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East Cowes

R.M.S. Olympic

Wednesday 20th September 1911

A collision occurred off Cowes between R.M.S. Olympic and the Royal Navy first class cruiser H.M.S. Hawke.

The Olympic left Southampton at 11.25 with 1313 passengers onboard and slowly made her way down Southampton Water it was only on the liners fifth crossing to New York since her maiden voyage on the 14th June.

Picture of R.M.S. Olympic
R.M.S. Olympic

People were lining the front at Cowes to watch the great liner, which was capable of carrying some 3,000 passengers, and crew slowly come down Southampton Water then rounding Bramble Buoy [12.43 pm] to head eastwards down the Solent and the speed was increased to 16 knots. At the same time coming up the Solent from the Needles at speed, but some distance behind, was the cruiser HMS Hawke; the cruiser had been on sea trials and was returning to Portsmouth.

The Event

The weather was squally and rain was falling as the Hawke quickly drew level on the starboard side of the Olympic near the Prince Consort Shoal Buoy, the two ships then sailed together for a short while; the time was almost 1.00 pm. The Hawke appeared to slow to allow the Olympic to move ahead then veered to the port in order to pass under the liners stern, the move resulted in the cruiser hitting the liner some 50 feet from her stern. The liner was holed and flooding occurred in two compartments, the cruiser suffered major damaged to its bow. From the shore people could see the two ships locked together with the Hawke’s bow embedded in the stern of the Olympic. For what seemed an eternity the two ships were locked together, bulkheads in both ships were closed and there was no threat of sinking, then the Hawke went astern and the extent of damage to both ships could be seen. There was a 15 ft gash tapering below the water at the stern of the Olympic, and the bow of Hawke was severally damaged.

The two Cowes tugs Irishman and Malta sailed out to render any assistance to the liner they could as she appeared to drift towards Osborne Bay, however the ship was able to turn and steam back into Cowes Roads under her own steam and anchor. The liner remained at anchor that night and was a spectacle with all her lights ablaze, the liners stern was down by several feet and the ships pumps were kept working to kept the water from rising.

News of the collision had been reported to the navel authorities at Portsmouth and the support vessels Volcano and Grappler both fitted with powerful pumps were dispatched to render assistant. The Hawke was surrounded with collision mats and must have taken on a lot of water in the forward compartments, but the bulkhead held. The cruiser was able to make slow progress up the Solent to Portsmouth Dockyard with both tugs in attendance.

After The Event

Whilst the Olympic was anchored in Cowes Roads the captain issued orders that, no one was to leave or board the ship except officials of the White Star Line. However one enterprising American in a hurry to get back to America, lower a rope through one of the portholes and hailed a passing boatman, climbing down the rope he was taken ashore, and caught the steamer back to Southampton.

In the evening the Southampton and IW. passenger steamer Duchess of York came alongside and took off around 100 passengers off who were in a hurry to get to London. When the passengers finally returned to Southampton they all spoke highly of the events and organisation that occurred after the collision.

A passenger on the liner described how he was on deck and saw the collision unfold, the cruiser was running parallel to the liner on the starboard side, a little too close he thought, and appeared to be trying to pass astern of the Olympic but was to close to make the manoeuvre, and the bow of the cruiser plunged into the stern of the liner.

Return to Southampton

At 8.30 am the following morning Olympic weighed anchor and was towed back to Southampton by five tugs. Getting the liner back to Southampton took upwards of 3 hours as the ship was carrying almost 40 ft of water in her damaged compartments At the time of the collision there were 365 first class, 360 second class and 614 third class passengers onboard and the crew number approximately 870. The liner was due to call at Cherbourg and Queenstown and collect more passengers her final complement would have been almost 3000 people.

When Olympic docked in Southampton the full impact of the collision could be seen, there was a jagged triangular hole some 15ft by 10 ft just forward of the rudder, and the plating had been forced inward some 5 to 6 ft. It was reported that the more serious damage was below the waterline but no detail are quoted. Arrangements were made for passengers who wanted to continue their journey by transferring other liners and for other; a special train was laid on to take them to London.

Olympic was towed back to Harland and Wolfe in Belfast for repairs and in order to get the ship back into service e a quick as possible the twisted propeller shaft was replace by one from Titanic which was being built in the same yard.

HMS Hawke

Picture of HMS Hawke
HMS Hawke

When HMS Hawke was examined in the dockyard the full extent of the damage could be seen; the bow completed smashed and forced round to starboard, a complete new front section would be needed before the ship could sail again. When reporters interviewed Hawke crewmembers they could give no reason why the ship suddenly changed course, and the said they were taken by surprise when the two ships collided, all they heard was the ship telegraph signal to the engine room to stop engines, followed “reverse engines”. They stated that the cause of the collision would have to be established by a court of inquiry at a future date.

The Inquiry

The inquiry later found that the Olympic was going too fast [16 Knots] for the conditions and her wash sucked the smaller ship in, causing the collision.

Picture of Collision Damage
Collision Damage

RMS. Olympics Statistics
Owner:- White Star Line’
Builder:- Harland and Wolff, Belfast
Class:- Olympic class ocean liners
Launched:- 20th October 1910
Completed:- 31st May 1911
Maiden voyage:- 14th June 1911
Tonnage:- 45,324 tons
Displacement:- 52,067 tons
Installed power:- 24 double-ended [6 furnace] and 5 single ended [3 furnace] Scotch boilers. Two four-cylinder triple expansion reciprocating engines, each producing 15,000 hp for two outboard wing propellers at 75 revolutions per minute. One low pressure turbine producing 16,000 hp. A total of 59,000 hp could be produced at maximum revolutions.
This new design layout was more efficient consuming only 650 tons/hr against the previous 1000 tons/hr.
Propulsion:- Two bronze triple blade wing propellers and one bronze quadruple blade centre propeller.
Speed [normal]:- 21 Knots [24 mph]. Note did achieve over 22 knots on a voyage from New York to Southampton.
Service history:- Saw service in the First World War, including ramming and sinking U-boat No. U-103.
The end:- With the merger of White Star and Cunard in 1934 there was now surplus of ships and with Olympics becoming expensive to run a decision was taken to withdraw the ship from service. In 1935 the ship was sold for £100,000 and taken to Jarrow for scraping, what remained of the ship was finally taken to Inverkeithing, Scotland in 1937, to be broken up, the end of a great ship.

HMS. Hawke Statistics
Built:- Chatham Dockyards 1891
Type:- First-class, twin-screw protected cruiser
Weight:- 7,350 tons
Size:- Length 360 ft, Width 60 ft, Draught 24 ft.
Speed:- 20 Knots.
Range:- 10,000 miles.
Crew:- 544.
Cost:- £400,702.
Sunk:- 15th October 1914 by a German submarine.

Editors note:- It is reported that the clock from the grand staircase in the Olympic is in the Southampton Maritime Museum.

Sources: Isle of Wight County Press, 23rd September 1911

This page was last edited on: 26th January, 2022 17:50:41

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