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
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
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
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
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
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.
rammed and sank by HMT Olympic.
Refitted and converted to oil fuel after the
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")
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
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
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
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
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)
floor tile recovered from Titanic's debris field.
Image Credit: RMS Titanic
from the RMS Olympic at the White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, England
Photo © Phil Ottewell -