Oceanic III

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Timothy Trower

Guest
I have read with some interest the claims that the Oceanic III was not planned to have been built at 1000+ feet long. Long a student of this ship, I this evening pulled out my source notes and research material and gave it a read through. (I’ve not conducted any active research on this ship for a good decade.)

The inescapable conclusion that I continually arrived at is that the Oceanic III was intended to be or to surpass 1000 feet in length. Every source agrees with this conclusion.

For starters, two respected Harland & Wolff employees are to be consulted. Cuthbert Coulson Pounder, Director and Chief Technical Engineer of H&W after WWII, released details of the Oceanic that must be accepted as fact due to his position and the fact that H&W nor its employees would have had any reason to lie about a ship that was 20 years distant and never built.

Pounder said that the ship “would have had 47 six-cylinder, exhaust turbo-charged, four-stroke single-acting diesel engines producing a total of 275,000 i.h.p. and coupled in pairs to electric generators. The total weight of the installation would have been some 17,000 tons, equal to the displacement tonnage of a smaller liner of the day!” Additionally the ship “was to measure 60,000 gross tons with an overall length of 1,010 feet, a beam of 120 feet and a draught of 38 feet.” (Damned by Destiny, David Williams and Richard P. De Kerbrech, 1982)

Dr. Denis Rebbeck, a director at Harland & Wolff, delivered a paper read before Section G of the British Association on Friday, September 5, 1952. This paper gave great detail the history of the shipyard, and contained additional facts about the Oceanic III that cannot be ignored. He wrote that “The Musgrave Shipyard will also be long remembered by the people of Belfast as the yard where the keel of a 1000-ft. Diesel-electric passenger liner was laid down for the White Star Line in the late 1920’s …” and “the total power of the ship was designed to be 200,000 shaft horse-power on four screws, and there were to be 47 six-cylinder super-charged four-stroke Diesel engines, coupled in pairs.”

This same paper shows the profile and engine arrangement of the Oceanic III in a plan which must be accepted as Gospel. Indeed, this outline profile is still used today as the basis for all renditions of the ship, as well it should be. It was produced during the design phase for the ship, and was reproduced in print a mere 24 years after the laying of the keel. I hold in great suspicion any plans purporting to show the ship at a shorter length than 1000 feet.

To explore this facet of the ship further, Roy Anderson did much important early research regarding the Oceanic III, and he and I shared correspondence in the years before he died about the ship and its plans. Most of this revolved around the actual existence of the liner (including a letter from a man who made a special trip to H&W to see the keel plates of the ship). What Anderson did caution me at the time is that “there are several dangerous assertions which you would do well to avoid” — thoughts that the steel from the Oceanic III was incorporated into the Britannic III or that the Oceanic III became the Georgic II, among others.

But again, Anderson — a man who spent much time talking to people who actually worked on this project or knew first-hand of it — never made the claim nor thought that the ship would be anything other than a 1,000 foot liner. Again, Captain J.H. Isherwood’s famous profile of the ship is his usual scale of 1 inch=100 feet and works out to 1,006 feet overall.

C.J. Slater, a former employee of H&W, was just beginning his career in 1928 as an architect and civil engineer in the office of his father who was H&W’s Consulting Civil Engineer, wrote that he was the “innocent junior” who wound up with the job of “compassing” every single concrete pile used in the extension of Slipway 14. This extension alone involved over 1000 15 inch square, 40 to 60 feet long piles! His recollections are more based on the fact that the ship was started, abandoned and an attempt to restart it (the keel had in the meantime been coated with oil), but he also states “that the outline of the ship on the slipway drawings was always 1001 feet. This was to make quite sure that no rival could argue that she was a half an inch short of 1000 feet.”

Other H&W employees who worked in the yard at the time also have written of a 1000 foot ship — not one has asserted that the ship was to be built one inch shorter than the magical figure of 1000 feet.

Nations Business in July 1929 mentions the ship at 60,000 gross tons, designed to make 27 knots. John Malcolm Brinnin, N.R.P. Bonsor and John Maxtone-Graham all refer to the ship as 1000 feet. Several articles in the Titanic Commutator of the THS do the same as does Steamboat Bill of the SSHSA. Again, the New York Times and The Times of London, both contemporary publications, also reference the ship at that length.

The problem with any objective look at the Oceanic III is that the builders model is lost (although one of my correspondents had actually seen it) as are the vast majority of plans for the ship. Perhaps more may be uncovered as the mass of plans and photographs from H&W are properly catalogued and organized, but I do not think that any new information about the ship will show that it was anything other than the first 1000 foot liner actually started by any shipbuilding concern.

I’d be glad to respond to questions about my research, but with the caveat that I’m incredibly busy at the print shop and may not be able to respond for some days.
 
Sep 26, 2009
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I can testify of Tim's interest in Oceanic III. He has a beautiful color picture of her on the wall of his print shop. Robert H. Gibbons
 
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Timothy Trower

Guest
Just a quick thought on Tom McCluskey. He suffers from being rather far removed from the laying of the keel of the Oceanic III, and I wonder at the provenance of the information contained on the plans that Rich obtained.

I've chosen to quote those who either worked in the yard or who were associated with the yard very soon after the project was underway. They were there, in some cases actually saw the keel, and had access to plans that did exist at the time. I did not know when the plans were scrapped, but ten years sounds about right ... you never know when another major shipping company might want a 1000 foot liner!

The picture that I have is nothing more than a colour copy done of the painting of the Oceanic III in "Damned by Destiny". It was done by my wife early in the 1980s and given the technology of the time consists of nine panels taped together.

What I am more proud of is the model of the Oceanic III done by the late George Kaiser. It was taken from the Isherwood profile; he sent it to me shortly before he died in 1982 intending to build an improved one for his own collection. It also reflects a scale that takes the ship to 1006 feet.

The builders model was lost many, many years ago. Anderson had neither seen it nor the plans for the ship -- they also long gone even 40 years ago. However, he, like myself, corresponded with many who had seen plans and model. They are all in agreement that the ship was 1000+ feet long. All of this makes McCluskey's plans seem even stranger since the gross weight of a 935 feet vessel doesn't seem to mesh with that of the Oceanic III at 60,000 tons. Is this plan of #844 actually that of the replacement for the Titanic? Or something? It doesn't seem possible to reconcile the those plans with what we know to be correct information.

This may be the best place for me to sign off this evening by quoting Walter Lord in part: "It is a rash man indeed who would set himself up as the final arbiter on all that happened" when the Oceanic III was being built.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Just out of curiousity, how far along did construction go before the whole thing was canceled? The impression I had was that the keel was laid and some work had been done on some of the framing and the bottom but that was about it.
 
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Timothy Trower

Guest
As best as I have found -- and this from H&W sources -- keel plates were laid, and a few frames assembled (but I cannot say that they were installed) before the project was put on hold. The entire work was coated with oil to protect it from the elements. In 1929 there was another serious attempt to start the project over again, but I've found no evidence that any more work was actually done on the hull.

There seems to be no photographic evidence of the Oceanic's hull. My guess is that all files, photographs and etc. were held in one place and tossed at the same time. Otherwise, I am thinking that at least a photo of the keel would be extant.

What we can be certain of is that the ship did not become the Britannic III nor her sister the Georgic II. Perhaps the steel from her keel was remelted and used in some form in the Georgic, but it may just as easily been made into a Rolls Royce or a Ford.
 
May 12, 2002
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Fascinating discussion! Thanks to everyone for the information and to Richard - your model looks great (whether or not it turns out to be the "correct" Oceanic III).

Cheers

Paul
 
Jun 13, 2006
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Hi everyone again.

Paul — thank you for your kind words about my model.

Timothy — You wonder at the provenance of the information contained on the plans. Well I bought them from Harland and Wolff, and they are date stamped as follows, “Harland & Wolff, Ltd Shipbuilders & Engineers, Belfast 9.3.’26”. (Funnily enough 9th March is my birthday.)

I don’t know how relevant this is but directly above the date stamp, someone has hand written what looks like “3Y40.” or “3740.” with a signed initial next to it (perhaps “J. A.”?) Below the date stamp is “D.1319.B.” Maybe these are archive references, maybe they are something else — can anyone help here?

The drawings have “Proposed General Arrangement” stamped on them but interestingly enough — and I don’t know if you can attach any weight to this - they do not have the yard number recorded on them. As the plans were merely the proposal would they necessarily have been assigned a yard number at that time?

I do not think that these plans refer to the Titanic replacement, either Ceric, yard #391 or Germanic/Homeric, yard #470, for a few reasons.

Firstly as I stated previously I was determined I would identify the correct plans for yard #844 before I purchased them, secondly the plans are dated 9th March, 1926 which would be about right if White Star ordered plans in midsummer 1925 (Falling Star, Eaton & Haas, p253.), thirdly the GA lists Oceanic’s, Majestic’s and Olympic’s passenger summary, and fourthly, H&W didn’t start building cruiser stern ships until the mid 1920’s, not the mid 1910’s.

When I was building the model I bought the rigging plan and general arrangement for Britannic III (yard #807), and on these is clearly written,

M.V. “Britannic”, No. 807.

Until we find plans of Oceanic with something similar written on them, as far as I can see the debate is still open.

Do you have any photos of George Kaiser’s Oceanic model? It would be fascinating to see how that version of Oceanic would have looked in 3D. How big is the model? Do you know what scale it was built to? Was it a full hull or a waterline model?

I have just looked on the Titanic Historical Society website and they offer for sale a set of plans with details as follows.

H&W Titanic (II?)

A THS exclusive. Found in the Harland & Wolff archives and given to The Titanic Historical Society, was this to be a replacement for the lost Titanic or drawings for the 1000-foot Oceanic of 1929 that was never built?

Authentic Harland & Wolff designs for a large ocean liner with four funnels and a cruiser stern drawn in 1927 (15 years after Titanic disaster).

Scale: 1/32 = 1ft.
Longitudinal section size 34 inches x 25 inches.
Accommodations showing all decks 34 inches x 25 inches.

The fact that this is a four funnelled ship has to discount this from being Oceanic III but the fact that these plans still exist proves that some drawings can slip through the net. Maybe somewhere the ever elusive definitive Oceanic plans are still waiting to be unrolled.

Incidentally, has anyone noticed the date? Oceanic’s construction started 78 years ago tomorrow.

Love, Rich x
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
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Dec 29, 2000
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quote:

Incidentally, has anyone noticed the date?
Yep; the following has been part of my mailing list series for several years, and will be going out with tonight's installment:

28 June 1928: Oceanic III (yard number 884) is laid down at Harland &
Wolff, Belfast. (Sources: Williams and de Kerbrech's Damned by
Destiny; Anderson's White Star.)
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>As best as I have found -- and this from H&W sources -- keel plates were laid, and a few frames assembled (but I cannot say that they were installed) before the project was put on hold.<<

That sounds about right. It's a shame it never went anywhere beyond that but time and circumstance caught up with this ship before she ever had a chance.

On the matter of the ship's drawings, I would be greatly surprised if a set or two of definative plans hadn't been drawn up on some level. They dis start construction after all and one needs detailed working drawings for that much, even if they have to start with a framing plan and work things out as they went along. It's a shame that they've been lost.
 
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Timothy Trower

Guest
Okay, with the date that you give (9/3/26 -- and even this could mean September 3 or March 9, depending on usage), this sounds like an early permutation of what would become the Oceanic III -- a 1000 foot ship. Four funnels on the THS plans? An early version of the Oceanic for sure. (You gotta remember that the Olympic class ships were originally designed with three funnels and four masts.)

My thoughts on this being a replacement for the Titanic (and later the Britannic II -- come on, now, the Homeric could not properly keep up with the Olympic and Majestic) is that we know that White Star wanted a big replacement ship, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were several sets of plans drawn up during the time after the loss of the Britannic and before the announcement of the Oceanic, all awaiting the proper funding to make the dream a reality.

Given that the THS plans postdate the H&W plans that Rich has by a year, my supposition is that the earlier three funneled H&W plans had now been superseded by the four funnel ship, later (who knows when?) changed back to the three funneled ship that we have the outline profile for. It all makes sense to me, now!

The George Kaiser model: we've never photographed it (I keep intending to) but I'll pull it out of display and post pictures on my Photobucket account (I still can't figure out the correct way to do this on ET). It is a waterline model only a few inches long (in scale with the huge collection of steamers, passenger ships and naval ships that he had built). Incidentally, the Philadelphia Maritime Museum had many of George Kaiser's models on display in 1983 -- does anyone know what happened to them? At some point, my Oceanic III model needs to go back to complete the collection.

Well, back to the THS plans. I'd not seen this advertisement, but I'll have to buy a set. I'd like to compare them with the outline profile and combine the two for a better idea of what was "The Unfinished Dream".
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I may be wrong, but in 1928 would H & W be unable to construct a 1,000' ship, because of the limitations of the Arrol gantry and the Thompson graving dock? A 935' ship might have fitted in the dock, but 1,000'?

The 1,000' ship was bandied about in the press from very early on. Early mentions of the Olympic class say they were to be 1,000'. Easier said than done!

Here's a very basic model of Oceanic III.

Code:
31441
 
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Timothy Trower

Guest
To that end H&W expanded slipway 14 to hold a 1001 foot liner (see my above post on 6/26). They would have had no problem handling construction. I can't speak to the size of the graving dock, but would imagine that was to be taken care of or had been.
 
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Scott R. Andrews

Guest
Dave,

Timothy is correct about the slip; this was in the "new" section of the yard, which I believe they referred to as the "Musgrave yard". As for a graving dock, I don't believe that the Thompson dock was ever expanded to handle a ship of that size. However, the lack of a graving dock or dry dock of the necessary size wouldn't have proven any more of a hindrance to H&W at Belfast than this was to John Brown on the Clyde, when they built the QM and QE. QM was dry docked in Southampton for removal of the last remnants of the launch gear still attached below the load line, and for final cleaning and painting if her bottom prior to entering service.

BTW, the picture you posted is of the model I mentioned in another thread in this folder. This is obviously an early concept, and shows the triple screw arrangement which indicates to me that very early on, H&W may have been toying with using combination machinery. Perhaps in the beginning, this ship was being considered as much more of a consort to the Olympic and Majestic in a traditional three-ship weekly service, where 21 to 23 knots would have been acceptable. I suspect that with the Germans and Italians all announcing and laying down 28 knot ships while the design cycle progressed, and with similar projects being studied by CGT and Cunard, it may have dawned on both the WSL and H&W that in order for the new ship to maintain even the WSL's conservative comfort and size over speed policy relative to these new ships, they were going to have to come up with much more oomph than combination machinery could reasonably be expected to produce. In other words, they had to do something radically different from this approach if they were going to build a ship that wasn't going to be obsolete before it even completed its first decade of service.

Regards,
Scott Andrews
 
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Timothy Trower

Guest
Scott is right -- I should have mentioned that the Oceanic III was built on slipway 14 in the Musgrave Yard. Incidentally, there was no slipway 13!
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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Thanks for your thoughts. It seems that a 1,000' ship could have been built using a dry dock somewhere else. I'm pretty certain the Thompson graving dock was not able to hold a 1,000' ship.

I wonder how Queen Elizabeth was finished. She wouldn't have gone to Southampton. Must read up!
 
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Scott R. Andrews

Guest
Hi Dave,

The QE -- now that's an interesting tale from the early days of the war. Apparently, the Admiralty pulled off quite a ruse with that one, fooling not only the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine, but the people of Southampton as well, all of whom were fully expecting her arrival at that port, when in fact, she was instead run flat out straight from the Clyde to New York. The story is covered here: http://uncommonjourneys.com/pages/qe/qewartime.htm , and Steven Anderson posted a few photos of her NY arrival from his collection here:
https://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/discus/messages/6937/49080.html?1128040292

Regards,
Scott Andrews
 

Dave Gittins

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Apr 11, 2001
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I see that John Maxstone-Graham says Queen Elizabeth sailed for New York with launching gear still attached. He doesn't say when or where it was removed and the hull anti-fouled. It may have been in Sydney or Singapore.
 
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Scott R. Andrews

Guest
Some of the conversion work onboard was done at Todd Shipyards across the Hudson River at Hoboken, NJ. There were also several east coast US shipyards with dry dock facilities capable of handling ships of that size, with both Boston and Newport News being possible candidates. So, perhaps she may not have had to sail as far as Sydney or Singapore while fighting against the drag induced by both a fouled bottom and the remains of the launch cradles still riveted to her hull.

Regards,
Scott Andrews
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Timothy,

quote:

My thoughts on this being a replacement for the Titanic (and later the Britannic II -- come on, now, the Homeric could not properly keep up with the Olympic and Majestic) is that we know that White Star wanted a big replacement ship...
I agree. While I have always been a fan of the Homeric, she was really out of her depth on the three-ship express service, and IMHO the main factor that White Star’s express trio did not quite match Cunard’s service for passenger numbers. As has been remarked upon many times, Homeric’s service speed was designed at 18.5 knots, and although it was supposedly increased by a knot after 1924 she remained slow; the average speed figures for 1923 bear this out:

Majestic: 23.29 knots; Mauretania: 23.29 knots; Leviathan: 23.00 knots; Olympic: 21.44 knots; Berengaria: 20.40 knots; Homeric: 18.11 knots.

In fact, 1923 was a slow year for Olympic, making the White Star trio’s speed differential even starker.

Homeric did earn a degree of popularity, yet I think White Star was disappointed at her passenger lists. While Majestic was more than a match for Berengaria, and Olympic was relatively competitive with the Aquitania, Homeric was no match for the Mauretania’s popularity. In 1922, her debut year, she carried the highest number of passengers she ever would in a single year. Only for three years in the 1920s did she average more than six hundred passengers per crossing, whereas her rival Mauretania was averaging up to eight hundred passengers. In 1923, Majestic’s average passenger lists were more than double Homeric’s. It seems fair to say that Majestic swept the floor with the competition, carrying over 8,000 passengers more than her nearest rival that year, but if it’s unfair to compare Homeric to her then a stark contrast can be made with Olympic. Although it is by no means a like-on-like comparison, by the end of 1920 Olympic had carried more passengers than the Homeric would in her ten years on the Atlantic run from 1922. In 1923, Olympic's average passenger carryings were over forty percent above Homeric's, and she carried over 11,000 more passengers on a heavier schedule. More tellingly, by early 1926 Majestic had been in service for nearly four years, and as the most popular liner afloat for several of those years she had carried as many passengers as the Homeric ever would on the Atlantic.

Broadly speaking, whereas Majestic had up to half of the trio’s yearly passenger share, Olympic had around a third or more and Homeric was left with the remainder. By 1924 her average passenger lists had dropped every year; they began to rise slowly in 1925-26 before the good year of 1927. I think it was quickly clear to White Star that they needed another liner of the Majestic or Olympic’s calibre, and soon after the Homeric had entered service. However, it is easy to be too harsh on the Homeric. As I have said, she was competing on a service for which she was not suited, and had she been on another — secondary — service then it could be argued that she would have been very popular indeed. She would have stood comparison with any of the 'Big Four,' I would wager. She was a fine ship, and it’s sad she did not have the career that she could have enjoyed

Best wishes,

Mark.​