RMS OLYMPIC

Click to see photos of the Olympic.

The Olympic or "Old Reliable" as she became known, was launched on October 20th 1910 and served for about 25 years and was eventually scrapped. Because she was the first of the three sisters, they were all designated "Olympic Class" ships. I believe that much more fuss was made of the Olympic than of the Titanic right up until the Titanic sunk. She was the only one of the three sisters envisioned at Lord Pirrie's Dinner party in 1907 that fulfilled her dream.

There were two external ways to tell her apart from her younger sister. Toward the front of B deck, the Olympic has evenly spaced windows, and the promenade deck was fully open for its entire length. The Titanic on the other hand was fitted with a windowed cover over one third of the length of the promenade deck, and the windows on deck B had irregular spacing. There is a photograph or two showing both of the sisters together when the Olympic came in for repairs. At this stage the promenade cover had not yet been fitted to Titanic and because of the angle of the other and the invisibility of the name, some people mistake it for the Olympic. The irregular window spacing on B deck though, definitely show which is which. Close up ways to tell the difference was by the keel number 400 stamped on major components, her sister Titanic's keel number was 401. The keel number of the final sister Britannic was 433.

In contrast with the very short lives of her sisters the Olympic's career spanned almost half a century. Following the disaster of her sister, she spent six months at Harland & Wolff undergoing an extensive refit that extended the double bottom up the sides , giving her a double skin and also to fit extra life boats. She was ready by the spring of 1913 and was back in service on the North Atlantic passenger route. Her tonnage had increased to 46,359 tons.

The first few voyages of Olympic were uneventful but disaster struck on the outward bound leg of the fifth. On the morning of September 20th 1911, the Olympic departed Southampton with Captain E.J. Smith (who was in command of Titanic when she sunk). Shortly after noon she was rounding the Bramble Bank at the normal harbour speed of 19 knots when she encountered the 7350 ton British Cruiser Hawke. Both ships turned so as to proceed down the Spithead channel and in fact, did so on parallel courses for quite a distance. Reports stated they were about 200 - 300 yards apart when suddenly the Hawke seemed to veer toward the larger ship and collision was unavoidable, and she slammed into the starboard rear of the Olympic about 85 feet from the stern. The bow of the Hawke was very badly damaged, and two gashes were left in the side of the Olympic, one above the water line and one below. The starboard propeller was badly damaged and required replacing. I have photographs of this damage. Luckily there was no loss of life on either ship, and both made it back to port under their own power. In many following court cases and appeals, the Olympic was held totally responsible for the accident. There were other mishaps and problems with the Olympic, I am currently researching these, and will document them here at a later stage, so stay tuned.

Even after the outbreak of World War One, she remain in commercial service and even rescued the crew of a British battleship Audacious that had struck a mine off the coast of Ireland. In 1915 she was commissioned as a naval transport and spent the rest of the war ferrying soldiers to the front. She was painted in very dazzling colours, with very bright geometric shapes on a yellow background, to confuse enemy submarines. She survived four submarine attacks, and in March 1916 she was returned temporarily to the White Star Line. During this time she was fitted with six inch guns for submarine defence.

It was in May 1918 during her 22nd troop carrying voyage the Olympic met her greatest challenge and adventure of the war. She was attacked by German submarine U-103. The torpedo was avoided by quick evasive action, but then Olympic did an incredibly brave thing. She turned on her attacker and rammed it! The blow to the submarine was only a glancing blow, but any blow from a 46,000 ton ship would have been massive. The submarine quickly began to sink and some of her crew managed to escape and were picked up by a passing American destroyer.

After the war she had an impressive record of service. She had transported 41,000 civilian passengers, 66,000 troops (American and Canadian), 12,000 members of a Chinese labor battalion. She had steamed 184,000 miles and burned 347,000 tons of coal. This is why she became known as "Old Reliable".

After a post war refit costing $2,430,000, she was back in the sea lanes by 1920 and over the next fifteen years made hundreds of crossings. She had one major accident, on May 15th 1934 during heavy fog she rammed the Nantucket lightship and seven of the eleven crew members were lost. That same year the White Star merged with Cunard and in March 1935 after losing business to newer ships she made her final voyage to New York before being sold, stripped and eventually scrapped.

The Olympic would have to be one of my favourites. At the time she was built, she was the largest liner afloat. She lost this title for a short while to her sister ship the Titanic but of course regained it again until the German ship Imperator (later to become the Cunard ship BerenGaria) was built. As her third sister Britannic never served as a commercial liner, this meant that Olympic was the largest British liner until the Queen Mary. Some readers have disputed this and claimed that Aquitania was the largest. This is not correct, Aquitania was longer and carried more passengers and crew (3725 and 1200 respectively) than Britannic (2574 and 997 respectively) and for this reason some believed her to be therefore larger but the gross tonnage of Aquitania was less. Remember that tonnage is based on enclosed space not weight per se, as the ,term implies.


[Back to Index Page]