In order to accommodate the construction of the class, Harland and Wolff upgraded their facility in Belfast; the most dramatic change was the combining of three slipways into two larger ones. Olympics keel was laid in December 1908 and she was launched on 20 October 1910. For her launch, the hull was painted in a light grey colour for photographic purposes; a common practice of the day for the first ship in a new class, as it made the lines of the ship clearer in the black and white photographs. Her hull was repainted black following the launch.
Features[edit | edit source]
The Olympic was designed as a luxurious ship, her passenger facilities, fittings, deck plans and technical facilities were largely identical to those of her more famous sister Titanic, although with some small variations.
The first class passengers enjoyed luxurious cabins, some were equipped with bathrooms. There were also large dining rooms, a lavish Grand Staircase built only for the Olympic-class ships, a Georgian-style smoking room, a Cafe Veranda decorated with palm trees, and several other places for meals and entertainment.
The second class facilities included a smoking room, a library, a spacious dining room, and a lift. Finally, the Third Class passengers enjoyed reasonable accommodation compared to other ships, if not up to the second and first classes. Instead of large dormitories offered by most ships of the time, the third-class passengers of the Olympic travelled in cabins containing two to ten bunks. Facilities for the third class included a smoking room, a common area, and a dining room.
Olympic had a cleaner, sleeker look than other ships of the day: rather than fitting her with bulky exterior air vents, Harland and Wolff used smaller air vents with electric fans, with a "dummy" fourth funnel used for additional ventilation. For the powerplant Harland and Wolff employed a combination of reciprocating engines with a centre low-pressure turbine, as opposed to the steam turbines used on Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania. White Star claimed the Olympic-class's engine set-up to be more economical than expansion engines or turbines alone. Olympic consumed 650 tons of coal per twenty four hours with an average speed of 21.7 knots on her maiden voyage, compared to 1000 tons of coal per twenty four hours for both the Lusitania and Mauretania.
Compared to Titanic[edit | edit source]
Although Olympic and Titanic were largely identical, a few fairly minor changes were made to Titanic (and later on the Britannic) based on experience gained from the Olympic's first year in service.
- The most noticeable change was that the forward half of Titanic's promenade on A Deck was enclosed by a steel screen with sliding windows, which provided additional shelter, whereas Olympic's promenade deck remained unenclosed.
- Olympic's B Deck was completely different from Titanic's. The Titanic had a specialty restaurant called the Café Parisien, a feature that the Olympic did not receive until 1913.
- Some of the flaws found on the Olympic, such as the creaking of the aft expansion joint, were corrected on the Titanic.
- The skid lights that provided natural illumination on A Deck, were round on the Titanic, while on the Olympic they were oval.
- The Titanic's wheelhouse was made narrower and longer than the Olympic's.
- The promenade on Titanic's B Deck was reduced in size, and the space was used for additional cabins and public rooms.
These differences meant that Titanic had a slightly higher gross tonnage of 46,328 tons, compared to Olympic's 45,324 tons.
Career[edit | edit source]
Maiden voyage[edit | edit source]
Following completion, Olympic started her sea trials on 29 May 1911, which she successfully completed, Olympic then left Belfast bound for Liverpool, her port of registration, on 31 May 1911. As a publicity stunt the White Star Line deliberately timed the start of her first voyage to coincide with the launch of Titanic. After spending a day in Liverpool, open to the public, Olympic sailed to Southampton, where she arrived on 3 June, to be made ready for her maiden voyage.
Her maiden voyage commenced on 14 June 1911 from Southampton, calling at Cherbourg and Queenstown, reaching New York on 21 June. The maiden voyage was captained by Edward Smith who would lose his life the following year in the Titanic disaster. Designer Thomas Andrews was present for the passage to New York and return, along with a number of engineers, as part of Harland and Wolff's "Guarantee Group" to spot any problems or areas for improvement. Andrews would also lose his life in the Titanic disaster.
As the largest ship in the world, and the first in a new class of superliners, Olympic's maiden voyage attracted considerable worldwide attention from the press and public. Following her arrival in New York, Olympic was opened up to the public and received over 8,000 visitors. More than 10,000 spectators watched her depart from New York harbour, for her first return trip.
Collision with HMS Hawke[edit | edit source]
Olympic's first major mishap occurred on her fifth voyage on 20 September 1911, when she collided with a British warship, HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight. The collision took place as Olympic and Hawke were running parallel to each other through the Solent. As Olympic turned to starboard, the wide radius of her turn took the commander of the Hawke by surprise, and he was unable to take sufficient avoiding action. The Hawke's bow, which had been designed to sink ships by ramming them, collided with Olympic's starboard side near the stern, tearing two large holes in Olympic's hull, below and
above the waterline respectively, resulting in the flooding of two of her watertight compartments and a twisted propeller shaft. HMS Hawke suffered severe damage to her bow and nearly capsized. Despite this, Olympic was able to return to Southampton under her own power, and no-one was seriously injured or killed.
In command during this incident was Captain Edward Smith, who was lost at sea a year later onboard Titanic. One crew member, Violet Jessop, survived not only the collision with the Hawke but also the later sinking of Titanic and the 1916 sinking of Britannic, the third ship of the class.
At the subsequent inquiry the Royal Navy blamed Olympic for the incident, alleging that her large displacement generated a suction that pulled Hawke into her side. The Hawke incident was a financial disaster for Olympic's operator. A legal argument ensued which decided that the blame for the incident lay with Olympic. Olympic endured such a serious collision and stayed afloat, appeared to vindicate the design of the Olympic-class liners and reinforced their "unsinkable" reputation.
It took two weeks for the damage to Olympic to be patched up sufficiently to allow her to return to Belfast for permanent repairs, which took just over six weeks to complete, to speed them up, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay Titanic's completion in order to use her propeller shaft for Olympic. By 29 November she was back in service, however in February 1912, Olympic suffered another setback when she lost a propeller blade on an eastbound voyage from New York, and once again returned to her builder for repairs. To get her back to service as soon as possible, Harland & Wolff again had to pull resources from Titanic, delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March 1912 to 10 April 1912.
When the Titanic was finally complete and ready to begin her maiden voyage, several crew members of the Olympic were transferred to the Titanic.
Titanic disaster[edit | edit source]
- Main article: Sinking of the Titanic
On April 14th, 1912, Olympic, now under the command of Herbert James Haddock, was on a return trip from New York. Wireless operator Ernest James Moore received the distress call from her sister RMS Titanic, when she was approximately 500 nautical miles (930 km; 580 mi) west by south of Titanic's location. Haddock calculated a new course, ordered the ship's engines to be set to full power and headed to assist in the rescue.
When Olympic was about 100 nautical miles (190 km; 120 mi) away from Titanic's last known position, she received a message from Captain Rostron captain of Cunard Liner RMS Carpathia, explaining that continuing on course to Titanic would gain nothing, as "All boats accounted for. About 675 souls saved [...] Titanic foundered about 2.20 am." Rostron requested that the message be forwarded to White Star and Cunard. He said that he was returning to harbour in New York. Subsequently, the wireless room aboard the Olympic operated as a clearing room for radio messages.
When Olympic offered to take on the survivors, she was heatedly turned down by an appalled Rostron, who was concerned that it would cause panic amongst the survivors of the disaster to see a virtual mirror-image of the Titanic appear and ask them to board. Olympic then resumed her voyage to Southampton, with all concerts cancelled as a mark of respect, arriving on 21 April.
Over the next few months, Olympic assisted with both the American and British inquiries into the disaster. Deputations from both inquiries inspected Olympic's lifeboats, watertight doors and bulkheads and other equipment which were identical to those on Titanic. Sea tests were performed for the British enquiry in May 1912, to establish how quickly the ship could turn two points at various speeds, to approximate how long it would have taken the Titanic to turn when it sighted the iceberg.
1912 "mutiny"[edit | edit source]
Olympic, like Titanic, did not carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board, and was hurriedly equipped with additional, second-hand collapsible lifeboats following her return to England. Toward the end of April 1912, as she was about to sail from Southampton to New York, 284 of the ship's firemen went on strike because of fears that the ship's new collapsible lifeboats were not seaworthy. 100 non-union crew were hastily hired from Southampton as replacements, with more being hired from Liverpool.
The 40 collapsible lifeboats were secondhand, having been transferred from troopships, and many were rotten and could not open. The crewmen instead sent a request to the Southampton manager of the White Star Line that the collapsible boats be replaced by wooden lifeboats; the manager replied that this was impossible and that the collapsible boats had been passed as seaworthy by a Board of Trade inspector. The men were not satisfied and ceased work in protest.
On April 25th, a deputation of strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. Only one was unseaworthy and they said that they were prepared to recommend the men return to work if it was replaced. However the strikers now objected to the non-union strikebreaker crew which had come on board, and demanded that they be dismissed, which the White Star Line refused. 54 sailors then left the ship, objecting to the non-union crew who they claimed were unqualified and therefore dangerous, and refused to sail with them. This led to the scheduled sailing being cancelled.
All 54 sailors were arrested on a charge of mutiny when they went ashore. On 4 May 1912 Portsmouth magistrates found the charges against the mutineers were proven, but discharged them without imprisonment or fine due to the special circumstances of the case. Fearing that public opinion would be on the side of the strikers, the White Star Line let them return to work and the Olympic sailed on 15 May.
Refit[edit | edit source]
On October 9th, 1912 White Star withdrew Olympic from service and returned her to her builders at Belfast to be refitted to incorporate lessons learned from the Titanic disaster, and improve safety. The number of lifeboats carried by Olympic was increased from twenty to sixty four, and extra davits were installed along the boat deck to accommodate them. Also, an inner watertight skin was constructed in the boiler and engine rooms. Five of the Watertight Bulkheads were extended up to B-deck, and an extra bulkhead was added to subdivide the electrical dynamo room, bringing the total number of watertight compartments to 17. These modifications now meant that the Olympic could survive a collision similar to that of the Titanic in that her first six compartments could be breached and the ship could remain afloat.
At the same time, Olympic's B Deck was refitted with extra cabins and public rooms, this necessitated deleting her B-Deck promenades – one of the few features that separated her from her sister ship. With these changes, Olympic's gross tonnage rose to 46,359 tons, 31 tons more than Titanic's.
In March 1913, Olympic returned to service and briefly regained the title of largest ocean liner in the world, until the German liner SS Imperator entered passenger service in June 1913. Following her refit, Olympic was marketed as the "new" Olympic and her improved safety features were featured prominently in advertisements.
World War I[edit | edit source]
In August 1914 World War I began. Olympic initially remained in commercial service under Captain Herbert James Haddock. As a wartime measure, Olympic was painted in a grey colour scheme, portholes were blocked, and lights on deck were turned off to make the ship less visible. The schedule was hastily altered to terminate at Liverpool rather than Southampton, and this was later altered again to Glasgow.
The first few wartime voyages were packed with Americans trapped in Europe, eager to return home, although the eastbound journeys carried few passengers. By mid-October, bookings had fallen sharply as the threat from German U-boats became increasingly serious, and White Star Line decided to withdraw Olympic from commercial service. On 21 October 1914, she left New York for Glasgow on her last commercial voyage of the war, though carrying only 153 passengers.
Audacious incident[edit | edit source]
On the sixth day of her voyage, 27 October, as Olympic passed near Lough Swilly off the north coast of Ireland, she received distress signals from the battleship HMS Audacious, which had struck a mine off Tory Island and was taking on water.
Olympic took off 250 of Audacious's crew, then the destroyer HMS Fury managed to attach a tow cable between Audacious and Olympic and they headed west for Lough Swilly. However, the cable parted after Audacious's steering gear failed. A second attempt was made to tow the warship, but the cable became tangled in HMS Liverpool's propellers and was severed. A third attempt was tried but also failed when the cable gave way. By 17:00 the Audacious's quarterdeck was awash and it was decided to evacuate the remaining crew members to Olympic and Liverpool, and at 20:55 there was an explosion aboard the Audacious and she sank.
Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, Commander of the Home Fleet, was anxious to suppress the news of the sinking of Audacious, for fear of the demoralising effect it could have on the British public, so ordered Olympic to be held in custody at Lough Swilly. No communications were permitted and passengers were not allowed to leave the ship. The only people departing her were the crew of Audacious and Chief Surgeon John Beaumont, who was transferring to RMS Celtic. Steel tycoon Charles M. Schwab, who was travelling aboard the liner, sent word to Jellicoe that he had urgent business in London with the Admiralty, and Jellicoe agreed to release Schwab if he remained silent about the fate of Audacious. Finally, on 2 November, Olympic was allowed to go to Belfast where the passengers disembarked.
[edit | edit source]
Following Olympic's return to Britain, the White Star Line intended to lay her up in Belfast until the war was over, but in May 1915 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty, to be used as a troop transport, along with the Cunard liners Mauretania and Aquitania. The Admiralty had initially been reluctant to use large ocean liners as troop transports because of their vulnerability to enemy attack, but a shortage of ships gave them little choice. At the same time, Olympic's other sister ship RMS Britannic, which had not yet been completed, was requisitioned as a hospital ship. In that role, she would strike a mine and sink the following year.
Stripped of her peacetime fittings, and armed with 12-pounders and 4.7-inch guns, Olympic was converted to a troopship, with the capacity to transport up to 6,000 troops. On 24 September 1915 the newly designated HMT (Hired Military Transport) 2810, now under the command of Bertram Fox Hayes left Liverpool carrying 6,000 soldiers to Mudros, Greece for the Gallipoli Campaign. On October 1st she sighted lifeboats from the French ship Provincia which had been sunk by a U-boat that morning off Cape Matapan and picked up 34 survivors. Hayes was heavily criticised for this action by the British Admiralty, who accused him of putting the ship in danger by stopping it in waters where enemy U-boats were active. The ship's speed was considered to be its best defence against U-boat attack, and such a large ship stopped would have made an unmissable target. However, the French Vice-Admiral Louis Dartige du Fournet took a different view and awarded Hayes with the Gold Medal of Honour.
Olympic made several more trooping journeys to the Mediterranean until early 1916, when the Gallipoli Campaign was abandoned.
In 1916, considerations were made to use Olympic to transport troops to India via the Cape of Good Hope. However, on an investigation, it turned out she was unsuitable for this role, because her coal bunkers, which had been designed for transatlantic runs, lacked the capacity for such a long journey at a reasonable speed. Instead, from 1916 to 1917, Olympic was chartered by the Canadian Government to transport troops from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Britain.
In 1917 she gained 6-inch guns and was painted with a "dazzle" camouflage scheme to make it more difficult for observers to estimate her speed and heading. Her dazzle colours were brown, dark blue, light blue, and white. Her many visits to Halifax Harbour carrying Canadian troops safely overseas, and back home after the war at Pier 2, made her a favourite symbol in the City of Halifax. Noted Group of Seven artist Arthur Lismer made several paintings of her in Halifax. A large dance hall, "Olympic Gardens" was also named in her honour. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, HMT Olympic also transported thousands of U.S. troops to Britain.
In the early hours of 12 May 1918, while en route for France with US troops under the command of Captain Hayes, Olympic sighted a surfaced U-boat 500 m (1,600 ft) ahead. Her gunners opened fire at once, and she turned to ram the submarine, which immediately crash-dived to 30 m (98 ft) and turned to a parallel course. Almost immediately afterwards Olympic struck the submarine just aft of her conning tower and her port propeller sliced through U-103's pressure hull. The crew of U-103 blew her ballast tanks, scuttled and abandoned the submarine. Olympic did not stop to pick up survivors, but continued on to Cherbourg. Meanwhile, the USS Davis had sighted a distress flare and picked up 31 survivors from U-103. HMT Olympic returned to Southampton with at least two hull plates dented and her prow twisted to one side, but not breached.
It was subsequently discovered that U-103 had been preparing to torpedo Olympic when she was sighted, but the crew were not able to flood the two stern torpedo tubes. For his service, Captain Hayes was awarded the DSO. Some American soldiers on board paid for a plaque to be placed in one of Olympic's lounges to commemorate the event, it read:
|This tablet presented by the 59th Regiment United States Infantry commemorates the sinking of the German submarine U103 by the Olympic on May 12th 1918 in latitude 49 degrees 16 minutes north longitude 4 degrees 51 minutes west on the voyage from New York to Southampton with American troops...|
During the war, Olympic is reported to have carried up to 201,000 troops and other personnel, burning 347,000 tons of coal and travelling about 184,000 miles. Her impressive World War I service earned her the nickname Old Reliable. Her captain was knighted in 1919 for "valuable services in connection with the transport of troops".
Post World War 1
In August 1919, the venerable Olympic returned to Belfast to be restored to civilian service. During this time, Olympic received modernized interiors and her boilers were converted to burn oil rather than coal.
Olympic emerged from refit with an increased tonnage of 46,439, allowing her to retain her claim to the title of largest British built liner afloat, although the Cunard Line's Aquitania was slightly longer. In 1920 she returned to passenger service, on one voyage that year carrying 2,249 passengers. Olympic transported a record 38,000 passengers during 1921, which proved to be the peak year of her career. With the loss of the Titanic and Britannic, Olympic initially lacked any suitable running mates for the express service; however, in 1922 White Star obtained two former German liners, Majestic and Homeric, which had been ceded to Britain as war reparations, these joined Olympic as running mates, operating successfully until the Great Depression reduced demand after 1930.
During the 1920s, Olympic remained a popular and fashionable ship, and often attracted the rich and famous of the day; Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, and Prince Edward, then Prince of Wales, were among the celebrities that she carried. Prince Edward and Captain Howarth were filmed on the bridge of Olympic for Pathé News.According to his autobiography, Cary Grant, then 16 year old Archibald Leach, first set sail to New York on Olympic on 21 July 1920 on the same voyage on which Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were celebrating their honeymoon. One of the attractions of Olympic was the fact that she was nearly identical to Titanic, and many passengers sailed on Olympic as a way of vicariously experiencing the voyage of Olympic's sister ship.
On 22 March 1924, Olympic was involved in another collision with a ship, this time at New York. As Olympic was reversing from her berth at New York harbour, her stern collided with the smaller liner Fort St George, which had crossed into her path. The collision caused extensive damage to the smaller ship. At first it appeared that Olympic had sustained only minor damage, but it was later revealed that her sternpost had been fractured, necessitating the replacement of her entire stern frame.
Changes in immigration laws in the United States in the 1920s greatly restricted the number of immigrants allowed to enter. The law limited the number of immigrants to about 160,000 per year in 1924. This led to a major reduction in the immigrant trade for the shipping lines, forcing them to cater to the tourist trade to survive.At the turn of 1927–28, Olympic was converted to carry tourist third cabin passengers as well as first, second and third class. Tourist third cabin was an attempt to attract travellers who desired comfort without the accompanying high ticket price of second class. New public rooms were constructed for this class, although tourist third cabin and second class would merge to become 'tourist' by late 1931.
A year later, Olympic's first-class cabins were again improved by adding more bathrooms, a dance floor was fitted in the enlarged first-class dining saloon, and a number of new suites with private facilities were installed forward on B deck. More improvements would follow in a later refit, but 1929 saw Olympic's best average passenger lists since 1925.
On 18 November 1929, as Olympic was travelling westbound near to Titanic's last known position, the ship suddenly started to vibrate violently, and the vibrations continued for two minutes. It was later determined that this had been caused by the 1929 Grand Banks earthquake.
Last years[edit | edit source]
The shipping trade was severely affected by the Great Depression. Until 1930 there had generally been around one million passengers a year on the transatlantic route, but by 1934 this had dropped by more than half. Furthermore, by the early 1930s, increased competition emerged, in the form of a new generation of larger and faster liners such as Germany's SS Bremen and SS Europa, Italy's SS Rex and France's SS Île de France, and the remaining passengers tended to prefer the more up-to-date ships. Olympic had averaged well over 1,000 passengers per journey until 1930, but this declined by more than half by 1932.
Olympic's running mate Homeric was withdrawn from the transatlantic route as early as 1932, leaving only Olympic and Majestic maintaining White Star Line's Southampton-New York service. During slack periods in the summer, Olympic and fleet mate Majestic were employed in summer recreational cruises from New York to Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
At the end of 1932, with passenger traffic well in decline, Olympic went for an overhaul and refit that took four months. She returned to service in March 1933 described by her owners as "looking like new." Her engines were performing at their best and she repeatedly recorded speeds in excess of 23 knots, despite averaging less than that in regular transatlantic service. During this time, her famed Grand Staircase was painted bright green in an attempt to match the Art Deco style of the time. However, this was not enough as Olympic was fundamentally outdated by the 1930s as she severely lacked private bathing facilities as well.
As a result, during 1933 and 1934, Olympic ran at a net operating loss for the first time. 1933 was Olympic's worst year of business – carrying just over 9,000 passengers in total. Passenger numbers rose slightly in 1934, but many crossings still were unprofitable.
Retirement[edit | edit source]
In 1934, the White Star Line merged with the Cunard Line at the instigation of the British government, to form Cunard White Star. This merger allowed funds to be granted for the completion of the future RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. When completed, these two new ships would handle Cunard White Star's transatlantic business, and so their fleet of older liners became redundant and were gradually retired.
Olympic was withdrawn from the transatlantic service, and left New York for the last time on April 5th, 1935; returning to Britain to be laid up, pending a decision about her fate. Her new owners considered using her for summer cruises for a short while, but this idea was abandoned and she was put up for sale. Among the potential buyers was a syndicate who proposed to turn her into a floating hotel off the south coast of France, but this came to nothing. For a while, speculations about Olympic's future were that she would survive the Depression long enough that she would be eventually used in World War 2 if need be. But, after being laid up for five months alongside her former rival Mauretania, she was sold to Sir John Jarvis – Member of Parliament for £97,500, to be partially demolished at Jarrow to provide work for the depressed region.
Her superstructure was demolished in 1936, and in 1937, Olympic's hull was towed to Inverkeithing to T.W. Ward's yard for final demolition.
By the time of her retirement, Olympic had completed 257 round trips across the Atlantic, transporting 430,000 passengers on her commercial voyages, traveling 1.8 million miles. Two years later, Britain declared war on Germany and we can only imagine that Olympic would have served her country nobly during the ensuing conflict.
Olympic artefacts[edit | edit source]
Olympic's fittings were auctioned off immediately before she was scrapped; some of her fittings, namely those of the first-class lounge and part of the aft grand staircase, can be found in the White Swan Hotel, in Alnwick, Northumberland, England. The rest of her fittings found homes in scattered places throughout Great Britain.
In 2000, Celebrity Cruises purchased some of Olympic's original wooden panels and created the RMS Olympic restaurant on board their newest cruise ship at the time, Millennium. According to Celebrity Cruise Line, this wood panelling once lined Olympic's à la carte restaurant.
The clock depicting "Honour and Glory Crowning Time" from Olympic's grand staircase is on display at Southampton's SeaCity Museum.
Official number and code letters[edit | edit source]
Official Numbers were a forerunner to IMO Numbers.
Olympic had the UK Official Number 131345 and used the code letters HSRP.
References[edit | edit source]
- Cite error: Invalid
<ref>tag; no text was provided for refs named