RMS Olympic

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The White Star liner Olympic arrives in New York at the end of her maiden voyage - Library of Congress, P&P Div., J Kent Layton Collection

The White Star liner Olympic arrives in New York at the end of her maiden voyage. – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, J. Kent Layton Collection

Ship Statistics:
Built By: Harland & Wolff
Yard Number: 400
Length Overall: 882 feet 9 inches
Length Between Perpendiculars (b.p.): 850 feet 0 inches
Width: 92 feet 6 inches
Draught: 34 feet 6 inches
Gross Tonnage: – 45,323.82 (1911)
– 46,358.70 (1913)
– 46,439.40 (1920)
Displacement: 52,310 tons at 34 feet 7 inches [*]
Career: June 14, 1911-April 12, 1935

The History of the RMS Olympic – A Brief Look:

The keel for the Olympic, Harland & Wolff Yard No. 400, was laid on December 16, 1908 under the Harland & Wolff Shipyard’s new Arrol Gantry. It was here that she and her sister, Titanic, were built side by side. Titanic‘s progress trailed some months in the Olympic‘s wake, and would enter service some time after Olympic. The Olympic was launched on October 20, 1910, and when she started down the ways, she became the largest moving object in the world.

The Olympic – the world’s newest, largest and most luxurious ocean liner – made her maiden voyage on June 14, 1911. Aboard was J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line and son of the Line’s founder. Also aboard was Harland & Wolff’s Thomas Andrews, nephew of Harland & Wolff’s Lord Pirrie. Captain Smith – who would go on to command the Titanic on her legendary and ill-fated maiden voyage the following year – was in command. The Olympic was so remarkable that by the time she had docked in New York, the formal order for the third entrant of the Olympic-class was placed.

During the following ten months, the Olympic garnered the lion’s share of the fame on the Atlantic. Her sister Titanic was not given anywhere near the amount of attention, simply because she was the second of the class. Only after she sank did the Titanic eclipse the Olympic’s fame.

Olympic made four round-trip voyages to New York and back to Southampton over the summer of 1911. Then, on September 20, 1911, she departed Southampton on what was to be her fifth west-bound crossing. As she proceeded toward the open sea, she encountered the HMS Hawke, a 360-foot long cruiser. The two vessels steamed side-by-side along a roughly parallel course, with the cruiser along the liner’s starboard side. At first, the smaller vessel was overtaking the Olympic, but then the Olympic‘s engine speed was increased, and the cruiser began to fall back. The suction from the larger ship’s propellers began to grow, and the Hawke was pulled bow-first into the starboard stern quarter of the Olympic. The Hawke‘s bow was crushed back, while the Olympic‘s hull was breached, and her two largest watertight compartments began to flood. Her crossing was canceled, and she limped back up to Belfast for repairs. The process kept her out of commission until the end of November. Once she returned to service, however, the Olympic proved that she was still a strong, reliable ship, even enduring severe punishment from the North Atlantic during a west-bound crossing to New York.

Following the loss of the Titanic, it suddenly became clear that improvements would be needed in the watertight subdivision of the older sister in order to restore public confidence in her, and to make it so that she could withstand the same type of collision that sank the Titanic. The Olympic returned to Harland & Wolff for extensive modifications that included the addition of a new watertight bulkhead which divided her Electric Engine Room, the installation of an inner skin running the length of her Boiler and Engine Rooms, and the raising of several critical transverse bulkheads all the way to B Deck. During this refit, the Olympic was also endowed with several Titanic-like modifications, such as the Café Parisian, and she emerged slightly larger, at least in terms of gross registered tons, than Titanic had been in April of 1912.

Her career continued uninterrupted until the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914. Contrary to popular opinion, the ship enjoyed great success during 1913 and the first half of 1914, in spite of her intimate connections to the Titanic. It was clear that the upgrades and modifications to her design made after the loss of her sister, when coupled with extra lifeboats to accommodate all on board, were enough to help the traveling public feel confident in her safety.

After the outbreak of the Great War, she saw an extensive layup in Belfast, which was followed by distinguished service as a troop transport. The ship enjoyed great success in this guise, further cementing her reputation for reliability.

After the War, the ship underwent a large-scale refurbishment at Harland & Wolff, which included her conversion to an oil-firing powerplant. Then she was returned to commercial service. Throughout the 1920’s, she proved herself a solid, reliable vessel. But even the great Olympic could not survive the changing times. With the advent of newer, more modern-looking liners with more private bathrooms for their first class passengers, the Olympic began to look dated. When the Great Depression hit, this situation was made only worse as passenger bookings continued to decline. Nevertheless, the ship managed to help keep the White Star Line financially afloat.

Finally, the White Star Line was forced to merge with the Cunard Line on May 10, 1934. There was simply too many old ships in the newly combined fleet, and on April 12, 1935, she was laid up in Southampton. She went to the breakers and disappeared from the Atlantic scene forever. However, many of her furnishings and fittings were preserved, and can still be found today.


Olympic Pictures


Commanders of the RMS Olympic
  Captain Edward John Smith
– June 14 1911 – March 30, 1912
  Captain Herbert J. Haddock
– March 30, 1912 – September 16, 1915
  Captain Bertram Fox Hayes
– September 16, 1915 – January 7, 1922
  Captain Alexander Hambelton [*]
– January 7, 1922 – end of January, 1923
  Captain Hugh David
– End of January, 1923 – November 21, 1923
  Captain J. B. Howarth
– November 21, 1923 – end of February, 1925
  Captain William Marshall
– End of February, 1925 – September, 1928
  Captain Walter Parker
– September, 1928 – end of 1929
  Captain E. R. White
– Beginning, 1930 – ?
  Captain John Binks
– In command on May 15, 1934
(collision w/Nantucket Lightship)
  Captain Reginald Peel
– In command for final transatlantic voyage,
March 27 – April 12, 1935
  Olympic Laid Up, Southampton
– April 12, 1935 – October 11, 1935
  Captain P. R. Vaughan
– October 11 – 13, 1935
(voyage to breakers)

Please follow these hyperlinks to find information on the Olympic today, and on the Nomadic.

Please follow this hyperlink to find information on the Titanic, and click here for information on the Britannic.


 [*] Displacement of the Olympic-class ships:

The displacement (or the weight of the seawater that the ship would displace, an estimate of literal weight rather than of enclosed space) of the Olympic and Titanic have often been cited at 66,000 tons. Researcher Mark Chirnside has recently developed an excellent article, now available on his site, that proves this figure inaccurate. What was the actual displacement for the Olympic and the Titanic, then? (The Britannic’s displacement was slightly greater due to her larger beam and other modifications made to her design.)

Since the weight of the vessel would vary depending on her load status (i.e., fuel, cargo, provisions, etc.), the measurement of 52,310 tons (British tons of 2,240 pounds, or just over 117 million pounds) cited above would apply to the ship at a draught of 34′ 7″. At a draught of 27′ 10 1/2″, she displaced 40,850 tons; at a hypothetical draught of 36′ (deeper than her standard in service load), she would still displace less than 55,000 tons. The displacement of the Titanic at 34′ 7″ was quoted by Edward Wilding at the British Inquiry as being identical to the Olympic at the same draught.

For further information on where the 66,000-ton displacement figure came from, please see Mark’s entire article here.

 [#] Frequently, Captain Hambelton’s name is spelled “Alec Hambelton” or “Alec Hambleton.” A relative of his, however, was kind enough to provide me with the correct spelling of his name: Alexander Hambelton.