The Titanic has become famous for its spectacular and tragic end, and has overshadowed its sister ships, the Britannic and the Olympic.
All three Titanic sister ships were classified as Olympic Class ships, and were intended as luxury transatlantic ocean liners meant to take passengers from Britain to America and back. Despite being named after the lesser known Olympic, both vessels are more closely associated with their famous and ill-fated sister, the Titanic.
Of the three ships, both Titanic and the Britannic met tragic ends, though the Britannic is now largely forgotten. The Olympic had a long and illustrious career as an ocean liner and as a troop ship for the British Royal Navy during the war. Neither of the other two ships attained the same level of infamy in popular culture, yet both had interesting careers and in the case of the RMS Britannic, very tragic ends.
Pictured above is the RMS Olympic, one of the Titanic sister ships, painted with a camouflage design. The pattern was designed to make it harder for any u-boat or enemy ship to accurately gauge the size, speed and direction of travel of the ship.
The Olympic made its maiden voyage in 1911 and was serving as a transatlantic ocean liner at the beginning of the war, linking Britain to the United States. It was requisitioned by the Royal Navy and pressed into service as a troop ship.
In this role, it the Olympic earned the nickname of “Old Reliable,” due to its unblemished record of ferrying over 200,000 allied troops without any incident or loss. Of the Titanic sister ships, the Olympic fared the best. She avoided icebergs and torpedoes, and did not sink; yet the war took away her glory and instead of serving as a luxurious ocean passenger liner, she was stocked with war supplies, soldiers and ammunition. Her beautiful staterooms were wrecked. The Olympic would never regain its glory or prestige.
The other member of Titanic sister ships, the Britannic was not so lucky. The Britannic had not yet been completed when World War 1 began and at first it was laid up in dry dock by its owners, who were unsure what to do with her, since the outbreak of the war had killed the transatlantic passenger trade. She was finally launched in December 1915 and converted into a hospital ship with the Royal Navy.
The Britannic’s career was almost as short as the Titanic. She sank on November 21, 1916 while on duty in the Aegean sea. There was an explosion that ripped the Titanic sister ship apart. It may have been caused by a floating mine or a torpedo fired by a U-boat submarine. Despite brave attempts to save the ship, it soon sank, with the loss of only 30 deaths out of 1066 on board. The Britannic was the largest ship sunk during World War 1.
The sinking of the HMS Britannic provides one of those interesting historical footnotes that sound like fiction. One of the survivors of the sinking of the Britannic was a British nurse named Violete Jessup. Before volunteering to serve as a nurse on board the Olympic, Jessup had served as a stewardess aboard the Titanic and had survived her sinking. Then she had transferred to Titanic’s sister ship, the Olympic and was on board that ship when the Olympic collided with a cruiser in 1911 and almost sank. And then she was on board the ill fated Britannic when she sank. Personally I would not have wanted to be on any ship that Jessup was on.
After the war, Jessup went back to being a stewardess working for the White Star shipping line and she lived to the ripe old age of 83. Presumably none of the other ships that she served on met a watery grave.
This article about the sad and strange fate of the Titanic sister ships was last updated on June 18, 2021 by adding additional information as well as a youtube video.