Saturday, October 6, 2012

Titanic's Not So Lucky Sisters


I know what you're thinking...WOAH, Rob. I thought you said this Blog was about famous (And not so famous) disasters, accidents, and such. AHHH, but it is! A look at Titanic's less famous sisters is a look at a list of mishaps that'll have you wondering if maybe...just maybe...The White Star Sisters were just a bit jinxed. It'll also introduce you to one very luck lady, and to the three White Star giants' baby cousin.

The Titanic wasn't the only ship of her class ordered by White Star Lines, and built at Harland and Wolf. She had two sisters...Olympic and Britannic, and neither of 'em led boring lives. (Yes, gang, ships are, in their own way, as alive as a man made object can be. That's why they've been referred to in the feminine from time eternal) They had very different careers, and neither was uneventful.


A sight that only existed in the imaginations of White Star owners and brass, and Titanic/Olympic class aficionados. All three of the Olympic Class liners in one place.  From left to right, Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic

Olympic was in service for 25 years, made over two hundred Atlantic crossings, served as a troop ship during World War I, and had a very successful career. But she saw still saw her share of mishaps along the way. Two of 'em may have even set Titanic up for her sinking

Britannic, on the other hand, was around for less than a year after she was launched, and suffered a similar fate to that of her older, more famous sister.

Are they worth digging into...Oh yeah!

Let's take a look at Olympic first. And yeah...saying Olympic was unlucky may be a stretch. I mean she had a long, illustrious, and successful career spanning 24 years. But she was definitely involved in her share of mishaps and...er...'Newsworthy Events'


Olympic, on right, under construction  with her hull nearing completion with her sister ship, Titanic under construction and on the slipway beside her.






The Older Sister of a Legend is borne...Olympic sliding down the ways at Harland and Wolfe.

Olympic was actually the first of the White Star triplets, known officially as the Olympic class, to be launched and placed in service. She shared her more famous sister's dimensions and was essentially identical to Titanic with the exception of her promenade decks and first class cabins. Olympic's promenade deck was open for it's entire length while the forward end of Titanic's promenade was enclosed with sliding windows. Also, Titanic's 'B' deck promenades were reduced in size so that additional public rooms and cabins could be added, including a pair of huge first class suites. One of these mega-suites was supposedly occupied by Rose's family in the movie.

These changes boosted Titanic's displacement to 46,326 tons against Olympic's 45,324 tons giving her the title of Largest Ship in the World by a margin of just over of 1000 tons. Some of the later events almost make you wonder if this caused just a shade of jealousy on Olympic's part. Except that ships are supposedly inanimate objects. Note I said supposedly. Any sailor, be he merchant marine or Navy, from any nation will argue otherwise.



Olympic being launched. Back in the day, the hull of the first ship in a new class was painted a light gray because this color showed off her lines better in black and white photographs.
Olympic being moved to the fitting out dock for completion.Her hull would be repainted black during this time...she still ahd close to a year to go before going in service.
  
The two ships were laid down three months apart and built side by side but Olympic was launched six months ahead of Titanic, in October of 1910. Olympic's maiden voyage was hugely anticipated. White Star had been advertising it for close to a year (As well as promoting the fact that there would be three of the giants criss-crossing The Atlantic' within a couple of years) and the media as well as the traveling public was waiting to see if she lived up to the hype. 


Olympic Arriving in New York on her Maiden Voyage
  She set out on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on June 11th, 1911 and lived up to all expectations, then preceded to exceed them. She was big, luxurious (in 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd class) well appointed (Ditto), comfortable, and fairly fast even though she wasn't built for speed. Her technical and mechanical set up was identical to Titanic's, so any kinks could be worked out, and the lessons transferred to her still-building younger sis. In short, she instantly became a hit. And almost as instantly she entered into into what I have come to think of as The Olympic Class Jinx. She definitely seemed to be trying to delay Titanic's launching. Only thing is, she almost sank herself...and came close to sinking another ship...in the process.


Undated pic of RMS Olympic. This was actually a postcard
 

When a liner leaves Southampton, England on the way to New York, or any port, she doesn't just head straight out across the Big Pond...there's this big hunk of land called The Isle of Wight in the way. Leaving Southampton in 1912, large ships had to navigate Southampton water...the long, narrow inlet that serves the deep-water port of Southampton....then they could either swing west into The Solent, the body of water separating Isle of Wight from the shoreline of Great Britain, or southeast into Spithead, a wider body with a bit more direct access to The Atlantic. In the midst of all of this...and prior to deciding which channel to take...the pilot had to execute a long inverted S turn to maneuver around shallows.

Bear with me here...I'm going by several sources to analyze what happened next. On Sept 20, 2011, Olympic departed Southampton on her fifth voyage with a shade over 1300 passengers. As she got to Calshot spit she swung west into The Solent to go around Isle of Wight and proceed across to Cherbourg, France to embark the rest of her passengers.

Meanwhile the British Navy cruiser HMS Hawke was on maneuvers testing engines in The Solent. To be a bit more more precise, she was off of Egypt Point, which is the northernmost point of Isle of Wight, and was steaming in the same direction as Olympic. (Bet ya already see where this is goin' don't ya?).

The Hawke was twenty years old, ancient by Naval (And in fact, any maritime) standards. She was also, at 360 feet long and  7800 tons displacement, far smaller than Olympic. She was a warship, though, and was equipped with a steel encased concrete ram at her bow.


HMS Hawke, several years before her collision with Olympic. She's painted in her peacetime colors of black hull and white superstructure. When the nation went on a war footing, she would be painted overall gray. And as the caption on the picture notes, she survived her collision with Olympic only to be sunk by a U-boat early in World War One


Another, later view of HMS Hawke, in her 'War Paint', either shortly before or shortly after her collision with Olympic. Olympic was nearly six times Hawke's size. Hawke  was painted overall gray when she and Olympic collided as all of the world's navies had dropped the different color schemes for wartime and peacetime by 1911.


From the accounts, reports, and news articles I've found and read, Olympic crossed Hawke's bow at a distance, and completed her turn. Olympic's crew spotted the cruiser (Whose bridge crew also spotted the liner) and both ships swung a bit to give the other room in the narrow waterway. Olympic also slowed to about 11 knots while Hawke continued at about 17 or so knots, rapidly overtaking Olympic and coming up on her starboard side at a distance of between 100 and 300 feet, depending on whose account you read. Considering what happened next my bet's it was closer to 100 feet than 300.

Just about the time Hawke's commander ordered a turn to starboard to give Olympic more room, and Olympic's pilot ordered an increase in speed to put some distance between the two ships, the suction created by water passing between the two hulls caused the cruiser to veer hard to port. Her commander actually thought her helmsman had turned the wheel in the wrong direction, asking (Ok, more than likely yelling...loudly) 'What the hell are you doing'. At the same time he ordered her port engine stopped and full reverse on her starboard engine as several crew members struggled with the helm, which had (I'm gonna throw supposedly in here) jammed. It WAS however, over in the right direction.

So now, instead of running parallel to Olympic, Hawke was heading almost straight at her at at about 17 knots, or around 19 miles an hour...just shy of 30 feet per second. Olympic tried to port around the bow of the oncoming cruiser, but the same built in delay in the steering engine that would doom Titanic worked against her. Olympic's rudder probably hadn't even begun to swing when Hawk's bow tore into her stern quarter, about eighty feet forward of the stern with a grinding crash that crowds on shore heard clearly. Hawk's ram was embedded solidly in Olympic's hull for several seconds that probably seemed to last a year or two to both crews, and when Hawke popped loose she heeled way over, threatening to capsize while also likely threatening the cleanliness of her crews' underwear before she finally came back up on an even keel with twenty or so feet of her bow crushed in and shoved sideways.



Damage to Olympic after collision with HMS Hawke.  The hole  below the waterline was twice as large, and exactly on one of the watertight bulkheads between compartments.
All stop was called for on both ships. Captain Edward Smith (Heard of him before?) on Olympic hit the switch that closed all of her watertight doors. Shouted questions of the 'Are you guys OK​​​?' variety were called across the waters of The Solent. Wireless messages were pounded out to both White Star's offices in Southampton, and The British navel base at Portsmouth.


Close up of the damage to Olympic's hull after the collision with HMS Hawke

Damage assessment was quickly carried out. Hawke had managed to hit Olympic exactly on one of her watertight bulkheads, the worst case scenario envisioned by her designers,  flooding two compartments. The point of Hawke's bow had torn a triangular hole large enough for a man to walk through above Olympic's waterline, and her ram had punched a hole large enough to drive a 'Model 'T' Ford through below her waterline but the water tight doors had contained the flooding and she was in no danger. Hawke was also holding her own. Miraculously there wasn't a single injury among the crew and passengers of either ship.


HMS Hawke after her collision with Olympic
  
Dozens of vessels responded to the scene to lend assistance, but thankfully it wasn't needed. Hawke steamed back to Portsmouth under her own power, and Olympic crept back to Southampton, limping on one engine due to a twisted and bent propeller shaft.  She anchored for the night, treating her passengers to at least one night of luxury before being towed to the White Star pier the next morning where her cargo was unloaded and her passengers disembarked as guests of White Star until passage back to the US could be secured for them. She was then patched up enough to make the trip back to Harland and Wolfe, where she was dry docked for repair.

Now this was a problem...Not only was White Star having to pay for her repairs (Then as now, the insurance companies were fighting over just who wa at fault and how much they had to pay) but they were loosing revenue while Olympic was out of service, so all resources were diverted to Olympic's repair, including resources that had been utilized inbuilding Titanic. Also, Olympic's starboard propeller shaft had been bent in the collision, so one of Titanic's propeller shafts was used to repair Olympic...pushing Titanic's completion back more than a month.

It took Harland and Wolf just about 6 weeks to repair the damage to Olympic and her 6th voyage was scheduled for November 30, 1911...but a little bit of bad luck still shrouded her or at least some of her passengers. (Pun interned...Keep reading). As you may have heard, weather in the British Isles can be a shade, shall we say, nasty on occasion, and on the twentieth of November, 1911 one of those uber-thick fogs that caused the term 'Pea Soup Fog' to be coined socked in the English Channel, putting a hold on shipping until it lifted.

This wasn't a problem for the passengers that had boarded in Southampton. It was a problem for the 500 or so passengers waiting to board her over in Cherbourg, France which was the Continental European port of debarkation for White Star passengers.  None of the passengers had planned to stay in Cherbourg over night and there wasn't sufficient hotel space in the city for them even if they had. Many of them had to crash out on board the special trains that had brought them to the port and a very unlucky few had to sleep on benches. Bet they were glad that the fog had lifted! And bet they weren't overly thrilled with White Star's (Lack of a) Plan 'B' in the event that her arrival at Cherbourg was delayed.

 All went well for Olympic from then until an eastbound voyage in Feb 1912. Somewhere between New York and Southampton a sudden vibration set in and the age old (At least as old as powered ships using propellers) method of 'Stop all Engines, and see which one's vibrating when we start 'em back up' was employed. Olympic had thrown a propeller blade.

Not a huge problem at all...she just continued her voyage on one reciprocating engine and her central turbine, off loaded passengers and cargo at Southampton, and steamed to Belfast so Harland and Wolfe could bolt a new blade in place. Not as simple as changing a tire by any means, and it required dry docking her, but still not really a major repair. Once again though, they wanted her back in service as quickly as possible. They managed to get her back in service without even delaying her next crossing but to do so they again pulled manpower and resources from Titanic's construction to get Olympic back up and running.

In the process they pushed Titanic's maiden voyage back from March 21st to April 12th. And then came April 14th/15th. 1912.  Olympic was Eastbound and just shy of 600 miles Southwest of Titanic's position when they received the distress signals. Olympic was captained by Herbert Haddock, and as soon as Earnest Moore, Olympic's wireless operator, brought the Titanic's Distress call to him, Moore turned Olympic around, rang for all ahead full, and headed for Titanic's reported position. Of course, at 600 miles out he was way too far out to be of any help, much as he and the rest of Olympic's crew wished otherwise. He was about 120 miles out...probably mid-afternoon the next day...when Arthur Rostron, Carpathia's captain, sent word that there wasn’t any reason to continue as all of Titanic's boats had been accounted for, all survivors had been taken aboard, and they were in fact even then westbound, headed for New York.

Haddock inquired if they'd like to rendezvous so Olympic could take the survivors aboard, and was advised 'no' by Rostren, who was picturing the reaction of 700 or so already traumatized survivors being asked to board a ship virtually identical to the one that had sunk out from under them...or even of just seeing Olympic, with her identical silhouette to Titanic heave into sight over the horizon. Olympic turned back around and continued her voyage to Southampton, with all concerts aboard canceled out of respect.

That wasn’t the last time her sister's sinking affected one of Olympic's voyages though...not by a long shot. Titanic's sinking actually caused a mutiny.

When Olympic arrived back at Southampton on April 21st, 1912 the atmosphere was understandably gloomy, but preparations for her next voyage three days later...this was to be a quick turnaround...were started as soon as her passengers had disembarked and her cargo had been unloaded. Among the preparations were the addition of more life boats (The term 'Duuh..Ya Think??' comes immediately to mind.). Forty Berthon Collapsible lifeboats were procured, many of them Navy surplus. Olympic's deck crew began busting ass to load and stow them as soon as the new boats were quayside. Most would be stowed beneath conventional boats already in davits, others would be stowed where they could be quickly unstowed and placed on davits for loading and lowering. (What do you want to bet that the roof of the officers' quarters was NOT where these were stored.) 


The Berthon Collapsible life boat...the lifeboat that caused a mutiny

 

Pay attention gang! A lot of what follows is a classic example of 'Some Things Just Haven't Changed That Much!' The loading and stowing of the Berthons was supervised by a gent titled and named Captain Maurice Clark. He was the Board of Trade's Assistant Marine Surveyor at Southampton, and had certified Titanic as safe for transatlantic commerce only two weeks earlier.

He inspected the collapsibles as they arrived quayside, then the boats were hoisted aboard and stowed. Time consuming, but pretty simple, right? I mean they probably had a system in place within a half hour. Inspect so many boats, then lash them to a pallet and hoist them aboard Olympic, where the crew stowed them. Ahhh, you forget! Executive types were involved! Therefore meetings were ongoing even as the boats were being inspected, and as Executive Types have to do something to justify their existence, orders changed almost hourly. Specifically, the exact number of boats needed changed regularly and frequently.. Thirty five of the Berthons had been loaded when it was suddenly decided by White Star's headquarters in Liverpool that only twenty four were needed. Therefore, eleven of the just recently loaded collapsibles were unloaded, and hence the fun began.


Berthon Collapsible as it might have appeared stowed aboard Olympic

The Berthon design was older than the Englehart, and appeared to be flimsier as it was an all canvas design with wooden frame and formers. It was 'half-folded' when stored, giving the appearance of a lemon wedge when stowed rather than folding flat like the Englehart design. They were already being looked at askance by Olympic's crew when all of a sudden nearly a third of the boats that had just been loaded were being unloaded. And the rumor mill immediately went into overdrive as crew members surmised that the boats had been found to be less than seaworthy. Offhand comment became opinion...opinions were discussed and became allegedly confirmed facts. Allegedly confirmed facts became quick-spreading rumor...the Collapsibles were a bunch of ancient cast-offs that the Royal Navy wanted out of storage, leaked like sieves, and would founder in a mud puddle. The accuracy of these alleged facts of course, was not a factor in the creation of the rumors.

All of the new boats had been stowed by the morning of the 24th, Captain Clark went aboard at 7AM and inspected the new arrangement, actually having several boats uncovered and lowered and timing the process. He passed Olympic's boats and boat crews with flying colors, and at ten minutes to noon he was just about ready to give Olympic's captain clearance to sail. And he did so, and all was well with the world? Oh come on, ya know better then that!

With the kind of timing usually only seen in the movies, a runner interrupted the conversation between Captains Clark and Haddock by telling them there might be a slight problem, that problem being the departure en masse of the entire stoke hold (Boiler room) crew. Their beef...they weren't sailing on board a ship with leaky collapsible lifeboats, and they weren't coming back until all of the collapsibles were replaced by conventional lifeboats. Considering that this would require the installation of fifteen new sets of davits and the acquisition of fifteen new lifeboats, it was a pretty good bet that was not going to happen. Olympic's departure for New York was delayed, and she was moved to a safe anchorage off of Spithead (The general consensus being that this move was taken to prevent any further desertions.) No one was going anywhere until a replacement stokehold crew was recruited.

And thus, things got even more complicated. It didn't seem too complicated the next morning but trust me, it was getting there. Olympic was still anchored with steam up so she'd be ready to sail when clearance was given, Captain Clark was still aboard so he could sign off on said clearance as soon as possible, and the passengers...well they were beginning to wonder just why the hell they were still looking at Spithead and The Isle of Wight rather than the unobstructed horizon of the Mid-Atlantic. Ashore, Agents of White Star's management as well as engineers from Olympic were diligently signing up new crew members where ever they could find them.

While that was going on, a delegation from White Star met with union delegates to try and get the recently departed crew members back aboard. In order to do this six of the Bertrons were unfolded, lowered and floated. Five of them stayed dry as a bone. One had a tiny leak that was easily controlled by one person bailing for a couple of minutes every two or so hours. The union said they'd advise their members that the boats were safe. They aforementioned members apparently weren't having any of it.

That should have been the end of it, but things actually went down hill even faster. None of the crew members who left returned, and a tender came along side at about ten that night with 168 new crew members aboard. Immediately there after, fifty three more of Olympic's crew yelled for the tender pilot to hold up, and boarded with intent to jump ship. This had nothing to do with the boats. This was because the new band of mutineers (35 Able Bodied Seamen, 5 Quartermasters, 5 Look-outs, 2 Lamp-trimmers, 4 Greasers and two other engine room personnel, Credit for the info to City of Southampton Society) had taken one look at the new crew members, declared them the dregs of society, wondered where the hell they'd been dredged up from, and declared that they wouldn't man one of the row boats on a kiddie ride with any of them, much less Olympic. Captains Haddock and Clark were apprised of the new development. I can't help but think a bit of face palming took place. It's quite possible that colorful and descriptive verse was recited as well.

Haddock ordered the recalcitrant crew members back to their posts. Twice. They told him they understood his position, and even sympathized with it but...well...no way, no how. A spokesman acknowledged that the stoke-hold crew deserting had been a 'Lowdown, dirty trick', but this replacement crew was unfit to man a bath tub and sailing with them would be just shy of suicide.

Haddock had just about had it with this bunch. The Royal Navy Cruiser HMS Cochrane was anchored a half mile away and Haddock signaled 'Crew deserting ship; request your assistance'. A half hour later Royal Navy Captain W E Goodenough was aboard Olympic, and was trying to help straighten out the dispute. The  recalcitrant crewmembers said it wasn't happening. Again they argued that the replacement crew was unfit for duty, and most of 'em weren't even Union!!. And that, thought Goodenough, was probably the real reason they mutineers wouldn't sail with them. Speaking of Mutiny, he may have said, you all do realize you are guilty of just that and can be so charged?

He was likely answered with the 1912 version of 'Go for it!' and they were at a stalemate as well as in a quandary. They couldn't use force against the Olympic crew because they had used no force, had not uttered a single threat, and had actually been more than respectful. Meanwhile,, passengers were beginning to fume. White Star was beginning to fume. The departure was now 36 hours behind schedule and getting later by the minute. And the same bunch that went a-hunting new crew members only a few hours earlier sighed deeply, bemoaned their collective fates, and headed back out to collect another new crew.

The tender returned at eleven the next morning with thirty new men...and all but a few were soundly rejected by Captain Clark. To make matters even more nerve-wracking, White Star sent a likely tersely worded message advising Haddock to get under way as soon as possible. Worded in a way, likely, that actually meant 'WHY are you still anchored off of freaking Spithead????'. They were two days late leaving already. It was beginning to look more and more like they weren't going to leave Southampton Water. And at about 3PM, the message everyone was more than half expecting was received...the voyage was canceled. Her next voyage wasn’t scheduled until May 15th, More than enough time to get both the boat situation and the crew situation straightened out.

The Mutiny may have been over for Olympic...but not for the fifty-three crew members who participated in it. Between Titanic's sinking, and the Olympic's mutiny, White Star's credibility had taken a major hit, so they had to take action. And that action came in the form of pressing charges of mutiny against the fifty three crew members. They had jumped ship after Titanic left Southampton and anchored off of Spithead, therefore technically they had committed Mutiny Upon The High Seas.

The case was heard in Southampton Police Court on April 30th, 1912 and was defended vigorously, using the defense that providing an untrained and incompetent crew rendered Olympic just as unseaworthy as would a 'hole in her hull'. The prosecution countered that coal stokers weren't exactly skilled labor. The judge ruled that it was indeed mutiny, but he was not going to either fine or imprison the mutineers as they were likely 'Unnerved by the recent sinking of Titanic'. So White Star won...but they lost as they recovered none of their lost revenue, though the verdict did restore a good bit of their credibility.

Interestingly there was one person who gained a bit financially...Captain Clark. He was stuck aboard Olympic for sixty hours. (If, of course, being aboard the most luxurious liner on the high seas can be considered 'Stuck Aboard') He didn't get overtime but because that sixty hours was considered to be above and beyond the call of duty he did get a bonus of 6 Pounds and eighty Pence...not a bad deal at all a hundred years ago.

As for Olympic, she departed without incident on May 15th. She'd be refitted and updated, then have a couple more successful and uneventful years, at least until a little disagreement called 'World War I' came about.

White Star as well as the rest of the shipping industry had several hard-learned lessons drilled into them by Titanic's sinking. Olympic was taken out of service in October 1912 and modified significantly. Her compliment of lifeboats was increased to 64 (48 conventional lifeboats, double banked on the boat deck, and 14 Englehart collapsibles stored beneath the double banked boats) a double hull was installed, five watertight bulkheads forward were extended up to 'B' deck, allowing her to survive with six forward compartments flooded rather than only 4. While all of this was going on, additional cabins and suites were added (Specifically, the parlor suites that had been added to Titanic during her construction were now added to Olympic) more cabins were given private bathrooms('Heads' in nautical jargon) and a Cafe' Parisian was added. She was placed back in service in November 1912, and advertised as the 'New Olympic'. Her new safety features were given pages of press. The general theory of advertising, it seems, hasn't changed much in a hundred years.


A newspaper ad for the 'New Olympic', published several months after her refurb and safety upgrade.


Olympic became even more popular and had several packed voyages over the next couple of years....then World War I started. White Star kept her in commercial service at first, despite knowing that German U-boat captains were licking their chops at the prospect of adding 'Olympic to their list of victories. They painted her all gray and reduced lighting to maker her less of a target and changed her port of Embarkation/Debarkation first to Liverpool, then to Glasgow. The Westbound trips were packed during the first part of the war as Americans trapped in Europe clamored to get home. The eastbound trips, however, were all but dead-head runs, often with fewer than 200 passengers. Her last Eastbound trip left New York for Scotland on Oct 21st, 1914 with 153 passengers aboard. Fittingly enough for her last peace time trip for almost 5 years, it would be a memorable one.


HMS Audacious...The battleship Olympic came to the aid of on her final civilian voyage before World War One.


On the sixth day of the voyage, when she was off of the North Irish coast, she received a distress call from the British battleship HMS Audacious, which had struck a mine. Olympic rendezvoused with Audacious and took 250 of her crew aboard. The British destroyer HMS Fury managed to assist Olympic in rigging a towline, then Olympic took the crippled battleship in tow and headed for the nearest port. They did so, that is, until Audacious' steering gear failed, causing her to veer off and put excess stress on the tow cable causing it to part. A massive cluster immediately resulted.
The light cruiser HMS Liverpool had arrived on scene at that point, and she attempted to take Audacious in tow...but she managed to run over the tow cable, entangling it in her propellers. A third attempt was made...Audacious' damaged steering gear again put too much strain on the tow cable, breaking it. By then, Audacious deck was awash, and it was decided to transfer all of her crew to Liverpool and Olympic. Their timing was good...they had barely gotten all of Audacious' crew aboard the two ships when Audacious turned turtle, exploded, and went down. 


Audacious sinking

 
Ahh, it gets better! The commander of the British home fleet...one Admiral John Jellico...decided that news of Audacious' sinking would have a seriously adverse effect on morale, and decided to suppress news of the sinking. Therefore, as soon as Olympic reached Lough Swilly, she was placed under arrest and none of her passengers and crew were allowed to leave the ship. The only people allowed to disembark were Audacious' just recently rescued crew, Chief Surgeon John Beaumont, and steel tycoon Charles Schwab, who was royally pissed that he was being held aboard and got word to Jellicoe RE: his state of royal pissed-ness. Then as now, it all depended on who you were and who you knew. Jellico agreed to release Schwab on the condition that he kept quiet about the sinking, and Schwab continued on to London to transact important business. The rest of the passengers and crew remained in custody. Hey, if you've got to be 'In Custody', you might as well be held aboard the worlds most luxurious ship!

Olympic was finally allowed to continue to Belfast on November 2nd...and White Star decided to lay her up until the war was over. She was just too tempting a target to the Germans, partially because Great Britain designated all of the White Star and Cunard liners as Armed Cruisers (Despite the fact that guns had been installed on NONE of them at that point)

. And she just sat warfside and waited out the war...NOT!

Olympic was laid up at Belfast until May 1915, when she was requisitioned by the Admiralty along with the Cunard liners Mauritania and Aquitania as well as her sister ship, RMS Britannic ( Which never got to see a paying passenger…we’ll get to what happened to her in a bit).  Now, Keep in mind that the Royal Navy really didn’t want to use liners as troop ships…they were too tempting a target, and too vulnerable to both torpedo and gunfire. But…and it was a biggie…they were also short of ships, and the big liners could handle five or six thousand troops apiece while Britannic, which had been requisitioned as a hospital ship, could handle a near equal number of patients.
So Olympic was stripped of her peace time finery, painted a dull gray, and had 12 pounder and 4.7 inch guns mounted on her decks. At the same time she was re-designated Her Majesty’s Transport 2810. She was now ready for war.
Her first trip as a troop ship departed Liverpool on September 24th, 1915 with 6000 troops aboard, bound for Mudros, Greece under command of Bertram Fox Hayes. She managed to scout out a bit of trouble on that first voyage. The French ship Provincia had been torpedoed by a U-boat on the morning of Oct 1st, and several hours later her lifeboats were spotted by Olympic’s  crew. Olympic stopped and picked up 34 survivors, and quickly pounded out a message to The Admiralty reporting same. The Royal Navy brass collectively paled as they considered how a U-boat commander would react upon seeing nearly 50,000 tons of troopship , rocking gently in the swells mid-ocean, sitting motionless and unescorted dead center in the cross-hairs of his periscope.
The Admiralty pounded out a message in reply. It’s exact wording is lost to history, but it probably read something similar to ‘Don’t Do that Again!!!!!!’. The French government was more accepting, considering it was her sailors that Olympic rescued. They awarded Hayes the Golden Medal of Honour.
Olympic made several more trips to the Mediterranean until that campaign was terminated, then plans were made to use her to transports troops around the Horn to India. That plan was shelved when they realized that she didn’t have the coal capacity for such a long trip…not at a decent speed anyway.  So they did what they really didn’t want to do…put her on the Halifax, Nova Scotia to Great Britain run, straight across the U-boat infested Atlantic.  Olympic started her Halifax runs in mid 1916, then in 1917 she was taken out of service briefly for some upgrades. Her 12 pounders and 4.7s were switched out for 6 inch guns , and she was painted in a dazzle camouflage pattern…swirls, swatches and slashes of contrasting colors (In her case, brown, dark blue, light blue, and white) to break up her silhouette. 


Portside view of Olympic in dazzle camouflage

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A model of Olympic in the above Camo pattern, showing what it likely looked like in color.


Drawing of Olympic dazzle camouflage, starboard side. The pattern was entirely different on the starboard side. Also, the patterns were changed a couple of times, but these two patterns are the ones seen in most photographs of her.
 She transported Canadian troops until 1917, then after The United States entered the war, she began transporting U.S. troops She was loaded down with U.S. troops when she had her most memorable encounter of that period. She tangled with a U-boat. And she won big!

 The German sub U-103 was running on the surface a couple of hundred miles off of the French coast on May 12, 1918 when she spotted Olympic. For her commander and crew this was probably a near-orgasmic experience. The crème de la crème of British troop ships, a couple of thousand yards away from her, with no escorts. Inbound, so she was loaded with troops. This could be the kill of the war…ya just know that her commander, Commander Claus Rücker was thinking just that.  U-103 was stern to the Olympic, so Commander Rücker ordered her two stern tubes loaded and flooded…and that’s where things went south real quick. Through some unknown equipment failure they couldn’t get her stern tubes to flood, which meant that they couldn’t fire torpedoes. Now, I have a feeling that Commander Rucker gave orders to come about and bring their bow tubes to bear, at the same time ordering two of her four bow tubes loaded. Unfortunately for U-103 and her crew, Olympic’s lookouts had seen the U-boat, and Hayes immediately ordered her gunners to open fire (She had been equipped with six 6 inchers…probably three forward and three aft, so at least two, and possibly three of them were able to be brought to bear). Even as the 6 inchers began their barking ‘BWOMP!!’ he also ordered the helm hard over, used the anchor crane at Olympic's bow as a gun-sight, so to speak, and ordered her helmsman to ram the U-boat


Line drawing of the class of U-Boats that U-103 belonged to, from the awesome site Uboat.net
Rucker and crew were still engaged in trying to get a torpedo tube…any  torpedo tube…aimed at Olympic when a jet of flame and cordite smoke from Olympic followed by the bark of the 6 incher, then a geyser of white water erupting far too close for comfort brought those attempts to an end. Another bark of gunfire…and then Olympic's bow was coming around. Right at them, with a bone in her teeth.
Commander Rucker probably barked several orders (In German of course) ‘Take her down Fast!! Stern planes Hard  dive, bow planes, 10 degrees down bubble, make your depth 30 meters! …engine room shift to battery power and motors, all ahead FULL!!
There were metallic ‘THWANK!s as main inductions were slammed closed and hatches were closed. Helmsmen and planesmen spun their three foot diameter wheels desperately…the hull slipped under as the deck took a huge down angle. They could hear the unsynchronized ‘SWUSH-SWUSH-SWUSH-SWUSH-‘ of Olympic’s screws  bearing down on them…
On Olympic’s bridge, they watched as the U–boat angled beneath the waves, Olympic’s helmsman likely keeping the helm over just a bit to track the diving U-boat. U-103 disappeared beneath the Olympic’s bow. I can all but bet several crew members ran to the bow and looked over. The guns kept up their firing until they were too close and the guns couldn’t be depressed far enough.  Time dragged through molasses on both ships…
THU-WHRANGG!!!. Olympic’s bow slammed into the upper hull of the diving ‘U-boat  just aft of the still partially exposed conning tower, turning it about 90 degrees,. Then there was the scrapping of hull across hull as Olympic’s bige keel bumped along the damaged U-boat…and finally  THWOCK-THWOCK!!’ as her port screw bit deeply into the U-boats hull.


U-103 surfaced and in port . Olympic rammed her in the area of her aft deck gun/
The impact was barely felt aboard Olympic…if anything a slight jar as the bow hit. Aboard U-103, it was like they’d been grabbed by a giant dog and shaken hard. Gauges and light bulbs shattered, men were thrown against bulk heads and control groups…and a cold, spurting cascade of sea water began pouring in. Rucker did what any good commander would have done. He’d done his duty to his country, and his Navy…now he tried to save his ship and his crew. He ordered all ballast blown, and ordered his crew to abandon ship as soon as she surfaced…if she surfaced.
U-103 wallowed to the surface, her hull, and likely a ballast tank slashed by Olympic’s  screws. The ballast tank vents were likely opened by the last leaving crew members to make sure she sank so she wouldn’t be captured as 31 crew members scrambled on deck, deployed a life raft or two, and rowed away from their sinking sub. A British destroyer would pick them up
Olympic didn’t even slack up…the collision's only damage was a couple of bent hull plates. She’d just become the only Troopship to sink a U-boat during World War I. Her legend was not only intact, but growing.
Olympic transported over two hundred thousand troops during World War I and became a familiar sight in Halifax Harbor. She gained the nickname 'Old Reliable' and gained thousands of fans during her war service, one of whom was artist Arthur Lismar who painted several paintings of her in Halifax Harbor. Olympic Gardens dance hall was also named after her.

She returned to Belfast in August 1919, after months of transporting Canadian and U.S. troops home, and was dry docked. Her interiors were modernized, her boilers were converted from coal to oil, and she was repainted. And during this overhaul a sign of just how lucky she had been during her war service was found...a deep dish shaped dent in her hull with a crack at the bottom of the 'dish', below the waterline. Sometime during the war she'd been torpedoed...and the torpedo had failed to explode.
She spent the next fifteen years successfully and uneventfully. Well...not quite. Successfully, yes, but uneventfully doesn't exactly describe all of her last decade and a half of service. Olympic was an extremely popular ship throughout the Twenties, transporting tens of thousands of passengers including dozens of celebrities of the era. And it was during the twenties that she suffered her next mishap. On March 22nd, 1924 she was reversing from her berth in New York when she backed into the small steamer Fort St George, which had steamed across her path. Olympic was seven times larger than the smaller steamer so the outcome was predictable. Fort St George was heavily damaged above the waterline, while Olympic sufferred what appeared at first to be a few bent hull plates. Further inspection revealed, however, that her stern post...a ship's aft-most major structural member...had been cracked in the collision, necessitating the replacement of her entire stern frame.


S.S. Fort St. George...The small steamer that Olympic backed into in New York Harbor.
Her next little misadventure occurred on November 16th, 1929 while she was Westbound and very close to Titanic's last known position. She began vibrating violently, and continued to do so for two minutes that probably seemed more like two hours to her passengers and crew. There were no injuries (Other than that likely sufferred by Roaring Twenties style underwear ) but her crew likely preceded cautiously for the rest of the voyage as they had no clue what had caused the vibration. It took a while, but authorities finally figured it out. Olympic had been sailing almost directly above the epicenter of the Grand Banks Earthquake.
LV-117...The Nantucket Lightship that was accidentally rammed and sunk by Olympic
1929 was her best year for number of passengers carried since 1925, and indeed the entire decade had been pretty good to her. However just about a month and a half before Olympic's encounter with The Grand Banks Earthquake the stock market crashed, beginning the nation's and the world's slide into The Great Depression. Activities that tend to require the expenditure of large quantities of spendable income do not fare well in times of economic hardship. She began running at a net loss in 1933, despite another refurb at the end of '32 that left her looking and running like new. Then in 1934 she was involved her final...and only fatal...mishap.


Nantucket Shoals extends into the Atlantic a shade over forty miles south by east from Nantucket Island, and shipping has been warned for literally centuries by a light ship stationed at the eastern tip of the shoals and western terminus of the shipping lane on the approaches to New York Harbor. In 1934 the Nantucket Lightship was a 630 ton, 135 foot long steel hulled vessel with a crew of 11. She was equipped with what was in 1934 the State of the Art in equipment. Not only were her two masts equipped with high intensity beacons, she was also equipped with a radio ranging/homing transmitter that ships inbound to New York could home in on. The fact that many, if not most of these ships steered directly towards the light ship as they were homing in on the channel didn't exactly fill her crew with warm fuzzy feelings. A glancing side swipe by the United States Lines liner S S Washington in April of '34 pretty much confirmed their fears.


Olympic passing the Nantucket lightship...taken from the lightship...in early 1934, just a couple of months before the collision.
Then came the foggy, misty morning of May 14, 1934. Olympic was inbound and homing in on the light ship's radio beacon, and at around 5AM found herself in the middle of one of those fogs that gave rise to the term 'Pea Soup Fog'. The crew on the bridge could see only a few hundred feet beyond the bow if that, and her speed was prudently reduced to 16 knots, then 12 knots. The lightship was sounding her fog horn, and her radio beacon was strong in Olympic's radio operator's head phones. He tried to contact the light ship (Likely via both voice and Morse.) but met with no success. All agreed that the light ship was off of their starboard bow...a course change of 10 degrees to port was ordered, theoretically taking Olympic well clear of the light ship. Another attempt at contact was made, again with no success. But the fog horn seemed to be further away and still off to starboard. Sound does strange things in fog though....
The light ship's crew saw first a vague darkening of the fog to port, then saw Olympic's bow take form and emerge from the fog. Olympic was only about 500 feet away, with collision inevitable, so the only thing they could do was sound the collision alarm, grab life jackets, and hang on tight. On Olympic's bridge, her Captain, John Binks, ordered 'Hard a-port'!, at the same time yanking the engine room telegraphs to all reverse full then ordering all of the watertight doors closed. (Hmmmm...seems I've heard of very similar actions taking place on an almost identical ship's bridge...)
The engine room crew scrambled, getting her engines into reverse in record time but the rudder had the exact same built in delay as Titanic's. She'd slowed to between three and five knots but hadn't even begun to swing when she hit the lightship broad side on her port side, pushing her along sideways for a couple of seconds, opening her port side up to the sea in the process before pushing her aside where she rolled over and went down in well less than a minute. At nearly 50,000 tons Olympic was nearly seventy-five times larger than the light ship.


Artist's rendition of the instant Olympic rammed the Nantucket lightship
Olympic's crew reacted instantly, professionally, and gallantly, quickly getting her port emergency tender...one of the two lifeboats always kept 'swung out' in case of something like a man overboard...in the water before she'd even come to a complete stop, followed shortly after by the starboard emergency boat. A few minutes later one of her two motor powered boats joined them. Their crews pulled seven of the lightships eleven crew members out of the water an brought them aboard the Olympic, but unfortunately three of the seven died in Olympic's hospital, four others were trapped below when the Lightship rolled over and went down. There were four survivors, including the lightship’s captain, Captain Brairtwaith
Olympic suffered minor damage, in the order of a couple of bent hull plates, and was allowed to leave for her return trip to Southampton as scheduled.
The Olympic's passengers and crew barely felt the collision...a very slight jar if that...but interestingly enough it wasn't as violent aboard the lightship as you'd imagine. One survivor described it as a 'Hard push, and tremendous shaking and grinding'...not the cataclysmic crashing jolt that you'd expect. The sunken lightship was replaced by a new vessel...designated LV 112...on White Star's dime. The dependents of the crew members who died in the accident were compensated through the U.S. Government.
Olympic wasn't around for long herself after the collision with the Nantucket Lightship. But her demise had nothing to do with storms, icebergs, collisions, or any other maritime hazard. Her end came about due to The Depression, and corporate politics.
The beginning of the end for Olympic started five months before her encounter with the Nantucket lightship, on December 30th, 1933 when the board of Cunard and  Oceanic Steam Navigation Co.(The latter being White Star's parent company) met to discuss a merger. We won't go into all the business dealings that followed over the next several months...I don't want to put anyone, myself included, to sleep! Suffice it to say that the new company, to be named Cuanrd-White Star was registered on May 10th, 1934. One of the big reasons for the merger was to pool and raise funds for a pair of huge new liners to be named RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth
The new company had a problem...way too many ships and way too few passengers, meaning way too little profit at best and way too much of an operating loss at worst. Something had to go. There were six big liners on the Southampton-New York run, Cunard's Mauritania, Aquitania, and Berengaria and the former White Star liners Olympic, Majestic, and Homeric.
All six were in the same basic class of HUGE, and all would be evaluated to see which ones would stay in service, and which ones would become scrap metal.
Olympic had had a major refurbishing and overhaul with-in the last couple of years. Her engines were in better shape than when she was put in service. Her top speed was actually a knot or so faster than it was when she was new. Her accommodations were top notch, though Berengaria's and Majestic's swimming pools were a bit grander. All had their fan bases and regular passengers. 'Third Class' had been converted to 'Tourist' class over a decade ago, and was a comfortable and economical way to travel (Of course, during the depression, few people could muster the funds for even a Tourist Class ticket).Of the four liners in the tightest fight to avoid the ship breaker's yard, she was the most economical to run, and while all were beginning to show their ages, maintenance wise, Olympic also had the lowest overall operating costs. SO she lasted on into the fifties, serving gallantly in...nope, wait a minute.


Olympic Laid up in Southampton along with her former rival RMS Mauritania.  The smoke that appears to be coming from Mauritania's forth funnel is actually coming from the industrial area just beyond her.





Olympic at Jarrow, just prior to being scrapped.




Olympic was the first to go. She left New York for the last time on April 5th, 1935, and was laid up, right next to her former rival Mauritania when she arrived back at Southampton. There were plans to turn her in to a cruise ship...then a floating hotel, none of which panned out. Finally, after rusting away for five months, she was bought by British Parliament member Sir John Jarvis for the grand total of 97,500 pounds, She left Southampton under her own steam for Jarrow where her superstructure, upper works, and many of her fittings were removed in 1936 (Providing jobs for a couple of thousand unemployed workers...The U.S. Wasn't the only country affected by The Depression by a long shot).


Olympic's hull being eased into the breakers yard at Inverkiething for final dismantling. A sad end for a proud ship
 In 1937, her hull was towed to Inverkiething for final demolition. And after twenty five years, 257 transatlantic crossings, over 430,000 passengers carried and 1.8 million miles traveled, she was gone. But definitely never forgotten.Not only not forgotten, but some of her's still around. Her luxurious furnishings, fittings and paneling has ended up in luxury hotels, restaurants, and homes throughout Great Britain.

Britannic: This brings us to the final, largest, and least known of the three sisters...RMS Britannic. Only thing is, she never got to wear the 'RMS' badge.


White Star lines flyer advertising the RMS Britannic, printed after her launching. She'd never wear White Star livery, nor would she ever carry a single paying passenger.

First off, we'll get one oft-repeated rumor out of the way...the rumor that she was originally supposed to be named Gigantic, and her name was changed to Britannic after the Titanic disaster. Harland and Wolfe records show that as of October 1911 her name was already noted as Britannic in the order book for Hull Number 433, ordered by The White Star Line. This was six months before Titanic went down and a full month before Britannic's keel was laid.. While at some point in her design phase the name Gigantic may have been bounced around, she was named Britannic' from the moment her first keel plate was laid.
Her keel was laid in November 1911 in the same slipway used for RMS Olympic's construction. The idea was to wait a bit on the third sister so any changes and improvements could be incorporated into her construction. Of course, neither White Star or Harland and Wolfe had any idea just how extensive these lesson-learned modifications would be.
She ended up with a double hull extending ten feet above her water line in the area of her engine and boiler rooms, six of her watertight bulkheads also extending as high as 'B' deck, and most noticeably an additional 32 lifeboats, served by six pair of giant gantry davits. An additional deck house was added astern, on her poop deck, and her forward well deck was decked over. The modifications made her heavier than Olympic by about 2000 tons, as well as two feet wider. As a result her turbine engine was larger, rated at 18000 HP versus 16000 HP for the turbines installed in Titanic and Olympic. She was launched in February of 1914, towed to the fitting out dock, where her construction was continued...and interrupted by the beginning of a little dust-up known as World War I. Construction continued, but slowly. Resources were being diverted to the war effort, and she obviously wasn't going to enter service as a transatlantic liner any time soon. Then came the Gallipoli invasion and campaign in the Mediterranean...the same campaign that caused Olympic to be requisitioned as a transport. To put it mildly, the campaign was a disaster with huge and mounting losses and casualties and the need was seen for hospital ships to transport the wounded back to Great Britain.
Aquitania was requisitioned for this purpose, and shortly afterward Britannic was as well. She was repainted white with a green stripe and four large red crosses on the sides of her hull, a quartet of anti torpedo guns were installed, medical equipment was installed and wards were set up...and she was in the hospital ship business.


HMHS Britannic
She made five trips between the Mideast and Britain, transporting injured soldiers, and when she left Southampton on November 12th, 1916 for her sixth trip there was absolutely no reason to believe that it would be any different than those previous five. 


Britannic at sea.
 
The first bad omen should have been when she was stuck at Naples…her usual coaling stop…for two extra days because of a storm. The weather broke on the afternoon of the 19th, and Capt Bartlett decided to take advantage of the break and get under way, running into weather off and on for the next day or so. By the 21st, the weather was perfect for a sea voyage…clear, warm and calm…and Britannic  was steaming at full speed as she entered the Kea Channel, between the southernmost tip of Greece and The Island of Kea with 1021 people on board…all doctors nurses, other medical staff, and crew. Luckily she had no patients on board…
Luckily you ask?
At around 8:12AM there was a sharp, loud ‘KRUMPH!!’, causing Britannic to shiver as if she’d struck something solid and not particularly mobile, and in fact quite a few people aft, where the explosion’s effects were less violent, thought that this was exactly what had happened. On the bridge, however, there was no doubt that something…something bad at that…had happened. They had seen the geyser of water rise from the starboard bow, and could already feel her healing over slightly to starboard. They had no idea whether they had struck a mine or been torpedoed, but it really didn’t matter which one it was because both would yield the exact same result. With this thought in mind, Bartlett flipped the knife blade switch that dropped the water tight doors, ordered a distress signal sent, and ordered the boats prepared.
Below and forward, things were getting intense, fast. The explosion had taken out the watertight bulkhead between holds two and three, and managed to damage the bulkhead between hold one and the forepeak.  The first four forward compartments were flooding rapidly. But she’d stay afloat with her first six forward compartments flooded, right? No problem…
Not quite…the explosion (Which turned out to be a mine) came at shift change for the engine room crew, so the watertight doors in the fireman’s tunnel between the boiler room crew’s quarters in the bow and Boiler room 6…the forward most boiler room… had been open. The explosions severity had been more than obvious below and forward and had jammed the watertight doors in the tunnel, so water was roaring out of the fireman’s tunnel into Boiler room six. It gets worse. The watertight door between Boiler rooms six and five didn’t drop for some unknown reason (My bet’s the shock of the explosion knocked it off of it’s rails) allowing water to flow into boiler room five. Now all six of her forward compartments were flooding. She could stay afloat with the first six…hmmm. This was tending towards ‘Not Good’
The watertight door between boiler rooms five and four had closed and sealed properly, theoretically ensuring her survival. The coast of The Island of Kea was visible, just a few miles off. But remember she was on the way to pick up patients, so the port holes in many of the wards were open (Despite regulations to the contrary) in order to air out the wards. And with her six forward compartments flooding she was well down by the bow, as well as listing. She began taking on water through hundreds of portholes, flooding her aft of the critical six forward compartments. Britannic was doomed.
Two minutes after she hit the mine boiler rooms five and six had to be evacuated, Ten minutes later she was as far down by the bow as Titanic had been after about an hour. She was also developing a serious list to starboard. And Kea Island was just three miles or so away…
Captain Bartlett decided to make a run for Kea Island and try to beach Britannic  in the shallows just off the island, Then everyone aboard could be orderly and leisurely taken off, and Britannic  would become part of the local sea side scenery until the end of the war when she could be repaired enough to allow her to be pumped out and re-floated, then towed to a ship yard for permanent repairs. Nice idea. Wasn’t gonna happen.
Captain Bartlett ordered the course change, but she wouldn’t answer the rudder…the list and the very weight of the rudder was working against them as the steering engine was having to try and pull the rudder up as well as swing it…they’d have to turn her by reversing one engine and going forward on the other., a slow and laborious process in the best of conditions, even more so with her damaged.
As they tried to bring her head around towards the island, crews on the boat deck were uncovering and swinging out the boats, one of which was rushed by a group of stewards who were in the process of panicking in a big way. The panic was quelled, several boats were loaded (Including the one with stewards and a couple of crew aboard) and a couple of them were lowered. When the order had come down that no boats were to be launched as the Captain was going to try to beach the Britannic, the boats were stopped about six feet above the water.
A couple of these boats were released without authorization, dropping the six feet and hitting the water hard, bouncing along the Britannic's hull as the stricken liner moved forward. It likely didn’t take but a couple of seconds for whoever decided to release the boats to realize he’d screwed up, big time. Britannic was well down by the bow, which put several feet of spinning propeller out of the water. Her wing propellers…the ones on either side of the stern…were about 21 feet in diameter and turned at about 60 to 70 RPM. None of the occupants of the boats were exactly competent at small boat handling, and all could see the spinning, splashing bronze death they were being drawn into. Two of the boats were pulled into the props, and both…along with their occupants…were smashed to kindling and pieces-parts. Thirty people were killed in Britannic's sinking and all of them were aboard these two boats. There were also several gruesome injuries…ditto.
On Britannic’s bridge, it was becoming more obvious by the minute that she wouldn’t make it the The Island of Kea, or even come particularly close to doing so. The mine had blown a barn door size hole in her hull, and Britannic’s forward motion was just forcing water into the breach at a faster rate, flooding her even more quickly. Even as Captain Bartlett was pondering this sad but undeniable fact one of the deck crew ran, likely breathless, onto the bridge and told of the carnage that had been two life boats. Bartlett acted quickly and decisively, yanking the engine room telegraphs to ‘All Stop’.
The engine room crew slammed the throttles closed and the huge pistons came to a slow, sighing stop not a second too soon. The occupants of a third lifeboat pushed off from a now just barely moving propeller blade, saving themselves from the same fate as the first two boats.


A digital rendering of Britannic going down. This was done by Christian Stenfelt
In almost the same breath Captain Bartlett first gave the order to lower the boats and then, at 8:35 AM…twenty three minutes after she hit the mine, he gave the order to abandon ship. The forward port side davits…on the high side of the list, and soon submerged…quickly became useless. Her after gantry davits were usable though, and were put to work quickly and efficiently. Thirty five boats were launched and stayed afloat (Thirty seven launched counting the two that got splintered by the propellers). By 8:45 the angle of the list made all of the davits useless. A couple of the smaller boats (Still not exactly small) were lifted into the water by 40 or so men, then loaded. At 9:00 AM, Captain Bartlett gave one final blast on her horn, then stepped to the bridge wing just in time to be washed overboard as she started her final plunge. The engine room and boiler room crews heard the whistle and knew it was their signal to get the hell out dodge.  All of them escaped using a stair case that dumped into Funnel #4 which, like its peers on both Titanic and Olympic, was a dummy funnel. Someone was looking out for them in a Big Way. Not a single life was lost in the engineering spaces. Not one.
Captain Bartlett swam to one of the collapsibles  that had been launched and quickly began directing the rescue operation Even as he began directing the rescue Britannic rolled over on her starboard side, shedding her funnels as she did so, lifted her stern in the air, and took her final plunge. She went down at 9:07AM, just fifty five minutes after she struck the mine. Britannic had just become the largest ship lost during World War I
 Her crew and medical staff were still in luck though. The conditions were about 180 degrees away from those of the night of April 14/15 1912. The water temperature was about 70 degrees rather than 28 degrees. It was daylight. They were less than three miles from land. And rescue boats were on the way in bunches.
The first to arrive were fishermen from Kea, manning caliques, who immediately began pulling survivors from the water. HMS Scourge and HMS Heroic both arrived around 10:00 AM, transferring  339 and 494 survivors respectively from lifeboats while another 150 or so made it to Korissea, on Kea. Included in this bunch were the injured from the boats that had struck the propellers, and surviving medical staff who had also been aboard the boats that made it to Korissea immediately turned a quay into a makeshift operating theater and began the task of trying to save the lives of horribly injured men.
HMS Scourge was a Beagle class destroyer, 275 feet long and about 940 tons while HMS Heroic was an armed boarding steamer…a small converted merchantman designed to capture and board enemy merchant vessels…and neither had a premium of deck space. With the survivors aboard both were packed, so both signaled that there were more survivors at Korissea, then departed the area for Piraeus, a small port city near Athens, Greece.  HMS Foxhound…another Beagle class DD…arrived,  made a search of the area, then anchored in Korissea’s small harbor to offer medical back-up, as well as picking up the remainder of the survivors at Korissea. The light cruise HMS Foresight  then arrived. The Foxhound also departed for Piraeus at about 2:15PM. Foresight stayed to assist with burial of an Army Sergeant who had died on Kea.
Of the 1066 people aboard Britannic 1036 were saved, and thirty died, with 24 injured. They were massively, almost unbelievably lucky. If she’d been outbound, with patients aboard, the death toll could have conceivably doubled that of Titanic’s sinking. 


Britannic as she appears on the bottom. Her bow buckled and broke off when it was shoved into the bottom as she sank. Interestingly it broke at just about the same point where Titanic's bow buckled when she came to rest on the bottom of the Atlantic
 
Britannic’s wreck is unique in both its accessibility and its condition. She lies on her starboard side in about 400 feet of water, her bow buckled and broken off just forward of the superstructure, her funnels lying on the sea bed nearby. Just about all of her deck hardware is either still aboard or in the debris field, her davits (And a couple of boats) are still mounted, supposedly the green stripe on her hull and the red crosses are still very faintly discernible beneath the marine growth that now calls her home. While I’m not going into huge detail about her wreck…that’s not the purpose of this blog…suffice it to say she’s in far better shape that the wreck of RMS Lusitania. Lusitania has been on the bottom for just as long as Britannic and lies at a very similar depth, also on her starboard side, but no longer actually resembles a ship. If I was told that I could dive one ship wreck, all expenses paid, Britannic  would be the one I chose, hands down. 
Notes, Links, and Stuff


  • Some of Olympic's furnishings and interior fittings went to, of all places, a paint factory when they were auctioned off.. (See link below)
  • Olympic was and is one of the two star players in a conspiracy theory (Something else that's not exactly a new concept) concerning Titanic's sinking. There are those who believe that Olympic was actually sunk, and Titanic soldiered on...as Olympic.. Some people believed that, after Olympic was damaged in the collision with HMS Hawke that the repairs would have been so expensive that they swapped Titanic and Olympic's yard numbers, finished Titanic as Olympic, repaired Olympic just enough to make it part way through one voyage, relaunched her as Titanic, then sank her on her maiden voyage in a huge insurance scam. Of course the passengers weren't supposed to be killed. Will there be a link for this? Here ya go! http://www.titanic-titanic.com/titanic_conspiracy_theory.shtml Do people still believe this? Sadly, yes. Do I believe it?? Oh hell no!
  •   Olympic's hull was painted light gray while she was being built, for her launch. This was because she was the first vessel of her class, and the gray hull would actually appear white in black and white photos, showing off her lines better than a black painted hull. She was repainted black during her fitting out.
  • There is a present day band named after Olympic. http://www.facebook.com/rmsolympic They bill themselves and their music as acoustic folk pop punk indie music. I listened to one of their songs...'Counting Down The Days'...and they're pretty good!
  • The Britannic was long known as Titanic's Forgotten Sister. Thanks to all of the interest that a certain movie garnered for Titanic, there has been renewed interest in both of her sisters, and Britannic is forgotten no more.
  • The actual cause of Britannic's sinking was debated for decades until an expedition in 2003, led by Carl Spencer, discovered several mine anchors, confirming that she was sunk by a mine. The actual damage is hidden, as she's lying on her starboard side...the same side holed by the mine.
  • The mine that sank Britannic was laid by a mine laying sub...the U-73.
  • There was a later White Star liner also named Britannic...M.V. Britannic, a 27000 ton Diesel powered liner that was put in service in 1929. Her 31 year career was even longer than Olympic's. She was the last White Star liner in service. Her Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Britannic_%281929%29
  • There was also an earlier Britannic. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:SS_Britannic.jpg Also a White Star liner, and she also had a long and eventful career.. Not as eventful as The Three Sisters...but eventful none-the-less.
  • With all of the changes and modifications made to Olympic and Britannic,all three shared one common dimension. All three were the exact same length. 882Ft, 9in
LINKS: http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/ Encyclopedia Titanica. As with all of my Titanic themed posts...the ultimate Titanic website. If there is a fact about Titanic, her sisters, or any of her passengers and crew, you can find it here, as well as additional links to it.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Olympic Olympic's Wikipedia page.
http://www.atlanticliners.com/olympic_home.htm Olympic's page in on Atlantic Liners...an excellent resource for quick facts on her and ANY major passenger liner that ever plied the Seven Seas.
http://www.nomadicpreservationsociety.co.uk/technical.asp?p=1 Site describing the construction of Olympic
http://www.markchirnside.co.uk/Olympic-Titanic66000-ton_displacement_myth.html An interesting article about the '66,000 ton myth...the often repeated and absolutely incorrect 'fact' that Olympic, Titanic and Britannic displaced 66000 tons apiece
 http://www.rmsolympic.org/ LOADS of pics of artifacts from Olympic, many of them in use as furnishings and wall paneling to this day.
http://www.titanicandco.com/olympic.html Another pretty decent little site, with info on all three of the White Star sisters, as well as several other ships.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMHS_Britannic Britannic's Wikipedia page.
http://www.ocean-liners.com/ships/britannic.asp Britannic's page at ocean-liners.com.
http://hovalis.hubpages.com/hub/White-Star-Line-Disasters---The-Titanic-WasJust-The-Tip-of-the-Iceberg An interesting if not 100 percent accurate read about the various misadventures that befell White Star Line ships.
http://www.shipwreckfilms.co.uk/page43.html A cool little site with quite a few photos and videos of the wreck of The Britannic
http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/britannic Another blog, on Tumbler, that deals specifically with the Olympic class.



2 comments:

  1. Hello, where did you find the photo of the Fort St. George? It later became the Italian hospital shio Arno and I wanted to ask if I could use that photo on my blog on Italian ships lost in WWII.

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    1. It took some doing to find it as I recall...Google searched it and I finally found a usable pic of her after a couple of days of looking. . Please, feel free to use it in your blog!

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