Why did Olympic and Britannic go to war


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Hello all

This is a follow on from an earlier thread about the political influence of the Titanic.

I was thinking about how the British Government had a major part to play in the financing of the Mauretania and the Lusitania, giving Cunard a huge long term loan and a low rate of interest to create the ships, with the proviso that if there was ever a need for them in war they could be requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted for its use.

I have some difficulty, therefore, in understanding how the British Government managed to requisition the "Olympic" and the "Britannic" which were fundamentally, foreign owned vessels. Surely the IMM, if not White Star, would have taken steps to ensure that their vessels, which were under no obligation to the British Admiralty, were kept clear from danger.

Perhaps someone could explain how significant the fact that they were British registered was, and if this was the reason they were called up. If it was the case then surely these registrations could have been revoked.

It is also strange that the Olympic was painted and used as a troopship, putting her right in the line of fire, whereas the Lusitania, even on her fateful last voyage, was still to all intents and purposes, officially regarded as a merchant ship.

The great Cunarders and White Star ships all did sterling work in the war, but I just don't understand why the White Star ships were there, at least before 1917 when the USA joined the war.

Regards

Sam
 
If I remember correctly (I'm saying this without checking my sources, being exhausted...) when White Star became American-owned, they signed an agreement for their ships to remain on the British registry and available for government service for twenty years. This was renewed in 1919 so that the company could get the HAPAG liner Bismarck, ceeded to Britain under the Treaty of Versailles.
 
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Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hey there,

Sam, I've heard that Lusitania stayed a merchantvessel till her final end for several reasons:

- There had to be ships who kept contact between Britain and America. Lusitania was choosen for this duty. Soon it became clear that a cruiser like Mauretania was very unsuitable for a duty in war, as they 'ate' coals like it was nothing. So, far too expansive. After this discovery there was no need anymore to turn Lucy into a warship too.

- A ship like Lusitania would be a great target for the German submarines. I've heard that Winston Churchill as head of the British admirality secretly hoped that the Germans would sunk Lusitania as that would cause a lot of victims under US-citizens. Their deads would be a reason for the US to take part at the war on British and allied side. Actually this has happened, but I'm not sure if the complot theorie is a fact.

Oh, just before I forget, I don't know anything about the agreement between Whiste Star and the British government, but I do know that the British tooked every ship they liked. Very bad of course as they very funny robbed the 'beautiful big Titanic look-a-like' new Dutch liner Statendam from the Netherlands without any grounded reason. I, as a born chauvinist, certainly do not agree with such behaviour and see this as a real crime against innocent little nations, caused by the war-like empires in Europe!
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Many regards,
Rolf.
 
Rolf,

But what price a ship in return for the thousands of British/Canadian/American/Australian victims who gave their lives on the Belgian/French and Dutch battlefields in order that the Belgian/French/Dutch people should be free again?
 
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Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hehehehe, Geoff, the Netherlands were a neutral country during World war I and didn't had any battle. We've only took care over the thousends of Belgian refugees and kept the merchant between European countries with it's head above the water in that time of crisis. So there was absolutely no right to take our ships!
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Sorry Rolf, I must have been thinking of World War Two! It is not a story that I have heard before so why was the U.K. simply able to take it?
and why was nothing done about it? All seems very odd!
 
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Rolf Vonk

Guest
Hi Geoff,

Really no point at all, I was already thinking you made a link to WWII!

Well, why was it so simple to take the Statendam. The Statendam was built at H&W in Belfast. Holland America line was a client of this yard too. Perhaps you know that the Dutch nobleman Jonkheer Otto Reuchlin was aboard Titanic as he liked to see how the 'life and atmosphere' onboard such great liners was. Simply because Statendam would be almost exactly the same kind of ship. She was the sixth biggest liner in the world at the time of her launch with an enormous passengercapacity. The bad thing was that Statendam was launched just before the war began. The splendid interiors were still not fitted and installated, however the machines etc were. These points combined with the lack of good troopships on British side and the fact that she was laying in a British harbor, should have been the reason from the government to take her. Of course the Dutch government made a protest against it and called it unacceptable. However the British forced to keep the ship forever and not just only for wartime. Everything was said with that, as the Holland America Line didn't liked to loose the ship for always. However Justicia (ex-Statendam) was finally torpeded and sunken by a German U-boot (really no JUSTICE
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). There was a little compensation for the Dutch government and Holland America Line for this loss.

It was a pity as Statendam would have been a real Dutch Olympic class liner or certainly a look-a-like. The not-fitted interiors stayed at Belfast till the new Statendam from '29 was ready and were used in that marvelous ship to give her the air of long gone time and the sphere of Belle epoque. However this ship also had a rather short life as she burnt out when the German Luftwaffe bombed the total city and harbors of Rotterdam in may 1940. Almost everything was destroyed...but like a miracle the Holland America office and harbor survived and can still be seen.

Many regards,
Rolf.
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Surely the IMM, if not White Star, would have taken steps to ensure that their vessels, which were under no obligation to the British Admiralty, were kept clear from danger.

Actually, IMM did exactly the opposite; it agreed to keep the British-flag ships of the combine registered in Britain and available to the Admiralty in wartime. A couple of considerations came into play.

First, White Star received annual subsidies from the Admiralty for the ships designed for rapid conversion into armed merchant cruisers. (In 1899, for example, the subsidy for Teutonic was £7,265 ($35,355) and for Majestic, £7,396 ($35,992), according to an article that appeared in The New York Times on 23 April 1899.) These subsidies, together with the income generated by carrying the Royal Mail, were crucial to IMM, particularly after the U.S. Congress failed to act in 1902 on a ship subsidy bill. IMM simply could not afford to lose the AMC subsidies or the Royal Mail contracts.

IMM was also concerned about possible British reprisals against IMM's ships and additional British government assistance to Cunard, along the lines of what was being provided for Lusitania and Mauretania. (In fact, in negotiating the agreement with the Admiralty, Morgan attempted to persuade Britain to undo the agreement with Cunard; when that failed, he then tried to get Admiralty agreement to assist White Star in building two comparable ships. That effort failed, too.)

On the other side of the Atlantic, the acquisition of White Star by IMM caused considerable concern in England on a number of political, economic and emotional fronts. One of those was the effect on the Admiralty if the British-flag ships of the combine were not available in wartime.

The end result was an agreement between IMM and the British government, under which all of the British companies in IMM would keep their ships under British flag (unless the President of the Board of Trade consented to a transfer), manned by British officers and subject to the same British regulations governing the nationality of crew members as other British-flag ships. IMM also agreed that a majority of the directors of those companies would be British citizens. The Government's right to take any British ship owned by IMM was also part of the agreement, as was an undertaking that at least half of all new IMM tonnage would be British-registered.

In exchange, IMM was promised treatment "on the same footing of general equality with other British companies" when it came to military and postal services.

This agreement somewhat assuaged the "national humiliation" to Britain of having one of its principal lines fall into American hands. From IMM's part, it eliminated any threat of British discrimination against IMM's ships and preserved White Star's ability to bid for contracts to carry the Royal Mail. In order to "buy peace", as it were, IMM agreed to put Olympic, Britannic and their fleet mates in harm's way.

Sources: Vale's The American Peril; Flayhart's The American Line; Oldham's The Ismay Line; Anderson's White Star; The New York Times, 25 April 1902.

MAB
 
Mark, Mark and Rolf, thank you very much for the information...a major gap (and there are lots of them!) in my knowledge has been filled.

Kind regards

Sam
 

Paul Lee

Member
Probably a stupid question, but..... was the Olympic requisitioned as a troop transport before or after the US entered WWI? If the former, then how did an American owned ship become "taken over" by the British government?

Cheers

Paul

 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Hello, Paul---

I've moved your message to this thread, which addresses your second question, I believe. As to the first, Olympic began her trooping service on 24 September 1915, with a Liverpool to Mudros trip. Source: Mills' RMS Olympic: The Old Reliable.
 

Brent Holt

Member
Olympic was British registered, which means she could be taken over by the government for service. It's as simple as that.

Brent
 
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