaying its passengers wasn’t a small decision. Nonetheless, Cottam persevered, taking the risk of rousing the captain from his bed.

The risk paid off. Rostron ordered the ship to turn to the north-west and make for the C.Q.D. position as quickly as she could. The ten-year-old Carpathia was not going to break any speed records. The new Titanic had been tearing across the Atlantic at nearly 22 knots (25 miles per hour or 39 kilometres per hour) while the Carpathia cruised at a more sedate 14 knots. But Rostron had all the stokers out of their bunks to put on as much steam as possible, and got the ship up to over 17 knots. He also doubled the watch to look out for icebergs.

Cottam kept monitoring the wireless, and at about 1:45am, he heard what would be the final message from the Titanic: “Engine-room full up to boilers”. There were a few more transmissions from the stricken liner, but they were garbled and unreadable, and soon after, stopped altogether.

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Adam M Wakeling

Adam Wakeling is an Australian writer, lawyer and historian. He is online at https://www.amwakeling.com/ and on Twitter @AdamMWakeling.