RMS Oceanic (1899)

RMS Oceanic (1899)

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RMS Oceanic was a transatlantic ocean liner
Ocean liner
An ocean liner is a ship designed to transport people from one seaport to another along regular long-distance maritime routes according to a schedule. Liners may also carry cargo or mail, and may sometimes be used for other purposes .Cargo vessels running to a schedule are sometimes referred to as...

, built for the White Star Line
White Star Line
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company, today most famous for its ill-fated vessel, the RMS Titanic, and the World War I loss of Titanics sister ship Britannic...

. She sailed on her maiden voyage on 6 September 1899 and, until 1901, was the largest ship in the world. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, she was commissioned into Royal Navy service on 8 August 1914 as an armed merchant cruiser.

On 25 August 1914, the newly-designated HMS Oceanic departed Southampton to patrol the waters from the North Scottish mainland to the Faroes, in particular the area around Shetland, and ran aground and was wrecked off the island of Foula
Foula
Foula in the Shetland Islands of Scotland is one of Great Britain’s most remote permanently inhabited islands. Owned since the turn of the 20th century by the Holbourn family, the island was the location for the film The Edge of the World...

, Shetland on 8 September 1914.

Beginning


The keel
Keel
In boats and ships, keel can refer to either of two parts: a structural element, or a hydrodynamic element. These parts overlap. As the laying down of the keel is the initial step in construction of a ship, in British and American shipbuilding traditions the construction is dated from this event...

 was laid in January 1897, and the ship was built under the supervision of its designer, Thomas Ismay, director and owner of the Oceanic Steam Navigation Company, better known as White Star Line
White Star Line
The Oceanic Steam Navigation Company or White Star Line of Boston Packets, more commonly known as the White Star Line, was a prominent British shipping company, today most famous for its ill-fated vessel, the RMS Titanic, and the World War I loss of Titanics sister ship Britannic...

. The ship was named after the company, and was intended to be its flagship
Flagship
A flagship is a vessel used by the commanding officer of a group of naval ships, reflecting the custom of its commander, characteristically a flag officer, flying a distinguishing flag...

.


The RMS
Royal Mail Ship
Royal Mail Ship , usually seen in its abbreviated form RMS, a designation which dates back to 1840, is the ship prefix used for seagoing vessels that carry mail under contract by Royal Mail...

 Oceanic, at 17,272 gross tons, was to become known as the "Queen of the Ocean", costing one million pounds sterling, and even with the use of the most modern labour saving devices still required 1,500 shipwrights to complete, and was launched on 14 January 1899 watched by over 1000 invited guests including the Marquis of Dufferin, Duke of Abercorn and Lord Londonderry. Oceanic's bridge was integrated with her superstructure giving her a clean fluid look, this design feature would later be omitted from the next big four White Star ships, Cedric
RMS Cedric
RMS Cedric was laid down in 1902 at the shipyard of Harland and Wolff, Belfast. RMS Cedric was the second of White Star's series known as the "Big Four", the other three being , and . Celtic was the first ship to exceed Brunel's in overall tonnage, which was quite an accomplishment, considering...

, Celtic
RMS Celtic (1901)
RMS Celtic was an ocean liner owned by the White Star Line. The first ship larger than the in gross tonnage, Celtic was the first of a quartet of ships over 20,000 tons, dubbed The Big Four....

, Baltic
RMS Baltic (1903)
RMS Baltic was an ocean liner of the White Star Line that sailed between 1904 and 1933. At 23,876 gross tons, she was the largest ship in the world until 1905...

 and Adriatic
RMS Adriatic (1907)
RMS Adriatic was an ocean liner of the White Star Line. She was the fourth of a quartet of ships measuring over 20,000 tons, dubbed The Big Four, the ship was the only one of the four which was never the world's largest ship however, she was the fastest of the Big Four...

 with their odd but distinguishable 'island' bridges. "Nothing but the very finest", was Ismay’s policy toward this new venture, and she was constructed at Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff
Harland and Wolff Heavy Industries is a Northern Irish heavy industrial company, specialising in shipbuilding and offshore construction, located in Belfast, Northern Ireland....

’s Queen's Island yard at Belfast
Belfast
Belfast is the capital of and largest city in Northern Ireland. By population, it is the 14th biggest city in the United Kingdom and second biggest on the island of Ireland . It is the seat of the devolved government and legislative Northern Ireland Assembly...

, as was the tradition with White Star Line ships. She was the largest ship in the world, the first to surpass the length (although not gross tonnage) of SS Great Eastern
SS Great Eastern
SS Great Eastern was an iron sailing steam ship designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and built by J. Scott Russell & Co. at Millwall on the River Thames, London. She was by far the largest ship ever built at the time of her 1858 launch, and had the capacity to carry 4,000 passengers around the...

, until the arrival of the Celtic
RMS Celtic (1901)
RMS Celtic was an ocean liner owned by the White Star Line. The first ship larger than the in gross tonnage, Celtic was the first of a quartet of ships over 20,000 tons, dubbed The Big Four....

 in 1901.

Oceanic was built to accommodate slightly over 1,700 passengers, with 349 crew. In his autobiography, Titanic and Other Ships, Charles Lightoller
Charles Lightoller
Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller DSC & Bar, RD, RNR was the second mate on board the , and the most senior officer to survive the disaster...

 gives an account of what it was like to be an officer on this vessel.

Career


In 1901, in a heavy fog, Oceanic was involved in a collision when she rammed and sank the small Waterford Steamship Company
Waterford Steamship Company
The Waterford Steamship Company provided shipping services between Waterford and Bristol and Liverpool from 1836 to 1912.-History:The Waterford Steamship company ran 13 steamers to Bristol, Liverpool and Irish ports...

 SS Kincora, killing 7.

In 1905, Oceanic was the first White Star Line ship to suffer a mutiny
Mutiny
Mutiny is a conspiracy among members of a group of similarly situated individuals to openly oppose, change or overthrow an authority to which they are subject...

, which resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of 35 stokers upset with the officers over working conditions.

In 1912, after the departure of the RMS Titanic, the Oceanic became involved in the near collision of the Titanic with the SS New York
SS City of New York
City of New York was a British built passenger liner of the Inman Line that was designed to be the largest and fastest liner on the Atlantic. When she entered service in August 1888, she was the first twin screw express liner and while she did not achieve the westbound Blue Riband, she ultimately...

, when the Oceanic was nearby when the New York broke from her docking and nearly collided with the Titanic due to the ship's triple-propeller design.

World War I


Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Oceanic was included in a deal with the Admiralty
Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, which made an annual grant toward the maintenance of any ship on the condition that it could be called upon for naval work, during times of war. Such ships were built to particular naval specifications, in the case of Oceanic so that the 4.7 inch guns
QF 4.7 inch Gun Mk I - IV
The QF 4.7 inch Gun Mks I, II, III, and IV were a family of United-Kingdom 120-mm naval and coast defence guns of 1888 and 1890s which served with the navies of various countries. They were also mounted on various wheeled carriages to provide the British Army with a long range gun...

 she was to be given could be quickly mounted. "The greatest liner of her day" was commissioned into Naval
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 service on 8 August 1914 as an armed merchant cruiser.

On 25 August 1914, the newly-designated HMS
Her Majesty's Ship
Her or His Majesty's Ship is the ship prefix used for ships of the navy in some monarchies, either formally or informally.-HMS:* In the British Royal Navy, it refers to the king or queen of the United Kingdom as appropriate at the time...

 Oceanic departed Southampton
Southampton
Southampton is the largest city in the county of Hampshire on the south coast of England, and is situated south-west of London and north-west of Portsmouth. Southampton is a major port and the closest city to the New Forest...

 on naval service that was to last just two weeks. Oceanic was to patrol the waters from the North Scottish mainland to the Faroes
Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are an island group situated between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, approximately halfway between Scotland and Iceland. The Faroe Islands are a self-governing territory within the Kingdom of Denmark, along with Denmark proper and Greenland...

, in particular the area around Shetland. She was empowered to stop shipping at her Captain’s discretion, and to check cargoes and personnel for any potential German connections. For these duties, she carried Royal Marines
Royal Marines
The Corps of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, commonly just referred to as the Royal Marines , are the marine corps and amphibious infantry of the United Kingdom and, along with the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary, form the Naval Service...

, and her Merchant Master, Captain Henry Smith, with two years' former service and many of his original crew, served alongside the naval Captain RN William Slayter.

Oceanic headed for Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow
right|thumb|Scapa Flow viewed from its eastern endScapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about...

 in Orkney, Britain’s main naval anchorage, with easy access to the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

 and the Atlantic. From here she proceeded north to Shetland travelling continuously on a standard zigzag course as a precaution against being targeted by U-boat
U-boat
U-boat is the anglicized version of the German word U-Boot , itself an abbreviation of Unterseeboot , and refers to military submarines operated by Germany, particularly in World War I and World War II...

s. This difficult manoeuvring required extremely accurate navigation, especially with such a large vessel. In the event it appears to have been poor navigation, rather than enemy action that was to doom Oceanic.

Disaster



An accurate fix of their position was made on the night of 7 September by navigator Lieutenant David Blair
David Blair (mariner)
David Blair was a British merchant seaman with the White Star Line, who had reassigned him from the RMS Titanic just before its maiden voyage...

 RNR (previously assigned to, then reassigned from, the ). While everyone on the bridge thought they were well to the southwest of the Isle of Foula
Foula
Foula in the Shetland Islands of Scotland is one of Great Britain’s most remote permanently inhabited islands. Owned since the turn of the 20th century by the Holbourn family, the island was the location for the film The Edge of the World...

, they were in fact an estimated thirteen to fourteen miles off course and on the wrong side of the island. This put them directly in the path of a reef
Reef
In nautical terminology, a reef is a rock, sandbar, or other feature lying beneath the surface of the water ....

, the notorious Shaalds of Foula, which poses a major threat to shipping, coming within a few feet of the surface, and in calm weather giving no warning sign whatsoever.

Captain Slayter had retired after his night watch, unaware of the situation, with orders to steer to Foula. Captain Smith took over the morning watch, and with his former knowledge of the ship was only happy when the ship was in open sea. Having previously disagreed with his naval superior about dodging around the island, he instructed the navigator to plot a course out to sea. Slayter must have felt the course change, as he reappeared on the bridge to countermand Smith's order and made what turned out to be a hasty and ill-informed judgement which resulted in the ship running directly onto the Shaalds on the morning of 8 September. She was wrecked in a flat calm and clear weather. She was the first Allied passenger ship to be lost in the war.

Rescue


The Aberdeen
Aberdeen
Aberdeen is Scotland's third most populous city, one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas and the United Kingdom's 25th most populous city, with an official population estimate of ....

 trawler, Glenogil, was the first vessel on the scene, and although she attempted to pull off the massive ship, it proved an impossible task, and with the hull already ruptured, Oceanic would not have stayed afloat long in open waters. Other ships in the area were called in to assist in the rescue operation that was to follow. All of the ship's crew transferred to the trawler via the ship's lifeboats and were then ferried to the waiting AMC HMS Alsatian, and HMS Forward
HMS Forward (1904)
HMS Forward was one of two Forward-class scout cruiser which served with the Royal Navy. She was built in the yards of Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Govan. She was laid down in October 1903, launched on 27 August 1904 and completed in September 1905...

. Charles Lightoller
Charles Lightoller
Commander Charles Herbert Lightoller DSC & Bar, RD, RNR was the second mate on board the , and the most senior officer to survive the disaster...

, the ship's First Officer, was the last man off, taking the navigation room's clock as a souvenir.

The 573-ton Admiralty salvage vessel Lyons was dispatched to the scene hurriedly, and in the words of the Laird
Laird
A Laird is a member of the gentry and is a heritable title in Scotland. In the non-peerage table of precedence, a Laird ranks below a Baron and above an Esquire.-Etymology:...

 of Foula, Professor Ian S. Holbourn, writing about the disaster in his book The Isle of Foula:

The launch of the Lyons, a salvage boat which hurried to the scene, was capable of a speed of ten knots, yet was unable to make any headway against the tide although she tried for fifteen minutes. Even then it was not the top of the tide, and the officer in charge reckoned the full tide would be 12 knots, he confessed he would not have believed it had he been told.


Of Oceanic’s two Masters, Merchant Commander Smith is said to have come ashore at the remote island’s tiny pier, and on looking back out to sea toward his stranded ship two miles away, commented that the ship would stay on the reef as a monument and nothing would move it. One of the Foula men, wise to the full power and fury of a Shetland storm, is said to have muttered with a cynicism not unknown in those parts "I‘ll give her two weeks".

Remarkably, following a heavy gale that had persisted throughout the night of 29 September, just two weeks after the incident the islanders discovered the following day that the ship had been entirely swallowed up by the sea, where she remains to this day scattered as she fell apart under the pressure of the seas on the Shaalds.

The disaster was hushed up at the time, since it was felt that it would have been embarrassing to make public how a world-famous liner had run aground in friendly waters in good weather within a fortnight of it beginning its service as a naval vessel. The revelation of such gross incompetence at this early stage of the war would have done nothing for national morale.

Courts-martial


Lt. Blair was court-martialled at Devonport
HMNB Devonport
Her Majesty's Naval Base Devonport , is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy . HMNB Devonport is located in Devonport, in the west of the city of Plymouth in Devon, England...

 in November 1914, when he was found guilty of "stranding or suffering to be stranded" HMS Oceanic, and was ordered to be reprimanded. He offered in his defence that he was exonerated by the evidence given by Captain Slayter and Commander Smith that he was under their supervision, and that the stranding was due to abnormal currents.

A similar charge was made against Commander Smith at a second court-martial; the evidence for the prosecution was the same as in the previous case, and witnesses were cross-examined with a view to showing that the position of the accused on Oceanic was not clearly defined by the naval authorities, and that he was understood to be acting in an advisory capacity. He was acquitted the following day, as he was found to have not officially been in command on 8 September.

Captain Slayter was also acquitted.

Salvage


In 1924, a salvage company which had been engaged on the scuttled German warships at Scapa Flow
Scapa Flow
right|thumb|Scapa Flow viewed from its eastern endScapa Flow is a body of water in the Orkney Islands, Scotland, United Kingdom, sheltered by the islands of Mainland, Graemsay, Burray, South Ronaldsay and Hoy. It is about...

cut what remained of the wreck of Oceanic down to water level and salvaged. In 1973 work began to remove more of the wreck and in 1979, the last remains of the strong hull were completely removed after 65 years.

External links