The RMS Olympic: What Happened and When Did It Sink?

By: Sam Watanuki | Published: Dec 06, 2023

Once a floating emblem of luxury, the RMS Olympic ship holds a unique place in maritime history, often overshadowed by its ill-fated sister, the Titanic. When we compare the Titanic vs. the Olympic size, the Titanic was larger and had more grandeur, but the RMS Olympic still held its own. Launched as a symbol of opulence and engineering prowess, the Olympic’s journey was dramatically altered by World War I.

This majestic ship, initially designed to ferry passengers across the Atlantic in unparalleled comfort, found itself thrust into the turbulent waters of war. The RMS Olympic, often forgotten beside its infamous sibling, has a story filled with bravery, innovation, and resilience.

The Early Days of the Olympic

In the early 20th century, the RMS Olympic set sail as a commercial luxury liner under the command of Captain Herbert James Haddock. Embarking on its maiden voyage, the Olympic class ship was a beacon of grandeur, boasting state-of-the-art facilities. The Olympic ship’s interiors were elegant.

RMS Olympic under construction

Source: Robert Welch/Wikipedia

However, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 marked a significant turn in the Olympic’s destiny. The looming threat of war transformed the ship from a symbol of peace and luxury into an asset for military strategy, forever changing its course in history.

The Olympic's Wartime Transformation

With the onset of World War I, the RMS Olympic underwent a remarkable transformation. It was repainted a stealthy gray, designed to blend with the ocean and sky, minimizing visibility to enemy forces.

What happened to the RMS Olympic?

Source: Robert Welch/Wikipedia

The ship’s luminous portholes were darkened and deck lights extinguished, turning this once radiant liner into a ghost ship. These modifications were crucial for its new role in a world where the dangers of naval warfare lurked in every oceanic shadow.

The Olympic's Role in WWI

As World War I escalated, the RMS Olympic’s role transitioned from a luxurious Olympic ocean liner to a vital player in the war effort. The White Star Line, recognizing the ship’s potential in wartime logistics, withdrew the Olympic from commercial

RMS Olympic's propellers

Source: Harland & Wolff Shipyard/Wikipedia

Its final commercial voyage during the war, from New York to Glasgow, was a poignant end to its brief era of peace. The Olympic was now set to embark on a new chapter, carrying not just passengers, but the hopes and fears of a world at war.

The Sinking of the Audacious

The RMS Olympic’s wartime saga included a dramatic rescue operation involving the HMS Audacious. In a daring mission, the Olympic attempted to tow the crippled Audacious, only to witness the cable snap under the strain.

HMS Audacious Ship

Source: Imperial War Museums/Wikipedia

Despite repeated efforts to save the Audacious, fate had other plans. As the Audacious sank, the Olympic played a crucial role in evacuating the crew, showcasing the ship’s unexpected versatility in warfare.

Secrecy and the Olympic

The sinking of the Audacious was shrouded in secrecy, and the RMS Olympic found itself at the center of this clandestine operation. Held in military custody at Lough Swilly, the Olympic became a silent witness to the efforts to hide the loss of the Audacious.

What happened to the RMS Olympic?

Source: Frank William Beken/Wikipedia

This episode in the Olympic’s history highlights the complex interplay of military strategy and public morale during times of war.


Olympic's Contribution to the War Effort

The RMS Olympic’s transformation into a troopship marked a significant contribution to the Allied war effort. Stripped of its peacetime finery, the ship was outfitted with formidable artillery, including 4.7-inch and 12-pounder guns.

RMS Olympic in Camouflage

Source: Wikipedia

Capable of transporting up to 6,000 troops, the Olympic became a floating fortress, pivotal in moving men and material across the treacherous waters of war-torn Europe.


Heroic Rescues and Controversies

Amid the perils of war, Captain Bertram Fox Hayes of the RMS Olympic demonstrated extraordinary heroism. His decision to rescue 34 soldiers from the sinking French ship Provincia in 1915 was both courageous and contentious.

What happened to the RMS Olympic?

Source: okänd fotograf/E. A. Sweetman & Son

While criticized for potentially endangering the Olympic, Hayes’ actions were later celebrated, exemplifying the complex moral decisions faced during wartime.


RMS Olympic vs. U-103

In one dramatic encounter, the RMS Olympic faced off against the German submarine U-103. Displaying remarkable agility for its size, the Olympic rammed the U-boat, a testament to both the ship’s construction and the daring of its crew.

What happened to the RMS Olympic?

Source: Wikimedia Commons

This incident not only showcased the Olympic’s unexpected role in naval combat but also marked a significant victory in the psychological warfare of the time.


The Aftermath of the U-103 Encounter

The encounter with U-103 left the entire RMS Olympic’s length of approximately 882 feet filled with battle scars, a twisted prow, and a story that would echo through history.

What happened to the RMS Olympic?

Source: Wikipedia

Captain Hayes’ leadership during this critical moment earned him high honors and solidified the Olympic’s reputation as a resilient and formidable vessel in wartime.


The Olympic's Legacy in WWI

Throughout World War I, the RMS Olympic emerged as a beacon of resilience and strength. Carrying over 200,000 troops and traveling vast distances, the ship earned the moniker “Old Reliable.” The Olympic’s wartime service not only demonstrated its versatility but also solidified its legacy as a symbol of endurance and bravery in the face of adversity.

RMS Olympic Catalog Photo

Source: Wikipedia

When did the Olympic sink, though? On May 15, 1934, the RMS Olympic sank after colliding with the Nantucket Lightship LV-117 in heavy fog. The smaller vessel broke apart and sank when the ship failed to turn in time.


Where is the Olympic ship now?

In the postwar years, the question lingered: “Did the Olympic sink?” Unlike its tragic sister, the Titanic, the RMS Olympic survived the war, only to face the inevitability of time. So, what happened to the RMS Olympic?

RMS Olympic pre-scrapyard

Source: MaritimeQuest/Wikipedia

Its final days were spent in the ship-breaking yards, where it was dismantled and scrapped. Yet, in the annals of maritime history, the RMS Olympic remains a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability, a ship that journeyed beyond the luxury of its birth to become a stalwart of wartime resilience.