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Olympic and Britannic

Titanic, Olympic & Britannic

In 1907, J. Bruce Ismay, Chairman of the White Star Line and Lord Pirrie Chairman of Harland & Wolff shipbuilders decided that in order to compete successfully in the transatlantic passenger market, luxurious ocean liners was the way forward. A total of three ships were planned: The Olympic, Titanic and Gigantic (later renamed Britannic after the sinking of Titanic).


Olympic was the first and only of the three ships to complete a crossing of the Atlantic. Laid down at Harland & Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Ireland, and when work began on the Olympic, the keel was laid on 16 December, 1908 in slip number 2, launched the followed two years later on 20 October, 1910 and was completed on 31 May, 1911, a special day for White Star as this was also her sister Titanic’s launch day. From Liverpool, the Olympic’s official port of registry, she sailed to Southampton to prepare for her maiden voyage on 14 June and due to a collision with RMS Hawke repairs to Olympic delayed Titanic’s maiden voyage.
On 12 May, 1918 Olympic made its most notable achievement during the war for the ramming and sinking of German submarine U103. After the war, Olympic returned to service and by July 1920, she was refitted, cleaned and converted to oil fuel. Olympic had a long and successful life serving the North Atlantic route. She entered passenger service in 1911 and served the White Star Line until 1935, at which time she was retired and eventually broken up for scrap, her dismantling took two years to complete.


Britannic, which was originally to be named the Gigantic was the last and largest of the three “Olympic-class” ocean liners to be made, so on November 30th 1911 work began but due to the fateful sinking of its sister ship Titanic in April 1912 construction was stopped and before it resumed changes to the design were made; the double bottom was extended up the side of the ship to give a more protective skin, the water tight bulkheads were also extended up, and other safety features were put in, making the ship capable of staying afloat with her first six compartments damaged (two more than Titanic). On February 26, 1914 The White Star Line's Britannic was launched. This ship was to be the most luxurious of the trio. Like her sisters she'd be able to carry around 790 first class passengers, 835 second class passengers, 950 third class passengers, and 950 crew members.

November 21, 1916, an explosion rocked the Britannic as she sailed through the Kea Channel in the Aegean Sea. The Britannic began to sink quickly by the bow and her captain tried to beach the ship on Kea Island. However, that attempt failed and the Britannic sank within an hour. Fortunately, there were sufficient lifeboats for the 1,100 persons aboard and the only casualties were caused when the Britannic's captain started her engines in an attempt to beach her before she sank. Lifeboats that were near the stern of the ship were caught in the propellers, killing 30 people.


Once the ship was completed and a number of successful sea trials were performed, Edward J. Smith, Titanic’s captain was ready to set sail. On 2nd April 1912, from Belfast Lough thousands lined to watch ‘the new wonder of the world’ set off for Southampton, where she arrived on 4th April.

The first passengers boarded at Southampton and then at Cherbourg on the 10th April where a further 247 passengers boarded bringing the total passenger number to 2228. Titanic departed for Queenstown (now called Cobh) on the South Coast of Ireland from where on 11th April at 1340 she began her maiden voyage to New York. On the evening of 14th April the first iceberg warnings were given and at 2330 an iceberg was spotted however with the Titanic travelling at great speed and the steering wheel spun tight the iceberg could not have been avoided. Collision happened at 1140 and Thomas Andrews confirmed that Titanic had two hours before she would sink. With 20 lifeboats on board the huge ship, it was inevitable that this disaster was to end in fatalities as there was space for barely half the crew and passengers on board. At 0220 the the Titanic began to sink but it was until 0400 that the first lifeboat was picked up which carried only 705 passengers.

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