Titanic's Sisters - Britannic and Olympic
There Were Three White Star Liners in the Same Class
Everyone knows the story of the sinking of the Titanic, but not everyone knows that the she was one of a trio of sister ships that also included the HMHS Britannic and the RMS Olympic.
The Olympic Class Ocean Liners of the White Star Line were built to better the biggest, fastest liners afloat. White Star's intention was for the three to be bigger and more luxurious than rival Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania.
Sadly, only one of these three beautiful vessels ever enjoyed a real career as a passenger ship. But, even she had an extended interruption in that career. Do you know which one?
Here, then is a brief introduction to the two lesser known sisters. Read on to find out about the two lesser known liners of the same class, from the comforts and career of the much loved Olympic, to the sad fate of the heroic Britannic.
What Are Sister Ships?
There Were Three in the Olympic Class
Sister ships are vessels that are all built to the same design specifications, for the same line, and by the same shipbuilder.
They will be alike in size, with like hulls, power and propulsion systems, equipment, and interior layouts. There can be minor variations from one sister ship to the next, but to the casual observer, except for things like décor, these may not always be immediately noticeable.
A class of ships is customarily named after the first sister to be built. The order in which the three sisters were built was:
1 - Olymmpic
2 - Titanic
3 - Britannic
All three were built for White Star Line, by the Harland & Wolff shipyard, in Ireland. They were the premier shipbuilders of that time.
A New Class of Ocean Liners
White Star wanted to Outdo Cunard with these Three Big Ships
As today, the different lines then strove to to out do one another. White Star Line ordered the Olympic Class ships to be bigger and more luxurious than RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania, both of which sailed for rival line Cunard.
Luxury (for the day) was everywhere on these ships.
Some First Class cabins even had private baths; and it was on these new vessels that White Star replaced third class dormitories with cabins accommodating from two to ten passengers.
The fabulous Grand Staircase, that everyone remembers from the movie Titanic, was designed especially for Olympic Class ships.
General Specifications of the Olympic Class of Ocean Liners
Grt: around 46,000
Length: about 883 ft
Beam: roughly 92 ft
Speed: 21 kts
Passenger Capacity: 2,435
Construction of the first ship began in 1908, and the final sister was completed in 1914.
FOUR FUNNEL LINERS
They were three of only 14 four funnel liners ever built. However, their fourth funnel was only for aesthetics and ventilation.
Are You Familiar with Olympic Class Ships? - Or did you think the Titanic was unique?
Did you already know that the Titanic was an Olympic Class Ship and that she had two sisters in the same class?
Did you already know about the other two ships?
Read More about Them - Their Stories are Fascinating
The interconnected stories of these three ships are among the most fascinating ever
This book is not only good reading, but is well illustrated with photographs, too.
Any who loves maritime history in general, or that of ocen liners in particular, will enjoy this book from author Mark Chirnside. He is widely accepted as one of the foremost authorities on Olympic class ships.
1911 to 1935
The RMS (Royal Mail Ship) Olympic was the only one of the three sisters to have a successful career as an ocean liner. During her lifetime, she sailed 1.8 million miles!
Ocean Liner Luxuries
Impressed Passengers of the Era
Here's a look at the Promenade Deck of the Olympic. This was one place where Titanic differed from Olympic. Part of Titanic's Promenade Deck was enclosed so that it could be used in bad weather.
It must have been an absolutely wonderful place for a stroll after dinner. I think I would have enjoyed that myself!
Promenade Deck, RMS Olympic, PD-US
Other luxuries aboard the ships included a Turkish Bath, Veranda Cafe, a swimming pool, and separate smoking rooms in first, second, and third class. Smoking rooms were for gentlemen only.
As you can see from the following pictures, the décor was quite elegant.
First Class Smoking Room
First Class Lounge
Delay Titanic's Completion
NOt once, but twice in her first year, Olympic found herself in need of emergency repairs. Twice, work on Titanic was halted, so that the only Olympic class ocean liner to yet produce revenue could be sped back into service.
In September of 1911, Olympic suffered flooded compartments and a twisted propeller shaft when she and HMS Hawke collided at sea. She received Titanic's propeller shaft.
Then, in February, 1912, Olympic lost a propeller blade, and again displaced her unfinished sister from her drydock at Belfast.
As a result of these work stoppages, Titanic's maiden voyage was delayed some 21 days past the originally scheduled date.
The RMS Titanic's maiden voyage began from Southampton on April 12, 1912, and ended on the sea floor in the early hours of April 15, 1912
After the Sinking of Titanic
Changes Were Made to The Remaining Two Vessels
After the sinking of Titanic, changes were made to Olympic and Britannic.
Additional lifeboats were added.
Watertight bulkheads were extended upward.
A watertight "skin" was added to the engine and boiler rooms.
As a result of design changes stemming from the tragic events of April, 1912, when finally finished, Britannic was larger than Titanic by a couple of feet, several tons heavier, and had more powerful engines to compensate for the extra weight.
The author, Bruce Beveridge is an Honorary Lifetime Member of the British Titanic Society, and is a leading authority on Titanic and her sisters.
The White Star Switch Conspiracy - Which ship really sank?
There is a theory that the RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic were 'switched' by White Star Line, because of damage to the older ship during her collision with HMS Hawke, and that it was really Olympic that sank.
Was a damaged RMS Olympic purposely sent out by White Star Line, to sink in the place of Titanic? That's the claim of the switch theory.
In this book, a noted authority on the famous ocean liners explores this theory.
Olympic's first Captain
went on to be
Captain of the Titanic
The Royal Mail Ship that Never Sailed
Here is what Britannic might have looked lif she had ever sailed as a passenger ship, but was not to be.
If you look closely, you can even see the newly added davits for hoisting the additional lifeboats.
How RMS Britannia Would Have Looked,
PD-US, PD-1923, wikipedia
Although the RMS Britannic never sailed, the HMHS Britannic did.
There has been a persistent story that her name was to have been Gigantic, but was changed after Titanic sank due to the similarity. White Star always denied this.
Britannic never saw her maiden transatlantic voyage.
With the beginning of World War I in August, 1914, work was stopped or slowed on all vessels not a part of the war eftort. Work on Britannic continued, but at a much slower pace, and with a low priority for materials.
As a safety precaution, Olympic was withdrawn from passenger service, and took refuge in Belfast, alongside her unfinished sister, in November of that year.
His Majesty's Transport
HMT 2810 Goes to War
It was bound to happen. The Great War was raging, and here were these two great ships, safely tucked away at the shipyard in Belfast.
The head of the White Star Line had hoped they would stay there for the war's duration. But, no. Olympic was requisitioned as a fast troop transport. After having her magnificent appointments removed, bunks installed, and guns mounted, she sailed as HMT 2810 on September 24, 1915.
HMT 2810 racked up an impressive war record, transporting over 200,000 British, Canadian, and U.S. troops, and even rescuing survivors of France's sunken Provencia. She was fondly dubbed "Old Reliable" during her war service.
AND she was the only merchant ship in the entire war to do one utterly amazing thing. More on that later!
During her time serving her country, she was painted in a "dazzle" camo paint pattern
SIDE NOTE: Dazzle camouflage painting was intended to confuse rather than disguise. Read more about dazzle camouflage.
His Majesty's Hospital Ship
RMS Britannic Becomes HMHS Britannic - and Serves Her Country with Honor
HMS Britannic Role in World War II
After having been made ready, the newly redesignated HMHS Britannic sailed into service of her country on December 23, 1915. Repainted white, with a green stripe running from bow to stern, and three large red crosses, she was unmistakably a hospital ship.
Her mission was to bring the sick and wounded from the theater of war back home to Great Britain. Between December of 1915 and November of 1916, she completed five successful round trips.
She traveled both ways with a full complement of doctors and nurses in addition to her crew. On return legs, her wards were filled with sick and wounded fighters. But not a single civilian passenger was ever privileged to book passage on her.
An Ocean Liner SINKS a U-boat
A Remarkable Feat for a Passenger Ship
In May of 1912, HMT 2810 (Olympic) was doing a crossing, filled with U.S. soldiers being transported to France. On the morning of the 18th, lookouts sighted a German submarine, U-103, on the surface ahead.
The submarine had already sunk 8 ships, and was preparing to launch torpedos for her ninth kill - HMT 2810!
a WWI German u-boat, GWPDA, wikipedia
HMT's gunners opened fire, as the sub dove.
Captain Hayes turned the huge liner into the sub, ramming her and gashing her conning tower.
The Olympic then continued on her way.
The USS Davis came along, and picked up the u-103's 31 survivors, some of whom confirmed that they were, indeed, preparing to torpedo the Olympic.
So it was that the Olympic accomplished the remarkable feat of being the only merchant vessel to actually SINK a German warship in WWI.
November 21, 1916
The End for Britannic
On the morning of November 21, 1916, as she was en route to the war theater for the sixth time, an explosion suddenly rocked His Majesty's Hospital Ship Britannic.
The improvements made as a result of lessons learned from the sinking of Titanic should have kept her afloat for at least three hours.
But the new measures didn't keep her afloat, partly because nurses had opened portholes on lower infirmary decks, in order to air out the wards. Water poured in. It took Britannic only 55 minutes to slip beneath the surface and sink to the bottom of the sea.
Since she was on her way to pick up patients, there were none aboard at the time, or there surely would have been more lost than the 30 who did perish.
Though officially undetermined whether she hit a mine, or was targeted by a German torpedo boat, there is reason to believe she was intentionally sunk by a torpedo.
Passenger Service is Restored
After the war, Olympic returned to the shipyard in Belfast, where she was refurbished, and refitted with the furnishings and equipment that had been removed prior to going to war. She was also converted to run on oil at this time.
She returned to passenger service in 1920, and continued on until White Star, having merged with Cunard, withdrew her from service in 1935.
She served admirably for 24 years, and was the only sister to ever complete a civilian sailing.
The Three Sisters Today
Where are These Three Ocean Liners today?
Olympic was scrapped in 1935, but many of her furnishings and appointments were auctioned first. Parts of her are scattered round the globe. Pieces can be seen at the Southampton Maritime Museum, and the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, England.
Celebrity Cruises keeps a small part of her alive and sailing. The RMS Olympic Restaurant on board the Celebrity Millennium has as part of its décor original wooden panels from the Olympic's a la carte restaurant.
Britannic lies where she sank, in 400' of water, three miles off the Greek island of Kea, and is officially designated as a war grave.
Titanic, as everyone knows, continues to sleep in her watery grave, 2.33 miles below the surface of the cold Atlantic, and 370 miles from Mistaken Point, Newfoundland . Her treasures are subject to plunder by those capable of operating at such depths, but ownership of Titanic artifacts is the subject of a court ruling.
- MaritimeQuest - Main Page
Website with searchable ship database about warships, passenger liners, merchant ships, photo galleries, technical details, stories, news and much more.
Did you learn something new here? - (a poll)
Did you learn something on this page about the Sister Ships to Titanic?
What do you think of the stories of Britannic and Olympic? While their sister Titanic continues to get the lion's share of attention, do you agree that the other two Olympic Class Ocean Liners deserve to be honored as well?