Mystery or History

Not open for further replies.

Steven Hall

All of the following material is woven together from many tidbits of information gathered together of a period of time. The material should be read as a special interest article [regarding Olympic] and any unsubstantiated facts should be taken as exactly as that. Like any information relating to Titanic, unless there are numerous references to the same fact - absolutely NOTHING is carved in stone.

Just after noon, [ Wednesday ] April 3rd, 1912, the Olympic, under the command of Captain Herbert James Haddock, steamed out of Southampton for her 19th Atlantic crossing. [or 10th westward crossing] Yet the 5 days prior to the commencement of this voyage, a tantalising conundrum presents itself.
Prior to Olympic’s arrival from Cherbourg [ Saturday ] March 30th, the American Line’s St Louis had occupied pier 44. The vessel had been obliged to vacate this berth prior to Olympic’s arrival later that afternoon, being hauled to the opposite north-western corner and secured to the port side of the rafted Philadelphia.
That morning, Olympic weighed anchor and departed the French port of Cherbourg just after 7.00 am for Southampton. The tabled period for the Channel crossing was on or about five and half hours which occasionally varied for or against depending on the weather conditions, the shipping movements around the approaches to Southampton Waters or the necessary tides.
On this occasion, all the necessary conditions for a tabled arrival at Southampton existed with the ship expected to arrive between 12.30 pm and 12.45 pm. In fact, the Olympic for some unexpected reason (and which has never been adequately established) actually lost 40" minutes during the channel crossing.
This minor mystery is somewhat identified by an obscure document held within the Southampton City Museum’s archives [1] which notes a loss of 40" minutes for the ship while crossing between Cherbourg and Southampton. (no further text within elaborates on the actual cause - the direct reference simply being a short by-line within a larger document) As a consequence, the incident would thereby be easily passed over at the casual glance as having no great relevance
To support this document, the following recollection which may, or may not provide further significant information to the above does at least present a somewhat intriguing insight into what happened at Southampton several days prior to Titanic’s arrival.
Between the period 1910/ 15, one G. Larwood, a dockside worker at Southampton later recalled (during his declining years) to his granddaughter, C. Baverstock 2 how he had been in the unique position during those years to observe the many great ships that frequented the docks during that era. On the occasion of Mach 30th 1912, five days before the Titanic actually berthed at Southampton (being just after midnight April 4th) he once again witnessed the arrival of her elder sister ship, Olympic.
The ship, which uncharacteristically 3 (for 1912) had berthed bow first alongside Pier 44. Following the disembarkation of passengers, mail and consignments, the ship had than been unceremoniously removed to another berth. 4 In his later years, he had reasoned that this berth change had been necessitated by the lingering effects (and congestion) brought about by the lingering effects of the coal shortage. [coal strike was settled on the 6th of that month
At this point, we have identified an obscure reference to a delay between Cherbourg and Southampton, the not so significant berthing arrangements upon the Olympic’s arrival and a tantalising third hand account of the ship being re-berthed several hours after her arrival. These three incidents all appear to be somewhat unrelated when looked upon in the singular, though the considered sum (coupled with the following material) hints otherwise.
A picture postcard which had been offered for auction in 1999 (and which failed to reach the reserve) showed a handsome stern ¾ port profile of the ship at the White Star pier. On the back of the sepia card it proclaims, ‘Olympic departs Southampton, leaving the dock clear for the arrival of worlds newest and largest ship.’ If the ship had been originally stern out [towards the Test] as recalled by Larwood, than the postcard reveals her aspect [3 days later] had been reversed
Before moving on, a brief look at the Olympic’s movements prior to her arrival at Southampton highlights a rather inauspicious early career. [not withstanding hitting the pier at New York and damaging several forward starboard strakes which required replacement in October 5 and her collision with the H.M.S. Hawke in the Solent]
The Olympic departed New York on the 21st February on her seventh eastward crossing. Late on the afternoon of the 24th, she was about 750 miles off the coast of Newfoundland [latitude 44º 20'N, longitude 38º 36'W] when she shed one of her three port side propeller blades. After making her customary stops, she arrived mid-afternoon (the 28th) at Southampton.
The ship departed Southampton the following day (29th / 1912 being a leap year) and limped back the 570 miles to Belfast on her starboard shaft only. Arriving the following day she unfortunately missed the peak tide and was obliged to anchor over night in Belfast Lough. The following morning the Titanic was removed from the dry-dock on the high tide at 10.03 am [3.19m] and secured to the Outfitting Wharf. The Olympic than entered the vacated facility and the required repairs affected. By late afternoon the following day, the ship sported 3 new blades on both port and starboard shafts.
The following morning [with the peak tide - 11:37 am, at 3.77m] Olympic was hauled out clear of the dry dock, she was then turned 180º in preparation for her departure back to Southampton. During this operation, disaster struck again. While being turned, her port side bow was grounded.
The Belfast Telegraph carried the following: while in the process of turning in the Victoria Channel, Olympic had struck bottom [allegedly near the West Twin Island Wharf] and therefore obliged to be put back in dry dock for examination. (subsequent inspection revealed no damage was found)
The following Marconi Transatlantic Wireless Telegraph to the New York Times (below) makes for interesting reading:
London, March 5th,- "Following the announcement that the White Star liner Olympic would not sail until next Thursday, having to go into dry dock at Belfast to have a new propeller blade fitted, word comes today that her sailing has again been postponed; this time until Wednesday, March 13th, the big liner was unable to leave Belfast owing to stress of weather. This will inconvenience a large number of passengers who counted on sailing next Thursday. Fortunately the Lusitiania is due to sail next Saturday so those whom it is imperative to be in New York on an early date will be enabled to transfer the passages to the Cunarder". As a consequence of the incident, White Star was forced to cancel the Olympic's next scheduled departure from Southampton.
As can be seen, The New York Times’s published reason for the cancellation was not completely incorrect - the weather did indirectly contribute to the actual delay. After all, White Star could hardly admit that the ship had been grounded.
The Olympic eventually departed Belfast on the March 7th, and arrived late that following afternoon at Southampton.
The Olympic had been scheduled to depart Southampton on the 6th of that month, so even if the ship had left Belfast on the 4th, it would have been absolutely doubtful she could have made that sailing date. (by arrangement, Royal Mail Services for that route usually departed Wednesdays) As it transpired she was obliged to drop back to the 13th - which by coincidence was that left vacant by the idle Philadelphia.
Being coaled and revictualled she departed Southampton just after noon for New York. Following her customary stops at Cherbourg and Queenstown, she arrived without incident on the 20th.
With the effects of the coal strike still impacting on shipping movements around Southampton, the Olympic took aboard additional coal (refilling her bunkers to + 80% capacity to offset the shortage across the Atlantic) while in New York. It has even been rumoured that coal in canvas bags had been stored in numerous vacant third class cabins and / or any other available space. (though the later being somewhat dubious) The additional tonnage of coal would have effectively provided the ship with sufficient fuel for the scheduled eastward crossing plus three additional days operating within her regular service speed.

1 The actual [full] document was presented on a website in 1998. 2 Information by way of correspondence. 3 On Olympic’s maiden voyage - she was tied up this way at Southampton. 4 No supportive material to this observation. 5 Information regarding damaged plating from Harland & Wolf

[END Part 1]
Not open for further replies.