White Star liner RMS Olympic arrives in New York for the first time 21 June 1911.
Photo courtesy US Library of Congress
Most British passenger liners were built with a subsidy from the Royal Mail to fulfill a secondary but very important role of carrying mail to the USA, Canada and the far flung British Empire. Hence, RMS stands for “Royal Mail Steamer.”
(After the First World War, most small airlines in the US were subsidized by the US Post Office and that was the beginning of air mail)
White Star line RMS Olympic and her sister ship RMS Titanic probably taken circa 1911.
(Photo credit Titanic Wiki)
The RMS Titanic was her sister ship and built after RMS Olympic. The third ship in the series, originally to be named, Gigantic, had her named changed to Britannic prior to being built. I think this was a good idea, certainly from a PR point of view.
Above is HMHS Britannic in her hospital livery. According to author Sean Munger: “photographs of the Britannic are pretty rare. Here is one, taken about 1915, of the ship decked out in her hospital colors. The funnels would have been painted tan.”
photo courtesy of Sean Munger
Mr. Munger is an authority on these ships and his website can he found here:
Unfortunately, the name change didn’t bring luck. Just after completion, Britannic was requisitioned by the British Government on the outbreak of World War One to serve as a hospital ship and given the prefix “HMHS (His Majesty’s Hospital Ship) Britannic” She hit a mine in the Aegean on 21 November 1916 and sank.
HMHS Britannic on the bottom of the Aegean Sea. The ship is a war grave since 30 0f the 1,066 passengers and patients aboard perished leaving 1,036 survivors.
(Photo credit Titanic Wiki)
The following info comes from Titanic Wiki whose website is here: http://titanic.wikia.com/wiki/HMHS_Britannic :
The ship sank in water only 119 meters deep (390 feet),….the ship was almost 900 feet in length……So it is no surprise that–
“…..Britannic’s bow hit the bottom whilst her stern is was above the surface. The last few men who were below decks by now, had left the ship. Fifth Officer Fielding estimated the stern rose some 150 feet into the air. With all her funnels detached, Britannic finally completed her starboard roll, causing heavy damage to the forward bow area. Britannic slipped beneath the surface almost an hour after she hit the mine.”
[I have changed the tense in the original quote above from present to past]
Since the ship was in the service of the British Government at the time it sank it remains the property of the British government and can’t be dived on without the permission of the British Government. In my mind, far too many warships are explored by divers who do not respect them as war graves and who often seize such equipment as engine telegraphs and other items which can easily be pried off and stolen. There are many details of this in the book Shadow Divers.
As you will recall, RMS Titanic had her unfortunate encounter with an iceberg in 1912 and sank.21 November 1916, and sank 55 minutes later, killing 30 people.
Fortunately, RMS Olympic enjoyed a long and safe life as a passenger steamer and temporary hospital ship and sailed from 1911 to 1935 without a mishap.
As much as we associate Atlantic liners of the era with the wealthy, the shipping firms actually made their money carrying immigrants to the US and Canada. When that stopped so did cash flow. In January of 1934, both the White Star Line and the Cunard Line were about to go under financially. The British government promised to lend them money to build several new ships if they would merge which the two companies did with “almost indecent haste.”
The new ships became the famous Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth which played a major part in World War Two transporting troops. Each ship could carry an entire US Army division of more than 15,000 men. Most US troops sent to Europe were transported on one of these ships. Indeed, so many American military personnel were transported to Europe by the Queens, that the US Government paid the entire operating costs of the ships.
Both liners retained their original Cunard Line officers and crew but their designations changed from RMS--Royal Mail Steamer–to HMT–His Majesty’s Transport–since the two ships were officially taken over my the British Ministry of War Transport.
A very large number of changes were made including a permanent ship’s police force mainly comprising US MPs who were assisted in maintaining order by the MPs assigned to each unit. There was little trouble form the soldiers, most of whom were seasick and were bunked in with their non-commissioned officers who had strict orders to keep everyone in their quarters.
In reasonable weather, the passage took less than four days since both the Queens steamed at maximum speed which was roughly 32 knots…………
You couldn’t walk around the ship as you pleased, not even the Army officers could do that.
Source: Warrior Queens: the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth in World War Two by Daniel Allen Butler.