Featured Article: The Olympic / Titanic Switch Theory

One of the most elaborate conspiracy theories surrounding Titanic is the theory that Olympic and Titanic were switched after Olympic’s accident with the navy cruiser HMS Hawke to try to pull off an insurance scam.

First of all I want to make it known that I hold no stock in this theory. 
Obviously, I mean come on... 
It is so amazing to me that a theory with so many holes, and so easy to debunk, has stood the test of time, and what appear to be respectable and knowledgeable people, are still even today trying to pass it off as actual fact.

The theory goes that after the White Star Line and in turn its parent company, International Mercantile Marine, were found at fault regarding the incident with Olympic and the Hawke, the repairs on Olympic would not be covered by insurance. So, with no money coming in while the damaged Olympic was sitting at the dock, and Titanic close to completion, the company decides to switch the two ships. 

What was the newly built Titanic would then become the Olympic. Then the true Olympic, now secretly operating as Titanic, would be scuttled to look like an accident that the owners could benefit from and then receive an insurance payment. That way they could then build a new ship all while the ship originally built as the Titanic would have lived on under the name Olympic without anybody being the wiser. 

To make the theory even more plausible, the theorists would twist up the ending to better fit the historical event. Such as the reason for Titanic sinking was because it was actually the damaged Olympic and had nothing to do with the iceberg. Then in another case claiming even more despicable reasons for the sinking, stating that J.P. Morgan, owner of IMM and White Star, was behind the switch, eager to use an inferior ship to drown his financial rivals such as John Jacob Aster IV, Isidor Straus, and Benjamin Guggenheim. All of which perished in the sinking. J.P. Morgan was originally scheduled to sail on Titanic but cancelled shortly before the voyage.

In 1998, a book by Robin Gardiner called “Titanic: The Ship That Never Sank?” rekindled new life into the theory and carried it into the 21st century. In his book, Gardiner claims that the ship that sank was actually Olympic, disguised as Titanic. All part of an insurance scam by the owners,  International Mercantile Marine, White Star’s parent company, controlled by American financier J.P. Morgan.

Researchers Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall took issue with many of Gardiner's claims in their book, “Olympic and Titanic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy”. 

Researcher Mark Chirnside and Gareth Russell have also raised serious questions about the switch theory. 

Chirnside devoted serious time to the question of why the switch would be made in the first place. In 2005, he examined the insurance argument that the ship would be intentionally sunk to claim the insurance benefits. Chirnside pointed out that White Star’s President, J. Bruce Ismay, noted that the cost of Titanic was $7.5 million and was insured for $5 million. This is backed up by the IMM's American Vice President, Philip 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.

Chirnside then added, "It is simply impossible to pass off a one-year-old ship for a new one." 

Russell calls the theory "so painfully ridiculous that one can only lament the thousands of trees which lost their lives to provide the paper on which it has been articulated." 

"Since the sister ships had significant interior architectural and design differences, switching them secretly in a week would be nearly impossible from a practical standpoint. A switch would also not be economically worthwhile, since the ship's owners could have simply damaged the ship while docked (for instance, by setting a fire) and collected the insurance money from that "accident," which "would have been far less severe, and infinitely less stupid, than sailing her out into the middle of the Atlantic with thousands of people, and their luggage, on board, and ramming her into an iceberg."

The original theory along with Gardiner's book are all centered around the Olympic-Hawke incident, and both claim that Olympic and Titanic were switched within a week's time. It is important to note that when that the Olympic- Hawke incident happened on September 20, 1911, Titanic was only a little over 3 months into her fitting out process. No where near completion. There would be absolutely no way to switch the ships during that time. It would just simply not be an option. The only other time that Olympic and Titanic were together at the shipyard was later in March, 1912 (pictured above) when Olympic needed her port side propeller repaired. Well after the collision damage from the Hawke was repaired. There would have been no need to switch the ships then.

None of the switch claims can hold up to the enormous effort that would be needed to switch the ships in the first place. Olympic and Titanic were not identical. Noticeably, Titanic had an enclosed promenade, a unique sidewalk café, an enlarged á la carte restaurant, and many additional state rooms that changed her window configuration compared to Olympic. Titanic was modified in many areas based on the company's earlier experience with the Olympic. Titanic was an improvement on Olympic, not an exact twin. Therefore, undoing all of those improvements to make Titanic resemble Olympic would have been absurd.

There were also numerous small differences between the two, such as additional steel plates that were fitted to the bedplates of Olympic's engines, added in 1911. Those were still there in during the 20s and 30s. Proving the original Olympic was the same Olympic throughout her entire career. 

Not to mention the millions of intricate parts that make up the two ships, each part with the ship’s hull number stamped on it. All those stamped parts would have to be changed to pass off one ship for the other. If it were even possible, why do such a thing? There are even such claims that it is Olympic on the sea floor instead of Titanic, but yet so much physical evidence on the wreck proves otherwise.

With all kinds of proof and the millions of different ways to easily debunk this conspiracy theory, it continues to merrily carry on. Always being labeled as "newly discovered evidence". So, if you ever come across it somewhere in the media, my advice is to give it a laugh, dismiss it, and go about your day!

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