1911 - 1935
1897 the Germans had struck back on the British concerning shipbuilding.
The swift, new Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse would be the first of a
spectacular quartet of ship that would conquer the North Atlantic. With
a service speed in the vicinity of 22.5 knots, the Kaiser Wilhelm der
Grosse snatched the Blue Riband right out of British Cunard Line’s
Lucania’s hands. This was a terrible shock for any Briton and especially
for Cunard, who had totally been left behind in the battle of the Atlantic.
In 1901, the White Star Line could still boast their 21,000-tonner Celtic
to be the largest ship in the world, but Cunard’s best bid was far away
from its competitors both regarding speed and size. There had to be a beat
back once again – and this time from Cunard.
was one problem though. Cunard was not in the best of times, and their
economical situation did not allow them to build a serious competitor either
to the fast Germans or the large White Star Line. They had to turn to the
British Government for a massive loan in order to build not one, but two
enormous liners that would outmatch both the Germans and the White Star
Line. Of course, the Government was eager to surpass the Germans, but they
needed some sort of security from Cunard before they agreed. The ’security’
was that both liners should be able to be quickly transformed into military
cruisers in the event of war. The two liners would ultimately become the
famous Lusitania and Mauretania, who took both the distinctions
of being fastest and largest in the world. The Germans, and especially
the White Star Line had been left out of the race.
White Star had joined the ever-expanding American company IMM with Junius
Pierpont Morgan as chairman. Morgan’s intention was to create a monopoly
on the North Atlantic, and his next goal after the White Star Line was
Cunard. However, Cunard and the British Government had prevented this when
they independently started to build the Lusitania and the Mauretania.
Naturally, White Star wanted to outdo their rivals, and they did not have
to do it with the Government’s help. With the IMM’s help, a possible outmatching
of Cunard was in the sight of White Star.
since the White Star Line had built their first Oceanic in 1871,
they had constructed their vessels at the Belfast based shipyard Harland
& Wolff. They had an agreement that White Star was to build all their
ships at the shipyard provided that Harland & Wolff did not construct
any ship for a competing shipping company.
the chairman of Harland & Wolff, Lord Pirrie and the chairman of White
Star, Bruce Ismay, had dinner together one night at Lord Pirrie’s Belgravia
mansion. During this very night plans were made about how to outmatch Lusitania
and Mauretania. Firstly, Pirrie and Ismay visioned two great liners
with three funnels that would beat Cunard’s ships both in speed and in
size. However time would show different. As plans became more and more
serious, a picture of the new set of ships became clear.
of liners had been turned into a trio. The trio of funnels had been replaced
by a quartet to create symmetry, and to reassure emigrants that the ship
was big and safe enough. All three would have a tonnage that would leave
Mauretania some 15,000 tons behind. This meant that the new White
Star ships would become monstrous in size. But at 45,000 tons, it would
be too uneconomical to drive the ships at the required service speed around
26-27 knots that was needed to gain the Blue Riband. The
spectacular about these three
liners would be their size and their luxury.
|The Olympic fully
framed. Plating is soon to commence.
the main feature on board the new ships would be a spectacular first class
dining room that went through three decks. After some time this was altered
though, and instead, the first class entrance stairway would have the honours.
Another special feature would be the third class accommodation, which would
become high above other liners’ standard, even in the future.
the problems that remained was what sort of engines the new ships would
have. Conservatives within White Star opted for the traditional twin screw
that had proved reliable on the popular Celtic-class, while others
suggested a whole new type of engines that consisted of the traditional
triple expansion engines that drove two wing propellers and a turbine engine
– powered by the triple expansion engine’s exhaust steam – driving a centre
screw. The White Star Line was so unsure in this question that they purchased
two liners from the Dominion Line. The first of them – Megantic
– was driven by the traditional twin screw, while the second – Laurentic
– was equipped with the new engine type. The two ships were close to identical
at 15,000 gross tons and after some time in service in 1909, the Laurentic
proved to be both faster and more economical. The machinery for White Star
Line’s new giants had been selected.
Cunard and other shipping companies, White Star did not keep the names
of their new vessels a secret until the launch approached. As soon as construction
began on 16 December 1908, onlookers could see on a sign on the gantry,
that the new ship being constructed at Harland & Wolff’s slip number
2 was the Olympic.
the gantries for the new ships had originally been three different slips
called No. 1, No. 2, and No.3. But the massive size of the Olympic-class
required larger gantries, and so these three slips were transformed into
two – one for the first of the class, and one for the second. The third
ship would follow only if the first two proved successful, and would in
that case be constructed on the Olympic’s slip. During the fist
months of the Olympic’s construction, work on gantry No. 3 was still
of the Olympic would be over 880 feet, containing 16 watertight
compartments. Eight of these would be used by the propeller shafts, and
the 29 boilers extended themselves over 320 feet. The giant expansion engines
stood four decks high and are actually the largest engines of this type
ever to be constructed. These engines, together with the turbine created
some 50,000 horse power, in order to drive the ship at its predicted service
speed of 21 knots.
the keel of the Olympic had been laid, the framing of the ship started
and this was finished on 20 November 1909. What followed was to rivet the
hull plates in place, a task that was not completed until April 1910. The
predicted launch date in the autumn the same year seemed manageable to
maintain. Still, one problem remained. In both Southampton and New York
the port facility management was not eager to upgrade their ports in order
to receive the Olympic-class. They thought it reasonable for White
Star to pay the upgrade for themselves. The White Star Line and IMM had
to keep on pushing until the ports finally faced the logical and agreed
to pay the price. By the autumn of 1910, the hull of the Olympic
had been plated and painted – everything was ready for launching. The hull
was painted in a light grey colour so every line of the ship would be at
its best on the photographs that would be taken by the press during the
20 October, 1910 at 11.00 am, in the presence of Bruce Ismay, Lord Pirrie,
the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, the Lord Mayor of Belfast and a huge crowd,
the Olympic was ready to leave her slip. Both the British and the
American flag were hoisted and flags at the stern spelled out the word
’Success’. Roughly 23 tons of tallow, train oil and soft soap had been
spread on the slipway to
make the ship’s descending
easier. After a quick ’ceremony’ excluding bottles of champagne crushed
against the bows, the 20,600-ton hull of the future Olympic entered
the water with its full length in 62 seconds reaching a maximum speed of
12.5 knots. By now the fitting out could commence.
|The light-grey hull of
the Olympic as it takes to the water for the very first time.
to the construction of the Olympic, a huge floating crane had been
ordered by Harland & Wolff. This 200-ton creation came into much use,
due to its great lifting capacity. While work on building the upper decks
was underway, the floating crane lifted all the 29 boilers in place through
the openings where the immense 60 feet/25 metre funnels would later be
placed by the same crane. On April 1, 1911 the Olympic was dry-docked
in the newly completed Thompson graving dock, a dock specially constructed
by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners in order to accommodate the new Olympic-class.
Here, the vessel would have her propellers fitted and here she would be
converted from the hollow shell she still was to the great luxury liner
she would become.
with the construction of the Olympic and the Titanic, White
Star had ordered two new tenders from Harland & Wolff to operate in
the French port of Cherbourg where the Olympic-class ships were
too large to dock for themselves. These two new vessels were the only ones
in the world that were large enough to handle such large ships as the Olympic
and the Titanic. They were called Nomadic and Traffic.
Nomadic took care of all the first and second class passengers on
their way from the harbour to the ship, while Traffic saw to the
third class. When the Olympic was finished fitting out on May 29,
and ready for her sea trials, the Nomadic and the Traffic
escorted the new flagship of the White Star Line into Belfast Lough.
same day the Olympic started to undergo the sea trials. She had
taken on 3,000 tons of best Welsh coal, and 250 runners had been sent from
Liverpool to help navigating the huge liner. The day before, the Mersey
tugs Wallasey, Alexandra, Hornby, Herculaneum
and Hercules had swinged the Olympic, and now the vessel
was adjusting her compasses just prior to the actual engine tests. In all,
these took two days, and the expectations were well exceeded. The fact
was that the Olympic was able to maintain a speed well above her
designed 21-knot service speed. The very same day as the last day of sea
trials for the Olympic was the Titanic’s launch. The large
guest party came directly on invitation from the White Star Line from the
launch to the finished Olympic to view the new pride of Britain.
Arriving on the specially chartered cross channel steamer Duke of Argyll,
the guests got the first glimpse of how beautiful the new White Star trio
would be. Among them were for instance J.P. Morgan who had travelled all
the way from London to witness the launch of the Titanic and the
when a White Star ship had been finished, the Olympic now sailed
for Liverpool for public inspection. Even though the main port of call
in Britain had been changed from Liverpool to Southampton in 1907, you
could still read Olympic –Liverpool under the ship’s stern, and
White Star head quarters remained on 30 James Street in the city.
the things the approaching Olympic-trio was known for was their
extreme safety. Just as with cars today, shipping companies invested lots
of money in having the safest ships afloat. The Cunard Line’s Lusitania
and Mauretania had double bottoms and double sides to prevent a
fatal damage. Just like the Celtic-class, the Lusitania and
Mauretania were known to be unsinkable. This word, ’unsinkable’,
was used once more concerning the Olympic and Titanic by
the quarterly published British magazine ’The Shipbuilder’ and from then
on the Olympic and the Titanic were considered ’unsinkable.
’…in the event of accident, or at any time when it may be considered advisable,
the captain can, by simply moving an electric switch, instantly close the
doors throughout and make the vessel practically unsinkable.’ These doors
were watertight hatches for the openings in the sixteen watertight compartments
that divided the ship, and were installed to ease movement along the bottom
of the ship. Ant two of these compartments could be holed at the same time
without endangering the safety of the ship. At the bow – which is the most
likely area of a collision – up to four compartments could be filled with
water simultaneously. A damaged beyond that was rather soberly looked upon
1, the Olympic left Liverpool for Southampton, which would be her
starting point on her maiden voyage. In this port, she was visited by some
thousands of people, who just as the Liverpool-people witnessed something
of the most beautiful ever created by any human. The inside of the Olympic
was simply exquisite. The large public rooms outdid any other creation
on the sea. Not being as breathtaking as German ornament orgies, the style
was more discrete and perhaps therefore more appealing. As mentioned, the
dining room was made in one deck only but it was still the largest room
in the world ever to go to sea. The room was done in Jacobean style, could
accommodate 532 people per sitting and stretched the full width of the
ship. Another splendid feature was the first class smoking room. It was
done with dark fittings and cosy armchairs with adjacent green playing
tables. Special features were also the grand reception room on D-deck,
adjacent to the dining room and the already mentioned forward grand stairway.
Passengers – first class only of course – could also enjoy some time in
the lounge or in the spectacular Turkish bath available. To make things
even more comfortable, running around was not required in order to use
all these facilities, because just behind the magnificent forward Grand
Staircase three lifts were available. For the even more enthusiastic passenger,
a gymnasium was available on the boat deck with different fitness tools
such as a rowing machine or electrical camels. Added to all this, the first
class passenger could have his cabin in a wide variety of styles – Jacobean,
Georgian, Dutch, Louis XIV, Empire and many more. The main first class
promenade areas were situated on the boat deck, on A-deck and on B-deck.
was also very good standard in the other classes on board the Olympic
compared to most other liners. The second class was often referred to as
’like any first class standard on other ships’. The dining room was made
in a fairly decorated Early English
style and could have roughly
400 people seated at one sitting. The smoking room was also done in a distinguished
British style with plenty of dark wood panelling. The staterooms were also
of a very selected sort. If you as a second class passenger wanted to take
a stroll on deck, the boat deck that was shared between the first and the
second class was the main attraction.
|The Olympic backs
out from the Ocean Dock in Southampton as she sets out on her premiere
class – or steerage – was high above earlier North Atlantic standard. In
pre-1900 ships, it was not uncommon that all third class passengers slept
in one big dormitory, rather than in private staterooms as on the Olympic.
True, there was a dormitory, but only for a small percentage of the passengers.
If you travelled in third class, you were able to reside in a two-berth
cabin, but usual procedure was to share with three or more fellow passengers.
The amusement facilities were somewhat limited, though. The men had access
to a quite large smoking room situated below the poop deck. Wall to wall
in an identical room was the ’Third Class General Room’, where the passengers
could gather to enjoy themselves in all the spare time they all of a sudden
had when at sea as passengers. Forward on D-deck, there was an open space
where passengers also could enjoy themselves, and here, a piano was placed
by White Star for the passengers to use and enjoy. The open promenade areas
were situated on the two well decks and on the poop deck and forecastle.
It was quite clear that no passenger would suffer from uncomfortability!
the Olympic had berthed at Southampton on June 3 and she had received
an official welcome by the mayor, loads and yet again loads of porcelain,
cutlery, linen and provisions were embarked on the great liner. Last minute
fitting out was completed by Harland & Wolff staff as the date of departure
drew nearer. The day for the maiden voyage had been scheduled to June 14,
but that did not seem to work out for the White Star Line as the workforce
responsible for coaling the ship suddenly went on strike. Eager to remain
on schedule, White Star employed a large force of Yorkshire miners to fulfil
on June 14, the booked-solid Olympic cast off her moorings and reversed
out of the Ocean Dock into the River Test before she sailed for Cherbourg,
Queenstown and finally New York. Her captain was Edward John Smith, the
oldest and most trusted of the White Star Line masters. Bruce Ismay was
also on board and spent his time on checking things that could be bettered.
He noticed that there were no cigar holders in the first class bathrooms
and, more seriously, he realised that the first class promenade on B-deck
was not used enough and he suggested that the area would be deleted on
the Titanic, that was still being fitted out at Belfast, in favour
of extended first class cabins. Added to this, the open promenade area
on A-deck was badly affected by spray from the water, and yet another suggestion
from Ismay said that the forward part of this area should be glassed in
on the Titanic, and perhaps later on the Olympic. When the
Olympic berthed at her Pier 59 in New York, she had averaged a flawless
21.7 knots for the entire crossing despite some rough conditions during
the voyage, which was not bad for a 21-knot ship! Ismay telegraphed immediately
back to Pirrie at Belfast saying: ’Olympic is a marvel, and has
given unbounded satisfaction’.
taste of bad luck for the Olympic-class occurred when still at New
York – the 200-ton tug O.L. Hallenbeck was sucked towards the Olympic
resulting in a badly damaged sternframe of the smaller vessel. The 45,000-tonner
emerged almost unscathed except for some scratches in the paint. On June
28, the Olympic was ready for her return voyage to Southampton.
When the ship was just outside New York, one of the passengers realised
he had forgotten his glasses on shore. The Olympic telegraphed to
New York, who transferred the message to the spectacle manufacturer. Within
short, they had replacements ready and all packed up they were loaded on
board a small aircraft, which flew out to the still steaming Olympic.
When the plane came in above the Olympic, the pilot dropped the
parcel onto the decks of the huge ship below. This would all have been a fantastic
story if it were not for the fact that the parcel hit
the very edge of the Olympic, and sadly bounced off into the ocean
never to be recovered. But as
Olympic could boast to have made her first eastbound crossing with
an average speed of 22.5 knots, there was still a happy ending.
|The magnificent lines
of the perfectly proportioned Olympic.
to- and fro-crossing of the Olympic had gone off fabulously, and
now she slowly began to settle in what would become a very distinguished
career. She would be the largest ship in the world for another year before
the Titanic entered service with a slightly larger gross tonnage.
20, the Olympic’s steamed out of the Ocean Dock for the fifth time
on what was thought to be yet another normal crossing to New York. The
master was still E. J. Smith, and the chief officer was another well-known
man – Henry Wilde. As Olympic had passed through Southampton Water
she had to do the usual reverse S-movement before she could sail east past
the Isle of Wight’s Northeast coast. At the same time the British battle
cruiser HMS Hawke was off Egypt Point at the north coast of Isle
of Wight. She too intended to steam eastbound on approximately the same
course as the Olympic. As the Olympic almost had completed
the mirror-S, the Hawke came in alongside the Olympic on
a parallel course. What then happened is still somewhat a matter of debate.
The huge 45,000-tonner seemed to suck the smaller 7,350-ton Hawke
towards her with such power the warship had no chance to steer away. At
first, Captain Smith though that the Hawke tried to turn in under
his overhanging counter stern, but a collision at this point now seemed
inevitable. Seconds before the collision, Captain Smith told his pilot,
George Bowyer: ’I don’t believe she will get under our stern, Bowyer.’
Bowyer replied: ’If she is going to strike, sir, let me know so I can put
the helm hard over to port.' Is she going to strike, sir?’ Captain Smith’s
answer told him the truth: ’Yes, she is going to strike us in the stern.’
tried to swing her stern away from the approaching vessel, but the action
was too late. In chaos of sparks, the Hawke’s bow plunged into the
hull of the Olympic, just below her main mast. The cruiser narrowly
avoided capsizing, but her master, Commander Blunt, managed to close all
the watertight doors in time, and after a large section of the Hawke’s
bow had fallen off, he had collision mats put over the front side to prevent
an uncontrolled entering of seawater. The Olympic had also suffered
considerable damage. A triangular hole just between two large watertight
compartments stretched from below the waterline up to D-deck. Captain Smith
immediately ordered all the watertight doors closed. Two of the largest
watertight compartments was rapidly filling with water, but Smith knew
that his ship would not sink in spite of this serious damage – any two
compartments could be opened to the sea without mortally wound the Olympic.
However, Captains Smith’s ship was no longer able to complete the voyage,
and she could not return to Southampton owing to the tide. She had to unload
all her 1,300 passengers on tenders that brought them to shore. Nine of
the passengers managed to get to Liverpool in time to get on the New York-bound
Adriatic the next day, but the rest had to push their schedules
the tide permitted the Olympic to enter on the 21st,
she went back to Southampton to be patched with wood so she would be able
to carry through the required voyage to Belfast for more thorough reparations.
On October 3, the Southampton work was completed and Olympic left
for Belfast, at a very reduced speed of ten knots, in which she arrived
on the sixth. The White Star Line
was so eager to get the Olympic
back in service that they delayed the Titanic’s maiden voyage, concentrating
all possible Harland & Wolff-workforce on the stricken Olympic.
On November 20, the Olympic was ready to enter service again.
|The First Class Entrance
Grand Staircase, the centre-piece on board the Olympic-class liners.
was responsible for the accident? Both parts had clean consciences, the
Olympic blaming the Hawke of being too close and, of course,
vice versa. Two days after the collision, an Admiralty court of enquiry
freed Commander Blunt of blame, blaming the Olympic of crowding
out the Hawke, and by overtaking the smaller vessel at such high
speed, sucking her towards her 45,000-ton self. As late as January 1913,
the White Star Line tried to clear themselves by offering to find the exact
position where the collision took place. In order to prove they had not
been to close to Isle of Wight, White Star would try to find the broken
of bow of the Hawke. Unfortunately, Commander Blunt claimed the
bow had fallen off some time after the collision, so nothing could be proved.
Up until this day, the Olympic is officially to blame for the collision
because of neglect.
luck seemed to continue when in February 24, 1912, she lost a propeller-blade
during an eastbound crossing. Again, the Olympic had to go back
to Belfast for repairs, and again, the Titanic’s maiden voyage had
to be delayed. This time the maiden voyage of the latest addition to the
White Star Line fleet – the largest and most luxurious ship in the world
– was set to April 10th.
as the Olympic, the Titanic cast her moorings from the Ocean
Dock, but Titanic entered Southampton Water head first. Captain
E. J. Smith had been transferred to take the Titanic on her first
voyage, and then he would retire. The size of the ships was once again
questioned when the 10,000-ton New York was pulled towards the Titanic
due to suction at the immediate start of the voyage. The near-collision
was avoided when quick-minded tugboat masters quickly got hold of the New
York and pulled her away to safety. The Titanic’s first voyage
would become far more dramatical, as it would prove. On the night between
the 14th and the 15th, the Titanic struck
an iceberg 600 miles off Newfoundland, which punctuated her hull along
six compartments along the starboard-side bow. In spite of all the confidence
people had about the Olympic and Titanic, this was enough
to sink the largest ship in the world. She settled slowly on an even keel,
but due to the extreme lack in lifeboats, 1,500 people out of the 2,200
on board died in the freezing water.
13th, the Olympic had departed from New York on yet another
eastbound crossing. Commanding her was Captain Herbert James Haddock, who
had taken over from E. J. Smith when he was transferred to the Titanic.
Just after midnight, Captain Haddock received message that the Titanic
was damaged after a collision. Not knowing how serious the situation was,
Haddock asked the Titanic if they were coming to them, or if the
Olympic should come and meet Titanic. The short reply was:
’We are putting the women in the boats’. Captain Haddock immediately replied
that he would light up all possible boilers and head for his ship’s dying
sister. But, unfortunately,
the Olympic was too far away, and so she had to stand by as a frustrated
observer. The three vessels closest to the Titanic were the Leyland
liner Californian, the Mount Temple and the Cunard liner
Carpathia. Both Californian and Mount Temple were
trapped in massive pack ice, but Carpathia steamed quickly to the
disaster scene. However, her arrival was too late, and by the time she
got there, Titanic had already foundered. Carpathia was the
only ship with survivors from the 20 lifeboats. The Olympic offered
to unload the Carpathia somewhat, but the latter ship’s master,
Captain Arthur Rostron, refused to let his passengers see the Olympic,
who could be seen as a sort of ’Ghost-Titanic’, coming back from
the dead. The Olympic resumed her voyage to Southampton, and when
she arrived on the 21st she reached a city in mourning. It seemed
that almost every family had some relatives or friends that had perished
on the Titanic.
|The damage just below
the main mast on the Olympic, following her encounter with the HMS
next scheduled departure was on the 24th of April, but before
it could commence, adequate numbers of lifeboats had to be loaded on board.
Forty extra Berthon collapsibles was lowered onto the decks of the liner
under the supervision of Captain Maurice Clarke from the Board of Trade.
He was actually the same man that had inspected and allowed the Titanic
to depart on the 10th. Shortly afterwards, it was revealed that
only an additional 24 boats were actually needed. This caused a rumour
saying that all 40 boats had been taken on board because they had not passed
the tests properly. Unfortunately, this led to a strike amongst the crew,
who left the ship saying they would not return until proper wooden lifeboats
had been installed. Eager not to delay the Olympic’s departure any
further, White Star mustered another crew quickly to fill in the gaps.
But this time the crew that had remained on board went striking because
they did not want to work with the new crew whom they regarded as ’the
dregs of Portsmouth’ or inexperienced firemen. In the end White Star had
to cancel the Olympic’s voyage, and after three weeks of waiting
she set out on a further seven voyages, but then she was sent to Belfast
on 9th October for a massive overhaul.
the Titanic had failed, the Olympic would now succeed. A
complete set of 64 reliable, solid lifeboats was installed along the boat
deck, on top of each other. The sides of the ship’s hull was torn free
and an inner skin was constructed, plus that the bulkheads were raised
much higher that before. This overhaul would result in several other changes
as well, as for instance a copy of the popular Café Parisien on
B-deck. Probably, the A-deck would have been glassed in as on the Titanic,
and the B-deck first class cabins extended to the sides of the ship, devouring
the rarely used promenade areas, but since the lifeboats deleted so much
deck-space on the boat deck, these areas now became attractive.
22nd March 1913, the Olympic was ready to resume service
again. She was advertised as the ’New Olympic’, but the
naturally never mentioned as cause for the changes. The White Star express
service during the winter 1912-1913 had been upheld by the Adriatic,
Oceanic and Majestic. At the time of her return, the Olympic’s
gross tonnage had increased to 46,359; thereby regaining the title of being
the largest ship ever built. She would not keep the title for long, though,
because German HAPAG’s 52,000-tonner Imperator entered service in
June the same year.
|As a result of the Titanic's
foundering, the Olympic was equipped with additional lifeboats.
again, the Olympic settled back into her career. In February, her
long awaited sister, the Britannic, was launched in Belfast. She
would be over 48,000 gross tons, and therefore become the largest ship
ever constructed for Britain until the arrival of the Queen Mary
in 1936. The White Star Line already planned a replacement for the Titanic
in a 33,000-tonner that would be called Germanic. Slowly, times
were getting better again as White Star started to regain their reputation.
on August 4, 1914, Great Britain and France went to war with Germany and
Austria in what would be called the First World War. At this time, the
Olympic was westbound for New York and Captain Haddock ordered her
to speed on in order to reach her destination as fast as possible. When
in New York, Olympic was painted in a grey colour scheme – her superstructure
light grey and the funnels slightly darker. Even though the greatest war
in the history of mankind had erupted, White Star wanted to maintain a
passenger service between Britain and America. The White Star-ships responsible
for this wartime service were Olympic, Adriatic and Baltic.
The first voyages were packed as the Americans trapped in Europe were eager
to get back home, and British in America were keen to go back and fight
for king and country.
seemed to worsen, the Olympic was called back from her commercial
service on October 9, when she left her new European port of call at Greenock
for the last time. She was ordered to be sent up to Belfast, but as German
U-boats lurked in the Olympic’s path, the voyage was not to become
uneventful. Unwittingly, the Olympic entered a German minefield
just off Tory Islands on 27th October. At the same time parts
of the British war fleet became visible as the HMS Liverpool and
the brand new 23,000-tonner HMS Audacious arose by the horizon.
Suddenly, the Audacious struck one of the mines and became seriously
damaged. All ships except for the Liverpool – who was supposed to
help evacuate the stricken vessel – were ordered to leave the area. The
Olympic was also called in to help. Some two hours later, all the
Audacious crew had been taken off on board the two assisting ships.
The next step was to tow the Audacious to safety where repairs could
be carried out. The vessel strong enough for this task was the Olympic,
and after a cable had been attached between the two ships the tow started
at 2.00 pm. But the sea had suddenly became rough, and the Audacious
became unmanageable as her steering gear had failed. The tow cable snapped,
but another attempt was made by the Liverpool. As the Audacious
began to sink deeper in the water, the decision to leave her until the
next day was made in order to see if she was worthwhile saving. As the
Liverpool and Olympic, along with other assisting war ships, left
the scene, a massive explosion occurred on the Audacious causing
her to immediately sink stern first. The only casualty during the whole
incident was Petty Officer William Burgess who had been standing on the
decks of the Liverpool when a piece of armour plate hit him from
the exploding Audacious. The same evening, the Olympic disembarked
the Audacious’ crew, and continued her voyage to Belfast where she
would be laid up.
the Olympic would meet her still fitting out sister, the Britannic.
They would spend the next seven months laid up together until the Olympic
was called in for Government service. The White Star Line wanted Captain
Haddock to be in command
again, but as he was too
busy with work at Belfast, a new captain was chosen by the Admiralty and
Harold Sanderson – the man who had taken over after Bruce Ismay in charge
of the White Star Line. The new master was Captain Bertram Fox Hayes, the
former master of the Adriatic.
|The Olympic during
her troopship duties in World War I.
entering the delicate oceans of the world, the Olympic was equipped
with massive guns. A 12-pounder gun on the forecastle was installed, as
were two 4.7" guns on the poop deck. From now on the Olympic was
referred to as Admiralty transport T2810. The first voyage the Olympic
would make in this guise was to Mudros in the Mediterranean on September
24, to land some 6,000 troops for the Southern Countries Yeomanry and the
Welsh Horse Division.
off Cape Matapan on October 1, 1915, the Olympic sighted lifeboats
from the sunken French steamer Provincia. Captain Hayes immediately ordered
the Olympic stopped in order to pick up the survivors. After a completed
work, one of the guns on board sunk the empty lifeboats. A grateful French
nation offered Captain Hayes the ’Médaille de Sauvetage en Or’.
However, the British were less enthusiastic. The Admiralty blamed Hayes
of having seriously risked his vessel with 6,000 souls on board when stopping
in extremely dangerous waters.
sort of chivalrous war had reigned in the beginning of the war, but was
almost completely deleted earlier the same year in May when the Lusitania,
who was still in passenger service was sunk by a German U-boat with passengers
and all. The over 100 Americans on board who had perished hurried the decision
for the Americans to enter the war on the British/French side, and this
in turn hurried the war towards an end.
December the same year, the Olympic was back in Liverpool after
yet another successful trooping voyage. Moored at the Olympic’s
adjacent pier was the newly completed Britannic who had been requested
as a hospital ship for Mediterranean service. Again, White Star Line had
two sister liners of top class in service at the same time. This was the
second time the ships met, but also the second to last. The Britannic
left Liverpool on December 23rd, while the Olympic remained
where she was until she left on January 4th bound for Mudros
on yet another trooping voyage. The last trip to Mudros occurred in the
spring of 1916, when no great ships were needed any longer in the Mediterranean.
The only hospital ship to remain in this service was Britannic.
continued her war duties when she was called in as a troop ship between
Britain and Halifax, Canada. By now, the grey livery had been abandoned
and Olympic received a dazzle paint camouflage scheme. During one
of these voyages the Olympic had briefly encountered the Britannic
at sea, but all hopes of a shared North Atlantic service after the hostilities
were shattered when the Britannic was reported sunk in the Mediterranean
by a German mine or torpedo.
raged on for another couple of years, and on April 24, 1918, the Olympic
went out on her 22nd trooping voyage, this time
between Southampton and New
York. After a successful crossing, the Olympic returned towards
Britain on May 6. When she reached British waters – which were considered
a war zone – she was met by four American cruisers that were supposed to
escort her during the last stage of the voyage. When in the English Channel,
the ship’s lookout suddenly spotted a German U-boat U103 lying still
at the surface off the Olympic’s starboard bow. Obviously, the German
captain had not noticed the Olympic’s presence, but as the latter
fired a shot towards the U103, he was certainly very hastingly alerted.
The submarine was so close that it was impossible to depress the guns low
enough to hit it, and the shot went over. The German master, Captain Rücker,
saw his only chance as to dive and escape. But the U-boat was not fast
enough the Olympic caught up with her and with Captain Hayes sense
of perfect navigation; the full force of the 46,359-ton Olympic
hit the 800-ton U-boat, and halved it. The wreckage stood on its end as
the liner passed and U103 then quickly sank. The Olympic
left the American USS Davis to pick up the 31 German survivors before
she continued to Southampton.
|A nice post-war view
of the Olympic.
on the Olympic was hardly noticeable above the surface, but below
you could see that the stem had been twisted eight feet to port. In spite
of this, there had never been any leak. Captain Hayes was once again awarded,
this time by the enthusiastic British. He received the DSC, while the two
lookouts that had spotted the submarine, got the DCM and a £20 bonus.
1918, the Germans had to sign the unconditional surrender at Versailles,
and with this action the First World War was officially over. The Olympic
completed some other voyages between Canada and Britain before she was
officially handed back to the White Star Line. This happened during a minor
overhaul at the Gladstone Dock, and at the same time a large 18" dent was
discovered in the hull below the waterline. Since the logbook did not reveal
any sort collision with another vessel, Captain Hayes conclusion was that
the Olympic had been hit by a torpedo during the war, but it had
fortunately failed to go off. On August 16, 1919, the Olympic arrived
back in Liverpool for a brief visit before she steamed to Harland &
Wolff in order to go through an extensive refurbishment and overhaul.
the overhaul, the Olympic changed her power source from coal to
oil. Oil was more expensive than coal, but it reduced refuelling time from
a few days to a few hours, and the engine room personnel were cut down
from 350 to 60 people. All of the ship’s 29 boilers were removed and replaced
with oil tanks. Usually, oil also improved the performance of a ship, making
its engines run much more smoothly. And, of course, all the annoying coal
flakes falling down in the passengers’ faces were deleted. This unfortunately
also meant that the ship’s doctor almost had nothing to do, since his main
job before the conversion had been to remove flakes from people’s eyes.
were also rearranged. The capacity was still well above the maximum number
of passengers the ship was allowed to carry, but now White Star put the
boats inside one another, thus opening up some of the decks again.
of the war was that all too many of the merchant fleets vessels had been
lost. Cunard had had an astonishing 22 vessels sunk during the duration
of the hostilities. To rebuild the fleets was not an easy task. Some of
the most important vessels White Star had lost were Britannic, Titanic
and Oceanic. There did not remain any ship to match the Olympic
neither in size nor in speed. Before the war, White Star had announce plans
to replace Titanic with a Germanic, but as the financial
situation was at the time they could simply not afford it. But as Britain
was among the victorious states at the outcome of the war, there proved
to be many advantages for them. One of these was that many important foreign
vessels were handed over to them. At first, White Star tried to gain HAPAG’s
Imperator, but she had already been given to Cunard, becoming their
Berengaria. But two other large ships of interest remained. They
were the 35,000-ton Norddeutscher Lloyd liner Columbus, and the
still building 56,000-ton HAPAG liner Bismarck. In spite of the
time-delay it would cause to complete the vessels, White Star Line expressed
same time the Olympic was finished with her post-war refit and emerged
with 46,439 gross tons on 17th June 1920 from Belfast. Her first
commercial trans-Atlantic voyage since 1914 started on 26th
June, and she reached New York after a successful crossing on July 2. Once
again, the Olympic settled back into what she was built for – a
successful passenger service.
one westbound crossing in late August 1921 one of the most peculiar events
in the Olympic’s career occurred when a Thomas Brassington left
a letter in his cabin to his fiancée Annie Thompson saying: ‘I Thomas
Brassington leave all my personal belongings to Annie Louisa Thompson,
635 Haight Avenue, Alecueda, California. My troubles at home and the thought
of Ellis Island are more than I can bear’. The ship was searched and finally
Annie found Thomas on deck but as he threatened to jump over the side,
Annie fainted and when she regained conscience, Thomas was gone. There
was no success in finding him this time, and the captain wrote in the logbook
that Mr. Brassington probably had committed suicide. The return voyage
was to become all the merrier as British actor Charlie Chaplin had chosen
the Olympic for his first return to Britain in twelve years. The
comedian made great use of
the Turkish Bath, the
gymnasium and the swimming pool. He also spent much time in the smoking
room, but only as an observer of the professional gambler’s card play.
|The Olympic laid
up together with the Mauretania prior to her scrapping in 1935.
1921, Captain Hayes was appointed the post to take command of the soon-completed
Bismarck, fitting out under the supervision of Harland & Wolff
in Hamburg. When the 56,551-ton vessel entered service in 1922, she had
been renamed Majestic. She became a worthy running mate to the Olympic,
as she replaced the Britannic. Some time before the Majestic
had arrived, the Columbus had replaced the Titanic carrying
the name Homeric and once and for all deleted the order of the Germanic.
At last, White Star had their long awaited three-ship service to New York
from Southampton. To prove her worthiness, the Olympic completed
her fastest ever crossing in 1922 with 5 days, 12 hours and 39 minutes
Captain Hayes had left for the Majestic, the Adriatic’s former
master, Captain Alec Hambleton took command of the Olympic. He would
only stay for about a year, but during his time the new climate on the
North Atlantic would become apparent. The Americans restricted the inflow
of immigrants to only three per cent of the foreign born population. Suddenly,
the ocean liners almost became obsolete, as they had to rely on business
travellers and an entirely new class of people – the Tourist.
the Hawke-collision in 1912, the Olympic had been spared
from major accidents, but the second major one occurred as she moved out
from her Pier 59 in New York on March 22, 1924. Unwittingly, the Olympic
backed right into the small Furness Bermuda liner Fort St. George,
resulting in a serious collision. The Fort St. George suffered a
broken main mast, considerable damage to her lifeboats, railings and decks
over a length of 150 feet. The Olympic did not appear to have more
damage than the scarred hull plates visible, but after her return voyage
to Southampton it was revealed that the entire stern-frame was damaged
enough to be entirely replaced.
the Olympic’s creators, Lord Pirrie, had died in June 1924 on a
voyage from South America. The body was taken to New York where the Olympic
took the coffin on board and sailed for Queenstown where the body would
be transported from to Belfast where he was buried on the 23rd.
Eight months later, Captain Hambleton left the Olympic in favour
of Captain William Marshall. During his command, the Olympic would
receive the third distress call in her career. The small steamer Ellenia
requested assistance when the Olympic had sailed some nine hours
off New York. When she reached the Ellenia within 15 minutes, she gave
the message to Captain Marshall that she was not in any need of assistance.
To make sure, the Olympic sent out one of the boats with Fourth
Officer J. Law to speak eye to eye with the Ellenia’s master. When the
lifeboat returned forty minutes later, Law confirmed that the Ellenia requested
a tow to New York. As the smaller vessel was not in any immediate danger,
and because of the fact that several French vessels were closing in nearby,
Marshall took the decision to carry on with the voyage to Southampton.
class system was abandoned in 1925 when all these staterooms were remade
into ‘Tourist Third Cabin’. This new class consisted of the best third
class cabins and the less attractive second class staterooms. The price
for a ticket in this new class would be slightly higher than a conventional
third class ticket.
the IMM finally left the ownership of the White Star Line and the British
Sir Owen Phillips bought the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company for
£7,000,000. After being partly British and partly American during
the whole of her existence, the Olympic was now purely a British
ship. It was also during this time that the demand of the old class system
declined, and in 1928 all Tourist Third Cabin staterooms were completely
done away with, and replaced by ‘Tourist Class’. Other changes occurred
in the first class dining room where the captain’s table was removed and
a large dancing area fitted.
year’s September it was time for Captain Marshall to leave command to Captain
Walter Parker. Marshall had enjoyed the Olympic so immensely that
he became rather emotional when he was to leave her, and Captain Parker
offered to take on the Majestic instead so Marshall could stay,
but the latter replied: ‘I suppose I ought to feel honoured. She is, after
all, the largest ship in the world, you know, Parker – but I am leaving
the best to you, for all that’. And so it was – Captain Parker overtook
command of the Olympic.
on one westbound crossing on 18th November 1929, the Olympic
experienced one strange event. When two days from New York, the whole ship
suddenly started to shake for no apparent reason. Watchmen confirmed that
there was no other vessel nearby so a collision could be excluded. As the
engines were still running smoothly, the possibility of a dropped propeller
blade was also out of the question. Surely, the crew shivered when they
found out that they happened to be exactly above the Titanic’s grave
some 12,000 feet below, but after some time the wireless men confirmed
that there had been an underwater earthquake, causing the shaking. At the
end of the next voyage, Captain Parker went into retirement and passed
on to Captain E. R. White.
in 1927, a series of cracks along the Olympic’s superstructure had
been discovered, but as they were not of a serious sort mending had been
shelved. But when the matter was looked upon again in 1930, it was apparent
that the cracks had developed badly. Knowing that a similar damage on United
States Line’s Leviathan had cost £300,000, White Star did
not want to spend that much money on an old ship like the Olympic.
The necessary repairs consisted of having the damaged area covered with
new plating. The Olympic was considered good enough for the next
six months and when she showed worthiness after the period the Board of
Trade signed for another six months. However, on November 9, 1932, the
White Star Line admitted the Olympic to be old enough to have a
limited service speed of 21 knots. In late 1932, Olympic went for
an extensive overhaul that lasted for four months. When returning to service
on March 1, 1933, her owners described her as ‘looking brand new’.
the same year, the declining White Star Line was forced to merge with the
Cunard Line – their former arch-rival – forming the new Cunard White Star
Line. The dominating part in the company would become Cunard with 62 per
cent of the votes. White Star’s contribution was some ten vessels including
Majestic, Olympic, the two new motor vessels Britannic
and Georgic and the ageing Adriatic. All of these vessels were quickly
put on the disposal lists except for the motor vessels. But before the
Olympic would withdraw herself, another major incident had to be
Captain White had been replaced by Captain John Binks. When in New York
waters on May 15, 1934, the Olympic steamed through the extreme
fog at a reduced speed of ten knots, but despite the slow speed, blasting
the ship’s whistles and the lights, the Olympic was not able to
spot the Nantucket lightship. At 11.06 a.m., the red hull of the lightship
came into the Olympic’s view and Captain Binks immediately ordered
the engines full astern. But it was too late. The immense Olympic
cut the lightship in half making it into ribbons. At the time of the collision,
the Olympic was making a mere 3-4 knots. Seven men on board the
lightship had perished and only four survived.
was not exactly what the Olympic needed in bad timed like this.
She was already considered to be removed from service, but
now the mercy less Cunard White
Star management had taken the matter more seriously. The fact that they
had withdrawn the much-loved Mauretania from service in 1934 showed
that the end was near for the Olympic. In January 1935, it was announced
that she would be withdrawn from service at the end of the spring. Under
the command of her latest master, Captain Reginald Peel, the Olympic
departed from Southampton for the last time on March 27, 1935 on her 257th
and final round trip to New York. Noted among the crew on this very voyage
was Frederick Fleet, who had been the Olympic’s sister-ship’s lookout
one cold April-night 23 years earlier.
|A sad view of the Olympic,
after her superstructure has been cut down by the Jarrow shipbreakers.
six months, the Olympic spent lying derelict at berth 108 in Southampton.
There were rumours about a return to service, but the most reliable answer
for a return was given by the Italian Government who eyed her as a possible
transport for their East Africa campaigns. But as the Olympic was
sold in September for £100,000 to Sir John Jervis the speculations
ended. Sir John immediately re-sold the liner to Thomas Ward & Sons,
the ship-beakers at Jarrow.
afternoon on October 11, 1935, the Olympic left Southampton for
the last time as she steamed out of the ocean dock under the command of
Captain P. R. Vaughan. She passed her running mates, the Majestic
and Homeric, and gave them a last salute on the whistle as she lowered
her houseflag. Two days later, the Olympic arrived at her destination
at the River Tyne. She received a massive reception as every waterborne
craft gave her their salutes. Five o’clock that afternoon she was secured
at the spot where she would be broken up, and Captain Vaughan ordered ‘Finished
with engine’ for the last time.
the dismantling process could commence, all interior fittings of interest
were to be auctioned off. Buyers from all over Britain appeared, as they
wanted to take part of some of the most beautiful fittings ever put on
a ship. Much of it came to the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, England where
large parts of the first class lounge survive until this day.
process took close to two years, and the last part of the Olympic’s
once perfectioned hull was lifted out of the water in late 1937. She was
the first of a class of liners that would astonish the world, and as fate
would have it she was also the last of them.
|The Olympic - Specifications:
||882.9 feet (269.68
||92.6 feet (28.19
||34.4 feet (10.51
||45,324 gross tons
powering two wing-propellers and one exhaust steam turbine powering the