The most famous ship that never was
The Titanic may very well be the most famous ship of all time, in part because of its size and grandeur when it set sail, but more so because of the disastrous fate it met out in the North Atlantic. Or did it?
Ah yes, the wide and wacky world of conspiracy theories. Though most of us may disregard them, such theories remain prevalent for the very reason that they raise just enough questions to make us wonder.
Everybody knows the story of the RMS Titanic, the ill-fated luxury liner that crashed into an iceberg during its maiden voyage and sunk in the early hours of April 15, 1912, killing more than 1,500 of its 2,224 passengers and crew and making it one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in human history.
Fewer people know that Titanic was one of three Olympic-class sister ships, another one of which (the Britannic) also met a disastrous fate at sea.
Fewer people still have heard of the Olympic switch theory, a conspiracy that pitches the ships’ owners at the White Star Line undertook one of the biggest examples of insurance fraud in history, staging the Titanic disaster as a way of hiding all the evidence.
All three Olympic-class ocean liners were ordered by the White Star Line on August 1, 1908, in an attempt to compete with the newer and more impressive Cunard liners by focusing on luxury instead of speed.
The Olympic was the first of the ships to launch, followed by the Titanic seven months later and the Britannic nearly three years after that. While the younger two ships would sink in 1912 and 1916, respectively, the Olympic went on to serve a long career before breaking down in 1937. Or did it?
Proponents of the Olympic switch theory argue that the Titanic was actually the original Olympic and that they were swapped by the White Star Line as part of an insurance scam of epic proportions. According to the theory, the “Titanic” sank as an easy way to get rid of the damaged and indebted Olympic.
According to theorists, there is sufficient evidence to take this as more than mere conjecture but as indisputable fact.
First and foremost among this so-called evidence is the make and model of the ships. A common theory points out that during construction, Titanic had just 14 portholes under the forecastle, but when it set sail, there were 16—just as there were 16 on the Olympic. A similar series of photographs points out that the spacing of windows on the upper decks was also different when Titanic launched.
Other accounts point out that the sister ships were so similar that, were the names swapped out, they would be indistinguishable to untrained eyes. According to some reports, the letters “MP” are even visible on the side of the broken ship discovered in 1985.
Furthermore, theory supports argue that the Californian—which had the same owner as the Titanic, JP Morgan—was waiting out in the North Atlantic with nothing but blankets and sweaters, as if expecting there to be a disaster. However, the ship missed the rendezvous point (if the sinking was planned or even caused by another ship) and didn’t help in the rescue effort. Survivors have testified that the Titanic crew assured passengers the Californian was on its way although they likely couldn’t have known this were it not plotted. It’s important to note that several important passengers, including JP Morgan himself and his close friends like Henry Clay Frick, canceled their trip at the last minute.
Was it Morgan himself who planned the sinking and swapping to alleviate debt for his International Mercantile Marine Company, the parent company of the White Star Line?
Arguments Against Theory
Of course, most critics disregard the theory as just that: conjecture.
Structurally, there were some features that likely couldn’t have been changed, even in an attempt to disguise the Olympic as the Titanic. Workers who explored the “Titanic” wreck found various parts marked with the proper ID code, which wouldn’t have likely been changed, even in the event of a swap.
Furthermore, even if the scam was carried out to save White Star Line and its parent company money, they never fully recovered from the taint on their reputation. Why go through all that trouble and loss of human life?
Well, theorists think that the money aspect might have been quite enough to have JP Morgan and other White Star Line officials undertake the operation. Here’s exactly why the Olympic was deadweight…