RMS OLYMPIC: TITANIC’S SISTER

‘The best…marvellous…astounding achievement…superb…excellent…fascinating…boy, was it worth the wait! ...An instant classic.’

PUBLICATION DETAILS

Chirnside, Mark. RMS Olympic: Titanic’s Sister. Tempus Publishing; November 26th 2004. 320 pages. Twenty-eight colour images.
Reprinted: November 2005.
Reprint and corrections page: RMS Olympic: Titanic's Sister
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PUBLISHER’S TEXT AND PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

RMS Olympic, White Star Line’s ‘Old Reliable’ has been overshadowed by her ill-fated sisters Titanic and Britannic for over ninety years. The first of a new breed of superliner, the list of superlatives that Olympic has is breath-taking. When built, she was the largest ship in existence being almost 50% larger than her next nearest rival, she was one of the first ships to introduce Turkish Baths and a swimming pool, she carried more troops in the First World War than any other comparable steamship and she was the only liner ever to sink a submarine by ramming it. Surviving from 1911 until 1935, Olympic was a favourite of royalty and film stars as well as the general travelling public. She had a style and opulence, even in her twilight years, which few ocean liners could match. But why has she been woefully neglected by maritime historians?

Mark Chirnside has written the first detailed history of Olympic and here he tells the story of the ship and her time in service at war and in peace. With much previously unpublished information and illustrations he explains why she was so important in terms of the development of the passenger ship. RMS Olympic simply was the most important ocean liner of her generation.

Mark Chirnside is one of the world experts on these famous liners. This is his second book for Tempus.

REVIEWS

‘I must congratulate you on an excellent history of Olympic, the best I have seen yet. Well done!’ – John White, December 4th 2004. White Star Memories, Europe's Leading Exhibition Specialists on RMS Titanic and the White Star Line


‘It was worth the wait.’ – Michael Standart, December 29th 2004.


‘The RMS Olympic went to the assistance of the Titanic, whose fate eclipsed its sister ship’s image. Chirnside argues that the former was the most innovative British-built ocean liner of its time, with a mostly successful run of transatlantic crossings and troop transport. In this first comprehensive history spanning 1908 to 1935, he corrects several misconceptions. Illustrations include the ship’s amenities, deck plans, colourful cruise ads and souvenir postcards. Appendices include what is believed to be its only profit and loss account, other statistics, and notes of a competing line’s “spy.”’ – ‘Book News’ annotation, 2004. Powell's Books


‘A substantial new volume dealing with the life and times of Olympic…it is a mystery as to why Olympic has been previously neglected by maritime historians. How impressive it is that this omission has been so effectively redressed by Mark Chirnside…’ – Maritime Journal, Emsworth, Hantshire, January 2005.


‘Your Olympic book is a marvellous read-and-re-read!’ – Pete Hodges, January 11th 2005.


An astounding achievement and an incredible credit to the Olympic. A first class, grade “A” book, I am very pleased I bought it.’ – Daniel Klistorner, February 10th 2005.


‘I received my copy at last via Amazon, and so far have read up to the end of the chapter on Olympic’s war service. I must say, Mark really has done “Old Reliable” justice. The research and attention to detail which has gone into this work would drive mere mortals round the bend! …an excellent book, and about time that Olympic received the credit she deserves. After all, she was not only the first of her kind, but the only one of her class to succeed in the purpose for she was created. I did find it mildly amusing to see Titanic in one caption referred to as “Olympic’s sister.” Makes a change from the usual, doesn’t it, because for once Olympic is being recognised in her own right and not as the forgotten twin (more or less) of two of the most ill-fated vessels ever to put to sea.’ – Matthew Lips, February 28th 2005. Encyclopedia-Titanica


‘It’s great. Good information on a ship that has been overshadowed by her sisters…The colour illustration on the cover was very interesting, as were the illustrations throughout. It was a good read!’ – Anthony Nigrelli , Washington , April 4th 2005.


‘…so very good! Nice to read some detail on “Old Reliable” for a change, rather than her being a small footnote to the Titanic story.’ – Mike Bull, May 23rd 2005.


‘Thanks for the superb book. I really admire you for getting it all done and in such an excellent format. I know I shall enjoy reading about the Olympic very much…as you said she was the most successful of the three “Titans.”’ – John Hodges, July 6th 2005.


‘Book of the Month: Although a seemingly endless output of books have described Titanic’s brief career in minute detail, fewer have been devoted to her sister, Olympic. This fascinating book goes a long way to redressing the balance.

‘The author gives the reader the first detailed history of the White Star liner Olympic which, throughout her career and since, has been overshadowed by her two ill-fated sisters. This is a thoroughly researched book which includes many rarely seen photographs

‘Although this book contains a lot of technical information, the author has presented both this and the story of the ship in a very readable style. Wherever possible, the author has included contemporary accounts of life onboard Olympic from the perspective of both passengers and crew members. This book comes highly recommended.’ – Ships Monthly, August 2005.


‘I own both the book about the Olympic and also The Olympic Class Ships. I think they were both excellent, and I hope you continue to write more in the future.’ – Mike J. Miller, September 20th 2005.


‘I just received your Olympic book and love it. Thanks! I’m really enjoying the book. Amazing…It was a fascinating read, and you explained the technical aspects of Olympic’s story that no other author has matchedOlympic was a splendid ship in her own right, and it has always seemed unfair that she loomed in the shadow of Titanic. Your book enabled Olympic to stand on her own, without just being “Titanic’s sister ship.”’ – Tarn Stephanos, October 27th 2005; November 12th 2005.


‘I would just like to say again how much I have enjoyed reading your books! I’ve have read both The ‘Olympic’ Class Ships and RMS Olympic numerous times – and find them just as fascinating as the first time I read them!’ – Evan Meyerriecks, December 27th 2005. Webmaster: Ship Magnificent - The RMS Olympic


Titanic’s elder sister, RMS Olympic, plays the Cinderella role in the history of the White Star Line, overshadowed as she is by Titanic. A book concentrating at length on Olympic is long overdue – but, boy, was it worth the wait!

‘Mark Chirnside writes with great authority, has a painstaking eye for detail and colour and draws on a vast array of sources to bring to life the ship’s romantic grandeur, state of the art technology and popularity with the sailing public.

‘He charts her long and fascinating career, vividly exploring her days as a millionaires’ playground, her stint as a troop ship, her ramming of a German U Boat and her accidental slicing-through of the Nantucket Lightship at the close of her commercial life.

‘The book is peppered with numerous crisp black and white photographs (many which I have never seen) and a series of colour plates. Mr Chirnside’s highly readable style kept me absorbed and frequently transported me back to the heady days when ocean going liners so completely caught the public imagination.

‘Why this elegant Edwardian ship, almost identical to her ill-fated sisters Titanic & Britannic, was allowed to meet an ignominious end at the breaker’s yard in Jarrow in 1936 leaves me puzzled and saddened; her grandeur only now recalled in the pieces of her exquisite panelling gracing a north country hotel. A sad end to a wonderful Queen of the Ocean and a tale brilliantly told by Mark Chirnside in a book I cannot praise too highly.

‘If you’re interested in the White Star Line’s “Olympic” class ships, dispel any hesitation from your minds. This is a book to read, re-read and always treasure. First class!’ – Richard Lee-Van den Daele. January 15th 2006. Amazon UK


‘The publisher is to be congratulated for taking an interest in merchant ships—a subject usually regarded by mainstream publishers with an expression of blank indifference, although a commercial nose will scent a great enthusiasm for liners and these two books cater for that market.

Author's Note: This originally appeared as a joint book review with Clive Harvey’s excellent RMS Empress of Britain: Britain’s Finest Liner.

‘Personally, I find it difficult to get excited about large and opulent passenger ships, if only because I should have found the paying cargo even more troublesome than the open-stowed general cargoes which dominated the first years of my career at sea.

‘Nevertheless, these two books provide us with a valuable insight into the operation; construction and day-to-day running of passenger ships when they provided the only means of global travel.

‘Mark Chirnside’s detailed history of the Olympic is an impressive record of Titanic’s elder sister, which had, for the first two years of her life, the same Master as Titanic herself. Captain Smith seems to have been something of a liability for, while he claimed large liners had become unsinkable and he had never had anything to do with a wreck, he had put several White Star liners aground and managed to do sundry damage to Olympic, which culminated in a notorious collision with the cruiser HMS Hawke off the Isle of Wight.

‘Nor was that the end of the chequered aspect of the Olympic’s career, but I would not like to spoil the story, for there is plenty of interest here. Suffice it to say that far from being unsinkable, one gets the distinct impression that there is a point that ships reach a dinosaurian maximum beyond which mere mortals have trouble controlling them.

‘Mr. Chirnside has gone to considerable trouble to chronicle every discoverable detail about a ship he clearly admires and the details of her construction are closely followed, which struck this reviewer as apt when one considered the loss of such  skills.

‘Unfortunately, the reader becomes overwhelmed under a torrent of detail, often in short staccato paragraphs, from which a slower pace would have rescued us, which rather obscures clarity.

‘The book is generally well illustrated, with a magnificent colour section. There are a few typos (bride for bridge, for example) and I found the explanation of the collision with the Hawke difficult to follow, despite a working knowledge of the incident. This was not helped by the confusion inherent in the pre-1938 helm orders. Much could have been made clearer with a diagram…Nevertheless, Mr. Chirnside has gone to great pains to provide us with an undeniably fascinating factual record, not least in his elucidation of the economics of managing such great ships.

‘…splendidly produced to a high quality by Tempus, though a little editorial rigour would have enhanced…’ – Richard Woodman. Maritime Policy & Management 2006; Volume 33 Number 1: pages 88-89.


‘I was completely impressed! You opened my eyes to so much about the ship that I was unaware of! Thank you so much for producing such a great work!...Keep up the great work and I can’t wait to read your next book!...You are truly talented.’ – Jason Hutchens, March 16th 2006.


‘I must say it’s a fantastic book and extremely well-written…I look forward to reading more of your books.’ – Simon Rooney, March 21st 2006.


‘I think that both books are wonderful!...The RMS Olympic book I am most impressed with. Never have I come across a book solely on the Olympic before, and that contains so *much* information, as well as an emphasis on what was an impressive liner…

‘My personal favourite of the two books. Because, I believe Olympic is the forgotten Titan, greatly overshadowed by misfortunes encountered to Titanic and Britannic. This fact seems to be “forgotten” by many Titanic authors. Here, Mark has turned this statement around, approaching the story from all angles. A *extraordinary* story from start to finish. Outlining the success of an impressive ship. Lots of supporting images are provided...In my biased opinion, RMS Olympic was the ship that set a trend for the later Cunard’s Aquitania and Queen Mary.’ – Mitchell Fletcher, Nottinghamshire, April 2nd and April 3rd 2006.


‘I enjoyed reading your book on the Olympic. It’s a marvellous piece of research. How I wished that you had written this book ten years ago – my late father would have so much enjoyed it…There were so many references to my grandfather, relating to things that neither I, nor my father I suspect, ever knew…

‘Once again, thanks for writing such a meticulously researched book.’ – Nick Thearle, April 5th 2006. Grandson of Chief Engineer John Thearle.


‘Mark Chirnside’s “RMS Olympic” is one of the finest maritime studies ever performed on the Titanic’s sister. The book looks at the entirety of the liner’s career, from beginning to end. The author’s research is incomparable, and it is obvious that he dug into numerous first-hand accounts and original sources to find answers to questions and controversies over her life, design and career.

‘The details and alterations made to the ship throughout her service are all wonderfully highlighted, and the narrative if fresh and enjoyable. There are a number of wonderful illustrations, though this book is more of a “reader” than a “picture book”.

‘All in all, this volume is an instant classic, and belongs on the shelf of anyone with an interest in the Olympic or her sisters.’ – J. Kent Layton. February 21st 2007. Amazon.com


‘Mark Chirnside’s book…tells in considerable detail the story of the lead ship which gave its name to a new class of liner, a ship that had a very successful career, yet a ship that history has, to a large extent, forgotten, because her sister, Titanic, stole the limelight in dramatic circumstances in 1912…

‘One of the gems of information provided by the author is the amazing scenario where Bruce Ismay of White Star could write to his bitter rival Lord Inverclyde of Cunard, requesting that Cunard provide to Harland & Wolff full size working drawings of the Utley’s vertical sliding windows used on Mauretania, which he wanted to use on Olympic’s B-deck. On the face of it the two companies were rivals for the North Atlantic passenger traffic, yet behind the façade there must have been an excellent business relationship between Ismay and Lord Inverclyde that led to co-operation on matters of mutual interest.

‘The book contains a wealth of information on the creation of Olympic, from the laying of her keel to the maiden voyage from Southampton to New York, the impact of Titanic’s loss, her wonderful as a troopship in World War I, and continued popularity in the years that followed. Lots of wonderful trivia breathe life into the story of this ship, such as the price of cabins then and in modern values, the provision of 400 plants for the first class public areas or the achievement in transferring 4,000 tons of coal from barges to the ship in 15 hours, a world record at the time…

‘The only downside with this book is the absence of a detailed index, although in fairness with this much information the index would become a book in its own right!

‘This is a great read, packed with information, anecdotes, photographs, entertainment; it offers value for money…Once you see the author’s name on the cover you know it’s worth buying.’ – Ed Coghlan. White Star Journal 2007; Volume 15 Number 1: pages 12-14.


‘This book is probably the definitive volume about Titanic’s almost forgotten older sister.

‘It fills in a lot of gaps in the knowledge of the Olympic and sets right some myths about her (for instance that she struck the Nantucket lightship at full speed.) There is a lot of detail in this book, and sometimes it gets a little difficult to stay focused reading it, but it is absolutely worth the money.’ – Stanwyck. October 29th 2008. Amazon.com


‘This book is absolutely fantastic. A full and concise biography of one of history’s forgotten technological marvels. M. Chirnside’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the RMS Olympic ensures that you are in for a good read. He charts every detail of the Olympic’s life, from her conception and maiden voyage and the impact of the Titanic disaster to her wonderful war career and eventual withdrawal from service. The book contains many rare photographs and some astounding facts that will be of considerable interest to the ocean liner enthusiast. It is unfortunate that today, Olympic is largely forgotten, foreshadowed by other liners and sadly no longer with us. However through his accuracy and professionalism, the author helps to revive the story of the liner and this golden age in transatlantic travel. This work is by far the best that I have read in a long time and it is quite a prized possession. It was a pleasure to read and well worth the price. It belongs in any maritime enthusiasts collection.’ – T. Oldham. May 20th 2009. Amazon.co.uk


Excellent book, read it twice and will most likely read it again. Olympic’s wonderful career laid out in a detailed chronological order. Excellent research and well written.’ – J. Gogas. September 22nd 2009. Amazon.com

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

One of the highlights of this book is the glossy, colour section in the middle, which includes a number of rare and unpublished images, including Arthur Lismer’s 1919 painting of the Olympic at Halifax . Also included is a set of 1931 deck plans, showing much of the first class accommodation, and colour-coded to show the various levels of amenities in first class. There are also a large number of black and white photos in the book. Many of the photos are rare, and unpublished in a book before – these include a photo of Canadian soldiers on Olympic’s bridge front, and a wonderfully atmospheric image of the liner departing Halifax in 1916, not to mention the troops being waved off in a 1919 photo.

A vast amount of historical material is published here for the first time, including a number of diaries relating the story of a number of wartime adventures, to new information on a host of events that occurred during Olympic’s life, such as the Hawke collision in 1911 which – perhaps fatally – delayed Titanic’s maiden voyage, the sinking of the U103 in 1918, the Fort St George collision of 1924 and the Nantucket Lightship collision in summer 1934. With a listing of Olympic’s passenger carryings from 1911 to 1935, not to mention hitherto unpublished details of her financial operation, and a mass of unpublished information on her service life, I have been told that the book is considered the most detailed yet published on the history of the Royal Mail Steamship Olympic. It is a tremendous compliment.

Readers with any documented corrections are invited to contact Mark in the hope that mistakes can be rectified in any future editions.

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