The Switch Theory: Is The Sunken Titanic Actually The Olympic?

The flagship of its fleet, the Titanic was one of three class ocean liners built at the Harland and Wolff ship liners in Belfast. While we all know of the Titanic’s tragic fate, not everyone is familiar with her complicated relationship to sister ship, the RMS Olympic. Since her discovery at the bottom of the Atlantic in 1985, certain facts have surfaced about the controversial theory that the Titanic, switched with the Olympic, was actually sunk on purpose.

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Perhaps because of the shocking and tragic number of fatalities the ship left behind, it is hard to stomach the concept of the switch conspiracy theory. But the facts are all here, and begin with the story of the Olympic. Before Titanic’s maiden voyage, the RMS Olympic was involved in a crash causing serious damage to the hull of the ship that was beyond economic repair. The theory goes that J.P. Morgan, financier of the White Star Line a subsidiary of International Mercantile Marine Co and owners of the infamous ocean liner trio, recognized the financial loss IMM would receive if it invested in the brand new Olympic major repairs. Thus, all branding was switched between the sister ships, and on April 10th, 1912 it was the Olympic set out for the transatlantic voyage, not the Titanic. The plan was to slyly dispose of the ruined Olympic and collect insurance money too.

The switch conspiracy theory accuses J.P. Morgan of deliberately sinking the Titanic
CC Image courtesy of Recuerdos de Pandora on Flickr

Titanic Conspiracy Theory Evidence

The Olympic and Titanic were quite similar, yet not identical. Images of the Titanic in construction show her with 14 portholes (the Olympic had 16). On her day of departure the Titanic was magically also equipped with 16 portholes. Strange. Photographs from that day also show newly painted areas at the ship’s hull (the part where the Olympic was damaged). The scary facts go beyond aesthetics. The Titanic’s insurance was modified to include coverage for “total loss” solely for the Titanic’s first journey (not the return),  just 5 days before her voyage. JP Morgan and 50 of his friends and business associates canceled their trips on the luxurious cruise liner just days before the departure date. Morgan even went so far as to have expensive, bronze statues removed from the ship within an hour of her maiden voyage. The preparation period of the Titanic’s first voyage was marked by a coal strike, meaning several workers were left without jobs. Yet, the Titanic had a difficult time hiring workers, why? After she sunk, dock workers claimed that there was a rumor going around that the ship would be sunk for insurance reasons, thus not wanting to go near the ocean liner.

Here, a historical model of the ‘Titanic’ clearly shows 16 portholes, a defining feature of the RMS Olympic.
CC Image courtesy of Jeffrey on Flickr

But, wait! There’s more Titanic Olympic Switch Theory Facts

Despite the Titanic’s hype of being the world’s most luxurious liner, in the end her departure was hardly publicized. The ship hosted half the amount of her full capacity and was equipped with lifeboats for a fraction of that amount. She didn’t even possess red distress flares, only white flares used normally for general illumination. Now, the idea of a corporation deciding to sink and kill thousands of people is horrific. And this is where the SS Californian, another J.P. Morgan owned ship, comes in. The Californian was a passenger ship that happened to be sitting in the middle of the Atlantic, with its only cargo including zero passengers and 3000 wool blankets and sweaters. Conspiracy theorists believe the ship was intentionally positioned to rescue passengers of the Olympic. It’s delay due to an unfortunately fatal navigational error, stopping 12 miles too far. Survivors claim Titanic officials even assured them the Californian was on its way. But with no previous verbal transmission with the Californian, how were these officials so sure? Even the lifeboats recovered from the tragedy were discovered to have RMS Olympic carved into the gunwales of the boat, puttied and painted over.

JP Morgan and the Titanic

The insurance policy taken out just days before her departure, left the owners of the Titanic with millions – which they were paid out before most of the victim’s funerals even took place. However, the bad publicity and financial disaster of the tragedy caused IMM to file for bankruptcy protection in 1915. It’s important to note the difference between bankruptcy protection and actual bankruptcy. The latter is filed by corporations which believe they can recover financially despite being in dire financial straits at the time. Bet they couldn’t have recovered so easily without that last-minute handwritten amendment on their insurance policy. Ultimately, the sinking of the Titanic did not affect the true decline of IMM.

The ‘RMS Olympic’ ended up having a 24-year long career. A surprising amount of time for a ship that was injured beyond economic repair in its trial voyage, but a likely timeline for a new and healthy ship, such as the Titanic. Personally, I’ve found that there is minimal evidence that debunks this conspiracy theory. Corporate owners capitalized on insurance money, whereas survivors or successors saw no compensation for years, if at all. Whether or not this conspiracy theory is true – if this happened now, owners of the famous ocean liner would be charged with criminal manslaughter, either way. What do you think? Is it the Olympic or the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic?