Sunday, April 15, 2012

Titanic tale of a troubled trio

First to go
The Titanic is getting a  lot of ink today on the centennial of the ship's tragic sinking in 1912, but it's worth noting that the Titanic was merely the unluckiest of a trio of ships that seemed to have a habit of running into things -- which generally resulted in something sinking.

The Titanic was a member of the Olympic class of luxury liners.

As is well known, the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after running into an iceberg, but even at that point she wasn't the first of the class to have run into something. On the previous Sept. 20, 1911, the Olympic had collided with the British protected cruiser HMS Hawke, which got much the worse of the encounter., losing its bow. The subsequent inquiry blamed the Olympic for the accident. After being repaired the Hawke was later torpedoed on Oct.15, 1914, during World War I and blew up, with only 70 survivors from its 594-man crew.

No. 2 was Brittanic
After the sinking of the Titanic the Olympic was refitted with safety improvements, which were also incorporated in the last of the line, the RMS Brittanic. The Brittanic was converted into a hospital ship for World War I. The jinx afflicting the class was not long in coming and the ship ran into a mine on Nov. 21, 1916 (an alternative theory is that it was a torpedo, but there doesn't seem to be a claim). The resulting explosion did tremendous damage, exacerbated by portholes that had been left open and the ship sank in less than an hour. Loss of life was, however, relatively low at just 30 crew.

Olympic in dazzle camouflage
The Olympic was also pressed into wartime service, as a troop transport, and it was while seving in this role that it next ran into something -- although this time on purpose. On May 12, 1918, while ferrying American troops to France the Olympic spotted the German submarine U-103 trying to torpedo her and turned to ram. The U-boat was run down. There were 31 survivors from the U-boat crew, which was authorized to have 39 men. They were rescued later by another ship. There were no casualties on Olympic.

Sadly the Olympic class reign of running into things was not quite over. The Olympic returned to civilian service after the war and after more than a decade of runs, on May 15. 1934, the ship cut through the  Nantucket lightship, killing 7 of the 11 men aboard. The very next year the star-crossed liner was taken out of service for good and broken up for scrap a few years later.

Seamen are often seen as a superstitious lot, but when you consider the history of the Olympic-class ships you can begin to understand why.

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