The Unsinkable Sister Ship

Exactly 105 years ago yesterday, on October 20, 1910, the RMS Olympic was launched in Belfast. She was the first of what would become White Star Line’s trio of ocean liners known for their size and elegance. The Titanic was still under construction and would launch in 1912. Until the Titanic was completed, the Olympic held the title of the world’s largest passenger ship. The two were to be joined later by a third ship, the Britannic.


launch of the RMS Olympic

After her launch, Olympic was fitted with her heavy machinery and luxurious interior, then left for Liverpool, her home port, on May 31, 1911. On the same day, the RMS Titanic was launched, but still nearly a year away from her fateful maiden voyage on April 10, 1912.

Olympic’s maiden voyage to New York in June 1911 was successful. A crowd of 8000 toured the ship after docking in New York Harbor. On her fifth voyage to New York, just as she left Southampton, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke smashed into the side of the Olympic. Both ships were badly damaged, but they made it back to port, and Olympic’s New York voyage was cancelled. After temporary repairs, she was sent back to Belfast for more major repairs. This in turn caused Titanic’s completion and maiden voyage to be delayed.

On another voyage to New York in February 1912, the Olympic lost a propeller blade and had to return to Belfast again on her return. It was then the Olympic and Titanic were together for the last time.


Olympic (left) and Titanic

Two months later, on April 14, 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage. The distress signals reached the Olympic 500 miles away, too far for her to reach the Titanic before it sank. When the Olympic asked the Carpathia’s Captain Rostron if the Olympic could pick up survivors from the Carpathia, he refused. Seeing another ship the size of Titanic would only upset the survivors, he reasoned.

Six months after the Titanic disaster, the Olympic was temporarily taken out of service in order to make her watertight bulkheads higher and more lifeboats added. Features that had been present on the Titanic but not on the Olympic were added as well, such as the Café Parisien. For the most part, however, much of the Olympic was identical to her more famous younger sister.

When World War I began, the Olympic came to the aid of the HMS Audacious, a British battleship, when it struck a mine. She rescued the entire crew before the Audacious sank. The Olympic was requisitioned as a troop ship and made ready for war service, including “dazzle” paint, meant to make it harder for another ship to judge its speed. While carrying up to 6000 troops, she was unsuccessfully attacked by submarines several times. In 1918, the Olympic rammed and sank a German submarine, earning her the nickname, “Old Reliable.”

Olympic in dazzle wwI

Olympic in “dazzle” paint

The Olympic returned to passenger service in 1920. She was eventually sold and demolished in 1937. Some of her fixtures are still on display at museums in the UK and at the White Swan Hotel, Ainwick, England.


Marble fireplace from the Olympic at the White Swan Hotel, Ainwick, England

4 Comments on “The Unsinkable Sister Ship

  1. Fascinating post about a sister ship. Didn’t know there was one! Nor have I ever heard of “dazzle” paint. Taken at face value, it seems hard for me to believe that anyone would refuse the Olympic’s help during such a large rescue operation. But then again, I’ve never done a serious rescue at sea beyond towing people and their boats into a harbor.

  2. Peggy, A few m more facts about the Olympic

    Although Olympic and Titanic were nearly identical, and were based on the same design, a few alterations were made to Titanic (and later on Britannic) based on experience gained from Olympic’s first year in service. The most noticeable of these was that the forward half of the Titanic’s A Deck promenade was enclosed by a steel screen with sliding windows, to provide additional shelter, whereas the Olympic’s promenade deck remained open along its whole length. Also the promenades on the Titanic’s B Deck were reduced in size, and the space used for additional cabins and public rooms, including two luxury suites with private promenades. A number of other variations existed between the two ships layouts and fittings. These differences meant that Titanic had a slightly higher gross tonnage of 46,328 tons, compared to Olympic’s 45,324 tons.

    Olympic, like Titanic, did not carry enough lifeboats for everyone on board, and was hurriedly equipped with additional, second-hand collapsible lifeboats following her return to Britain. Toward the end of April 1912, as she was about to sail from Southampton to New York, 284 of the ship’s firemen went on strike because of fears that the ship’s new collapsible lifeboats were not seaworthy. 100 non-union crew were hastily hired from Southampton as replacements, with more being hired from Liverpool.[40]

    The 40 collapsible lifeboats were transferred from troopships and put on Olympic, and many were rotten and could not open. The crewmen instead sent a request to the Southampton manager of the White Star Line that the collapsible boats be replaced by wooden lifeboats; the manager replied that this was impossible and that the collapsible boats had been passed as seaworthy by a Board of Trade inspector. The men were not satisfied and ceased work in protest.[41]

    On 25 April a deputation of strikers witnessed a test of four of the collapsible boats. Only one was unseaworthy and they said that they were prepared to recommend the men return to work if it was replaced. However the strikers now objected to the non-union strikebreaker crew which had come on board, and demanded that they be dismissed, which the White Star Line refused. 54 sailors then left the ship, objecting to the non-union crew who they claimed were unqualified and therefore dangerous, and refused to sail with them. This led to the scheduled sailing being canceled.[40][42]

    All 54 sailors were arrested on a charge of mutiny when they went ashore. On 4 May 1912 Portsmouth magistrates found the charges against the mutineers were proven, but discharged them without imprisonment or fine due to the special circumstances of the case.[43] Fearing that public opinion would be on the side of the strikers, the White Star Line let them return to work and the Olympic sailed on 15 May.[39]

    • Thank you so much, Norman! Great information, especially the details about the mutiny. I left it out of the blog post when I ran out of space, however, its part of Olympic’s story and I appreciate your sending it. I’m glad WSL listened to those 54 sailors!

  3. Yes Peggy, I took the information of .wikipedia.I thought it may interest you you do a great service on here Peggy it is appreciated,
    .Regards Norman.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: