This is the first of a 50 part piece debunking the so called "Switch Theory," regarding the ill-fated RMS Titanic and her sister ship Olympic. This first piece focuses on the collision between RMS Olympic and HMS Hawke which is the foundation of the theory.
The entire "Switch Theory" presented by Robin Gardiner emanates from a single event in the life of RMS Olympic: the collision between HMS Hawke and RMS Olympic on the 20 September 1911 and the allegation that it was more serious than the board of trade or the admiralty admitted to. The Claim is that “The impact with HMS Hawke’s caused $125,000 of damage to Olympic including bending her keel meaning she would fail any future board of trade inspection.” The allegation is based off a study of the images of the damage to Olympic and Hawke and the assumption that the armoured bow ram on HMS Hawke would have penetrated into the hull enough to bend the keel of Olympic. Damage to a keel would require the ship to be taken out of service, dry docked, and that section of keel removed and replaced, an expensive and time consuming job.
It was common practice in Britain at the time that every incident which included a Royal Naval ship was investigated by the Admiralty. According to the resulting board of enquiry, Olympic was ruled responsible for the collision. The findings stated that the suction of the liner pulled the Hawke toward her, rather than bad navigation on the part of the Hawkes captain. This finding was contrary to eye witness testimony and the arguments of White Star and seen as an attempt at saving face for the admiralty which had been humiliated by the accident. This would mean that White Star’s insurer Lloyds would not pay out for the damages to Olympic and the total cost had to be shouldered by White Star Line. It is argued that without this funding, the company could not afford to repair the damage to Olympic, an allegation that will be reviewed shortly.
Firstly let’s break down the findings of the enquiry. As part of the process, three separate investigations were conducted of the damage to Olympic, one by White Star, one by the Board of Trade and one by the Admiralty which resulted in the following damage being reported.
“Two major watertight compartments were flooded, hull plating gashed from the Orlop deck to E deck, and the starboard propeller shafting damaged.”
Note there is no mention of any damage to the keel. These damages were verified by an independent board chaired by White Star itself and accepted by the company at the result of the Admiralty board. Had the damage been more severe White Star would most likely have protested claiming that their ship was now unseaworthy as a result of the impact, rather than having suffered what was described as only "superficial damage." After all if there had been damage to the keel all three of the inspection teams would have been aware of it and White Star could have argued the results of the enquiry were a cover up. This would have been far more financially viable for the company as it would have forced the admiralty into a rather public cover-up and most likely forced a pay-out for repairs, rather than switching her with her younger sister and sinking her deliberately in an insurance scam. If Gardiner is to be believed and only the White Star inspection found the damage to the keel then there are two points to be considered. One, a complete lack of competence from the Board of Trade and Admiralty inspectors which White Star could have exposed in the press resulting in the same pay out, or a bribe from White Star to silence these organisations which as aforementioned would be pointless if they could have forced a pay-out from the admiralty and kept two ships in service rather than one.
Furthermore, measurements of the Hawke's ram and the accusation by Gardiner that her 8-foot penetration into Olympic was sufficient to bend the keel do not add up. For Hawke to have done any damage at all to Olympic's keel she would have had to penetrate a massive 48 feet into her hull. This not only would have most likely sank both ships, as there is a good chance it would have severed Olympic's stern all together based on how fast she was travelling, but Hawke's forward gun mount would have indented into Olympics aft D deck, resulting in a separate penetration above the V-shaped hole seen in the photo above. In addition the width of the penetration would have been far larger and finally, HMS Hawke wasn’t designed to penetrate that far into an enemy warship even when running at flank speed. Hawke had been travelling at 12 knots when the impact occurred and her engines were running in full reverse as she tried to avoid a collision all together. While Olympics’ hull wasn’t armoured like an enemy warship and so a penetration of the hull would have been easier, the angle of impact and speed of both ships made such a deep wound impossible.
As a result, while White Star still had to pay for the damages, it wasn’t nearly as costly as Gardiner’s proposed $125,000 (which included the assumption that the keel had been damaged). Studies show that the damage came closer to $75,000 which the company could easily afford. In truth the company had experienced its highest profits during the 1911 financial year of just in excess of $1 million.
But ignoring this evidence, the argument goes that the White Star board of directors saw this as a cost that they could ill afford and decided to set up an insurance scam by rebadging the almost complete Titanic as Olympic and sinking her on her maiden voyage, thus being able to claim the full insurance pay out for a brand new ship rather than one that had been in service for a year. According to Gardiner, the Olympic was in a state that she would never again be able to pass a board of trade inspection and therefore would be declared unseaworthy. So the company would be left with one unseaworthy ship which they couldn’t afford to repair and would be unable to return to service.
Then how does the conspiracy theory explain the following. After makeshift repairs in Southampton, the Olympic sailed to Belfast where she underwent a more thorough repair including the installation of one of Titanic’s propeller shafts to replace the broken shaft and get her back into service quickly. Following an inspection by the Board of Trade, she recommenced service on 29 September.
This analysis and disproving of the foundation of Gardiner's conspiracy effectively scuppers the entire "Switch Theory." Yet even if somehow it did occur, there are still 49 further allegations that can be easily disproved. Starting with the ships similarities and differences.