Conspiracy Theories that Continue to Dredge Up the Titanic

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This time, we’re looking at facts about a Titanic conspiracy theory.

One hundred and eight years after the Titanic sank, it remains the most famous maritime disaster ever. After all this time, conspiracy theories and ideas about what caused the wreck remain ongoing.

One particularly wild but compelling conspiracy theory: The Titanic never actually sank on April 15, 1912. Now, there is no dispute that a ship did sink, killing some 1,500 passengers. At least everyone can agree on that part.

However, as the conspiracy theory goes, the real ship’s identity was the slightly older Olympic. Why? A name swap was made so that the builders could collect a tidy insurance payoff.

The World’s Largest Luxury Liner in 1910: The Olympic

The Olympic and the Britannic were the sister ships of the Titanic. White Star Line, in competition with Cunard Line’s Mauretania, began building massive British luxury liners. These ships promised more comfort and luxury and focused less on the Mauretania’s impressive speed.

Thus, on October 20, 1910, the Olympic launched for the sea. From there, it remained in service from 1911 to 1935. It was the world’s largest and most luxurious liner, able to carry 2,300 passengers. At the helm was Captain Edward J. Smith, the same man who would go to a watery grave aboard Titanic.

In September 1911, the ship was on its fifth commercial voyage when it collided with the military vessel HMS Hawke. Both ships sustained serious damages. Thankfully, the Olympic was able to limp back to port for repairs. After that, the liner required extensive repairs, returning to service in November 1911.

See a simulation of the crash below from Blue Star Line:

Surviving Traces of the Olympic 

When the Titanic sank in 1912, the Olympic required additional safety improvements. (And lifeboats!) By April 1913 was it ready for another transatlantic voyage.

Over the next two decades, the ship became known as “Old Reliable.” In 1918, it survived an act of war, sinking a German U-boat by ramming it. Previously, in 1915, a German U-boat sank Cunard Line’s ship, the Lusitania, prompting the United States to enter World War I.

Unfortunately, a year before retirement, the Olympic sank another vessel by accident. On May 15, 1934, the liner ran into a lightship off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, killing seven crewmen. After that, the ship became scrap metal. However, hotels in England repurposed many of the ship’s fixtures.

Some of the Olympic’s furnishing and fixtures remain in the White Swan Hotel in Alnwick, Northumberland. They give an eery look at what the Titanic likely resembled. 

See some of them in the video from WaterWorld below:

Titanic: Largest Movable Human-made Object in the World

When the Titanic’s hull was positioned in the River Lagan, Belfast, on May 31, 1911, it was the world’s largest moveable human-made object. Watertight bulkheads operated by a switch on the bridge inspired Shipbuilder magazine to dub the ship “practically unsinkable.”

Almost a year later, on April 10, 1912, the Titanic set off on its maiden voyage in Southampton, England.

As we know, the bulkheads were fatally flawed, allowing water to enter the ship’s compartments as it sank. Since the ship was thought unsinkable, the planners included lifeboats for only one-third of the passengers.

Notably, financier J.P. Morgan planned to be on the maiden voyage but canceled at the last minute due to “business matters.” However, accounts also suggest he was ill at the time.

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Fire and Ice Sink the Titanic

Upon departure, a small coal fire was discovered in one of the Titanic’s bunkers. The captain and chief engineer deemed the fire inconsequential and ordered the fire stokers to control it while at sea.

Today, this coal fire is the subject of a documentary. Instead of being a minor inconvenience, it’s though the fire may have weakened the ship’s hull after all.

As the documentary suggests, the Titanic was recklessly speeding in icy waters to burn off the coal fire. Thus, it struck the fateful iceberg off the coast of Newfoundland.

See about the documentary from CBS Evening News:

Titanic or Olympic?

Now to the strange conspiracy theory: White Star Line swapped the ships, and the Olympic was the ship that went down. As you’ll recall, the Olympic was badly damaged when it struck the HMS Hawke on its fifth voyage on September 20, 1911.  

After a trial, White Star Line was found responsible for the extensive damages. Therefore, the ship was an enormous liability for the company and not eligible for any insurance coverage.

So, the theory posits the company swapped the ships’ names, and the Titanic became the new name for the Olympic. The intent: to allow the Olympic, masquerading as the newer Titanic, to have a convenient accident. Thus, the White Star Line could collect insurance as if it was the brand new Titanic.

Before that could happen, an unintended catastrophic accident arrived in the shape of an iceberg.

A Nefarious Plot That Ran Into an Iceberg

When the Titanic struck the iceberg, we all know what happened next. The ship was lost, and 1,500 people died, including Captain Smith, who was on the bridge during the 1911 Olympic accident.

Surely this couldn’t have been the idea? Well, from there, the conspiracies grow much darker:

According to Popular Mechanics:

“Other conspiracy theorists claim a more nefarious reasoning for the sinking: J.P Morgan was behind the switch, eager to use an inferior ship to drown his enemies onboard.”

Perhaps, that’s why the Titanic wasn’t allowed a public inspection before its maiden voyage? So that nobody could discover its true identity? That’s one theory…

Connecting the Dots

According to another theory, we can find evidence of a ship-swapping very easily. Just examine the portholes on the vintage photos of the two ships.

On Reddit, a popular thread examines the old photographs of the Titanic and Olympic. By counting the portholes on the top row near the white railing, it appears the Olympic had a series of oddly spaced portholes. However, the Titanic’s portholes were evenly spaced. Strangely, by the time the Titanic set off for its maiden voyage, the portholes matched the Olympic. Aha! The ships had been switched.

The Olympic before and after the Titanic
The Olympic before and after the Titanic, images via Reddit (captions added)

Holes in the Porthole Theory

As compelling as the photographic evidence may seem, Titanic researchers Steve Hall and Bruce Beveridge debunk the idea:

“The Olympic,” they write, “like the Titanic, was fitted originally with the same 14-porthole arrangement on the port side of her forecastle, but two additional portholes were later fitted; they were there in March 1912.”

Thus, the disparities are due to portholes later added, say the researchers. 

Questionable Insurance Payoff Plot

Similarly, historian Mark Chirnside addresses the likelihood that J.P. Morgan wanted to collect an insurance payoff:

“…the Titanic’ cost $7,500,000′ – and was insured ‘for $5,000,000, I understand.'” This is backed up by the IMM’s American Vice-President, Philip A. S. Franklin, who confirmed that the insurance policy was $5 million.

“Were there a conspiracy, one would expect that the insurance policy would have been changed to cover the entire value of the ship,” Chirnside writes. “As it was, White Star could only expect to recoup two-thirds of the ship’s value.”

Nevertheless, J.P. Morgan died not long after the Titanic sank on March 31, 1913, at age 75. He passed away due to ailing health at a hotel in Rome, Italy.

Pointing to Plates 

Other irregularities making the Titanic conspiracy doubtful: The builders improved and enlarged the Titanic’s café and restaurant. So, it was unique in more ways than peculiar porthole arrangements. For verification, one could look at what’s left of the Olympic in the White Swan Hotel today.

Also, builders added reinforced steel plates to the Olympic after the collision with the HMS Hawke.

Notably, those steel plates were still there in ship inspections through the 30s. The British Board of trade found no such plates when they investigated the Titanic.

Consequently, the evidence for the conspiracy theories is dismissed by experts and historians. Regardless, J.P. Morgan died one of the world’s wealthiest Americans, leaving behind a massive fortune.

See more facts about J.P. Morgan below from Alux.com:


Featured image: Screenshot via YouTube and image via Reddit