The Olympic Sisters
The Titanic, the Olympic, and the Britannic each have left marks in history as some of the most pivotal passenger ships. Two of the ships were sunk, while the third was a legendary warship. In the beginning they were known as the biggest and most luxurious ships in the world, but they soon became famous for another reason. Each ship has its own history that changed the way that mankind traveled forever. Here is the history of three of the most famous ships in the world.
The Olympic was the first ship built for the White Star Line shipping company. It was the first ship to ever exceed 800 feet in length and the first to break the 40,000-ton mark. The Olympic was the ninth of the fourteen ships to ever be built with four smokestacks. At the time of its launch on June 14, 1911, the Olympic was the largest ship to ever be built, and it was 50 percent larger than the White Star Line’s rival company’s ships, the Lusitania and the Mauretania. The Olympic was not the fastest ship at the time, but the White Star Line was more focused on luxury.
The Olympic was designed to sail at 21 to 22 knots. At one point in its career the ship did sail at 23 knots, which was its absolute maximum speed. A knot is one nautical mile per hour, or 1.15 miles per hour. After the ship’s launch, it completed its maiden voyage successfully and safely. The Olympic sailed the entire voyage in 5 days, 16 hours and 42 minutes at an average speed of 21.7 knots.
The ship’s maiden voyage was captained by Edward Smith, one of the world’s most experienced captains at the time. He had always captained White Star Line ships, but he had never captained a ship that was nearly as large as the Olympic. Smith was 61 years old at the time, and, unfortunately, he would only live for one more year. The Olympic was one of the last ships that he captained. He died one year later aboard one of the Olympic’s sister ships, the Titanic.
Three months after its launch, the Olympic was caught in the middle of an accident. While sailing through the port in Southampton, the Olympic collided with the Hawke. Due to the Olympic’s massive size, it could not move out of the way as its strong suction pulled the Hawke into the Olympic’s side. The collision ripped a large hole in the larger ship’s hull, flooding two watertight compartments. The entire bow of the Hawke was crushed and ruined.
The Olympic successfully managed to sail back to shore with nobody on board suffering any serious injuries. The Hawke also managed to return to shore, but it almost capsized due to its extreme damage. In the following court battle, the Hawke was freed from any sort of blame, and the Olympic’s captain at the time suffered an extreme financial disaster after he was sued by many passengers and crewmembers. The Olympic was removed from service for two months, which set back the construction of the Titanic. After returning to service, the Olympic once again returned to its builders after losing a propeller blade in February of 1912, setting back the Titanic’s launch date.
Two months after the Olympic’s propeller incident, its sister, the Titanic, sank in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean after it struck an iceberg at night. The Olympic was immediately rebuilt so that it was safer. More lifeboats were added, and it was given another watertight compartment. It was also given an inner skin inside of its hull. This helped prevent the ship from being torn open if it hit another object.
For a few more years the Olympic served as a passenger ship, but it also assisted in the military effort occasionally. At one point in time, it even helped rescue survivors from the sunken British battleship, Audacious. The battleship had struck a German naval mine, and it had rapidly filled with water immediately. The Olympic attempted to tow the sinking battleship, but the tow cable broke. In the end, all the Olympic could do was lend some of its own lifeboats.
In 1915, the Olympic was officially declared a troop transport for the British military during World War I. During the war it carried over 150,00 troops and about 40,000 other passengers. The ship traveled over 180,000 miles, and it burned 345,000 tons of coal. The Olympic was nicknamed “Old Reliable” by its crew due to its extreme sturdiness. The ship was attacked three times by German U-boats and even an airplane. Luckily, it survived every time without capsizing. One time, the Olympic was even struck by a torpedo, but it did not explode.
On May 12, 1918, the Olympic became the first merchant ship to successfully ram and sink a German U-boat. The Olympic was traveling to France when it spotted the U-boat preparing to fire torpedoes at the British ship. The U-boat’s gunners began to fire, but the Olympic had already turned to ram the enemy boat. The U-boat started to crash dive, but it was almost immediately hit by the Olympic. The U-boat’s pressure hull was sliced open, and its crew propelled themselves to the surface. Nine crewmembers were killed, and the Olympic did not stop to pick up the survivors.
When the war ended in 1918, the Olympic was rebuilt and repaired. The ship returned to service as a passenger liner in June of 1920. The boilers in the ship were also changed so that they burned oil instead of coal. Throughout the 1920’s it was one of the most popular Atlantic Ocean liners. The Olympic even carried famous passengers such as Charlie Chaplin and the Prince of Wales.
By 1931, the Great Depression had reduced the amount of passengers that the Olympic carried by fifty percent. The remaining passengers that could afford it began to prefer riding on newer ships, so the Olympic lost even more passengers. The White Star Line was no longer profiting off the ship. To make matters worse, the Olympic accidentally rammed the Nantucket Lightship in May of 1934. Tragically, seven people were killed.
Later that same year, the White Star Line merged with its old rival, Cunard. The Olympic was removed from service in 1935 even though it cost less to operate it then any other Cunard ship at the time. In 24 years it had crossed the Atlantic Ocean over 500 times, and it had traveled over 1.5 million miles. In August of 1935, the Olympic was sold to the Thomas Ward Company for scraps. The ship’s final voyage began on October 11, 1935. It left from Southampton, and it arrived in Jarrow, Scotland two days later. The Olympic was completely gone two years later. Today, some of its old paneling is used in the cruise ship Millennium, while other parts are located around the world.
The Titanic was the second of the three Olympic-class liners to be built. The second ship was 882 feet long, and it weighed 46,328 tons. The Titanic, like its sisters, was built in the Harland and Wolff shipyard. The Olympic and the Titanic were actually built right next to each other, although the former was completed a year before its sister. The two ships were almost identical, except for the fact that the Titanic was longer and weighed more, surpassing its sister for the record of the largest ship in the world.
Thomas Andrews designed the Titanic and its sisters, as he was the leading architect in Harland and Wolff’s design department. He and his partners designed the interior, exterior, and hull of all three ships. When the designs were complete, they were given to the White Star Line director, J. Bruce Ismay, and other executive members. They all agreed to the plans, and the construction of the first two ships began. The Britannic would not begin construction until two years later in 1911.
The Titanic was given three main engines, and each was connected to a propeller. There was a central propeller, and then one on both the starboard and port sides. The burners that powered the engines were heated with coal. The Titanic could hold up to 6,611 tons of coal in its bunkers below deck, which was also beneath the water line. The burners required over 600 tons of coal to be shoveled into them by hand each day. This required the effort of 176 men who worked day and night.
All three of the Olympic-class ships had sixteen watertight compartments that were divided by fifteen bulkheads. If an emergency would occur, eleven vertical doors would close, sealing and protecting the rest of the compartments from the threat. These compartments were what gave the Titanic the title of “unsinkable.” In reality, the compartments were the Titanic’s fatal flaws. As each compartment filled with water, it would spill into the next, pushing the ship deeper and deeper into the water.
The Titanic was officially completed on April 2, 1912, although it had been launched on May 31, 1911. During the time between the two dates the ship had been outfitted with all of its luxurious details and its four smokestacks. Only three of the smokestacks were actually functional. The fourth was there for the sheer purpose of looks, although it did act as a vent for the kitchen. The other three funnels released fumes from the boiler rooms.
The Titanic began its maiden voyage from Southampton on April 10, 1912. Edward J. Smith was chosen to captain the ship on its first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Titanic was actually set to be the final time that he would captain a ship before he would announce his retirement. He was 62 years old at the time, and he had worked on the sea since he was 17 years old. For most of his career he had always hinted that he “would go down with his ship, as a good captain should” if he was ever faced with a situation that would require him to do so.
The Titanic had about 1,317 passengers aboard on its maiden voyage, but that did not count the crew. There were 324 people in first class, 284 people in second class, and 709 people in third class. There were 107 children aboard, and most of them were from third class. There were 869 male passengers and 447 female passengers. Surprisingly, the ship was far below its maximum capacity for people on its maiden voyage.
First class was full of many prominent and rich men and women. Among them was the richest man in the world at the time, John Jacob Astor IV and his wife Madeline. Madeline was only 18 years old, and John was 47 years old, causing much controversy over their age difference. The two had been on their honeymoon for many months, and they were on the return trip back home aboard the Titanic. Madeline was five months pregnant at the time.
Immediately after the Titanic detached from the shore, Captain Smith was forced to act quickly so that the ship could avoid an accident. The size of the Titanic was enough to displace to other ships, the New York and the Oceanic. The New York’s stern was thrust in front of the Titanic, but Captain Smith’s quick actions prevented an accident from occurring. With help from a nearby tugboat, the Vulcan, the New York was pulled out of the way, and the Titanic passed safely. Due to this incident, the departure of the Titanic was delayed by an hour.
After passing through the tides of Southampton, the Titanic headed to the French port of Cherbourg. The journey was 77 nautical miles through the English Channel, and it was windy and cold that day. When the Titanic reached Cherbourg, it had to remain at a decent distance away from the shore because the port was not big enough to hold a ship of that size. Smaller ships called tenders carried passengers to the Titanic, and they boarded from there. After all of the new passengers had boarded, the Titanic left for Queenstown.
The Titanic reached Queenstown on April 11, 1912, during the late morning. Once again, tenders were used to transfer passengers to the much larger ship. Seven passengers left, including Father Francis Browne. He took several pictures of the ship, which were the last photos to ever be taken of the doomed ship. Around 1:30 p.m. the Titanic departed for the final time before it would sink.
The Titanic made great time across the Atlantic Ocean due to the fact that it was traveling at a greater speed than it had originally been planned to travel at. The ship hit a cold front in the days leading up to its sinking, and it received several warnings of icebergs and ships that were in danger. These warnings were ignored, and the ship continued on at its fast speed. Captain Smith dismissed the warnings after he remembered a story about a German liner that had struck an iceberg head on in 1907, but it had still managed to complete its journey. He himself said, “I can not imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”
The Titanic traveled safely and consistently for its entire journey until April 14. At 11:40 p.m. that night, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg directly ahead of the Titanic. He notified the bridge immediately, but because the ship was traveling at such a fast speed, it could not dodge the obstacle. The iceberg struck the Titanic, and it ripped several holes in the ship beneath the waterline. Five of the watertight compartments were breached, and it was soon clear that the ship could not stay afloat. As the ship continued to tilt forward into the water, water spilled from one compartment to the next. There was no chance of saving the ship. The Titanic was sinking, and the crew was not properly trained to evacuate over 1,000 passengers.
The crew immediately began to load women and children on to lifeboats, starting with first class. Most men stayed behind, but those that did board the lifeboats were deemed “cowards.” Below decks the ship quickly began to fill with water, and to keep order, the third class passengers were locked down there until it was time for them to board the lifeboats. As water became visible to the crewmembers, they left the gates with their keys, trapping the third class passengers with the water. Because of this, most of the third class passengers perished, even the children.
As the ship began to sink deeper into the water, flares were sent into the sky so that other ships could see them and come to the Titanic’s rescue. The closest ship was the Californian, which was close enough at the time to save most of the passengers who remained on the ship. Unfortunately, the captain failed to act accordingly, and the Californian never responded to the sinking ship’s cries for help. Another ship, the Carpathia, received the Titanic’s Morse code distress calls, but it did not reach the ship in time, as it was four hours away. No other ships appeared to have seen or heard the distress calls.
As the Titanic sunk further and further into the water, and its stern rose higher into the air, many passengers began to jump into the ocean because the lifeboats were not being filled to their maximum capacity, and they were being lowered into the water too slowly. Very few of these people survived due to the fact that the water was below freezing, and they soon died from cardiac arrest. Many people were also killed when the front funnel of the ship fell into the water and crushed dozens of people. As the ship rose even higher, passengers soon began to die from just jumping from the ship because of its height. Everyone who was still trapped in the ship perished from drowning.
Within the last half hour the Titanic’s famous grand staircase and dining area was flooded when the glass dome above it shattered. Water quickly poured in and trapped many people beneath its rough push. Many more people were sucked back into the ship from the ocean as windows shattered. The crew eventually gave up within the last few minutes, and they abandoned ship. However, it has been said that the ship’s band continued to play out on the deck until they were all pulled into the icy water, although this has been proven to be false. The band actually stopped playing a half an hour before the ship finally sank, yet none of its members survived.
Passengers have confirmed that Captain Edward Smith did in fact go down with his ship, but how it happened has not been confirmed. Some survivors said that they watched him enter the bridge, and then they assumed that he was killed when its glass windows shattered and it was flooded. Others say that they saw him floating in the water, but there were not enough statements from the survivors to support that theory. Others say that he was last seen standing on the deck towards the front of the ship as it was submerged, but again there were not enough accounts from survivors to support this theory. Most people assume that he died quietly and alone as the Titanic sank.
As the Titanic began to reach a near vertical angle, the ship began to split in half between the third and fourth funnels. The stern fell back to a horizontal angle, but the bow disconnected from the other half completely, and it disappeared into the ocean. The stern filled with water in a few seconds, and it was pulled up into a completely vertical angle. The air within it helped it remain afloat like that for nearly four minutes. Soon, it was sinking once again, and it eventually disappeared into the ocean after the bow.
There were nearly 700 people trapped in the freezing ocean, and they soon began to die within 15 to 30 minutes. By the time the lifeboats returned, there were only 13 survivors. The lifeboats sent flares into the night sky, but the only ship that arrived to assist was the Carpathia. The rescue ship did not arrive until 4 a.m., but it successfully retrieved the survivors from the lifeboats. Then, it began its three-day journey to New York City.
As soon as the Carpathia docked in New York reporters swarmed the survivors. It was not until a few weeks later when each survivor was interviewed. Using these interviews, the government launched an investigation. After several weeks it was decided that the accident was “an act of God.” They also decided, after much controversy, that Captain Smith had done what a good captain would have done, and that he was free from all blame.
Immediately following the Titanic’s sinking passenger liners were improved to be safer. They were given more lifeboats, and practice evacuations were held more often. The crews on these ships were trained for emergencies, and the invention of watertight compartments was improved upon. Many ships were completely remodeled so that their hulls were thicker and more durable. The White Star Line set to work so that they could fix any problems in their ships, but it took some time before they could regain their footing following the sinking of their largest passenger liner.
Once the extreme loss of life became public to the people, the White Star Line sent out several ships to retrieve the bodies of those who still remained in the ocean. In total, 333 victims’ bodies were recovered from the site of the sinking. After many bodies were recovered, the embalmers aboard the recovery ships discovered that there was not enough room or materials to secure the bodies properly. To solve this matter, only first class passengers were recovered from the icy water, and several second class passengers were recovered as well. Third class passengers were buried at sea because it was so difficult to identify the bodies.
In mid-May of 1912, three more bodies were discovered 200 miles from the site of the sinking. They were confirmed to be passengers from the Titanic, and then they were buried at sea. The final body to be discovered was found in June of 1912, but this one was buried in Halifax where many other victims were located. The rest of the deceased had either sunk to the bottom of the ocean inside, or outside, of the ship. Many victims were swept away by currents in the water, but they finally sunk to the bottom of the ocean after their life jackets began to fall apart.
For many years people actually believed that the Titanic had sunk in one piece. Researchers believed that until it was discovered on September 1, 1985. They learned that it had in fact broken in half before it sank. The expedition, led by Robert Ballard, discovered that the bow of the ship had only crumpled when it hit the ocean floor, which only bent it slightly and broke the walls inside of the ship, while the stern and collapsed completely. The bow is definitely the more intact section, which makes it more useful for research and investigation. The stern is so ruined that the decks are all stacked on top of each other, and the hull’s plating has been scattered across the ocean floor.
There is a debris field that is about 3 to 5 miles wide. The field surrounds both portions of the ship, and it contains thousands of items that came from within the ship as it sunk. Once priceless jewels have been discovered, although they were ruined over the years since the sinking. There is many different types of furniture and some artwork, although the pictures can no longer be seen. Within the debris field and the ship were the bodies of many victims. Over the years sea creatures and bacteria ate them, and the only signs that they were ever there are boots and coats that are inedible.
The Titanic is covered in rust and bacteria, causing it to be unstable and impossible to raise from the ocean floor. Over the years much of the ship’s interior has deteriorated and fallen apart. Researchers have predicted that within the next fifty years nothing of the ship’s interior will remain, and most of its exterior will also dissolve. For now it serves as a habitat for many sea creatures and a painful reminder of how many lives were lost on April 15, 1912. The Titanic was once the most luxurious ship in the world, but not it is remembered as the worst maritime disaster in history.
The final sister was the Britannic. It was the same length as the Titanic, but following its sister’s sinking, the Britannic was widened by 2 feet. After these expansions the Britannic became the largest ship in the world, although not until after the Titanic had sunk. The Britannic was originally named the Gigantic, but the name was changed before its construction was completed. The Britannic was advertised along with its sisters all across Europe.
The Britannic began construction on November 30, 1911, but it did not launch until February 16, 1914 due to the Titanic’s sinking. Its launch was not nearly as popular as the Titanic’s because there was so much fear surrounding the ships, but it was still a successful launch, nonetheless. The Britannic only traveled as a passenger liner for less than a year before it was converted to a naval hospital ship after the outbreak of World War I. The Britannic was painted white with red and green stripes before it was re-launched. The ship was remodeled in a storage location in Belfast.
After completing five voyages to and from the Middle Eastern territory, the Britannic returned for a sixth trip to transport wounded and sick soldiers. The hospital ship had 1,065 people on board during its sixth mission. The ship traveled through the Kea Channel on November 21, 1916. The channel was not exceptionally wide, nor was it very deep. It ran between the island of Kea and Cape Sounion.
At 8:12 a.m. on that same day, the Britannic struck a naval mine not far from the shore of Kea. The mine tore open the starboard side of the ship, and it began to rapidly fill with water. The ship began to list to the right, and it fell to the side at an angle. The crew immediately set to work so that as many passengers as possible could be saved. The sinking was quickened because many nurses had left portholes open to ventilate the ship. Within minutes, much of the bow of the ship was submerged in water.
The captain ordered the crew to attempt to move the Britannic to the shore of Kea. The crew did this, but they drove the ship deeper into the water. To fix this, the crew only used the portside propeller and rudders. They did manage to turn the ship in the direction of Kea, and the Britannic started moving to the shore. Unfortunately, it was too late.
At 8:35 a.m. the captain gave the order to abandon ship. All crewmembers began to dive into the water and lower lifeboats quickly without filling them to their maximum capacity. Many people threw deck chairs and other types of furniture into the water so that the people trapped in the water could float on them. Many people did manage to get into lifeboats, and they quickly rowed away from the doomed ship. However, one lifeboat was sucked into the propellers, killing everyone on it at the time.
Around 9:00 a.m. the Britannic was finally pulled into the ocean, although it did not break in half, unlike the Titanic. Only 30 people were killed in the sinking, but it was still a tragedy. Today, the Britannic is the largest ship on the ocean floor, and it has been traveled to many times due to the fact that it is in such shallow water. The ship is near the state of the Titanic, and it will continue to decay in the same way. Some day, the Britannic will also be gone, with only its skeleton left behind.
There were many famous survivors from these tragedies, but perhaps the most famous of them all was Violet Jessop. She was on board the Olympic when it collided with the Hawke, and she emerged without any injuries. In 1912 she survived the sinking of the Titanic by boarding a lifeboat and fleeing from the doomed ship. Finally, she was on the lifeboat that was destroyed by the propeller as the Britannic sank. She jumped from the boat, but she was still sucked in by the propeller’s pull. Somehow, she was thrown from the suction, and she awoke on another lifeboat after she was pulled from the water. She passed away in 1971.
The White Star Line proclaimed these three ships as the most luxurious in the world, but ultimately each ship caused a financial disaster throughout the company. After the sinking of the Britannic, the company was left with no money to continue onwards. The White Star Line merged with their former rival, Cunard, and the White Star Line lost its name completely. Today, Cunard is still a famous passenger liner company in Britain, and it remains very prosperous. It still does reference the White Star Line on some of its flags.
Out of all three of the Olympic-class ships, the Titanic is by far the most tragic and influential of them all. It is known as the worst maritime disaster in history, and it has always been more significant than its sisters. Despite being forgotten quite often, the other two ships were also important in their own ways. Each has changed history and the way we travel in their own way. No matter how long ago the ships sailed, they have consistently left their mark in history. The Olympic Sisters have always been remembered as the most pivotal ocean liners in all of history, and they will continue to do so as long as mankind is traveling, which hopefully, will be forever.