Titanic's Sister Ships

The Titanic was the second of three large liners intended to work the Southampton-New York "shuttle" service. The sister ships were planned to be near identical.

RMS Olympic

Olympic & Titanic in Belfast

Olympic & Titanic in Belfast

Launched on 20th October 1910 Olympic was the first of the trio of White Star Liners. Under the command of Captain E.J. Smith (who was later to command the Titanic) she sailed on June 14th 1911 on her Maiden voyage to New York.

The Olympic was received well, but on 20th September 1911 she was involved in a collision with cruiser HMS Hawke. After limping back to Belfast she was repaired using components from her sister (Titanic) then under construction.

After the Titanic disaster, Olympic underwent various safety improvements including lifeboats for all aboard, and in October 1912 she returned to Belfast again for installation of an inner watertight skin.

On 1st September 1915 the Olympic was requisitioned by the British Government for war service as a troopship. Later she received a coat of dazzle paint designed to confuse enemy observers. Perhaps her most famous exploit of the war years was when she struck and sank a German submarine, U103.

After the war she returned to commercial service, and despite her early mishaps, she gained an affectionate following and earned the nickname "Old Reliable".

Her bad luck returned on 15th May 1934 when the Olympic collided with the Nantucket lightship with the loss of 7 lives.

Her last voyage ended in Southampton on April 12th 1935, on 13th October 1935 she arrived Palmers Yard on the Tyne for breaking up. Her pitiful remains were finally towed to Inverkeithing on 19th September 1937 for final demolition.

Fittings from the Olympic were sold off at auction, and to this day it is possible to see them. Notable locations include the White Swan Hotel, Alnwick, England and the famous "Honour and Glory Crowning Time" wood carving can be seen in the Southampton Maritime Museum.

Recommended Reading:

RMS Olympic "The Old Reliable" by Simon Mills
Publisher: Waterfront Publications - ISBN: 0-946184-79-8

HMHS Britannic

HMHS Britannic at Mudros

HMHS Britannic at Mudros on 3rd October 1916

Britannic started life under the cloud of the Titanic disaster, from the start she was expected to be named "Gigantic" but she was built as Britannic, considered by White Star as a lucky name (the White Star Line had three ships named Britannic over the years - HMHS Britannic was the second).

In appearance the Britannic resembled the Titanic, having an enclosed promenade A-Deck, but one large difference was the lifeboat davits which were much more prominent on the Britannic.

Below decks, the Britannic was similar to her sisters, but additional safety features (such as a double skin) were "built in" rather than retrofitted. Although her service speed was not intended to be increased, she was fitted with a more powerful turbine capable of developing 18,000HP compared to the 16,000HP of the Olympic, it was the largest marine turbine in the world.

Launched on 26th February 1914, fitting out was delayed by WW1 and financial/industrial difficulties. On 13th November 1915 the Britannic was requisitioned as a hospital ship becoming HMHS (His Majesty's Hospital Ship) Britannic.

Receiving a coat of brilliant white paint, with huge red crosses each lit by 125 lights. On 11th December 1915 she left Belfast and started her short career.

On 8:12am on 21st November 1916 Britannic struck a mine (some still contest it was a torpedo) in the Kea Channel, Aegean Sea. Despite her improved safety features, the Britannic began to sink in a cruel copycat of her sister's end four years earlier.

Attempts were made to beach the ship on the nearby island of Kea, but it was not to be. Two lifeboats, launched without authority from the port side were sucked into the propellers and smashed to pieces....the occupants didn't stand a chance.

At 9:07 the stern disappeared beneath the ocean. From that moment the Olympic became the last survivor of White Star's dream of a three-ship New York shuttle.

In retrospect, the disaster could have been much worse. If the Britannic had been on a homebound journey with wounded aboard, the loss of life would have been unthinkable.

In 1976 the famous French explorer Cousteau discovered the wreck lying on her side at a depth of 110 meters and recovered a few small objects.

Considering the shallow water that the Britannic rests in and the length of time her position has been know it's perhaps ironic that the wreck of the Britannic is safer from would-be salvagers than the Titanic. As a requisitioned ship in the service of Crown, the wreck to this day belongs to the British Government.

On 27th August 1995, the British newspaper, The Sunday Express, reported that a team of 12 Greek divers led by Kostos Thoktardis would attempt to raise the wreck. A week later (3rd September 1995) The Sunday Express reported that Paul Louden-Brown wrote to the British Ministry of Defence insisting that representations were made to the Greek Governmentt to stop Mr Thoktardis's plans.

Recommended Reading:

HMHS Britannic "The Last Titan" by Simon Mills
Publisher: Waterfront Publications - ISBN: 0-946184-71-2