Jack was appointed Chief Wireless Telegraphist on the new, “unsinkable” luxury Titanic, with Harold Bride as his junior operator. The wireless equipment on board was the most modern and most powerful of any merchant ship then afloat.
It had a range of 250-400 miles in daytime and at night, when conditions for transmitting and receiving were more favourable, it occasionally spanned 2,000 miles. It is recorded that Jack had confided in a friend that while he was proud to be chosen to serve on the Titanic he would have preferred a smaller vessel. Jack expressed a dread of icebergs.
In the 24 hours preceding the fateful collision with an iceberg on the 14 April 1912, the two wireless operators had been busy repairing a fault in the transmitter. As a consequence, Jack had very little sleep before commencing his watch from 8.00pm to 2.00am. It was in the hours preceding the collision that the liner achieved its highest speed of 22.5 knots. Thus, on impact, the iceberg inflicted considerable damage to many of the watertight compartments, causing it to sink at the bow.
Jack was sending personal messages from the passengers to America – this was his job with Marconi – when he was first instructed by the captain to advise other vessels in the area of the collision with the berg. Due to the much publicised and widely believed claim that the Titanic was an unsinkable ship, almost all on board carried on as before and other ships receiving this message did not immediately prepare to head for the given position of the stricken liner. However it was soon realized that the Titanic was sinking and Jack was instructed by Captain Edward Smith to send out CQD messages requesting immediate assistance from all vessels in the area. Later Smith requested Jack to change to SOS.
From this time onwards Jack stayed at his post, sending out the distress calls, advising on the latest position of the Titanic, urging and convincing other ships to assist in the rescue of those taking to the boats. Jack stayed at the transmitter while Harold Bride put a lifejacket on him after the captain gave the instruction, “Every man for himself” and had personally thanked the two wireless operators for their perseverance. Bride was sent off by Phillips to save himself, while Jack continued transmitting. It was as a consequence of his total devotion to duty that Jack Phillips lost his life and has since become widely admired. It was this bravery and persistence which reduced the magnitude of the disaster in respect of lives lost. Jack’s last message was picked up by the Virginia of the Allen Line at 2.17am, and the Titanic foundered at 2.20am. After this everyone adopted SOS as the primary distress call.
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