RMS Olympic (or SS Olympic) was the first of her class of ocean liners built for the White Star Line, which also included the ill-fated Titanic and Britannic. Unlike her sisters, Olympic served a long and illustrious career (1911 to 1935) and came to be known as "Old Reliable".
Contrary to popular belief the ship was not named after the Olympic Games. Instead, the Olympic class of ships – Olympic, Titanic and Britannic (originally Gigantic) – were named after Greek mythological races Olympians, Titans and Giants.
Bruce Ismay, the chairman of White Star Line, and Lord Pirrie, the chairman of Harland & Wolff shipyard planned the new Olympic-class ships intended to surpass rival Cunard's largest ships, the RMS Lusitania and RMS Mauretania in size and luxury but not speed. Olympic was to be built first, followed by Titanic and Britannic. In order to accommodate the construction of the class, Harland and Wolff had to upgrade their existing facility in Belfast, the most dramatic change being the combining of three slipways into two larger ones. Olympic's keel was laid in December 1908 and she was launched in 1910. For her launch, which took place on October 20, 1910, the hull was painted in a light grey color for photographic purposes (a common practice of the day for the first ship in a new class, it made the lines of the ship clearer in the black and white photographs). Her hull was repainted following the launch. Her maiden voyage commenced on June 14, 1911. During this voyage, shipbuilder Thomas Andrews was present along with a number of engineers, as part of Harland and Wolff's "Guarantee Group" to spot anything needing improvement. Unlike other ships of the day, Olympic had a cleaner look with a sleek profile. Rather than fitting her with bulky exterior air vents to catch more air, Harland and Wolff used smaller air vents with a fan powered by electric motors. When it came to the power train, Harland And Wolff decided to use a combination of reciprocating engines with a center low-pressure turbine opposed to steam turbine, found on Cunard's giant Lusitania and Mauretania. White Star claimed that the engine setup found on Olympic class was more economical than vessels using expansion engines or turbines alone. Olympic consumed about 650 tons of coal a day at 21.7 knots, compared to 1000 tons of coal a day on Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania.
At the beginning of World War I, Olympic initially remained in commercial service. On October 27, 1914 she was ordered to assist a stricken British warship, HMS Audacious. Olympic took on board the warship's crew. Attempts to tow the warship were unsuccessful as the towlines parted in bad weather, and Audacious sank.
In September 1915 the Royal Navy summoned Olympic to serve as troopship. Armed with 12-pound and 4.7-inch guns, she ferried the British troops around the eastern Mediterranean area. From 1916 to 1917, Olympic was chartered by the Canadian Government to transport its troops from Halifax to Britain. In 1917 she gained 6-inch guns and later she was painted with a "dazzle" camouflage scheme in order to confuse the enemy. After the United States declared war on Germany in 1918, Olympic transported thousands of US troops to Britain. On May 12, 1918, she was attacked by a U-boat U103; Olympic Under the command of Captain Bertram Fox-Hayes managed to avoid the torpedo and then rammed the U-boat and sank it, the only known sinking of a warship by a merchant vessel during World War I. Despite this heroic effort, not everyone was thrilled. Some people criticised her crew for risking thousands of lives to retaliate against the U-boat. During the war, Olympic is reported to have carried up to 201,000 troops and other personnel, burning 347,000 tons of coal and travelling about 184,000 miles. Her impressive World War I service earned her the nickname Old Reliable. After the war, when Olympic was about to be reverted back to civilian configuration, a dent was discovered below her hull's waterline, and it was later concluded to have been caused by a torpedo that had failed to detonate. Had the torpedo exploded, the result could have been devastating.
After completing service as a troopship, Olympic returned to Belfast for restoration to civilian service. Her interior was modernized and she was converted to burn oil. She emerged from this refit with her tonnage increased to 46,439 gross tons, which enabled Olympic to continue to claim that she was the largest British built liner afloat even though Aquitania was slightly longer. In 1920 she returned to passenger service, on one voyage that year carrying 2,403 passengers. She was joined with RMS Majestic and RMS Homeric for an express service from 1922. She enjoyed success until the Great Depression reduced demand after 1930.
At the turn of 1927-28, Olympic was converted to carry tourist third cabin passengers as well as first, second and third class. Tourist third cabin was an attempt to attract travellers who desired comfort without the high ticket price that came with it. New public rooms were constructed for this class, although tourist third cabin and second class would merge to become 'tourist' by late 1931.
One year later Olympic 's first class accommodation was improved again as more first class bathrooms were added, a dance floor was fitted in the enlarged first class dining saloon, and a number of new suites with private facilities were installed forward on B-deck. More improvements would follow in a later refit but 1929 saw Olympic 's best average passenger lists since 1925.
Following a refit and overhaul at the end of 1932, Olympic returned to service in March 1933 'looking like new.' Her engines were performing better than ever and she continued to record speeds well above 23 knots, despite averaging less than that in regular transatlantic service. Passenger capacities were given as 618 first class, 447 tourist class and only 382 third class after the decline of the imigrant trade. 1933 was Olympic 's worst year ever as she carried her lowest number of passengers (under 10,000) and there would be more bad luck to follow.
Olympic passing Nantucket lightvessel in April 1934In 1934 Olympic again struck a ship. The approaches to New York were marked by lightships, and Olympic, like other liners, had been known to pass close by these vessels. On May 15, 1934,Olympic, inbound in heavy fog, was homing in on the radio beacon of Lightship 117, the Nantucket lightship. Olympic under the command of Captain John Binks failed to turn in time and sliced through the smaller vessel, which broke apart and sank. Four of the lightship's crew went down with the vessel and seven were rescued, of whom three died of their injuries, for seven fatalities out of a crew of eleven.
In 1934 White Star merged into the Cunard Line at the instigation of the British government. Cunard White Star then started retiring older ships, especially those from White Star. Olympic was withdrawn from service in 1935 and sold to Sir John Jarvis for £100,000 to be partially demolished at Jarrow providing work for the region. In 1937 Olympic's hull was towed to Inverkeithing to TW Wards yard for final demolition.
Olympic's fittings were auctioned off immediately before she was scrapped; some of her fittings (namely those of the First Class Lounge and part of the Aft Grand Staircase) can be found in the White Swan Hotel, located in Alnwick, England. Some fittings and paneling also ended up at a Haltwhistle paint factory.
In 2000, Celebrity Cruises purchased some of Olympic's original wooden panels and created RMS Olympic Restaurant on board their newest cruise ship, Millennium. According to Celebrity Cruise Line, this rare collection of wood paneling once graced Olympic's à la carte restaurant.
The Lego version of the RMS Olympic is, like its real namesake, in a class of three. The Titanic (which can be seen sinking on another page) and the Britannic.
Fantastic. I live in Belfast, where this huge ship was built. The docks where she was built are still there today. Great detail despite the model being relatively small! Great work. Also it was nice to read about the history of the ship and how it all began. That was a nice touch.
I remember being obsessed with the Titanic when I was about five and six. I had a ton of books on the Titanic and her sister ships but I didn't know as much about the Olympic until now. That is a wonderful ship. *starts to wonder how many he would need for a mini-fig scale version*