RMS Olympic Another Premature Death Article


Nigel Bryant

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To Mark,

Just want to say what a great article you wrote about the Olympic. It is good to see the name "Olympic" on the main page of Encyclopedia Titanica. Great information on her, execellent job. Hope you continue to write more articles about the Olympic. It was good reading about her.

All the best,

Nigel
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Nigel!

Thanks for the compliments. I am glad that you enjoyed the article. I hope it provokes a through 'think-through' of the circumstances of Olympic's death and then debate; we all have much to learn.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Matthew Lips

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Mar 8, 2001
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Mark.
Very well written, and you do make a good case for the theory that Olympic was retired before her time, but...in order to second guess Cunard's reasons for that it would be important to take passenger numbers into consideration.

I have no idea whether such information exists, but perhaps the numbers might show that passenger interest (already shrunken because of the Depression) in the Olympic was waning. I am well and truly guessing here, but isn't it possible that the Olympic was perceived as being "too slow". Your figures may show that the other ships were only fractionally faster, but once the paying customer gets something stuck in his head and votes with his feet, that's that.

You can argue facts and figures until you are blue in the face, but if the client doesn't want to listen you've got no chance.

This of course is just wild speculation, but (and I mean no criticism, Mark) it seems to me that PUBLIC perception of Olympic versus the others is one aspect of this saga that has not been adequately dealt with if we are to try and fathom the reason for Olympic's "premature" retirement. She may have been the most economical to run, but that is worth nothing if you can't fill the cabins. The moral is that you have to give the customers what they want, and isn't it possible that Olympic could no longer do that?

Keep up the great reasearch!
Cheers.
Matthew L.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Matthew!

No worries about critism -- constructive criticism is always welcomed by any author. In the article I only wrote briefly that "It is also worth noting that her costs generally are also lower, for she [Olympic] arries similar numbers of passengers to all the other vessels." You are quite right in pointing out the lack of detail here and I will post here later the numbers.

Best regards

Mark.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi!

I am here again quicker than I thought.
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but perhaps the numbers might show that passenger interest (already shrunken because of the Depression) in the Olympic was waning. I am well and truly guessing here, but isn't it possible that the Olympic was perceived as being "too slow"... once the paying customer gets something stuck in his head and votes with his feet, that's that.

I have heard that passenger interest in the Olympic wained due to the depression and indeed John Maxtone-Graham cites in his epilogue to the Shipbuilder Special Reprint something to the effect that she was always chosen last. However, although this is a oft-cited opinion, possibly because it comes from such a good source, I personally have seen little evidence to back it up. Olympic did carry very low numbers at times and often in the early 1930s, such as 185 passengers in April 1930 or 158 in May 1934, but she also did carry reasonable complements, similar to all other ships of her size and age in the British 'Big Six.' Other ships, such as Berengaria carrying 134 in September 1932 (traditionally a good season time), or Leviathan 226 in 1932, also went right down at times.

There is much documentation as to Olympic's regularity and reputation as a reliable and excellent seaboat, but I've never seen any that says she was perceived as slow; certainly, no slower than the other vessels Berengariam etc. Thanks to Pat Winsip, I have one newspaper article from 1935 which talks of her excellent performance, something like 'up to the last she averaged over 22 knots.' (And more, actually.
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She may have been the most economical to run, but that is worth nothing if you can't fill the cabins.

When I researched this aspect, mainly Olympic's passenger numbers, I also saw figures for the Majestic-Berengaria- Aquitania. My co-researcher observed that the figures were so similar that it was not worth recording them in comparison, sometimes only varying by ten or something. And so I do not have the *exact* figures for those three ships. But, I do have one for Aquitania when she carried 270 passengers on a cruise returning to Southampton in April 1935. As a cruise this may be lower than usual, and it was as she returned to Southampton, but it seems about right.

I won't give the exact figures for Olympic's last voyage that I have -- and I hope you'll accept my apologies for this -- for I am saving the detailed information I have for my Olympic work; however, on her final round trip of March-April 1935 she carried c.800 passengers. That's an average 400 each way, first class totals by far the highest; it's hardly good, compared to her new 1911-12 figures, but when considering the economic times, a slow recovery from 1935 generally, and the fact that March-April is by no means the high season, it hardly seems bad.

As I said, figures for her 'rival' three ships are very similar; but their running costs and repair costs are higher.

More information that I perhaps should have included for the sake of a more comprehensive argument is the figures of profit for each voyage. I will put these also in my Olympic work, but meanwhile I should say that while all these four big vessels were making losses at the time (as were other smaller vessels), Olympic's losses were lower. If I recall, Berengaria's were the worst.

I hope this helps. I am glad that you enjoyed the article and appreciate your points, for it enables the work to be improved. I hope we continue this debate and hope others will chime in.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Matthew Lips

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Mar 8, 2001
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Mark.
Thanks for taking the time to respond in such depth. As I said, I was just guessing as my knowledge of the Olympic is strictly limited. Still, if passenger numbers between the four vessels were practically identical (sorry if I missed that in your article!!)and Olympic's profitability was the best of the bunch, her relatively premature demise does become virtually impossible to understand - at least for this amateur.

If she was technically sound, not losing more money than the others, and still as popular with passengers as the times would allow, then I am out of ideas as to why Cunard chose to dump her when they did.

I find it hard to accept, though, that (presumably) hardheaded businessmen would have done so without some reason that extended beyond merely wishing to dump the White Star segment of their fleet as fast as they could. Maybe all they really wanted was White Star's slice of the passenger cake and not the White Star fleet per se, but if a perfectly workable Olympic came along as part of the package then there remains no reason that I can find for their decision to retire the four ships in the sequence that they did.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I have no real clue what I'm talking about!! Anyway, I look forward to the imput of others and to reading your Olympic book (assuming that I can afford to buy it given the bloodly awful SA Rand/Pound exchange rate).
Cheers.
Matthew L.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Mark,

You did a great job as usual. Love the article and got some good info out of it. Especially in regards to my own project.

Hopefully we will see another project from you soon.

Erik
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Matthew!

...if passenger numbers between the four vessels were practically identical (sorry if I missed that in your article!!)and Olympic's profitability was the best of the bunch, her relatively premature demise does become virtually impossible to understand

Well, the article's reference was really brief. No worries. From the information I have I do believe that this is true, and likewise I am finding her retirement hard to understand. All I could think of is that this information was in error in some respects, but it was taken from Cunard-White Star's own records and thus I can't see that it wouldn't be accurate. In February 1935 Majestic's hull repairs on a 1934 crack (like the 1924 100-foot crack but not so bad) were failing and I honestly think logic would have dictated her retirement. We also know Berengaria was starting to develop notable problems.

I find it hard to accept, though, that (presumably) hardheaded businessmen would have done so without some reason that extended beyond merely wishing to dump the White Star segment of their fleet as fast as they could.

I do too -- but the rapid demise of the White Star fleet does seem to go some way towards explanation of the new company's policy.

I should emphasise that I would never call the article my 'last word' on the topic because I am -- as we all are -- learning new things as time goes on. But I feel it would take much so-called 'negative' evidence 'against' Olympic's continued post-1935 service to 'tip the balance' with all the positive evidence against her 1935 retirement. (If that's understandable?
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All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I have no real clue what I'm talking about!!

Not at all -- you are objectively exploring the circumstances of Olympic's retirement and the constructive comments you've made show you do know what you're talking about!
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Anyway, I look forward to the imput of others and to reading your Olympic book (assuming that I can afford to buy it given the bloodly awful SA Rand/Pound exchange rate)

Ah -- by the time it's out Blair may have forced the Euro upon us. Still apart from the dissapointing exchange rate Britain has the lowest unemployment of any equivilent country in the world; the lowest debt payments since pre-1914 and record growth, so I can't see why we need the euro. (But now's not for economics.
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Hi Erik!

Thanks -- I am glad the information was of use. If I can by any chance help further don't hesitate to ask.

Hopefully we will see another project from you soon.

Hopefully
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-- soon being the question.
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Thanks to both of you for the comments in this debate -- I'm signing off for tonight, but look forward to continuing.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
T

Trent Pheifer

Guest
Mark,

The article was great!! Enjoyed reading it! I love hearing about Olympic. She sure was "Another Premature Death". Thanks for writing it. I look forward to future ariticles.

-Trent
 
May 12, 2005
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Mark,

Congratulations on the article which was an enlightening read. And continued success in researching for your projected book.

Best wishes,

Randy
 
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Nathan Good

Guest
Hi there all,

Mark, I really enjoyed your article. In fact I've often wondered about that same thing and your article only further agrivated me. I almost hold a resentment for the newer ships that replaced the likes of the Olympic and Mauretania. Pretty big shoes to fill in my opinion.

I can't say that I know much about the mood surrounding the Olympics scrapping, but I'm under the impression the Mauretania was scrapped amidst much 'controversy' and hard feelings. The public outcry of emotion at that time towards the old ship demonstrate her popularity and love by the people. She was the oldest of the group you mentioned, but if Cunard was willing to pull one of their most symbolic and important ships out of service it makes me wonder if they would pull the Olympic out for no apparent reason. I'm also not sure what to believe about the observation that I've often heard about Cunard purposely discarding ships bearing White Star colours after the merger. In hard times you would assume that the company would take all messures to make sure that the remaining ships were the cheapest, most popular and most efficient to operate. Sometimes I wonder if it really was there motive to be rid of White Star. But perhaps I'm biased as the Titanic and White Star first got me interested in the whole ocean liner 'game'. (I also think the Olympic class had just about the most well proportioned and graceful lines ever designed) But all this is just me ramblind late at night. Again Mark, great article, and definatly food for though.

All the best,
Nathan
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Trent, Randy!

Thanks for the kind words -- I enjoyed writing the article and I am pleased that so many people have enjoyed it.

Hi Nathan!

Thanks for your comments. Personally, I agree with your comments about Mauretania: one question asked at the time 'First Mauretania, [and] now Olympic: What next?' I think that comment serves to vindicate your viewpoint on Mauretania being well-liked and held in high affection, and Olympic. Truly I feel that they were thought of as being one of a class that would not be seen again, even in 1935.

(I also think the Olympic class had just about the most well proportioned and graceful lines ever designed)

I would agree -- in my opinion, I prefer her looks to even the Normandie.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Matthew Lips

Member
Mar 8, 2001
304
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Hi all.
Maybe Olympic's premature (?) demise is hard for us to understand, but let me play Devil's Advocate for a moment. Isn't is possible that, as Titanic fans, our judgement of the issue is being clouded by the thought that she was our favourite ship's only surviving sister?

I mean, we would so desperately have loved to see Olympic live for ever in some capacity or other that some of us might still be moaning if Cunard had retired her only after she fell apart completely!! I don't mean to insult anybody's intelligence here, but let's face it, we are not the most objective people on the planet on this matter. Cunard, on the other hand, could view her for what she was with a clear head - not whose sister she was.

Just an idle thought.

Cheers.
Matthew L.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Matthew!

It's a good point you bring up -- many of us would love the Olympic to still be afloat now I am sure.

Personally, I still believe that the figures on her running costs, profit, passenger levels, indicate her retirement as being premature -- but it's definately right to try and be clear and objective about this. From a business sense I sincerely believe Olympic would have made better economically.

That said, I can see that some of her single-story public rooms were not as magnificent as those of, say, Majestic, but there were other things such as staterooms and the new tourist facilities to consider.

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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I have a quick question Mark. I recall reading in your article that cracks where seen on Olympic around the superstructure by the bridge. Could you possibly get any more detail and give me the frame numbers (or what bulkhead alighns with the section in question).

It would be of great help.

Thanks,

Erik
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Erik!

The cracks were around the bridge *deck* rather than the bridge itself, but of course they were in the superstructure. What will be easiest is if I e-mail the data to you separately on the bridge deck:

  • crack sizes;
  • dates detected;
  • repairs effected;
  • several frame numbers

(If these are okay, just post ‘yes’ and I’ll send them along when I can. Do you want any data on the Majestic, Aquitania, etc.?)

Best regards,

Mark.
 

Erik Wood

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I would love it if you could email it to me. Go ahead and send me what you have for the Aquitania as well. Thanks alot.

Erik
 

Matthew Lips

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Mar 8, 2001
304
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Hi all.
Now here's a truly ignorant question (blush, blush) and one which has probably been addressed elsewhere on this board. But here goes anyhow.

Just how many ships did Cunard acquire in the merger with/takeover of White Star? It would be interesting to compare the age and general state of repair of the other vessels involved, and just how quick Cunard was to send them off to the scrappers. That would give us a better idea of whether Cunard really were in an unseemly hurry to get rid of White Star's fleet, which does seem to be the implication.

Just another idle thought.
Cheers.
Matthew L.
 
May 9, 2001
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The question that enters my mind is, were the old liners scrapped so that Cunard could build all-new ships as replacements? I mean we all know that newer ships are more popular to the paying public. Not to mention more effecient, and easier to maintain. No doubt the 20+ year old liners at the time were showing their age in lots of other ways, like internal electical systems, plumbing systems, and ventalation. Wasn't it about 1940 that air conditioning was getting popular?

It may have been that scrapping the old workhorses of the line was the first step in a larger plan to rebuild the fleet with modern ships, and modern shipboard luxuries.

Very good article. I really enjoyed reading the work. Congratulations!

Yuri
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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There is a story about the Queen Mary not getting air conditioning until the late or mid fifties. That could be wrong.

I would say that as a general rule of thumb companies love to sell off ships at around 20 years and pawn them off onto somebody else. The Cunard/White Star merger was probably harder on Cunard then White Star. Up to that point Cunard didn't have to worry about the maintanence issues involved in White Star's ships. To me a merger is just elimanating competetion. Cunard wanted the business on it's ships and not on White Stars so they slowly got rid of them and replaced them. If I recall rightly the QM almost wasn't finished.

Erik
 

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