Olympics's Sound Hull & Machinery


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It is often thought that Olympic during the 1930s was in a bad condition. Expressions such as ‘severe fatigue,’ ‘cracking-up hull’ and ‘tired worn-out machinery’ are commonly used. Actually, from a brief check of the ssurveys she does not seem to have been in bad condition at all for a ship of her age. The main for this post is her general machinery. After the repairs to her rivets and hull cracks from 1930/1931, every passenger certificate was issued for twelve months as far as I know after limited examination at the moment.

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Quote:

‘The oil fuel system remains in very good condition. The boiler rooms are exceptionally clean…’ — Board of Trade, 1928
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‘The double bottom under the engines was very carefully and minutely examined in company with the senior ship surveyor and except for a few defective rivets, was found in satisfactory condition. The thrust blocks were lifted and the seatings examined with no weight on them, and it was found that a considerable number of rivets required renewal…
…all have been renewed at boiler construction standard all holes being reamered and a very careful inspection maintained to see that the rivets were a good fit through the entire length two additional stiffening brackets were fitted to the thrust seatings.’ — Board of Trade, December 1932.
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‘I made a careful inspection around the bedplates and choking when the vessel was last in Southampton, and I was unable to find any indications of movement, and I am of the opinion that these parts are substantially as good as ever they were… A declaration or twelve months…has been issued to the owners.’ — Board of Trade, May 10th 1933.
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‘The survey of this vessel for renewal of passenger certificate has been completed and a declaration of twelve months issued to the owners…
‘The bedplates of the main engines have been very carefully and minutely examined and in no case could any movement or defect be discovered…(Explanation of detailed mechanics) I am informed that at no time during the vessel’s history have these conditions been maintained for a like period.’ — Board of Trade, January 1934.
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‘It is almost sacrilege to destroy her after the performance she put up on this last voyage from Southampton,’ — Chief Engineer C. W. McKean. ‘I could have understood the necessity (of scrapping) if the “Old Lady” had lost her efficiency,’ he would tell a reporter, ‘but the engines are as sound as they ever were. Better, in fact, than when they were first installed in 1911.’ — October 1935.
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Regarding the oft-cited opinion that her machinery was tired, which it wasn’t, and that Olympic could only make 20 knots by the 1930s, I have the following stated before and after repairs:

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The revolutions will be 78…The Olympic has now done three voyages to New York since the repairs were affected and on the last voyage the engines were run at 77 port and 75 starboard, giving an average speed of 21½ knots without the slightest trouble.’ — Board of Trade, May 1933.
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Now, that should sort the speculation. She was therefore capable of well over 20 knots. About 21½ was averaged westbound against the current even at an easy average of seventy-six revolutions. As quoted, it was stated full revolutions (normal full speed) revolutions will be 78 r.p.m., which equates to nearly 23 knots or more. Certainly I should think over 22 knots even against a heavy current, but Olympic had had some new propellers since her early years and so Titanic comparisons do not fit or prove much. True, white star did claim she could do 23 knots average on service after the ‘new engines’ but although it is reported she was not that good it is not mentioned that she had slowed significantly to 20. She was still averaging 22½ knots in 1930, but that is the latest log extract I have. The surveyor even notes 21½ knots at an easy pace. In the 1920s she averaged 23 knots on several times.

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‘She will always be remembered for her magnificent war service and as a very fine-looking, reliable, comfortable and steady “old lady” — even though she was only twenty-four when taken out of service.,’ J. H. Isherwood wrote in Sea Breezes, February 1956. He continued: ‘Four years more and she might have been of enormous value to her country in World War II. Her hull was still as sound as a bell. But the great and rapid strides in marine engineering had made her uneconomical by modern standards and the slump rendered her redundant. The dreary flattened hulk towing up to Inverkeithing was, I think, rather specially pathetic. Besides being all that remained of a very proud ship, it brought back memories of the terrible disasters that had befallen her two sisters and was a symbol not only of the end of a ship but also of one of the greatest of transatlantic shipping companies.’
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‘Olympic’s hull was in excellent condition when she was scrapped.’ — ‘Majesty at Sea: The Four Stackers,’ 1981. (Wording rough.)
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I remember in one forum it was said that Wards noted Olympic’s hull as ‘surprisingly sound’ in late 1935 when they had her., but do not have the exact source.

Now, back to other trouble: stern frame replacement and general cracking. I have the following quotes:

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‘The repairs to the sidescuttles in the bridge sheerstake and in the bow plating have proved efficient, but a further fracture in the latter has been repaired by welding…A few screw rivets in the stern frame over the apertures were found to need attention but otherwise the connections are satisfactory.’ — Board of Trade, 1928
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Following the hull repairs of cracking in superstructure and near aft expansion joint, 1930/1931, which were not major compared to those found in other ships of the time, it seems that Olympic’s surveys did not note any hull defects and were all issued for twelve months after a brief examination at present:

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‘The survey of the Olympic for renewal of passenger certificate has been completed and a declaration of twelve months issued.’ — Board of Trade, 1933.
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Erik Wood

Member
Apr 10, 2001
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Mr. Chirnside,

Very good info I will be printing it off for my own records. You did a outstanding job in research. From what I gather then she was primarily taken out of service because she was no longer efficient. There was some mention about rivets needing replaced and such. That could have let some to believe that if one was bad the rest where bad as well. But it is a sign of a aging lady.

Erik
 
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Erik,

I'm back already, just been checking my e-mail and wanted to ensure this had been posted. Thanks for the compliment. Actually, when I ordered the document at the Public Record Office containing surveys for the Olympic it turned-out that there were <FONT COLOR="ff0000">six enormous boxes, filled with blueprints, notes, and tatty files. They proved really interesting, but as I was only able to visit for a day and was also researching her wartime career in further detail for my book my search was not as extensive as I would have liked. There are some further details but to post them all would be impossible.

To be honest, I think one of the reasons she went was specifically that she was a White Star ship, but her older reciprocating engines could not have helped in comparing her with the turbine liners. Cunard only kept the latest White Star ships, Laurentic, Britannic and Georgic (1927, 1930, 1932). Olympic was 24, compared to Berengaria's 22, Aquitania's 21 and Majestic's 20-year-old hull, but Majestic and Berengaria frequently caught fire due to inferior wiring in the 1930s. By 1938, Berengaria had become such a hazard that America banned its citizens from sailing in her and after an outbreak of fire her passenger certificate was withdrawn! Majestic was youngest, but her hull construction was inferior, and I think they only kept her because in early 1935 she was still the largest in the world before Normandie. They should have kept Olympic, in my opinion, if only until 1936 when Queen Mary arrived, as Berengaria's electrical problems and machanical trouble (according to 'Glory Days: Cunard,' Ian Allan, 1998) would probably have been apparent then and Olympic could have gone on until 1939, then for another decade of war service like Aquitania. I may be biased, but I still think Olympic was in better condition than Majestic and Berengaria generally, even though she was older.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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If is funny that you mention the engines. I was just reading up on the Steamship William G Mather a ship that when I am not underway I am a tour guide. She had recips up until 1954. I think though that is fairly common among ships on the Great Lakes. Where is this Public Records Office and how do I go about smoozing through some of those files myself. The thought of getting rid of her just because of her name rings true I think but I am sad to say it.

I was also wondering if you would bring up the Queen Mary. She to me is the last of the great liners. I visit her when ever possible. Seeing as I work in the passenger industry I feel that I have some sort of connection to her. I have met engineers who served on her. Engineers who up until a couple of years ago where still in the business.
 
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The Public Record Office have a website:

www.pro.gov.uk

Visit there and all of your questions should be answered. They have eight-and-a-half-million documents! However, it's in London and I gather you're around Canada. I should think there might be a closer office, I think there is one in Australia and some Scottish, Irish offices in those countries. I should think there's bound to be one in America or at least somewhere closer to you which may have some 'Olympic' class records.

I was surprised to hear of that ship having her reciprocators until 1954. Olympic's reciprocating engine and turbine propulsion was about as economical as Aquitania if I remember correctly from earlier discussions, but the new company could have put it forward against her nevertheless. (Olympic burned 1.16 tons of coal per mile at 21.7 knots on her maiden trip, while Aquitania burned 1.24 tons per mile at 21&frac12; knots, although that figure might be for coal and so may not be a fair comparison.)

If I'm not mistaken, Queen Mary was rivetted with similar methods and has been alive for seventy-one years since construction. I often wonder how well she aged, but I only have one book about her which does not give much detail on that aspect ('The Mary; The Story Of No. 534' by Neil Potter and Jack Frost, updated by Lindsay Frost, Shipping Books Press, 1998; 262 pages), however the book is probably the best written about her.

Must dash, Best regards,

Mark.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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If I am not mistaken she has gone through a major refit before her removal from service. I will look into it thanks for the info.

Erik
 

Cal Haines

Member
Dec 2, 2000
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Tucson, AZ USA
Hi Mark,

Thank you for posting all the wonderful information! I have saved it for future reference. You mentioned blue prints. Did you get a chance to peek at them or do you otherwise have any idea what they consist of?

Warm Regards,

Cal
 
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You mentioned blue prints. Did you get a chance to peek at them or do you otherwise have any idea what they consist of?

The blueprints filled two whole boxes. They were incredibly detailed, but my engineering mind is not that good, they were frail and I was not able to get them copied. As time was short, I did not get a good look either. Sorry I can't be of more help.

It was annoying that I unearthed a complete oil-firing diagram of the Olympic a while ago at the Merseyside Maritime Museum but it was in poor condition and I was not allowed to look at at.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Cal Haines

Member
Dec 2, 2000
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Tucson, AZ USA
Thanks Mark!

One other question, did this collection include the documents from the BOT Inquiries into the loss of Titanic and the Olympic/Hawke collision, or are those elsewhere?

Warm Regards,

Cal
 
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One other question, did this collection include the documents from the BOT Inquiries into the loss of Titanic and the Olympic/Hawke collision, or are those elsewhere?

Yes, those documents were at the office. I am ordering the testimony of Olympic's engineers by post sometime in the future and so will have a better idea of her working. It did include the Titanic enquiry but as I've got it (the 1998 reprint, which cost me a cool &pound;75) I did not look at it.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
Dec 7, 2000
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I'm a little late, but never the less the discussion is still going.

Mark, I noticed you said there would be something PROish in Australia. Do you know anything about it, as I would most certainly like to have a look at it (if it's not too far from me)?

Also, this is just a general question to anyone that can help. In 1935, when Olympic was scrapped, a great deal of her was being auctioned off, from her anchors to her elaborate interiors.

There was a catalogue, I think generally known as her "scrap book" which listed all the lots and what was being auctioned off. I think it's about 300 pages long. I've long wanted a copy of it, or at least a few pages from some of the sections.

Does anyone have a copy of the book or might be able to provide me with further help on how to obtain a copy or just some copies of some of the page.

Thank you to anyone that can help.

Daniel. [email protected]
 
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No problem about being a little late, the longer this thread floats the better. There are so many sources that seem to exagerate her ageing, which was quite usual in a large ship that age in the 1930s. It's even in a FAQ post:

1932 – ... Olympic's seaworthiness certificate is only now granted in half-yearly, vice yearly, increments. A survey in October reveals major vibration damage in the engine bed plates and lower hull riveting.

I'll be replying to your e-mail as soon as possible, Daniel.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
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Noticed I hadn't answered your question about the Australian "PROish" Daniel. <FONT COLOR="ff0000">It is my belief that there is a similar office there, but I have no further information. It was written down somewhere but I just can't remember the source.

<FONT COLOR="119911">Like I said, I'll reply to your e-mail as soon as I can; perhaps in a few days or a week.

<FONT COLOR="0077aa">Today I've just been on stage for the second run-through of a Drama examination performance with an audience who paid for the priviledge of being subjected to me playing a "Stressed Eric" businessman, or at least that was part of the performance. I think it went well, but now I have no acting to do!
 
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Reference to 'Olympic's Speed.' In 1930 Eastbound she averaged speeds of 22.6, 23.0, 24.1 knot, 22 knot, 22 knot, 20 knot, 22.57 knots going East (not in order); she was still very fast, albeit aided by a sometimes one-knot current, yet this was a typical crossing it seems.
 

Nigel Hampson

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Jan 11, 2006
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FAO Mark Chirnside.

Mark,
In your very well researched article above ((My hat off to you for that!!)) you say "I remember in one forum it was said that Wards noted Olympics hull as "Surprisingly Sound" in late 1935 when they had her, but do not have the exact source".
Well the source was me! It came about through a booklet that I came across in February 2000. This booklet was a hardback catalogue that Wards used to do every year up until the late 60's. The one that I have is from 1938 and covers in slight detail the activities of the firms ship breaking activities. It mentions the Homeric, Majestic and Olympic and has a couple of photographs of Olympic arriving at Jarrow for scrapping ((Not in ANY book I've ever seen assure you!!))
Without looking it up again, I forget the exact wording of the text, but I remember it being along the lines of Wards being very surprised at the soundness of the Olympics hull and machinery, and in numerous conversations with John Hall the present curator and manager of Wards ((The company is still trading)), it came out that when Wards bought the Olympic, it was stipulated in the sales contract very firmly, that she go to the breakers and NOT be sold on to any other company, this is a fact that is still listed in the Wards archives - but which are not available to view.
I personally do find it a trifle odd that such a strong stipulation was made on the sale of Olympic, and yet the Majestic was very readily sold on to the Royal Navy for use as a training ship.
Hope this clears that one point for you !!

Nigel Hampson
Sheffield
England
http://communities.msn.co.uk/SHIPSOFTHEWHITESTARLINE

[email protected]
 
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<FONT COLOR="ff0000">Attention Cal: Chief Engineer Fleming

I've now sent it off with final payment and should receive his testimony of 1911 during the next month, it mentions the working of the turbine/reciprocators, manuvering, etc., or should do.
 

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