Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Britannic & Olympic

This week marks the 98th anniversary of the launch of the HMHS Britannic, sister ship to the Titanic. The third and largest of the Olympic-class liners built for White Star Line, she too suffered and early and disastrous end. He sister ship Olympic had a longer, but no less distinguished career.

Britannic. Britannic, like Titanic and Olympic, was originally intended for trans-Atlantic passenger service. After Titanic’s sinking, design changes were made to Britannic that would end with her being the largest passenger liner built to that date.

HMHS Britannic. Allan Green photo
State Library of Victoria. More photos
The outbreak of World War I delayed her launch. But in November 1915, she was called into service as a hospital ship. Britannic made several runs between the Middle East and the United Kingdom, transporting sick and wounded troops.

It was to be a short-lived career, though. In November 1916, Britannic hit a mine off the coast of Greece and sank, with the loss of 30 lives.

Olympic. Built and launched before the Titanic, Olympic got off to a less-than-auspicious start. In September 1911, only two months after launching, Olympic collided with the British warship Hawke, an incident laid at the feet of Olympic’s captain, Edward Smith, who would later perish with Titanic. Titanic’s sinking in 1912 caused White Star Lines to bring Olympic in for refits and upgrades based on lessons learned from her sister ship’s loss.

During World War I, Olympic served as a troop ship under charter to the Canadian government. Over the course of the war, she would carry more than 200,000 Canadian and US soldiers to Britain. She also had the distinction of being the only merchant ship in the war known to have sunk a German U-boat, after she rammed the U-103 in May 1918.

After the war, Olympic was converted back to passenger service. Among her attractions was her near-identical layout and appearance to Titanic; even in the 1920s and ‘30s there were Titanic buffs eager for a taste of that ill-fated passage.

In 1934, Olympic was engaged in a second collision, this time with a US Coast Guard lightship off Nantucket. Seven of the lightship’s crew of 11 died as a result of the collision.

In 1935, the ship was taken out of service due to increased competition from larger, more modern ships. She was eventually demolished although parts of her are still at sea: the wood paneling from one her restaurants now graces a restaurant onboard the Celebrity Cruises ship, Millenium.

Related Posts
Misunderstood Mariners: Edward J. Smith

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