TRUE. However, this was in response to the Frankfurt’s question ‘What’s up old man?’, which Phillips received at 2 a.m., immediately after Captain Smith had told him and Bride to abandon their cabin. Some of the events leading up to Phillip’s rude reply are explained here, in the following extract from a report by Harold Bride to the Marconi traffic manager, Mr W.R. Cross, written on 27th April, 1912:
‘The noise of escaping steam directly over our cabin caused a deal of trouble to Mr. Phillips in reading the replies to our distress call, and this I also reported to Capt. Smith, who by some means managed to get it abated.
‘The Olympic next answered our call, but as far as I know, Mr. Phillips did not go to much trouble with her, as we now realized the awful state of affairs, the ship listing heavily to port and forward.
‘The captain also came in and told us she was sinking fast and could not last longer than half an hour.
‘Mr. Phillips then went outside to see how things were progressing, and meanwhile I established communication with the Baltic, telling him we were in urgent need of assistance.
‘This I reported to Mr. Phillips on his return, but suggested “MBC” was too far away to be of any use.
‘Mr. Phillips told me the forward well deck was under water, and we got our lifebelts out and tied on each other, after putting on additional clothing.
‘Again Mr. Phillips called “CQD” and “SOS” and for nearly five minutes got no reply, and then both the Carpathia and the Frankfurt called.
‘Just at this moment the captain came into the cabin and said, “You can do nothing more; look out for yourselves.” Mr. Phillips resumed the phones and after listening a few seconds jumped up and fairly screamed, “The —– fool. He says, ‘What’s up old man?’” I asked “Who?” Mr. Phillips replied the Frankfurt and at that time it seemed perfectly clear to us that the Frankfurt’s operator had taken no notice or misunderstood our first call for help.
‘Mr. Philips reply to this was “You fool, stbdi [sic stdbi, standby] and keep out.”’
Titanic expert George Behe points out that in fact the Frankfurt’s operator, W Zippel, was well aware of Titanic’s plight at this stage, but it appears that Titanic’s wireless transmitter had badly lost power at 1.35 a.m. and Frankfurt and other ships had lost contact with Titanic at this time; although Titanic’s ability to transmit messages was curtailed, her ability to receive messages continued unabated. Zippel’s words, which so much angered Phillips, were therefore just his attempt to contact Titanic after she had appeared to remain radio silent for so long. Zippel apparently did not receive Titanic’s angry reply, due again to Titanic’s problems with transmitting at this stage in her sinking.
Behe’s research, published in The Titanic Commutator, the official magazine of the Titanic Historical Society, also revealed that, like the Carpathia’s, the Frankfurt’s initial contact with Titanic at 12.20 a.m. was a routine one, and was not in response to Titanic’s distress signals (which the Frankfurt had not picked up by that time). However, Phillips understandably assumed that the Frankfurt’s routine communication was a response to his distress signal, so simply replied, “Go and get your position”. This Zippel, equally understandably, assumed was therefore a request for a routine exchange of ships’ positions, known as a ‘time rush,’ in the Marconi terminology of the day.
Zippel therefore casually replied, ‘OK. Stand by,’ and went off to get the Frankfurt’s latest position from the bridge, noting in his wireless log:
‘Communication with steamship Titanic bound west, nil.’
A full 16 minutes later, at 12.36 a.m., Zippel sent Phillips the Frankfurt’s position and Phillips replied: ‘Are you coming to our assistance?’ A startled Zippel then asked, ‘What is the matter with you?’ However, Phillips did not get angry at this question, probably because he realised that a misunderstanding had occurred, and replied: ‘We have collision with iceberg; Sinking; Please tell your captain to come.’ Now realising the true situation, Zippel immediately replied: ‘OK. Will tell bridge right away.’ And ran to the bridge, where he persuaded Captain Hattorff to go immediately to Titanic’s aid.
However, neither of these unfortunate misunderstandings affected the outcome of the Titanic disaster, as the Frankfurt was about 150 miles away from the Titanic, about three times further than Titanic’s eventual rescue ship Carpathia.
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