Jason Ponic works in the exciting world of Hollywood film and television by day and writes by night.
1907. When J. Bruce Ismay and Lord William Pirrie first envisioned a class of ship unlike any other yet seen, they had no idea the tragedy that would ultimately reticulate the dream. Famous or infamous, the Olympic-Class has reached a level of immortality few ships have reached.
Everyone remembers the four funnels, but many other details have since been overlooked or forgotten by the lexicon. While Olympic, Titanic, and Britannic were indeed sister ships, they were not truly identical. There were enough variations between the three to make each sister unique. Let's take a look at the world's most famous class of passenger ships.
'Old Reliable' never sank. It's a distinction that sets her apart from her younger sisters. She remained in continuous service from 1911 until 1935 when she was scrapped after the merger of White Star and Cunard. As the lead ship of the class, one could consider the Olympic as the base line model. She represented the original design and configuration of the Olympic-Class. She featured two promenades one on A-Deck and the other B-Deck. Her A-Deck promenade was unenclosed. Her B-Deck promenade encircled the entire deck where the most luxurious cabins were. She featured an A La Carte restaurant at the aft portion of the deck.
The class broke many standards across all three classes of travel. The 1st Class luxury bar was set with Olympic with her opulence and amenities. 2nd Class on board her, rivaled 1st class on other ships. 3rd Class even set new standards, with promenade decks, bunk cabins instead of dormitories, and the introduction of smoking rooms.
The most famous ship of all time. At the time, however, Titanic was just another spoke in the wheel of transatlantic travel. It wouldn't be until she sank on her maiden voyage, taking 1,500 people with her, would she reach superstardom. Often her sisters are forgotten in her shadow.
After Olympic's historic maiden voyage to New York, the White Star Line decided to modify Titanic to give her a bigger market gap. Largely these changes were cosmetic in nature. Changes to her interior color scheme, for example. Cigar holders in the 1st class restrooms or different style windows.
Some of the biggest changes increased Titanic's size. It was discovered that Olympic's B-Deck promenade was redundant and rarely used as passengers preferred the one on A-Deck. White Star decided to fill in the promenade with additional cabins including two parlor suites that they made the most luxurious on board. These cabins, one on either side, retained a small section of B-Deck promenade as a private promenade. A second restaurant was also added to the former promenade space, the Café Parisien.
One deck above, White Star decided to enclose the forward portion of the A-Deck promenade for the comfort of their 1st Class passengers. Where on Olympic, the entire deck was open air, the portion of the deck between the 1st and 2nd Funnels was now enclosed by dividers and the windows were screened over to shield against wind and salt spray. This modification would give Titanic her most distinctive appearance difference from her older sister.
The youngest sister, Britannic, never got a chance to cater to the millionaires she was designed to attract. Before her construction was even complete, World War 1 had already broken out. Requisitioned by the British government, she was outfitted as a hospital ship. Six missions later, she would strike a mine and sink to the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Britannic represented the pinnacle of the Olympic Class, the very best of the three. Taking lessons learned from both Olympic and especially Titanic after her sinking, Britannic's design was heavily modified for both luxury and safety. The biggest of the three, she was meant to raise the bar yet again.
Since Britannic was still under construction, the shipbuilders were able to modify the ship's safety design without completely rebuilding it. Olympic spent five months in dry dock after the disaster getting retrofitted with higher bulkheads, additional lifeboats and a double hull skin that encapsulated the lower hull. Essentially the entire bottom 2/3s of the ship was completely rebuilt. These same safety features we added to Britannic as well. Another bulkhead was added, giving Britannic seventeen watertight compartments instead of sixteen like her sisters.
Britannic's most striking visual distinction were the installation of enormous crane style davits. These allowed stacks of boats be carried in the same space as a sing row of bows on her older sisters. Ultimately 55 boats were installed on the ship, including two that were motorized, a first for the class.
Some of the common rooms were repositioned. The aft well deck was enclosed, giving the third class a covered promenade. The third class smoking room was moved above the general room on the poop deck, giving the stern a larger appearance. The second class was given a gymnasium. Every luxury feature on Britannic was upgraded. The grand staircase was modified to include a vast pipe organ. This organ was never installed as Britannic was pressed into service as a hospital ship and sunk.
© 2017 Jason Ponic
??? on November 15, 2019:
Timothy Richards Laurence on October 02, 2019:
I have always been curious about the 'last-minute' decision to add a glass-enclosed area to Titanic's forward A deck promenade. It has always been characterized as being installed to protect First Class passengers from sea spray. I find this reason spurious. Thomas Andrews had noted unusual metal fatigue occurring just where the Olympic reached full beam at the bow when the Olympic was in dry dock following the HMS Hawke collision. He ordered further reinforcement to the area near the full-beam section of Titanic at a critical joint. Was the enclosure of Titanic's forward promenade on A deck, actually part of a strengthening effort to this area of the ship to prevent the metal-fatigue he had discovered aboard the Olympic during her plate repairs? The decision to enclose Titanic's forward A deck because of sea spray, when this deck was fully 70 feet above the waterline always struck me as somewhat ridiculous. Who would be using the A deck promenade in weather conditions so poor that sea spray would envelop A-deck? Any thoughts?