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RMS Olympic

Posted to Maritime Musings (by on August 31, 2012

Sister ship whose life was intertwined with the Titanic

The RMS Olympic was the first of three virtually identical transatlantic passenger ships built for the White Star Line by the Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast.  When completed in 1911, it was the largest passenger ship in the world, a title it held for most of its service, which ended in 1935.  Work on the second ship (the RMS Titanic) in the three-ship flotilla commenced before the Olympic was finished.  The White Star Line assigned its senior captain, Edward Smith, as master of the Olympic for its maiden voyage.  Captain Smith was subsequently assigned as master of the Titanic for its maiden voyage the next year.  On 20 September 1911, during its fifth voyage, the Olympic collided with the HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight.  In addition to suffering holes in its hull near the stern, the Olympic’s starboard propeller shaft was twisted.  The ship returned to Belfast for repairs.  A propeller shaft planned for the Titanic was installed instead in the Olympic.  In addition, workmen were diverted from the Titanic to make repairs to the Olympic.  As a result, the maiden voyage of the Titanic was delayed from 20 March 1912 to 10 April 1912.  But for the Olympic’s 1911 collision, the Titanic’s later date with destiny may not have occurred.  The Olympic was steaming east-bound when it learned by radio of the Titanic casualty.  At 500 miles distance, it was too far away to render assistance.  Following the sinking of the Titanic, White Star Lines made the Olympic available to investigators to examine lifeboats, watertight doors and bulkheads, and other arrangements for clues regarding the tragedy.  Thereafter, additional lifeboats and davits were installed on the Olympic.  A watertight skin was installed in the boiler spaces and engine rooms to create what was effectively a partial double hull, providing additional protection to those vital spaces.  The tops of five of the watertight bulkheads were raised from E-Deck or D-Deck, as originally constructed, to the B-Deck.  The ship’s pumps were also replaced with those of a higher capacity.  The Olympic returned to service in March 1913, a much safer ship as a result of lessons learned from the catastrophe that befell its younger sister.