by Brian Hawley
Quite some time ago, I was asked to write a history of RMS Olympic for Great Ships. I found the challenge of
doing justice to Olympic was so great that I just wasn't sure where to start. I began by asking myself what
made Olympic special. It's true she was a beautiful ship; in fact her lines were amazingly clean for her time.
She was the largest ship in the world and the first of a new and exciting class of liners. She was exceedingly
comfortable and well decorated; the most luxurious ship yet built. Yet much of the same could be said for most
new ships on the highly competitive Atlantic route.
It cannot be denied that Olympic had that quality that endeared crew and passengers to her throughout her life. Not all ships have this quality. For example, many say the Queen Mary had it and the Queen Elizabeth did not. This is not something that can be properly explained; it just seemed like Olympic was a happy ship. In fact it is that quality that drew me to her in the first place. Her life was far more upbeat than that of her younger sisters.
Olympic, first of a trio of liners which included Titanic and Britannic, was built at Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Ireland. Her keel was laid on 16 December, 1908 in slip number 2. Launch followed on 20 October, 1910. Olympic was completed, at a total cost of US$7,500,000, on 31 May, 1911, a special day for White Star in that it was also her sister Titanicís launch day.
While still making commercial voyages in October 1914 Olympic happened upon and rescued the crew of the sinking British battleship Audacious. Olympic attempted to tow Audacious but the weather kicked up and parted the line. Olympicís passengers were held onboard for a week while the admiralty attempted to figure a way to spin the incident. Later in the war Olympic served as a troop ship carrying thousands of Canadians to the front. It was during this service that Olympic obtained her nickname "The Old Reliable," for her good and trustworthy service on these trooping voyages.
The 20s were a terrific decade for the ship as she returned to popular, profitable, and reliable service. This period was not without incident however. On 22 May, 1924 Olympic was again involved in a collision. This time on the other side of the pond, New York City. The other ship involved was the Furness Bermuda liner Fort St. George. The collision required Olympicís entire stern frame be removed and replaced, an operation that had never been done on a ship of her size.
The merger signaled the beginning of the end for Olympic and almost all the ships in the White Star fleet. In fact Olympic's end came the following year, and her summer sailing schedule for 1935 was canceled after 257 round trips to America.
Olympic sat quietly at her berth in Southampton for the next six months. In September of 1935 she was sold for $500,000 to Sir John Jervis a mmember of the British parliament who, concerned about job loss due to the Depression, immediately re-sold her to Thomas Ward and Sons Ship Breakers in Jarrow, Scotland (in his constituency).
On October 11, Olympic departed Southampton for the last time, arriving at Jarrow for scrapping two days later. Auctioneers Knight, Frank and Rutley of London auctioned off 4,456 lots of Olympic's interior fittings. Her dismantling took two years and was completed at Inverkeithing.
Olympic's longest serving commander, Sir Bertram Hayes, summed her up well: "The finest ship in my estimation that has ever built or ever will be".
Brian Hawley maintains a Website dedicated to his two favorite liners: Olympic and Caronia and to Fort Carroll, Baltimore, at http://www.bytenet.net/rmscaronia.