RMS Olympic

RMS Olympic

RMS "Olympic" was the lead ship of the "Olympic" class ocean liners built for the White Star Line, which also included "Titanic" and "Britannic". Unlike her sisters, "Olympic" served a long and illustrious career (1911 to 1935), becoming known as "Old Reliable."

The "Olympic" class ships were originally to be named "Olympic", "Titanic" and "Gigantic", after Greek mythological races: the Olympians, the Titans, and the Giants. "Gigantic" was renamed "Britannic" following the sinking of "Titanic".


J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman of White Star Line, and William Pirrie, the chairman of Harland and Wolff shipyard, intended the "Olympic"-class ships to surpass rival Cunard's largest ships, the RMS "Lusitania" and RMS "Mauretania" in size and luxury. "Olympic" was to be built first, followed by "Titanic" and "Gigantic" (the latter renamed "Britannic" after Titanic's sinking). 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. "Olympic's" 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 following the launch.

Her maiden voyage commenced on 14 June 1911. 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 areas for improvement. "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 about 650 tons of coal a day at 21.7 knots on her maiden voyage, compared to 1000 tons of coal a day for the "Lusitania" and "Mauretania". [cite web|url=http://www.merchantnavyofficers.com/cunard6.html|title=RMS Mauretania]

"Hawke" incident

"Olympic's" first major mishap occurred on 20 September 1911, when it collided with a British warship, HMS "Hawke" off the Isle of Wight. Although the incident resulted in the flooding of two of her compartments and a twisted propeller shaft, "Olympic" was able to limp back to Southampton. 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. [cite book | last = Bonner | first = Kit | authorlink = | coauthors = Carolyn Bonner | title = Great Ship Disasters | publisher = MBI Publishing Company | date = 2003 | location = | pages = pp. 33-34 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0760313369] 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. [Beveridge, p. 76]

The "Hawke" incident was a financial disaster for "Olympic's" operator, and keeping her out of revenue service made matters worse. "Olympic" returned to Belfast, and to speed up her repair, Harland and Wolff was forced to delay "Titanic's" completion and use her propeller shaft for "Olympic". In February 1912, "Olympic" lost a propeller blade and she once again returned to her builder for emergency repairs. To get her back to service immediately, Harland & Wolff again had to pull resources from "Titanic", delaying her maiden voyage from 20 March 1912 to 10 April 1912. [ [http://www.cruiseserver.net/travelpage/ships/ws_titanic.asp Classic Liners and Cruise Ships - RMS Titanic ] ]

"Titanic" disaster

On 14 April 1912, "Olympic", now under the command of Herbert Haddock, received a distress signal from her sister "Titanic", but was too far away to assist.

1912 "mutiny"

"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. Towards the end of April 1912, as she was about to sail from Southampton to New York, the ship's firemen went on strike because of fears that the ship's new collapsible lifeboats were not seaworthy. The 40 collapsible lifeboats were secondhand, having been transferred from troopships, and many were rotten and could not open. The men 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. [Citation | last = | first = | author-link = | last2 = | first2 = | author2-link = | title = FIREMEN STRIKE; OLYMPIC HELD; Part of Crew Leave Vessel as She Is About to Sail from Southampton with 1,400 Passengers. | newspaper = New York Times | pages = | year = | date = 25 April 1912 | url = http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9B0DE6DE153CE633A25756C2A9629C946396D6CF]

On 25 April 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. These terms were accepted. However, the deputation said that they would not sail aboard the "Olympic" unless the strikebreakers were removed, a condition which the company refused to accept, saying that they would rather abandon the sailing than dismiss loyal men. [Citation | last = | first = | author-link = | last2 = | first2 = | author2-link = | title = OLYMPIC STRIKERS MAKE NEW DEMAND; Now Satisfied with the Collapsible Boats, but Want Non-Strikers Dismissed. | newspaper = New York Times | pages = | year = | date = 26 April 1912 | url = http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9D02EFDA1F31E233A25755C2A9629C946396D6CF]

All 54 strikers were arrested on a charge of mutiny when they went ashore. However, on 4 May 1912 Plymouth magistrates found the charges against the mutineers were proven, but discharged them without imprisonment or fine due to the circumstances of the case. [Citation | last = | first = | author-link = | last2 = | first2 = | author2-link = | title = FREE OLYMPIC MUTINEERS.; Magistrates Find Charges Proved, but Forego Jailing or Fining Seamen. | newspaper = New York Times | pages = | year = | date = 5 May 1912 | url = http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9C00E5DC153CE633A25756C0A9639C946396D6CF] Most of the strikers returned to work and the "Olympic" sailed on 15 May.


On 9 October 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. A complement of 64 wooden lifeboats were installed along the boat deck, one on top of each other. In addition, an inner watertight skin was constructed in the boiler and engine rooms and some of the watertight bulkheads were extended up to B-deck.cite book | last = Chirnside | first = Mark | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = The Olympic-Class Ships | publisher = Tempus Publishing Ltd. | date = 2004 | location = | pages = | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0752428683] At the same time, alterations and additions to her passenger cabins were carried out on B Deck which 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 larger than "Titanic"'s. [cite book | last = Miller | first = William H. | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Picture History of British Ocean Liners, 1900 to the Present | publisher = Dover Publications | date = 2001 | location = | pages = | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0486415325]

In 1913, "Olympic" returned to service and briefly regained the title of largest ocean liner in the world, until SS "Imperator" entered passenger service in June 1913.

World War I

In World War I, "Olympic" initially remained in commercial service under Captain Herbert Haddock. She sailed from New York on 20 October 1914 for Britain, though carrying very few passengers, as Germany had announced that her U-boats would sink the "Olympic" on sight and most of the passengers had cancelled.

"Audacious" incident

On the sixth day of her voyage, the Royal Navy alerted Haddock that four U-boats were pursuing his ship and ordered him to head north for Glasgow instead of continuing into the English Channel. On 27 October, as the "Olympic" passed near Lough Swilly, she received distress signals from HMS "Audacious" which had struck a mine off Tory Island and was taking on water.

The "Olympic" took off 250 of the "Audacious"' 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 the "Audacious"' 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, and a third attempt also failed when the cable gave way. By 17:00 the "Audacious"' 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.

Commander of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, was anxious to suppress the news of the sinking of "Audacious", for fear of the demoralizing 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 the crew of the "Audacious" and Chief Surgeon John Beaumont who was transferring to SS "Celtic". Steel tycoon Charles 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. [cite book | last = Hessen | first = Robert | authorlink = | coauthors = | title = Steel Titan: The Life of Charles M. Schwab | publisher = University of Pittsburgh Press | date = 1990 | location = | pages = p. 211 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 0822959062]

Naval service

Following "Olympic's" return to Britain, the White Star Line intended to lay her up in Belfast until the war was over but in September 1915 she was requisitioned by the Admiralty to be used as a fast troop transport. Stripped of all her luxurious fittings, and armed with 12-pounders and 4.7-inch guns, the newly-designated HMT (His Majesty's Transport) 2810 left Liverpool on 24 September 1915, carrying soldiers to Mudros, Greece for the Gallipoli campaign. On 1 October 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.

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. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1917, "Olympic" transported thousands of U.S. troops to Britain.

inking of U-103

In the early hours of 12 May 1918, while en route for France with US troops under the command of Captain Bertram Fox Hayes, "Olympic" sighted a surfaced U-boat convert|500|m|abbr=on ahead. Her gunners opened fire at once, and she turned to ram the submarine, which immediately crash dived to convert|30|m|abbr=on 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 and scuttled and abandoned the submarine.

"Olympic" did not stop, but continued on to Cherbourg. The USS "Davis" sighted a distress flare and picked up 31 survivors from "U-103". It was discovered that "U-103" had been preparing to torpedo the "Olympic" when she was sighted, but the crew could not flood the two stern torpedo tubes. [cite book | last = McCartney | first = Innes | authorlink = | coauthors = Jak Mallmann-Showell | title = Lost Patrols: Submarine Wrecks of the English Channel | publisher = Periscope Publishing Ltd. | date = 2002 | location = | pages = p. 36 | url = | doi = | id = | isbn = 1904381049]

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. [ [http://members.aol.com/WakkoW5/olympic.html RMS Olympic ] ] Her impressive World War I service earned her the nickname "Old Reliable".


In August 1919 "Olympic" returned to Belfast for restoration to civilian service. Her interior was modernized and her boilers were converted from coal burning to oil fired. Oil was more expensive than coal, but it reduced the refuelling time from days to hours, and allowed the engine room personnel to be reduced from 350 to 60 people. During the conversion work and drydocking a dent was discovered below her waterline which was later concluded to have been caused by a torpedo that had failed to detonate.

"Olympic" emerged from her refit with an increased tonnage of 46,439, allowing her to retain her claim to the title of largest British built liner afloat (although RMS "Aquitania" was slightly longer). In 1920 she returned to passenger service, on one voyage that year carrying 2,403 passengers. She was joined with RMS "Majestic" and RMS "Homeric" for an express service from 1922, operating successfully until the Great Depression reduced demand after 1930.

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. New public rooms were constructed for this class, although tourist third cabin and second class would merge to become 'tourist' by late 1931.

One 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.


At the end of 1932, with passenger traffic 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. Passenger capacities were given as 618 first class, 447 tourist class and only 382 third class after the decline of the immigrant trade. 1933 was "Olympic's" worst year of business - carrying under 10,000 passengers in total.

In 1934, "Olympic" again struck a ship. The approaches to New York were marked by lightships, and "Olympic", like other liners, had been known to pass close by these vessels. [http://www.nightbeacon.com/lighthouseinformation/page/Lightships/LS_27.jpeg] [http://www.nightbeacon.com/lighthouseinformation/page/Lightships/LS_23.jpeg] On 15 May 1934, "Olympic", inbound in heavy fog, was homing in on the radio beacon of Nantucket Lightship LV-117. [ [http://www.palletmastersworkshop.com/lightship.html History of U.S. Lightships ] ] "Olympic", under the command of Captain John Binks failed to turn in time and sliced through the smaller vessel, which broke apart and sank. [ [http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/09-04/09-03-04/a01lo270.htm Lightship bell raised from ocean's depths: 9/ 3/ 2004 ] ] Four of the lightship's crew went down with the vessel and seven were rescued, of whom three died of their injuries - thus there were seven fatalities out of a crew of eleven. [http://www.nightbeacon.com/zlightships/LV117_(Nantucket)_Lightship.htm]

In 1934 the White Star Line merged with the Cunard Line at the instigation of the British government. This merger allowed funds to be granted for the completion of the future RMS "Queen Mary". Cunard White Star then started retiring its surplus tonnage, which included the majority of the old White Star liners. "Olympic" was withdrawn from service in 1935 and sold to Sir John Jarvis for £100,000 to be partially demolished at Jarrow, providing work for the region. In 1937, "Olympic" was towed to Inverkeithing to T.W. Ward's yard for final demolition.

"Olympic" today

"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, England. Some fittings and panelling also ended up at a Haltwhistle paint factory. 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, "Millennium". According to Celebrity Cruise Line, this rare collection of wood panelling once lined "Olympic's" à la carte restaurant.

In 2004, in the "Titanic" Museum in Branson, Missouri, USA, a first class cabin from the "Olympic" served as an example of the class's interior quarters. A replica of the Grand Staircase in the "Titanic" also appears at this museum, as well as many items recovered from the "Titanic" wreckage.

The clock depicting 'Honour and Glory Crowning Time' from Olympic's grand staircase is on display at the Southampton Maritime Museum.

ee also

* SS "Nomadic" - surviving tender to "Olympic"


Further reading

* RMS Olympic: Titanic's Sister, by Mark Chirnside
* The Olympic-Class Ships, by Mark Chirnside
* [http://www.atlanticliners.com/atlantic_liners_book.htm Atlantic Liners: A Trio of Trios, by J. Kent Layton]

External links

* [http://www.titanic-model.com Titanic Research & Modelling Association, for Olympic-Class Research]
* [http://www.atlanticliners.com/olympic_home.htm "Olympic Home" at Atlantic Liners]
* [http://members.aol.com/WakkoW5/olympic.html RMS Olympic; Old Reliable]
* [http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/ship/101/ Encyclopedia Titanica : RMS Olympic]
* [http://www.titanic-titanic.com/olympic.shtml Olympic on Titanic-Titanic.com]
* [http://www.celebrity.com/plancruise/ships/ship.do?shipCode=ML The RMS Olympic Restaurant on the Celebrity Millennium (Virtual Tour of ship's Plaza Deck shows panoramic view).]
* [http://www.pottsoft.com/home/titanic/white_swan.html Olympic's Fittings at White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, England]
* [http://www.maritimequest.com/liners/olympic_page_1.htm Maritimequest RMS Olympic Photo Gallery]
* [http://www.lostliners.com/Liners/White_Star/Olympic/index.html Lostliners: RMS Olympic]
* [http://www.shipmagnificent.com/ White Star Line RMS Olympic the Ship Magnificent]
* [http://www.mocpages.com/moc.php/23630 Lego RMS Olympic]

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