Titanic FAQs: Sisters Switched?

Titanic: Switched at Birth?

Question: Were the Titanic and her sister ship, Olympic, switched as part of some sort of conspiracy?

Answer: No.

Some years ago, the theory that the Olympic and Titanic were switched was put forth. Ostensibly, the “switch” took place because of the collision between the Olympic and the Hawke. It was proposed that the White Star Line discovered that the damage to the Olympic was much greater than they let on, and that she was going to be too costly to repair. Thus, the Olympic and the Titanic were switched and the heavily damaged Olympic, it is said, was the vessel that was deliberately sunk on April 14-15 as part of an insurance scam. It is she, it is alleged, that rests on the sea floor today. The books that propose the theory are so cleverly put together that many people with no more than a passing interest in the story of the Titanic have been led to believe that the theory has been proved true by an overwhelming amount of evidence.

A detailed investigation of the facts, however, shows that the theory is full of holes, half-truths and mistakes. For one thing, the Olympic and Titanic were had numerous small yet clear and quantifiable differences – far more than merely the configuration of the windows on A and B Decks. They include numerous ventilator configuration differences, changes in porthole placement, and shell plating differences (for example, in the vicinity of the anchors forward). All of these details, each quite small, add up to two distinctly different ships. Additionally, there were hidden details that could only be seen later on. For example, the ships’ hull numbers, 400 and 401, were stamped into the backs of the pieces of decorative wooden paneling that graced their many rooms, both public and private. When the Olympic‘s fittings were auctioned off prior to her scrapping, much of her paneling was saved and still exists today, all clearly stamped with the “400” yard number. Unless every scrap of paneling was switched out of the Olympic, something that would have been impossible given the known time constraints to switch the ships, the liner scrapped over twenty years after the mid-Atlantic disaster was clearly the Olympic. The ships’ yard numbers were also visible on the propellers, and the hull number “401” has been spotted on the Titanic wreck’s port prop. Various items recovered from the wreck site have also been found stamped with the yard number “401.”

The upshot is that if the two ships were going to be switched, there was an incredible amount of work that had to be done in a very short period of time, (since the two ships were together in Belfast for only very specific and well-documented periods of time). Also of note is that Harland & Wolff had their photographer, Robert Welch, moving around the yard, frequently snapping photographs away of both ships during their time together and during various phases of the Titanic‘s construction – and no photos of the alleged “switch” in progress have ever turned up. Many of these photos also show non-shipyard employees milling around the Olympic in early March of 1912. Thus, the “switch” theory depends on the silence of the many thousands of workers from White Star and Harland & Wolff, as well as many civilians who visited the yard. Such a secret would have been almost impossible to keep, yet no thoroughly documented and wholly reliable first-hand accounts of a switch have ever been presented.

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