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White Star Liner RMS Olympic






























Sister ship to Titanic, White Star Liner RMS Olympic 1911-1935

Olympic's keel was first laid at Harland and Wollf Shipbuilders, Belfast Ireland in 1908. Olympic was the first of a new class of liners. "Oly" as she was affectionately nicknamed, had the most successful career of the 3 sisters (Olympic, Titanic and Britannic) the other two sinking in peacetime and wartime. Olympic later served as a WWI troop transport carrying US and Canadian troops to the war front. It was during this service that Olympic obtained her nickname "Old Reliable," for her trustworthy service on these troop carrying voyages.



Captain EJ Smith was transferred by White Star from the position of captain of the Olympic to captain of they're new "Pride and Joy" of the White Star line, Titanic. Pictured above is Captain Smith (center of photo with the beard) aboard the Olympic with his officers, several who joined him later on Titanic. Second from left is Dr. William O'Loughlin who became ships surgeon on Titanic, (did not survive) Second from right is First Officer William Murdoch who served as first officer aboard Titanic (did not survive) Far right is Chief Purser Hugh McElroy who served as chief purser aboard Titanic (did not survive) and of course Captain Smith did not survive the Titanic disaster.                                                                                                                                                                                       

Olympic's wartime career

At the onset of WWI, the first few wartime voyages going west were packed with Americans trapped in Europe, eager to return home. For this reason, the eastbound journeys carried very few passengers. By mid-October, 1914, bookings had fallen sharply as the threat from German U-boats became increasingly serious and the White Star Line decided to withdraw Olympic from commercial service. On October 21, 1914, she left New York for Glasgow on her last commercial voyage of the war, carrying only 153 passengers.

HMT Olympic converted to a troop transport during WWI featuring "dazzle painting." The purpose of this paint scheme was to confuse German U-boats as to the speed, direction, and size of their target when viewed from a distance through a periscope. It was successful in forcing the u-boat's to make inaccurate firing solutions with their torpedo's.   

The HMS Audacious Rescue

On the sixth day of her last commercial voyage during the war, October 27, as Olympic passed near Lough Swilly off the north coast of Ireland, she received distress signals from the battleship HMS Audacious, which had struck a mine off Tory Island and was taking on water.

Olympic's crew and lifeboats picking up survivors from the sinking HMS Audacious

While the Olympic was picking up 250 of the Audacious's crew, the destroyer HMS Fury and the town-class light cruiser HMS Liverpool, had arrived to assist. The Fury managed to attach a tow cable between Audacious and Olympic and they headed west for Lough Swilly. However, the cable broke after the Audacious's steering gear failed. A second attempt was made to tow the warship, but the cable became tangled in HMS Liverpool's propellers and broke a second time. Another attempt was tried but also failed when the cable broke a third time. By 5 PM, the Audacious's quarterdeck was awash and it was decided to evacuate the remaining crew members to Olympic and Liverpool. At 10 pm, there was an explosion aboard the Audacious and she sank.


Olympic Sinks a U-boat

Olympic’s most notable achievement during the war was the ramming and sinking of of the German submarine U-103 on May 12, 1918. Olympic was the only merchant ship to sink an enemy warship during the war. Commanded by Korvettenkapitän Claus Rücker, the 9-month old U-103, prepared to launch torpedoes from her stern tubes at the Olympic which was on her way to France with US troops on board. The U-boat's crew was unable to flood the two stern torpedo tubes and the submarine was sighted on the surface by Olympic. Olympic open fired with recently mounted deck guns as she turned around to ram the sub.

U-103 started to crash dive to 98 ft and turned to a parallel course but Olympic rammed her just aft of the conning tower. Olympic's port propeller sliced through U-103's pressure hull forcing the sub to blow her ballast tanks and abandoned the sinking submarine. Nine crew members on board were killed from the impact but Olympic continued on to Cherbourg and didn't stop to pick up the remaining survivors. The USS Davis later sighted a distress flare from the men in the water and took the 35 u-boat survivors as prisoners to Queenstown.

Many historians consider Olympic's turning around and ramming the u-boat a foolish maneuver. It's believed that Olympic could have easily outrun the u-boat on a zigzag course and not have risked the lives of the hundreds of troops on board. Captain Bertram Fox Hayes of the Olympic was awarded the DSO (Distinguished Service Order) from the US military but was heavily chastised by senior management at the White Star Line for putting the ship and the troops at risk by ramming the U-boat. He was immediately relieved of his command of the Olympic after the incident. However, Captain Hayes (later Knighted as Sir Bertram) went on to be the captain of the RMS Majestic and retired as a senior commodore of the White Star Line in 1924.

U-103, rammed and sank by HMT Olympic.

Refitted and converted to oil fuel after the war, RMS Olympic returned to commercial service in July of 1920. With Britannic's sinking during the war, Olympic became the last remaining ship of the original Olympic Class trio of liners envisioned by WSL chairman Bruce Ismay. She was a favorite among the passengers in her own right as well as for the fact that she was about identical in appearance to lost sister Titanic. Interestingly, Olympic was the first White Star liner to sell out passage booking after Titanic sank, until Majestic ( "The Magic Stick") came along.



The Olympic passing by very closely in this 1932 photo taken by a crew member of Nantucket Lightship LV-117. From the looks of the wake, she's moving along at a pretty good clip. If you look at the smoke coming from her funnels it would appear that most of her boilers are lit.

Two years after this photo was taken, Olympic accidentally rammed this lightship sending her to the bottom of the sea in a matter of minutes. Eight crew members aboard the lightship died as a result. And, yes, it was the same captain of Olympic in the above photo that sank the lightship.

 Image credit: US Coast Guard









Lightship LV-117, rammed and sunk by the Olympic in 1934. Olympic, having become old and barely able to pass her seaworthiness inspections was scrapped the following year. The lightship sinking was a sad ending to Olympic's amazing years of service at sea.

Image credit: US Coast Guard





Olympic's End

In 1934, the White Star Line in more or less of a forced merger with it's largest competitor, the Cunard Line, took place. (see White Star Line's Final Demise) Both companies we're in serious financial jeopardy, and the British government agreed to bail the two companies out if they merged. The new single company was called Cunard White Star. This merger allowed funds to be granted for the completion of Cunard's future RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. When completed, these two new ships would handle all of Cunard White Star's transatlantic business. This made the former White Star Line's fleet of older liners obsolete and they were gradually retired.

Olympic was withdrawn from the transatlantic service and left New York for the last time on April 5, 1935, returning to Britain to be laid up. Cunard White Star considered using her for summer cruises but this idea was abandoned due to the costs of a refit. Consequently, she was put up for sale. After being laid up for five months alongside her retired former rival Mauretania, she was sold. Her interior fittings were removed and sold publically and the superstructure was demolished in 1936. The hull was towed to Inverkeithing, Scotland, for final demolition.

By the time of her retirement, Olympic had been at sea for 24 years, completed 257 round trips across the Atlantic, and transported 430,000 passengers on her commercial voyages, travelling 1.8 million miles.




The RMS Olympic docked at the White Star Line piers in New York City.






Olympic was sold in 1935 for $500,000 for scrapping and salvage. Her luxurious fittings were removed and sold and can be found today in various hotels, pubs and restaurants and private collection around the world. A few Olympic pieces can be found occasionally on the Internet at auction on eBay®, at pretty healthy prices I must add. (Believe me, I know. I'm a sucker for the WSL collectibles myself - see below)






 Identical floor tile recovered from Titanic's debris field.

  Image Credit: RMS Titanic Inc.








Windows from the RMS Olympic at the White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, England

Photo © Phil Ottewell -







Olympic Video

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