The Titanic or the Olympic?

Despite evidence to the contrary, many people have, for the past 107 years, gone along with the official story of the loss of the Titanic. Of those who survived the catastrophe, who witnessed the ship hitting an iceberg? Few, if any. There may have been those who thought they saw an iceberg, but maybe nobody actually witnessed, with their own eyes, the ship hitting an iceberg. If they say they did, considering that it was a pitch-black moonless night, were they either imagining things or making it up? Newspapers leapt on the story of the unsinkable Titanic hitting an iceberg and sinking within a very few hours. How could this happen?

This was the question on everyone’s lips. No one is suggesting that the Titanic didn’t hit something, but it’s possible that it wasn’t an iceberg. It’s also possible that it wasn’t the Titanic.

While researching my 2012 book, ‘Titanic and the strange case of Great Uncle Bertie’, I stumbled upon the suggestion that it wasn’t the Titanic that sank, but her slightly older sister ship ‘ Olympic’, a vessel critically injured in a collision with a naval cruiser. This ship was virtually a ‘write off’, too crippled to survive the rigors of almost non-stop Atlantic crossings. In my new novel, ‘Sherlock Holmes and the great Titanic mystery’, the great detective meets with a loss adjuster in the maritime insurance business. He assures Sherlock that ships are quite often ‘swapped’. The owner taking a virtually useless older ship and kiting her out to resemble a brand spanking new one. Sink the old one and claim the insurance on the new one. This, like many fascinating facts in my novel, is definitely not fiction. Could this have been the case where the crippled and virtually useless Olympic was swapped for the brand-new Titanic?

Impossible, say the Facebook groups and various clubs dedicated to the memory of the great ship and the 1,500 innocent souls who went to the bottom of the Atlantic in April 1912. These so-called experts contend that no one could have got away with a swap. Why not? The only changes necessary to make Olympic look like Titanic were superficial and cosmetic. But you couldn’t have kept a giant swindle like that quiet, cry the Titanic fans, with their emotional investment in the story of rich and poor sharing an icy Atlantic grave, all those years ago. Yet the secret would not have been so difficult to conceal as some would have us believe. In my novel, Sherlock Holmes realises that thousands of men were employed at Harland and Wolfe, the Belfast shipyard where Olympic and Titanic were built. To complete the transformation of one ship into the other, different gangs of specialists would have been employed, one group to carpet over the worn lino, another to carry out simple alterations to the superstructure of the ship etc. These different gangs of workers would probably never have met. None of these men would necessarily have been aware of the actual ship they were working on and would only have been given temporally employment. If they happened to guess that something untoward was happening, baring in mind that workers were paid by the day, and jobs were not easy to come by, in all likelihood they’d have taken the money and stayed schtum.

In 1911 The First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, anticipating a coming war with Germany, reinstated the Official Secrets Act, originally created in 1889. Under the terms of this act, everything that took place in a British shipyard was to be regarded as top secret and any divergence from this would be punishable by imprisonment. This procedure of Churchill’s was aimed at preventing German spies from seeing what warships might be being prepared in British yards. But it also meant that no one working on the Olympic and Titanic was going to divulge what was really going on at Harland and Wolfe. Nor should we forget the chilling phrase attributed to Adolf Hitler: ‘If you tell a big enough lie, and you repeat it often enough, people will believe you.’

Convincing Titanic fans of the possible lie behind the loss of their beloved ship is a hard task, which is why I chose to write my second Titanic book as a fiction and allow Sherlock Holmes to discover the clues that prove what really happened.

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