Titanic and Olympic: How to tell them apart in photographs.


The RMS Titanic and the RMS Olympic were sister ships (along with the HMHS Britannic). So they can be very difficult to tell apart in photographs. In my first Titanic book Titanic, A Search For Answers, I published photographs of the two on page 20 (see below)

I used photographs of the Olympic on pages 28, 30, and 32; so I wanted people to be able to see the two ships together to enable readers to tell them apart. Even so, some readers wrote to me thinking those three photographs of Olympic were Titanic. This article will enable you to tell the difference between the two sister ships, and how to tell the difference between Olympic photographs taken before and after the sinking of the Titanic. So … let’s get to it. (click on the images to make them bigger.)

The following illustration shows an image of Titanic with before and after disaster images of Olympic with the differences marked on them. After that will be photos of identifiable images of Titanic and Olympic, images of Olympic often labeled Titanic, photos that could be either ship, and last photos of the 1911 and April 1912 Olympic.

This image explains the visual differences between the Titanic & the Olympic, and the visual changes made to Olympic after Titanic’s loss

1911 Olympic photograph.

1911 Olympic photograph.

RMS Titanic.

RMS Titanic

This photograph of the RMS Olympic is often labeled “RMS TITANIC”.

Pre-Titanic loss, Olypic-class boatdeck.

Pre-Titanic loss, Olympic-class boatdeck (Titanic)

Pre-Titanic loss, Olympic-class boatdeck (Titanic)

Post-Titanic loss, RMS Olympic.

Post-Titanic loss, RMS Olympic.

Pre-Titanic loss, RMS Olympic photograph

Next Sunday, March 4, 2012, my article will explain the research methods I use when analyzing evidence in historical research in all my research work.

 You may download a free sample of my book “Titanic, A Search For Answers” at your favorite e-book store, it is also available at www.amazon.com  in print. This book has more than 35 photographs (hardcover has more) some which do not appear in most Titanic books. Such as a photograph of the tug boat which met the Carpathia and its Titanic survivors. The link to the next part of this article is below the next two photographs.

Tianic, A Srarch For Answers

Joe C Combs 2nd signing books

Joe C Combs 2nd signing books

I have added a photo mosaic of Titanic and Olympic at Ocean Dock in Southampton. Follow the shortlink to see this new addition. Thank you. http://wp.me/P1MLkF-7W

20 April 2012:  I have added this to help me answer Jon’s comment (made on 19 April 2012 below). Olympic arrived in Southampton in late April after Titanic sank. After provisioning the Olympic was due to sail again, however the black gang mutinied over the collapsible boats that had been added to Olympic after Titanic sank. The black gang did not believe the collapsible boats were safe. This was not settled until May 4.

Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Olympic) has a good write-up pn the Olympic class ships and talks about the mutiny and the refit after Titanic sank. Although, wikipedia states that Olympic was withdrawn from service and sent to the builders for the refit on 9 October 1912, I believe the correct date was actually 9 September 1912. I believe that Encycopedia Titanica will also say September 1912 ( http://www.encyclopedia-titanica.org/). Encyclopedia Titanica is one of the best sites on the web for information and forum discussions about the Titanic and her sister ships.

RMS Olympic arriving in New York on her maiden voyage, June 1911. The over-hanging starboard bridge-wing can be seen. Photo from wikipedia.

RMS Oylimpic entering the Thompson graving dock for repairs while Titanic is under construction. The over-hanging starboard bridge-wing can be seen in the photograph. Photo from author’s collection.

RMS Olympic entering the Thompson graving dock on 11 September 1912 for a refit after the loss of RMS Titanic. Photo from Encyclopedia Titanica (www.encyclopedia-titanica.org)

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28 responses to “Titanic and Olympic: How to tell them apart in photographs.

  1. Brent

    I have a suggestion. I do no see my post from last week online. (Perhaps I missed it?)
    If you truly wish to debate issues then you should join Facebook and several of the liner based groups. There are many people there with excellent knowledge who are quite willing to debate. The problem with the relatively old-fashioned blog and response system is that it is too time consuming and the moderation process stifles discussions.
    A careful look at the photo that you claim shows Olympic departing Southampton is actually Titanic. I even added light to the dark photo posted here and saw all the characteristics that identify the image as that of Titanic. (I made an image with markings that shows this, but this format does not seem to allow readers to post photos) I even took a better version of the image, cropped it down to your version and they match-exactly. It is not an opinion that the image is Titanic, it is fact.
    If you are truly interested in getting to the truth, then you will seriously consider using new formats out there that you do not directly control. That would be the best thing to do, IMHO.

    Spirited, basically unlimited and un-moderated, debate is the key to getting to the truth.

    Suggested FB groups:
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/FourFunnelLiners/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/9816337649/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/THSOfficial/
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/TheWhiteStarLiners/

    Regards,
    Brent

    • I was arguing on your side of this photo. I had someone send it too me saying it was Titanic. He pointed out that what I thought was an enclosed deck was actually the shadow. I also had someone else send a photograph they claimed was the same one and it was a better quality photo and his photo was Titanic. He had a second image where he superimposed the two and claimed it was a perfect match. The lines of the ships were lined up perfectly on the bow, but very slightly off at the stern. I do not claim to be a photograph expert, but as I said I can point to specific differences in the two photographs. As far as people in the same locations I have already addressed that before. Thank you for the invitation to join the Facebook site, but I just do not have the time. What other ships are you knowledgeable about Brent?

      PS see we can disagree and still be respectful.

  2. Linerguy

    Guess you don’t post replies that call you out for not knowing what you’re talking about.

    • Actually “Linerguy” if you took the time to read our other posts you will find that we DO posts comments from people who point out our mistakes, over-sights, and instances when they do not agree with us. Unfortunately, there are several reasons why your comment may not have been approved.

      First, with the increasing exposure of our articles comes an increasing amount of spam comments. We use an automated spam filter, but unfortunately some of the comments filtered out are not spam. We used to review all the comments screened out by our spam filter, but that is no longer possible due to the volume.

      Second, My staff has instructions from me that any comment which takes a condescending, arrogant, self-serving tone, they are free to delete on their own authority.
      “… call you out for not know what you are talking about.” would be considered by many of the staff as being condescending, arrogant, and self-serving.

      You would be surprised at that number of people who continue to insist the Titanic did not turn to the starboard (right) until after hitting the iceberg. Even though the damage the iceberg did to the Titanic, and the laws of physics, clearly shows the Titanic was turning to the starboard when it struck the iceberg. So, it takes a little bit more than an arrogant opinion for your comment to be approved by the staff.

      Third, you would be surprised at the number of comments that make a statement which was already made in an earlier comment, and answered at that time. So, if you comment was already asked and answered, that would be another reason why it was not approved.

      The staff is very complimentary of the comments posted on our site. The one exception to that seems to be Titanic topics. The Titanic seems to draw out self-proclaimed experts, who don’t even know the difference between a boat and a ship. Fortunateley those people, though extremely vocal, are a very small minority of the Titanic fans out there.

      Fourth, none of us here know what your background is, or what qualifies you as an expert. It would also seem that you are equally ignorant of my background, despite the fact that my background is easily available to anyone who wants to read it. So, if your comment alluded to facts, while providing only your opinion without any evidence whatsoever, that too would have qualified your comment for file number 13 as well.

      Fifth, this probably does not apply to you, but I am going to post it for our other readers as well.
      If you make a comment “calling out,” or being disrespectful of one of my readers, staff, or of ANY person who made an early comment; your comment will not be approved. You can conduct yourself in a respectful manner, or go some place else.

      If you want to disagree, that is fine. By all means, disagree. This site is not here to boost your ego though. This site was created as an open conversation about historical topics. Conduct yourself in a respectful and civilized manner and you are welcome to join in our public conversation.

      I did not see your comment, nor does anyone on my staff remember seeing a comment by “Linerguy,” so I do not know the specific reason your comment was not approved.

      By the way, this comment of your’s which I am replying to was almost deleted for arrogance and condescension, but a staffer decided to show it to me before she deleted it.

      Very Respectfully,
      Joe C Combs 2nd

  3. Adam

    Hi all this isa great site , i have been studying the titanic for most of my life and it really gets to me when people tell me they were swopped and titanic sank by white star, i just watched something that said the swop could have been done in a weekend by a small team, there were way to many things different between the two for this to happy

    • I agree with you Adam. But there are so many people who believe the Olympic was sunk and not the Titanic, and they do not care what evidence you have to show them they are wrong. Studying Titanic is fun for me, writing about Titanic is a real nightmare. There are always a few people who can’t just disagree they have to attack. When you can back yourself up with photographs and physics they still don’t care “you are stupid and they are smart.”
      Adam there are some other Ttanic web sights you would probably like that I have linked too in my articles on Titanic. Thank you for sharing your time with us, take care of yourself & best wishes.
      Joe

  4. jessica

    As you can see they are different sizes, one is big and one is smaller, one is longer and one is shorter.plus there were names.Intersting news about titanic the second
    CANBERRA, Australia – An Australian billionaire said Monday he’ll build a high-tech replica of the Titanic at a Chinese shipyard and its maiden voyage in late 2016 will be from England to New York, just like its namesake planned.

    • Vera

      the two ships bore identical length (882’9″), width (92’6″) and weight (52,310 tons at a mean draught of 34’7″). The only “size” difference between the two liners was in the on-paper measurement of their enclosed volume (Olympic’s was 45,325 grt, Titanic’s was 46,329), not by any actual dimension.

    • Leave it to the Chinese. Hear they also make the Statue Of Liberty souvenirs that are for sale when you visit her. Think it would be way cool if it were built by the original shipyard. The Chinese are known for making cheap poor quality junk. Bet it sinks!

    • TheK-Man

      All Olympic class liners were of the same overall dimensions. RMS Britannic(1914) was marginally wider to accommodate a full double-hull.

      The only Olympic-class ship of substantially different dimensions will be Titanic II(2015-16). She will be about 6″ longer and 110′ maximum beam(width).

  5. Joel

    Pictures 8 and 9 were both taken on the Olympic. We can see it by the small flags, running through the rope that goes from the bow to the stern, wich were for a while on the Olympic. Never seen on the Titanic.

    • Those are signal flags showing Titanic “dressed ship” for Good Friday April 10, 1912. Signal flags are carried on all commercial and naval ships by law. The flags are the same carried on all ships. I actually helped dress ship on the USS Fulton once (once was enough geez). Wikipedia says the order is totally random, well this is partially true. The flags do not spell out anything when a ship is dressed ship, but the order in which the flags are flown is very specific so that an insult is not accidentally hoisted above a ship. Naval ships and commercial ships use a different order, also British and American ships use a different order. Titanic and Olympic carried the exact same flags as all commercial and naval ships. Titanic and Olympic would also have flown the flags in the exact same sequence. April 10, 1912 is the only time that Titanic ever dressed ship, but Olympic dressed ship several times a year for three decades. This is a common mistake among Titanic enthusiasts, while being very knowledgeable about the Titanic and Olympic class ships they often have none or almost no knowledge in general maritime information.

      Here is the link to learn about how the Royal Navy dresses ship: http://sailingalmanac.com/Almanac/Reference/dressoverall.html

      Here is a link to download the US Navy manual on flags which includes the US Navy procedures for dressing ship which includes the order in which the flags are to be flown: http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/images/ntp13b.pdf

      Also your other comment was made by someone else months ago (also incorrect) and was answered in a reply comment and in a second article specifically written to answer that comment, so that comment you made has not been posted as it is a comment that has already been posted and answered.

      Thank you for visiting our site, and please let us know what you think of the new Titanic articles we will be posting in April 2013.

  6. Let me clarify my prev comments. The open section at aft end of B Deck on the sides of both ships is clearly seen in photos 4 & 6 above (counting down from start of article) — on Olympic it reached forward to the 4th funnel, on Titanic it went only a third the way between the mainmast and 4th funnel. Strange how so few seem aware of this aspect.
    Also, the enclosed section of A Deck reached more than a third-way down Titanic — almost halfway in fact.
    Jon is correct in saying that photo 7 is of Titanic being pulled away from Southampton berth 44. Please everyone, go to a clear sharp copy — as was printed decent size in that awesome 1992 big square book, “TITANIC, an illustrated history” by Robt Lynch, paintings by Ken Marschall, page 32. The A Deck enclosure is clearly shown there even in the near-front-on view.
    Another so-called issue should be visited with the full facts — the so-called different number of portholes on port side (white painted) forecastle.
    Both liners had 14 when launched. Olympic by the time of her trials sported 16, and Titanic had 16 from soon after being launched. On starboard side it seems the original number, 15, went unchanged on both ships.

  7. This is different, most of the time I encounter topics like why Titanic sunk, why it’s called Titanic, topics about the after-math and the superstitious insights etc. But this specific article is refreshing because for the 1st time the actual architectural and subjective design was given emphasis. It is one of man’s greatest achievement, like airplanes and railways.

  8. There was one big difference between Olympic & Titanic which seems to have eluded nearly everyone — the open section at the aft end of B Deck. On Olympic it began much further forward, and therefore was longer. In a photo of Olympic in Sept 1912, this open ‘slot’ in the s/structure was still long, but when she became a troopship in WWI, it had been altered to be much shorter, exactly as it was on Titanic. In the photo of both ships side-view at Belfast in March 1912, this difference can be seen, whereas, in that photo, Titanic (only 1 month before her maiden voyage) still awaited the outside panels which closed in the forward third of A Deck, which was the well-known main difference in appearance between the 2 liners.

  9. Jon

    From looking at the photograph you say is mislabeled “Titanic leaving Southampton” I actually think that *is* Titanic. Not only does it appear to have the covered parts of the promenade (the photo is grainy, but there is definitely a difference in the openings on the A deck, especially looking closer to the stern…openings appear to get larger), but the bridge wing cabs are also overhanging. Titanic’s wing cabs overhung each side of the ship by 2 feet while Olympic’s wing cabs did not overhang until the post-Titanic refit. Before then, they were flush with the side of the ship. The picture taken in 1912 of the Olympic on the left and Titanic on the right shows the bridge wing cabs as they originally were on Olympic.

    • Jon, I said the same thing to a museum curator several years ago. He chuckled and said I get that alot. Then he should me three photographs of the Olympic (I have added them above). He also showed me some other photographs of Olympic tied up in the same berth, as Titanic had been, in Southampton. I originally thought it was Titanic too, but the curator proved me wrong. Thank you for your comment though. It shows just how hard it can be to tell the two ships apart.

  10. Thanks so much for this awesome info.

  11. Thanks for your wonderful post! It has long been extremely helpful. I wish that you’ll proceed posting your knowledge with us.

    • I have a couple photographs of Titanic and Olympic at that dock. I am going to do a photo mosaic of them and add it to the end of the article (I wouldn’t have thought of it without your great question). Personally I don’t have a problem with the Olympic doing “stand-in” for its kid sister. The two ships were designed for the same purpose and would have been doing the same things, at the same places. Many of the photos of Olympic are better (because there are more of them). But, to be technically correct, the reader needs to know what they are looking at.

      • They look so similar

        • Yes they do. When they built Titanic, they started with the plans for Olympic. All the changes they made for Titanic were written right on the plans. Also it is the same dock and men casting off the ship from the dock would be standing by the bollards and cleats, which were in the same location on all three ships. The one photo of Olympic has fewer men standing in the well deck than in the Titanic photograph.

  12. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the photograph of “Titanic Leaving Southampton” is it the same as this picture:
    http://www.modestoradiomuseum.org/titanic%20photo%20blowup%201.html

    Now I’m a complete amateur having only studying the event for about three years, more seriously in the last two. But in the link the ship looks like it says Titanic on the bow. Do you think you could clear this up for me? Enjoyed the post, nonetheless.

    • Great question. If you look closely you’ll see that the dock is the same, White Star Line used this same berth at this same dock in Southampton for the Titanic and the Olympic. The photo you linked is a great photograph of Titanic, you can see the name on the bow and the windscreen on the side of “A” deck along with the uneven spacing of windows on “B” deck. The photograph in the article (I wish the photographer had waited 10 seconds to take the photograph) doesn’t show the name on the bow well enough to make it out, but you can see the open deck on “A” deck. Also, while the linehandlers on the bow of both ships are about the same (they would be, because they are doing the same thing on the same class of ship at about the same time), there are more people standing in the well deck in your photograph than in the photograph in the article. Two different photographs of sister ships leaving the same berth at the same dock. Thank you very much for this.

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