After the sailing of the Lusitania in 1907, which set Blue Riband records, the blueprints for a new class of White Star ocean liners were laid down. These plans placed a greater emphasis on scale, with a triumvirate of ocean liners that would be the largest constructed during the period. The first of the new Olympic-class ocean liners was the RMS Olympic, which was much the same as its sister-ship Titanic.
The RMS Olympic plans, laid out by White Star naval architect Mr Andrews, included a quartet of funnels aboard its decks. Thus, it was a four funnel ocean liner similar to the Kaiser Der Grosse. The extra funnel was not exactly an essential addition, but an even number of funnels added extra greater symmetry to the ship.
The RMS Olympic drafts included 16 watertight compartments. The ocean liner included 29 boilers. White Star added giant expansion engines to ensure that the ocean liner reached its expected 21 knots for voyages. Mr Andrews presented the final plans to the Harland and Wolf directors, and then construction of the RMS Olympic began.
Construction began in 1908, a few months before the Titanic, at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast. To construct the Olympic, they expanded the shipyard's gantries. A huge floating crane was also included to lift the ship's 29 boilers into place and its funnels.
The Olympic's keel was first laid down, and then framing of the ocean liner followed. The hull plates were riveted into place at the shipyard. Once they had painted the hull with light grey paint in 1910, the ocean liner was almost ready to sail.
The RMS Olympic's ceremony duly followed in 1910. When White Star unveiled the ship, it had an overall tonnage of 45,324. As such, it was the largest ocean liner built by any company at the time. A large crowd flocked to the ceremony as the ocean liner slipped into the water from the slipway.
A fitting out period then followed. White Star added an extravagant interior decor within the RMS Olympic's eleven decks. The interiors were much the same as the Titanic, and included a lavish Grand Staircase that descended five levels down from the Boat Deck to the E Deck. Behind that three elevators ran down from the staircase to the E Deck. The Olympic's architects added Glass domes, detailed carvings and oak paneling to the staircase. Above it were crystal beaded chandeliers that lit up the staircase. As the Olympic was later broken up some of the Grand Staircase remains intact today, such as the famed Honor and Glory Crowning Time carving.
The Cafe Veranda was another notable addition to the ocean liner at the A Deck. This was a sunlit veranda decorated with climbing plants along its walls. Small palm trees were also added to the café.
Below the Boat Deck and A Deck there were the B – G Decks. They included most of the cabins for those aboard the ocean liner. All the 11 decks combined could include up to 2,764 passengers.
The decks also included Turkish baths, squash courts and a swimming pool that was at the F Deck. On the B Deck there was an À La Carte Restaurant. This included French walnut and carved gilt paneling. A few of the panels from the restaurant have been preserved.
The Olympic's Orlop deck and Tank Top were the ones below the waterline. Thus, they included the cargo space, platforms for the boilers, engines and turbines. In addition to those were the ocean liner's watertight compartments.
The Olympic's maiden voyage followed in 1911. The ship sailed to New York and then returned to Britain for further modifications. At a speed of about 21.7 knots the ship could not set a Blue Riband record, nor could it ever match Cunard's Lusitania and Mauretania in this respect; but the size of this ship was unmatched in 1911.
The Olympic's fifth transatlantic voyage had one notable incident. That was the Hawke Incident where the Olympic, captained by Captain Smith of the Titanic, collided with the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Hawke. Then the Hawke crashed into the side of the ship shortly after the ocean liner left Southampton. Two weeks of repairs followed before the Olympic returned to regular transatlantic crossings. Smith remained captain for a further nine transatlantic crossings before being replaced by Captain Herbert James Haddock.
The RMS Olympic was the largest liner until the Titanic sailed in 1912. The Titanic was a marginally larger liner; although its sudden sinking left the Olympic as the only Olympic-class ship until White Star completed construction of the Britannic in 1914. The RMS Olympic headed towards the Titanic's position as the ship was sinking, but could not find the ocean liner.
After returning to port, White Star fitted the Olympic with additional lifeboats. White Star added a full set of 64 reliable lifeboats along the boat deck, which also greatly reduced the amount of deck space. The company made further modifications to the ship during 1912 – '13, which included the addition of extra bulkheads. White Star also added the Café Parisian to the Olympic.
In 1914, the outbreak of World War One ensured the RMS Olympic's conversion to a troop transport ship. As this made it a potential target for German U-boats, as the Lusitania had been in 1915 without any troops aboard, Britain camouflaged the ship with dazzle camouflage to disguise it from German U-boats. The Olympic even sank a German U-boat in 1918. From 1914 – '18 the RMS Olympic transported hundreds of thousands of Entente soldiers. By 1918, it was the only remaining Olympic-class ship as the Britannic had gone down in the Mediterranean during 1916.Credit: Public Domain
After surviving the war, the RMS Olympic returned to port for refitting in 1919. White Star refitted the ship as a transatlantic liner. The company modernized the Olympic's interior, and converted its coal boilers to oil tanks. The switch from coal to oil greatly reduced refueling time and engine room personnel aboard the ocean liner. The refitting also increased the ship's tonnage to about 46, 439 tons, which ensured the Olympic remained among the largest ocean liners when it resumed transatlantic voyages in 1920. Over a decade of transatlantic voyages followed until the '30s.
Despite the loss of the Titanic and Britannic, the Olympic still sailed as part of a three-ship service. Hapag-Lloyd handed the former German ocean liner Bismarck to White Star Line as wartime reparation for the loss of the Britannic. The HMS Homeric, later re-titled Columbus, was also ceded to Great Britain and became a part of the White Start fleet. As such, those ocean liners were the Olympic's primary running mates during the interwar period.
In 1934, White Star merged with Cunard. The Wall Street Crash and increased foreign competition left both companies' finances increasingly limited. As Cunard acquired a 62% stake in Cunard White Star Line, it dominated the merger. The merger ensured the recommencing of the RMS Queen Mary's construction, which had been temporarily cancelled.
Thereafter, outmoded liners were withdrawn from the newly combined fleet; and in 1935 the Olympic was one of the ships sold for scrap by Cunard White Star Line. The Olympic had sailed for 24 years, so was by some distance the longest lasting White Star Olympic-class ship. Shortly before Cunard White Star Line scrapped the ship, they auctioned its interior fittings. The last remnants of the great ocean liner can now be found in hotels and museums, which include original furniture from the Olympic's state rooms, the aft grand staircase and Honor and Glory panel.